Confederate Army

views updated May 14 2018

Confederate Army. On 19 February 1861, President Jefferson Davis appointed Leroy P. Walker of Alabama secretary of war of the newly formed Confederate States of America—the first of the five men to serve in that troubled office—and on 6 March, the Confederate Congress authorized an army of 100,000 volunteers to serve for twelve months. In May 1861, following the outbreak of war, Congress authorized the further enlistment of as many as 400,000 volunteers for three‐year terms.

The white male population of the eleven Confederate states, aged fifteen to thirty‐nine, was approximately 1 million. The best estimates of total Confederate enlistments range from 850,000 to 900,000. Less than 2,000 men served in the regular army; nearly all were in the Provisional army, a force intended to be disbanded at the end of the war.

At the outset, the South had more volunteers than it could arm and equip, forcing the army to turn away some 200,000 volunteers that it would soon sorely miss. In June 1863, the army peaked at almost 475,000 men; it declined steadily thereafter. By comparison, some 2.3 million men served in the Union army, with more than 1 million in uniform in 1865. As martial enthusiasm waned in late 1861, the Confederate government was forced to resort to conscription for the first national draft in American history. On 16 April 1862, the Confederate Congress enacted the First Conscription Act, which declared all able‐bodied, unmarried white men between the ages of eighteen and thirty‐five liable for the draft. One‐year volunteers already in the army were enjoined to serve for two additional years but were allowed to return home on a sixty‐day furlough and to elect new field‐ and company‐grade officers. The Second Conscription Act of September 1862 and the Third Conscription Act, adopted seventeen months later, extended the ages of liability from seventeen to fifty, although exemptions greatly weakened the draft law. The stigma of conscription induced potential draftees to volunteer before they were called, so that only 82,000 were actually conscripted.

In the spring of 1861, seceding states consolidated their militia companies into regiments, mustered them into Confederate service, and sent them where the need seemed greatest, without reference to higher organization. Soon, however, President Davis began to pattern the Confederate States Army after the armed forces of the old Union during the Mexican War. A full‐strength regiment consisted of 10 companies of 100 men each, although many regiments began with far fewer than 1,000 men and their numbers dwindled throughout the war due to casualties, disease, and desertions. Each regiment, upon muster into Confederate service, received a numerical designation in chronological order of organization, such as the 3rd Louisiana Volunteer Infantry or the Eighth Texas Cavalry. From three to five regiments, ideally from the same state, formed a brigade. The brigade's commander, a brigadier general, was appointed by the president, subject to Senate confirmation, from the unit's home state. Three brigades, in turn, combined to form a division commanded by a major general; and two or more divisions, commanded by a lieutenant general, would become an army corps. Ideally, two or more corps constituted an army.

Confederate territory was organized into military departments, usually named for the state or states in which it operated. A general officer commanded each department, with responsibility for all military administration, resources, and operations within it. By this definition, the Confederacy fielded at least forty “armies,” yet most departmental forces were such in name only.

Although the states recruited and organized regiments for the army, the Confederate government was responsible for their rations, uniforms, training, arms, equipment, and pay—at the rate of $11 per month for privates. The South's underdeveloped industrial and transportation systems were, however, never able to overcome the army's logistical and supply problems. Quartermaster General Abraham Myers struggled to provide the necessary material to wage a modern war, and Commissary General Lucius B. Northrop proved grossly incompetent at supplying rations. Josiah Gorgas, chief of the Bureau of Ordnance, was the one high‐ranking Confederate supply officer who excelled in his job, improvising the manufacture of gunpowder, cannons, and rifles in sufficient numbers and quality.

The South selected cadet gray as its official uniform color—in tribute to “the long gray line” at West Point—but the War Department could not begin to supply so many shell jackets and trousers. Consequently, Rebel armies, from beginning to end, were clad in everything from state militia uniforms to “butternut”‐dyed homespun to captured Union apparel. Before the Confederacy could provide Southern soldiers with modern rifles, many volunteers relied on sporting rifles, shotguns, revolvers, and even Bowie knives brought from home. Moreover, Confederate soldiers provided their own horses, which contributed materially to the decline in the superiority of Rebel cavalry and the further disadvantage of Rebel artillery after 1862.

Volunteers were mustered in so‐called camps of instruction, but their training was minimal, consisting mainly of the manual of arms and basic squad, company, and regimental drill. Regiments sometimes went into combat within three weeks of their organization, aggravating the chaos of the typical Civil War battlefield and the consequent appalling casualty figures. By 1862 or 1863, those who survived had become veteran soldiers, with fighting skills as formidable as any army on record. Confederate troops, however, from first to last were notorious for their resistance to formal discipline.

