The Rebirth of the Army of the Potomac (part two)

Part two of a series.

A New Chief of Staff and Improved Supply System

Brig. Gen. Charles P. Stone
Charles P. Stone

Ambrose E. Burnside left the Army of the Potomac with a litany of major problems; many of which were brought on by poor staff work. To alleviate this issue Hooker needed to appoint a new Chief of Staff. The man that he wanted for the job was fellow Bay State native Charles Stone. Stone was a qualified military man, who, ran afoul of the Radical Republicans when he was used as the scapegoat for the Union debacle at Ball’s Bluff.[1] Secretary of War Edwin Stanton also seemed to have it out for Stone. Currently the general was banished to the Army of the Gulf, far from the Eastern Theater. It would take an act of Congress, or God, to have Stone back in east. Hooker had to look elsewhere for a chief of staff.[2]

Major General Daniel Butterfield was not a professional soldier; rather he was a business man from Utica, New York. Like Hooker, Dan Butterfield was not the most scrupulous man in the army. Unlike Hooker, Butterfield was thought of as a daddy’s boy. His father was one of the founders of the American Express Company, where the younger Butterfield was employed in the prewar years.[3] Gouverneur K. Warren related the story of how “General Butterfield was Assistant Foreman on a fire-engine, when he was young in Utica; and he set fire to a church thinking to get there first to put it out; but the church burned down before they got there, and his father had to build a new church to keep him out of jail.”[4]

After the firing on Fort Sumter, Butterfield enlisted in the 12th New York Infantry. He rose quickly through the ranks. By September of 1861 he was a brigadier general and a brigade commander. Following the battle of Antietam he was at the head of a 5th Corps division, and at Fredericksburg he commanded the corps.[5] By seniority Butterfield lost 5th Corps to George G. Meade, in the days following Fredericksburg. A fact that Butterfield never got over. Now, at the outset of 1863, Butterfield was chief of staff of the largest army on the North American continent.

He quickly proved to be a great administrator, but few outside of Hooker’s inner circle trusted the man. “Beware of Butterfield,” warned Colonel Martin McMahon the 6th Corps chief of staff, “he will lead you astray; he is a dangerous man.”[6] One of Meade’s staff officers and future brevet Major General Alexander Webb bluntly described the man West Pointers derisively nicknamed “Napoleon”, as “That little lying knave. He is one of the most corrupt, scheming, lying scoundrels. And he is one of those fellows that when he’s found out in his lies, it doesn’t seem to phase, he will brazen it out.”[7]

Hooker's Chief of Staff Daniel Butterfield.
Hooker’s Chief of Staff Daniel Butterfield.

Regardless of personal feelings, Butterfield was in his prime in his new position, the Empire State general took to the job, like a duck to water. “Butterfield now Chief of Staff, delights in papers & Orders…”[8] Butterfield did quite enjoy the new found power. With Joe Hooker often called to Washington for meetings, which was less than 50 miles from headquarters, Butterfiled assumed command upon “Mr. F. J. Hooker’s” absence. “Dan the Magnificent was in command today,” groused Provost Marshal Marsena Patrick, “& improved it by sending for the Staff as often the gas pressed strongly within him which, of course, was pretty often.” Patrick was a curmudgeon that was described as being the “finest existing fossil of the Cenozoic age.” At another point Patrick complained that “I have been annoyed very much by Butterfield being in command [.] He thinks himself very smart, but is in reality nearly a fool about some things-I am utterly disgusted with him-He would keep me doing nothing but answer his follies.” Just like many others in the army, Patrick had very little love for the Butterfield. Patrick had about as much respect for Butterfield as Hawkeye Pierce did for Frank Burns. Yet the tandem of Hooker and Butterfield quickly assessed the army’s needs and more importantly, acted.

The two largest needs were in the areas of supply and morale, shortly followed by camp cleanliness.[9] With the army stationary, in winter camps, the supply problem would be a much easier task to take on. As the old adage states, “an army marches on its stomach.” Thus, once the supply problem was alleviated, the morale problem should quickly remedy itself as well.

