19th Century Military Boot Camp

Hi Everyone!

I have some questions concerning the U.S. military during the 19th Century (pre and post Civil War.)

Whenever I’ve seen histories or movies of the U.S. Army of the 19th Century, I’ve never seen anything mentioned about newly-enlisted soldiers going to Boot Camp or Basic Training.

Was there such a thing back then, or did new recruits just “wander in” to the nearest U.S. Army post or frontier cavalry fort, and say they’d like to “join up”?

What about the other services like the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps? Were there boot camps for them in the 19th Century?

Did the armed forces of other nations of the time have Boot Camps for new recruits?

Finally, I was wondering if, during the “westward expansion” of the United States, (I guess I’m thinking around the time of the Indian Wars), if it was solely the U.S. Cavalry that was involved in all the military conflicts at that time, or were other branches of the U.S. Army like the Infantry or Artillery involved?

Was the U.S. Navy or U.S. Marine Corps ever actively involved in the Indian Wars?

Yes. And then, the non-coms would kick you into shape, often literally.

Once you were on the ship, training began.

BTW–DYK the word “press gang”?

I heard, but cannot recall the source — it was a television program I think — that modern boot camps were developed as a result of sociological studies of World War I. It was learned that men would actually fire in a disappointing percentage of cases, and therefore it was determined that men would have to be taught to put aside their moral judgments and kill. Using torso-shaped targets for practice was one example of the new implementation.

It was World War II, actually.

One reason I think the era of the citizen-soldier is probably gone for good is the level of psychological conditioning now required in basic training. You don’t just do your hitch and go back to being who you were anymore - your basic personality is rebuilt in the image of your branch of the service.

Yes, at least in Texas:

As a former USAF enlistee, and knowing of plenty former military types from all services, I’d have to disagree with you on this point. That’s not to say the experience doesn’t have any effect on your personality - but it’s certainly not “rebuilt”.

Further discussion would probably be better suited for GD.

Boot camps, I believe, came about towards the end of the 19th century. Previously, it was the individual regiment and company that was responsible for training new enlistees. All of the branches of the Army were involved in the Indian Wars, modern movies just made the cavalry more prominent. I think it was actually the 7th Infantry that was the first to reach Custer’s (7th Cavalry) battleground. Dunno about the Navy and Marine Corps fighting in the Indian Wars.

The idea that an unfortunately high number of soldiers did not fire their weapon was greatly the consequence of WWII and Korea studies by S.L.A. Marshall. While his work has been subject to question lately, it did result in a change in the US Army’s rifle training – from shooting at known range bull’s-eyes to shooting at pop-up silhouettes at various ranges where the soldier had to find the target, estimate the range and adjust his fire.

In the Regular Army, before, during and after the Civil War recruits received only rudimentary training at there post where they entered the service – consisting of barracks and personal housekeeping and the beginnings of close order drill. The real training came when they joined their permanent unit. Training was principally a matter handled by the company officers and sergeants and corporals on an “On the Job” basis that involved no small amount of physical guidance in awkward squads or Good Old Company Q.

Volunteer units during the Civil War received their training very much on a blind leading the blind basis since nobody knew much of anything, from the basics of camp sanitation to musketry to battlefield maneuver. It was the fortunate unit that had an old soldier who at least knew what was expected and how things were done. US Grant got his start as a regimental commander because he had a background that could be used to shape up an Illinois regiment that had suffered under inexperienced leadership. Generally, however, the privates NCOs and officers learned together – in a good unit the officers were a chapter ahead of the NCOs and the NCO were a chapter ahead of the privates. For the first month or so those volunteer regiments were just a big school where the teachers were as ignorant as the students.

As an old ‘Cottonbaler,’ I can assure you the Seventh Infantry was the first infantry on the scene at Little Big Horn. (“Too late to save Custer, but making an excellent feather and arrow collection,” said the Sergeant Major.)

