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Provost Troops
(Primarily those during the Civil War)
By CPT Sam Reinert

As of January 26, 2012

The sources for this photo history are so numerous that it would be impossible to credit them all, so I’ll just mention the major contributors: Mr. Andy Watson, Branch and Command Historian, US Army Military Police Corps, Wikipedia, Mr. Roger T. Zeimet; past MP Branch Historian, The National Archives, The Washington Times, Clyde C. Walton of the Illinois State Historical Library, COL Virgil Ney and Mr. Wilton P. Moore of the American Military Institute, Library of Congress, The New York Times, Major General Ambrose E. Burnside and the 545th MP Company Association Archives.


Since Valley Forge, there have been Provost Troops and they were usually Cavalry units that were given this assignment as an additional duty for a short term. The Military Police Corps was not to exist for many years so Provost Marshals and Provost Troops were only assigned on an as needed basis and usually only during times of war or unrest.


June 1987 Number 16


While the Military Police Corps is a relatively young branch of the U.S. Army Military Police type units in the Army existed as far back as the days of the American Revolution, and have been present in virtually all the major conflicts which this nation has fought. One such organization was the Veteran Reserve Corps which existed during the Civil War. Established in 1863, it consisted of officers and men deemed unfit for full combat duty but still capable of performing limited service. Regiments composed of ten companies were the basic units of the Corps. Each regiment contained two battalions, with the 1st Battalion consisting of 6 companies of men still able to bear arms and thus capable of serving as guards, prisoner escorts, and garrison troops, while the remaining four companies composing the 2nd Battalion contained more severely disabled men who served as nurses, cooks, and clerks. By December 1863 the Corps' strength was approximately 20,000 men.

At first the War Department designated the Corps as the invalid Corps. It became the Veteran Reserve Corps in 1864 because its original initials coincided with the letters stamped on worn out equipment meaning "Inspected--Condemned." The Uniform of the Corps' members also distinguished them from the rest of the Union Army. Instead of wearing the standard issue dark blue jacket and cap they wore a sky--blue jacket and cap.

As a rear echelon element of the Union Army the Veteran Reserve Corps has not been the subject of extensive historical study. Little therefore has been written about its activities, and primary source material from its members is scarce. One such source is the memoirs of Private Alfred Bellard of New Jersey. They offer individual insight into the workings of the Veteran Reserve Corps. A native of England who had migrated to the United States in the early 1850s with his parents, Bellard was 18 when the Civil War broke out. In August 1861 he enlisted for three years in the Fifth New Jersey Infantry Regiment. He then went on to serve with that unit in the Army of the Potomac seeing extensive action in Virginia. He fought in the Peninsula Campaign (March - July 1862), the Second Battle of Bull Run (August 1862), the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 1862), and the battle of Chancellorsville (May 1863). During the latter engagement he received a serious wound in his right leg which, following his recuperation during the summer of 1863, led to his transfer to the Veteran Reserve Corps.

Stationed in Washington, D.C., Bellard's duties consisted mainly of guarding prisoners and deserters. His first assignment was to serve as a member of a squad which escorted 15 bounty jumpers and deserters from Washington to an Army prison located on Governor's Island near Manhattan. He also participated in street patrols which checked the passes of off-duty soldiers and ensured that they did not frequent off-limits saloons and houses of ill-repute.

Bellard did see front line action one more time while he was in the Veteran Reserve Corps. This event occurred in July 1864 and resulted from an invasion of Maryland by a Confederate Force led by General Jubal Early. Early's Raid, as it came to be known, was an effort to relieve the pressure on General Robert E. Lee's army that was then under siege by General Ulysses S. Grant at Petersburg near the Confederate capital of Richmond. The Confederates believed that by threatening the Union capital they would compel Grant to weaken his army by sending reinforcements northward. This Grant did, but the effect on Lee's situation was minimal at best.

Prior to the arrival of Grant's troops the defense of Washington was in the hands of what few local forces were available. Since the Veteran Reserve Corps was one of the few organized bodies of troops in the area it was deployed to the capital city's defense lines. Bellard went with his unit to the vicinity of Fort Stevens, the focal point of Early's advance on the afternoon of July 12. While filling canteens with water from a stream, Bellard fired a lone shot at the rebel lines drawing a
return shot for his efforts. Neither shot did any damage. The next day the rebels were gone.

The hasty arrival of regular troops from Grant's army convinced Early that his chances of successfully assaulting the Union defenses were rather slim.

The following month Bellard's enlistment expired and he received his discharge papers. He then returned to New Jersey and subsequently married his childhood sweetheart, had one child, a daughter, and worked successively as an engraver and a florist. Following his death in 1891 in a soldiers' home, his hand written memoirs, colorfully illustrated with his own drawings, remained neglected until the 1960s when an antique dealer purchased them. Little, Brown and Company then decided to publish them and contracted with Civil War historian David Donald to edit them. After extensive research by Donald to verify the accuracy of Bellard's recollections, they were published in 1975 complete with Bellard's drawings. They today stand as one of the best primary sources on the Veteran Reserve Corps, a direct ancestor of today's Military Police Corps Regiment.