Burnside and his staff could not get their heads around the fact that the army was ill supplied. Coupling the supply problem with the debacle at Fredericksburg, and the general’s coup; made for a dire situation. The historian of the 5th New Hampshire penned, “It [the Army of the Potomac] had been decimated, discouraged, disheartened, but not dismayed. However veterans of Fair Oaks, Malvern Hill, Antietam and of a year of severest campaigning declared emphatically that they would never engage in another battle. This idea prevailed, not on account of the want of patriotism and devotion to duty, but because of a total want of confidence in those who managed the operations of the Army of the Potomac.”[10]

W. P. Cutler of the 6th Wisconsin remarked in his journal, “Our Potomac army is so far a failure, and seems to be demoralized by the political influences that have been brought to bear upon it. All is confusion and doubt…God alone can guide us through this terrible time of doubt, uncertainty, treachery, imbecility and infidelity.”[11]

The Federal supply base at Aquia Landing.
The Federal supply base at Aquia Landing.

While Lieutenant Colonel Rufus Dawes summed up the situation perfectly claiming that, “This army seems to be overburdened with second rate men in high position…Common place and whiskey are too much in power for the most hopeful future. This winter is, indeed, the Valley Forge of the war.”[12]

Looking to kill two birds with one stone, Hooker and Butterfield acted quickly. The duo improved Federal supply facilities on the Potomac River, at Aquia Landing. Aquia Landing was the nerve center for vast majority of the supplies coming to the front. Provisions were off loaded from ships and taken to the front line troops via the Military Rail Road. At its height, Aquia Landing was the fifth busiest port in the world.[13]

Aquia Landing today. The area is a county park today with a beach and picnic area.
Aquia Landing today. The area is a county park today with a beach and picnic area.

Hooker’s staff was able to put together a highly efficient supply system. Herman Haupt and Daniel McCallum, “two of the best railroad men in the country, North or South,” also aided the new army commander. Haupt and McCallum devised a system where train cars filled with food, fodder, and other accoutrements of war were packed into box cars of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. The cars were taken to Alexandria, Virginia. There, the cars, still packed with goods, were placed aboard “floats.” These floats were boats that had rail road tracks atop their deck. From Alexandria the floats made their way to Aquia Landing, a trip that took less than 12 hours on a good day. At Aquia the cars were off loaded and 140 at a time, carrying some 800 tons of supplies traveled south along the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad. When the trains arrived at Falmouth, Virginia, their wares were off loaded and the supplies distributed. (Click here for a modern map.)

James P. Stewart of Battery E, 1st Pennsylvania Light Artillery described the hustle and bustle of the port.

“We move camp from Stafford Court House yesterday, got in this place by 4 P.M. and it is the beautifulliest [sic] camp we have ever been in yet. I can see for miles up and down the Potomac. Vessels coming and going, under full sail and others with a full head of steam driving ahead, giving an occasional puff of their whistle. All bustle and confusion about the landing as the 9th Army Corps is going out on transports to Fortress Monroe or New Bern. See a steamboat back out with a band playing and colors flying, it’s grand I tell you.

An then again the Rail Road passes just in stones throw of our camp, the Locomotive screaching [sic] and puffing. Trains loaded with soldiers, both going and coming. All this work going on, thousands of men both going and coming, everything most a man ever saw but women. There is not a woman to be seen in all this bustle.”

Camp of the 110th Pennsylvania Infantry.
Camp of the 110th Pennsylvania Infantry.

More improvements to the supply system helped restore the faith of the men. In and around the Federal winter camps that dotted Stafford County, Virginia, fresh bake ovens were installed. This allowed fresh bread to be baked and distributed to the front at least four times per week. “The commissary department procured iron shields for the tops of the ovens and a regimental bakery was built,” wrote the historian of the 19th Massachusetts. “Levi Woofindale of Co. B. being appointed regimental baker. By this appointment the men profited greatly, being supplied with softbread of an excellent quality and often hot from the oven.”

Vegetables were added to the soldier’s diets, soldier’s received fresh onions or potatoes twice a week. Champagne, oysters, a regulated whiskey ration were also issued to troops.[14] This was a vast step up from the salt pork and hardtack that had become the staple on the march and in camp during the Burnside Administration.

“[Hooker] Coming to this responsible position at a time of great discouragement with a brilliant record based on his fighting qualities, the new commander at once secured the esteem and confidence of his men by his liberality in granting furloughs and his unremitting attention to their present every-day needs. Ovens were built at convenient locations within the lines for the baking of soft bread and orders were issued at once for a generous supply of potatoes, carrots, onions and other kinds of nourishing foods and vegetables. The first installment of these luxuries was hailed with delight. For nearly two months we had subsisted upon salt bacon, hard tack and beans…”[15]

The improved rations went a long way to help pull the Army of the Potomac out of the winter doldrums, but there was still much, much more to do.


