Confederate States Army

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The Confederate Army fought for the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War.

The army was one of three branches of military of the Confederate government, which also included the Confederate Navy and the Confederate States Marine Corps. The army served for the entire four years of the war, from 1861 to 1865.

The following are some facts about the Confederate Army:

Who Did the Confederate Army Fight Against?

The Confederate Army fought against the Union Army during the American Civil War.

Why Was the Confederate Army Formed?

When the Confederate States of America formed in February of 1861, the Confederates didn’t have a federal army. Instead, each Confederate state had their own state militia but Confederate President Jefferson Davis found they were reluctant to share their militia with the Confederate government.

After Jefferson Davis was elected President of the Confederate States of America in November of 1861, he gave a speech at his inauguration, on February 18, 1861, in which he explained the need for a Confederate army:

“For purposes of defense, the Confederate States may, under ordinary circumstances, rely mainly upon their militia, but it is deemed advisable, in the present condition of affairs, that there should be a well-instructed and disciplined army, more numerous than would usually be required on a peace establishment. I also suggest that for the protection of our harbors and commerce on the high seas a navy adapted to those objects will be required. These necessities have doubtless engaged the attention of Congress.”

Davis predicted that the war would be long and requested legislation allowing three-year enlistments. The Confederate military affairs office disagreed though and granted the authority to call up troops for only one year of service.

On March 6, 1861, the Confederate Congress authorized the use of 100,000 volunteer soldiers for twelve months.

On March 9, 1861, Davis called up 7,700 volunteers from five states, joining volunteers in South Carolina. By mid-April, 62,000 troops were raised and stationed in former Union bases.

In May of 1861, the Confederate Congress authorized the further enlistment of as many as 400,000 volunteers for three‐year terms.

Confederate Army Size:

According to the Oxford Companion to American Military History, the best estimate of total Confederate enlistments range from 850,000 to 900,000.

In June of 1861, the size of the Confederate army peaked at 475,000 soldiers and steadily declined thereafter.

As enlistments fell, the Confederate government adopted a draft law, the First Conscription Act, on April 16, 1862, which declared all able-bodied men between the ages of 18 and 34 eligible for the draft.

The Second Conscription Act was adopted in September of 1862 and the Third Conscription Act, adopted in February of 1864, extended eligibility of the draft from age 17 to 50.

At least 100,000 Confederate soldiers deserted during the war, more than 250,000 died of wounds or disease and 200,000 were wounded.

At the end of the war, 359,000 names appeared on Confederate muster rolls, but only 160,00 were on active duty and only 126,000 of those were present for duty.

How Was the Confederate Army Structured?

In the spring of 1861, the Confederate states consolidated their militia companies into regiments and mustered them into service in the Confederate Army, sending them where ever they seemed most needed, without any formal organization.

Shortly after, President Davis began organizing the Confederate Army into a more traditional army structure.

Each company consisted of 100 men each. Each company was assigned a letter. The letters were A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, K. The letter J was not used to avoid confusion with I.

Each regiment consisted of 10 companies. Each regiment was given a numerical designation in chronological order of organization, such as the 3rd Louisiana Volunteer Infantry or the 8thTexas Cavalry.

Each brigade consisted of between three to five regiments. These brigades had a commander, known as a brigadier general, who was appointed by the president and was subject to Senate confirmation from the unit’s home state.

Each division consisted of three brigades which was commanded by a major general.

Each army corps consisted of two or more divisions which was commanded by a lieutenant general.

The Confederate territory was organized into military departments that were usually named after the state in which it operated, such as the Army of Northern Virginia or the Army of Tennessee. A general officer commanded each department.

What Was the Confederate Army’s Strategy?

The first strategy the Confederate Army used was the Cordon Offense in which small armies where dispersed around the Confederate perimeter to protect those states from Union invasions. This left the Confederate Army spread too thin though and the Union army broke through this defensive line at several points in 1862.

The Confederate Army then settled on an “offensive-defensive” strategy in which troops would be moved around to meet military needs instead of trying to defend the border of the Confederate States and, if the opportunity presented itself, to go on the offensive and perhaps even invade the North.

Weapons Used by the Confederate Army:

Hall rifles
Enfield Rifles (British Pattern 1853)
U.S. Springfield Rifles
Flint-lock muskets
Mississippi Rifles
Short Rifles (Belgium Pattern 1842 and British Pattern 1853)
Kerr’s Patent Rifle
British Brunswick Rifle
British Whitworth Pattern Rifle
U.S. Model 1817
Wessoh and Leavitt Army Revolver
British Kerr .44 Caliber Revolver
British Webley Double-Action Revolver
Colt Model 1848 Army Revolver, 3rd Model
French Fire-Pin Revolver
British Beaumont-Adams Revolver
British Tranter Single-Triggered Revolver
British Tranter Double-Triggered Navy Revolver
British Tranter Double-Triggered Army Revolver
Sabres
Artillery swords

Due to the Confederacy’s lack of supplies in the early phase of the war, many soldiers fought with whatever they brought from home, according to the book the Oxford Companion to American Military History:

“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.”

