Military Unpreparedness and Policy of the U.S. During the War of the Rebellion

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Chapter IX Pages: 94-100

How little heed had been paid by Congress to the lessons of the past was thus admirably
summarized by Upton: (1)

"At the close of the year 1860 we presented to the world the spectacle of a great nation nearly destitute of military force. Our territory from ocean to ocean exceeded 3,000,000 square miles; our population numbered 31,000,000 people.

"The Regular Army as organized consisted of 18,093 officers and men, (2) but according to the returns it numbered only 16,367. (3)

"The line of the Army was composed of 198 companies, of which 183 were stationed on the frontier or were en route to distant posts west of the Mississippi. The remaining 15 companies were stationed along the Canadian frontier and on the Atlantic coast from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico.

"As a guard for the national frontiers, the Army could not furnish two soldiers, per mile; for protecting the settlements in the States and Territories west of the Mississippi but one soldier was available for every 120 square miles; to aid in the enforcement of the laws in the remaining States of the Union we had but one soldier for every 1,300 square miles.

"The militia for a sudden emergency were scarcely more available than the Army. Nominally they numbered more than 3,000,000, but mostly unorganized. So destitute were they of instruction and training that a few regiments in the large cities excepted__they did not merit the name of a military force.

"Such was the condition of the national defense when, on the 20th of December, 1860, South Carolina in convention passed the ordinance of secession."

By February 1, 1861, seven states had seceded, (4) and on the 4th the delegates of six met at Montgomery, Alabama, formed a union, adopted a provisional constitution, and elected a President and Vice-President. (5) No less daring and forceful were the measures that followed. The inauguration of Jefferson Davis and Alexander H. Stephens on the 18th was succeeded ten
days later by authorization to their President to assume control of "all military operations between the Confederate States" and to accept for a period not to exceed twelve months as many volunteers as were required. On March 6th he issued a call for 100,000 men, who were to be mustered into service under his sole and supreme command. (6)

These formidable preparations (7) were in marked contrast to the feeble condition of the United States Army, defective in organization and so disseminated that, on December 15, 1860, the nine fortifications along the southern coast were garrisoned by only five inexpansive companies, and it was not until six weeks later that they were augmented by some 600 recruits. The other
regular troops were scattered from the Atlantic to the Pacific, too remote to participate in the first encounters or even to afford an adequate defense for Washington.

Events progressed faster than the Government had bargained for, and the contemplated assistance to the garrison in Charleston harbour was forestalled by the first overt act of war on the part of the insurgents, who bombarded Fort Sumter on April 12th and compelled it to surrender two days later. Mr. Lincoln, in alarm over the threatening conditions, turned as so many Presidents had done before him to the militia, and on April 9th called for ten companies from the District of Columbia; but some refused to be sworn, others to serve outside the District, so that the Government was obliged to accept this militia on its own terms. (8) By contrast, the Confederacy by the middle of that month had equipped 35,000 men, seized the arsenals within reach and had begun the siege of the forts in the Southern States. (9)

"In every stage of their prosecution the wars of the Revolution and of 1812 gave evidence that a system of national defense, based on the consent and cooperation of the States, possessed none of the elements of certainty or of strength.

"Nevertheless, for the want of an expansive regular army or a system of national volunteers, the President was again compelled to look to the States, and therefore on the 15th of April, issued his proclamation calling for 75,000 militia for the period of three months.

"The terms of the proclamation show that the President and Cabinet began the war with the same confidence in raw troops as was manifested by their predecessors in 1812.

"The militia was not summoned for the defense of the capital, but to suppress 'combinations and to cause the laws to be duly executed.' (10)

"In explanation of the call, the President further stated:

"I deem it proper to say that the first service assigned to the forces hereby called forth, will probably be to repossess the forts, places and property which have been seized from the Union.'

"Language so unmistakable, and which had the sanction of our most distinguished statesmen, leads only to the conclusion that with raw troops, it was believed that a formidable rebellion, already covering 560,000 square miles, could be subdued within the brief space of three months." (11)

Obviously the governors of the Southern States defied the Government and refused to furnish their militia, their action being taken solely on their own responsibility. (12) Once again was demonstrated the futility of a military system founded upon the theory of a confederation such as that followed by the United States__whereas the Confederacy rid itself of all such useless shackles, assumed the necessary responsibility and appealed directly to the people. (13) The spread of the rebellion (14) afforded sufficient strength to the Confederate officials so that on May 27th the capital was transferred to Richmond, and the Confederate troops advanced to
Fairfax and even Alexandria, within plain sight of Washington. (15)

"The advantage so far as related to the forces in the field was, at the time decidedly on the side of the Confederates. The Government had called for 75,000 militia for the period of three months; the Confederates had called for 100,000 volunteers for the period of one year. Both had repeated the blunder of short enlistments. The President, by a law more than sixty years old,
was obliged to limit the service to three months, (16) the Confederate Congress, with no appreciation of past history, adopted the identical policy which had led tot he protraction of all our previous wars. Nevertheless, in default of further measures, on the part of the President, the Government at the end of three months would see the forces dissolved, while the Confederate army, constantly improving in discipline, would still be available for nine months of field service." (17)

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Website: The History
Article Name: Military Unpreparedness and Policy of the U.S. During the War of the Rebellion
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: From my collection of Books: The Military Unpreparedness of the United States- A History of American Land Forces from Colonial Times until June 1, 1915. By Frederic Louis Huidekoper; Publisher: The Macmillan Company-New York 1916
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