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Special Orders No.141

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When General Orders No.62 were promulgated on August 20th, 1861, listing all the men appointed/confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be Brigadier Generals and Major Generals of the U.S. Army, there were a number of glaring omissions, and eyebrow-raising oddities. First, the omissions: on a document that purported to list all the Federal generals and their rank/seniority relative to one another, there is no mention of Major General George McClellan, Major General John Fremont, or Brigadier General Robert Anderson (Union Hero of Fort Sumter.) As to the curiosities: General Orders No.62 ranked approximately fifty general officers by order of seniority; and George H. Thomas (future Rock of Chickamauga) is second-last (below Stephen Hurlbut and John McClernand.) And career army officer, and former Commandant of Cadets at West Point, Charles Ferguson Smith, did not make the list at all.

The other oddity: for some reason, Illinois and other states decided to back-date the effective date of rank of all their brigadier generals, appointed up until August 17th, to 17 May 1861. This ex post facto arrangement resulted in confusion, and led to the conflict between BGen U.S. Grant (appointed brigadier on August 7th) and BGen B.M. Prentiss (appointed in May.)

Special Orders No.141, issued by the War Department on August 24th, 1861, included McClellan, Fremont and Anderson; and further clarified the pecking order among and between the Federal general officers, while upholding the seniority introduced by General Orders No.62.



N.B.  Charles F. Smith was appointed Brigadier General on August 31, 1861.


References:  http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=1394    (General Orders No.62 of August 20, 1861)

http://ehistory.osu.edu/books/official-records/107/0455     (Special Orders No.141 of August 24, 1861)



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Regular and volunteer rank are different, and were set separately. The regular army clearing out was published as GO64 of 1861, and it made Halleck a MG in the regular army dated 19th August 1861, and hence 4th ranking general in the whole army (after Scott, McClellan and Fremont).

GO62 related to the volunteer force, and BG(V) seniority was based on regular army seniority. If you look at the list, all currently serving officers are first, in order of seniority. WT Sherman  as Col of the 13th Inf, and hence was very high up the list. Buell was a regular Lt Col, and so listed below the Cols (2 below Sherman). The most junior serving officer to be made BG(V) was Capt Pope.

Then came all ex-regulars, with seniority equal to their rank. Grant had left as a capt, and so his seniority placed him below the likes of Lt Col Hooker and Maj Kearny. After the ex-regulars came the pure volunteers, and it looks like those who had Federalised militia commissions came first, and finally those who were direct appointees, such as BG(V) McClernand.

All the Commissions awarded by the time the Senate confirmed appointments en masse in early August were dated to 17th May '61. Those whose Commission was confirmed after this date were added with the date of confirmation, and regular rank was not counted. Hence Thomas and CF Smith, whose BG(V) ranks were awarded later were low on the list.

Regulars in a rank were always senior to the volunteers, regardless of dates. Volunteer rank could be revoked at any time by the Secretary of War, even if confirmed (as he did to Stone). Regular rank could only be removed by a court martial.


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Civil War Seniority


When first confronted with the above statement, something “felt off” about the claim; but without proof and confirmation, any response was merely an alternative claim or assertion. And without evidence, one false claim is equal to any other false claim...

The problem: the above statement appears to imply that “an officer commissioned via West Point prior to the Civil War outranked, and enjoyed seniority, over EVERY officer NOT a graduate of West Point.” Therefore, according to logical extension, a Captain who was a graduate of West Point outranked a Brigadier General who was not a graduate of West Point... Quite an interesting state of affairs, if true.

But, it is not true: according to U.S. Army Regulations of 1861, Article 9 (on page 10) “Officers serving by commission from any state of the Union take rank next after officers of the like grade by commission from the United States.” [Bold inserted for emphasis.]

Translation: a Brigadier General of Volunteers outranked every Colonel and Major and Captain and etc regardless of source of commission. A Brigadier General of Volunteers with date of rank 17 May 1861 was senior to a Brigadier General of Volunteers with date of rank 18 May 1861. However, a Brigadier General with Regular Army rank was superior to EVERY Brigadier General of Volunteers regardless date of rank.

