Historic Resource Study
NPS Logo


     Life at the third Fort Union from the days of the Civil War until the post was closed in 1891, as at other western posts, was characterized by a rigid stratification of personnel and strict schedule of routine activities, including roll calls, guard mount, company drill, target practice, guard duty, fatigue details (including the daily supply of water and wood, seasonal work in the gardens, and cutting ice during winter months), kitchen police, maintenance work, sanitation chores, teamster duties, cleanup assignments, dress parades, and inspections. [1] Fatigue details continued to provide a labor force for the army, leading to much criticism by enlisted men who felt such work had little to do with soldiering and that they were exploited as laborers without adequate compensation. [2]

     The common labor expected from soldiers may have been a critical factor in the high rate of desertions. Private Charles J. Scullin, who spent considerable time in the guardhouse at Fort Union, including punishment for at least three attempts at desertion, wrote to a Las Vegas newspaper in 1885 and reported that nine out of ten who deserted did so because they had enlisted to be soldiers instead of "flunky laborers." After interviewing other deserters who had been captured, Scullin reported that they had joined the army to carry a gun rather than a pick and shovel. [3] Some observers noted, however, that the soldiers seldom worked hard, managed to kill much time without accomplishing much, [4] liked to complain, and were compensated with extra-duty pay under certain conditions. [5] Abuses of extra-duty pay came by working them less than ten consecutive days. Civilian employees were often present to provide part of the labor required.

     Fatigue details were assigned to construct buildings and corrals, build and maintain telegraph lines, construct and repair roads, renovate facilities, and almost everything else that needed to be done. Captain George F. Price, Fifth Cavalry, reported in 1884 while serving in New Mexico that many soldiers deserted because they were too "often in logging camps, making adobes, constructing quarters, building telegraph lines, opening wagon roads, etc." instead of performing "their [military] duties." [6] As a leading scholar of the frontier army stated, "drudge labor occupied most of the time and energy of the troops." [7] Some enlisted men were utilized as servants (known as "strikers") by officers, receiving extra pay of five to ten dollars per month for their services. [8] One soldier, William Edward Matthews, Eighth Cavalry, refused an offer to serve as an officer's servant. As Matthews explained to his parents, "I thanked him very kindly and said I did not enlist for a waiter, I enlisted for a Soldier." Matthews's view of the military caste system was expressed in his observation about officers, that "we are too much of a slave for them now, without going [to work] in their houses." [9]

     Soldiers also complained about the omnipresent guard duty, which required them to be on watch for a period of 24 hours every few days (the frequency depending on the number of men available for duty at the time). Private Matthews, Company L, Eighth Cavalry, explained how onerous guard duty could become after his arrival at Fort Union in 1870, when only 12 men of his company were available for duty. Six of those troopers were required to stand guard every other day, and the other six were assigned that duty on the alternate days. Matthews declared, "This thing of only one night in bed would Kill the oldest man living." [10]

     Matthews explained to his family the duties of a private soldier in his company under those circumstances at Fort Union, a lengthy description worth quoting in his own words:

