By Eric Mink
Over the past few days there has been a very active thread concerning Gilham’s manual, its usage and comparison with Hardee. The constant concern seems to be how heavily Gilham may have been used and where its usage compares with Hardee. For the past six years, I have been chasing Gilham’s “ghost” with particular attention paid to the development and use of his manual. Here are a few of my views, conclusions and opinions on the subject.
Gilham’s work was nothing new. It was simply a compilation, and rehash, of others material such as Hardee, Scott, Poinsett, etc. Nonetheless, the strength of Gilham’s text is in what it includes. For the volunteer and militia officer, it leaves almost nothing out. In one single volume, an officer is instructed in the drill, duties (line and staff officers), organization of the various arms and army, advice on fighting and tactics, explanation of weaponry and ammunition, target practice, conducting courts martial, music, and a glossary of all terms used. For the citizen-turned-soldier, it is the most complete textbook for the training and supervision of commands. For this reason, General Philip Kearney wrote the publisher (Charle Desilver of Philadelphia) on August 3, 1861 “It is comprehensive, complete, and reliable. I regard it the best Military Work that exists.” George McClellan wrote on May 23, 1861, “I…think it an excellent work to be placed in the hands of the Volunteers.” Gilham’s strength, again, is in what it includes, everything needed for a novice officer.
As regards its usage in comparison to Hardee. We do know that the Confederate government never adopted any one manual as its official choice. In May 1861 a resolution was proposed in the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States to adopt Hardee and that the Secretary of War purchase “ten thousand copies…the cost of the same shall not exceed one dollar a copy.” This resolution was tabled and apparently never acted upon. Furthermore, with but a couple exceptions there don’t seem to be any surviving orders, from the army level, stipulating what manual is to be used by the troops. Thus, it appears that the decision was left up to the states and/or officers. I have found orders from Virginia and Georgia stating that Gilham is their choice, and endorsements from Adjutant Generals to the governors of Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and New York for the adoption of Gilham. Georgia supplied their troops with copies, while in Virginia the officers had to purchase theirs.
As for the heavy use of Gilham’s early in the war, and then changing to Hardee later on, who knows. We can only speculate. To say that just because Hardee is the latest, in its revised form, and therefore the best? Well, maybe changing horses in midstream was widespread, but there seem to be so few major and important differences between the drills that it would not surprise me if many of the officers held to what they started with. Besides, standardization was something the Confederacy was never too good at.
With all of that said. I believe, and this is my opinion, that claiming that the usage of Gilham is a “reenactorism” is a little harsh. I have examined over 40 id’d copies of Gilham that were used by soldiers north and south, east and west, and from 1861 to 1865. The material I have gathered is in preparation of compiling it and publishing it in the near future.