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Battlefield Dispatches No. 303: 'An arduous winter campaign'

Friday, February 10, 2012

During the Civil War, normally, "winter campaigns" did not occur. However, out here in the Trans-Mississippi Theatre of Operations one did occur in late January and February of 1862. It was during this winter campaign, in the Department of Missouri, that Brig. Gen. Samuel Ryan Curtis commanded the Army of the southwest whose main objective was to destroy or drive the Confederate Army commanded by Maj. Gen. Sterling Price out of Missouri. This campaign eventually was successful and culminated with the Battle of Pea Ridge, Ark., early in March of 1862. However, before this battle the Union army had to travel by forced marches through bad weather from Rolla to Springfield, Mo., and eventually reaching Pea Ridge in northeastern, Arkansas.

It has been said that an "Army marches on its stomach," meaning that to be successful, an Army has to be well fed, and this was often a problem for an Army on the move in the dead of winter during the Civil War or in the winter of any war. Therefore, it will not be surprising to see what Gen. Curtis was faced with when it came to supplying his army with rations (food) during this winter campaign.

The following orders and correspondence are located in Series I. Vol. 8 of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion on pages 549 and 560.

"Special OrdersHDQRS, Southwestern District of Missouri 75:Lebanon, Mo., Feb. 7, 1861.

The commanding general tenders to the troops in this command his hearty commendation for the energy and endurance manifested on the march to this place.

You have moved during the coldest and most stormy period of a cold winter and so far brought your (supply) trains and equipment through snow, mud, floods and frost without his (the commanding general) hearing of a murmur and without the loss of property or men.

(Note: The soldiers, of course, complained because they always have and do, but the "commanding general" just didn't happen to hear any complaints.)

But the success of this winter campaign now requires a further draught on the patience and fortitude of this army. We must strip for a forced march and final conflict.

Six days' light rations and necessary covering must be condensed in a special train, to be ready for the occasion. This ration must be hard bread, flour, hominy, rice, desiccated potatoes and mixed vegetables, sugar, coffee and salt. Pinole (ground parched corn and sugar) ought to be procured.

The commissary will provide on the way, whatever extra rations of fresh pork and beef the soldiers may need, so as to save transported rations.

The rations can only be cooked of nights and some beef should be jerked (dried over a slow fire) to carry in the haversack (shoulder bag), to be eaten with pinole. If officers and men will carry out this order in good faith, they will avoid danger of suffering and greatly enhance the efficiency of our force.

The camp equipment, most of the cooking utensils, change of clothing and most of the tents, trunks and boxes must all be left with the remainder of the regimental wagons, which, with full supplies of provisions, will be pressed forward by the quartermaster as fast as circumstances will allow.

On the forced march the commanding general will limit himself to these restrictions of food and clothing.

The teams for this (supply) train for the forced march should be selected and each wagon not loaded over 2,000 lbs.

Thus arranged, the trains will be separated and inspected by regimental officers and the number for each properly reported through commanders of divisions to these headquarters as soon as completed.

By order of Brigadier Gen. S. R. Curtis.

T.I. McKenny,

Acting assistant adjutant general.

"Special OrdersHDQRS, Southwestern Dist. of Mo.
No. 78:Lebanon, Mo., Feb. 8, 1862.

During the present winter campaign the difficulty of procuring flour and the abundance of fresh meat in the country justifies in the opinion of the commanding general, a reduction of the flour ration by 4 ounces and in the salt meat ration 12 ounces and in lieu of this reduction and such other articles as the men do not need or cannot procure double rations of fresh beef and pork will be furnished by the Commissary Department.

A pound of corn meal costs about one-fifth of a pound of flour and when meal can be procured and the troops desire it, the commissary will issue three pounds in lieu of a ration of flour."

Now then, not only was Brig. Gen. Curtis very frugal, but, more important, he cared for the well being of his troops as any good commander should, seeing that they were well fed. Not that the foodstuffs listed were very appetizing, but they must have done the job, because Gen. Curtis and his army successfully defeated the Confederates in the Battle of Pea Ridge, Ark., on March 6-8, 1862; and, of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches