The Role of the Wagoner!

I became intrigued with the idea of finding out what a wagoner would do in the Civil War and what the wagons physical shape and size would be like.  The idea that my great-grandfather would be a wagoner was truly amazing to me!  He was my size 125 lbs. 5 ft. 4 inches tall. George was young and strong back at the time of the Civil War being about 18 years old.  I think we can see he was a determined person.


In a letter dated July 20, 1999 from Guy LaFrance of the Eastern National in Manassas, Virginia (Battlefield of the Civil War – Bull Run), I received this bit of information:

 “What I can tell you, based on my own personal knowledge, is that the role of a wagoner was to transport the supplies needed by the army.  He was responsible for driving the wagon and maintaining it, feeding and caring for the mule team that pulled it, ensuring that it was loaded properly, and seeing that its cargo reached its destination safely.  The cargo could be anything that an army of that time required; food, medicines, weapons, ammunition, clothing, shelter tents, tools, the soldier’s knacksacks, officer’s luggage, and anything else the Quartermaster Corps, the branch of the U.S. Army that was responsible for obtaining and distributing supplies felt was needed.  It was, and still is an essential job, one that is too often overlooked when studying military history.”

The picture of the wagon was taken at a museum in northern Minnesota probably the Itasca Historical Society but I do not remember exactly where. I was amused by the shiny floor and this huge wagon that towered over me.  I think it is probably a Conestoga style.  Next time I am near one of these wagons I will stand next to it so it is documented my size versus a wagon of this type.

Here is an article about the Quartermaster Department in the Civil War.

The Quartermaster Corps during the Civil War was managed by Montgomery Meigs who reorganized and it made it work.  Several years ago I was poking around on the internet about the Quartermaster Department of the Civil War and there was nothing but now things are changing. Wikipedia has a great biography of this man and his contributions:

Tip:  go to Google Images and type in “Civil War Wagons” and you get a lot of photos of the different kinds of wagons used: ambulance, supplies, guns and more.  Copyright will not allow me to post pictures here unless I ask permission.

General Sherman writes in his memoirs:

An ordinary army-wagon drawn by six mules may be counted on to carry three thousand pounds net, equal to the food of a full regiment for one day.”  The Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman, Vol. II., Part 4; by William T. Sherman

George Barclay writes in his own words:

George and the Mule!

This is taken from George’s Civil War Pension record and written in his own hand.  Civil War Pension records are mostly about the service of the soldier and their medical condition in order to secure their pension.  Here George is pleading his case.  He wrote this about 1891.  Ouch!

Here is an interesting article on mules at the blog:  Civil War by LearnCivilWarHistory.com  It tells about their uses and care.  Apparently they didn’t use mules around the guns for they would not be willing participants.  Mules worked best for hauling.   I saw a donkey at the Latte Plantation in North Carolina but he was small and shaggy so learning a little about mules versus horses has been very educational for me, I am a city kid.


10 thoughts on “The Role of the Wagoner!

  1. I found this very interesting, especially since I was also researching exactly what the role of a Wagoner was during the Civil War. My Great great uncle, George H. Stakes, was also a Wagoner during the Civil War. He was 29 and stood 5′ 3″. His service records show he was in 34th Illinois Infantry (Union). The 34th participated in the Battle at Shiloh.

    Do you know whether it was common practice to place men of short stature on the Wagons or was this just an odd coincidence that both your and my ancestors were of short statures?

    In researching my family I have found that my Great great Grandfather Richard P. Stakes was Confederate (served twice) while his brother, George H., was Union. I can understand the division since most of our family moved from Indiana in 1852 and settled in Louisiana, George went out on his own and settled in Illinois and then later in Iowa.

    Thank you for posting the information and links.
    Kayellen Stakes

    • Kayellen: Thank you for stopping by. It has been awhile since I looked into this whole subject of wagoneers in the Civil War. I just took a minute right now and used Google’s search engine and had a few more hits. So others are starting to write about the subject. Men of short stature on the wagons as a practice would be difficult to answer. In the case of my great grandfather George I think it was more his skill level, knowledge and age. He was just turning 18 years old. The wagoneers were tied to the Quartermaster department and I did not go to the National Archives to dig further but that might be very interesting. Both my great grandfather George and his brother Alexander were on the same side but it was not that uncommon for families to be divided between north and south. Another problem I had was finding photographs that showed the use of wagons in the war. Most of the photographers liked to take photographs of the battles, soldiers and the dead. If you get a chance and visit a museum that has wagons, go stand by them and you will be really amazed that your ancestor and mine where able to do this type of work. I think my great grandfather suffered later in life for his efforts. According to him and his Civil War pension a mule fell on him. That would hurt! Of course the soldiers suffered marching hours in muck, swamp and more. Good luck in your search and let me know if you find out anything really interesting. This post about the wagons seems to be very popular. Good Luck! Bonnie

  2. I have tried to subscribe to your blog and am failing something awful. Will try again 🙂 Love this posting, it really reminded me to keep looking for more details regarding the Civil War. Realizing the size of the wagon for instance, gave me a completely different perceptive. I guess I had envisioned the wagoneers wagon to be smaller. Thanks for sharing!

