In his last post, Hugh Dubrulle compared the social composition of the 5th New Hampshire to the Texas Brigade. At the conclusion of that post, he surmised that substantial differences in social composition helped explain important differences in the culture of the units—especially the relationship between officers and men. Here he continues to explore these differences by highlighting the contrasts in the cultures of the two units.
In the fall of 1861, Confederate authorities appointed a “Colonel Shaller” to command the 5th Texas. Shaller traveled several miles outside of Richmond to Camp Texas, where his regiment was located, to look over his men. According to one source, “he came out to the camp in all the pomp and circumstances befitting his high position, splendidly mounted on a steed . . . glittering with tinsel of gold, and bearing about him all the symbols of his rank.” Partly because the Texans resented his airs, and partly because he was Jewish, Shaller received a rude welcome, with one soldier wondering aloud, “What is it? Is it a man, a fish, or a bird?” The next morning, as he prepared to take a ride, the colonel saw that someone had shaved his horse’s tail “sleek as an opossum’s” and cut the girth of his saddle. Shaller left camp and never returned.
Shaller thus went the way of many officers in the Texas Brigade. The Texans rejected a number of the men appointed to lead them, with one private in the 5th Texas claiming that the unit “fired colonels, lieutenant colonels, and majors faster than Mr. Davis and the Secretary of War could send them out.” In his 2001 Journal of Southern History article, “The Social and Cultural Dynamics of Soldiering in Hood’s Texas Brigade,” Charles Brooks emphasizes the power that the rank and file in this unit exerted in the selection of not just field officers but also company commanders. His main point was to stress the degree to which the “planters’ hegemony” in the South was negotiated; political and military leaders needed to win the loyalty of “plain folk” by looking out for the interests of this group and understanding when to make concessions. Brooks’ argument rests partly on the premise that the Texas brigade’s soldiers were representative of the male population in the state as a whole and that the great majority of them were “common men of moderate means.”
So far as the relationship between field officers and soldiers was concerned, the 5th New Hampshire could not have offered a greater contrast to the Texas Brigade. In the former unit, authority clearly flowed from the top downward: Colonel Edward E. Cross, the regiment’s commander, was firmly in charge. As a condition of accepting command of the regiment, Cross demanded of the governor and the state’s executive council that he appoint all the field and company officers. Unlike the Texas Brigade, there were no elections for company commanders. Indeed, Cross had picked his captains before a third of the regiment had even been recruited. Since Cross had recently returned to New Hampshire after a decade-long absence, he probably relied on recommendations given to him by various friends, including Henry O. Kent, the state’s assistant adjutant general. That Cross probably didn’t know many of his captains personally was of no matter; he felt empowered to dispose of them as he wished. When two of them did not bother to master the rudiments of drill, he had them hauled before a brigade board of review in January 1862; the board summarily discharged them the next month. In July and September 1862, Cross forced two more officers to resign (one of whom was an alcoholic) because they had shown themselves unequal to the rigors of fighting during the Peninsula campaign. The colonel was instrumental in compelling yet another captain to leave the regiment in January 1863 over a dispute regarding guard duty. By this point, only one of the original captains remained with the regiment; of the others who had not been chased out of the unit, one had resigned in November 1862 due to wounds sustained at Antietam, and three more had been killed at Fredericksburg (one of whom had been brought before a court-martial by Cross the month before). In the Texas Brigade, the soldiers drove away officers who did not suit, but in the 5th New Hampshire, it was the colonel.
Cross was no less hard on the rank and file who resisted him. In his journal, he wrote that while the regiment was forming and drilling outside of Concord, “The men found out that they must obey, or suffer the severest consequences. One slight mutiny occurred among some men from Portsmouth, which resulted in their entire defeat and humiliation before the entire regiment.” There was no chance that these soldiers would intimidate their colonel.
In the Texas Brigade, with the Confederate authorities’ acquiescence, soldiers accepted some officers and rejected others. In the case of the 5th New Hampshire, however, the colonel obtained from state authorities the power to hire and fire his officers. Meanwhile, he kept the rank and file firmly under his thumb. What accounts for these very different dynamics? Some of it had to do with personality. Cross was a formidable, strong-willed character. But, then, the Texas Brigade must have possessed several such colonels. Some of it may have had to do with the state government’s willingness to grant Cross the authority that he demanded. Yet, that would have mattered little had he proven himself as incapable of controlling his men as some of the officers in the Texas Brigade showed themselves to be. One is left, then, with the culture of the men who filled the 5th New Hampshire. In my last post, I established that the Granite State soldiers were far more plebeian in character than their counterparts in the 1st Texas (which itself was representative of the brigade to which it belonged and the state from which it originated). Brooks describes the soldiers in the Texas Brigade as men of moderate means, but on average they were much wealthier than their counterparts from the New Hampshire. A third of the Texans were slaveholders, and while the majority of this group owned fewer than ten enslaved people, the wealth represented by this property was far greater than what the vast majority of men in the 5th New Hampshire could ever hope to obtain. Moreover, the nature of the Texans’ property surely influenced their attitude toward authority. Had Cross found himself dealing with wealthier, more self-assured men who submitted to command with reluctance because they wished to avoid being treated “like slaves,” he too might have gone the way of Shaller.
What the foregoing seems to reveal is that there was more than one way to construct a crack Civil War unit. Officers applying contrasting leadership styles to different types of men could attain very similar results on the battlefield.