     "Here you get one night in bed. For instance tonight you are on Guard, tomorrow morning at 8 o'clock you get relieved. At nine one hour after coming off Guard you have to Saddle up and go on Herd. Come in with the Herd at 4 P.M. spend one hour grooming your horse, then get your supper. At sundown the Bugle calls you to "Retreat" to answer your name, and hear who are detailed for Guard on the morrow. As there is only 12 men in the company for duty and six on Guard each day, you are not surprised to hear your name called to be ready for Guard at 8 O'clock tomorrow, from Retreat till Tattoo "2 hours", you have to shine your belts, clean your gun, and brasses so they shine like a dollar gold piece in the dark. Next morning at break of day you fall in ranks for Reveille, answer your name, and then march to the stables, spend half hour on the . . . horses, come back, swallow your Breakfast, and then put on all your good cloths, comb your hair, pull on white gloves that after one wearing will stretch large enough to pull on your feet instead. Put on all your Belts, Shoulder your carbine, and then you are ready for Guard Mount with all a Cavalry Man's traps on he would make any pack mule, or donkey, blush to see a poor man carrying more than they could. At the first sound of the bugle, you rush in ranks to be inspected first by your first Sergt. In case he should find a speck of dust on your belts, or in your gun, you are hurryed back in quarters and through the aid of numerous brushes assisted by a Spy Glass you are able to see and remove the troublesome speck. You then rush back in ranks, all in a perspiration and then are marched over to the Sergt Major. He stands as a marker, for you to dress by. Soon as all the details arrive on the ground and form a line, he sings out, right dress, you all cast your eyes to the right. If you can see the second button on the second mans jacket, on your right, you are hunky dorey. But if by accident you should get one foot over the alinement, your liable to have it cut off by the Sergt Major's Saber falling on it with considerable force. The S. M. then brings his saber up in front of his face, which is called a present, and sings out to the Adjutant, who stands some thirty paces in front. The detail is correct Sir. The A. then draws his sword and says very well Sergt. take your Post, the Sergt finds a Post on the left of the detail and hangs up there till his honor the A. inspects your Gun, Belts, then opens your shirt collar to see if that bit of apparel has been to the Laundresses in the course of a couple of months. When he is satisfyed that you are not, to use a soldiers expression "Crummy Lousy", he goes to the next man, and so on till the guard is inspected, the cleanest man is chosen Orderly for the commanding officer. The A. then marches to his Post and brings the guard to a present arms, then he salutes the officer of the day, that worthy, says at the same time raising his hat, March the Guard in review to their Post, the Band strikes up those patriotic tunes. . . . You are then marched to the guard house. During the day you escort prisoners around camp, emptying swill Barrels &c. At night you are put on guard over a stable, lot of wagons &c, with these orders, take charge of this post, and all Government property in view. . . . That is soldiering in a nut shell."

     "I have spent some time and perhaps wasted some paper foolishly, but that is about as fair a description of our duty here as I can give. . . . This thing of standing Guard every other night, is not very pleasant." [11]

guard mount on Fort Union parade ground
Guard mount on Fort Union parade ground, about 1880, showing guard detail and band near the flag staff with some of the officers' quarters in the background. it appears there is a band stand constructed around the base of the flag staff. Photo Collection, Fort Union National Monument.

     It was not unusual for soldiers to feel that their lives were deprived and their work unappreciated. Private Scullin complained that "a soldier's life is a dismal, thankless one to say the least." [12] Many enlisted men and some officers, even officers' wives, characterized existence at the forts as monotonous, dull, boring, and isolated. Private Eddie Matthews, Eighth Cavalry, informed his folks at home in the summer of 1870 the he anticipated being sent into the field on scouting duty in the near future, an assignment he would welcome. "It is so miserable dull here," he wrote, "that a trip for a month would liven us up a little." He also noted that "we never mount our horses except when get a mounted pass, that is very seldom." [13] Matthews was not sent on scouting duty, however, but he did serve periodically as orderly to the post commander. Even though he had not completed the first year of his five-year enlistment, the young private was homesick and ready to quit military life. He wrote the folks back home, "Would like ever so much to be at home, am tired of Soldiering and Soldiers life." He apologized that he could "find nothing of interest to write you . . . but here it is the same old routine, every day." [14] Matthews testified to the boredom and the relative isolation of garrison life. At the end of his enlistment, as he was preparing to leave Fort Union and return to his home in Maryland, Matthews wrote that he was "tired of the Army and everything connected with it." [15]

     As Don Rickey noted in his masterful study of enlisted men in the post-Civil War era, Forty Miles a Day on Beans and Hay (1963), "the rank-and-file regular was psychologically as well as physically isolated from most of his fellow Americans." [16] At the third Fort Union, however, this isolation was not as severe as it had been prior to the Civil War. The boredom and monotony, on the other hand, were about the same as earlier, and soldiers welcomed any type of diversion from their routine existence.

     At the third fort they had better facilities and quarters than their predecessors had endured, better even than many of their contemporaries at other forts in the Southwest. An inspection officer declared in 1868, "Fort Union is, beyond doubt, out of proportion to all other Posts in the District, in point of the comforts which have been heaped upon it. They are so far the more fortunate who chance to be stationed there." [17] In 1871 Private Matthews, Eighth Cavalry, provided a brief description of the enlisted men's barracks, quoted here because it was the only such description found.