Further: “ex-rank” held NO significance. This was a Furphy... a mirage perpetuated by ex-captain U.S. Grant and others, to intimidate “non-Regular officers” of the same rank into believing they were junior to West Point graduates, when they were not. [Grant successfully played this gambit against Colonel Turner of the 15th Illinois in Missouri, but was thwarted when he attempted the same ruse against BGen Prentiss on 17 August 1861.] Two steps had to take effect: General Orders of the Army had to be promulgated (G.O. No.62 were issued on 20 AUG 1861) AND Major General Fremont had to inform Colonel Grant of his appointment to Brigadier General of Volunteers, PENDING Grant's acceptance of that promotion. NOT UNTIL all these conditions were met was U.S. Grant a Brigadier General of Volunteers, senior to Brigadier General of Volunteers Benjamin Prentiss.

Reference:  https://archive.org/details/101556516.nlm.nih.gov/page/n15/mode/1up  Army Regulations of 1861.


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General Orders No.87


Issued 24 July 1862 these orders detail the procedure for elevating officers to General Officer rank through recommendation via the Senate for promotion. Notice (page 332) that promotion could be declined; and that “non-response in a timely fashion” was interpreted to indicate “the offer of promotion was declined.” Page 333 includes some of the more relevant conditions to effect promotion. And the “ability to decline promotion” is discussed to show that “Senate nomination” on its own was not sufficient to effect promotion: the President had to sign off on the recommendations; the War Department had to publish the list of pending promotions; the commanding officer of each nominee had to inform the nominee; and each nominee had to report his acceptance of promotion. [Notice of promotion contained in some obscure newspaper was not enough... for obvious reasons.] Receiving the PAY due a Brigadier General or Major General just one consideration...

References:  https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.hl27qz&view=1up&seq=368  General Orders of the War Department 1862.

The following reference, “Register of the Army of the United States for September 1861: published by Order of the Secretary of War in compliance with the Resolution of the Senate of 3 August 1861” by the Government Printing Office at Washington on 1 SEP 1861 provides the written documentation required (along with General Orders No.62 of 20 August 1861) to effect promotion of officers in the U.S. Army to Brigadier General during the Civil War. On page 13 the list of proposed General Officers of Volunteers is published, along with prospective Date of Rank. https://books.google.com.au/books?id=TuMsAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA13&lpg=PA13&dq=William+McMichael+on+the+staff+of+General+Charles+F.+Smith&source=bl&ots=qLlXTfHosI&sig=ACfU3U1o7T8KBaFfH8Q_0Lr7Hl8-GYEonw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjjuLGa6vDnAhU2xzgGHVc0CeYQ6AEwC3oECAcQAQ#v=onepage&q=William McMichael on the staff of General Charles F. Smith&f=false   Official Army Register for September 1861.

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What follows is a typical Letter of Acceptance (for promotion to Brigadier General of Volunteers):

Fort Henry, Tenn.

March 7, 1862

The Adjt. Gen. of the Army

Washington, D.C.



On this date I received my confirmation as a Brigadier General of Volunteers in the service of the United States which I accept.

I return herein properly filled up my renewed Oath of Allegiance to the Government. There being no civil magistrate available, the Oath was administered by Captain William McMichael Assistant Adjutant General.

You will find on file in your office my Oath of Allegiance subscribed on receiving the appointment as Brigadier.

Very Respectfully

Your Obt. Servt.

C. F. Smith   Brig. Genl. & Col. 3rd Inf.

I was born in Pennsylvania and am very nearly fifty years of age; and had no fixed place of residence when appointed, being in the Army, but I have never given up my birthright as a citizen of Pennsylvania.


[Letter on page 240 of Teacher of Civil War Generals: Charles Ferguson Smith by Allen H. Mesch.]

From the above, it should be clear that on 6 March 1862 and before (for example, during the Operation against Fort Heiman and the Charge at Fort Donelson) Charles F. Smith held the rank of Colonel, U.S. Army (Regulars). On 7 March 1862 (and until his acceptance of promotion later to Major General) Charles F. Smith held the rank of Colonel, U.S. Army (Regulars) AND the rank of Brigadier General of Volunteers. [Note the conditions required for this promotion to take effect: 1) Renewed his Oath of Allegiance, 2) Swore that Oath before a recognized magistrate of the U.S. Government (in this case AAG McMichael), 3) confirmed he was accepting the offer of promotion, 4) provided his State of Record and Age (both of which would be important later, for Government mandatory retirement determination and Pension eligibility.] And upon accepting promotion as Brigadier General of Volunteers, C. F. Smith's effective Date of Rank (for seniority purposes, as established by the U.S. Senate) became 31 August 1861.

Again, just "reading about my promotion in a newspaper" was not sufficient...








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