Southerners viewed the soldier's profession as an especially honored one, and a disproportionate number of Southern‐born officers held high rank in the U.S. Army in 1860. Three hundred and thirteen officers—nearly one‐third of the West Point–trained officers on active duty at the outbreak of war—resigned to join the Confederacy, contributing crucial leadership to the Southern armies.

This infusion, however vital, did not begin to fill the need for officers. As American volunteers had always done, Confederate troops elected their own company‐grade officers, while governors generally appointed regimental officers. This practice often undermined discipline and morale, replacing efficient officers with those who promised to enforce a less rigorous military regimen. On the other hand, soldiers were generally a canny lot and chose intelligently. Since units were recruited from communities, the men had often known candidates all of their lives and judged their potential as leaders shrewdly. Too, the men usually selected officers with some military training or experience, either from a military academy—notably Virginia Military Institute in Lexington and The Citadel in Charleston—or in the war with Mexico, or at least in an antebellum militia company. To weed out the incompetents, in October 1862 the War Department established examining boards for officers.

Jefferson Davis, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, favored West Point–educated professionals for high command, leading to bitter complaints of a “West Point clique” monopolizing promotions. Occasionally, a general appointed from civilian life, such as Richard Taylor and Nathan Bedford Forrest, rose to high rank and performed admirably. To a remarkable degree, untrained officers at company or field grade overcame their deficiencies by studying Hardee's Tactics and by setting an example in camp and field. Leading from the front, the Confederate officer corps absorbed appalling casualties—15 percent higher than those suffered by their enlisted men—and generals enjoyed a 50 percent greater chance of dying in battle than those they led.

Confederate casualties, sustained during four years of heavy fighting, were enormous. Within a year of its organization, a typical regiment was reduced to half or less of its original number by sickness, battle casualties, and desertions, and by 1865 many regiments mustered fewer than two hundred men. More than 250,000 Confederate solders died of wounds or disease; 200,000 or more men were wounded in the course of the war. At least 100,000 Southern soldiers deserted during the course of the war, most in 1865. At the end of the war, 359,000 names appeared on Confederate muster rolls, but only 160,000 were on active duty, and of those, only 126,000 were present for duty.

Despite poor to nonexistent pay, uniforms, food, training, and equipment; the bane of amateur officers; and horrific casualties, the Rebel soldier maintained a remarkably high level of morale—at least until the closing months of the war, when Union invasion and the destruction of civilian property sapped the fighting spirit of the army and desertion increased.

Moreover, the Confederate army performed remarkably well in the field, especially in the eastern theater, where the Army of Northern Virginia under Gen. Robert E. Lee won a string of stunning victories. The Army of Tennessee, assigned the task of defense of the Confederate heartland, was less fortunate. Plagued by poor leadership, accorded only cursory attention from Richmond, and expected to hold a vast area, it was doomed to four years of frustration. It nevertheless maintained a high level of morale and remained a potent fighting force until squandered by John Bell Hood at Atlanta, Franklin, and Nashville. In the trans‐Mississippi region—the darkest corner of the Confederacy—makeshift Rebel armies often overcame even greater neglect, especially during the 1864 Red River campaign that saved Texas and Northwest Louisiana from Union occupation.
[See also Civil War: Military and Diplomatic Course; Civil War: Domestic Course; Confederate Navy; Conscription; Union Army.]


Douglas S. Freeman , Lee's Lieutenants: A Study in Command, 3 vols., 1942–44.
Thomas L. Connelly , Army of the Heartland: The Army of Tennessee, 1861–1862, 1967.
Thomas L. Connelly , Autumn of Glory: The Army of Tennessee, 1862–1865, 1971.
Robert L. Kerby , Kirby Smith's Confederacy: The Trans‐Mississippi South, 1863–1865, 1972.
James M. McPherson , Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, 1988.
Richard M. McMurry , Two Great Rebel Armies, 1989.

Thomas W. Cutrer

Army, Confederate

views updated May 21 2018


ARMY, CONFEDERATE. On 6 March 1861 the Confederate Provisional Congress established the Army of the Confederate States of America. This army, poorly organized when the war began, was soon overshadowed by the volunteer forces known officially as the Provisional Army. On 28 February and 6 March the Confederate Congress gave the president control over military operations and the power to muster state forces and volunteers. On 8 May it authorized enlistments for the war, and on 8 August, after four more states had joined the Confederacy, it called for 400,000 volunteers to serve for either one or three years. In April 1862, congressmen passed the first conscription act, which drafted men directly into the Provisional Army.

The decentralized political structure of the Confederacy forced lawmakers to clarify its military chain of command from the start. On 16 May 1861 the Confederate congress established the rank of general to give Confederate commanders control over state troops. Under an act passed on 28 February 1861, the military gained the power to appoint major generals in the Provisional Army. Finally, in September 1862, Confederate legislators created the rank of lieutenant general in the Provisional Army.

