Sunday, July 18, 2010

"Varnish is Injurious to Leather"

One of the prizes in my book collection is the "Revised U.S. Army Regulations, 1861". It is somewhat damaged; I can't access the title page and publication information without ruining them. I do know it was published sometime after July 25, 1861. It is available online, too!

I doubt many field copies survived. The book is heavy; stuff such as 'close-order drill', so carefully explained, was useless in the war; each man knew what he was supposed to do; and the pages are a soft newsprint type, excellent for use as toilet paper.

1. ALL inferiors are required to obey strictly, and to execute with alacrity and good faith, the lawful orders of the superiors appointed over them.
2. Military authority is to be exercised with firmness, but with kindness and justice to inferiors. Punishments shall be strictly conformable to military law.
3. Superiors of every grade are forbidden to injure those under them by tyrannical or capricious conduct, or by abusive language.

On page 24, Sections 128-130, it specifies that four laundresses are to be attached to each company; how on pay-day, the laundress would receive monies owed to her by individual soldiers (immediately collected) as well as pay for her company duties.  Other pages detail the number of nurses for camps and hospitals, and the forms required for furlough, recruiting, subsistence, and quartermaster requests.

There is a section on how to handle insane soldiers (send them to Washington!). An order that soldiers be vaccinated (against smallpox, presumably, and a good idea). The book lists the instruments required for amputating limbs, how many for each outfit (Twelve needles per surgeon). How much the sutlers, (supply-entrepreneurs to the common soldier) would be taxed (ten percent).  On page 226, Form No. 46, I see that a Major-General made  $96.00 for fuel allowance plus $120.00 per month. A Brigadier-General only received $30.00 for fuel and $80.00 salary.(p.226).

The title of this post refers to Article XIII, "Companies", where (p. 22):
104. Cartridge-boxes and bayonet scabbards will be polished with blacking; varnish is injurious to the leather, and will not be used."

On page 499, we come to the Appendix; The Articles of War [Approved July 25, 1861].

Art. 7. Any officer or soldier who shall  begin, excite, cause, or join in, any mutiny or sedition, in any troop or company in the service of the United States, or in any party, post, detachment or guard, shall suffer death, or such other punishment as by a court-martial shall be inflicted.
Art. 8. Any officer, non-commissioned officer, or soldier, who being present at any mutiny or sedition, does not use his utmost endeavour to suppress the same, or coming to the knowledge of any intended mutiny, does not, without delay, give information thereof to his commanding officer, shall be punished . . . (etc).

I am sure these articles have been standard in any military handbook through the ages. But they seem to have special meaning, and early placement, in the Articles of War of 1861.

The real value to me, however, is in learning what was considered standard or desirable. For instance,
117. The bread must be thoroughly baked, and not eaten until it is cold. The soup must be boiled at least five hours, and the vegetables always cooked sufficiently to be perfectly soft and digestible.
It might make you laugh, but in two sentences, the regulations have partially destroyed the corrupt preference of working in the camp kitchen (no snitching hot biscuits, everybody gets the same) and in essence ordered the cooks to plan ahead and work with resolution (soup to boil long enough). This last also tended, like the vaccinations, to quell sickness in a time when germ theory was not known. If only they had done that with their surgical instruments.

The phrase "varnish is injurious to leather" applies greatly to Union soldiers in the field. They lived in mud or grit and steamed or froze at Nature's whim; could not wait around for cold bread or digestible soup, or got no food at all. Officers of cavalry with raised swords at the charge were routinely shot first by the enemy, and were, to the rest of the soldiers on both sides of the war, considered pathologically stupid.

The varnish stripped off. The leather was blackened, and then the blacking wore away. The war dragged on, with tools scavenged, repaired, and stripped to bare leather.
Picture below: Online Little Rock, of a sutler's tent on the Potomac. Do you think they sold whiskey? You bet they did.


Bob G. said...

As a Civil War nut (I have a t-shirt I got in Gettysburg that says just that), I find ANY and ALL "behind the scenes" information fascinating.

Varnish will make the leather brittle and prone to cracking and breakage...
Not that the quality of the leather used on brogans, belts and ammo pouches was all that well tanned to begin with.

Bet that whiskey was watered down, too...LOL.

A very interesting find you have there...
Made MY SUnday!

Have yourself a great Sunday...and mind the heat and humidity.

Carolina Linthead said...

Dear Ann T.

Not much time this morning...have to go on a picnic with The Bug...but I wanted to thank you for making me smile! I love field manuels, etc. You are so right...they had to be specific. Little things, like digging your latrines downhill/downstream from sources of drinking water, might not occur to the average soldier. Unfortunately, as you note, there was so much they didn't know, especially about germs, infection, etc., and of coure they had little in their arsenal with which to fight these unseen killers.

And so the boys (and a few girls dressed as boys) were marshalled into camp, where they drilled, drank, fornicated (that, too, could be taking place in the sutler's tent!), and, by the tens of thousands, died, not of bullets, but of disease.

Approximately 620,000 soldiers, Union and Confederate, died in the four official years of what the winners dubbed the War of the Rebellion, and less than half in combat. Simply boiling surgical instruments would have saved many lives, but what they really needed was that miracle drug of the 20th century, penicilin.

Ann T. said...

Dear Bob,
Like you, I'm crazy about the "behind the scenes" parts of history.

I know from studying the Wild West, the way to water down whiskey was to put water where tobacco had been soaked, rotgut, and a little dark syrup. Add a bottle of two of the real stuff for aroma. Disgusting!

Thank you! Have a great Sunday!
Ann T.

Ann T. said...

Dear C.L.,
I am crazy about manuals for military matters, and kind of collect them (provided not too expensive). I have two of them for WW2 (a hymnal and a Field manual) and some things on the Indian Wars, not as good, cobbled-together facsimile editions.

This is the second time I have encountered the idea that military functions as a teacher of standard skills to the American public at large. It was true in WW2, and here again! Thank you for that! Just unbelievable.

Sometimes I contemplate the draft with wistful nostalgia . . .

Have a great picnic! Thanks for writing in! And Love to The Bug!

Ann T.

The Observer said...

Ann T:
Military manuals are a hoot to read. Also, don't you love the way the military labels things? The VA has even caught this tendency. I suppose a vet has to feel right at home when he/she gazes at the IV pump and reads, "Pump, Intravenous, Electric." on the bar coded inventory label.

The Observer