Report of Capt. Henry F. Clarke, Commissary of Subsistence, U. S. Army, of the subsistence of the Army from July 15 to 21
O.R.– SERIES I–VOLUME 2 [S# 2] — CHAPTER IX, pp 236 – 238
ARLINGTON, VA., August 2, 1861
CAPTAIN: For the information of the general commanding the department, I have the honor to submit the following report in reference to the subsistence of the Army under his command during its recent operations in front:
On the 15th ultimo the commanders of divisions were directed to see that all the troops of their respective commands have cooked and in their haversacks by 3 p.m. the next day three days’ rations, and orders were given that five days’ additional subsistence should be loaded into wagon trains on the day of march, and follow the Army on the day succeeding, and that a specified number of beef cattle should be driven forward with each train.
Owing to the necessary number of wagons not being furnished in season to uninstructed and many worthless teamsters and green teams, and to some of the roads being bad, only one of the trains–that in charge of First Lieut. J. P. Hawkins, Second Infantry, A. C. S.–was able to overtake the Army on the morning of the 18th. It, with ninety head of beef cattle, July traveling all the previous night, arrived at Fairfax Court-House on the morning stated, before the Army had taken up its march. During the morning, while the Army was moving forward to Centreville, it was thought the other subsistence trains, in charge of First Lieuts. G. Bell, First Artillery, and James Curtis, Fifteenth Infantry, intended for Colonel Heintzelman’s and General Tyler’s divisions, respectively, would not reach the Army in season, and I was directed to distribute the subsistence in the train present as equally as possible amongst the several divisions. Fourteen wagons, containing about 17,000 rations, were sent, in charge of Lieutenant Hawkins, to the Fifth Division; the remaining wagons were directed to immediately proceed to Centreville, and I had made the best arrangements in my power to distribute the provisions they contained amongst the other three divisions.
Shortly after our arrival at Centreville I was officially informed that the train with sixty-five head of beef cattle, in charge of Lieutenant Curtis, was in the vicinity, and the train with seventy head of beef cattle, in charge of Lieutenant Bell, was at Fairfax Court-House. I then directed the first of these trains to come forward to Centreville and encamp for the night, and the second to come forward with as little delay as possible, and myself conducted the remaining wagons of Lieutenant Hawkins’ train, and turned them over to the officer (Lieutenant Merrill) directed by General Tyler to receive and distribute to the First Division the subsistence stores they contained.
I endeavored to distribute the subsistence stores equally amongst the several divisions according to the strength of each; but in consequence of the necessity of breaking up the train in charge of Lieutenant Hawkins which was intended for the divisions of Colonels Miles and Hunter, and the late arrival of the others, difficulties arose, and I may not have succeeded in my object.
Making due allowance for all losses on the march, according to the reports of the officers conducting the trains and my own observation at least 160,000 complete rations were received by the Army at and in the vicinity of Centreville; sufficient for its subsistence for five days.
In a circular from department headquarters, dated at Centreville, July 20, 1861, commanders of divisions were directed to give the necessary orders that an equal distribution of the subsistence stores on hand might be made immediately to the different companies in their respective commands, so that they should be provided with the same number of days’ subsistence, and that the same be cooked and put into the haversacks of the men; and they were informed that the subsistence stores then in possession of each division, with the fresh beef that could be drawn from the chief commissary, must last to include the 23d instant. The three days’ subsistence it was directed the troops should have in their haversacks by 3 p.m. on the 16th of July should have lasted them to the afternoon of the 19th. After the distribution made in compliance with the circular above referred to, I know of several instances in which subsistence stores remained in possession of division and brigade commissaries, and of others in which provisions were left on the ground of the encampments on the morning of the 21st of July.
From personal observation on the march on the morning of the 21st of July, I know that generally the haversacks of the men were filled–whether properly or not I do not know. Regimental officers should be held accountable for that. During the battle and following it I noticed many filled haversacks, canteens, blankets, and other property lying on the ground, their owners having doubtless thrown them away to get rid of the labor of carrying them on so hot a day and under such trying circumstances.
I beg leave to call your attention to the reports of Lieutenants Bell, Hawkins, and Curtis. The duties they performed were highly important, all who are acquainted with the difficulties under which they labored and overcame will know that they acted with judgment and energy and for the best interests of the Government.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
H. F. CLARKE,
Captain and Commissary of Subsistence
Capt. JAMES B. FRY,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Arlington, Va.