In the Old (pre Civil War) Days, a person enlisted and passed a physical given in his hometown. Then he was sent to a “Recruit Rendezvous” at some central point where he would be assigned to a regiment and moved there for training. By the time of the Civil War, most regiments had a state affiliation and so newbies went to the Camp of Instruction in his state, there new regiments were formed and marched off.

Does that help?

The navy and marines were involved in at least one Indian war. They served in the often forgotten Seminole Wars in Florida. There’s a great book on this “Swamp Sailors: Riverine Warfare in the Everglades 1835-1842” by George Buker.

Boot camps did exsist in America during the 19th century. Duing the Indian Wars:

Upon volunteering troops were sworn in, given a phisical exam, and a bath.

There were three “recruit depots” one in David’s Island New York, another at Columbus Barraks Ohio and one at Jefferson Barraks Missouri. The first two were for infantry the last for the cavalry.

At the depots the new soldiers were given uniforms and taught the basics of the Army system, basic drill, and how to care for themselves in the field.

The process lasted anywhere from a few weeks to several monthes. They were then sent to a unit where training continued.

While not nearly as systematic or as rigorous as the present system it did exsist.

My information comes from “The Enlisted Men of the Indian Wars” by Don Rickey Jr. and was published in Military Affairs Vol.23 No.2

May I at least apologize for speaking a little too broadly?

(There is a good thread of late about the “gulf” between military and civilian cultures - whether in GD or not I didn’t notice - but there’s a lot of opinion to the effect that it is wider than it’s been in decades, and you have to wonder whether modern day training might not accentuate that.)

What exactly did a physical exam consist of in the 19th centuary? It can’t have been strictly required or too thourgh considering women where able to cross-dress and join the army. :eek:

Agreed - I’m still “me.” Just with additional knowledge and experience.

Y’know, most Israeli males above the age of 20 might disagree with you (yours truly included).

Perhaps not in USAF basic training. For the Army and Marines, definitely. Navy, not really sure, I understand their basic is somewhat difficult but it takes years on a boat before you’re really ruined.

The Indian Wars that Thrash the Almighty’s quote referred to were two decades after the Civil War. It was during the Civil War that women you refer to were able to sneak in.

Not only did the Civil War teach the military enormous amounts about how to take civilians and turn them into soldiers, but it also required sweeping uptake of more troops than probably any other conflict in history. The need for bodies trumped everything. At the beginning of the war, anybody who could put together a block of men was named an officer and the soldiers, often from a single village or neighborhood, constituted a named unit. Women couldn’t get through such a small cohesive net.

Later, the first U.S. draft was instituted because the numbers just weren’t possible otherwise. It was the draft and the mass recruiting of soldiers that allowed a few women to pass. In order to meet quotas and get bounties for their activity, many recruiters became completely corrupt. Immigrants, especially the Irish, were lured over to enlist for the $300 bounty, but some were simply tricked or even shanghaied. The well-to-do could get out of the draft if they paid the bounty for a substitute. And recruiters - just like today - were happy to bend or break the rules to make their quotas.

It was far easier for women to join during the latter period. They just had to show up, pretend to be a boy - thousands of underaged teens were admitted alongside them - and get a uniform. The mores of the day meant that many people had never been naked in front of others and being aloof about your body was nothing unusual. And so many units had gotten shot up, scattered, formed and reformed that strangers were put together into units constantly, making it more easier to keep up a pose.

This couldn’t happen later when the size of the army dropped about 95% after the war. Even without basic training, the units were too small and lived together too long.

To the best of my knowledge almost all of those cases happened during the civil war and in discussions of this type it must be realized that the Civil War was an exception to almost every rule. The nation whent from an army of less than twenty thousand to one of hundreds of thousands within monthes (I’ll look up the exact figures if anyone wants them). The prewar system simply couldn’t cope.

Entire units were enlisted and sent off to battle with almost no scrutiny. Desertion was rampant. Death from disease and battle were constant. Civilians often came to army camps as merhants, aid workers, and ladies of the evening. There was little constant acccounting for where everyone was and who everyone was. In a situation like that it, it was rather easy for a woman to done a uniform and just show up in the chow line, it was even easier if a few of the men in her unit helped her out.