Interview with Civil War historian Steven E. Woodworth on military unit sizes

About Dr. Steven E. Woodworth

Dr. Woodworth is a two-time winner of the prestigious Fletcher Pratt Award, for his books Davis and Lee at War and Jefferson Davis and His Generals.

Steven was born in Ohio in 1961, raised in Illinois (mostly), and graduated from Southern Illinois University in 1982 with a B.A. in history. Thereafter he studied one year at the University of Hamburg, in Germany, before beginning studies at Rice University, where he received a Ph.D. in 1987. From 1987 to 1997 Woodworth taught at Bartlesville Wesleyan College in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and at Toccoa Falls College in Toccoa Falls, Georgia. At both institutions he was more or less the entire history department and taught everything from ancient Mesopotamia to modern Europe and the United States. In 1997 he came to TCU, where he teaches courses in U.S. history as well as the Civil War and Reconstruction and the Old South.

Recommended reading:

Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865. By Steven E. Woodworth

Background for this interview?

  1. What was the military unit size for the Union army?
  2. What was the military unit size for the Confederate army?

At what time in the war and under what circumstances was this the size of typical Civil War units?

At the time of their enlistment, early in the war, Civil War companies nominally consisted of about 100 men, although the true number could be closer to 80 or 90. However, this began to attrit very early-on, especially as a result of disease. So that 70 or 80 was probably a more realistic figure for a company when first meeting the enemy–provided it did so within 6 to 9 months of its enlistment more or less.

How did garrison duty or an inactive theater impact unit sizes?

If a regiment pulled a long stint of garrison duty or found itself in an inactive theater so that it did not meet then enemy until it had been in service for a year or more, I would guess that 50 would be a better approximation of average company strength.

And how did active theaters of war impact unit sizes?

Regiments that had seen heavy fighting would be smaller of course, and for them the 35-40 figure is probably about right. Naturally, after many heavy battles a regiment might become extremely depleted, especially if it was not replenished with recruits, so there really almost is not minimum strength for a company. Nor can we speak of units all being of comparable size at the same time. Regiments enlisted in the fall of 1861 would have been heavily attritted by the the following fall, while other regiments on the same battlefield (I’m thinking of Antietam) would have been newly recruited and almost at full strength.

Which side did a better job of keeping unit strength (in sizes) up?

In general the Confederacy did a slightly better job of keeping their units up to strength than the Union did.

One Civil War ‘List’ book says that both sides averaged about 34-40 per company; 350-400 per regiment, and 800-1700 per brigade. Are those more appropriate during a particulat time in the war?

The company, regiment, and brigade figures are probably good for the average units of mid-1863. The preceding year, all three would have been larger, and I think even in ’63 the Confederates had quite a few brigades significantly larger than 1,700 men.

One ‘List’ says the CSA division range was 6,000 – 14,000 men. How does that sound?

Pickett’s division, the smallest Confederate division at Gettysburg, numbered just over 5,000, so that range should probably be expanded downward.

Is the range of 24,000 – 28,000 for a CSA Corps side accurate?

As for Confederate corps size, this probably has reference to the Army of Northern Virginia. The Confederate corps at Shiloh were much smaller–about 10,000 men each, and corps in the Army of Tennesse probably continued to be smaller than the range given here, I would say probably something like 18,000-20,000 men each.

At the other extreme, I suspect that Longstreet’s corps at Fredericksburg was significantly larger than 28,000 men. The Union figures [12,000 – 14,000] seem about right–again, for the average units of the middle period of the war.

One comment

  1. Thanks for this information. I am reading The Killer Angels and I’ve been struggling with trying to understand the magnitude of the various armies/brigades/divisions/companies/troops, ….whatever. This really helped.

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