Friday, September 23, 2011

A Government Travel Voucher, 1860s Style

Federal government employees in Washington are quite familiar with the various travel vouchers that they have to fill out in order to receive reimbursement for official travel.  150 years ago, federal officers also had to complete  standardized travel vouchers and reimbursement calculations.  I ran across such a voucher, a U.S. Government form No. 16, while researching the records of the Army of the Potomac's Bureau of Military Information (BMI) at the National Archives. 

Captain John McEntee filed a travel voucher in order to be reimbursed $12.18 for his travel on 15/16 April 1864 from Washington to Harper Ferry.  At the standard rate of 6 cents per mile, McEntee was provided $6.18 for the 103 mile trip.  He also received $2 for his baggage costs and $4 for transportation of a "servant." (this part is somewhat illegible to me, so it may not have been a servant).  Based on the 103 miles listed, McEntee's likely took the railroad from Washington to Relay, MD (30 miles), from Relay to Harper's Ferry (73 miles).  If Captain McEntee made the journey today by car, approximately a 66 mile drive, he would be reimbursed about $33 at the current privately owned vehicle (POV) Mileage rate of 51 cents a mile.

Captain John McEntee's travel voucher claim for official travel from Washington to Harper's Ferry in April 1864.

A review of the 1863 Army Regulations as published by the War Department reveals a suprising number of forms related to temporary duty and travels that would give the Joint Travel Regulations (JTR) a run for their money.  Captiains, such as John Mcentee, were authorized transportation of up to 80 pounds of baggage when in the field and up to 700 pounds when changing duty stations (PCS). 

Major General Joseph Hooker had tasked Colonel George H. Sharpe to create the Bureau of Military Information (BMI) in early 1863 in order to improve the Army of the Potomac's intelligence picture.  Using all-source information (interrogation reports, spies, cavalry scouting, Signal Corps observations), the BMI would go on to produce quite accurate enemy order of battle tables.In April 1864, Captain McEntee, one of Colonel Sharpe's key assistants, was serving as the BMI liaison officer in the Valley. In this capacity, he was responsible for overseeing scouting operations, producing reports and interrogating deserters and prisoners. 

Captain John McEntee served in the 20th NY Infantry before being detached for special service with Colonel Sharpe's Bureau of Military Information in April 1863. A June 1863 dispatch to Brigadier General Aflred Pleasonton, the Army of the Potomac's cavalry commander, provides an overview of  McEntee's duties:  "Captain McEntee, of Colonel Sharpe's department thoroughly understands the whole organization of the rebel army ... After you have examined any prisoners, deserters, or contrabands brought in, the general desires that you will give him a chance to examine all of them, and desires that all information may be communicated with great promptness."

Army Regulations.  Washington, D.C.:  United States Department of War, 1863.
The Bureau of Military Information, Central Intelligence Agency Website.

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