ROGER T. ZEIMET Branch Historian

Sources: David Herbert Donald, ed.,
Gone for a Soldier: The Civil War Memoirs of Private Alfred Bellard (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1975); Mark Mayo Boatner III, The Civil War Dictionary (New York: David McKay Company, Inc., 1959); Patricia L. Faust, ed., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986).


Military Police
Or Provost Troops

As the United States Army expanded for the impending conflict of the American Civil War, the services of policing soldiers were once again needed. Although most units performed self-regulation and guard duties, provosts marshal and provost guard units were considered necessary for large-scale enforcement. Provost detail after the Revolutionary War usually lasted for a short period of time and was always a temporary assignment. During the Civil War these provisional details would give way to a new permanency and formality of military police duties.

Provost Marshals and their provost guard units continued to serve on a semi-rotational basis in some units. The Army of the Potomac maintained an overall provost marshal, corps and divisional Provost Marshals, and provost guard units from 1861 to 1865. The newly created Provost Marshal Bureau would be commanded by the Provost Marshal of the Army. This office and position existed from 1863 to 1866. The Veteran Reserve Corps (VRC), formerly the Invalid Corps, operated from 1863 to1866 as a branch of the Provost Marshal Bureau. The VRC was an organization composed of Union soldiers wounded in the line of duty, no longer able to serve on the front lines but often assigned to maintain order and guard prisoners.


“Study of an Infantry Soldier on Guard”,
by William J. Jackson, Sergeant Major
12th New York Volunteers sketched near
Fredericksburg, Virginia. January 27th, 1863
Detail, Library of Congress LC-USZC4-4998


The Need for Order…

Preparing for attack, state militia and volunteer regiments hastening to the defense of Washington, gathering at the nation’s capital during the summer of 1861. Occasionally minor disturbances involving volunteer soldiers reached such proportions that the military authorities detailed regular troops to patrol the city and arrest disorderly soldiers. In June the regiments received their first pay, and drunken pandemonium broke out in Washington. Some volunteers broke up bars and restaurants; others wrecked a house of ill repute, carrying off orna­ments and decorations.

Dismayed by the lack of organization and numerous thefts, General Irvin McDowell issued General Order No. 18, on July 18, 1861. This order defined the authority of the provost marshal for the Army of Northeast Virginia. McDowell directed the commander of each regiment to send a commissioned officer to serve as its regimental provost marshal, along with ten enlisted men to act as a police force. Almost before the newly appointed regimental provosts marshal could familiarize themselves with their new duties, Union forces were routed at the nearby First Battle of Bull Run. The confused retreat back to Washington further dis­rupted the organization of the army.

The Life of Major-General McClellan, (1864)
T.B. Peterson & Brothers
Military Police Archives

The Army of the Potomac’s new commander, Major General George B. McClellan, took command on July 26, 1861 and immediately began reorganizing the troops. He expanded on McDowell’s provost system by appointing an overall provost marshal with assigned units. On July 30, 1861 Colonel Andrew Porter, commander of the 16th Infantry Regiment, was appointed as temporary Provost Marshal of Washington. Colonel Porter commanded of a provost guard comprised of approximately one thousand infantry soldiers, a battery of artillery, and a squadron of cavalry. His troops would maintain order and suppress mutinous units. Porter initiated a curfew and required passes for certain areas of the city and surrounding area.

Major General McClellan listed the following as concerns for the new provost marshal:

Suppression of marauding and depredations, brawls, and disturbances.

Suppression of gambling-houses, drinking-houses or bar-rooms, and brothels.

Enforcement of orders prohibiting the sale of intoxicating liquors, whether by tradesmen or sutlers.

Conduct searches, seizures, and arrests.

Administration of sentences of general courts-martial involving imprisonment or capital punishment.

Separate deserters from enemy prisoners of war.

 Passes to citizens within the lines and for purposes of trade.

Complaints of citizens as to the conduct of the soldiers.

Prevention of straggling on the march.

“A Sutlers tent near H.Q”, August 1862
by Arthur Lumley
Detail, Library of Congress LC-USZC4-5246

A contemporary New York Times reporter described a raid in which provost guard soldiers enforced the curfew and curtailed liquor sales:

“Last night the Provost-Marshal made a descent upon two saloons which had been selling liquor to soldiers. This morning each party was fined $25. The regulations requiring the saloons to close at 9 o'clock were very generally observed tonight.”
Eventually order was restored to Washington and the surrounding areas.

