War of the Rebellion: Serial 124 Page 1040 CORRESPONDENCE, ETC.

Search Civil War Official Records

rations were issued, and three of these were carried in the haversacks at the start and were soon exhausted. All other subsistence was obtained from the country through which we passed. The march was commenced without wagons, except such as could be picked up through the country.

Instructions have been given to the generals operating in hostile territory to subsist their armies, so far as possible, upon the country, receipting and accounting for everything taken, so that all persons of proved loyalty may hereafter be remunerated for their losses. By this means our troops can move more rapidly and easily and the enemy is deprived of supplies if he should reoccupy the country passed over by us. Some of our officers hesitate to fully carry out these measures from praiseworthy but mistaken notions of humanity, fo by us is almost invariably taken by the rebel forces, who manifest very little regard for the suffering of their own people. In numerous cases women and children have been fed by us to save them from actual starvation, while their fathers, husbands, and brothers are fighting in the ranks of the rebel armies or robbing and murdering in the ranks of guerrilla bands.

Having once adopted the system of carrying nearly all our supplies with the army in the field - a system suited to countries where the mass of the population take no active part in the war - it is found very difficult to effect a radical change. Nevertheless, our trains have been very considerably reduced within the past year. A still greater reduction, however, will be required to enable our troops to move as lightly and rapidly as those of the enemy.

In this connection I would respectfully call attention to the present system of army sutlers. There is no article legitimately supplied by sutlers to officers and soldiers which could not be furnished at a much less price by the Quartermaster's and Commissary Departments. Sutlers and their employes are now only partially subject to military authority and discipline, and it is not difficult for those who are so disposed to act the part of spies, informers, smugglers, and contraband traders. The entire abolition of the system would rid the army of the incumbrance of sutler wagons on the march and the nuisance of sutler stalls and booths in camp; it would relieve officers and soldiers of much of their present expenses, and would improve the discipline and efficiency of the troops in many ways, and particularly by removing from camps the prolific evils of drunkenness.

I referred in my last report to the large numbers of officers and soldiers absent from their commands. It was estimated from official returns in January last that there were then absent from duty 8,987 officers and 282,073 non-commissioned officers and privates. Only a part of these were really disabled or sick. The remainder were mostly deserters, stragglers, malingerers, and shirks, or men who absented themselves in order to avoid duty. Much of this evil has been abated. Very few furloughs are now given, and officers absent from duty not only lose their pay, but are subject to summary dismissal. Straggling and desertion have also greatly diminished, and might be almost entirely prevented if the punishment could be made prompt and certain. In this respect our military penal code required revision. The machinery of courts-martial is too cumbrous for the trial of military offenses in time of actual war. To organize such courts it is often necessary to detach a large number of officers from active duty in the field, and then a single case sometimes occupies a court for many months. To enforce discipline in the field it is necessary that trial and punishment should promptly follow the offense.