The Union Army
was the land force that fought for
American Civil War
. It was also
known as the Federal Army
, the Northern
and the National Army
. It consisted
of the small United States Army
(the regular army
augmented by massive numbers of units supplied by the Northern
states, composed of volunteers
as well as conscripts
. The Union Army fought and eventually
defeated the smaller Confederate
during the war which lasted from 1861 to 1865. Of
the 2.5 million men who served in the Union Army, approximately
9.5% were African American
smaller percent were Native Americans
360,000 died from all causes; some 280,000 were wounded.
When the American Civil War began in April 1861, there were only
16,000 men in the U.S. Army, and of these many Southern
officers resigned and joined
the Confederate States Army
The U.S. Army consisted of ten regiments
, four of artillery
, two of cavalry
two of dragoons
, and one of mounted infantry
. The regiments were
scattered widely. Of the 197 companies in the army, 179
occupied 79 isolated posts in the West, and the remaining 18 manned
garrisons east of the Mississippi
River, mostly along the Canadian border and
on the Atlantic
With the secession
of the Southern states
, and with this
drastic shortage of men in the army, President Abraham Lincoln
called on the states to
raise a force of 75,000 men for three months to put down the
"insurrection". Lincoln's call forced the border states to choose
sides, and four more secede, making the Confederacy eleven states
strong. The war proved to be longer and more extensive than anyone
North or South had expected, and on July 22, 1861, Congress
authorized a volunteer army
of 500,000 men.
The call for volunteers initially was easily met by patriotic
, and even
immigrants who enlisted for a steady income and meals. Over 10,000 Germans in New York and Pennsylvania immediately responded to Lincoln's call, and the
French were also quick to
As more men were needed, however, the number of
volunteers fell and both paid bounties and forced conscription had
to be turned to. Nevertheless, between April 1861 and April 1865,
at least two and a half million men served in the Union Army. The
majority were volunteers.
It is a misconception that the South held an advantage because the
large percentage of professional officers who resigned to join the
Confederate States Army
start of the war, there were 824 graduates of the U.S. Military Academy on the active list; of these, 296 resigned or were
dismissed, and 184 of those became Confederate officers.
approximately 900 West Point graduates who were then civilians, 400 returned to
the Union Army and 99 to the Confederate.
ratio of Union to Confederate professional officers was 642 to 283.
(One of the resigning officers was Robert
, who had initially been
offered the assignment as commander of a field army to suppress the
rebellion. Lee disapproved of secession, but refused to
bear arms against his native state, Virginia, and
resigned to accept the position as commander of Virginia
forces. He eventually became the commander of the
Confederate States Army.)
The South did have the advantage of other military colleges, such
Citadel and Virginia Military Institute, but they produced fewer officers.
enlisted men and non-commissioned officers are known to have left
the regular United States Army to join the Confederate Army, all by
Noncommissioned officers of the 93rd
New York Infantry.
The Union Army was composed of numerous organizations, which were
generally organized geographically.
- An organization that covered a defined region, including
responsibilities for the Federal installations therein and for the
field armies within their borders. Those named for states usually
referred to Southern states that had been occupied. It was more
common to name departments for rivers (such as Department of the
Tennessee, Department of
the Cumberland) or regions (Department of the Pacific,
Department of New England, Department of the East, Department of the West, Middle
- A subdivision of a Department (e.g., District of Cairo,
District of East Tennessee). There were also Subdistricts for
- Military Division
- A collection of Departments reporting to one commander (e.g.,
of the Mississippi, Military Division of the Gulf). Military
Divisions were similar to the regions described by the more modern
- The fighting force that was usually, but not always, assigned
to a District or Department but could operate over wider areas.
Some of the most prominent armies were:
- :*Army of
the Cumberland, the army operating primarily in Tennessee, and later Georgia, commanded by William S. Rosecrans and George Henry Thomas.
- :*Army of Georgia, operated in
the March to the Sea and the Carolinas commanded by Henry W. Slocum.
- :*Army of the
Gulf, the army operating in the region bordering the Gulf of Mexico, commanded by Benjamin Butler,
Nathaniel P. Banks, and Edward
- :*Army of the
James, the army operating on the Virginia Peninsula, 1864–65, commanded by Benjamin Butler and Edward Ord.
- :*Army of the
Mississippi, a briefly existing army operating on the
Mississippi River, in two incarnations—under John Pope and William S. Rosecrans in 1862; under John A. McClernand in 1863.
- :*Army of the
Ohio, the army operating primarily in Kentucky and later Tennessee and Georgia, commanded by
Don Carlos Buell, Ambrose E. Burnside, John
G. Foster, and John M. Schofield.
- :*Army of the Potomac, the
principal army in the Eastern Theater,
commanded by George B. McClellan, Ambrose E. Burnside, Joseph Hooker, and George G. Meade.