Colonel Porter was promoted to brigadier general and became the permanent Provost Marshal for the Army of the Potomac in February of 1862. After the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, General Porter was relieved of his duties due to illness, but returned to Washington to serve as provost marshal of the city until 1864. Brigadier General Marsena Randolph Patrick would then become Provost Marshal for the Army of the Potomac until March 13, 1865, when General Patrick was appointed provost marshal for all armies operating against Richmond.

Brigadier General Andrew Porter, possibly post-war image.
Detail, Library of Congress LC-B814- 3825



The Provost Marshal


Mounting guard inspection, Fort Wagner, South Carolina April 1865.
Detail, Library of Congress LC-B811- 3491


“Provosts marshal are of two kinds: The strictly Military Provost Marshal is a Military Police officer, whose duty it is to suppress marauding and depredations, and to prevent all kinds of disturbances; to keep order and regulate drinking establishments and other resorts, and prevent drunkenness, and all kinds of disorders; to enforce orders with regard to the conduct of a camp or city, and …to make searches, seizures, and arrests; to execute sentences of military courts, involving imprisonment and corporal or capital punishment.

 The provost marshal takes charge of all prisoners, whether captured from the enemy, or otherwise held; he arrests stragglers and other offenders of the command, and forwards them to their proper regiments and companies, with the written charges against them; he has the supervision of the passes of officers and soldiers, and signs the passes to citizens authorized within the lines for trade or other purposes; he investigates complaints of citizens arising from the conduct of the troops; and may have charge of scouts and spies employed in the command.

In the field the Provost Marshals were selected from the line officers, and varied in rank from Lieutenants to Generals. They were attached to brigades, divisions, corps, and armies, and often local provosts marshal for cities, towns, and districts were appointed, and even detachments, operating independently …had their provosts marshal for the time being to look after stragglers, marauders, and pillagers, and to take charge of prisoners.

 The District Provost Marshals were appointed from civil life, and are under the orders of the Provost Marshal of the State, and receive their orders and instructions from the Provost Marshal General in Washington. Provosts marshal are appointed for each Congressional District, each Territory, and the District of Columbia, and deputy marshals to assist them were authorized, who, in addition to enrolling and drafting, were charged with the arrest and confinement of deserters, spies, and persons resisting or interfering with the enrollment or draft.”

As defined in:
Kautz' Customs of Service for Officers of the Army (1864)
August V. Kautz
Capt. Sixth U.S. Cavalry, Brigadier and Brevet Major General
Kautz would also serve as a member of the military commission that tried Lincoln's assassins.

Provost Marshal General

Most notable among the Civil War Provosts Marshal were Brigadier General James Barnet Fry, the Provost Marshal of the Army, and Brigadier General Marsena Rudolph Patrick, Provost Marshal for the Army of the Potomac.


Brigadier General James Barnet Fry (1827-1894)

James Barnet Fry attended the United States Military Academy, graduating in 1847, and served in the artillery during the War with Mexico. At the beginning of the Civil War he was chief of staff to General Irvin McDowell in the Army of the Potomac and later to General Don Carlos Buell in the Army of the Cumberland before he was appointed Provost Marshal General on March 17, 1863.

"Fry is the firmest and soundest man I’ve met," wrote presidential aide John Hay in his diary. “He seems to combine great honesty of purpose with accurate and industrious business habits and a lively and patriotic spirit…”

Fry directed the newly created Provost Marshal Bureau, and was recommended for the post of Provost Marshal General by General Ulysses S. Grant. Much of Fry’s work concerned recruiting, conscription, and desertions. He appointed provosts marshal for each Congressional district, who in turn named deputy marshals for the counties. In July of 1863 Fry was faced with the difficult task of enforcing the draft in New York City. Widespread riots erupted and numerous troops were sent in to quell the fighting.

Washington, D.C., July 14, 1863.

Secretary of War.

       SIR: The enforcement of the draft was yesterday seriously resisted in the ninth district of the city of New York. The mob, variously estimated in numbers up as high as 30,000, attacked the officers of this bureau in the performance of their duty, and destroyed the building in which the draft had been conducted, and many of the rolls, records, and appurtenances connected with the draft. The military and the police force of the city on duty there were overwhelmed and dispersed.

        In the present condition of things, I do not think the draft can be made without additional force. I therefore recommend that four regiments of infantry and a battery of artillery be sent immediately to New York City, and, without intending to travel beyond the line of my duty, I would state that I think the public interest, so far as my department is concerned, would be greatly promoted if Major General McDowell can be assigned to such command as will enable him to direct the military operations necessary to enforce the draft in the State of New York and New England. The numbers and importance in this riot are doubtless greatly exaggerated, but I deem it sufficiently serious to justify the suggestions herein made.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Provost-Marshal- General.