     "Our Quarters are plastered inside. In each room are seven upright posts, and places around each post for eight Carbines and Sabers, also place to hang belts on. In each room, "two large rooms for each Company" are about thirty single bunks. First thing after coming from stables in the morning, you roll your bed sack up [and] place it at the head of your bed, fold your blankets up nicely and lay them on the bed Sack. All the bunks look the same. Have one large Leviathan Stove in the room, which will heat all parts of it." [18]

     Later improvements added to comfort and convenience. In 1875 the wooden single bunks were supplanted by individual iron cots in the barracks. The completion of the railroad in the area in 1879, an event that contributed to the obsolescence of the post by bringing to an end military freighting on the Santa Fe Trail, facilitated the supply and travel of troops. In 1881 oil lamps replaced candles for lighting of quarters, offices, library, and hospital.

     In 1873 Matthews was a clerk in the subsistence department and shared a room with a quartermaster sergeant at Fort Union. [19] He again provided an illustrative description of his quarters, a rare glimpse into living conditions at the post. He recounted the furnishings as he entered the door and walked counterclockwise around the room. The items included (1) "a good size and pretty looking glass" hanging on the wall beside the door; (2) a "small table" below the mirror that was covered with a blue blanket and on which were kept combs, hair brushes, clothes brushes, and brushes for cleaning weapons; (3) a window with calico curtains; (4) a washstand in the corner, with soap and water and "a bench for blacking our boots upon"; (5) on the wall between the washstand and fireplace hung a framed picture (two feet by two and a half feet) entitled "Harvest," representing "a farmer bringing in his grain from the fields"; (6) a fireplace with "a cheerful fire burning," with a mantle on which were kept a half dozen smoking pipes and above which hung "a real pretty picture (steel engraving) called 'Horses in a thunderstorm,'" depicting "two beautiful horses terrified by thunder and lightning"; (7) Matthews's bed on which were kept a bed sack filled with straw, a pillow made of wool in a pillow case, his great coat "folded to give the pillow the requisite height," and five army blankets, and under the bed he stored two pairs of boots, a pair of gaiters, a nose bag, one lariat, one set of horse hobbles, a canvas bag to "carry my clothes when scouting," and "a large bottle of genuine 'Bears Oil,' which . . . is elegant for the hair"; (8) at the head of the bed was a box in which he kept his clothes, above which he had displayed on the wall 14 photographs of his family and friends; (9) on the side wall above his bed hung a picture entitled "Evening of Love," which depicted "a young lady in a pensive mood"; (10) another window which looked out onto the parade ground, with calico curtains; (11) beneath the window a box which held his belts and a collection of items he had gathered during his travels; (12) his roommate's bed, "a nice bed, much better than mine," was beyond that window; (13) on the wall above this bed hung a picture entitled "Morning of Love," showing a young girl with a "happy countenance"; (14) near the head of his roommate's bed hung a pictured titled "Open Your Mouth and Shut Your Eyes"; (15) at the head of the sergeant's bed was a box for his clothing, above which was a collection of pictures, including photographs of his family and friends; (16) on the wall where the door was located was a large clothes' rack covered with a curtain, in which were found stable frocks, two caps and a hat, two sabers, two carbines, two bridles, a saddle blanket, a canteen, and, on the floor, a "box for trash"; and (17) in the center of the room was a table "with a collection of papers, books and other trash too numerous to mention," around which were two chairs and a bench. The size of the room was not given, but it must have been cozy. [20]

     The men spent much time in their quarters, but they sought other activities too. Except when they were on guard duty, enlisted men had considerable leisure time available in the arrangement of routine duties. At the same time, however, few recreational opportunities were offered at the post except for the library and whatever pastimes the soldiers provided themselves. Some time was spent at the post sutler's store, where a variety of items could be purchased and recreation was sometimes available. When opportunities were presented, the men left the post to visit entertainment enterprises (providing liquor, gambling, and prostitutes, and euphemistically known as "hog ranches") available nearby. The community of Loma Parda, a few miles from Fort Union, was a favorite hangout for soldiers.

