Soldier Life...something that has fascinated people for generations. It’s also something we civilians always wonder about and never quite understand. But today, I’m sharing some facts for those researching about the War Between the States, focusing on the Sergeant. (Click here for Episode 7!)
Disclaimer: I am not an expert on soldier or the War Between the States. But I have researched these topics extensively. My goal here is to give readers, writers and researchers the information I wish I had been able to find all in one place. Pulling from books and webpages takes time! To whoever finds this post helpful, this was written with you in mind!
Okay, so first, there are two different types of Sergeants. There are regular sergeants (the ranking one is called the First Sergeant) and the Sergeant Major, who is the top Non-Commission Officer (NCO; in other words, a guy who is in charge whom you do not salute.)
The duties of a regular sergeant are…
Most of the information I gathered was for the First Sergeant and the Sergeant Major, so I’ll expand a little on what they did to keep their part of the army running (the jobs were the same in the North and the South).
The First Sergeant was selected by the captain of the company from among the other sergeants. Then the commanding officer of the regiment would make his position official. Likewise, his commission could be revoked by the commanding officer. He is the main guy supervising the entire company (100 men!). The Captain gives him his orders and he sees that they are carried out by himself and the other sergeants. Think of him as the foreman on a worksite.
The First Sergeant is the one who keeps the rosters, lists of the men serving in his company, noting who is where during the day and night. He was expected to memorize the names in alphabetical order, so that he could call the roll at any hour. I’m sure once campaigning began, that got confusing, with men being killed, captured and reported missing. Not only did he need to know everyone’s name, but he also needed to know what they looked and sounded like and where they were supposed to be in the camp line up. This is because soldiers would sometimes answer for their buddies who were away from drill without permission.
When Roll Call is made, the First Sergeant lists the absentees to the officer overseeing the roll call. All the other NCO’s are responsible to him, making sure that their work is done correctly and that the paperwork is filed. He is also allowed to arrest soldiers and NCO’s, while reporting any action like this to the Captain, along with the details of the situation. He is also the one who oversees the guard details. (See my post on Corporals for more details)
Just as the Corporal of the Guard is the most important job for a corporal, the most important duty for a first sergeant is issuing and keeping records of supplies: weapons and ammunition, uniforms, camp supplies, etc. He also has to keep record of who received what and when, and if anything is misplaced, he has to find out if it was stolen, sold or if it was an innocent mistake. He was also responsible for issuing rations to the men, and overseeing the company funds.
The sergeant is responsible for the actions of the company, to set a good example for him. Therefore, it’s a good idea to choose a man with a good temper and a strong sense of justice. He’s not supposed to be close friends with the men under him, but he should be the kind they can come to with anything on their minds without fear of talking out of turn. He’s the buffer between the men and the officers.
Now, the Sergeant Major, as I said, is the ranking NCO of the regiment. Here is one of the differences between the first sergeant and the sergeant major: one is regimental, the other is company oriented. The sergeant major is appointed by the regimental commander and there is one sergeant major in every regiment. (There are ten First Sergeants in a regiment, because there are ten companies.)
The Sergeant Major pretty much does what a First Sergeant does, only on a larger scale. His roster is of the NCOs (Sergeants and corporals) and he must also keep the time in camp. That means waking up the musicians in time to sound Reveille at the proper hour in the morning.
The First Sergeant turns the morning reports in to the Sergeant Major, who in turn gives them back to the sergeant, along with the orders for the day. He instructs them in details that will be expected of them the next day and copies the orders into the “Company Order-Book.”
He will also attend the Mounting of the Guard, with the First Sergeants reporting to him that everything is in order. He is the NCO all the lower-ranking NCOs look up to, so it is expected for him to act as the model soldier in the way he dresses and carries himself. He should be punctual and disciplined. When promotions come along, if he has carried out his duties correctly, he will be the first NCO to get an officer’s commission. Then, a first sergeant will take his place.
That’s all I have for today. Have a blessed week!
Christian. American. Southern. Author.