Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Unit Designations in the Army in the Old West by Gordon Rottman

Occasionally in Western novels and more often in Western history books we come across US Army unit designations. To the uninitiated this can be confusing. Indeed, it was even confusing to soldiers owing to a degree of non-standardization.
This will no doubt be quite tedious to many. Granted, novels seldom mention more than the most elementary identifications of units. This article is provided as an aid to better understand unit designations in the post-Civil War army. If you are anal enough you might love it. We’ll talk a little about Civil War unit designations as that figures into many novels and histories. It is also beneficial to be familiar with the system if using military records for genealogical research. If nothing else, it provides some background to improve your depth of knowledge.
To help you keep unit designations straight, below is a listing of the different unit echelons from smallest to largest. Generally it can be said that there were three subunits in anyone unit, that is, three platoons in a company, three companies in a battalion, etc. However, there could be anywhere from two to six subunits in a given unit. Exceptions to the rule were widespread. The typical commander’s rank is provided. Note that a commander could be a rank higher or lower, even two ranks in some instances.

Unit Echelon                           Commander                Remarks
Platoon                                    lieutenant                    Consisted of 2-4 squads or sections.
Company                                 captain                         Troop in cavalry. Battery in artillery.
Battalion                                 major or lt colonel       Squadron in cavalry.
Regiment                                 colonel
Brigade                                   brigadier general
Division                                   major general
Corps                                       lieutenant general