     The composition of the enlisted ranks was similar to what it had been prior to the Civil War, with many recent immigrants (particularly from Ireland, Germany, and England, and lesser numbers from Canada, Scotland, France, and Switzerland) volunteering for service. [21] The number of Hispanos was reduced markedly from what it had been during the Civil War (when they were found predominantly in volunteer units), but the postwar regular army enlisted more New Mexicans than had been enticed into the prewar ranks. A new element in the regular army, a direct result of the Civil War experience, was the African-American soldier, serving in segregated regiments under white officers. [22] There was evidence of discrimination against Hispanic and black soldiers by Anglo officers and enlisted men. [23] Most enlisted men, regardless of national and ethnic ancestry, were from the bottom of the economic class structure, predominantly unemployed and unskilled laborers. In most companies there were a few skilled laborers and, less often, professional men (including teachers and lawyers). A large number of soldiers in the late 1860s were veterans, having served in regular or volunteer units during the Civil War.

     The quality of military personnel was often deplored by officers and even enlisted men. Eddie Matthews had been in the cavalry only two months when he bemoaned the fact that,

     "I left my dear home and all that is dear to me in the world to associate myself with the scrapings of the world, for I do think that the Army is composed of the scrapings of Penitentiaries, Jails and everything else combined to make an Army suitable for this Government, both Officers and men. The Officers steal from the men and the men steal from each other. Everything is steal, steal, steal. Well I have only 58 months to serve yet." [24]

     Throughout the postwar era, there was a large turnover in enlisted personnel. Thus the regiments were comprised of many (from one-fourth to one-half) inexperienced soldiers at any given time. A small number of troops died each year. The term of service expired for approximately 20% of the enlisted men every year, and only about one-fifth of them signed on for another term. The greatest loss was to desertion, with about one-third of the soldiers departing before the completion of their five-year enlistment. During 1871, the year after a pay reduction, nearly one-third of the troops deserted. The following two years were nearly as bad. When all losses were combined, from 25% to 40% of the enlisted men were lost each year. This was a great waste of manpower and money, and it affected, as Utley expressed it, the "morale, discipline, and efficiency" of those who remained. It also made recruitment of new soldiers a vital part of the army's responsibilities. Good recruits were hard to attract to the rigors and low pay of military life. [25]

     After the Civil War the army continued to recruit men between the ages of sixteen and thirty-five for a five-year period. Volunteers under age twenty-one were required to have permission of a parent or guardian, but this prerequisite was frequently neglected. Enlistment and reenlistment were possible at recruiting stations, mostly located in larger cities and at military posts. Fort Union periodically had a recruiting officer. New recruits were not permitted by regulations to have a wife or child, although a soldier could marry during his term of service with the consent of his company commander (wives of enlisted men often served as company laundresses). The ability to read and write was not mandatory until after Fort Union was abandoned. A medical examination was required. [26]

     Despite the restrictions on married soldiers serving in the army, and official discouragement of enlisted men being married, the records show that a number of soldiers at Fort Union were permitted to marry. The vows were usually taken before the post chaplain, but some couples were married by civil officials in nearby communities. Virtually no information has been found about most of the parties involved in matrimony in the frontier army, but one such couple at Fort Union has been documented from records and photographs. [27] On August 3, 1873, Private Patrick Cloonan, Company B, Eighth Cavalry, married Bridget Molloy at the post. Both had immigrated from Ireland. Like many of his fellow countrymen, Cloonan enlisted in the army until something better was available. Molloy may have been a servant for an officer's family, but it was not determined how she came to New Mexico.

     When Cloonan completed his first enlistment in 1873, Colonel J. Irvin Gregg noted on his discharge papers that Cloonan was "an excellent soldier and most reliable man." Private Cloonan reenlisted in April, married Bridget in August, and was promoted to corporal in December 1873. A few months later he was advanced to sergeant. Bridget served as a laundress for Company B, a common practice, holding the only position for women recognized by the army. The Cloonans remained at Fort Union until January 1876, when Company B was transferred to another station. Sergeant Cloonan received his final discharge in April 1878.

