The Armies of Appomattox


This was Dr. Dick Sommers’ presentation at the Bridgewater College Civil War Institute on March 21, 2015 at Bridgewater College in Bridgewater, Virginia.

He told us to imagine it was March 21, 1865, 150 years ago.  The Civil War was coming to an end.  Philip H. Sheridan had won another great victory at nearby Waynesboro, had devastated the Virginia Piedmont, and had reached White House Landing, virtually back in operational contact with Ulysses S. Grant’s main army group besieging Petersburg.  Just eight days later, Grant would launch his ninth and final offensive of the siege.  This time there is no stopping him.  In less than a week, he forced the confederates to evacuate both Petersburg, their vital rail center, and also Richmond, their capital itself.  With the siege now over, mobile warfare resumed as Robert E. Lee’s Greycoats attempted to escape southwestward and Grant endeavored to cut them off. From April 3 to April 9 the opposing armies marched and fought.  These operations led not to Danville and North Carolina, but to Appomattox Court House.

Dr. Sommers said we should now look at those armies of Appomattox that emerged on April 3, 1865.  For the preceding eleven months, they had waged a great campaign through Central and Eastern Virginia.  Grant had carried the war from the Rapidan River to Hatcher’s Run and had pinned the Butternuts in place at Petersburg, but Lee had managed to prolong the life of his army, his capital, and his “country” for another nine months.  Now, as they began what would prove to be their final week of warfare, let’s compare the armies on April 3, 1865 with those same armies eleven months earlier on May 4, 1864 when they left winter quarters in Culpeper and Orange Counties and began the great Virginia campaign.

If you take a broad view, you can look at the totality of the war in the Old Dominion in the last eleven months as one grand Virginia campaign.  Dr. Sommers wants to look at the armies at the beginning of this campaign and at virtually its close, and compare the commands, the command structures, and the commanders.  He focused on cavalry and infantry regiments, and on heavy artillery when it was acting as infantry.  However, independent companies of any branch, including light artillery batteries, will not be covered, important though they unquestionably were.  In the interest of time, only George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac and Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia will be analyzed.  Other admittedly significant forces, including the Federal Army of the James and the confederate Department of Richmond are not included except when they provided reinforcements to the covered armies.  The IX Corps is counted all the way from the Wilderness even though it didn’t officially become part of the Army of the Potomac until May 24.  However, the Army of Southern Virginia will be covered after it was incorporated into the Army of Northern Virginia on October 5.  John C. Breckinridge’s division of New Market renown and the Federal XVIII Corps, both of which served with the main armies only for Second Cold Harbor and then returned to their own departments are not included.  Finally, we need to remember that the time span in this analysis runs from May 4 to April 3, not all the way to Appomattox itself on April 9.  With those four limitations on branches of service, force structures, armies, and dates, Dr. Sommers then compared the armies that went into the Wilderness with the armies that emerged from the siege of Petersburg.

The resulting numbers speak for themselves, often in remarkable and resounding tones.  They enhance our understanding of those two great armies and of the senior officers who led them, and they frame fruitful avenues for further inquiry.

