Light Marching Order – Part I

In his next letter to his sister Abbie written on 6 April 1862, Oliver apologizes for being tardy in his correspondence, but blames it on the almost constant movement of his regiment and what he calls “light marching order.” Because of this configuration, he has been unable to carrying along his writing materials.

In the Civil War, infantrymen such as Private Case, lived a life on the move empowered by what the modern American infantryman would refer to as your “LPCs – leather personnel carriers.” Marching was a big part of being a soldier in the Civil War. Generally, there were two types of marching configurations; heavy marching order and light marching order. For the soldier, the command for heavy marching order meant that he would shoulder all of his personal equipment which could weigh as much as 50 to 60 pounds. Heavy marching order was used when commanders did not plan for the current location to be revisited or to be accessible after completion of the march and required several hours of advance notice to allow for packing. Conversely, light marching order was used when an engagement was considered to be eminent with the soldier carrying only the essentials for battle such as their weapon, ammunition, water and possibly a small supply of food such as hardtack. For the 8th CVI, this command was modified to include “blankets and accoutrements.”

An unidentified Union soldier in "light marching order" (Library of Congress)

Oliver reports to Abbie that he and the other men of the 8th CVI left their previous camp in Newbern on the 18th of March. From General Parke’s report, we learn that both the 8th CVI and the 4th Rhode Island left their camps and boarded the steamer “Eastern Queen” traveling down the Neuse River to Slocum’s Creek where they turned upstream to a landing point determined by General Burnside.  Oliver again reports that they traveled about 7 miles up Slocum’s Creek and found the landing site disembarking and remaining at the landing site until about 5:30 PM. He is also quick to note that the soldiers had not “had any rations for one and one-half days.” Oliver was one of thirty-five men from Company A selected to participate in “a forced march of a dozen miles.” He described the experience of the march:

It was the hardest march I ever saw; mud over shoes, water often nearly knee deep, our haversacks empty, stomachs ditto.

The soldiers reached their destination, an abandon Confederate camp, about 9:30 PM making it a four-hour road march of about 12 miles. Given the terrible road conditions, this was not a bad pace by these Connecticut men as the current U.S. Army road march standard for the Expert Infantry Badge qualification is 12 miles in three hours or less. However, the soldiers of Parke’s Brigade were completely spent from the march:

Some of our men were so completely exhausted that as soon as they got to the camp they fell upon the ground and could not be aroused.

Oliver had no time to rest after the completion of the march as he was assigned a special duty:

I was put upon picket the first night which I did not relish very much after the fatigue of marching, but lucky for me I had a pair of dry stocking in my pocket which were worth their weight in gold at such a time.

The marching was not over for the men of the 8th CVI and the 4th Rhode Island. The following day, they were on the move again.

We again took up our line of march about 11 o’clock the next day, leaving a few companies to guard the barracks, on the road towards Morehead and Beaufort.

The commanders obviously observed the effects of the previous day’s march on the soldiers and realized that today was not the best day for marching without some therapy.

We had proceeded but a short distance when we were halted and a day’s rations of hardtack and about ½ gill of whiskey given to each man. Our march was rather hard for the reason that we were so stiffened up by our last night’s tramp, but as we only marched nine miles we stood it pretty well.

By the way, from my best research, ½ gill of whiskey would be about 10 ounces, an ample amount to ease the pain of the march! There was more marching in store for Oliver and his fellow soldiers in the days to come.


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