One Union Regiment

by James Durney on September 16, 2010 · 6 comments

The infantry regiment is the basic building block of Civil War armies.  This unit is administrator, trainer, supply point, responsible for discipline and medical service.  The regiment is home for the majority of soldiers for their entire service.  Mission assignments go to regiments, who are responsible to garrison, escort, protect or hunt down whatever the higher ups require.  Civil War veterans remained part of those regiments for the remainder of their lives and placed the designation on their tombstone.

The basic regiment is ten infantry companies.  Each company contains from 64 to 82 privates. A captain assisted by a first lieutenant and a second lieutenant command the company.  Non-commissioned officers are the first sergeant, four sergeants and eight corporals.  Additional personal are two musicians and a wagoner.  Companies are designated by letters starting with ’A’ and omitting ‘J’.  The men in the company elect the company officers and noncommissioned officers.  Companies have a local character raised from a county or small city, only larger cites can raise a regiment locally.  The officers are often the men who did most of the work in raising the company.  In 1861, local dignitaries requited full regiments.  These men expect to election as the regiment’s officers.  This resulted in a number of problems that stopped the election of regimental officers.  By 1862, the rush to enlist, seeing war as a great adventure and the chance for glory have less appeal.  Bounties are firmly in place and work with patriotism and peer pressure to fill the ranks.

Regimental headquarters consisted of a colonel, lieutenant colonel, major, adjutant, quartermaster, surgeon (major), two assistant surgeons, and a chaplain. Regimental noncommissioned officers are sergeant major, quartermaster sergeant, commissary sergeant, hospital steward, and two principal musicians. The governor appoints these men.  After a year of war, most new regiments are officered by mix of veterans and political appointees.  Governors are using these positions to build support, reward supporters or banish a problem.  It is difficult for a politician to turn down the position of lieutenant colonel or major in a new regiment.  More so, if they have helped raise a company or two.

Authorized strength of an infantry regiment is a maximum of 1,025 and a minimum of 845, acceptance into Federal Service requires the regiment to have these numbers.

The majority of states organize new regiments for acceptance into Federal service to fulfill the state’s manpower quota.  Each regiment carries the state name and assigned number on their flag.  This system results in a continuous river of new regiments, while older regiments suffered from limited numbers and difficulty in enlisting replacements.  New regiments are a continuing source of patronage and offer the possibility of being an officer to those active in raising the regiment.  The fact that these regiments have to learn survival skills never seemed to occur to anyone.

In December 1861, then-Secretary of War Simon Cameron instructed the Northern governors not to send any more regiments unless they were called for. His successor, Edwin Stanton, sent out a telegraph on April 3, 1862, ordering the federal recruiting offices closed. Historians have puzzled over the motive for this, sometimes crediting it to a desire to save money or as a temporary measure.  The order does not support this reading, recruiting officers are to sell off their furniture and return to their regiments. The troops in the undermanned regiments in the field grumbled and newspapers criticized the confusion.

It seems that Stanton, like many in the government, thought the war was about to be won, and the North would require only a few more men to finish it.  In May, Stanton directed the army commanders to requisition troops through the states; and asked the governors to begin raising a few new infantry regiments.  In August, the President calls on the states for 300,000 militia to serve nine months, ordering governors to draft from the militia if volunteers cannot fill the quota.   With a little arm-twisting and by calling in some favors, the governor’s request the President to call up an additional 300,000 three-year men in September.

What caused this massive change in the government’s attitude?  The Valley Campaign of 1862, the Seven Days, Second Bull Run and Antietam produced casualties beyond what thought possible.  Hardly noticed by history Chantilly, Perryville, Corinth and Iuka all bloody battles added to the lists.  These battles dethrone Shiloh; the worst battle in American history in less than six months.  From May to October, the Union’s armies suffered approximately 64,000 battle causalities.  Sickness, the war’s real killer, continues to attack the armies, for every man dying in battle, almost two will die from disease.

This is a confusing time for the states.  They have two quotas with very different requirements for men.

What happens if they fall short on one quota but have an excess in the other?

How do they allocate bounties?

