Introduction

The organization of the United States Army in 1861 was based on the needs of a nation basically at peace, vviili no borders to guard against an aggressive enemy, and a traditional national distrust of large standing armies. The army had no units larger than a regiment, and even these regiments rarely came together as a single force, being largely dispersed among many separate and often remote forts in company strength. As a result the army felt no need for any rank higher than a major-general, while brigadier-generals would command brigades assembled on an as-needed basis. The senior general, who had been Winfield Scott for as long as most Americans conid remember, was designated the Major-General Commanding the Army, but he was the only man ever to hold this particular rank.

Generals usually came from the ranks of the graduates of the US Military Academy at West Point, New York (Winfield Scott, who had been appointed directly before the War of 1812, was an exception). At West Point they received instruction enabling them to obtain a degree in engineering - a skill needed in a fast-growing country - along with basic military training in the various arms. However, after graduation from the Academy there was no system of continuing advanced schooling for the individuals who would eventually rise to become general officers.

At the same time, each state had its own militia, headed by a major-general appointed by the state governor, with brigadier-generals appointed to command largely "paper" brigades. In some cases these men had military experience, but they were just as apt to be purely political appointees.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861 it was obvious that the tiny pre-war regular army could not sustain the Union's war effort alone, especially given the fact that about one-third of that army's 1,100-odd officers chose to serve the Confederacy. New brigadier- and major-generals would be needed to command the large brigades and divisions that would be formed. These men, however, would receive only temporary rank as "generals of volunteers" rather than regular army rank. In many cases regular officers serving at much lower grades offered their services to their state governors and, because of the need for men with any degree of real military experience, were directly appointed generals of volunteers. Other generals of volunteers were appointed from state militias, often because they had been important in the minority political party and the administration felt it was important to show bipartisan support for the war.

George McClellan (the short figure sixth from left - he was only about 5ft.4ins. tall) meets President Abraham Lincoln after the bloody battle of Antietam in September 1862. The figure central between McClellan and Lincoln is Fitz John Porter; George A.Custer, then a subaltern on McClellan's staff, stands far right next to the tent flap, wearing a tall-crowned slouch hat.

The army in the field grew so large that as early as 1862 corps were formed by assembling divisions. These corps were commanded by major-generals, there being no higher rank authorized. Indeed, major-generals also commanded the field armies, and the "general-in-chief' was a major-general until Ulysses S.Grant received an appointment as lieutenant-general, a rank re-created by Congress which had last been given to George Washington.

The performance of these generals varied tremendously. A few proved to be outstanding. Some were so abysmal that they were forced out of the service early on; while others did so well that they were offered regular army commissions (often at considerably lower ranks than those they had held during the war) at the end of hostilities. Between these two extremes we find the mass of men who proved themselves more or less competent at the head of brigades, divisions, and corps. Some who acquitted themselves well at the lower levels of command were over-promoted and seem to have been overwhelmed by their increased responsibilities. Both those who rose to the challenge well, and those who were defeated by it, included pre-war professional officers and political appointees alike.

One quality which most shared - a quality whose absence was quickly noticed, and was not tolerated, by their contemporaries - was physical courage. On the battlefields of the 1860s general officers were expected routinely to expose themselves to the dangers faced by their men, and many paid with their lives and limbs. (Of the 28 generals whose careers are described in this book, ten were wounded in action at least once and three were killed.)

George McClellan (the short figure sixth from left - he was only about 5ft.4ins. tall) meets President Abraham Lincoln after the bloody battle of Antietam in September 1862. The figure central between McClellan and Lincoln is Fitz John Porter; George A.Custer, then a subaltern on McClellan's staff, stands far right next to the tent flap, wearing a tall-crowned slouch hat.

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