As of May 4, 1864 the Army of the Potomac, including the IX Corps, contained 275 regiments and battalions.  Eleven months later, that army had 253 regiments and battalions.  The net difference of just 22 regiments masked a fundamental change within that army.  Of its original 275 regiments, 65 mustered out when their 3-year enlistments expired between May of 1864 and February of 1865.  Another 23 were transferred elsewhere.  Thus only 187 of the original 275 regiments remained available for Appomattox.  That’s 68%.  In their place, 66 regiments joined the army.  Twelve were long-time regiments returning from veterans furlough and detached service.  Another 25 were transferred from other armies and departments.  The remaining 29 were new regiments that had been raised only in the late summer and autumn of 1864.  Significantly, such departures and arrivals were not uniform among the five Federal corps.  The vaunted II Corps of Gettysburg renown began the campaign with 79 regiments but lost 26 to muster out, including 17 regiments that had belonged to the former III Corps, which had been merged into the II Corps in March of 1864.  The fact that half of the 35 former III Corps regiments in the II Corps did not reenlist suggests strong discontent with losing their III Corps identity.  Mustering out those 26 units left the II Corps a continuing base of 53 regiments.  To them were added 2 returning regiments, 9 transferred regiments, and 3 new regiments.  The corps thus numbered 67 regiments by the end of the siege of Petersburg.  Attrition was even more pronounced in the V Corps, 43% of whose original regiments mustered out.  The entire Pennsylvania Reserve Division of 11 regiments did not reenlist.  Eight more regiments each from the original I and V Corps did not veteranize for a total of 27 regiments.  Nine more V Corps regiments were transferred, among them the stalwart US Regulars and the crackshot Bucktail Brigade.  Thus only 27 of the original 63 units still marched under the Maltese Cross on April 3.  Yet that corps numbered 45 regiments by that date thanks to the arrival of 4 returning regiments, 5 transferred regiments, and 9 new regiments.  Contrast the high muster out rate in the II and V Corps with the other three Northern corps.  Only 7 of the VI Corps’ 46 regiments mustered out and none were transferred away.  It thus had a continuing base of 39 regiments.  To them were added 2 returning regiments, 3 transferred regiments, and only 2 new regiments.  These 7 reinforcements replaced the 7 departed units to restore the VI Corps’ original strength on April 3 to 46 regiments.  Even fewer IX Corps regiments left service, only 4 out of 48.  Another 3 were transferred within Meade’s army and 12 more were sent elsewhere, mostly the black troops put into the XXV Corps.  To the continuing base of 29 outfits were added 3 returning regiments, 1 transferred regiment, and 11 new regiments.  The IX Corps thus left Petersburg with 44 units.  The best rate of veteranizing belongs to the Cavalry Corps, which lost only 1 out of 31 regiments to discharge.  Five more of its outfits were transferred, leaving it a continuing base of 25.  To them were added 3 regiments from elsewhere in Meade’s army, 7 regiments from other departments, and 3 new regiments.  Thus 38 regiments of horsemen rode from Five Forks to Appomattox.

What do these rates of muster out, 33% for the II Corps, 43% for the V Corps, but only 15% for the VI Corps, 8% for the IX Corps, and 3% for the Cavalry Corps tell us?  The steadfastness of the VI Corps at Cedar Creek, the punch of that corps in the big breakthrough at Boisseau’s Farm, the bonding identity within the IX Corps, and the irresistible onrush of the Cavalry Corps may at least in part by their large proportion of experienced regiments, many of which had already reenlisted and thereby had reaffirmed that commitment to continue with their corps until the war was won.  One footnote, however, must be added about the IX Corps.  Of its 48 regiments at the start of the campaign, 22 had never been in battle before May 5.  Even of its 29 continuing regiments, 8 had been unbloodied before the Wilderness.  Although none of these units is considered “new” as that term is used here, that is to say, regiments raised after the campaign began, they really were “fresh fish” so far as combat is concerned.

Such new regiments were nonexistent in the Army of Northern Virginia during the final eleven months of the Civil War.  To be sure, several battalions were combined into regiments and component companies and a few other regiments and battalions rearranged.  Those changes simply resulted in new names for existing manpower, not in the raising of new manpower.  In stark contrast to the 32 new regiments that joined the Army of the Potomac during the previous eleven months, 29 of which were still with it on April 3, 1865, but also unlike the Union Army, the butternut brigades had not lost 68 regiments to muster out.  Discharging entire regiments was unheard of in the confederate army by this period of the war.  Although a few one-year secessionist outfits had left service in the spring of 1862, mustering out of whole units was not an option two years later.  By 1864, southern regiments were in for the duration, one way or the other.