Bridget Molloy Patrick Cloonan
Bridget Molloy married Patrick Cloonan at Fort Union, August 3, 1873, and she served as a laundress for his company until they were transferred in 1876. Photo Collection, Fort Union National Monument, courtesy William Duggan. Patrick Cloonan, Company B, Eighth Cavalry, in his corporal dress uniform, late 1873 or early 1874, at Fort Union. He held that rank only two months. Photo Collection, Fort Union National Monument, courtesy William Duggan.

     Many other soldiers were permitted to marry while in the service, and there were a few exceptions to the rule that a married man could not enlist. One such case at Fort Union, in which a recruit had children as well as a wife, was described by Private Matthews, who wrote the following to his family in the summer of 1870:

     "We have a new Laundress in the Company. Her husband enlisted a few weeks ago. He was raising stock in the country, and was doing very well till last fall when Indians ran away six hundred head of Cattle for him. . . . They have been very kind to me, have taken several meals in the house. While I was sick, made Tea and toast for me, and sent it to me. Am to take some Ice Cream with them soon as finish this. They are both young and have two children." [28]

     The unidentified soldier Matthews described had enlisted because of economic hardship. Many young men joined military ranks because other employment was not available. William Edward (Eddie) Matthews left the home of his English-immigrant family at Westminster, Maryland, in 1869 and traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, with two companions in search of gainful employment. Without success, the two friends returned home, but Matthews informed his family of his decision to join the army:

     "We have all been unsuccessful in getting anything to do. I have tried most everything but in every instance was unsuccessful, and as a last resort went down to the Recruiting Office for the purpose of enlisting in the regular Cavalry for 3 years, but found out that they were only taking men for 5 years." [29]

     Matthews declared he had little desire to serve in the army, and "if I possibly could get anything let it be what it may I would take it, but there is not much chance for anything else here." [30] He later declared that "more men enlist in Cincinnati, than any other in the United States. If you once get strapped in the miserable place you are bound to enlist." [31] He served a large portion of his term of enlistment in Company L, Eighth Cavalry, at Fort Union, where he continually counted and reported to his family, in letters that averaged nearly one per week, the number of years, months, days, and hours remaining until he would be free from the army. He found conditions to be deplorable, causing many of the soldiers to desert. At one point, irritated by the way soldiers were treated, Matthews declared that "every man in the Regular Army would be justifiable in deserting according to my idea." [32] Matthews, however, was determined to honor his commitment for the entire five years, which he did.

     Matthews did not enjoy "the common duty of a Soldier" but declared "I will try to make the best of a bad bargain. And do my duty like a man." [33] He had the good fortune to be selected to serve most of his tenure as a clerk, because he was literate and practiced good penmanship, which exempted him from many of the routine duties of most soldiers. His extensive correspondence to his family, copies of which were presented to Fort Union National Monument Archives in 1993, provided the best view of life in the post-Civil War frontier army by an enlisted man that has been found to date. [34]

     Matthews periodically informed his family that his enlistment had been a blunder and he was sorry he had done it. In 1873, after serving more than three years of his term, he wrote to his folks as follows:

     "What a great mistake I made when I left home. And to make bad worse turn around and enlist in the Army for five years. Had only I bound myself down to some good man, who would have been willing to take and learn me some trade, how much better off would I be now. But regrets will do no good in the present case. I will have to sleep in the bed I made for myself, but I tell you it is a hard bed." [35]

     Many other soldiers must have had similar feelings and wondered why they had joined the army. Almost everyone who volunteered was accepted. The screening of potential recruits was not stringent, in order to fill the ranks. Physical requirements for service were specified in regulations for medical examination of recruits, but these were laxly enforced:

     "In passing a recruit the medical officer is to examine him stripped; to see that he has free use of all his limbs; that his chest is ample; that his hearing, vision, and speech are perfect; that he has no tumors, or ulcerated or extensively cicatrized legs; no rupture or chronic cutaneous affection; that he has not received any contusion, or wound of the head, that may impair his faculties; that he is not a drunkard; is not subject to convulsions; and has no infectious disorder, nor any other that may unfit him for military service." [36]

     As important as the selection of recruits was their training, which was generally deficient. Until 1881, when four months of basic training was established at recruitment depots, rookies received most of their training after assignment to the unit with which they were to serve. As noted in the previous chapter, recruits for the District of New Mexico were usually brought to Fort Union and distributed to their respective posts from that point. They generally were delivered with only a rudimentary understanding of basic military skills at best. The introduction to the authentic life of a soldier, when he finally reached his assigned company, most likely terminated any delusions about the romance of military life which some enlisted men may have entertained.