In the post-war army there were no corps, divisions, or brigades as formed in the Civil War, unless temporarily formed for exercises or campaigning such as the 1898 Spanish-American War. Divisions and brigades were usually numbered, 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, for example. Generally there were three to six brigades to a division with three to six regiments to a brigade. The division might have a small cavalry unit attached for reconnaissance and some artillery units varying widely in numbers. There was no set standard of how many soldiers were assigned to divisions and brigades. Corps were even larger commands with two to four divisions. By the way, “corps” is spelled with an “s” whether singular or multiple. Either way, it is pronounced “core.”
During the Civil War each of the named armies—usually named after a river or region—Army of the Cumberland or Army of the Potomac—might have several corps, each with several divisions or a smaller army might consist of divisions only, all numbered in sequence at each echelon. This means there were numerous divisions designated the “1st” as were 1st Brigades. Corps were designated by Roman numbers, but are often seen in books with Arabic numbers. To fully identify a unit, all the higher units it was assigned to have to be included in the designation, for example, 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, III Corps, Army of the Tennessee. To prevent confusion it was required for the commander’s name to follow the unit’s designation, for example, “2nd Division (Richards)” or “Smith’s Corps.” This also served to remind higher commanders who their subordinates were. One brigade might be chosen to lead the attack because it commander was notoriously aggressive, while a less aggressive commander’s brigade might be ordered to protect the attacking brigade’s flank.
As mentioned earlier, there were no corps, divisions, or brigades fielded in the Old West era. One will encounter the term “department” though as a regional administrative command, “Department of Texas,” for example.
In peacetime the largest serving units of the infantry and cavalry were “regiments” commanded by colonels. An infantry regiment had ten nominal 100-man companies: A to H and J and K. There was no Company I as “I” and “J” were handwritten the same in the 1800s. Only “J” was used to prevent confusion. There is a rumor that there is no Company J because an unidentified Company J once lost its guidon in some unnamed conflict. That story is not true. Companies can be called “Company A” or “A Company.” There was no standard, but the former preferred.
It did not take long for a 1,000-man regiment to become drastically understrength as 100-man companies dwindled to 40 to 60 men or fewer lost to combat deaths and wounds, captured, died or injured in accidents, died from disease or illness, hospitalized for the same, confined, on leave, deserted, or detailed to special duties. It was not uncommon for regiments in the field to number just 200 to 300 men with a corresponding number of companies or the authorized ten companies, but very small.
In some instances not all of a given regiment’s companies might be active. They were also dispersed widely between different posts. There might be only two companies at some posts and maybe six at another. They could be separated from one another for years. These detachments might be commanded by the regiment’s second-in-command, a lieutenant colonel, or the regimental major, or simply the senior company commander, a captain or lieutenant. I mention this in my sequel to The Hardest Ride, Ride Harder. The lieutenant commanding a detachment of Troop A, 8th Cavalry at Camp Del Rio, Texas plays an important role in the story. While Western novels and movies often highlight the cavalry, infantry was very much present way out West. Their utility was limited though because of their 10 to 12-mile a day rate of march, about the same as a cattle drive.
As an aside, there is a difference between camps and forts. Camps were temporary posts, although some were essentially permanent after years of existence and some were upgraded to forts. Forts were permanent posts. By the way, most forts and camps in the Southern states established since the Civil War were named after Confederate generals—Camp Polk established in 1941 was named after General Leonidas Polk, a minister and Confederate lieutenant general. In 1955 it was renamed Fort Polk.
In the Old West there were no permanent battalions within regiments—From World War I regiments were organized into three battalions with four companies each. It was different earlier on. If fighting as a regiment, which seldom occurred in the Old West, the regiment’s companies in the frontline were called the “battalion.” sometimes two battalions were organized, one under the regiment’s second-in-command, a lieutenant colonel, and the other under the regiment’s major. The number of companies varied. “Reno’s Battalion” is an example. During the pre-battle reconnaissance it consisted of six companies and three weeks later during the battle he was detailed three companies.
Regular Army regiments were designated, for example, 5th US infantry Regiment or 7th US Cavalry Regiment. Often “Regiment” was not included in the designation—simply 18th Infantry, for example. Militia regiments were designated in numerical sequence as raised within their state and designated, for example, 5th Texas Infantry Regiment. The state militias were renamed the National Guard in 1903. The practice of including the state name in National Guard regimental designations ceased in 1917 when the Army and the National Guard were reorganized for World War I with regiments numbered in sequence whether they were Regular Army, National Army (conscripts and volunteers), or National Guard. For example, the 3rd Texas Infantry (National Guard) was redesignated the 143rd Infantry.
There was also the Volunteer Army of the United States, a volunteer force outside of the militia organization and separate from the Regular Army, but under Army command. They were only raised in wartime. Probably the best known is the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry, the “Rough Riders.”
The US cavalry regiment was of the same echelon as an infantry regiment, although the number of battalions/squadrons and companies/troops actually assigned or authorized to be manned varied over the years. Full-strength cavalry regiments were typically authorized 10 or 12 companies. The term “troop” was occasionally used to identify companies, but “company” was the more common designation for the 40-100-man units commanded by captains. After the Civil War the cavalry regiment was standardized with 12 companies, although peacetime regiments may have been authorized as few as four. Battalions and squadrons were not standing units, but temporary groupings of companies. Some cavalry regiments during the Civil War formed squadrons of two companies—commanded by the senior company commander—and two to three battalions of two squadrons commanded by majors or captains. Others used battalion and squadron terms interchangeably with two to four companies each.
From 1873, only the term “troop” was used in documents, but “company” remained in common use. Even after 1883 when “troop” was specifically directed, “company” remained in use by the cavalry until around the turn of the century. Some regiments even mixed both terms. Remember the TV comedy, “F Troop”? Eventually “troop” and “squadron” were the only terms used for company and battalion equivalent cavalry units.
While there were artillery regiments, they normally operated as battalions with three batteries—equivalent to a company or troop. A battery usually consisted of four guns, but could have only two if heavy artillery or even up to 12 in some instances.
I apologize if you found this boring and your head now hurts. If you have any questions, just email me back-channel.
Next month we’ll look at army rank titles and insignia of the Old West era and how the titles originated.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Nominees for the 7th Annual Peacemaker Awards for Westerns Published in 2016

 Western Fictioneers (WF) is pleased to announce the Nominees for the seventh annual Peacemaker Awards for Western fiction published in 2016.

The Lifetime Achievement Peacemaker will be presented to Robert Vardeman.