Yet Lee’s army was heavily reinforced during its final eleven months, initially through the return of detached troops, later through the transfer of troops from other departments.  Six-and-a-half greycoat brigades had been detached from Lee’s army prior to the outbreak of fighting.  Robert D. Johnston’s Tarheel Brigade made a forced march and rejoined the army later that day; however, George E. Pickett’s entire Virginia Division, William G. Lewis’ North Carolina Brigade, and two other regiments did not rejoin until after Spotsylvania.  Most of the latter 26 regiments and one battalion had temporarily formed a part of P. G. T. Beauregard’s army during the Bermuda Hundred Campaign.  From East Tennessee to Florida, other new troops were concentrating to create that army in May.  After Beauregard was assigned to command the Western Theater in early October, his army was transferred to the Army of Northern Virginia to become its IV Corps.  Five infantry brigades and one cavalry regiment from Beauregard’s force still served with Lee by April 3, 1865.  Joseph Finnegan’s infantry brigade from Florida and John McCausland’s cavalry brigade from the Shenandoah Valley, as well as six other transferred regiments and battalions also formed part of the Army of Northern Virginia when Petersburg fell.

To summarize these forces, on May 4, Lee had 186 regiments and battalions.  Over the ensuing eleven months, 17 of them were transferred to other departments.  To this continuing base of 169 regiments were added 31 returning detached units and 43 transferred outfits.  That gave Lee 243 regiments on April 3, 1865, 40% more than he had on May 4.  But we have to keep in mind that by the end of the Siege of Petersburg many of Lee’s regiments were fragmentary.  The Stonewall Division, for instance, entered the Wilderness with 14 Virginia regiments as well as 2 from North Carolina and 5 from Louisiana.  It lost so heavily in the Mule Shoe on May 12 that the few survivors of those Virginia regiments were consolidated into 3 regiments for tactical purposes.  One of those 14 was transferred to the Army of the Valley in October.  Dr. Sommers still counts the remaining Stonewall soldiers as 13 regiments on paper on April 3, but tactically they were only 3.  Comparably, the army’s 10 Louisiana regiments probably amounted to only 6 tactically and 4 of the Tennessee regiments of the III Corps were paired into 2.  With these caveats, Dr. Sommers then looked at the five confederate corps separately.

To deal with them in their disparate operational groupings and divisions in which they left the Petersburg trenches on the evening of April 2-3 would distort our understanding of the fundamental force structure throughout these eleven months.  The I Corps virtually ceases to exist.  Pickett’s Division is off with Anderson and the IV Corps, Kershaw’s Division has been left behind with Ewell in the Department of Richmond, Fields’ Division is in effect transferred to the III Corps and Longstreet assumes command of the III Corps after the death of A. P. Hill, but Dr. Sommers doesn’t want to take that de facto grouping as the fundamental force structure because it would warp our understanding of the course of operations, so for these comparative purposes he takes March 29, the date of the beginning of the Ninth Offensive, as his reference point.

The I Corps entered the Wilderness with 43 regiments and battalions.  During the ensuing eleven months it transferred 5 regiments and 1 battalion but received 20 returning regiments.  It thus left Petersburg with 57 regiments.  The II Corps’ force structure was even larger both at the start and at the end.  It began the Virginia Campaign with 53 regiments, transferred 1, gained 11 returning outfits and transferring battalions, and thus ended up with 66 units, but tactically these 66 units amounted to only 52 regiments.  Biggest of all, first and last, was the III Corps, which started with 65 regiments and battalions, transferred 5, gained 10 transferred outfits, and entered the Appomattox operation with 70 units.  Contrast these three big original corps with the little IV Corps, which contained only one division of 20 regiments and battalions as the Siege of Petersburg ended.  Finally, the Cavalry Corps began with 22 units, sent 5 away, gained 9, and ended up with 26.

In citing these statistics as of two dates, May 4, 1864 and April 3, 1865, we have to keep in mind that some sizable formations arrived after the Wilderness and left before Five Forks.  They thus do not appear in the previously quoted numbers.  Among secessionist forces, these include the 20th South Carolina Infantry Regiment and Matthew C. Butler’s South Carolina Cavalry Brigade, which reached Lee in time for Second Cold Harbor and departed the following January and comparably the 17 infantry regiments of Robert F. Hoke’s Division were transferred from Beauregard to Lee in October and left two months later.  These 21 butternut regiments tripled their 7 counterparts in blue which arrived after May 4 and departed before April 3.  One returning Union regiment and two transferred regiments mustered out.  Three new Federal regiments and one veteran regiment joined Meade after the campaign began but were transferred elsewhere later in 1864.

All of these regiments, preexisting, returning, transferred, and new, were grouped into brigades, which in turn formed divisions which were part of corps.  Continuity in command structure at these higher levels during these eleven months are also instructive.  Continuity was considerable for confederates.  This was especially true for the III Corps, which began and ended these operations with 13 brigades grouped into 3 divisions.  Its only notable change came in January of 1865 with the transfer of a Virginia demibrigade from Henry Heth’s Division to the Department of Richmond in exchange for a Tennessee demibrigade.  The I Corps, too, had much stability once Pickett’s Division rejoined in mid-May, 13 brigades grouped into 3 divisions.  One of those brigades was sent to South Carolina in January, so 12 brigades remained for the Appomattox operation.  The Cavalry Corps also sent one brigade of two divisions to that state that month.  However, it retained 2 brigades that had joined the Army of Northern Virginia in October of 1864 and March of 1865.  The latter brigade came as part of a new division from the Shenandoah Valley.  Thus, the corps began and ended these operations with 3 divisions.  They encompassed 6 brigades on May 4 and 7 brigades on April 3.  The greatest change occurred in the II Corps, due primarily to devastating losses in the Stonewall Division at Spotsylvania.  That corps entered the Wilderness with 12 brigades grouped into 3 divisions.  Its detached brigade was immediately recalled in time to fight there.  However, within the first two weeks the two Louisiana brigades were combined into one, as were the three Virginia brigades of the Stonewall Division.  The corps continued that contracted configuration for the rest of the war.  It thus left Petersburg with only 10 brigades, and three of them served in different divisions in the II Corps than when the campaign began.

There was considerably less continuity in the Union Army due at least in part to the contraction of force structure caused by the muster out of 68 regiments, the equivalent of one big corps.  The II, V, and IX Corps went into the Wilderness with 4 divisions apiece.  The II and V Corps had 11 brigades each and the IX Corps had 10, including 2 independent brigades.  As early as May 13, concern that the Fourth Division of the II Corps lacked competent leadership caused it to be broken up and added to the Third Division.  That corps remained at three divisions for the rest of the campaign, and it left the siege lines with 10 brigades.  At the end of May the entire Third Division of the V Corps was mustered out, but a new Third Division was immediately created for it.  Not until September did that corps shrink from four divisions to three, 9 brigades.  Also in September, the IX Corps was reduced to three divisions, 7 brigades.  In late November of that year its Third Division was transferred to the Army of the James as part of the plan to group all of “Army Group Grant’s” black units into the new XXV Corps.  In exchange, the big, fresh provisional brigade of that army was divided in half and redesignated the new Third Division of the IX Corps.  The corps thus remained at 7 brigades.  The First and Second Divisions of the IX Corps, it should be added, experienced many shifts of regiments among their brigades, as did the Third Division of the II Corps and the entire V Corps.   The VI Corps, in contrast, essentially retained its force structure throughout these eleven months.  It began with 10 brigades in 3 divisions and ended with 8 brigades in 3 divisions.  Five of those eight brigades contained exactly the same regiments on April 3 as on May 4.  That’s almost unheard of in the Union forces, and yet in five of these brigades that wore the Greek Cross they retained exactly the same composition except that three had each been reinforced by one new regiment.  Such continuity again helps explain that corps’ effectiveness, whether defending or attacking.  Like the VI Corps, the Cavalry Corps began with 3 divisions, 7 brigades, mounting 4 regiments of dismounted cavalry and adding 1 brigade and 2 regiments from the Army of West Virginia enabled the corps to end these operations with 3 divisions of 3 brigades apiece.  The Army of the Potomac thus began the campaign with 51 brigades grouped into 18 divisions and 5 corps.  Eleven months later that army contained 46 brigades, 15 divisions, and 5 corps.  In a corresponding period the Army of Northern Virginia started with 39 brigades, 11 divisions and 4 corps.  It left Petersburg with 47 brigades, 13 divisions, and 5 corps.

To wield that force structure, commanders are needed, so Dr. Sommers concluded his analysis by looking at senior officers from brigade level to army level during these eleven months.

Throughout that period, Robert E. Lee and George G. Meade retained command of their respective armies.  At lower echelons, however, the bluecoats underwent many changes.  There were 74 senior subordinates in the Army of the Potomac on May 4, 1864.  Of its five corps commanders, none held that position eleven months later.  Sheridan, the Cavalry Corps commander, was present, but as a de facto army commander.  The II Corps’ Winfield Scott Hancock had also been promoted to lead an army, but it was located down the Valley in Winchester.  No such promotions came to Gouverneur K. Warren of the V Corps or Ambrose E. Burnside of the IX Corps.  They had been relieved of command, Burnside deservedly after the Crater fiasco, Warren tragically and outrageously just two days before Petersburg fell.  John Sedgwick’s command of the VI Corps terminated even more abruptly when he was killed in action at Spotsylvania.  Of the 18 Federal division commanders, only George W. Getty still led the same division on April 3 as on May 4, the Second of the V Corps.  Orlando B. Wilcox in effect commanded the same division, but it had a new name, the First of the IX Corps instead of the Third of the IX Corps.  Samuel W. Crawford’s Division still had the same name, the Third of the V Corps, but it was composed of entirely different regiments after all of the Pennsylvania Reserves had mustered out.  Finally, Gersham Mott was reduced to brigade commander when his Fourth Division of the II Corps was discontinued on May 13.  However, he succeeded to command of the Third Division of that corps when his predecessor was elevated to corps command in July.  Mott led that division for the duration of the siege.  Promotion to corps command came to six original division commanders, including four who were transferred to corps in other armies, among them David B. Birney who took charge of the X Corps in mid-July only to die of disease three months later.  One division commander was transferred laterally to the Army of the James, another four division commanders were absent, sick, or wounded, two had been killed in action, James Wadsworth of the V Corps in the Wilderness and Thomas G. Stevenson of the IX Corps at Spotsylvania.  And one, David M. Gregg, of the Cavalry Corps, had resigned in February.

Those battles also claimed the lives of two brigade commanders, Alexander Hays of the II Corps on May 5 and James Rice of the V Corps on May 10.  Five other original brigadiers were absent on April 3 wounded, captured, or sick.  One had been relieved of command for being under the influence of opium, and three had resigned, two of them under threat of court-martial for drunkenness in battle and disobedience of orders.  Four were mustered out with their regiments and six availed themselves of a change to War Department policy that allowed them to be personally mustered out at the expiration of their terms even though their outfits remained in service.  Two transferred laterally to other armies and one colonel reverted to regimental command when a more senior officer took charge of his brigade.  Twenty of the original brigadiers were promoted.  Wesley Merritt took command of the Cavalry Corps, Alexander S. Webb became Chief of Staff of the Army of the Potomac, Marsena Patrick served as Provost Marshal General of “Army Group Grant.”  The remaining 17 were elevated to division command, 11 in the Army of the Potomac and 6 in other armies.  Of the former 11, just 8 remained with Meade on April 3.  Lysander Cutler had been transferred to command the District of Michigan and David A. Russell and J. Howard Kitchen had been killed in action in the Valley Campaign of 1864.  Only 7 of the original brigadiers filled those slots on April 3.

So to summarize, of the 75 senior officers in the Army of the Potomac as of May 4, 1864, just 27 still served with that army 11 months later, 9 in the same position, 3 in similar positions, 14 through promotion, and 1 through reversion to regimental command.  Another 24 served elsewhere, 11 through promotion, 3 through lateral transfer, 1 through demotion, and 9 through sickness, wounds, or captivity.  The remaining 24 were no longer in service, 10 through muster out, 4 through resignation, 2 through relief of command, 1 through death from disease, and 7 through death in combat.

Now Dr. Sommers reversed his focus and looked at that army on April 3 to highlight the magnitude of those changes.  Meade remained as commander but former Cavalry Corps Commander Sheridan now acted as a de facto army commander as well.  Of the five corps commanders, Charles Griffin of the Fifth and Horatio G. Wright of the Sixth had led divisions in the Wilderness.  Wesley Merritt of the Cavalry Corps had been a brigadier back then.  Andrew A. Humphreys of the II Corps and John G. Park of the IX Corps had held senior staff positions the previous May.  Only 4 of the 15 final division commanders had led divisions into the Wilderness.  Nine brigadiers back then had charge of divisions when the siege ended.  The remaining two generals with divisions, William Hayes and George Crook, were newcomers arriving only weeks or even days before the Ninth Offensive began.  Of the 47 brigadiers, just 7 had held office on May 4.  Another 20 had led regiments or batteries in the Wilderness and 4 more had been on duty with such regiments but not in command.  One had served as a corps staff officer, 14 others joined after May 4, 3 through unit transfers, 1 through a personal transfer, 4 with new regiments, 4 with returns to duty, and 4 with new commissions in old units.  How did all 68 senior officers on April 3 compare with their status eleven months earlier?  Fully 52 of them had served in the Wilderness, 9 in the same position, 3 in similar positions, and 40 in junior positions from which they had been promoted.  Sixteen others arrived after May 4, 4 through returns to duty, 3 through personal transfers, 3 through unit transfers, 4 with new regiments, and 2 with new commissions in veteran regiments.

Finally, Dr. Sommers looked at the corresponding confederate commanders.  There were 55 such senior officers on May 4, 1864.  Lee led the Army of Northern Virginia throughout the ensuing eleven months.  Of the four corps commanders, only Lee’s “Old War Horse,” James Longstreet, remained in charge of the I Corps.  “Old Bald Head” Richard Ewell was transferred from the II Corps to the Department of Richmond and J.E.B. Stuart and A. P. Hill of the III Corps were slain, the latter just the day before Petersburg fell.  Death in combat claimed one of the eleven division commanders, Robert E. Rodes, at Third Winchester.  Four other division commanders were promoted to head corps, two in Lee’s army, two elsewhere.  One division commander transferred laterally to the Army of Tennessee.  The remaining five major generals still led divisions when the siege ended.  There was much greater stability than among the Union commanders.  The secessionists also enjoyed greater stability among their 39 brigade commanders.  Seven officers who led brigades into the Wilderness led them out of the trenches in April, 1865, an eighth general was transferred laterally from one brigade to another during those eleven months.  Yet brigadiers also suffered higher mortality.  Nine of them were killed in combat, John M. Jones, Leroy A. Stafford, and Micah Jenkins in the Wilderness, Abner Perrin and Junius Daniels at Spotsylvania, James B. Norton at Meadow Bridges, George Doles at Bethesda Church, John Chambliss at Second Deep Bottom, and John Gregg at first Darbytown Road.  Two brigadiers who were promoted to lead divisions were also slain, Dodson Ramseur at Cedar Creek and John Pegram at Second Hatcher’s Run.  Three other brigadiers survived promotion to division command and a fourth one was elevated to lead the II Corps, John B. Gordon.  Six other brigadiers were promoted to division command in other departments and four more were transferred laterally out of Lee’s army.  Four other original brigadiers were absent, wounded, captured, or ill when the siege ended.  The remaining two original generals resigned their commissions late in 1864, one due to ill health, the other to take his seat in the confederate Congress.  Thus of the 55 commanders when fighting erupted in the Wilderness, 21 still served in the Army of Northern Virginia when Petersburg fell.  Fourteen of the 21 held the same command, one had transferred laterally within that army, and six had been promoted.  The remaining 34 original officers were gone, eight of them promoted and transferred, six transferred laterally, two had resigned, and four were absent, wounded, captured, or sick.  The remaining 14 had been killed in action.  Thus death had claimed 25% of Lee’s original 55 senior officers.  That was more than twice the mortality among Meade’s main men, 8 out of 75 senior Union officers, or 10.7%.  The highest ranking slain general fell on the last day of the siege.  The army that left those trenches contained 65 senior officers.  Lee still led it and his most senior corps commander, Longstreet, remained in place.  Two other corps commanders had been promoted from division command during the preceding eleven months, Richard H. Anderson of the IV Corps and Fitzhugh Lee of the Cavalry Corps.  John B. Gordon had headed a brigade in the Wilderness, and now he had charge of the II Corps.  Five of the original division commanders continued in that office, Charles W. Field, Joseph B. Kershaw, Cadmus M. Wilcox, Henry Heth, and Rooney Lee.  There was also a returning division commander, George E. Pickett, and a transferred division commander, Bushrod R. Johnson.  The other six division commanders were new.  Three had led brigades in the Wilderness and three had been colonels of regiments back then.  Of the 47 brigade commanders on April 3, seven original brigadiers from the Wilderness were still in place and an eighth held a comparable command.  Three more continued to command returned brigades. and another six headed brigades that were transferred to Lee’s army.  At least 12 brigadiers on April 3 had led regiments in the Wilderness.  At least six more had served as subordinates within such regiments on May 4.  One led a transferred unit and two were subordinates in returned or transferred outfits.  Four were absent from their units in the Wilderness and another colonel was still convalescing when his regiment was transferred to Lee’s army on October 5.  The previous status of the remaining four brigadiers on April 3 is uncertain.  Three belonged to regiments that fought in the Wilderness and the other officer was part of a regiment that returned in mid-May, but whether or not any of those men actually served in those outfits at that time is unclear.  Thus of the 65 senior officers of the Army of Northern Virginia on April 3, 1865, at least 2/3 had served in the Wilderness, 14 in the same capacity, 1 in a similar position, and 27 in more subordinate roles.   Six other officers served in returning brigades, and nine more belonged to brigades that were transferred to Lee’s army.  Another four were personally absent from their unit on the earlier date but had resumed command before Petersburg fell.  The status of the other four is unclear.

What do all of these numbers mean?  They give insight into continuity of commanders and commands and thus into combat effectiveness.  How many veteran, generals and regiments remained in service and how many had left, whether through transfer or muster out.  How many or how few new units, fresh and eager but untested.  How many experienced officers held these commands and how many had been promoted, elevated to positions perhaps where their talents were of still greater service, but sometimes also raised to responsibilities beyond their abilities?  How many senior leaders of proven excellence of great promise had given their lives for their cause?  The consequences of these questions for combat and campaign invite further study.  The numbers help us understand what these armies endured from the start of fighting in the Wilderness to the fall of Petersburg.

We have to keep in mind that the brigade was the basic element of tactical combat, whereas the regiment was the basic element of recruitment, raised by states or territories.  Divisions were the basic elements of tactical control, and corps were the basic elements of grand tactical maneuver and corps were the principal subelements of field armies.  So whether a regiment was large or small wasn’t material to combat power as long as the brigade maintained its combat power.  So we could see brigades made up of larger numbers of regiments in order to keep their combat power.

This was a whale of a presentation.  You have to get past the storm of numbers thrown at you to see what they mean.  New commanders and new regiments mean at least a temporary diminution of combat effectiveness until the new regiments understand combat and until the new commanders understand their jobs.  Horatio Wright of the Sixth Corps is an excellent example of this.  When he first took over the VI Corps after Sedgwick’s death he made a number of errors, but he learned on the job and turned into a solid corps commander.  The greater stability among the confederate units explains in part why it was so difficult for the Union forces to break through their lines until April of 1865.  Stability generally led to higher combat effectiveness.


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