5th U.S. Cavalry, 6th U.S. Cavalry, Alfred Pleasonton, Army of the Potomac, Civil War, George Cram, John W. Spangler, Montgomery Meigs, quartermaster, Rufus Ingalls
This post is proof once again that initial looks can be deceiving. It started when I came across the letter below.
“Headquarters 6th U.S. Cavalry
Camp near Falmouth
January 30th 1863
I have the honor to very respectfully request that the appointment of 1st Lieut. J.W. Spangler, 6th U.S. Cavalry as Regimental Quartermaster of the 6th U.S. Cavalry be revoked and his position on the Regimental staff of this regiment be vacated in consequence of his inability to perform the duties appertaining to it on account of his absence from his Regiment and the duties of his rank in it. Lieut. Spangler having accepted the position of Division Quartermaster on the staff of Brig. Gen. Pleasonton Comdg Cavalry Division. I also have the honor to very respectfully recommend that in the event of a favorable consideration of the above recommendation Lieut. John A. Irwin of the 6th U.S. Cavalry be appointed Regimental Quartermaster of the 6th U.S. Cavalry.
This regiment from recent recruitment is nearly full situated as it is at this season, it is not only a matter of justice to it but essential to the completion of its internal organization that it should have a Regimental Quartermaster present with it.
Trusting that the above recommendation, made from a sense of duty to my Command will receive the favorable consideration of the War Department.
I am Sir
Your Obt Servt
Capt 6th U.S. Cavalry
Kentucky-born Lieutenant John W. Spangler initially made a name for himself as an enlisted man with the 2nd (later 5th) U.S. Cavalry fighting Indians in Texas. He was commended in dispatches several times for gallantry in action, and was first sergeant of his company when the regiment left Texas at the outbreak of the war. Shortly thereafter he received a commission in the newly authorized 6th U.S. Cavalry.
My initial thought was that this was simply another example of Captain Cram whining, something which happened frequently in various letters during the first half of 1863. The 6th U.S. Cavalry’s picket line was over fifteen miles from its camp, and moving supplies for the regiment was a challenge even with an officer dedicated to it full time. Brigade and division staffs were pulled from regimental officers, and Captain Cram wanted his lieutenant back. A reasonable issue and request, but one common to many regiments. It would have helped Spangler as well, who was performing a captain’s duties or more for a lieutenant’s monthly pay.
The request, however, was endorsed recommending approval all the way up the chain of command. General Pleasonton wrote, “It is respectfully recommended that Lt Spangler receive the appointment of Captain in the Quartermaster Dept to fill the office of Division Quartermaster.” Most of Pleasonton’s responses to queries from Captain Cram that I have seen were somewhat less than positive. Even Army of the Potomac commander Major General Joseph Hooker’s endorsement read, “Respectfully forwarded to the Adjt General of the Army, approved.” Surprisingly, however, the request was not approved.
Lieutenant Spangler was relieved as regimental quartermaster for the 6th U.S. Cavalry on February 1, 1863. One of the companies was short an officer, but the regiment was able to assign an officer to attend to its logistical needs. And Captain Cram’s request was granted – that officer was Lieutenant John A. Irwin, another former first sergeant. Spangler remained on the regiment’s rolls, and continued to work as an acting assistant quartermaster in the Cavalry Corps through the end of the war.
Several months of hard campaigning later, the issue was still not resolved. It wasn’t simply a problem for the Cavalry Corps, but for quartermasters across the Army of the Potomac. In a letter to Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs in August 1863, Army of the Potomac Chief Quartermaster Rufus Ingalls submitted a request for additional quartermaster officers. He submitted a list of “officers who have for a long time been doing duty in the QMaster Dept as Acting Asst QMasters. I respectfully request that the officers be appointed Asst QMasters Vols with the rank of Captain and be ordered to report to me for assignment to duty with this Army.” Among the officers listed was First Lieutenant J.W. Spangler, who was then working as an acting assistant quartermaster for the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac.
“I beg leave to call your special attention to Lt. J.W. Spangler 6th US Cavly now acting Chief QMaster Cavly Corps,” Ingalls continued. “Lt. Spangler has been acting in the QMaster Dept with the Cavalry during the Peninsula Campaign, and has been with this army since its return, serving with different commands in the Cavalry Corps. He is in my opinion one of the best officers in the service and I cheerfully recommend him for the appointment of an Asst QMaster in the regular army.” Despite this, once again the request was not approved.
There weren’t enough assistant quartermasters of volunteers in the various armies to support the various staffs. This does not appear to make sense. Quartermasters in the regular army were of course capped by the total number authorized by Congress for the army. These positions, if authorized, would continue in the army once the war was over, thus constituting a long term problem with army size and funding. Volunteer ranks, however, were authorized in support of volunteer formations, and lasted only as long as the position and formation lasted. The chief quartermaster of the Cavalry Corps, for example, would no longer be an authorized position once the Cavalry Corps disbanded. That individual would revert back to his regular army rank and position.
John Spangler served again as the regimental quartermaster for the 6th U.S. Cavalry after the war, from November 5, 1865 to July 28, 1866. He was paid as a lieutenant throughout the war, and was not promoted to captain and command of a company until July 28, 1866. Despite spending the majority of his commissioned career in the quartermaster field, he never did officially work in the quartermaster corps. The issue of additional authorized volunteer assistant quartermasters was not resolved.
Arnold, James R. Jeff Davis’ Own. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: 2000.
Caughey, Donald C. and Jimmy J. Jones. The 6th United States Cavalry in the Civil War. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2013.
Heitman, Francis B. Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1903. Page 437.
National Archives, Record Group 94, Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General, 1861-1870.
National Archives, Record Group 94, Letters Received by the Commission Branch, 1863-1870.
National Archives, Record Group 94, U.S. Returns from Regular Army Non-infantry Regiments, 1821-1916: 6th U.S. Cavalry.
Price, George F. Across the Continent with the Fifth Cavalry. New York: D. Van Nostrand, Publisher, 1883.
Utley, Robert M. Frontiersmen in Blue. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967.
Clark Hall said:
Don, my first reaction is that the obviously-capable Lt. John Spangler’s name was kicked around by some serious heavyweights. But if General Ingalls admired his quartermaster performance, that’s good enough for most of us.
I’m not fond of Captain Cram because of his less-than-stalwart performance at Brandy Station. It has therefore never been hard to concur with G.T. Strong’s assessment of Cram in late 1861: “Clarence Cram is…working hard to fill a position for which his physique and and all his former habits tend to disqualify him.” Take that, Captain Cram!
An amusing aside, barely relevant, but it speaks to the topic of a soldier filling a position for which he was not originally slotted: I had a kid in my unit before we went to Vietnam who was a terrible infantryman. This red-headed slug’s first name was “Omar;” so, of course the troops derided him as, “Omar, the tent maker.” I gave the tentmaker a choice.. Omar could either become a cook, or he would be run up on charges as a malingerer. He chose cooking. We then proceeded to Vietnam and I would occasionally see Omar when we circled back to the base camp and ate at an actual mess hall, near Da Nang. I asked his sergeant how Omar was doing? “Terrible cook,” he replied, “so Omar washes dishes.” When some of us later returned to Camp Pendleton, Omar was working in the main mess hall, still washing dishes (but alive.) A few years ago, I heard Omar was working as a cook in a steak house in Omaha. I don’t get to Omaha much, but if I do, that restaurant will be avoided.
Sam Russell said:
Don… As Quartermaster officer, I greatly appreciate this post.
Sam…I had a sneaking suspicion you might.