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VETERAN FURLOUGHS OF THE UNION ARMYNorthern soldiers on the James River. "Home on Furlough Aboard the Army Transport." From Lanier, Robert S., The Photographic History of the Civil War in Ten Volumes. Volume 8. New York: The Review of Reviews Co., 1911.
By Andrew J. Ackeret
In the earliest months of the Civil War, many people held an optimistic view of how short, or rather, how long, the war would last. The result of this view was that early soldiers enlisted for only three months service, believing the war would be over after one large battle. “The sentiment then was quite universal that three months would close the war. Hence, whoever failed to become a part... would see no service and receive no military glory,” one volunteer of 1861 would later recall. [i] As the year progressed, and the realities of the war set in, newer enlistments were for longer periods of time, up to three years, but no less than six months. [ii]
By 1863, Federal authorities knew that the terms of those “three years' men” who enlisted in 1861 would be ending in the summer and fall of 1864. A report of the Provost-Marshall-General found that 455 out of 956 volunteer regiments would have their term of service expire by December 31, 1864. The same report stated, “The loss by expiration of enlistment of entire regiments and companies, after they had seen service enough to become valuable soldiers, proved a serious drawback to military operations during the first two years of the war. Soon after the organization of this Bureau its attention was directed to the discovery and of a remedy for this evil.” [iii]
Not wanting to lose the experienced core of the army, efforts were taken to entice the troops to re-enlist. Only soldiers with less than a year remaining on their original enlistment would be offered the proposed re-enlistment of three years service, and the bonuses that came with it. [iv] One of the bonuses offered by the government was financial. A cash bounty of $402.00 was offered to re-enlisting soldiers, to be paid in several installments from the Federal government. [v] This money was also supplemented in some cases by the individual states. In at least one case, an enlisted man from Wisconsin pursued state bounties after having received his Federal bounty. [vi] The states had an incentive to encourage re-enlistment, because “Volunteers enlisted under this order will be credited as three-years' men in the quotas of their respective States. [vii] A veteran soldier re-enlisting was one more soldier that did not have to be drafted, and more than one state had experienced a draft riot in 1863.
A second bonus offered by the government was a 30 day furlough, a trip home from the army and the war. The details of the promised furlough were laid out in General Orders, No. 376, dated November 21, 1863. The 30 days of the furlough was specified to begin after the troops arrived in their home state, and the Quartermaster's Department would provide transportation to that state. When 75% of a regiment or company re-enlisted, they would be allowed to travel home as a group, “to go home with their officers to their respective States and districts to reorganize and recruit.” [viii]
The next step was for the authorities to communicate these offers to the combat experienced troops. One Pennsylvania soldier stationed in Tennessee noted on December 18, 1863, that his regiment was read the order authorizing re-enlistments, while they were “in line without shelter or proper clothing and weather turning cold. Tents and knapsacks still at Knoxville. No rations only as we forage and buy from loyal citizens.” [ix]
In the 11th Iowa Infantry, one diarist was out on picket duty when a similar order was read to his regiment; he did not find out the news until he returned to camp. Several days later, he noted that many of his comrades wanted to see “the war brought to a close before they quit the job, while others say that they have seen enough of war, declaring they have done their duty.” [x]
In a diary entry dated December 20, 1863, William Ray of the 7th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry noted the efforts taken by superior officers to encourage re-enlistment. The Colonel in command of the brigade gave a speech making the case to re-enlist. This was followed by similar pleas from the commanding officers of the regiments of the brigade. But it was the appeal of an enlisted man that impressed Ray the most. “[A] Private in the 6th Regt come out and made a good humorous as well as comical speech, caused considerable laughter. And gives us some good sound advice and appealed to our Patriotism. Said twas our duty to sustain the Government & that he was going to re-enlist &c. And upon the whole I believe he made as many Veterans as the rest. ” [xi]
If 75% of the soldiers in a regiment re-enlisted, that regiment would get to keep its identity and unit structure, and could proudly call themselves a “veteran volunteer” regiment. One officer in the 3rd Wisconsin Infantry implored the men under his command to “secure the bounty, the thirty days furlough, and the honorable record of veteran soldiers, [making it] possible to preserve our organization from the beginning to the end of the war.” [xii] In the 11th Iowa, where there had been debate in December as to whether or not one should re-enlist, enough re-enlistments were secured by January 5, 1864 to become a veteran regiment. [xiii]
Some furlough travel began as early as December 1863. There were efforts to ensure the veteran soldiers would be back with the army for campaigns planned for spring of 1864. The timing of those furloughs weighed upon the generals tasked with fighting the war. In the Army of the Potomac, orders were given to the 2nd Corps on January 5, 1864 to limit the number of men on furlough at one time to 1,200, only allowing more to leave when those already gone had returned or if the tactical situation changed. [xiv]
Shortly after this order was given, Major General George G. Meade stated that it was essential that the veteran troops quickly return at the end of the furlough, or else other veterans could be denied their furlough “by the absolute necessities of the service.” [xv] Major General John Sedgwick echoed this fear on January 29, worrying that not all furloughs could be granted “before the season for active operations commences. [xvi] This concern would continue well into the spring.
