A corps the other branches did respect was the Corps of Engineers.
In i860 Virginia formed a state Corps of Engineers from the few professional engineers in the state to build a system of forts. This corps, made up of commissioned officers only, was merged into the Confederate Corps of Engineers when the government moved to Richmond.
the Chief of Engineers of the Army of Northern Virginia was directed to take 300 men from each division to form a Corps of Pioneers to do this work. This Pioneer Corps did excellent work, although there were few of them and, because they were simply infantrymen, they were not well trained to do engineering work. An engineer officer, assigned to build a bridge near Richmond across thcjames River, could not get any Pioneers, and ended up having the Provost Marshal round up 500 men, marched under guard, to do the job. Civilians helped, too, on this job.
When the Army of the Potomac began really pushing the Army of Northern Virginia in late 1863, it was seen that regularily enlisted and trained engineers of all ranks were necessary. Therefore, two regiments, the 1st and 2nd Regiments of Confederate States Engineers, each to consist of ten companies of 100 men, were authorized by Congress.
According to a lieutenant-colonel of the 1st Engineers, the regiment was made up of'. . . men from twenty-five to thirty-five, mostly married, and skilled in the use of tools in some way or another, mechanics of all sorts, and farmers, etc The field and company officers were civil engineers by profession, also most of the lieutenants.'
Actually, their first time in the field, the engineers of the Army of Northern Virginia, which consisted of the 1st Regiment and two companies of the 2nd, served as infantry. Thereafter, they proved they could build fortifications and defend them with equal ease and ability. On the retreat to Appomattox the engineers were found in the van of the army, building bridges, and in the rear, holding off the enemy while destroying those bridges.
The other technical branch serving with the army was the Corps of Signallers, organized by E. P. Alexander, later Chief of Artillery. The corps did good work from the beginning. At the first battle of the war, First Manassas, they passed word on to the commanding general that Federal troops were moving on his left flank.
The corps was attached to the Adjutant-General's Department, and was responsible for signalling, the telegraph and all secret service work. In the field it did its work with flags during the day and torches at night. The telegraph could
A 'Stars and Bars' flat; carried by a battery. (Smithsonian Institution)
A 'Stars and Bars' flat; carried by a battery. (Smithsonian Institution)
be used at all times, in all weather, but a shortness of supplies of telegraph wire made the instrument a rarer one in the Confederate Army than in the Union Army.
The corps was also responsible for the Confederacy's one observation balloon, made from donated silk dresses of the ladies of the South. The balloon was filled with gas in Richmond, as 110 portable gas generators were available, and sent along the lines during the Peninsular campaign. One day the boat it was attached to ran aground and was captured balloon and all. With it went perhaps the last silk dress in the Confederacy. Years later General Longstreet called its capture 'the meanest trick of the war' and said it was, of all things, the only thing he never forgave the Federal troops for.
Engineers and signallers wore white or buff facings when they simply didn't wear plain gray. Black, perhaps appropriately enough, was the facing colour worn by men of the Medical Department.
When the army was set up, a surgeon-general, equal in rank to a brigadier-general of cavalry, was appointed to head the entire department. He was to have 1,000 surgeons, each equal in rank to a cavalry major, and 2,000 assistant surgeons, each equal in rank to a cavalry captain. Their uniforms would be the same as regimental officers of their rank.
In addition, as many contract surgeons or acting assistant surgeons could be hired as needed, and they were equal to a second lieutenant of p infantry. Later, all the acting assistant surgeons were examined by a medical board and either promoted to the rank of surgeon or assistant surgeon or dropped from the army's rolls.
Each regiment had a surgeon, an assistant surgeon and a hospital steward assigned to it. Each battalion and many artillery batteries were assigned an assistant surgeon.
At the brigade level the surgeon with the oldest commission was named senior surgeon of brigade. All the other surgeons were to report to him. At the same time, he was also responsible for his regimental duties. Most brigade stall's had an assistant surgeon appointed to them to handle the surgeon's paperwork.
The senior brigade surgeon was then named division surgeon, and received reports from all the other senior brigade surgeons. Each corps had a surgeon serving full-time on its staff as medical director.