Can states force a nine-month man into a three-year regiment?

While no one has ready answers, some things are clear.  Men need to enlist, appointments must be made and local money for bounties found.

The states go to work:

The Governor appoints the Field Grade Officers and assigns numbers to the new regiments.  These officers help in requiting and quickly assume full responsibility for the task.  With local quotas assign, community leaders work with one or more Colonels to get the needed men.  For our regiment, the governor appoints a newly elected state representative to be the lieutenant colonel.  Our major is a recently discharged veteran of a 9-month regiment, where he was a captain.  Our colonel is a recent West Point graduate serving as a division staff officer.  Our officers are from the same part of the state with extensive contacts and/or excellent reputations.  Everyone understands that men active in organizing a company have the best chance of winning the election for company officers.  The standard payment is five dollars for each enlisted private paid to anyone who requites a company.  Men wishing to be company officers gain approval to canvass the area, working on individuals and small groups.  Men must have no mental disabilities, full vision in the right eye, not lacking front teeth and molars.  They can be missing no more than one finger of the right hand or more than two fingers of the left hand.  The draft specifies they must be between 18 and 45 years old.  Younger men can enlist with parental consent.  Drummer Boys are 10 to 12 years old and 13-year-old privates are common.

Churches, political clubs, militia units and local dignitaries hold meetings, picnics and parades throughout our area.  Speeches encourage men to enlist, promises of support for families, appeals to patriotism and suggestions that manhood requires military service are common themes.  Unspoken is the draft of militia members to fill quotas, something that communities work to avoid.  Meeting quotas with volunteers is very important to communities throughout the war.  The 1861 quotas quickly filled in a mad rush to volunteer.  18 months of war has taken most of the willing volunteers and bounties are necessary to fill the ranks.

The federal government offers a bounty of $100 to every man enlisting in a three-year regiment with a payment of $25 and a month’s pay when the regiment enters federal service.  Local communities and businesses contribute additional monies for bounty payments.  Between the Federal, state and local contributions a three-year enlistment brings a bounty of between $300 and $400.  Payment, in full, of the state and local bounty normally occurs when the men leave for the state collection center.  The bounty is a good year’s wages for a worker, public pressure, patriotism coupled with a chance at adventure slowly fills the ranks.  Enlistments are not rapid even in the nine-month regiments but the ranks fill with volunteers.  Very few communities are forced to use the draft.  In some cases, men who fear the draft or expect to be drafted enlist to get the bounty and chose a regiment.

Each company elects officers as they organize.  As expected, men active in raising the company often win elections.  The area hosts a farewell dinner and parade complete with speeches and presentation of flags and swords.  The regiment assembles in a state collection facility.  As required, regiments are ‘evened out’ and some men move into a different unit.  The regiment receives a regimental flag and a national flag.  Once accepted into national service, the government considers the 3-year clock to start.  This system creates a series of dates and problems that never fully get resolved.  Each man wants to have the date he signed enlistment papers start the 3-year clock.  The company organization date or the date of the regiment’s acceptance by the state is another popular date to start the clock.  These dates are often weeks apart and become major considerations at the end of an enlistment.  The Army is unyielding in this and the date the regiment enters Federal service is the only date used.

Our regiment has an intense local character.  Drawn from a distinct area of the state and officered by local community leaders many of the men are related.  The majority of the men grew up together, have strong ties to the community and expect to return home after the war.  How they conduct themselves will be common knowledge reported in letters and as gossip.  This leads to a very cohesive group both in battle and in camp.  It means that death is more personal and harder to bear.  For most of the men this is the first time they have been more than twenty miles from home.  The first time they have rode on a train or in a steamboat.  Even in 1862, the regiment will lose a few men between leaving home and arriving at our duty station.  Bounty Jumping is not common in late 1862 but it is still a problem.

