Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“This is rather an onerous position in the company”

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Hall on August 30, 2010

William Watson (b. 1826) was a Scotsman, a Clydesider, who emigrated to the West Indies in 1845 and worked there as an engineer and sometimes-ship-captain. About 1850 he emigrated again to Louisiana, where he worked as an engineer and eventually became part-owner in a sawmill and wood business, with additional business interests in selling coal and steamboat operations. Watson was opposed to the secession of the Southern states, but as a member of the local militia unit in Baton Rouge, he enlisted in the Confederate Army for a one-year term with his company, the Pelican Rifles, which eventually became Company K, 3rd Louisiana Infantry. He fought in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. At the end of his one-year enlistment, he had the opportunity to accept a commission as an officer, but declined as it would require him to renounce his British citizenship. He was discharged in July 1862 but, upon discovering he had lost all his property with the Union occupation of Baton Rouge, he went back to revisit his regiment in the field and got caught up in the  Battle of Corinth. In that action he was hit in the leg by a spent round, a wound that, he later said, “although painful, was not dangerous, if I could get timely relief.” After the Confederates fell back, he was picked up on the field by Federal medical personnel, treated at a field hospital, and soon paroled through the efforts of a fellow Scot on General Rosecrans’ staff.

More than twenty years later, Watson wrote two extensive, detailed first-person accounts of his wartime activities, Life in the Confederate Army; Being the Observations and Experiences of an Alien in the South During the American Civil War, and The Civil War Adventures of a Blockade Runner. Here, in the first book, Watson describes his appointment as orderly sergeant of the Pelican Rifles, and the duties that went with the post.

The standard complement of officers and non-commissioned officers for a company of infantry was: one captain, two lieutenants, one orderly-sergeant, four duty-sergeants, and four corporals. It had always been the rule among volunteer companies for the members of the company to elect their officers, but now by the” army regulations” it was pointed out, that although the members of the company might still elect their officers, yet no appointment would be continued unless the candidate passed an examination, and was found duly qualified and approved of by the brigade commander. This, however, did not apply to officers who held their appointments before the company was mustered into service.

It so happened that our orderly sergeant was the son of the captain, and as the latter carried on an extensive business, it was necessary that he should remain at home to attend to the business; he therefore had not volunteered, but he had continued to act, and had accompanied the company thus far, but as now about to take his leave and return home. The office of orderly-sergeant was therefore vacant. In the American service this is rather an onerous position in the company, and I who was then third-duty-sergeant was selected for the post, and was examined for competency before a board of officers. I passed satisfactorily, but in the course of the examination it came out that I was an alien, and not a citizen. This was against me, but after some consultation it was considered that as the office was not commissioned I might pass, and the appointment was approved. I was, however, given to understand, that I could attain no higher position, and could not hold a commission until I became a citizen; and they advised me to get the preliminaries done at once, as it would take some time to consummate it, unless a special dispensation of the rules was granted.

They then handed me a copy of the “army regulations” for my guidance as orderly-sergeant, and specially directed my attention to a clause which read thus: “No foreigner shall hold any office under the United States Government, either by commission or otherwise, unless he be a citizen of the United States;” the same regulations being adapted for the Confederate States, with the simple alteration of the word “United” being obliterated, and the word “Confederate” substituted.

I had already determined that I would never forswear or renounce my allegiance to Queen Victoria, to become a citizen or subject of any foreign power, nor would a commission in the Confederate service now tempt me. I had volunteered my services for one year, and that I would fulfill as far as lay in my power. I will now give a slight description of the duties of an orderly-sergeant as it was in the United States service at that time.

He held the rank of sergeant-major,* his pay was equal to one-and-a-half that of the first duty-sergeant. He was the general executive officer of the company. He was secretary of the company, and was allowed a clerk. He went on no special detachments, or guard duty, except in cases of emergency. He kept the roll-book, and all other books, papers or accounts of the company. He was accountable for the men present or absent. He returned every morning to the adjutant a report of the state and effective force of his company.

He made out all requisitions for rations, ammunition, arms, or camp equipage, and all other requirements. He had charge of all the company property, and reported on its condition. He inspected the tents and company camp ground, and saw that it was properly formed and ditched, and inspected the sanitary arrangements. His signature must be the first, and followed by that of the captain, on all company requisitions and reports. He called the roll at reveille, and noted absentees and delinquents, punished for slight offences, and reported more serious offences. He gave certificates to men who wished to apply for leave of absence. He detailed all men for guard, and detachments for special service, and appointed police guards for the day. He reported the sick to the surgeon, and saw them attended to. He marched up to the colour line, and handed over to the adjutant all details for special service and guard duty. He drilled all squads, and the company in absence of the commissioned officers. He took his place on the right of the company, and acted as guide. He went to the front and centre at parade and heard the orders read. When in front of the enemy, he was generally informed privately of the programme, and of the movements to be made. While the duty sergeants were designated by their respective names as Sergeant T. or Sergeant H., he was designated as the Sergeant, and was regarded as the ruling power of the company when on active service. With all these duties to perform, it may be imagined that I had sufficient to keep me from repining.

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* Watson’s service record confirms that his rank was first sergeant, and his pay as $20 per month.

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