The Author: Born in Baden, Germany, August V. Kautz settled in Ohio with his family when he was an infant. Fighting in the Mexican War helped get him an appointment to West Point in 1848. After graduation, he was assigned to small outposts and had numerous scrapes with Indians in the prewar U.S. Army.
He served in the cavalry throughout the Civil War, but never had great success as a field commander. He still managed to rise in rank, ending the war as a brevet major general.
In time, Kautz achieved a measure of fame as an author of “how-to” texts for the military. Dismayed by the poor record-keeping he observed in the largely volunteer Civil War Army, in 1863 he completed his detailed manual The Company Clerk: Showing How and When to Make Out All the Returns, Reports, Rolls, and Other Papers, and What to Do With Them.
The Book: August Kautz considered writing a guidebook for military protocol in the opening months of the war, but he was unable to actually start the project until 1862, when he received an assignment to the 2nd Ohio Cavalry.
To help the Buckeyes make sense of their paperwork, he wrote a series of circulars advising them on the meaning of forms and the proper manner of filling them out. “I came to the conclusion,” Kautz wrote, “if that kind of instruction worked well with one regiment it would work well with others….If the Regts. were all right, it will be easy for the Brigade to be right, and the Brigade being right, the Division was easily arranged; thus the whole army would be right….”
He found a publisher in J.B. Lippincott & Co. of Philadelphia. When The Company Clerk came out in 1863, befuddled clerks and officers snapped up the 142-page book at $1 a copy ($1.25 for the deluxe leather-bound edition), to the tune of 8,000 copies in its first year of publication.
Pleased by his success, Kautz went on to write Customs of Service for Non-Commissioned Officers and Soldiers (1864) and Customs of Service for Officers for the Army (1866). All three how-to manuals sold into the 1880s, and Kautz revised them several times as regulations and forms changed.
In Theory: “We have numerous handbooks for military service that tell us what to do,” Kautz explained, “but few, if any, that tell us HOW TO DO IT….” And in great detail Kautz’s book told company clerks, whom he de – scribed as a noncommissioned soldiers selected because of their “penmanship and capacity for keeping the records,” how to fill out, as well as the required frequency of, Morning Report Books, Sick Books, Rosters, Descriptive Books, Clothing Books and various other reports, returns, rolls and papers.
Some forms even broke down the cost of saddle and weapons parts, so that clerks could accurately charge soldiers for lost and damaged equipment.
Kautz combed extant reports and reprinted properly filled out paperwork in his book to provide samples for others to follow. The example below, “Form 21: Return of Killed, Wounded, and Missing,” was one of the more dire in The Company Clerk; it came from Company A of the 1st U.S. Infantry after the First Battle of Bull Run.
Kautz instructed that this form should be filled out at the company level “as soon as possible” after a fight, and sent on to the regimental adjutant. The “remarks” section was filled in by the clerk to detail the nature of each injury. Such reports were meant to be modified if a soldier’s status changed: for example, if a man died of his wound.
In Practice: Some things never change. The irritation caused by voluminous paperwork was the same during the Civil War as it is today. But if you had the right shoulder straps, you could just pass that irksome stuff on to someone else.
Originally published in the April 2010 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.