I commend Mr. Robert P. Wettemann Jr.'s essay concerning the U.S. Army surplus issue in the mid-1830s. His efforts to shed new light on the subject are to be applauded. He exposes new source material in the form of military correspondence which does confirm that there was U.S. army surplus of "the old pattern" being sold off in St. Louis, Detroit, Florida, North Carolina, and on some frontier forts in the 1830s. Regrettably, however, the reader gets lost in the plethora of military correspondence in Wettemann's examination to confirm that there was U.S. Army surplus at various places and at certain times, but he fails to make the all-important connection which would have given his essay a chance at being credible, the connection to New Orleans. It will also be shown that even if he had made this connection to New Orleans, the content of several of Wettemann's sources glaringly self-defeats his own attempts at rebuttal.
Mr. Wettemann's endeavor to prove that there was U.S. Army surplus available on the frontier, actually blinds him to specific damaging details found in his own sources. In the letter from Garland to Lieutenant Henry Prentiss, it is plainly stated that the only items selected to be sold on the public market were, "damaged or unserviceable" goods,
The object of your visit to Detroit will be to inspect the old clothing in depot at that place and report to the clothing bureau, as early as convenient,the quantity of good clothing which can be issued, and that which is damaged or unserviceable. As soon as your report is received, a requisition will be made upon the Quartermaster General, to furnish that which is good to the troops on the lakes, the remainder will be ordered to be sold. (Bold type, the author's)1
The discards, which were no longer fit for service was to be passed off onto the public at auction. The "Subaltern" letter found in the Army and Navy Chronicle reveals another interesting comment concerning "old pattern" surplus,
I refer to the practice of disposing, at public sale, of soldier's old uniform clothing. It is any thing but grateful to the eye and feelings of the profession, to see its uniform disgraced by exposure to public gaze upon the back of every Negro and ragamuffin he meets with, and these are the only persons which will purchase or wear it. (Bold type, the author's)2
In actuality, Wettemann's new sources confirm Stephen Osman's conclusions, in that, what was sold off, the so-called "surplus", was either damaged or unserviceable,3 and therefore, would have been unprofitable for merchants to buy. According to Garland, the good items in stock were kept for the Army. No wonder why the ragamuffins and "Negroes" were, according to the "Subaltern" the only ones willing to buy them.
Wettemann would have the reader believe that Yoakum's 1855 reference to the New Orleans Grey's "fine uniform caps and coats"4 were actually unserviceable and damaged discards from the U.S. Army considered so unworthy for service, that not even the rank and file was allowed to use them for fatigue duty. It would then seem logical in this scenario why Chief Bolles would ask, in astonishment, "Are these Jackson's men!!?" It would also be difficult indeed to visualize these men accepting the purchase of moth-eaten and mildewed rags for the rigors of life on the Texas prairies, much less visualizing this act of purchasing damaged goods establishing any semblance of esprit de corps for the men. It would also seem ridiculous for the Texas committee to pay "good money" for rags and discards from the U.S. Army when the New Orleans newspapers were filled with advertisements announcing large shipments of brand new ready-made civilian clothing. Several of the members of the Texas committee were commercial merchants who were accustomed to purchasing supplies for their cotton and sugar planter clients.
Wettemann also calls into question the use of Ehrenberg's reference to "whiskey-loving foreigners" as an indication that the Greys would have rejected uniforms associated with the U.S. Army. Wettemann concedes, to a point, that there was a civilian aversion to the U.S. Army, but conveniently excludes the 1830s in his concession. Francis Paul Prucha examined the descriptions of the U.S. Army between 1825-1860 by British travelers, and that Ehrenberg's description, though prejudiced, was accurate and consistent for the period, including the 1830s,
The picture of the United States army, its personnel, and its posts, which was drawn by these travelers, was a dark one. The features that almost universally drew attention were not of laudible character, and disdain and contempt, though often softened by sympathy for the soldiers and the officers, were prominent notes in many accounts. It was a sorry lot of men that made up the rank and file of the American army; recruiting officers, finding few native Americans willing to forsake the opportunities of a growing society for the low pay of an army private, had to fall back on foreign immigrants, who rushed to the recruiting stations in larger numbers. The enlisted men were notorious for their heavy drinking, and this vice did not pass unnoticed.5
In December, 1835, after the taking of San Antonio de Bexar in early December, later in the month the commanders of several auxiliary companies threatened mutiny when informed that they would be brought under the authority of the commander-in-chief of the Texian army, indicating, once again, a distinct aversion towards the established military. Both company commanders of the Greys signed the resolution demanding auxiliary autonomy.6 It would be hard to understand why they would make a stand against being integrated into the regular Texian Army, and yet passively agree to wear the uniform of the U.S. Army before leaving New Orleans, if indeed this was an available choice. Wettemann's admission that there were volunteer units, which mutinied due to being forced to wear U.S. Army issue uniforms, seems to weaken rather than strengthen
his argument.>7Mr. Wettemann also contends that, Many volunteer units throughout the United States adopted uniforms distinctly different from those worn by U.S. regulars. However, these were usually volunteer units that had been in existence for some length of time. Throughout much of the nineteenth century, when militia units were raised quickly, and on an ad hoc basis for any conflict, they were faced with one of two options: wear civilian clothing, or adopt whatever uniforms were readily available.