     Captain Gerald Russell, a native of Ireland who had entered the service in 1851 as an enlisted man, spent several years as a first sergeant before being promoted to a commissioned officer, and who was stationed at a number of posts in New Mexico Territory (including Fort Union) before, during, and after the Civil War, greeted a body of recruits to his company of Third Cavalry at Fort Selden in 1869 as follows:

     "Young Min! I conghratulate yiz on bein assigned to moi thrupe, becos praviously to dis toime, I vinture to say that moi thrupe had had more villins, loyars, teeves, scoundhrils and, I moight say, dam murdhrers than enny udder thrupe in de United States Ormy. I want yiz to pay sthrict attintion to jooty—and not become dhrunken vagabonds, wandhrin all over the face of Gods Creashun, spindin ivry cint ov yur pay with low bum-mers. Avoide all timptashuns, loikewoise all discipashuns, so that in toime yiz kin become non-commissioned offizurs; yez'll foind yer captin a very laynent man and very much given to laynency, fur oi never duz toi no man up bee der tumbs unless he duz bee late for roll-call. Sarjint, dismiss de detachmint." [37]

     Such an introduction, indicative that pitiless discipline would bring retribution for the slightest infractions of rules and regulations, provided little help for the newcomers. It may have inspired them to regulate their behavior but shed little light on what was expected beyond submission. Without special training in basic military decorum and discipline, the new soldiers were expected to discover their status and obligations in the service through observation and emulation of the veterans, attention to routine activities, instruction, and drill. They were, as one scholar noted, "in a system far more rigid and austere than any environment most of them had previously known." They learned much of what they needed to know from the older men in the company [38]

     They learned to obey orders and perform assignments or pay the penalties. Teresa Griffin Viele, wife of Lieutenant Egbert L. Viele (First Infantry) who served on the Texas frontier, proclaimed that "prompt obedience is the first lesson a soldier must learn" and quoted a brief rhyme to illustrate the point:

"Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die." [39]

     Eddie Matthews quickly discovered after his enlistment in 1869 that "Officers are very strict, but you can get along very well if you only pay attention." He informed his parents, "I am trying to do right in my new duty." Even so, he wrote, "Every little thing you do the Officers curse you for it, and call you all kind of names," Matthews was pleased that "I have not missed one roll call or had a cross word spoken to me yet. I have made up my mind to do what is right." [40] His efforts were successful. During his time at Carlisle Barracks Matthews was twice excused from guard detail "for being the cleanest man." [41]

     Although enlisted men did not need to know why they were to conform, they needed to understand what they were to obey. To help in that regard, army rules and regulations were periodically read to all troops, many of whom were illiterate. Commencing in 1884, every man was issued a copy of The Soldier's Handbook, a pocket-sized guide that detailed most things a soldier needed to know. [42] The guide may have been helpful, but it was difficult to discover the elements of soldiering in a book. Most continued to learn the essentials from the members of their company.

     A soldier lived in barracks in close association with the men of his company, enjoying little, if any, privacy. The company, usually not filled to legal capacity and comprised of 40 to 50 (sometimes fewer) enlisted men, was the soldier's "family" during his term of service. The small number of soldiers in a company fostered cohesiveness. The men of a company usually developed a loyalty to the unit and counted among its members their closest comrades. Many soldiers were known to their companions by nicknames, often the result of physical appearance or behavioral traits. As Don Rickey observed, "the company tended to be a self-contained social as well as military unit." With the officers and men of his company, each soldier "would live, eat, sleep, march, brawl, and possibly die." [43] As one soldier declared, "the company is everything to a soldier." [44]

     Many soldiers complained about their officers, often with justification. While some officers who had served before and after the Civil War complained about the lower quality of enlisted men after the war compared with those before, [45] other officers deplored a similar decline in the character of the officer class. Duane M. Greene, a retired lieutenant, wrote in 1880 that "it is worthy of remark that the chivalrous spirit which had attained its full perfection in the Army before the Great Rebellion of 1861 is nearly extinct." He explained what had happened, in his opinion.

