CWTS Article of the Month!

April 1999

"Caught In The Traffic"

Sutler Tokens at Gettysburg

by Everet K. Cooper

Extracted from The Civil War Token Journal, Volume 31 Number 1.

    The release in 1993 of the epic motion picture GETTYSBURG and followed by the availability of video-tapes and the television mini-series of the same has aroused much interest in this greatest battle of the American Civil War.

    For Civil War token collector's it has the added appeal of possibly having tokens in their collections that were silent witnesses at that great event. Certainly the Union cavalry that nervously watched in the first hours along the Chambersburg Pike the ominous approach of the long column of dusty-gray soldiers, interspersed with the bright red flags, could have had an assortment of patriotic tokens in the pockets of their sky-blue pants.  The horse soldiers of the 12th Illinois Cavalry would also have had some of the metal money of Sutler F. Simmonds in their pockets.  Or perhaps the soldiers of the 61st Ohio Infantry who double-quick marched through town in an endeavor to stem the tide of the overwhelming Confederates on that July lst also brought with them the shiny-brass pieces marked "61st Regt.  O.V. U.S.A.' as they glumly retreated through town.  Or the almost abandoned 8th Ohio Volunteer Militia troops on the left flank of the ill-fated charge made by Pickett and Pettigrew would wait to confront the almost invincible Army of Northern Virginia.  They nervously fingering the tokens of Sutler P. Merwin until the enemy were in close range.  The fate and future of the Republic was hanging in the balance.

    The massive Eastern armies of the Union and the Confederacy would meet in an unplanned heroic confrontation in southern Pennsylvania in and about the town of Gettysburg.  The battle fought here from July lst to July 3rd 1863 was, perhaps, the greatest battle of the War Between the States.  More than 172,000 men, on both sides, participated in this crucial moment in America's history.  Over 50,000 were casualties, either killed, wounded, or captured by the enemy.

    Amid the over 300 Union army regiments present there were eigh- teen regiments that had sutlers who issued metal tokens for the conveni- ence of the soldier's in the regiment they served.  When the shot and shell were being fired where were these sutlers and their mercantile wagons? The answer to that question has apparently not been specifically pre- served in the infinite detailed records of this massive 1863 battle.

    However, it is not difficult to make intelligent guesses about the sutler during the battle based on generalized orders issued by Army head- quarters.  The sutler and his wagons were not welcomed additions to the miles of mule-drawn wagons accompanying the army in the field.  The sutler would be at or near the end of the wagon train, probably along with the baggage wagons.  The report of Brigadier General Rufus Ingalls, Quar- termaster-General, Army of the Potomac, states very bluntly from Army headquarters at Taneytown, Maryland, that no baggage or other impedi- menta were allowed at the time of the battle to move on the roads to the battle front in Pennsylvania.  The roads were reserved for the movement of troops, ordnance, ambulances, and essential supplies.  This would pre vent the sutler from getting to his soldier customers in Gettysburg and, in reality, no sutler with good sense would want to be that close to the Con- federates.  The wagon train, now that the enemy had been brought to bay and the battle begun, was sent back to the nearest secure railhead.  This was to be Westminster, Maryland which had road and railroad connection with Baltimore.  They, along with the sutler wagons arrived at about 1 A.M. on July 2nd, while the battle to the north was in its second day.  The 87th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment accompanied to Westminster as guards for the wagon train including the many sutlers and their numerous wagons. In addition, they also had some cavalry and about twenty infantry regi- ments to guard the parked wagons.  After the first day at Gettysburg, part of Union General Buford's weary cavalry command, who had endeavored to blunt the initial Confederate attack, were sent back to Westminster.  Thus, the 12th Illinois Cavalry, part of Buford's command, could possibly have spent their sutlers tokens at Westminster,  provided they could have found him in that immense parking lot.

