These armies are composed in great part of regiments which, by death in battle, by disease, and discharged for original or developed causes, have fallen far below the minimum standard of law, and many even below "one-half the maximum strength." Yet all these regimens, as general rule, have undergone a necessary and salutary purgation.
Field officers have acquired a knowledge which they did not possess when first called to arms by the sudden breaking out of war; they have learned how to drill, to organize, to provide for, and conduct their regiments. Captains, lieutenants, sergeants, and corporals have all been educated in the dear, but necessary, school of experience, and begin to have a knowledge which would enable them to make good companies had they the proper number of privates.
We had all supposed the conscript law would furnish these privates, and that at last we would have an army with a due proportion of all grades.
The receipt of General Orders, Numbers 86, dispels this illusion, and we must now absolutely discharge the colonels and majors and assistant surgeons of all regiments below the standard of "one-half the maximum." This will at once take the very life out of our army.
The colonels and majors of our reduced regiments are generally the best men, and are the fruit of two years hard and constant labor.
Then the ten companies must be reduced to five, and of course there will be discharged in each regiment-field and staff, 3; captains, 5; lieutenants, 10; sergeants, 20; corporals, 40; aggregate, 78; so that each regiment will be reduced in strength by seventy-eight of its chosen and best men.
Extend this to the whole army, for all the army is now, or must soon fall below the standard, and the result will be a very heavy loss, and that confined to the best men.
Then after regiments are made battalions, and again are restored to their regimental organization, will come in a new set of colonels, majors, captains, &c., and what guarantee have we set of colonels, majors, captains, &c., and what guarantee have we but that the same old process of costly elimination will be gone over?
We know from the mammoth size of the army that the appointing power must be given to Governors of States, who, however patriotic, rarely appreciate the fact that to handle and discipline troops in the field requires a knowledge of the principles of war deferent from those that manage county canvasses. A new set of colonels and majors, and a strong infusion of new captains and lieutenants, will paralyze the new organization and will lose to us other years of war.
This army is now in about the right condition to be re- enforced by recruits-privates; but if this consolidation is effected, I have no hesitation in saying that my army corps is and will be paralyzed by the change. It will be all loss and no again. Regiments will lose their identity, their pride, their esprit.
If there be no intention to enlarge the present volunteer army, I admit that consolidation is economy and right, but when we all feel that the armies must be filled up, it does seem strange we should begin by taking out of our small but tried regiments some of the very best material in them, especially their colonels.
I do hope General Thomas will manage to postpone the enforcement of this order till its effect can be better understood.
With great respect, &c.,
W. T. SHERMAN,