From innocents to

warriors

No American war, and few of any other sort, has ever been fought with a lower proportion of trained soldiers than the American Civil War. The United States had from its origins suffered from a deep mistrust of standing armies and professional military men. The nation also wallowed in a nostalgic, but misguided, fondness for the notion of an untrained but devoted citizen-militia. At the outbreak of war in 1861, the United States Army included fewer than 15,000 officers and men; a few months later there would be more than one hundred times that many men under arms - far too many troops for the regular army to serve as an effective cadre.

A computerized index of official service records of both the Union and Confederate armies, completed in the year 2000, has for the first time made available hard data about the number of men mustered into service during the war. This is a subject about which arguments have raged among partisans of each side, and of various states, since the war years without any means of clear resolution. We now know that 1,231,006 Confederate service records exist, and 2,918, 862 Federal records. Virginia supplied the largest Confederate increment, followed by Georgia and Tennessee. New York (456,720) led Federal recruitment, followed by-Pennsylvania and Ohio. Those three Northern states, in fact, among them supplied almost as many troops as the entire Confederacy could muster. It should be recognized that the number of records does not indicate a precise number of men. Some Northern troops re-enlisted in different units at the expiration of a term of enlistment, and many Southern soldiers changed organizations in the spring of 1862 under the working of the new conscription law. Even so, the newly established totals of

service records constitute the first unmistakable benchmark on the subject.

Civil War soldiers almost without exception had been civilians in 1860. The census that year revealed the overwhelming advantages the Union enjoyed in numbers.

The seceded states had a population of 9.1 million, 5.4 million of them white and therefore directly available for military

Confederate volunteers head off for war in 1861. (Public domain)

Confederate volunteers head off for war in 1861. (Public domain)

Public Domain Springfield 1861

service. The other states counted 22.3 million inhabitants, and more than 800,000 alien passengers arrived at Northern ports during the war. The agrarian Confederacy faced even greater challenges in materiel. The 1860 census showed the South with only 7 percent of the nation's industrial output, 8 percent of its shipping, and one-fourth of its railroad mileage.

The capacities of the warring sides, described in detail in The American Civil War: The war in the East 1861-May 1863, had begun by 1863 to play a steadily more important role in the progress of the conflict. The United States navy held unmistakable sway over all navigable waters, without any notable opposition. As a result, the portion of the Virginia Theater viable for Confederate operations extended no farther east than the fall lines of the several rivers flowing nominally eastward through the state: the Potomac, the Rappahannock, the James, and the Appomattox. Federal weaponry outmatched Southern equipment in every way. Union infantry carried rifles almost exclusively, while a substantial proportion of Confederates still had to make do with smoothbores (with one-tenth the range). As the conflict wore on, Northern cavalry would enjoy the advantage of breech-loading carbines, and eventually of repeating weapons. Union artillery fired farther and more accurately than Southern cannon, and Northern ordnance usually exploded on cue, whereas a Confederate battalion commander at Chancellorsville reported that only one in every 15 of his shells detonated.

By the spring of 1863, the organization and command of the main armies of the Virginia Theater had taken on distinctive characteristics. The Union Army of the Potomac had been tempered into a strong, resolute, military implement, patient in the face of steadily inept leadership. If President Abraham Lincoln would ever place a capable commander over the army, and support him, the veteran organization stood ready to be the bulwark of the national cause. The Confederate Army of Northern Virginia had long enjoyed superb direction from Lee, but without Stonewall Jackson to execute Lee's daring initiatives, a new mode of fighting would now be necessary.

As the contending armies in the Virginia Theater moved north in the late spring of 1863, away from Chancellorsville, they were pursuing a long and tortuous road that would lead them eventually to Gettysburg. They also were launching a new phase of the American Civil War.

Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond provided invaluable war materials, but the Confederacy had relatively few such industrial facilities. (Public domain)

Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond provided invaluable war materials, but the Confederacy had relatively few such industrial facilities. (Public domain)

The fighting

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