What is PFD and How Do You Find It?: Counting Heads In Civil War Regiments, Part 1

Note: Prior to reading this post, it will be a good idea to have the Consolidated Morning Report of the 91st Pennsylvania for September 26, 1863 open in another browser window.  I’ve set up the link above to open in a new window for your convenience.

Reader Mark Kucinic read my post Counting Heads: Civil War Troop Numbers For Wargaming and had the following to say in the comments:

Following a review I did in another forum on the aforementioned Harsh book a discussion arose as to how exactly unit PFD numbers were ascertained. No conclusive answers were forthcoming. Having spent a brief time as a company clerk in the US Army I understood the importance of the Morning Report. Unimaginatively of course I assumed that there had ALWAYS been a morning report and that both the Union and CSA PFDs would reflect this. How else do you apportion rations and pay. After all, presumably they were teaching other things at West Point besides engineering, horsemanship and sword-play. In any event, do you know something more on this issue? Newton’s categories are all well and good, but how EXACTLY did they arrive at any individual category?

After reading Mark’s comment, I thought I would answer it in detail with a blog entry.  Mark touches on the answer to his question in his comments.  The Union and Confederate armies did indeed have consolidated morning reports (CMRs) in which all of the men who belonged to the regiment, present and absent, were counted and recorded in the CMR.  By the time you are finished reading this post you will know exactly what the term PFD and others like it mean, how to count them, and how they differ.

Before we go any further, let me again cover the categories Mark refers to above:

In his book Lost For The Cause: The Confederate Army in 1864, Stephen Newton gives lists major categories for counting troop strengths, and his definitions for these are as follows:

1. Aggregate Present and Absent: all living men currently carried on the rolls of a unit

This would include men in camp, on leave, in hospitals, serving on details, prisoners of war, deserters, and long-term convalescents. Obviously this number really means nothing in terms of how many men were involved in a campaign or battle.

2. Aggregate Present: all the men of a unit who were within the camps of the army or detachment in question

Newton mentions that this term is sometimes used (incorrectly) as a synonym for “ration strength”. This term includes quite a few men who would never see battle, including “those under arrest, detailed as teamsters, clerks, and cooks, or the mildly sick and slightly wounded who had not been shipped off to hospitals in the rear.” Newton mentions that in some cases where a large sample size exists, you can try to estimate a PFD strength for the whole army by taking the ratio of known aggregate present to PFD ratios for units in an army or department and applying that ratio to the whole army. However, he stresses that this is “slippery ground”, due to the different ways each commander used this term. He calls the use of this process a “guesstimate”, and he only uses it in his study when no other way is possible.

3. Present for Duty (PFD): all the officers and men of a unit who marched into combat, and therefore did include a number of noncombatants, such as stretcher-bearers, musicians, and couriers

Newton says this category “most consistently attempted to record the number of men actually ready to participate in battle.” He calls PFD (and I bold part of this for reasons that will soon become clear) “the best consistent standard by which to measure the relative strengths of the opposing armies.”

4. Present For Duty, Equipped: A Union term meaning all officers and men who actually went into battle with appropriate weapons and accouterments

This term was used at the start of the war, but it was gradually phased out during the first two years, and PFD numbers were reported instead on the Union side.

5. Effectives: Confederate term for the number of enlisted men directly in the line of battle, excluding officers, stretcher bearers, and sometimes even senior NCOs or file closers

These five terms were not created by Stephen Newton in his book. Instead, these numbers come from the Consolidated Morning Reports.  If you haven’t yet opened the CMR for the 91st Pennsylvania for September 26, 1863, do so now.

Take a look at the CMR for the 91st Pennsylvania.  Union Civil War regiments filled out this form every day when not in combat or seeing other active duty.  I believe the Confederate regiments had to fill out a similar form, but I have never seen one personally.  If someone reading this can shed some light on Confederate CMRs I would appreciate it.  In any event, you can determine specific numbers for the 91st Pennsylvania for the five terms above (numbers in parentheses are # of officers + # of men):

  1. Aggregate Present and Absent: 433 (28 + 405)
  2. Aggregate Present: 248 (18 + 230)
  3. Present for Duty (PFD): 233 (16 + 217)
  4. Present for Duty, Equipped*: <233
  5. Effectives: ~168-200**

* This should be all officers and men actually carrying weapons into a battle, whether they were supposed to be carrying wepaons or not (i.e. musicians shouldering arms).  Because the unit was not in battle that day, this number is not applicable.

** “Effectives” was a very imprecise term.  I arrived at 168 by counting enlisted men and corporals only, while the higher number included sergeants and blacksmiths as well.  This is all arbitrary.  If someone wants to help with a better way to count effectives, I would appreciate it.

Notice the difference in number between PFD and effectives, even when using the largest number.  If you used the number of effectives, this is only 86% of the PFD strength of the regiment.  You can see why it would be unfair to compare Confederate effectives to Union PFD numbers.

Now that we have looked at the total numbers,I’ll take a breather and look at how I arrived at those specific numbers in a future blog entry.

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One response to “What is PFD and How Do You Find It?: Counting Heads In Civil War Regiments, Part 1”

  1. Fred Ray Avatar
    Fred Ray

    It gets even more complicated than that. As a general rule something like 15-20% of any regiment was detailed off doing something. But sometimes the detailed men fought with the regiment (e.g. cooks). After 1863 most Confederate regiments had one man in six detailed as a sharpshooter (meaning a skirmisher). Sometimes these men rejoined their regiment for the actual battle, but sometimes they fought separately. Figuring out when they did that can be a challenge.

    Example: O’Neal’s brigade was short 1/6th of its men at Chancellorsville on May 2 because they were off with Maj. Blackford’s sharpshooter battalion. However they rejoined their regiments the next day and fought with them.

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