The 3rd Wisconsin Infantry had successfully reached its quota before the end of December 1863, with 240 men agreeing to re-enlist, out of 300 men in the ranks. One officer would later remember, “On Christmas this surviving remnant of the thousand men of the Third, who had so gayly left the state two-and-a-half years before, started on their return. It was a beautiful day, and for us one of perfect happiness. We were the first regiment from Wisconsin... to reënlist.” [xvii]
When the veteran troops were sent on their furlough, the transportation to their home state was provided by the Quartermaster's Department. The furlough itself did not begin until the troops were in their home state. The veterans of the 3rd Michigan Infantry began their trip home by train in January 1864. Severe winter weather threatened to delay their arrival home, until the soldiers took action:
“The track is blocked with snow in a cut a short distance beyond. Our conductor wants to lay over too, but we can't see it on a thirty days' furlough. Now we have built fortifications and breastworks, are as used to the shovel, and can handle it as well as the gun. So we tell the conductor to provide us with some of the former weapons and we will shovel him and his train through. Provided with the necessary implements, the locomotive snorts and blows her whistle, and off we go for the snow bank . . . We jump out and attack the snow bank, and after working hard we soon had the track so clear that the train passed over in safety . . . we come thundering down to the depot of the Valley City.” [xviii]
The 3rd Wisconsin Infantry arrived home with less difficulty. Julian Hinkley wrote years later: “At Madison, the arms were stored, and the men scattered to their homes to enjoy their thirty-days' furlough. I was just in time to take part in a New Year's dance, and go home in the morning on the coldest day ever known in Wisconsin.” [xix]
The 46th Illinois Infantry, stationed in Mississippi, had 334 veteran re-enlistments. Their 30 day furlough began at Freeport, Illinois, on January 27, 1864, where a “sumptuous repast awaited” the regiment at Plymouth Hall. [xx]
One detachment of the 3rd Ohio Volunteer Cavalry arrived in Ohio on February 9, 1864, and were met by multiple officers, a brass band, and speeches from a colonel, a captain, a chaplain and a reverend. [xxi]
D.G. Grotty, of the 3rd Michigan said of the homecoming of the veterans, “All keep step as best we can. Rat, tat, tat, tat, tat, tat, the people all flock from their comfortable firesides to the doors to see who are passing on that cold and stormy night. . . . all flock into the middle of the street, charge on our ranks, and everything is utter confusion, for the hands of warm and loving friends seize us and welcome us home.” [xxii]
In the Army of the Cumberland, the veterans of the 42nd Indiana Infantry were re-enlisted on January 1, 1864. Returning to Indianapolis on January 28, 1864, the veterans were given a reception and were honored with speech by Governor Morton of the state. As the furlough continued, the veterans began to recruit for the regiment. The warmest memories, though, were related to family. “But, oh, the joy of wives, of the fathers and mothers, on the arrival of these veterans back from the war: at home once more, even though for a short time 'grim-visaged war had smoothed his wrinkled front.'” [xxiii]
While many would write of public ceremonies and time with friends and family, for some, there was serious business to be done. William Ray, of the 7th Wisconsin, took the opportunity of being home—with bounty cash in hand—to shop for a house. While he couldn't make a deal before he had to return to the army, his brother was able to close the deal after Ray had departed. [xxiv]
Although the furloughs were remembered fondly by most, not every furlough passed without incident. In one sad example, John Hart Robinson, of the 45th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, died at home, of small pox. [xxv] In another case, Samuel Lauderdale, a civilian passenger on a steamboat wrote about an incident involving the 46th Illinois Infantry.
