In today’s world, headlines would scream: “War Department Orders Troops to Starve – Leaves Them Defenseless.” In November, 1863 the War Department issued orders that reduced the burdens Union infantrymen could be required to carry. Marching rations were limited to five days maximum and ammunition was limited to forty rounds maximum. Under the tagline “Almost Incredible Reforms,” our faithful correspondent, Dunn Browne (Capt. Samuel Fiske, Co. G, 14th Connecticut), expressed his opinion with his usual tongue-in-cheek frankness.
I am informed by a credible witness…that the men are not to be compelled to carry on their backs henceforth more than five days’ rations at any one time. I had utterly despaired of the thing; had seen the eight days’, the ten days’, and in one or two instances, the eleven days’ mule burden piled on the men’s backs, over and over again, cruelly, wastefully and uselessly, never once accomplishing the purpose, never in any single instance lasting over six days, till I had about concluded the administration was in some way politically committed to the arrangement, and that I might be unintentionally committing high-copperheadism by grumbling about it.
And another thing. You won’t believe me this time, dear Republican, I know. But it’s a positive fact nevertheless that only forty rounds of cartridges are required henceforth to be carried by our soldiers. I am afraid Secretary Stanton and General Halleck aren’t going to live long, they are getting so good and considerate all at once. But they couldn’t die in a better cause. Why, more cartridges have been wasted during this war by compelling the men to carry sixty, eighty, or even a hundred rounds when their cartridge boxes won’t hold but forty, than would carry on a small “scrimmage” like that of England and France in the Crimea. And besides the relief from the burden, the boys will no longer be liable to drink gunpowder coffee from a cartridge in their haversacks bursting into their sugar or coffee sack, or to be blowed up by a match setting fire to an extra package in their breeches pocket.
Did You Know? While the Federal army corps that served in the Army of the Potomac adopted corps badges early in 1863, this practice was slow to be adopted in the west. When troops from the east were transferred to Chattanooga that autumn, members of the Eleventh and Twelfth Corps proudly displayed their badges, the crescent and the star. When some of these eastern chaps asked a soldier from the Fifteenth Corps (formerly commanded by Maj. Gen. W. T. Sherman) why he had no badge, the soldier simply patted the cartridge box at his side and said, “Forty Rounds is the only badge I need.” The soldier’s words were relayed up the chain of command and late in 1863, Maj. Gen. Logan made “40 Rounds” the badge of the Fifteenth Corps.