Question of the Week: 3/30-4/5/20

Let’s talk about supply officers and logistics…

Who was the best supply officer during the Civil War? Why or best example?


11 Responses to Question of the Week: 3/30-4/5/20

  1. Wow, tough question for a few reasons. Supply officers aren’t exactly the most well known and how do you choose between a Yankee or Confederate? What was the tougher job, scrapping the bottom of the barrel to feed and supply your men or having an over abundance of supplies at your disposal, all that need to be properly stored shipped and distributed? The Confederates job would have been tough emotionally because you know your men are suffering from want, but the well supplied Yankee would have had more work organizing and distributing his surplus.
    Obviously my examples are general and during the war you could surely have instances where the Confederates were better off in regards to supplies than their Yankee counter parts.
    Who was the supply officer at Andersonville? Was that a task Wirtz would have been in charge of? I’d say that guy had a pretty darn tough job of supplying the prisoners. He obviously failed, but then again that opens up another question. Did the guy fail from lack of support and supplies from the Confederate government or a lack of apathy?

    1. Good questions. I don’t know the answer to any of them. Were Lucius Northup and Abraham Myers truly bad at their jobs? I don’t know.

  2. I’m in general agreement with M.J. U.S. and C.S. logisticians had different tasks and worked under different conditions. Simply keeping the various Confederate forces in the field was an achievement.

    Most supply officers tend to be anonymous partly because good logistics is like good leadership – you only notice it by its absence.

    By the way, Herman Haupt gets a vote from me.

  3. Ulysses S. Grant.

    He got his introduction to quatermastering as a second lieutenant in the Mexican War under both Taylor and Scott. He chafed at being behind the lines (and found ways to get into the thick of the fighting.) But lessons learned in Mexico stood him in good stead during the CW.

    During the CW, Grant was always cognizant of logistics. His longest retreat came during the early days of the Vicksburg Campaign while the Army of the Tennessee marched through central Mississippi. His supply depot at Holly Springs was destroyed by Rebel cavalry, forcing him to retreat all the way back to Memphis. (Grant heated to retreat.)

    A major component of his eventual capture of Vicksburg involved Grant’s plan to move supplies down the Mississippi via steamships and barges. Twice, these vessels ran past Vicksburg’s shore batteries.

    One of the few times he lost his cool during the war was during the naval battle of Trent’s Reach on the James River. A strong Confederate flotilla steamed down the river aiming at the Army of the Potomac’s supply depot at City Point. Grant went ballistic at the navy’s initial failure to halt the Rebel armada…

  4. To preface this response, I know little about this topic (haven’t gotten that far in my studies). But, I recently read an article in Civil War Times’ April 2020 issue written by Gary Gallagher about Josiah Gorgas, who was in charge of the Confederate Ordinance Department. The opening of the article goes “Confederate armies never lost a battle because they lacked sufficient arms and ammunition.” The article goes on to say how Gorgas took over the department and turned it from one of the worst departments into the best. In the spring of 1864 Joseph Johnston even said, “the efficient head of the Ordinance Department has never permitted us to want any thing that could reasonably be expected of him.” I think that’s pretty impressive. Not saying he’s the best, but definitely worth a gold star for his efforts.

  5. I’m not sure I’d say he was the best supply officer, but John Harman, Stonewall Jackson’s quartermaster, deserves some consideration. If nothing else…he put up with Stonewall Jackson.

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!