“There was some excitement by one[of] the soldiers feigning to be crazy or having the delirium tremens and would not allow any one to come in his room—he had been given a room on account of his sickness—and cut his Captain very badly. Finally one of his Co having more courage than the rest took a gun &knocked the door in. When the door fell the fellow rushed & tried his best to kill the one that was trying to capture him & succeeded in stabbing him severely, though not dangerously. He was knocked down & ironed.” [xxvi]
In the ranks of the 7th Wisconsin Infantry, a broken railroad track in Indiana caused a train accident that “drew Blood on several,” but left no major injuries. Several cars came off the tracks, but travel was able to resume later that day. [xxvii]
In spring of 1864, the armies of the North began new campaigns in Virginia, Georgia, and Louisiana. The troops who had been home only months or weeks before were back into the routine of military life, and many would soon be in the thick of action. For the 3rd Ohio Cavalry, when the regiment was reunited in April, “drilling, dress parades, inspections, are the order of the day, and as soon as we get our horses, we will be off for the front again.” [xxviii] In order to have a better idea of what condition the furlough regiments were in, the army ordered those regiments still in their home states to report back with information on the strength of the regiment, including both the veterans and new recruits obtained during the furlough. [xxix]
Other regiments had furloughs delayed due to command decisions, just as Generals Meade and Sedgwick had warned of in January. Major General James B. McPherson wrote to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant on March 12, 1864, stating that operations his command was ordered to take part in had delayed the furloughs of many of his men, and as things looked, it would be months before those furloughs could be granted. [xxx]
The troops who did not re-enlist were not spared from participating in the new campaigns. It was later in the year,that units and individuals who had not re-enlisted were allowed to go home permanently, only when the term of their enlistments ended. The individuals who had re-enlisted would at that time be transferred to other regiments from their home state.
D.G. Grotty of the 3rd Michigan Volunteer Infantry reminisced that his regiment returned three companies of veterans, who were transferred to the 5th Michigan Infantry in June, 1864. The non-veterans of the 3rdMichigan were not spared duty during the Overland Campaign. The 5th Michigan, on the other hand, re-enlisted “nearly to a man . . . retaining their organization and name.” [xxxi]
Within the 1st Division, 14th Corps, Army of the Cumberland, the1st Wisconsin Infantry and 10th Wisconsin Infantry returned too few veterans to maintain their own organizations. In September and October of 1864, the soldiers of those two regiments who had re-enlisted were transferred to another Wisconsin regiment in the same division, the 21st Infantry. The non veterans were sent home. [xxxii]
The bounties and furloughs had the desired effect upon the Union armies. The Provost Marshal General reported that 136,000 “tried soldiers, who would otherwise ere this have been discharged, were secured for three years longer . . . The force thus reorganized . . . an essential part in the greatc ampaigns of 1864, and its importance to the country cannot be overestimated.” [xxxiii] As early as January 2, 1864, in the Army of the Potomac, General Meade reported to Major General Henry W. Halleck that there were 16,189 veteran re-enlistments. [xxxiv]
By July of 1864, General Orders, No. 235 codified changes to the offers made for re-enlistment. The bounty was lowered to $100.00 for each year of a re-enlistment, with a maximum of $300.00 for a three year re-enlistment. At the same time, the offer of furloughs for veterans was also discontinued. [xxxv] The government continued to appeal to experienced soldiers to get them to re-enlist, but the offers were not as lucrative as they had been in December, 1863.
The veteran furloughs were unquestionably a meaningful moment for many of those who fought for the Union in 1864. Individual stories appear in diaries, memoirs, and regimental histories. Many pages of government reports record the actions taken, along with the questions raised by implementation of those actions, as well as the ramifications of those actions.
For many troops who had experienced the hardships of military life from 1861 to late 1863, the chance to visit home sooner rather than later, combined with cash payments, was too much to turn down. Also, as noted by more than one veteran, there was a degree of pride in what they believed their cause to be, and many wanted to see that cause to its finish. The spring campaigns would come soon enough, and veterans and non-veterans alike would see combat.
Some would enter that combat knowing that if they survived, muster out was only a few short months away. Others would enter that combat, knowing they could be in the army for three more years; early release granted only if the war ended, though a medical discharge, or death. But the veteran troops also entered combat with fresh memories of eventful travel cross country travel, speeches, brass bands and public dinners, but mostly of their home and loved ones.
[i] Michael H. Fitch, Echoes of the Civil War As I Hear Them (New York: RF Fenno & Co., 1905), 17-18.