(Bold print, the author's).
Calls for large numbers of citizen-soldiers usually paralyzed the existing supply structure of the U.S. military—Granted, there are instances of volunteer units attempting mutiny when faced with the prospect of wearing regular uniforms, however, such incidents place after the units had already established themselves as volunteers and did not wish to betray their identity as a corps of citizen-soldiers by wearing uniforms identical to those worn by U.S. regulars.8(Bold print, the author's).
The mobilization of the Louisiana militia in January 1836 by General Persifor F. Smith indicated that volunteers were required to obtain for themselves the necessary clothing for the campaign.9 The Louisiana legislature reorganized its militia in 1834. In the Act of 8 March 1834, section 91, uniforming regulations were established. Both volunteer and militia companies were allowed to,
Adopt any uniform which shall be approved, by the commander-in-chief, but any company newly formed shall wear the uniform of the battalion or the squadron to which it is to be annexed to the companies of that battalion or squadron have different uniforms it shall adopt its uniform so that all companies of each battalion of squadron or volunteer's shall wear the same uniform, each company having the right to wear some mark on collar and in front of the cap to distinguish it.10
The act allowed the various existing and new militia and volunteer units to adopt their own distinctive uniform, as long as it was approved by the commander-in-chief of the Louisiana militia. New companies were expected to adopt the uniform pattern of its battalion or squadron. Examining the drill notices of various New Orleans volunteer companies in 1835, specific descriptions of the required uniform for drill oftentimes were provided. Uniforms were varied and colorful, and did not reflect any resemblance to the regular army. The Voltigeurs wore a blue coat and blue pants, the City Guards wore blue pants, and blue vest, with red epaulettes, and the Cazadores de Orleans (Orleans Sharpshooters) wore a wool coat (color unidentified) with white pantaloons for winter fatigue duty.11 If a state, such as Louisiana, sanctioned the choice of distinctive uniforms, then the hypothetical purchase of U.S. Army uniforms for either the militia, the volunteers, or the New Orleans Greys would have been an act of destroying a unit's identity, especially if the unit's name was associated with the color of the their uniform. It would be understandable why these units would mutiny when forced to change into U.S. Army regulation uniforms.
|New Orleans Bee, 16 November 1835,Vol.
IX, No. 45, p. 2, c. 4.
Barbarin Hill advertisement, 16 November 1835. The advertisement included "articles for military use," including uniforms for the Louisiana Legion's Canoniers. L.A. Barbarin was a first lieutenant in the First Company of Artillery, Louisiana Legion. Plums for horse guards, buttons for the Orleans Guards, and shakos were also provided.