** Nominees are in alphabetical order.


Echoes of Massacre Canyon by Ben Goheen aka Ben Tyler (Five Star Publishing)
Silence Rides Alone by Ian Charles Millsted (Sundown Press)
The River of Cattle by Alice V. Brock (Pen-L Publishing)
The Silver Baron’s Wife by Danna Baier Stein (Serving House Books)
The Wanted Lawman by A.C. Smith (Gray Ghost Publishing)

Dead Man’s Boot by Patrick Dearen (Five Star Publishing)
Far West: The Diary of Eleanor Higgins by Linell Jeppsen (Wolfpack Publishing)
Gun Devils of the Rio Grande by James Reasoner (Rough Edges Press)
Killing Blood by Robert D. McKee (Five Star Publishing)

Calamity Jane: How the West Began by Bryan Ney (Dragon Tree Books)
Good Water by John Nesbitt (Five Star Publishing)
Grandpa and the Kid by Cliff Hudgins (Wolfpack Publishing)
Lone Star Ranger 7: A Ranger Redeemed by James J. Griffin (Painted Pony Books)
The River of Cattle by Alice V. Brock (Pen-L Publishing)

Jake Silvershorn's Revenge - Vol. 10 Final Showdown by Big Jim Williams (High Noon Press)
Museum Piece by Brian Koukol (The Missing Slate)
Odell's Bones by Troy Smith (Cane Hollow Press)
Widelooping a Christmas Cowboy by Livia J. Washburn (A Cowboy under the Mistletoe, Prairie Rose Publications)

Winners will be announced June 15, 2017 on the WF website (www.westernfictioneers.com) and on this blog.

Western Fictioneers (WF) was formed in 2010 by professional Western writers, to preserve, honor, and promote traditional Western writing in the 21st century. Entries were accepted in both print and electronic forms.

The Peacemaker Awards are given annually. Submissions for the Peacemaker Awards for books published in 2017 will be open in July, 2017. Submission guidelines will be posted on the WF web site. For more information about Western Fictioneers (WF) please visit: http://www.westernfictioneers.com

Western Fictioneers would like to thank Kathleen Rice Adams for being Awards Chair and for the excellent job she has done.

Friday, May 12, 2017

A Free Lunch

            Think there's no such thing as a free lunch? You'd be wrong. Salty snacks, fancy European preserved meats & other gustatory enticements featured regularly in 19th American saloons -- free (up to a point).
            Why? Because hungry men need food and thirsty men drink. Simple as that. A man chose a saloon for what was offered in addition to the alcohol. Some saloons provided hard-to-find newspapers for their patrons. Most served some sort of free, or nearly free, meal.
            What was served?
 "After Prohibition had killed the saloons, old timers waxed lyrical describing the free lunches of the grand old palaces, or rather the gourmet buffet dinners of tiny, savoury meatballs, French Gruyere cheese, hickory-cured ham, and other dainties." Narrow, twenty-foot-long tables in these establishments would be covered with "spotless white linen and plates of delicacies to please the most discerning tastes."
            The more plain saloon would serve cold cuts, or yellow cheese; beans, stalks of celery -- whatever was easy to procure and inexpensive to serve. Above all, the free lunch featured salted food: pretzels, rye bread, smoked herring, salted peanuts, potato chips, and dill pickles. The theory behind all this, and it was a good theory, was that a couple of shot glasses or steins produced appetite -- and the salty goodies, in turn, produced a mighty thirst. The chain-reaction process of drinking and nibbling, nibbling and drinking could go on for hours, during which time the customers spent a lot on booze.  

            Free lunches varied, of course. If the barkeep was German, there might be slices of blutwurst, zervelatwurst, and landjaegers to tempt the patrons. Italian saloon owners might serve calzone and pepperoni, though seldom west of the Mississippi. Two places in Chicago gave away thick, creamy pies to old customers. In the Southwest the faithful helped themselves from a bowl of chili con carne, or nibbled on nachos -- small, salty squares of crisp tortillas covered with frijoles and melted cheese...
            Some bars had their daily free lunch specialties -- franks on Monday, roast beef on Saturday, baked fish on Friday, and so on. And some saloons were more generous than others. Many advertised, "A fried oyster, a clam, or a hard-boiled egg with every drink."
            The word "lunch" should not be take literally. It often blended into free breakfast and free dinner. The same salted goods waited patiently on their fly-speckled plates morning, noon, and night. But the free lunch posed problems for many bartenders. The institution rested on the honor system. Supposedly no creature walking on two legs would be so low as to approach the free lunch table without having first consumed, and paid for, at least two drinks. "But there were many human skunks -- sad to say, great numbers of them -- who were not honorable."
            Source: Saloons of the Old West, Richard Erdoes [Alfred A. Knopf: New York] 1979 (p. 110-114)