Report of Col. James B. Fry. Provost-Marshal-General, U. S. Army, with orders, &c.
JULY 13-16, 1863.--Draft Riots in New York City, Troy, and Boston

Ruins of the Provost Marshal’s office in New York City destroyed during the rioting.
The office had also served as conscription center.
Harper’s Weekly. August 1, 1863

The riots were quelled and Fry continued to oversee the conscription of troops. Colonel Fry was promoted to Brigadier General April 21, 1864 and later brevetted to Major General on March 13, 1865. Fry remained the Provost Marshal of the Army until 1866, when the office and Provost Bureau were abolished. After the Civil War, Fry continued his military career until 1881, when he turned his talents to writing books about the Army, including New York and the Conscription of 1863.

Brigadier General Marsena Rudolph Patrick (1811-1888)

A graduate of the United States Military Academy in 1835, Patrick served in both the Seminole and Mexican Wars. Briefly retiring from the Army, he became the president of the New York State Agricultural College in 1859. With the outbreak of the war, Patrick offered his services to New York. The governor appointed him the inspector general of the state militia. By March 1862, he was in command of a brigade in the 1st Corps.

 Patrick would become the Provost Marshal for the Army of the Potomac on October 6, 1862, and immediately began enforcing order. Similar to current military police, Patrick also contended with troop movement through clogged roads and narrow bridges.

Describing one incident in which he assisted in circulation control, Patrick’s diary portrays the scene:

"Artillery, packs, ambulances …orderlies and detached commands, with stragglers of all kinds, began to pour in as the army approached a narrow bridge. I was at the bridge and thereabouts…directing the movement successfully, until every wheel and hoof had crossed the bridges.”

On June 30, 1863, as Union troops approached Gettysburg, Patrick wrote, "I was called into town and sent for two squadrons of cavalry to go back to Frederick and clean out that town, which was reported full of drunken men and stragglers."

 At the Battle of Gettysburg Patrick commanded approximately 1300 troops with responsibility for protecting the Union headquarters, as well as keeping troops on the skirmish line. General Patrick mentioned Gettysburg in his diary writing “I had my hands full with those that broke to the rear, but we succeeded in checking the disorder and organized a guard of stragglers...” After the battle his Soldiers, which were largely composed of provost guard units, would escort prisoners to holding camps and protect supply trains from raiders.


“General Patrick’s punishment for gamblers”.
By Alfred Waud, Published in: Harper's Weekly, November 7, 1863, p. 717 as:
The Army of the Potomac-Gamblers at the Provost Marshal's Headquarters.
Library of Congress LC-USZC4-4185

“Patrick’s provost guard brought up a large detachment of coffee coolers, who were put in our ranks.”

The 14th Regiment of Infantry
By Colonel Thomas Anderson, 14th U.S. Infantry
Found in History of the Army of the United States. (1896)
By T.F. Rodenbough

“Coffee cooler”, Civil War slang for a straggler. The incident mentioned occurred before the Battle of Spotsylvania, Virginia May 1864.
Patrick and his troops constantly monitored camp activities for gambling and disorderly behavior. Burdened with paperwork from merchant’s requests and civilian complaints, Patrick would have a rubber stamp created with his signature to plow through the documents.

On March 13, 1865, General Patrick was appointed provost marshal for all armies operating against Richmond. After the war Patrick directed the central branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.


The Provost Marshal in the Field

Provosts in the field would be tasked with enforcing order, straggler control, prisoner of war management, protection of citizens’ property, preventing mutinies, investigating crimes, apprehension of deserters, and administering punishment. In addition to their other duties, provosts marshal in the field were utilized for the procurement, processing, and dissemination of intelligence. Assistant Provost Marshal for the Army of the Potomac Colonel George H. Sharpe was tasked to create a Bureau of Military Information in 1863 to act as an intelligence center. It was the responsibility of this bureau to provide the Army of the Potomac with the size, disposition, and composition of opposing Confederate forces.

 As Union forces occupied Confederate states, provost’s marshal often oversaw the management of military government within the area to include: passage through lines, merchant requests, citizen complaints, criminal incidents involving the military, and determinations of loyalty.


“Provost Marshals of 3d Army Corps”, Brandy Station, Virginia December 1863
Detail, Library of Congress LC-B817- 7088

Provost Marshal's office in City Point, Virginia January 1865
Detail, Library of Congress LC-USZ62-95863


The enforcement of order sometimes required administering punishment. In most cases the punishment included either physical labor or public embarrassment. In some extreme cases executions were performed by the policing troops.

“The Civil War in America: Guard Tent-Punishment in the Federal Camp”
The Illustrated London News, vol. 39, no. 1116, p. 467. November 9, 1861

Image featuring several punishments: On patrol with a heavy log with ball and chain, standing on guard while balancing on a barrel, Soldiers that were drunken and disorderly were often bound to prevent harming themselves or others.


