Thursday, July 16, 2015

Civil War Quartermaster Department


Soldiers can not fight without supplies; they need the fundamental necessities of meals, medicine and munitions. In 1775, Commander George Washington created the first Quartermaster General of the Continental Army who was responsible for acquiring provisions and distributing them to the troops.

At the beginning of the Civil War, the Quartermaster Department, charged with supplying the army troops with needed supplies and equipment, was small and inadequately prepared to meet the demands placed upon it. In addition, this department was hampered by lack of funds, staff, and supplies on hand. The urgent need of shoes, clothes, blankets, tents, weapons, horses and mules, forage, and transportation led to fraud and abuse in the early awarding of military contracts. But
the mistakes and inexperience that characterized the emergency procurement of supplies in the early days of the war subsided as the war progressed and the Department was centralized and streamlined. Contracts had to be approved by the Quartermaster General and vendors were required to guarantee the quantity, quality and terms of delivery of their orders. Appointed Quartermaster General by Abraham Lincoln in 1861, Montgomery C. Meigs led a staff of experienced senior officers in procuring, outfitting and sustaining the Union troops.

Faced with a herculean task of supplying the war effort, the Quartermaster’s Department spent more than $1 billion supplying the army with unprecedented levels of provisions. An estimated one billion rounds of small arm ammunition, one million horses and mules, 1.5 million barrels of pork, 100 million pounds of coffee, six million wool blankets, and ten million pairs of pants were distributed to Union soldiers over the course of the war. The ability to distribute those kinds of
massive quantities required a highly organized logistical system that included procurement, storage, security, communications and mobility.

Initially, Philadelphia, New York, and Cincinnati were the main procurement depots maintained by the Quartermaster’s Department. As more men enlisted in the army and the workload of the Department increased, Staff of the Quartermaster Department  additional depots were added in St. Louis, Louisville, and Washington.

The Quartermaster Department managed the transportation of supplies and troops by way of wagon, rail, river, canal, and sea. Supplies were stored in depots—general, advance and temporary. General depots were large repositories in major cities, advance depots were with the armies in the field and could be dismantled when operations were over or operations changed locations, and temporary depots were for specific operations.

The railroad played a pivotal role in distributing supplies, arms, ammunition, food, equipment and troops to the battle fronts. They also took wounded soldiers and nonfunctioning equipment away from the fighting. In 1862, Congress passed the Railways and Telegraph Act which allowed the War Department to take control of all eastern railroads and telegraph lines for military purposes and public safety. Created in 1862, the United States Military Railroad (USMRR) became the organization that centralized, coordinated and supervised the construction, repair, operation, and
maintenance of rolling stock, track, bridges, and trestles of all railroad facilities in Union controlled territory. The Quartermaster’s Department procured all the equipment and supplies needed for the USMRR.

The USMRR gave birth to the Construction Corps, an organization made up of professional civil engineers and skilled and semi-skilled workers who built railroad track and bridges, wharves, storehouses, and hospital facilities as needed.

Linking the rail network was a considerable fleet of steamboats, especially in the Western Theater of
war that carried supplies down rivers to ports where they were transferred to storage warehouses or
moved further to the battle lines.

Services of the Quartermaster Department are vital at all times, but none more important than in times of war. Careful insight and foresight are paramount to an organized and efficient procurement system.

The function of the Confederacy’s Quartermaster Department was the same as the Union’s Quartermaster Department. Through the first year of the war, the department was able to clothe and supply Confederate soldiers. But as the war lengthened and their depots were seized and ports
blockaded by federal forces, supplies became harder to obtain. During the war the South had two Confederate Quartermaster Generals, Abraham C. Myers and Alexander Lawton.

Image: Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs


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