Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Military organization. Or is that an oxymoron too?

In an effort to make it even MORE fun to follow these Gettysburg posts (both previous and upcoming), please try and memorize the following information. If there are no corrections within 1 blogging day, I will assume the information is correct.

An army is broken down into specially-named organizational units. These units have "commissioned officers" who are in command. The larger the organizational unit, the higher in rank is it's commander. Usually. Following is a list of the organizational units found in an American army. They are the same names now as in the Civil War. The Confederate Army had the same organizational structure as well. They are shown in order of size:

army (commanded by a general)*
corps (commanded by a lt. general)*
division (commanded by a major general)*
brigade (commanded by - of course - a brigadier general)*
regiment (commanded by a colonel or lt. colonel, depending on size)
company (commanded by a major or captain, depending on size)

Following is a list of the ranks of "commissioned officers" in a current American army. In the Civil War, these modern ranks were also used by the Confederacy. The Union ranks for generals in the Civil War were the same except for the top generals, explained at the bottom. The ranks, from lowest to highest in today's American army (and in the Confederate Army of the Civil War are/were:

2nd Lt.
1st Lt.
Lt. Colonel
Brigadier General (1 star)
Major General (2 stars)
Lt. General (3 stars)
General (4 stars)

*In the Union Army in the Civil War, they only had Brigadier Generals and Major Generals. There was only one Lt. General (3 star) in the Union Army, and that only from 1864. That was Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant, promoted to that rank only shortly before the end of the war, when he was made commander of all the Union Armies. Also, technically, Winfield Scott was still on active duty and he was a brevet Lt. General. There were no full (4 star) generals in the Union Army back then.

Foot soldiers (or cavalry, for that matter) such as privates and corporals and sergeants, are not commissioned officers.

Commissioned officers in the Civil War had swords (sabers) and they rode horses. Cavalry of all ranks rode horses. In close fighting, cavalry would (very often) prefer sidearms to sabers. Generally, sabers were only sharpened on one side near the tip, since sabers were mostly just used for breaking collar bones and upper arms. When slashing or probing was required, the tip sufficed. Rifles were next to useless for mounted cavalry in combat, but were used, of course, by "mounted foot" who dismounted to fight in skirmish lines. Even then, carbines (rifles with much shorter barrels) were preferred. Here, it should be noted that 25% of "mounted foot" were wasted, since one man in four had to hold the four horses (which would otherwise bolt in terror, especially with incoming artillery explosions) while the other three used their rifles. Artillery was drawn by horses. Supply wagons, ammunition trains, and ambulance trains were drawn by horses. There were a LOT of horses in the Civil War. More horses than you can probably even envision were at Gettysburg and died at Gettysburg.

"Dependent on size" tells us that military organizations are always in flux, especially during battles (people get killed) and therefore you can't really say things like "a company has 150 men; a regiment has 600 men; a brigade has 3,000 men." But those are nice targets. Otherwise, an army can have as many corps as needed; a corps consists of 3 divisions if it is fully manned; a division consists of 3 brigades when fully manned. How many regiments in a brigade? As many as it takes to make up 3000 or so men. Regiments are always being merged and supplemented as people die and newly recruited regiments arrive. It is really impossible to try and say with exactness how many soldiers make up this or that organization. That is true for our modern army today as well.

In today's modern army, there are also battalions (larger than a company), platoons (smaller than a company) as well as squads and fire teams. One solitary soldier is a "troop". Not to be confused with horse cavalry units, (of the Indian Wars and of some Civil War units) some of which were also called troops collectively. "Battalions" in the Civil War often referred to the artillery units, and there were artillery brigades and even divisions, and the same applies to cavalry. A cavalry division had a LOT of horses, and long feed trains to feed them. Confederate cavalry, incidentally, brought their own horses, by and large. 60 days were given to a Confederate cavalryman to procure another horse if his got killed, and if not able to procure one, he got to be in the infantry. Artillery units will be talked about separately for those still awake at that time. The above information is intended to mainly refer to infantry. Today's cavalry is speedy ground (Bradleys, Humvees, Strykers, some tanks - perhaps ALL tanks, depending upon the mission and your definitions) and "air cavalry" consisting of helicopters instead of horses, but the purposes (recon, raids, rescue, disruption, blitzkrieg, and breaking through lines) remain the same. Although we don't usually think of major armor engagements like Patton and Rommel and Montgomery as being cavalry allegories, they really were. And certainly Patton was as much of a maverick as Stuart ever was.

Companies and regiments were recruited by the states (both sides) and sent off to war. Some larger cities could recruit entire regiments (several hundred people) but most were made up from companies recruited by smaller towns and counties. Regiments were assigned numbers followed by their state name (both sides.) Many had nicknames as well for various reasons.

Confederate generals of all four ranks wore the same insignia of rank, shown below, not 1-star, 2-stars, 3-stars or 4-stars like the army does today. Generals in the Confederate Army were appointed by the Confederate President directly. Obviously recommendations for promotions were made to him. As higher general ranks were authorized, the Confederate Congress began having to approve those high ones. The Confederate President was the Commander-in-Chief of all Confederate Army, Naval, and Marine forces. President Lincoln was Commander-in-chief of the Union forces. Incidentally, both sides had air forces, if you count air balloons which were used for (rather scary) reconnaissance work. As I understand it, they often went up tethered so as not to float over the enemy lines (that would be the scary part, otherwise.)

Many, many more tidbits keep popping into my mind that would be enhance your understanding of this battle a bit better, but I think it best to stop here since I realize a few of you are not as interested in the American Civil War as I am, and would rather analyze other things.

Confederate General Insignia (all)

Interesting (to me) trivia: Robert E. Lee was one of only six (surviving) full generals in the Confederate Army at the time of Gettysburg, in command of the entire Army of Northern Virginia. None of the other generals of the other Confederate Armies outranked him. Yet, Lee chose to wear the insignia only of a colonel (three big stars, no oak leaf encirclement). I don't remember ever having read "why" he did this, other than he was a modest man, and that doesn't make sense. I (of course) have a theory about this, which I will share in a later post.


  1. Very good, and it is important you write what you wish, not what folks want to read! Good stuff.

  2. I am very happy to analyse army ranks and units. I don't make any promises about remembering much of it, especially as you added in the modern day units just to confuse me.

  3. Seems about right to me.

    One of the saddest aspects of the Civil War, to my mind, was the exceptional quality of the generals on the Confederate side. Not sad for the North, though they suffered for it, too, but for the South.

  4. That's too much like school... so I’ll assume you are correct.

  5. @Adullamite - Thank you. And thank you for being the other guy who reads this stuff. :)

    @A. - I did. I DID do that just to confuse you. And I thought I was being sly. :)

    @Stephanie Barr - While I may disagree with you about the sageness of Confederate senior officers, I am glad you are still reading. Don't give up - the debate stuff is soon to come. :)

    @Jeff King - Not school. This stuff is fun!



Related Posts with Thumbnails