At the beginning of the war, both the Union Army and the Confederate Army bought weapons from Europe because the American armories needed more time to meet war-time production demands.

Most of these imported weapons came from either Belgium or Austria, as well as Great Britain. The Belgium and Austrian guns were not popular with the soldiers, who felt they were so flimsy and poorly made they called them “European stovepipes,” “pumpkin slingers” and “mules.”

It is estimated that both the Union and the Confederacy combined purchased a total of half a million of these imported weapons (Davis 52-54.)

According to William C. Davis, in his book Fighting Men of the Civil War, the Confederate Army was willing to use any weapon it could acquire:

“The Confederacy ‘recognized’ any weapon it could get, but for both governments the proliferation of models meant that hard-pressed ordnance chiefs had to procure a bewildering variety of ammunition. In the Confederate Army of Tennessee in August 1863, just forty-five percent of the men carried Enfields or captured Springfields in compatible calibers. Another seven percent fought with older .54 Mississippi Rifles and other models. More than a third of the army, thirty-six percent, still lugged old Model 1817 and later, .69 smoothbores. Nearly ten percent had .52 and .53 caliber Hall Rifles, and 900 men, three percent of the army, were still cursed with the massive .70 Belgian ‘mules.’”

As the war progressed, many Confederate soldiers upgraded their weapons by scavenging lost or abandoned Union weapons on the battlefield, according to William C. Davis:

“Indeed, this accounted for Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia being the best equipped of all the Confederate armies, for the simple reason that in all its battles it faced – and for two years defeated – the best equipped of the Federal forces, the Army of the Potomac.”

The Army of Tennessee only captured a small number of Union weapons in 1862, about 27,500 mixed muskets and rifles, but this was still a relief to its soldiers since many of them were carrying shotguns and British Tower rifles left over from the War of 1812 (Davis 58.)

Two major armories were eventually established in Richmond, Va and at Fayetteville, NC, which manufactured rifles, mostly imitations of the popular Springfield and Enfield rifles.

At the same time, a number of private manufactures converted their machinery to gun manufacturing and also produced weapons, which were also mostly copies of other guns.

When breechloaders (an easy-to-load gun that was great for cavalry service) became popular, many Confederate manufacturers began to make them as well.

Confederate Army Commanders:

By the end of the war, the Confederate Army had around 383 Brigadier generals, 88 Major generals and 18 Lieutenant generals.

Officers of Confederate Army and Navy, illustration published in the Short History of the Confederate States of America, circa 1890

Officers of Confederate Army and Navy, illustration published in the Short History of the Confederate States of America, circa 1890

Some of the more well-known generals, majors and other commanders in the Confederate Army were:

General P.G.T. Beauregard
General Braxton Bragg
Lieutenant General Jubal A. Early
Lieutenant General Richard S. Elwell
Major General John B. Gordon
Lieutenant General Ambrose P. Hill
General John Bell Hood
Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson
General Albert S. Johnston
General Joseph E. Johnston
General Robert E. Lee
Lieutenant General James Longstreet
Major General John B. Magruder
Lieutenant General Earl C. Pemberton
Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk
Major General James E.B. Stuart

Confederate Armies:

Army of Arkansas
Army of Central Kentucky
Army of East Tennessee
Army of East Kentucky
Army of the Kanawha
Army of Kentucky
Army of Louisiana
Army of Mississippi
Army of Middle Tennessee
Army of Missouri
Army of Mobile
Army of New Mexico
Army of Northern Virginia – First Corps, Second Corps, Third Corps, Fourth Corps, Cavalry Corps
Army of the Northwest
Army of the Peninisula
Army of Pensacola
Army of the Potomac
Army of the Shenandoah
Army of Tennessee – First Corps, Second Corps, Third Corps, Forrest’s Cavalry Corps
Army of Trans Mississippi
Army of the Valley aka Second Corps, Army of Northern Virginia
Army of the West
Army of West Tennessee
Army of Western Louisiana

Sources:
The Oxford Companion to American Military History. Edited by John Whiteclay Chambers II, Oxford University Press, 1999.
Estes, Claud. List of Field Officers, Regiments and Battalions in the Confederate States Army, 1861-1865. J.W. Burke Company, 1912.
Davis, William C. Fighting Men of the Civil War. University of Oklahoma Press, 1998.
Davis, Jefferson. The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. Vol. II, D. Appleton and Company, 1912.
Davis, Jefferson. A Short History of the Confederate States of America. New York: Belford Company, 1890.
“Confederate Commanders at Gettysburg.” National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, www.nps.gov/gett/learn/historyculture/confederate-commanders-at-gettysburg.htm
“Jefferson Davis First Inaugural Address.” The Papers of Jefferson Davis, Rice University, jeffersondavis.rice.edu/archives/documents/jefferson-davis-first-inaugural-address

Confederate States Army in the Civil War

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