    The Army of the Potomac wagon train in its march north following Lee's army was moving with its assigned army corps and spread out over many miles.  For security purposes it was accumulated together and put at the rear of the army when it crossed at Edward's Ferry from Virginia into Maryland.  At Frederick, Maryland the wagon train was then broken up and returned to the rear of their assigned army corps.  It is speculated that when the total wagon train was moving together it could be spread as far as 60 miles on a single road.  Somewhere in that Interstate-type traffic were over 300 plus wagons of civilian sutlers.  The sutler wagon was always a choice target for Johnny Reb and the train had passed through the notorious "Mosby's Confederacy'.

    An eye-witness account of the scene in Westminster, Maryland while it served as a parking lot for the mule-drawn wagons of the massive Army of the Potomac is as follows.  "The army wagons were everywhere, in the streets, in the fields, on the various roads, and a line of them constantly traveling to the Gettysburg turnpike ... Night and day, the noise of the army wagons, the clanking of cavalry sabers, and the braying of the mules could be heard and general noise and confusion prevailed everywhere."

    The time that General Meade's army spent at Gettysburg after the battle may have been frustrating for the Lincoln administration in their hopes that he would crush Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.  Nevertheless, the majority of the Union Army arrived on July lst or 2nd, and immediately participated in the grand scale battle, then moved out on July 5th or 6th in pursuit of Lee.  Large numbers of dead and wounded would not be with the adversaries as they migrated towards the Potomac River.

    Thus, considering the short time interval at Gettysburg, plus the location of the sutler wagons at Westminster and the savage fighting, prevented the sutler tokens of these eighteen regiments from being exchanged at the sutlers.

    With the Confederate withdrawal from the bloody Gettysburg battlefield the Union army began their follow-up to further punish the Southerners.  The Army of the Potomac was given the order to concentrate on the evening of July 7th near Middletown, Maryland, a familiar location to those who fought in the 1862 battle of South Mountain.  The wagon trains once again rejoined their assigned army corps.  The impedimenta sutler's once again would be able to resume their trade activities and the sutler tokens achieve their useful purpose.

Regiments present at Gettysburg with token-issuing sutlers:

    1st Ohio Artillery
    lst Pennsylvania Artillery
    5th Ohio Infantry
    6th Maine Infantry
    7th Ohio Infantry
    13th Ohio Infantry
    1lth Pennsylvania Infantry
    12th Illinois Cavalry
    23rd Pennsylvania Infantry
    28th Pennsylvania Infantry
    55th Ohio Infantry
    61st 0hio Infantry
    66th Ohio Infantry
    72nd Pennsylvania Infantry
    83rd New York Infantry
    145th New York Infantry
    155th Pennsylvania Infantry.  

CWTS Article Archive
Winter 2016 A Reminiscence
Winter 2016 My First Sulter Token
Spring 2016 Protesting Union Civil War Policies
Winter 2015 Slave Owner Issued Civil War Tokens
Fall 2014 Hill the Barber & African American Store Card Issuers
Fall 2014 Gustavus Lindenmueller: The Myth, The Man, The Mystery
Apr. 2004 Henry Varwig - OH165GD
Mar. 2004 Dating Mr. Sayre's Tokens
Feb. 2000 Knowledge of Civil War Tokens
Jan. 2000 Ohio 710A
Dec. 1999 Speculations About Yankee Robinson
Nov. 1999 Hussey's Private Message Post
Oct. 1999 The Great Central Fair
Sep. 1999 Wm. S. Wilcox of Adrian, Michigan
Aug. 1999 Grading Isn't Really a Monster
July 1999 The 1860 Presidential Campaign Medalets
June 1999 The Other Store Cards of Central New York
May 1999 George McClellan - The Peace Maker?
Apr. 1999 Sutler Tokens at Gettysburg
Mar. 1999 More on the Monitor and Merrimac
Feb. 1999 Civil War Token Mini-Set -- General Franz Sigel
Jan. 1999 Die Sinker Errors on Civil War Tokens
Dec. 1998 The Abraham Lincoln Mini-set
Nov. 1998 Civil War Token Errors
Articles reprinted with permission of The Civil War Token Society.
Copyright ©1998-2016