"Too fond of whiskey”
Illus. in: Harper's weekly, June 28, 1862 p. 412,
Library of Congress LC-USZ62-96119

“Life in camp, part 1”, by Winslow Homer
Published by L. Prang & Co., c1864.
Library of Congress LC-USZC4-11460

Passes and Paperwork

As Federal armies advanced into Southern territory, Confederate civil government began to collapse and the maintenance of law and order was assigned to the Union Army. In an attempt to improvise a system of government in these areas, the Army extended the functions of the provost marshal from policing the military to policing the occupied districts and in effect, governing them. Army provosts issued travel passes, and also issued trade permits to do business.

Provost marshal clerks, Army of the Potomac, Brandy Station, Virginia March 1864
Detail, Library of Congress LC-B817- 7291


Provost Marshal Pass, Military Police Museum Collection, MPC 2695


Reverse, Provost Marshal pass,
Military Police Museum Collection, MPC 2695


Provost Guard Units

Serving under the provost marshal, whether temporary or semi-permanent, these troops bore the brunt of fighting and enforcement of order.

Inspection of Provost Guard, headquarters, Army of the Potomac Petersburg, Virginia February 1865
Combination Cavalry and 114th Pennsylvania Infantry Provost Guard.
Detail, Library of Congress LC-B817-7251

Concerning the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry Provost Guard, in the above image:

“It was frequently employed on reconnaissance with the cavalry, duty always fatiguing and onerous.”

A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion (1908)
By Frederick H. Dyer

8th U.S. Infantry Regiment’s Provost Guard, Army of the Potomac at headquarters, Fairfax Courthouse, Virginia. June, 1863.
Detail, Library of Congress LC-B817- 7503

Portions of the 8th U.S. Infantry Regiment would serve as provost guard members for the majority of the Civil War.

“Company G took part in the battle of Bull Run, and then, with Company F, was placed on duty in Washington as provost guard.

Companies A and D took part in the battle of Antietam and then joined Companies F and G for duty as provost guard at the headquarters of the Army of the Potomac. While Companies A and D were serving in northern Virginia, Companies F and G had taken part in the Peninsula Campaign as provost guard at General McClellan’s headquarters.

Company B arrived at Sharpsburg, October 3, 1862, and the five companies,—A, B, D, F and G,—were now united for the first time since their reorganization. The battalion accompanied the headquarters in all the marches preceding Fredericksburg, in which battle it was engaged December 13, 1862. Company C joined the battalion at Falmouth, Va., April 18, 1863, where the regiment remained during the Chancellorsville campaign. It marched with the army to Gettysburg, but was not actually engaged in the battle, its duties as provost guard keeping it employed in other ways.

A few days after the battle of Gettysburg the regiment was ordered to New York City to suppress the draft riots, and encamped in the City Hall Park from July 17 to 30, 1863, and on the Battery from July 30 to August 22. It remained in New York Harbor until April 23, 1864, being stationed on Governor’s Island until March 22, and after that date at Hart’s Island. During this interval the various companies performed much detached service… The most important of these duties was the suppression of a mutiny on November 7, among certain N. Y. volunteer regiments. Companies B and I put down the mutiny and brought the ringleaders to Fort Columbus.

The regiment left Hart’s Island April 21, 1864, and proceeded to Warrenton, Va., where it became the provost guard of the 9th Army Corps. It took part in all the movements of that corps, its detail as provost guard…”
Excerpts from:

The 8th Regiment of Infantry
By Lieutenant Richard H. Wilson, Adjutant, 8th U.S. Infantry
Found in History of the Army of the United States. (1896)
By T.F. Rodenbough

107th U.S. Colored Infantry provost guard at Fort Corcoran in Arlington, Virginia 1865.
Courtesy of the United States Army Military History Institute

Camp of Provost Guard-114th Pennsylvania Infantry. Headquarters, Army of Potomac, Brandy Station, April 1864
Note: Sergeant Major and also officers with sashes serving as “Officer of the day”.
Detail, Library of Congress LC-USZ62-99346

“The officer of the day will examine the guard, see that they are vigilant, that none are absent, and that their arms and accoutrements are in order, that the officers and non-commissioned officers are acquainted with their duty, and that the sentinels are properly posted, and have received proper orders.”

The Guide to Camp and Garrison Duties (1846)
Page 50 No. 232
By Augustine Kimball

In addition to fighting on the line, the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, dressed in colorful “Zouave” uniforms, served as provost guard on several occasions. They served as provost guard for the Army of the Potomac on April 18 1864, and continue their service providing garrison and provost duty at City Point, Virginia, from June 18, 1864, to March 28, 1865.