The Confederacy faced serious challenges outfitting its troops and planning a vast military campaign throughout the Civil War. The government had little access to modern weaponry and was forced to hire privateers to run the Union blockade and purchase arms abroad. The fledgling government also faced the task of procuring shoes, clothing, and blankets for soldiers at a time when wool and leather were scarce. Furthermore, the region's dearth of railroads and canals made it difficult for the government to ship goods and to feed its troops. The South's weak infrastructure also affected Confederate military strategy. By 1863, horses and mules were scarce, which limited the mobility of the army's cavalry, artillery, and baggage trains. These difficulties were exacerbated by a divided leadership structure that limited prompt coordination between military departments. All of these challenges dictated how Confederate generals would wage war against Union leaders, who could draw recruits from a larger population and enjoyed access to better transportation and resources.

Because of incomplete surviving records, the number of enlistments in the Confederate armies has long been in dispute. The U.S. census for 1860 indicates approximately 1,100,000 men of military age in the seceded states, but these figures are deceptive. Many sections where hostility to the Confederacy developed furnished few soldiers, while other areas of the South were overrun by Union armies. Exemptions, details for industrial work, and other evasions of service also cut down enlistments. Probably between 800,000 and 900,000 men actually enrolled in the Confederate army. Consolidated returns in the war department showed the following figures:

Total effective
 Total presentTotalpresent
 and absentpresentfor duty
31 Dec. 1862449,439304,015253,208
31 Dec. 1863464,646277,970233,586
31 Dec. 1864400,787196,016154,910

The state militia, serving short terms, uncertain in number, and of dubious value, probably fell short of 100,000 at any given date. In April and May 1865, losses from battle, disease, capture, and desertion had so devastated the Confederate army that only 174,223 soldiers surrendered to Union forces.


Carter, Dan T. When the War Was Over: The Failure of Self-Reconstruction in the South, 1865–1867. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1985.

Harsh, Joseph L. Confederate Tide Rising: Robert E. Lee and the Making of Southern Strategy, 1861–1862. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1998.

Linderman, Gerald F. Embattled Courage: The Experience of Combat in the American Civil War. New York: Free Press, 1987.

Royster, Charles. The Destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans. New York: Knopf, 1991.

Thomas, Emory M. The Confederate Nation, 1861–1865. New York: Harper and Row, 1979.

Eric J.Morser

Charles W.Ramsdell

See alsoConfederate States of America ; Impressment, Confederate ; States' Rights in the Confederacy ; andvol. 9:Robert E. Lee's Farewell to His Army .

Army of Northern Virginia

views updated May 29 2018


ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA. On 1 June 1862, Confederate President Jefferson Davis personally placed Robert E. Lee in command of the Confederate army and officially designated it the Army of Northern Virginia. Thereafter, until the surrender at Appomattox nearly three years later, Lee commanded this most famous and best known of Confederate armies. During this period, he established his reputation as one of the most skillful of American generals. Likewise, the Army of Northern Virginia became one of the Confederacy's most effective fighting weapons. At its largest, the army consisted of 90,000 soldiers, but by the end of the war, only 8,000 remained.


Gallagher, Gary W. Lee and His Generals in War and Memory. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998.

Power, J. Tracy. Lee's Miserables: Life in the Army of Northern Virginia from the Wilderness to Appomattox. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.


Thomas RobsonHay

See alsoArmy, Confederate ; Army of Virginia ; Civil War ; Confederate States of America andvol. 9:Robert E. Lee's Farewell to His Army .

Tennessee, Army of

views updated May 11 2018


TENNESSEE, ARMY OF. When General Braxton Bragg reorganized the Army of Mississippi on 20 November 1862 he named it the Army of Tennessee. After fighting at Stone's River, the army spent the summer campaigning in middle Tennessee. Aided by Virginia troops, the army won an outstanding victory at Chickamauga. After mounting an inconclusive siege at Chattanooga that led to defeat, the army retreated into northern Georgia. Leadership was in flux—William J. Hardee replaced Bragg; Joe Johnson replaced Hardee. Despite Johnson's rather successful efforts to slow Sherman's march toward Atlanta, Jefferson Davis replaced Johnson with John B. Hood. After several tough battles, the army left Atlanta and moved into Tennessee where it experienced defeats at Franklin and Nashville. Richard Taylor replaced Hood and retreated into Mississippi. After moving to the east to challenge Sherman, the army surrendered at the Battle of Bentonville.


Daniel, Larry J. Soldiering in the Army of Tennessee: A Portrait of Life in a Confederate Army. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

McPherson, James M. What They Fought For, 1861–1865. New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1994. A brilliant explanation of motivation, human nature, and military necessity.

———. Ordeal by Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction. 3d ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2001.

Donald K.Pickens

See alsoChickamauga, Battle of .

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Confederate Army

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Confederate Army