Friday, February 19, 2010

Hard Marching

“Though other corps made marches during the campaign which may have been equally grueling, the circumstances attending that of the Sixth Corps made it famous. The word came that they were needed, and needed in a hurry, so they marched from ten at night until five the next afternoon with only a few breaks for coffee or now and then a short rest. On and on they trudged, endlessly it seemed, at first through darkness and then in the glare of the July sun, thirty-four long miles to Gettysburg” (p. 357). So wrote Edwin F. Coddington in his classic book, The Gettysburg Campaign, published in 1968. Fortunately for the men of the Sixth Corps, they saw only light combat during the battle itself.

And yet, the soldiers in the trans-Mississippi were involved in many marching feats that were more impressive than those performed by their eastern counterparts, even including the marching of Jackson’s famed “foot cavalry” during the 1862 Shenandoah Valley campaign.

William L. Shea documents the most famous trans-Mississippi example in Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign: “Between the afternoon of 3 December and the morning of 7 December, a period of three and a half days, the Second and Third Divisions of the Army of the Frontier marched 105 and 120 miles respectively and went directly into battle at Prairie Grove. The actual distance varied from regiment to regiment, but the entire command averaged over thirty miles per day on primitive frontier roads in bitterly cold weather with only brief halts for food and rest” (p. 128).

There was also the impressive, well-organized trek of the California column in 1862 from Camp Latham (Los Angeles, California) to Tucson. The soldiers averaged “about twenty miles a day” during this march of “nearly six hundred miles” (p. 43) across the desert, according to Andrew E. Masich in The Civil War In Arizona: The Story Of The California Volunteers, 1861-1865.

The Confederates could also point to an extraordinary feat of marching by Walker’s Texas Division (Walker’s Greyhounds) and fighting at the battles of Mansfield, Pleasant Hill, and Jenkins’ Ferry during the Red River campaign. Richard Lowe in Walker’s Texas Division C.S.A.: Greyhounds Of The Trans-Mississippi states “In seventy days they had marched, often without food or tents, about 930 miles and fought three pitched battles. This was the equivalent, roughly speaking, of a Federal army marching from Washington, D.C., to Memphis, Tennessee, and fighting along the way, all in ten weeks. It was one of the more amazing physical feats of the American Civil War” (p. 232).

1 comment: