That’s the title of Ranger John Heiser’s presentation today (January 27) as part of Gettysburg National Military Park’s 2013 Winter Lecture series. His subject was the Army of Northern Virginia in 1863.
John made a good presentation. He told us the ANV was a very simple army, what he termed a “yeoman army,” made up of all types of occupations, all backgrounds, all faiths, and all socioeconomic statuses.
The seat of the war in 1863 remained Virginia. The Army of the Potomac had tried to take Richmond and failed, and Lee had tried to take the war into the North in 1862 and had failed. Both armies were in Virginia again as 1862 closed and 1863 opened.
The soldiers of the ANV were not all boys. This chart gives a distribution of the age ranges of the soldiers. They weren’t much different than any other army. A lot of immigrants were in the ranks, and the average age in 1862-1863 was the mid-20s.
Slaveowners made up over a third of the ANV and over 40% of the ANV’s soldiers lived in a slaveowning household. This statistic will no doubt come as a surprise to neoconfederates. Slaves were incorporated into the army at all levels. Half the slaveowners brought at least one slave with them as a personal servant and cook. In addition, the army brought with it hundreds of slaves who were leased from their owners to be laborers, pioneers, and to drive supply wagons.
In looking at the socioeconomic status of the soldiers, we see equality in the artillery and cavalry because those branches were so small. In the infantry, however, there was a huge disparity, with officers most likely by a large margin to be from a higher socioeconomic background than the soldiers under them.
The army in 1863 is undergoing a transition.
The typical soldier is 20-30 years old, single, Christian, and, of course, white. They were in a uniform supplied by their state quartermaster system, but this system had been shown to be failing, so the confederates were moving to a depot system of supply.
Many will recognize this as the only photograph we have of the Army of Northern Virginia on the march in the field. The rebels traveled light, lighter than the Army of the Potomac. As time goes on, their load gets even lighter.
The army is in the midst of transition in 1863. 40,000 to 65,000 men who are assigned to the Army of Northern Virginia are not with it. They are spread out, working in depots, working as cobblers, working as metalworkers, and other jobs. But they are still soldiers assigned to the ANV. Sickness and casualties have taken their toll, as have desertions, but morale generally has not changed. It’s still relatively high due to the successes the army has enjoyed.
Lee’s cavalry has been reduced to about half of what it had been. He only has about 48,000 officers and men available, due not only to those who are assigned elsewhere but also to diseases, wounded men in hospitals, and men who have deserted, though many of those deserters will return in the spring. The morale of Lee’s army was key to his discipline, and the discipline in the ANV was different from the discipline in the AoP. For example, the penalty for desertion in the AoP was death, while in the ANV it was usually carrying a rail or some other type of punishment instead of death. Sometimes, though, deserters did pay with their lives.
There were several snowball battles in the winter of 1863, but the most famous was on February 25. There was a deep snow and Hoke’s North Carolina brigade raided Gordon’s Georgia brigade. This evolved into a huge battle ebbing back and forth, and was witnessed by Stonewall Jackson himself, watching from above the fray.
There were a large number of shortages of food and clothing, and a real problem with desertions. The army used so many rations that three trains of ten cars would provide rations for only two weeks. No trains could get out of Richmond that winter for three months. The locals took every ounce of food left in one train that finally did make it. Lee sent small foraging parties into the countryside to get food. Loneliness also played a role in desertion.
Conscription was very controversial because it came from the central government, not from the states. Lee was begging for conscripts in the spring of 1863. State conscription laws, though, many times mandated that conscripts stay in their states. They were also short of forage for their animals. Jackson’s corps alone required four boxcars per day in forage for their animals. As a result, horses are dying off and breaking down. Due to this, Longstreet and 24,000 men were sent to Suffolk to gather supplies.
Following Chancellorsville and the loss of Jackson, Lee reorganized the Army of Northern Virginia. Stuart has 12,000 to 13,000 troopers. They had acquired 600-700 horses due to raids. Lee had 133,000 officers and men, but only 65,000 in the field. Again, many were detached to other duties, many were wounded and sick in hospitals, and there was still a problem with desertion.
The loss of animals had led to Lee’s issuing General Orders #58 reducing the number of wagons authorized to travel with the ANV.
As a result, more and more the ANV soldier will carry all his equipment and not depend on wagons as the AoP soldier did. Lee had arranged for ten tent flies for every 100 men, but the tent flies never appeared. The men were tentless for the majority of the time, but they had recovered almost 20,000 rifles and muskets after the Chancellorsville battle.
Brandy Station was another costly battle. Lee lost almost 300 horses, which meant 300 cavalrymen had to be left behind. In just the first two weeks of the Gettysburg Campaign, Stuart will lose an additional 800 to 1,000 troopers due to horses breaking down.
In June, Lee will bring a number of empty wagons north with his army in order to collect supplies in Pennsylvania.
Special Orders Number 21 had a positive effect on soldiers and civilians, and Special Orders #73 (text here) were issued a couple days after SO 72.
Lee’s casualties at Gettysburg were critical. There was not only the loss in manpower but also there was a critical loss in leadership. Pickett himself lost 13 of his 15 colonels. Lee lost a huge percentage of his leadership at Gettysburg that he never recovered. The loss of leadership was almost more than he could suffer.
In 1863, Lee lost 56,157 officers and men. Yet they will continue to fight on through 1864.