“…upon the occasion of his joining the Army of the Potomac, General Meade selected the One Hundred and Fourteenth, in recognition of its ‘discipline and soldierly bearing,’ for special guard duty at his own headquarters…
After the action at Sailor's Creek, the unit was charged with escorting to City Point the prisoners taken…”

A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion (1908)
By Frederick H. Dyer

At Gettysburg Company C of the 1st Minnesota Infantry Regiment was detailed as the Provost Guard for the 2nd Division, Second Corps. They provided security for 2nd Division’s headquarters and returned stragglers to the front lines. On July 3, 1863, as Confederate Major General George E. Pickett’s Charge neared Union forces at “the Angle”, the provost guard was ordered forward with the rest of the 1st Minnesota, previously held in reserve. In the ensuing fight Company C would lose their commander but captured the colors of the Confederates’ 28th Virginia Regiment.

“The battle of Gettysburg-Prisoners belonging to Gen. Longstreet's Corps captured by
Union troops, marching to the rear under guard “,
Sketched in July 1863 by Edwin Forbes
Detail, Library of Congress LC-USZC4-2622


Veteran Reserve Corps

The Veteran Reserve Corps (VRC) was comprised of officers and enlisted men deemed unfit for full combat duty but still capable of performing limited service. Each of the VRC’s 24 regiments contained two battalions, one battalion consisting of six companies of men still able to bear arms and capable of serving as guards, prisoner escorts, and garrison troops. The second battalion had four companies composed of more severely disabled men who served as nurses, orderlies, cooks, and clerks. Despite their injuries, many Soldiers still desired to serve. By the end of the war more than 60,000 men had served in the Corps.

First established on April 28, 1863 by General Order 105, the VRC was originally named the Invalid Corps and was similar to the Revolutionary War organization of the same name. Although its Soldiers continued to serve faithfully, the “Invalid Corps” name was universally hated by the men. The Federal Army of the Civil War used “IC” to declare worn-out gear or inedible food, in many circles it meant “inspected—condemned”. On March 18, 1864 General Order No. 111 was issued, renaming the Invalid Corps to the Veteran Reserve Corps. Another point of contention was the uniform of VRC troops.

Uniforms for enlisted VRC:

“The following uniform has been adopted for the Invalid Corps: Jacket: Of sky-blue kersey, with dark-blue trimmings cut like the jacket of the U.S. Cavalry... Trousers: Present regulation, sky-blue. Forage cap: Present regulation.”

General Order No. 124, issued May 15, 1863


                                              Garrison VRC uniform                                        Fatigue VRC uniform with familiar dark blue Union sack coat

Officers also wore a sky blue frock coat, with dark blue velvet collar and cuffs, similar in all other respects according to the present pattern for officers of infantry. Shoulder straps were also to match current patterns but with dark blue velvet. Eventually VRC officers were allowed to wear the standard dark blue frock, and VRC enlisted wore the dark blue sack coat, ostensibly because sky-blue uniforms soiled easily. Later in the war some VRC soldiers would continue to wear the lighter uniform as mark of honorable service.

Veteran Reserve Corps Soldiers frequently served as guards at military prisons and furnished details to provosts marshal to arrest bounty jumpers and to enforce the draft. They guarded railroads, patrolled Washington D.C., and defended the city as Confederate Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s forces attacked outlying forts in July of 1864. The VRC was a branch under the Provost Marshal Bureau and was similarly disbanded in 1866.

VRC troops guarding medical supplies Washington, D.C. March, 1865.
Detail, Library of Congress LC-B817- 7811

Company A, 10th U.S. Veteran Reserve Corps, Washington, D.C. May 1865
By James Gardner
Detail, Library of Congress LC-B817- 7670
The officer (missing an arm) is wearing the dark blue frock coat and the enlisted Soldiers are wearing light blue VRC uniforms.

Company C, 10th U.S. Veteran Reserve Corps, Washington, D.C. April 1865
Detail, Library of Congress LC-B817- 7896
These Soldiers are wearing the more common Union sack coat. Note the VRC band in the background wearing light blue uniforms.

Veteran Reserve Corps soldiers also served in the New York City Draft riots.

Col. Robert Nugent,
Actg. Asst. Provost. Marshal-General, New York City:

       SIR: Apply to General Wool for force, if you have not done so, to quell the riot reported in Third avenue, provided it is serious. You had better concentrate your Invalid Corps with other forces, and act directly against the rioters, in conjunction with the city police.
I have telegraphed General Wool. Report condition of affairs.

James B. Fry
Provost-Marshal- General.

Lincoln’s funeral Guard

After the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, an honor guard of four VRC officers and twenty-five VRC enlisted Soldiers escorted the president’s body on its long journey to Springfield, Illinois. In the spirit of the time, each of these Soldiers received the Medal of Honor, but in 1917 the medals were rescinded since they were inappropriately awarded outside of conflict.

Veteran’s Reserve Corps Soldiers guarding President Lincoln’s Funeral Car
By Samuel M. Fassett
Library of Congress LC-USZC4-1832


“The grand review of the Army, Presidential reviewing stand with guests and guard”. Washington, D.C. May 1865.
Detail, Library of Congress LC-B811-3304
VRC troops providing security for President Andrew Johnson.
President Johnson and General Grant are seated to the immediate right of the left column.


