Monday, August 22, 2016

Veteran Furloughs: Understanding the Practice

Veteran Furloughs: Understanding the Practice

Trying to understand the effect of this recall. Logic says that if a soldier's term is up and he doesn't reenlist, he goes home. Therefore, if the furlough is cancelled or revoked, why not just say, "Then I won't reenlist"?

Well, the practice or tradition was that, if a soldier went ahead and reenlisted at the time of muster, then he could go home on leave before his term of service was up. It was still an incentive, because if he stayed to end of term, he might be badly wounded or killed before his term was up (or something else might come up), and he might never see home again.

Other incentives were used to tempt soldiers to reenlist. The army appealed to his regimental and personal pride and sense of honor (if 3/4 of the regiment reenlisted, the regiment could have "Veteran" added to its title, the regiment would be called the (xx) "Veteran Vols"; and the soldier could wear a specially made badge, a chevron, that designated him as a Veteran Volunteer.

There was also a $400 bonus, which was something like a year's pay.

It was a source of regimental pride and honor to keep one's regiment intact, to preserve the identity of the regiment; especially so to the commissioned officer who had formed and recruited the regiment. There was also a feeling of brotherhood and camaraderie among members of the regiment. When these officers went home on furlough, they actively recruited men for the depleted ranks of the regiment to maintain the regimental organization. (If they could not get enough men, the regiment's soldiers might be merged into another unit). At the time of the Spring 1864 furlough, James McPherson wrote to the governors of several states urging them to help fill the ranks of the states' regiments. I suppose the implication here is that he was asking for anything from state-given bonuses, calls for volunteers, encouragements to recruits, and even state drafts.

Related, in my own project: 

Second Michigan to be ReMounted, Refitted. 
When J.H. Wilson took over command of the cavalry in 1864, he noted that newly forming regiments were green and inexperienced. Some (such as the new Tennessee units) were disorganized and perhaps incompetent, made up of men who had avoided being conscripted into the enemy army, but had also avoided joining up with the Federals. He preferred, instead, to mount and refit his experienced veterans. He called for over twenty units to be refitted, including the Second Michigan Cavalry and the First Tennessee Vols (my particular subjects of interest).

Veteran Furloughs of the Second Michigan Cavalry
Marshall P. Thatcher, in A Hundred Battles in the West,  mentions veteran furloughs, new recruits, and "non-veterans," experienced soldiers who had not yet come to the end of their enlistments (182-183).

Note: Some of the furloughed vets must have already gone home. Maybe they got to finish their furloughs. However, non-veterans, and veterans whose furlough date or expectation of furlough was still upcoming at the time of the recall, probably did not get to go home early (364).

In April 1864, some of the Second Michigan vets were arrested in Chattanooga for disorderly conduct related to pillaging wood for quarters and assaulting an officer (not known to be an officer, says Thatcher). One of the threatened punishments was revocation of their furlough, but apparently, this was dropped. Instead, there was a brief stay in jail and a fine (390-391).

The veteran recall mentioned in O.R. came at about the same time that this incident happened. It could be that the pillaging incident mentioned by Thatcher, above, was used as an excuse; the Chief of Cavalry wanted the Second Michigan back, anyway (O.R., s.1, v.32, pt.3, 255-258). See my blog post.

Thatcher quotes camp records showing that the veterans left for home on April 14, 1864, and that they returned some time after the non-veterans moved on Resaca and Kennesaw, participating in actions in Georgia (184).

Also see: James H. Wilson, Chief of the Cavalry Bureau, Washington, to Edwin M. Stanton, 4 April 1864 (in O.R.).


Marshall P. Thatcher, A Hundred Battles in the West: St. Louis to Atlanta, 1861-1865: The Second Michigan Cavalry, (Detroit: Marshall P. Thatcher, 1884), 182-183, 364, 390-391.

Official Records, Series 1, Volume 32, Part 3 (Correspondence, etc.), 271.

Official Records, Series 1, Volume 32, Part 3 (Correspondence, etc.), 255-258.


Correspondence (blog post, with O.R. reference): James H. Wilson, Chief of the Cavalry Bureau, Washington, to Edwin M. Stanton, 4 April 1864.

Posts about Furloughs and Incentives

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