     "The present organization lacks that ambition—that esprit de corps—which characterized the Army prior to the war. Some of the senior officers still maintain among them a remnant, though feeble and mutilated, of the essence of the "good old time." . . . Degeneracy has been increased by the appointment of men who have not received a military education. Add to these the "graduates" whom a superabundance of black bile has rendered unsusceptible of refinement beyond the limited demands of civility, and the sum comprises so much of the unit that the remainder is a negative power. The homogeneity that should characterize the military establishment has been destroyed by the mingling of incongruous elements. The contact of the truly meritorious professionals with non-professionals has given rise to arrogance, and has almost annihilated the spirit of chivalry." [46]

     The result, as Greene saw it, was that many officers exhibited a "haughty assumption of superiority." He continued:

     "Rank is the shield behind which they stand to heap tyranny upon insult and wrong. They do not regard inferiors has having rights which they should respect, and by the tyrannical exercise of authority, they extort a slavish obedience from those over whom they are placed. They look upon a private soldier as a machine—animate, yet without sense of justice or wrong; exacting of him the offices of a menial—a serf—degrading him even in his own estimation." [47]

     While that may have been true of many officers, there were rare expressions of loyalty and respect for some officers who understood and sympathized with the conditions of enlisted men. In what was undoubtedly an uncommon demonstration of affection for a commissioned officer, in 1870 forty men of Company L, Eighth Cavalry, including Private Eddie Matthews, "put in one dollar each, and bought a very handsome Saddle, Bridle, and Saddle Blanket, and presented it to our Second Lieut." This was Second Lieutenant Edmund Monroe Cobb, who graduated from West Point in 1870 and joined his company at Fort Union in September of that year. Matthews declared that Cobb was "the finest Officer I ever saw that came from that place [West Point]." He was pleased to report that Cobb had "received the present and thanked us very highly for it." Matthews did not record his feelings when Cobb was transferred to the Second Artillery the following year. [48] It may be presumed that the change in personnel affected the emotions of the men in the company.

     Each company contained a variety of personalities and backgrounds, a cross-section of humanity. Although there were exceptions, many soldiers had a tendency to consume too much alcohol as a form of escape from the realities of army life. Drunkenness was a problem at all military posts, including Fort Union. The failure of the army to provide leisure activities fostered visits by soldiers to gambling dens, saloons, and brothels in nearby communities, such as Loma Parda just off the Fort Union reservation. Soldiers, and sometimes officers, also developed sporting activities. Fort Union soldiers played baseball in the post-Civil War era. Private Matthews, Eighth Cavalry, noted that some of the men in his company organized a baseball team at Fort Union in 1871. He was selected team captain. When they were sent on scouting duty, they took their "bats and balls along with us, and have been amusing ourselves and passing away the time playing ball." [49] One place where officers and men breached the rigid distinction between their respective classes was at the meetings of Masonic and other lodges, where members of both sides met as equals and followed the rituals and rules of the fraternal orders. Such fraternization seldom extended beyond the gatherings of the lodges.

     Among enlisted men, as among officers, rank was important and had its privileges. The commissioned officers had little direct contact with enlisted soldiers and relied upon the noncommissioned officers to handle the daily affairs of the men. The company was primarily managed by the first sergeant who, in turn, depended on the duty sergeants and corporals. They kept the soldiers in line, saw that duties were performed, and enforced discipline. According to Rickey, "if a single word were chosen to describe the noncommissioned officers, . . . that word would have to be—tough." [50] Rickey also emphasized that the noncommissioned officers were the "backbone" of the army. [51] Other noncommissioned officers at military posts included an ordnance sergeant, quartermaster sergeant, commissary sergeant, hospital steward, and a sergeant major who assisted the post adjutant and oversaw the daily change of the guard. Most of the noncommissioned soldiers had a long record of military service, often ten years or longer. A few of them had even served previously as commissioned officers.

Page Two

Santa Fe Trail Research Site

Santa Fe Trail Research Site
"E-Mail & Home Page"
Larry & Carolyn
St. John, Ks.
© "Forever"