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"Divisional HQ's Where were they?" Topic

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Trajanus01 Aug 2018 4:59 a.m. PST

Well more to the point, where the Divisional Commanders.

We all know that Army and Corps commanders generally had a fixed HQ, in someones house, or at a farm, or some other readily identifiable place, so couriers could find them. When in camp, Divisional and Brigade Commanders also had their tents in prominent places for the same reason.

However in battle things changed. Army and Corps commanders could and did move around, some more than others but the HQ didn't tend to.

Brigade Commanders we know were out there getting shot at along with their Brigades and in many cases getting killed or wounded in the process, but what about Divisional commanders?

We know they were also inclined to be on the move supervising their Brigades but were they required to have a fixed HQ also. Was there meant to be a fixed point for Corps messages to find them?

Obviously, there couldn't be any such thing for Brigade Commanders as by the nature of the job they had to be close to the Regiments they were in charge of but did a half way house exist at Divisional Level, or did Generals just do their own thing?

Strikes me as inconvenient if they did but there again so many "do your own thing" examples of conduct in the Civil War exist in other ways it may well have been excepted!

JimDuncanUK01 Aug 2018 6:09 a.m. PST

Isn't that why the divisions had their own recognisable flags?

Trajanus01 Aug 2018 7:00 a.m. PST

Yes that's part of it, although it was also a thing designed to foster "esprit de corps" along with the Badges.

It would have been easier to find a Division commander under a whopping great flag when he was moving (smoke permitting) but my real question is if he was require to tell the Corps commander that the place to start looking for him would be at "the White Clapboard house near that small hill over on the left" , or where ever.

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP01 Aug 2018 7:38 a.m. PST

The Division Commanders also often were in the thick of it, especially when things went sour – as I recall there were 14 Union Division commanders killed during the ACW (60 plus brigade commanders as well)

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP01 Aug 2018 7:50 a.m. PST

Remember how compact the whole thing is, and how small the staff element. A Civil War division is a frontage of maybe half a mile with four clusters of men on horseback--assuming the brigade commanders are mounted. They aren't always. If my ADC can't find the group of 10 mounted men in a 900 yard frontage and everyone else on foot, I picked the wrong ADC.

Not like today with divisions holding 30 mile frontages and running them from tents that look like a circus big top--which is why I mostly game horse & musket.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP01 Aug 2018 10:07 a.m. PST

Robert is correct. A CW division was often a rather small affair and the number of staff permitted division and corps commanders microscopic by modern standards. As such, a division commander and his staff might have just had a couple of wall tents as a 'headquarters' and on the move just a small group of horsemen.

Blutarski01 Aug 2018 12:46 p.m. PST

The location of a senior (vision/corps) ACW command element was also likely to be found atop an eminence/elevation that offered a good view of the front and its approaches and ideally some foliage to provide shade from the sun and prying enemy eyes.


Dn Jackson01 Aug 2018 4:16 p.m. PST

They tended to move around a lot. Trying to stay in touch with brigade commanders, doing face to face consultations, scouting a line of march, etc. When we used to play a lot of Johnny Reb I had courier figures and we could only talk once the game started by sending notes. To represent the difficulty finding commanders the couriers didn't have a fixed move, but rolled dice to see how far they moved.

donlowry01 Aug 2018 7:21 p.m. PST

It depends.

For one thing, it depends on whether the division is attacking or defending (or in winter quarters). Also, terrain, weather, etc.

Trajanus02 Aug 2018 8:42 a.m. PST

Obviously the actual frontage of a Division will vary with the number of Brigades and Regimental strengths although Robert's 900 yards seems a tad tight to me. Anderson's Division at Gettysburg stretched over a mile and half but numbers alone don't tell the tale. Finding Division's in the Wilderness was quite a task never mind the Commander!

Which is what started me thinking on if there was some form of SOP where messengers went to a known location and then tried to find the individual if they were not present.

Of course matters varied, Divisional commanders got shot and even captured at the front but some also stayed at the rear and got quietly hammered, while it all happened elsewhere.

Size of an HQ or the Division is not really the question. Yes, today Divisional HQs are big and so are the Divisions but that's evolved along side modern Comms, which is kind of my point.

Corps HQs were supposed to be at a fixed point so messages had a destination. Didn't mean the Corps commander had to be there all the time, it just gave a staging post where Staff could take over responsibility for tracking the man down.

Did a Divisional equivalent exist in action, not in Camp.

I also find the matter of Staff size interesting. I'm guessing that was a variable too. Scott seems to suggest there was an Army standard. Where are the regulation allowance numbers to be found?

In the Napoleonic British army, Brigade commanders only had one or two Aides that were on the payroll but there were often others serving.

Taking one Civil War example at random, in Pfanz's book on the First Day at Gettysburg, there's a photo of Gamble's Staff all eight of them. (Assuming Gamble is in the photo). Even if three of those shown were the Regimental commanders (the photo isn't captioned by individuals) that's still five officers for a Brigade.

So assuming a Division was as large if not larger, was there not a role for one or more to be at the HQ directing comms traffic?

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