The army issues our regiment uniforms, equipment and the 1861 model Springfield rifle. By late 1862, this or the Lee-Enfield rifle is the standard issue.  The days of mixed rifles or smoothbore muskets has past.  Our regiment moves from a state camp in stages to Washington DC.  There we are assigned to a brigade in the Army of the Potomac.  First, our regiment receives some basic training.  Linear tactics make drill the most important thing on the battlefield.  First companies acquire the ability to move from point A to point B in column or line.  They learn to change formation, moving from column to line to column as required.  Once the companies have some proficiency in drill, regimental drill starts.  When we learn to move as a regiment, brigade drill begins.  Most of our day is devoted to drill, drill and more drill.

The men live at close quarters in tents, usually without floors, and are outside most of the time.   The Army issues food in bulk to groups of ten men, who cook for themselves.  This is a diet high in carbohydrates and low in vitamins.  Until Hooker improves the diet in early 1863, scurvy is problem.  The combination of close quarters, poor food, damp and cold result in illness.  The dying starts.  Mumps, measles, diarrhea, pneumonia hit the regiment hard.  About 120 men will die from one sickness or another.  The majority, die in the first 90 days.  One of the awful debates of the time is city vs. country.  The argument is that city men have developed some immunity that countrymen lack and less will die of illness.  The counter is that sickness is going to happen and countrymen are in better health to resist it.

Civil War armies require administration.  Printed forms, handwritten are the staple of the army.  However, there is very little provision made for staff and clerical positions.  The result is brigade and division borrows men from the regiments to fill these positions.  These men while carried on the regimental roster are serving elsewhere.

Death, invalids, assignment to higher units, desertion and accidents all take a toll.  When our regiment marches toward our first battle, we will have between 700 and 750 men present for duty.  In this battle, light causalities are about 120 men, average causalities are about 145 men and heavy causalities can be as many as 200 men.  After eighteen months of active service, our regiment will number between 400 and 500 men.  The balance will be dead, missing, deserted, discharged as invalids, in hospital, assigned elsewhere or home recovering.  There is no regular system of replacements for existing regiments.  Men at home are encouraged to recruit but that is not a stable source of manpower.

The state representative that was our lieutenant colonel loses a leg and returns to politics.  He is a firm supporter of the war and doing well.  Our colonel the West Point graduate with experience as a division staff officer is a brevet brigade general with the regular army rank of colonel.  The regiment is very proud of him and he always looks in on us when he is in the area.  Our major the discharged veteran of a 9-month regiment, is our colonel.  Of the ten original captains, two resigned, two are dead and three have a medical discharge.

During the war, we will have about 200 men die from all causes, 400 wounded and 125 missing.  Most of the veterans will join the Grand Army of the Republic, by late 1930s almost all have passed away.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Will Hickox September 16, 2010 at 6:54 pm

“When our regiment marches toward our first battle, we will have between 700 and 750 men present for duty.”

I had thought the average number was usually smaller. The 94th New York fought its first battle at 2nd Bull Run with less than 400 men in the ranks. This was about 4 1/2 months after leaving for the seat of war with over twice that number.


Brendan Hamilton September 16, 2010 at 9:24 pm

James – this was a great post. Informative and straight to the point, yet strangely all the more poignant for it.


James W Durney September 17, 2010 at 5:44 pm

Brendan, thank you.

Will, I’ve found numbers to justify almost anything. My number is based on the TSS & HPS games for “green” regiment counters.


Will Hickox September 17, 2010 at 9:14 pm

I’ve never read of a Union infantry regiment that was able to bring 700-750 men into its first or any battle. The Confederates were occasionally able to do this, as they adopted the more efficient practice of sending replacements to existing commands rather than forming new ones.


Will Hickox September 18, 2010 at 5:55 pm

The new regiments that were caught in the Harper’s Ferry trap in September 1862 were possibly that large, but I believe they were in a garrison environment, not serving in the field.


Bryn September 25, 2010 at 6:34 am

You should delete the reference to a “Lee-Enfield”. This is an 1890’s bolt action smokeless powder rifle which served as the service rifle of the British Army until the 1950’s (and was still in reservist hands until 1967).

The weapon in question is a P1853 Enfield Rifle-Musket (P for Pattern, used in the same way as the US used M for Model). A lot of Union regiments got the Lorenz as well….


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