Besides the regulation uniform, many surgeons wore green sashes. These were regulation in the U.S. Medical Department, and had come to represent an army medical man. In addition, wrote one surgeon, '. . . on the front of the cap or hat were the letters "M.S." embroidered in gold, embraced by two olive branches'. Although Confederates rarely wore cap badges, this badge seems to have been used. One assistant surgeon in 1862 wrote that he '. . . appeared in the dress of an assistant-surgeon, with the M.S. on my cap . . .'.
While many doctors in gray were excellent indeed, many more were rather poorly qualified for their jobs. One obtained his commission as an assistant surgeon on the grounds that '. . . as I had, while at School in New York, frequented the hospitals, and also attended two courses of medical lectures, I had gained a little knowledge of wounds and their treatment. This fact, and a special fondness, if not aptitude, for that study, decided my future course', i.e. ofbeing an assistant surgeon.
Despite his own lack of great qualifications, he did find some practices to criticize in the Medical Department: 'While the surgeons, as a body, did their duty nobly, there were some young men, apparently just out of college, who performed difficult operations with the assurance and assumed skill of practiced surgeons, and with little regard for human life or limb.'
Considering the work set out for the surgeon, who was usually supplied with few drugs, it is probably just as well he had that self-assurance.
In action, the regimental surgeon set up a field hospital, while the assistant surgeon followed the regiment into action. The hospital steward either stayed to assist the surgeon or went with the assistant surgeon.
The hospital steward was often a medical student. His was a non-commissioned rank, equal to that of the orderly sergeant. Indeed, his stripes were the three chevrons and diamond of the orderly sergeant. He was in charge of the medicines, and made sure each man received what was prescribed for him. He was also present at sick call each morning.
The hospital steward was also in charge of the infirmary detail, although the assistant surgeon led that in combat.
The infirmary detail was initially made up of
A 12-lb Napoleon cannon
Confederate regiments charge to defeat at Malvern Hill in this contemporary print the regimental band and went into action behind the regiment. Each man carried a knapsack with dressings, stimulants, tourniquets and other first-aid equipment, and every two men carried a stretcher. They, under the eye of the assistant surgeon, were to patch up the wounded and bring them back to the field hospital for treatment.
If the wound was major, and with the soft 0*58-calibre bullets most wounds were major, the man would be sent back for further treatment and, hopefully, to recover. Most men in the Army of Northern Virginia ended up at the giant Chim-borazo Hospital in Richmond, where some 76,000 patients were treated during the war. The hospital could handle some 4,800 men at one time in its 150 one-storey buildings. It had a bakery which could turn out 10,000 loaves of bread daily, an ice-house, soup kitchens, and a farm of 200 cows and almost as many goats.
Later regimental bands grew scarce and were relieved of infirmary detail work. During the
Battle of Gettysburg Fremantle recalled: 'When the cannonade was at its height, a Confederate band of music, between the cemetery and ourselves, began to play polkas and waltzes, which sounded very curious, accompanied by the hissing and bursting of the shells.'
By then convalescents were assigned to the infirmary detail, although they were as little trained for that work as the bandsmen, and probably less. They were, however, set aside as men specifically and constantly in the Infirmary Corps. Fremantle noted: 'In the rear of each regiment were from twenty to thirty Negro slaves, and a certain number of unarmed men carrying stretchers and wearing in their hafs the red badge of the Ambulance Corps; this is an excellent institution, for it prevents unwounded men falling out on pretence of taking wounded to the rear.' Later, as the men from the ill-fated Pickett's charge were returning to their lines, Fremantle '... began to meet many wounded men returning from the
front. Many of them asked in piteous tones the way to a doctor or an ambulance. The further I got, the greater became the number of the wounded. At last 1 got to a perfect stream of them flocking through the woods in numbers as great as the crowd in Oxford Street in the middle of the day. Some were walking alone on crutches composed of two rifles, others were supported by men less badly wounded than themselves, and others were carried on stretchers by the Ambulance Corps; but in no case did I see a sound man helping the wounded to the rear, unless he carried the red badge of the Ambulance Corps.'
Discipline within the Infirmary Corps and helping the wounded seems to have been one of the bright spots in the Confederate discipline picture. A lieutenant-colonel in Gregg's Brigade at Second Manassas recalled that '. . . it was one of the cruelties of our position, that before the Infirmary Corps were allowed to help a wounded man, before his wound was looked at, he must be stripped of his accoutrements, and his ammunition distributed among his comrades.'
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