    • Susan: I am sorry you are having trouble subscribing. Let me know if it doesn’t work. The wagon size is a guess on my part. I have tried to study photographs of the Civil War but the supply lines are not a big draw as opposed to a battle and the dead. I do believe they probably had a variety of sizes depending on the load and distance and terrain. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Hello,

    I have enjoyed your site immensely. I too have a family member who was a wagoner during the Civil war supporting the 32d Infantry, USCT. I hope, some day, to learn how wagoner’s became wagoners… were they soldiers detailed to the job or civilians hired to do it. How were wagoners perceived by the soldiers? Where they members of the units the supported? I assume there was some sort of agreement with the government as John Mull, my great great grandfather, filed for and apparently received a pension from the government. Another subject I would like information pertains to Caucasian serving in colored units. I have found very little about colored troops, let alone white members of those units. Any thoughts?

    Best Regards,

    • Doug: Thanks for stopping by. My great grandfather George was mustered into the Civil War and was a soldier. According to a friend of mine who retired from the Quartermaster Dept. of the Army, he felt that George had skills they needed. His father John Barclay worked as a carpenter for about 3 months at the end of the war. George said in his Civil War pension file, which I am starting to post about, that he was never attached to a unit. I have no idea what that means. He did not go into a big explaination which was unfortunate. Alexander, George’s brother, did get his Civil War pension but he Marched with Sherman to the Sea. George never did get his Civil War pension, although he tried and so did his my great grandmother many times. His father John, served as a civilian carpenter and never got any pension. I have posted about all this on the blog so if you search around you will see a lot of variety in who got a pension and who did not. Regarding colored troups, you would have to talk to genealogists with African-American genealogical experience perhaps in your area. Ask at the local genealogical society or historical society and maybe they would know someone who knows someone. Your local NARA (National Archives) office might also be able to help you. Don’t just ask one person at NARA, some are volunteers. You need the more experienced ones or the ones that actually work there. I know very little about that topic I do know that more and more information about the service of colored soldiers is being featured online and in other publications. It is about time. In my poking around, I tried to find out more about the Quartermaster Department of the Army at that time and I believe that those records are at the National Archives in Washington D.C. I have not taken the time to check out that source. I also spent a lot of time trying to find pictures showing wagons involved in the war and that was tough. I even got interested in using mules, oxen and horses and the why of that because George said a mule fell on him and that was the reason for his pension application. In studying Sherman’s March to the Sea, I learned how he planned the supplying of his troups during that march and it was pretty amazing. So just keep digging. Bonnie

  4. I just received my Grandfather’s Honorable Discharge papers from WW1. His name was Appleton Plyler and was a Wagoner. He enlisted on July 19, 1917 and retired March 19, 1919. He was part of the 113th Field Artillery Supply Co. I never knew his title of Wagoner until now. I was told that he picked up bodies during the war. So I am not sure what all a Wagoner’s job was. I have done some internet searches and found his name on a couple of sites. I find this History very interesting. Dana

    • Dana: Thanks for stopping by. I am so glad you have found all this great information about your grandfather. When I was trying to learn more about my great grandfather George A. Barclay’s role as a wagoner in the Civil War, I had a hard time because they really didn’t focus on that part of the war more on the fighting and battles. However, it was very important the role of wagoner in getting supplies to the men, such as food, equipment, clothing and yes picking up the dead after the battle. I am not sure how it is titled for WWI. In the Civil War it was the Quartermaster department. I also had trouble finding photographs of the wagons. You may have to find someone that is an expert on WWI and they might be able to give you more information. The Army is always changing the units and departments around so that it is very different now versus what was back in the Civil War and WWI. Good luck.

  5. My great grandfather was a wagoner in the Civil War. Alfred Cressler was in the 45 IL Inf. Co.B from 1861-1865. I don’t believe size had anything to do with being selected for the job as Alfred was tall, 6’2″, and weighed about 200 lbs. He was 17 or 18 years old in 1861. Some doubt about the year of his birth. It’s interesting that Bonnie’s ancestor has a mule fall on him as that is what Alfred’s pension papers show happened to him also. Alfred’s unit was with Grant through the Vicksburg Campaign in 1863 and with Gen. Sherman on the ‘March to the Sea’ and until the end of the war.

    • Judy: Hello and welcome. Yes great grandfather did have a mule fall on him. It was probably common in occurrence. It was George’s brother Alexander who March to the Sea with Sherman. Of course, George and Alexander were with the Minnesota infantry. You can see that I have tried to track both brothers based on their Civil War unit historical descriptions but alas, the real story is only from them as to exactly what happened. This seems to be a popular post of mine and that there were a lot more wagoner’s than people realize that contributed to the war effort. As far as size was concerned, George did serve as a wagoner coming in at about 125lbs. and about 5 ft. He was not large like your ancestor but apparently he made up for it in yelling a lot. HA! Thanks for sharing.

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