            Teddy Blue, a Montana cowboy during the 1880s when the cattle trade flourished, wrote: "talking about food, do you know what was the first thing a cowpuncher ordered to eat when he got to town? Oysters and celery. And eggs. Those things were what he didn't get and what he was crazy for."

            In Wyatt Earp's and Doc Holliday's Tombstone, the Occidental Saloon served a Sunday dinner to tickle "Doc's" fashionable palate:

Chicken Giblet and Consumme, with Egg
Columbia River Salmon, au Beurre Noir
Filet a Boeuf, a la Financier
Leg of Lamb, Sauce, Oysters
Cold Meats
Loin of Beef, Loin of Ham, Loin of Pork, Westphalia Ham, Corned Beef, Imported Lunches
Boiled Meats
Leg of Mutton, Ribs of Beef, Corned Beef and Cabbage, Russian River Bacon
Pinons a Poulett, aux Champignons
Cream Fricasse of Chicken, Asparagus Points
 Lapine Domestique, a la Matire d'Hote
Casserole d'Ritz aux Oeufs, a la Chinoise
Ducks of Mutton, Braze, with Chipoluta Ragout
California Fresh Peach, a la Conde
Loin of Beef, Loin of Mutton, Leg of Pork
Apple Sauce, Suckling Pig, with Jelly, Chicken Stuffed Veal
Peach, Apple, Plum, and Custard Pies
English Plum Pudding, Hard Sauce, Lemon Flavor
"And we will have it or perish.
This dinner will be served for 50 cents."

         from "The Restaurants of San Francisco," Charles S. Greene, Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine, December 1892 (p. 8+):
            "The cheapest places for men are supposed to be the so-called free lunches, though this is probably a mistake; for these free lunches are attached to bars, and it is expected that their guests shall patronize the bar sufficiently to pay all favors they get in the way of free food. In the cheapest of these places a glass of beer at five cents entitles a man to help himself to sundry pretzels, crackers, bits of cheese and sausage, and a salt pickle or a radish: a repast intended to provoke thirst rather than to satisfy hunger.
            A few places give crab salad, also bouillon or clam chowder. In most of the 'bit' saloons, the fifteen cents paid for a single drink or the twenty-five cents, 'two bits.' paid if you had a companion, gives free access to a counter supplied with a considerable display of eatables in addition to those mentioned. Cold roast beef, corned beef, sardines, olives, sandwiches of various kinds, bread and butter, clams, clam-juice, bouillon, and similar viands. To these you help yourself, and eat standing.
            At the various hotel bars and saloons of pretension a drink is 25 cents, and at these a regular meal is served to patrons sitting at tables; soup, fish, entree, roast, and dessert. But the trail of the serpent of all over these places. They do much to promote drinking habits. True, the drink ordered may be only one glass of lemonade, mineral water, or ginger ale, strictly non-alcoholic, and not even the barkeepers will sneer at you, unless he suspects you of doing it as a regular thing. Nevertheless the tendency is not to be content with such simple drinks, and that best there is the patronage and countenance given an unholy business."

J.E.S. Hays

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Ranger Jim's Ramblings for June

This month, I thought I'd do a quick post about perios, the time frame, not the punctuation mark.

Right now, I'm working on a  new Texas Ranger Jim Blawcyzk novel titled TEXAS JEOPARDY. I know, some of you are saying "How can there be a new Jim Blawcyzk novel? Jim was gunned down from ambush in TO AVENGE A RANGER. Well, this is a sixth generation Jim Blawcyzk tale, featuring Jim's great-great-great-grandson and namesake. It's set in the present day, and there's the rub.

