Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs & Logistics

By Major Van Harl

Quartermaster Montgomery C. Meigs
Quartermaster Montgomery C. Meigs
Major Van Harl USAF Ret
Major Van Harl USAF Ret

Wisconsin –-(Ammoland.com)- During WWII, Fleet Admiral E.J. King stated “I don’t know what the hell this logistics is that (Gen) Marshall is always talking about but I want some of it.”

Also during that war General Patton stated “Gentleman, the officer who doesn’t know his communications and supply as well as his tactics is totally useless.” Both men were talking about the art of supplying the troops in the field as the they prosecuted their war. Logistics was the name of this art of war that made all the difference in winning and losing not just a battle but the entire conflict.

Sort of like how Hillary Clinton counted on the never ending supply of voters to her “cause” only to find that her failed logistics experts could not deliver in the final hours of her final political battle for this nation. If you run out of political beans and bullets, or dead and illegal voters, and you incurred a steady defection of your troops to the winning side as the end draws near, to that they say in the Army “mule droppings happen.”

Then there is that internationally famous Civil War logistics expert Rhett Butler of that even more famous revisionist Civil War fairy tale, Gone With The Wind who predicted the defeat of the Confederates in just months due to no real logistics.

Rhett dared to openly state in the presence of his fellow fine southern gentlemen that the south had no cannon factories, few iron foundries, no navy and very few textile factories. Fiddle-de-dee whatever will they do?

“Why all we have is cotton and slaves and arrogance–they will lick us in a month” states Captain Rhett Butler. It took more than a month, but of course he was correct. In his prediction he verbalizes what many there that fictional day knew and felt was true. However, for Hollywood and Margaret Mitchell he was spouting heresy, even if she wrote his words in her book. Another fiddle-de-dee is heard throughout the grounds of Tara.

Now let us get to the truth. The Germans had better Generals in WWII but the US had far superior logistics.

So wherever the combat leadership failed, the supply corps back filled the ranks with more replacement soldiers, weapons & ammo, food and, the real key to modern logistics movement, transportation.

Civil War Dead Horses
Meigs decided it was far easier to treat the animals humanely and with compassion then have to replace them when they died of neglect and abuse.

In the Civil War the south had the better generals who ran circles around the Union the first couple years of the war of southern rebellion. What the south also started the war with, and ended the war with, was the futuristic prediction of Captain Rhett Butler and I paraphrase “you all ain’t got no logistics and them damned Yankees are gone to whoop your ass.” Of course Captain Butler was correct.

Industrialization had already come to the north. There were factories producing most of the items the Union Army and Navy would require in 1860. What needed to happen was the rapid expansion of all those forms of product manufacturing.

The Northern states had already standardized their railroads to use the same size tracks and rolling stock. Of course the south had states rights, which meant no two railroads looked or worked the same. This wound up being a asset to the Union.

Major General Montgomery Meigs
Major General Montgomery Meigs

Major General Montgomery Meigs was an engineer and a new Captain in the Union Army when the Civil War broke.  A new Captain who had already served over twenty four years in the Army. Then Captain Meigs met President Lincoln almost as soon as the new president elect arrived in Washington. Lincoln was impressed with Meigs’ abilities and accomplishments as an Army officer and engineer.

He called on Meigs in the opening days of the Civil War to meet the emergency needs of a nation newly thrust into combat.

For Meigs logistics was the ability to foresee what would be required by the Union Army to fight and win the war. Figure out who manufactured the needed items. Start new manufacturing of items that no one was producing but must be made to fight the war. Figure out how to transport the material and supplies to the front lines for consumption by the Union soldiers.

Doing all this while not making himself rich on war time profiteering.

Meigs was posted in Washington D.C. and was surrounded buy thieves, liars, scoundrels and worst of all politicians bent on preserving slavery and getting rich while in office. Meigs’ personal problem was he was an honest man and he planned to remain one his entire military career.

Lincoln recognized this in Meigs and eventually promoted him to Brigadier General and appointed him to the position of Quartermaster General of the US Army.

Meigs’ ability to get food to the men on the front lines and feed to the horses on that same front line was critical. The railroad system was the key to delivering supplies half way across the nation but it still took horses and wagons to move the beans and bullets those final miles to the forward edge of the battle area.

Everything depended on horses in the Civil War on both sides of that conflict. General Meigs devised a system to not only procure horses by the thousands but feed and medically take care of these animals. Horses became very expensive and scarce during the Civil War. Meigs decided it was far easier to treat the animals humanely and with compassion then have to replace them when they died of neglect and abuse.

General Montgomery Meigs’ ability to move men and supplies to wherever they were needed during the Civil War was as critically important to the winning of that conflict as the men who stood on the many battlefields and used force of violence to maintain the Union.

Author Robert O’Harrow Jr has captured General Meigs’ life and his contributions to preserving the Union in its time of conflict in his book “The Quartermaster: Montgomery C. Meigs, Lincoln’s General, Master Builder of the Union” . I knew who Meigs was before I read his book, but now I understand what he did to serve and protect a grateful nation. Yes he was a supply person who spent most of the war behind the lines and out of combat.

He did however risk his life and the possibility of capture in the early days of the war and he lead troops in combat in the finals days of that war. All the time concentrating his efforts to find, produce and deliver any and all the resources needed to end the worst attack on the constitution of the United States this country ever had to withstand.

Whether you are fighting in combat, battling a natural disaster, running away from a nuke strike on a US city or escaping “walkers” who want to eat you, you must have supplies to accomplish that goal. The movement of needed supplies in a time of crisis is what we call logistics.

No man is an island and if he is without logistics he is a desert island. People do not survive on a desert island and they do not survive without logistics.

General Meigs was the Army’s quartermaster, but his title was not what made him famous. His mastery of logistics is what put his name in the history books and doing it as an honest man went a long way to cement his legacy.

Logistic, you have to have some in your life. Meigs wrote the book on that issue and Robert O’Harrow Jr. put it down on paper. Read it, learn and become prepared in your life.

Major Van Harl USAF Ret.
[email protected]

About Major Van Harl USAF Ret.:Major Van E. Harl USAF Ret., a career Police Officer in the U.S. Air Force was born in Burlington, Iowa, USA, in 1955. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Infantry School.  A retired Colorado Ranger and currently is an Auxiliary Police Officer with the Cudahy PD in Milwaukee County, WI.  His efforts now are directed at church campus safely and security training.  He believes “evil hates organization.”  [email protected]

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Dan Long

As a Southerner and history buff, I have to, with the humor of one of the vanquished of the “Lost Cause,” answer this “call to arms.” While Meigs was a great logistician, he was vindictive. After his son’s death in the war, he had so much trouble finding places to put dead Yanks, he resorted to burying them in the garden and front yard of Robert E. Lee’s home at Arlington. For those who still suffer from the belief that the war was fought to end slavery and “preserve the Union,” take time to read “Slavery Was Not the Cause… Read more »


People need to wake up and realize these important issues. They were also trying to collateralize land that wasn’t part of the original colonies for a new national debt. They wanted to steal people’s land for the bankers. The southern independent sovereign nation states had every right to leave the union. States are countrys unto themselves.


Maj Van Harl, good article on General Meigs. As one trained in Logistics and having visited City Point, VA., Grant’s Log Base outside Petersburg, I can appreciate his contribution. In the Army, there are several types of fighters. The ones who go out and do the mayhem and destruction, killing those who would kill us and those who supply them the means to do the mayhem, destruction and the capability to kill the enemy in the most judicious way. Logistics gets the bullets, beans, first aid equipment and material to the men who do the fighting. All are equally necessary… Read more »