click image to enlarge
Mr. Wettemann, in his zeal to point out overlooked sources, seems to completely ignore the 1846 review of Ehrenberg's memoirs,12 the Ebenezer S. Heath letter,13 the William G. Latham testimony during Christy's 1836 trial describing the New Orleans Greys as emigrants and not as soldiers,>14 the Reuben M. Potter letter to Henry McArdle,15 and significant secondary sources such as Joseph Hefter's 1970 letter and the editorial work of Eugene Barker and Amelia Williams. Most of all, Wettemann ignores the translation work of Dr. Louis Brister, Southwest Texas State University, who is actually the translator for Dr. James Crisp's upcoming Ehrenberg translation, all of which support a civilian view. It appeared that Mr. Wettemann only used sources, which fit his view and ignored the rest. If many of these sources are the more readily available accounts, in which Mr. Wettemann dismisses in his rebuttal, then why haven't historians used them in previous studies or secondary descriptions of the New Orleans Greys if they were so readily available? Mr. Wettemann must also be corrected for referring to the "civilian view" as being slave clothing. The original statement was,
The color gray in the first half of the 19th century oftentimes was associated with common worker's or militia clothing. Runaway slave notices in New Orleans newspapers of the time give descriptions of slaves described as last seen wearing "dark gray drab pantaloons and roundabout" or "grey cloth coat, grey bombasin pantaloons, and a new black hat and shoes." The notion that whites would have never worn clothes of the type worn by slaves is erroneous. Much of what the New Orleans slave wore was ready made, simple apparel, and supplied in local stores for the purpose of work. Dockworkers, boatmen, mechanics, many of them European immigrants, used the same type of clothing for its durability and low price.16(Bold print, the author's).
The reference to New Orleans slave notices was meant to show that gray clothing was indeed available in New Orleans at the time. Mr. Wettemann failed to make this connection in finding U.S Army surplus in New Orleans.
Mr. Wettemann makes the claim that the army surplus theory is the "traditional view." To make the claim that a view is traditional, a thread of consistency throughout the years must be established. The surplus theory has been around for only approximately fifteen years since the Texas Sesquicentennial celebration. This would hardly "fit the bill" for a traditional theory. The examination of primary and secondary sources, including Mr. Wettemann's military correspondence, 163 years of both eyewitnesses, and historical commentary through the present, must be looked at as a whole, and it establishes a strong case for the view that the New Orleans Greys obtained durable civilian grey jackets and pants and a hunting cap from the civilian markets of New Orleans.
Mr. Wettemann's article does reveal new insights on the militia and the U.S Army in the 1830s and 1840s. Wettemann, however, in the final analysis, still makes Chief Bolles' reference to "Jackson's Men" the basis for his theory. The author attempts to match military records of the era with this story, which was already twenty years old when written by Henderson Yoakum. Wettemann takes on a laborious task to try to make a connection to the story with military records, and all that is proven is that there was U.S. army surplus in other places hundreds of miles from New Orleans. Another concern must be raised, just what did "old issue" uniforms include? In one of Wettemann's endnotes (endnote 23), a letter written by Garland to Brevet Brigadier General Matthew Arbuckle, dated 22 March 1834 refers to the selling off of "coats and wings,"17 indicating that surplus did not necessarily mean gray fatigue uniforms. Possibly the old issue blue winged 1827 uniforms were being sold off as well. Wittemann's arduous efforts still leaves his theory hollow due to no direct sources connecting the Greys to actual military records in New Orleans.
On another point, Wettemann states, A complete understanding of the
nature of the New Orleans Greys and the uniforms they wore necessitates
a better understanding of the social, political, and cultural milieu of
the entire Jacksonian era, as significant events relevant to the Revolution
transpired both inside and outside the Republic of Texas.18
|New Orleans Bee, 20 January 1836,
Vol. IX, No. 98, p. 1, c. 2.
Notice for bids from the Louisiana Board of Public Works, January, 1836. Proposals accepted for stores and clothing. The notice provides examples of what was considered work clothes in New Orleans in the mid-1 830s: linsey round jackets and pantaloons and cotton shirts.
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Though Wettemann's point concerning the Jacksonian era is made poignantly, he does not provide a single document or source which connects his research with the more important study of the understanding of the historical, political, and commercial dynamics that were occurring in New Orleans at the time. James Winston's article in the Louisiana Historical Quarterly provides a foundational start for any study of the Texas-New Orleans connection.19 The Texas committee and their sponsorship must be looked at closely in light of a Whig dominated state government located in New Orleans, which was opposed to the Jacksonian agenda.
The glaring descriptions of available U.S. army surplus as damaged and unserviceable goods leaves the reader with the question as to why any military unit of the era would have bought it, much less wear it, to represent a symbol of esprit de corps. Mr.Wettemann also attempts to minimize the civilian aversion towards the established military in the 1830s. The conclusions of Francis Paul Prucha, that many of the rank and file throughout the antebellum period, including the 1830s, were considered alcoholic foreigners, is virtually synonymous with Ehrenberg's description. The auxiliary volunteer commanders in December 1835 also showed continued signs of this aversion in their refusal to fall in under the command of the commander-in-chief of the Texas forces. He makes the claim that volunteer and militia companies did adopt uniforms which resembled that of the U.S. Army, but Louisiana sources presented in this response prove otherwise. While Mr. Wettemann emphasized the important point of looking at all sources, he appears to ignored many key primary sources, which appeared to not fit his own theory.
