1863: Unknown Officer to Lt. Col. Robert MacFeely

Signature of Unknown Officer (maybe someone can help me identify)

Signature of Unknown Officer

Unfortunately I cannot make out the signature of the commissary officer who penned this beautifully written letter to Lt. Col. [Robert] MacFeely (1826-1901) who was serving as the Chief Commissary Officer, 15th Army Corps, under Generals Grant and Sherman. Robert MacFeely was an 1850 graduate of the West Point Military Academy who served the duration of the Civil War in the commissary department in the western theater.

Robert MacFeely

Lt. Col. Robert MacFeely

The unidentified officer defends his actions in releasing a load of hay delivered by a barge pulled by a Federal gunboat, presumably in the Mississippi River. The purchased hay had been previously transferred from a steamer during which time it appears that several bales were lost when they were thrown overboard to keep the barge from sinking. Rather than delay the release of the remaining hay until a board could be convened to investigate the loss, the receiving officer chose to release it to one or more quartermasters who were anxiously awaiting the shipment claiming that the horses and mules of their respective commands were starving. One of the commands receiving the hay belonged to General Cadwallader C. Wasburn’s cavalry whose troopers were dispersed among various posts (Corinth, Memphis, and LaGrange) near Vicksburg. On June 12th, Gen. Grant ordered Washburn to consolidate his command and join the 12-mile perimeter ring around Vicksburg.

It appears the officer felt compelled to defend his actions because General Washburn, or someone under his command, had impugned the integrity of the officer by implying that the officer had personally benefitted financially from the distribution of the hay.


Steamer “Volunteer”
June 21st 1863


I feel that gross injustice has been done me in the endorsement upon my letter to Capt. Buntin by Gen’l Washburn and I desire to explain the matter and especially request that my explanation may be shown to Col. [John Aaron] Rawlins.

The hay came to Capt. [H. S.] Clubb (not to me and I consequently had no personal interest). The hay came to Capt. Clubb deficient nearly one tier of bales. The steamer could not be held responsible as the hay was taken from her by a gunboat and a certain amount thrown overboard to keep the barge from sinking. Nothing, therefore, could be gained to the government by calling a board of survey.

C. C. Washburn

C. C. Washburn

At the time the hay arrived there was the greatest necessity for having it issued immediately. A large number of teams were waiting for it and it was particularly reported from Gen’l. [Cadwallader C.] Washburn’s command that the animals were absolutely suffering and becoming unfit for service for want of hay. A dozen quartermasters opposed the calling of a board of survey. There was no commander here and three days would at least have been consumed before the matter could have been settled and the hay ready for issue. Any one of them was ready to take the hay and receipt for it as invoiced.

Believing the interest of the service required an immediate issue, I acted accordingly. Only half rations of hay are being issued. The comparative small deficiency could easily have been made up without cheating the government doing injustice to the receiving officer, or even wronging on a horse or mule in the service. I did not “insist” as Gen’l Washburn remarks in the endorsement that the hay should be received by him at the advanced figure. I asked him to turn it over in case he declined receipting to Lt. Smith who was anxious to take it as invoiced. I submit that under the circumstances, I did right.

I do not wish to do anything “irregular” when it can be reasonably avoided. Neither do I wish by some frivolous excuse or technicality to place any obstacle in the way of what I regard the paramount object of all our labors — success. I dare say that had I refused to issue this hay, but insisted upon calling a board of survey, a hundred complaints would have poured into headquarters. [If] I was uselessly delaying the issue of hay, I ought to be severely reprimanded for refusing for any reason to turn over forage when there was such an emergency for it and the animals now starving.

What I did was to accommodate and immediately supply Gen’l Washburn’s command with hay. He seems not to appreciate any such exertions and I assure you he shall not have cause to complain of any “irregularity” in future. The exact weight of every bale of hay shall be ascertained before it is sent to him if I have to count and weight it myself.

I submit the foregoing because it seems that an impress prevails that I wished to turn over this hay at advanced weights for purposes purely personal.

I aim very hastily, but respectfully, your obedient servant, — G. A. Vince [?], Capt. ___?

Lt. Col. MacFeely
Chief Commissary Officer
Department of Tennessee

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