When you are writing a Western, or most genres, set in the past, unless you go too far afield you can pretty much make up your own characters, towns, and locations. However, when writing in the present, you need to be much more careful about getting those same things accurate. You can't just plop down a fictional town anywhere you want. Ditto for the methods used in law enforcement, not to mention you'd better make dang cure any suspects are read their rights. Places, locations, equipment, and vehicles need  be correctly depicted. Anything out of place and you can be certain the readers will notice, and let you know.

So, am I enjoying writing a present day novel? Absolutely. Am I finding it harder than an old-fashioned traditional Western. Again, absolutely. But I wouldn't not do it again.

Next month, off to Texas, then the WWA convention in Kansas City. Until then, see you down the trail

"Ranger" Jim

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Blog #4  One-room Schoolhouses
One-room Schoolhouses Buildings
By Julie Hanks, Ph.D.  aka Jesse J Elliot

         The one-room schoolhouses not only reflect the importance 19th Century Americans placed on education, but they also reflected the regions, the people, and the available resources at these school sites. While the established Eastern United States were already building brick schools, the one-room schoolhouses of the West tended to represent the materials most accessible in those areas.  Most often the arid areas of the Southwest used adobe, the prairies often used sod, and the schools with access to trees or the railroad used lumber.  
         Thanks to the many organizations and researchers interested in recording our past, many of these schools have been restored or at least photographed for posterity. In some areas the old schoolhouses have been restored and now serve as museums, community centers, and even tourist centers or shops.
        Encinoso, New Mexico, now a ghost town in Lincoln County has an old adobe schoolhouse that

has miraculously survived the weather and time. The school has not been restored but remains as it

was. Generally the land reclaims adobe structures, but this surviving building not only illustrates an

adobe school, but in its current state, it is also a history lesson on how to build an adobe structure

(still used in isolated and poor areas as homes or shops).

         Unlike Encinoso, the Virginia City, Montana, school is still in use--but not as a school. Restored and modified, the old one-room schoolhouse now serves as an Artisans shop in this trendy town. It’s a beautiful log cabin that once served its children well.

       Another schoolhouse, totally different from Virginia City’s, is the Sula School House, in Montana, recently restored by the local Sula Historical Society and the Trapper Creek Job Corps. The building was sanded, painted and restored. Volunteers came from the community to help.
". . .all the wood we're using came from the East Fork. . .which I'm pretty sure the schoolhouse was originally built with wood from here. People may not be able to tell the difference, but it's important to me (Bill Reed, the man spearheading the project)."  None of the volunteers minded the work--as long as it was completed by opening of duck season. http://ravallirepublic.com/news/local/article_e1aaee62-7796-11e0-aec9-001cc4c002e0.html 

            Unfortunately no restoration is available for sod schoolhouses. Few if any sod schoolhouses remain. Here are two photos of sod schoolhouses in Nebraska.  One is particularly interesting in that the teacher is a man—by the end of the 19th Century, women dominated the western schools. The photo is taken 1890 in Thomas County, Nebraska. The other sod schoolhouse is taken in western Nebraska. Note the construction of the second building. No ninety-degree walls there.

            Other building materials were rock such as limestone and sandstone, bricks, and untreated logs. The author of one of my main resource describes his excitement when he comes upon a limestone school built in 1896 in Chase County, Kansas.  Not only was the school beautifully constructed in limestone, but so were "the two privies, flanking the school" (Rocheleau, 2003,
p. 56 & 57).

           I could go on and on, but I’ll leave it to the reader to follow up on other one-room schoolhouses. There are many reference sites, and each contains its own treasure trove of information.  However, the sites I used most frequently for this month’s blog are listed below.   

Erickson, D. (2011) “schoolhouse being restored by historical society” in Ravalli
 Republic, May 5, 2011.

One Room Schoolhouse Center. Online, ongoing site:

Rocheleau, P. (2003). The One-Room Schoolhouse: A Tribute to a Beloved National Icon.
              St. Martins Press: New York.

Sod One-room Schoolhouses (photos).  https://www.google.com/search?q=Sod+one-

See you next month with a one-room schoolhouse curriculum.