So where does this leave the debate? Mr. Wettemann's rebuttal fails to be convincing, and lacks the all-important connections with New Orleans, especially as it relates to the New Orleans Greys. He is encouraged to continue his research, for in it he may discover that one connective source which would make his point more convincing. No historian, including myself, should ever declare that all sources have been found, even though Mr. Wettemann and others would have the reader believe that I have stated something to the contrary. The writing of history, by its very nature, is ongoing, but when a substantial number of primary and secondary sources establish a consistent historical view, as in the case of the Greys wearing civilian clothing, then this pattern, which is corroborated by a sizable number of sources from various perspectives, not just a military one, can be judged reliable. The U.S. Army surplus view is not convincing, not because of personal agendas as Mr. Wettemann would infer, but because it is simply based upon a faulty argument, in which these important sources are completely ignored. Yoakum's twenty-year old secondary account of Chief Bolles inquiring whether the Greys were Jackson's men, and trying to connect it with far-away mildewed discards still implies that not all sources are being considered in his study. This continues to be a major contention as before. This, of course, is not to say new sources will not surface in the future which could change either interpretation. The evolution of new information being found, examined, and evaluated, as in the case of the two previous essays by myself and Mr. Wettemann, is apart of the ongoing act of looking for new sources, which is voiced so eloquently by Henry Kissinger, who said, "History knows no plateaus, history knows no resting places."
1 Wettemann, ADP: 4; Garland to Lieutenant Henry Prentiss, 3 June 1833, NARA, Record Group 92, E1000.
2 Wettemann, ADP: 6; Army and Navy Chronicle, 18 January 1836, vol. 2 , No. 7, p. 109.
3 Ed Miller, "The New Orleans Greys Uniform: A Historical Perspective," in Alamo de Parras, 1 April 1999 .
4 Henderson Yoakum, History of Texas from Its First Settlement in 1685 to Its Annexation to the United States in 1846, 2 vols. (New York: Redfield, 1855), 2:23-24.
5 Francis Paul Prucha, "The United States Army as Viewed by British Travelers, 1825-1860" Military Affairs 17 (1953): 114-115.
6 Llewellyn to Johnson, 25 December 1835, in John H. Jenkins, ed. The Papers of the Texas Revolution, 1835-1836, 10 vols. (Austin: Presidial Press, 1973), 3:313-314.
7 Wettemann, ADP: 7.
8 Wettemann, ADP: 7.
9New Orleans Bee, 20 January 1836.
10 Library of the Louisiana Adjutatant General, Jackson Barracks, New Orleans, Louisiana, Librarians Vertical File Records, found under "Acts for the organization and discipline of the Militia of the State of Louisiana."
11New Orleans Bee, 24 December 1835; 8 December 1835; 9 May 1836;2 December 1835; 14 September 1835.
12 Anonymous Review, "A Campaign in Texas," in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine 59 (January 1846): 37-53, Littel's Living Age, 8 (28 February 1846): 413-422, in Earl Vandale Collection, Center for American History, Austin, Texas.
13 Ebenezer S. Heath to his mother, Ft. Defiance, Texas, 10 March 1836, typescript letter, Davenport Papers, Center for American History, Austin, Texas.
14 Proceedings in the Case of the United States versus William Christy, on a Charge of Having Set on Foot a Military Campaign, in New Orleans, against the Territory of Mexico, in November 1835 (Benjamin Levy: New Orleans, 1836), 25.
15 Reuben M. Potter to Henry McArdle,
16 Edward L. Miller, "The Texas Revolution, Civilian Suits, Whiskey-loving Foreigners, and the New Orleans Greys, "Military Collector and Historian 48 (Spring 1996): 34.
17 Wettemann, ADP: 10.
18 Wettemann, ADP: 8.
>19 James Winston, "New Orleans and the Texas Revolution," Louisiana Historical Quarterly 10 (July 1927):317-354.