“Reading the death warrant to Wirz on the scaffold”. November, 1865.
Detail, Library of Congress LC-B817- 7752
VRC guards on the scaffold during the execution of Captain Henry Wirz, Confederate commander of Andersonville


Prisoners of War

The vast numbers of prisoners, both from captured enemy forces as well as criminals within the Union Army ranks, presented new problems of confinement and control. Previously, and in the early stages of the Civil War, prisoners of war (POWs) were “paroled” and released if they promised to not continue their fight, often within certain geographic areas. This freed the capturing force from employing much needed manpower to guard the prisoners and using resources to shelter and feed them. As the war intensified and paroled prisoners were recaptured, in some cases several times, the practice of release was abandoned. Prisoner exchanges continued throughout the war, but usually involved smaller numbers of troops. Military prisons would be established for both Union and Confederate prisoners of war.

Confinement facilities for Confederate prisoners of war often consisted of larger buildings, converted factories or storehouses, and when possible, removed a great distance from frontline fighting. Veteran Reserve Corps troops and units tasked as provost guard frequently served as guards either at the facility or while enroute with the prisoners. Although “Andersonville”, a Confederate prison, is the most well-known prison of this time, conditions for prisons on both sides were largely miserable.

“Guarding the prisoners” Petersburg, Virginia June 30, 1864
Contemporary sketch by Edwin Forbes
Library of Congress LC-USZ62-14641


Brigadier General William Hoffman, Union Commissary General of Prisoners (at right) Washington, D.C. 1865
Library of Congress LC-B817- 7288

Hoffman was assigned the unenviable task of managing prisoner of war operations. Although he created a centralized system, the lack of supplies and capable administrators would disrupt any consistency. Ironically, Hoffman was one of the first POWs of the Civil War. He was captured by Confederate forces in February of 1861 at San Antonio, Texas. He and other members of the 8th Infantry Regiment were released or “paroled” after taking an oath not to bear arms against the Confederacy.

“Roll call”, Rock Island Prison Barracks
Photograph courtesy of The Rock Island Arsenal Museum, Rock Island, Illinois
Note VRC uniformed Soldiers in front, behind them prisoners are in formations by the barracks. The first guard force for Rock Island was the 4th Regiment of the Veteran Reserve Corps.

Soldiers of the 108th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment, guarding the exterior wall


Private Christopher Anderson of the Rock Island Prison. Company F, 108th

 The 108th was detailed to serve as guards at Rock Island from June of 1864 until May 1865.
Photographs courtesy of The Rock Island Arsenal Museum, Rock Island, Illinois

“Confederate Prisoners on the way to the rear, Captured by Gen. Sheridan at Five Forks,” April 1865
Detail, Library of Congress LC-B811- 3198

“All prisoners captured from the enemy will be turned over to the provost marshal of the division, who will send them, at the earliest practical moment, with complete descriptive lists and information as to where, when, and how they were captured, to the provost marshal general.”

Camp and outpost duty for Infantry (1863)
By Major General Daniel Butterfield

Exterior of Camp Morton Military Prison, near Indianapolis, Indiana. (Text visible on the gate.)
It appears that many of the guards wished to be in the photograph. Also visible are several VRC uniforms.
Photograph courtesy of the Hargrett Library, University of Georgia


Order of Battle
Army of the Potomac


Fredericksburg order of battle


Oneida (New York) Cavalry

Capt. Daniel P. Mann.
1st U. S. Cavalry (detachment)
Capt. Marcus A. Reno
4th U.S. Cavalry, Companies A and E
Capt. James B. McIntyre



McClellan (Illinois) Dragoons, Company A, Capt. George W. Shears


McClellan (Illinois) Dragoons, Company B, Capt. David C. Brown

9th New York Infantry, Company G, Capt. Charles Child

93rd New York Infantry, Col. John S. Crocker

2nd U.S. Cavalry, Maj. Charles J. Whiting

8th U. S. Infantry, Capt. Royal T. Frank.


6th New York Cavalry, Company B, Capt. Hillman A. Hall

6th New York Cavalry, Company C, Capt. William L. Heermance

6-Cavalry connection ?

The need for a rapidly deployable force for law enforcement, area security, and battlefield reconnaissance was recognized early in the Civil War. Similar to the US Army’s organization during the Revolutionary War and the War with Mexico, some cavalry units were once again utilized for policing duties.

From Patrick journal:
On June 30, 1863, as the army approached Gettysburg, Patrick wrote, "I was called into town and sent for two Squadrons of Cavalry to go back to Frederick & clean out that town, which was reported full of drunken men & Stragglers."

General officer escort and protection.

General officer escort and protection.