[1] Ezra Warner, Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006), 480-481.; Edward J. Stackpole, Chancellorsville: Lee’s Greatest Victory (Harrisburg, PA.: Stackpole, 1988), 35-36. Stone was blamed for the death of Oregon Senator Edward Baker at the October 1861 Battles of Ball’s Bluff. He was called in front of the newly formed Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War to defend his actions. On February 8, 1862 Stone was arrested in the middle of the night and imprisoned for 189 days. In August he was released and shipped to the Department of the Gulf. Although he served well in the Department of the Gulf Stanton had him cashiered from the army in disgrace. In a turn of irony, Stone did serves as a Chief of Staff, not in the United States Army, but rather in the Egyptian Army. For more on Stone and Ball’s Bluff see A Little Short of Boats: The Battles of Ball’s Bluff & Edwards Ferry, October 21-22, 1861 By James A. Morgan III.

[2] Bruce Catton, The Army of the Potomac: Glory Road (New York: Doubleday. 1952), 147-149.; Jeffrey D. Wert, The Sword of Lincoln: The Army of the Potomac (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005), 46-48, 58.

[3] Warner, Generals in Blue, 62-63.

[4] William B. Styple, Generals in Bronze: Interviewing the Commanders of the Civil War (Kearny, NJ.: Belle Grove Publishing, 2005), 87-88. Keep in mind these were the days when fire companies raced to the scene to put out a fire because they were paid for services rendered.

[5] Warner, Generals in Blue, 62-63.

[6] Styple, Generals in Bronze: Interviewing the Commanders of the Civil War, 85.

[7] Ibid., 148.

[8] Diary entry of January 30, 1863. David S. Sparks, ed. Inside Lincoln’s Army: The Diary of Marsena Rudolph Patrick, Provost Marshal General, Army of the Potomac (New York: A. S. Barnes and Company, Inc., 1964), 209.

[9] Diary entries of February 14 and March 11, 1863. Sparks, ed. Inside Lincoln’s Army: The Diary of Marsena Rudolph Patrick, Provost Marshal General, Army of the Potomac, 213-214.; Hooker’s staff consisted of Maj. Gen. Daniel Butterfield-Chief of Staff, Brig. Gen. Seth Williams-Assistant Adjutant General, Lt. Col. Joseph Dickinson-Assistant Adjutant General, Brig. Gen. James A. Hardie-Judge Advocate General, Brig. Gen. Henry Hunt-Chief of Artillery, Brig. Gen. Marsena Patrick-Provost Marshal General, Col. Rufus Ingalls-Chief Quartermaster, Lt. Col. F. Myers-Deputy Chief Commissary, Surgeon Jonathan Letterman-Medical Director, Capt. Samuel Cushing-Chief Signal Officer, Lt. D. W. Flagler-Chief Ordnance Officer, Maj. William Lawrence-Aide De Camp, Capt. William Candler-Aide De Camp, Capt. Alexander Moore-Aide De Camp, Capt. Henry Russell-Aide De Camp, Capt. Harry Russell-Aide De Camp.

[10] William Child, A History of the Fifth Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers, in the American Civil War, 1861-1865 (Bristol, NH.: R.W. Musgrove, 1893), 166.

[11] Diary entry of W. P. Cutler, dated January 26, 1863; In Rufus Dawes, Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers (Marietta, OH.: E.R. Alderman & Sons, 1890), 118.

[12] Letter to Unknown, dated December 25, 1863; In Dawes, Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers, 115.

[13] Aquia Landing is sometimes also referred to as Aquia Harbor.

[14] James P. Stewart to Mother, dtd. February 10, 1863, in James P. Brady, Hurrah For the Artillery: Knap’s Independent Battery “E”, Pennsylvania Light Artillery (Gettysburg, PA.: Thomas Publications, 1992), 197.; History Committee, History of the Nineteenth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (Salem, MA., The Salem Press Co., 1906), 195. OR 25, Pt. 2, 57. General Orders Number 9, dated February 7, 1863.

[15] Robert Laird Stewart, History of the One Hundred and Fortieth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers (Philadelphia: Franklin Bindery, 1912) 33-34.

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