Need Help From TOCWOC Readers: Mounted Pioneer Corps?

by Brett Schulte on July 10, 2011 · 5 comments

This request for help from those more knowledgeable on the subject of engineer/pioneer units comes about as a result of reading Myron M. Miller’s The Soul of a Soldier: The True Story of a Mounted Pioneer in the Civil War. The book is a collection of letters as well as a biographical sketch of Miller’s grandfather, Samuel K. Miller, who was first a member of the 211th Pennsylvania and later assigned to a 25 man Mounted Pioneer Corps unit attached permanently to Ninth Corps headquarters by General Parke in late December 1864.  Obviously based on the title of this post my question is about the latter unit.  A full review of the book is forthcoming at The Siege of Petersburg Online as well as here at TOCWOC, but my questions to you, TOCWOC readers are:

1. How unique was Samuel’s 25 man unit?  It was provided only with tools, no weapons, and was kept away from the fighting completely.

2. Did the other corps of the Army of the Potomac (and James?) have similar 25 man units?  In other words, was there an army wide order creating these units or was General Parke doing this on his own initiative?

3. How did this pioneer unit differ from other pioneer units which were created for brigades, divisions, etc.?

Author Myron M. Miller and I have both spent some time looking through the Official Records (mainly the individual parts of Volumes XLII and XLVI) but have not come up with much.  I’m curious if someone has a better explanation than I have been able to find.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Fred Ray July 10, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Interesting. You’re going to run into the same problems I did with the sharpshooters — the pioneers were not regular units but detailed ones, so finding records is going to be a challenge. You’ll probably have to do like I did and dig it out from a lot of scattered sources.

All Union divisions in Virginia did have pioneer detachments, just as they did sharpshooters. From what I’ve seen they were detailed from the regiments and were about company size. There were also some small outfits like the 17th Michigan (about a hundred men) who acted as pioneers/provost guard for the IX Corps. You might also look at the history of the 57th Mass., which has a section on their pioneer detachment.

To find the organizing orders you’ll probably have to consult the order books and letters files at the NA rather than the OR.

Good luck — maybe Miller will write a history of the pioneers like mine of the sharpshooters!


Brett Schulte July 10, 2011 at 4:38 pm


I immediately thought of your work on the sharpshooters when I read Myron’s work on the Mounted Pioneers. The similarities are remarkable. Thanks for the leads into what will probably be a lengthy and sometimes frustrating journey for Myron, and something I’ll be looking into as well from time to time. I was afraid someone might say that the orders for the formation of the Pioneers are more than likely in an order book in the National Archives rather than in the Official Records. But that’s really what makes research fun in a way. It’s a great feeling to possibly find something which no one has looked at before.



Fred Ray July 10, 2011 at 5:42 pm

It can be both fun and rewarding, and it’s another one of those subjects that no one’s yet done. At Petersburg the pioneers, like the sharpshooters, became more and more important, eventually being used with the sharpshooters as assault troops.


Myron Miller July 24, 2011 at 7:20 am

My thanks to Fred Ray. I’ll follow up on his suggestions and do additional searching. A peculiarity of this Mounted Pioneer Corps is that they had no weapons and were not involved in assaults, nor tearing down the abitis, etc. On the assault by the IX Corp on April 2, 1865, pioneers of the IX Corps led the assault, but Samuel K. Miller’s Mounted Pioneer Corps were kept at a safe distance, but could see all of the action. While detailed as other types of units were – the sharpshooters – these men were somewhat distinct because they were mounted. Now, if I can just find the orders!


Dan O'Connell October 20, 2012 at 6:43 am

I am a late to this party but have something that may be of value to add. In my recent readings i discovered a reference to mounted pioneers/engineers.
In the period just prior to the start of the overland campaign General Benham, commander of the engineer brigade, sought out recommendations from his senior leaders on ways to improve the engineer service. (see Or’s Vol. 33 pg 413) One of the responses argued that one comapny of each train (Engineer assets for the upcoming campaign were divided to form five seperate trains each comprised of two or three companies assigned at the corps level) be used as a mounted force serving as pioneers. The suggestion was not adopted but it may have planted the seed for formation of such a force from the traditional detailed pioneers.


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