It has recently been discovered that prior to the formation of the Military Police Corps, the Provost Marshals and many of the Provost Troops used the four leaf clover as a form of identification. No one is certain exactly when this badge or insignia came into use – probably during the Civil War, but we do have evidence of its use starting in the Spanish – American War Era.

The photo above is the Tunic of MAJ Bandholtz (who later became a Provost Marshal General during WW I)
Although he was an infantry officer, Major General Bandholtz constantly strived to obtain authorization for a Corps of Military Police. Sadly that did not happen until after his demise.

The photo above depicts the correct uniform for a Military Policeman or Provost Troop in 1898 – 112 years ago and you will note that the Four Leaf Clover is clearly displayed well before the use of a Brassard or MP Corps branch insignia.



 Mexican Punitive Expedition

The Pancho Villa Expedition (officially known in the United States as the Mexican Punitive Expedition) was a military operation conducted by the United States Army against the paramilitary forces of Francisco "Pancho" Villa from 1916 to 1917. The expedition was in retaliation for Villa's illegal incursion into the United States and attack on the village of Columbus, Luna County, New Mexico, during the Mexican Revolution. The United States Army Center of Military History officially refers to the campaign as "the Mexican Expedition". The official beginning and ending dates are March 14, 1916 and February 7, 1917.

There were a number of famous units involved with this action as seen here below:

  • 5th Cavalry Regiment

  • 7th Cavalry Regiment

  • 10th Cavalry Regiment (Colored/Buffalo Soldiers)

  • 11th Cavalry Regiment

  • 12th Cavalry Regiment

  • 13th Cavalry Regiment

  • 6th Infantry Regiment

  • 16th Infantry Regiment

  • 17th Infantry Regiment

  • 24th Infantry Regiment (Colored/Buffalo Soldiers)
    6th Field Artillery

  • United States Army Signal Corps

  • 1st Aero Squadron

There is a noted absence of Military Police or Provost Troops in this list. From the beginning of this action many prisoners were taken and it was soon discovered that something had to be done to organize a Provost unit. Since the line Cavalry units already had Regimental Provost Sergeants, it was decided to assign each of them a detail large enough to collect and detain these prisoners and also to set up a Detainee Camp just outside Fort Bliss. By July of 1916, the flow of these prisoners was so large and so frequent that it was decided to add a full time Military Police Detachment to assist with this problem and also to police the local towns and roads connecting them. A Lieutenant Colonel from the 7th Infantry was assigned as the commander of this unit (see below).

McAllen, TEX., July 11, 1916.

1. A detachment of Military Police is organized to police the towns of
Pharr, McAllen and Mission, and the roads connecting the same. The detachment
will be organized and commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Robert McLean,
7th Infantry, and will consist of three lieutenants of the line, one medical
officer, four non-commissioned officers and 15 privates of cavalry, eight noncommissioned
officers and 50 privates of infantry, three of whom shall be
provided with motor cycles.
II. Details of officers for service with the Military Police will be made on
recommendation of the Commanding Officer of the detachment. Detail of
enlisted men will be made on an equitable basis among organizations at the
three stations of the Division, by organization commanders after conference
with the Detachment Commander. Enlisted men will be selected for their
physical bearing, judgment and previous experience. The personnel of the
detachment will mess with their organizations, and will be changed in part
from time to time.
III. In addition to the functions prescribed for Military Police, Article VII,
F. S. R, the detachment is charged with reporting violations of all camp
orders, and where the offenses warrant such action to arrest soldier offenders.
The detachment will co-operate with the civilian police authorities.
IV. Officers and enlisted men of the Military Police when actually performing
their duties will wear a blue brassard on the left arm, half-way between
the elbow and shoulder, bearing the letters M. P. in white.
V. In cases of emergency the Military Police may call on any troops to
assist them. All persons belonging to the military service are required to
give every assistance to the Military Police in the execution of their duties.
Major, Assistant Chief of Staff·
Major, Assistant Chief of Staff·[1][1]

You will note that this order also authorized the first known use of the Blue Brassard or Arm Band with the letters MP in white.


This is probably the LTC Robert McLean mentioned in the above order. Whoever he is, we do know that he was the Detainee Camp Commander


This is one of the Provost Details with the Provost SGT on the right.

Some of Poncho Villa’s troops in the Detainee Camp just outside Fort Bliss


One of the Provost Guards watching the exchange between prisoners and visitors bringing food and drink (see basket on the ground)

Local photographer taking photos of the detainees in the camp

More Federales behind the wire

Interior shot of the Camp gives you an idea of the size and scope of this operation


Another shot of the camp interior


This photo history has been prepared by CPT Sam Reinert. Any additions, corrections or suggestions should be sent to:


Sam Reinert
545th Military Police Company Association
626 1/2 South 9th Street
Richmond, Indiana 47374 USA
(765) 962 4627 phone & FAX