[ii] War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, series III, vol.1, (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1899), 380-381.[Hereafter referred to as Official Records]
[iii] Official Records, series III, vol. 5 (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1900), 650.
[iv] Ibid., 650.
[v] Official Records, series III, vol. 3 (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1899), 414-415.
[vi] William Ray, Four Years with the Iron Brigade: The Civil War Journal of William Ray, Company F, Seventh Wisconsin Volunteers. Edited by Lance J. Herdegen and Sharon Murphy (Da Capo Press, 2002),254-256.
[vii] Official Records, series III, vol. 3, 415.
[viii] Ibid., 1084.
[ix] Allen D. Albert, History of the Forty-Fifth Regiment Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry 1861-1865, (Williamsport, PA: Grit Publishing Company, 1912) 108.
[x] Alexander G. Downing, Downing's Civil War Diary, edited by Olynthus B. Clark, (Des Moines, IA: The Historical Department of Iowa, 1916), 156.
[xi] Ray, 243-244.
[xii] Julian Wisner Hinkley, A Narrative of Service With the Third Wisconsin Infantry,(Wisconsin Historical Commission, 1912), 103.
[xiv] Official Records, series I, vol. 33 (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1891), 348.
[xv] Ibid., 357.
[xvi] Ibid., 439.
[xvii] Hinkley, 104.
[xviii] D.G. Grotty, Four Years Campaigning in the Army of the Potomac, (Grand Rapids, MI: Dygert Bros. & Co., 1874), 119.
[xx] Thomas B. Jones, Complete History of the 46th Illinois Volunteer Infantry,(Freeport, IL: W.H. Wagner & Sons, 1900), 200-201.
[xxi] Thomas Crofts, History of the Service of the Third Ohio Veteran Volunteer Cavalry,(Toledo, OH: The Stoneman Press, 1910), 128.
[xxiii] S.F. Horrall, History of the Forty-Second Indiana Volunteer Infantry, (1892), 206-207.
[xxiv] Ray, 254-255, 262.
[xxv] Albert, 462.
[xxvi] Peter Josyph, editor, The Wounded River: The Civil War Letters of John Vance Lauderdale MD, (East Lansing, MI: 1993), 197-198.
[xxvii] Ray, 257-258.
[xxviii] Crofts, 145.
[xxix] Official Records, series III, vol.4 (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1900), 58.
[xxx] Official Records, Series I, vol. 32, part 3 (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1891), 60.
[xxxi] Grotty,119-118, 140.
[xxxii] Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Wisconsin for the Year Ending December 31, 1864, (Madison, WI: Atwood & Rublee, 1865) 6, 41, 64.
[xxxiii] Official Records, series III, vol. 4, 930.
[xxxiv] Official Records, series I, vol. 33, 347.
[xxxv] Official Records, series III, vol. 4, 547-548.
Albert, Allen D., History of the Forty-Fifth Regiment Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteer Infantry 1861-1865, Williamsport, PA: Grit Publishing Company, 1912.
Annual Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Wisconsin for the Year Ending December 31, 1864, Madison, WI: Atwood & Rublee, 1865.
Crofts, Thomas, History of the Service of the Third Ohio Veteran Volunteer Cavalry, Toledo, OH: The Stoneman Press, 1910.
Downing, Alexander G., Downing's Civil War Diary, edited by Olynthus B. Clark, Des Moines, IA: The Historical Department of Iowa, 1916.
Fitch, Michael H., Echoes of the Civil War As I Hear Them, New York: RF Fenno & Co., 1905.
Grotty, D.G., Four Years Campaigning in the Army of the Potomac, Grand Rapids, MI: Dygert Bros. & Co., 1874.
Hinkley, Julian Wisner, A Narrative of Service With the Third Wisconsin Infantry, Wisconsin Historical Commission, 1912.
Horrall, S.F., History of the Forty-Second Indiana Volunteer Infantry, 1892.
Jones, Thomas B., Complete History of the 46th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, Freeport, IL: W.H. Wagner & Sons, 1900.
Josyph, Peter, editor, The Wounded River: The Civil War Letters of John Vance Lauderdale MD, East Lansing, MI: 1993.
Ray, William, Four Years with the Iron Brigade: The Civil War Journal of William Ray, Company F, Seventh Wisconsin Volunteers. Edited by Lance J.
Herdegen and Sharon Murphy, Da Capo Press, 2002.
War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901.