Buff facings and gilt buttons: staff and headquarters by J. Boone Bartholomees

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By J. Boone Bartholomees

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Despite their prosaic appellations, they pop up with disturbing frequency in otherwise stirring narratives, rushing about chaotic battlefields, delivering orders, rallying troops, and conducting reconnaissance. Occasionally, they figure in romantic episodes. There are stories about staff officers slipping across the lines into enemy territory to rescue damsels in distress, escorting fallen leaders off the field, and dancing with beautiful ladies at impromptu balls. Some left well-known memoirs that constitute important sources in the historiography of the Civil War; others slipped into obscurity with only brief mention in the footnotes of musty tomes.

They managed the day-to-day operations of the army's most important functions. Understanding their general duties and the problems they faced is essential to an appreciation of the army's staff system. Chief of Staff If there was a position on the staff about which contemporaries disagreed most as to both function and authority, it was the chief of staff. The title cropped up formally and informally at all levels of command in the Army of Northern Virginia (and its precursor organizations) from the earliest days of the war.

As chief of staff it was my part to respond to calls for instructions and to anticipate them. The General was kept fully advised after the fact; but action had to be swift and sure, without having to hunt him up on a different part of the field. Page 16 The change of movement of a brigade or division in battle certainly carried a grave responsibility, but it has often to be faced by the chief of staff if the general happens to be out of reach.

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