- :*Army of the Shenandoah, the
army operating in the Shenandoah Valley, under David Hunter,
Philip Sheridan, and Horatio G. Wright.
- :*Army of the Tennessee,
the most famous army in the Western Theater,
operating through Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, and
the Carolinas; commanded by Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, James B. McPherson, and Oliver O. Howard.
- :*Army of
Virginia, the army assembled under John Pope for the Northern
Each of these armies was usually commanded by a major general
. Typically, the
Department or District commander also had field command of the army
of the same name, but some conflicts within the ranks occurred when
this was not true, particularly when an army crossed a geographic
The regular army
term used to describe the permanent United States Army, was
intermixed into various units and formations of the Union Army,
forming a cadre of experienced and skilled troops. They were
regarded by many as elite troops and often held in reserve during
battles in case of emergencies. This force was quite small compared
to the massive state-raised volunteer forces that comprised the
bulk of the Union Army.
Operations in the Civil War were distinctly divided within broad
geographic regions known as theaters
. For overviews of general army
operations and strategies, see articles on the main theaters
including the Western Theater
Soldiers were organized by military specialty. The combat arms
. The Signal Corps
and deployed for the first time, through the leadership of Albert J. Myer
Below major units like armies, soldiers were organized mainly into
, the main fighting unit with
which a soldier would march and be deployed with. Within each
regiment were several companies, each commanded by a captain.
Regiments were almost always raised within a single state, and were
generally referred by number and state, e.g. 54th Massachusetts
, 20th Maine
Regiments were usually grouped into brigades
. However, brigades were changed easily as
the situation demanded. The regiment was the main form of permanent
grouping. Brigades were usually formed once regiments reached the
battlefield, according to where the regiment might be deployed, and
alongside which other regiments.
Several men served as generals-in-chief of the Union Army
throughout its existence:
The gap from March 11 to July 23, 1862, was filled with direct
control of the army by President Lincoln and United States Secretary of
War Edwin M. Stanton
, with the help of an unofficial
"War Board" that was established on March 17, 1862. The board
consisted of Ethan A.
chairman, with Department of War bureau chiefs Lorenzo Thomas
, Montgomery C. Meigs
, Joseph G. Totten
, and Joseph P. Taylor
Scott was an elderly veteran of the War of
and the Mexican-American
and could not perform his duties effectively. His
successor, Maj. Gen.
McClellan, built and
trained the massive Union Army of
, the primary fighting force in the Eastern Theater.
Although he was popular among the soldiers, McClellan was relieved
from his position as general-in-chief because of his overly
cautious strategy and his contentious relationship with his
commander in chief
Lincoln. (He remained commander of the Army of the
Potomac through the Peninsula
Campaign and the Battle of Antietam.) His replacement, Maj.
Gen. Henry W. Halleck
, had a successful record in the
Western Theater, but was more of an administrator than a strategic
planner and commander.
Ulysses S. Grant was the final commander of the Union Army. He was
famous for his victories in the West when he was appointed lieutenant general
general-in-chief of the Union Army in March 1864. Grant supervised
the Army of the Potomac (which was formally led by his subordinate,
Maj. Gen. George G. Meade
) in delivering the final blows to the
Confederacy by engaging Confederate forces in many fierce battles
in Virginia, the Overland
, conducting a war of attrition that the larger Union
Army was able to survive better than its opponent. Grant laid siege to Lee's army at Petersburg, Virginia, and eventually captured Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy.
developed the strategy of coordinated simultaneous thrusts against
wide portions of the Confederacy, most importantly the Georgia and Carolinas Campaigns of William Tecumseh Sherman and the
Valley campaign of Philip
These campaigns were characterized by another
strategic notion of Grant's—deny the enemy the supplies needed to
continue the war by widespread destruction of its factories and
farms along the paths of the invading Union armies.
Grant had critics who complained about the high numbers of
casualties that the Union Army suffered while he was in charge, but
Lincoln would not replace Grant, because, in Lincoln's words: "I
cannot spare this man. He fights."
Among memorable field leaders of the army were William Rosecrans
, George Henry Thomas
and William Tecumseh Sherman
of lesser competence, included Benjamin F. Butler
The decisive victories by Grant and Sherman resulted in the
surrender of the major Confederate armies. The first and most
significant was on April 9, 1865, when Robert E. Lee surrendered
the Army of Northern
Virginia to Grant at Appomattox Court House.
Although there were other Confederate
armies that would surrender in the following weeks, such as
Joseph E. Johnston's in North Carolina, this date was nevertheless symbolic of the end of
the bloodiest war in American history, the end of the Confederate
States of America, and the beginning of the slow process of
Of the 2,213,363 men who served in the Union Army during the Civil
War, 364,511 died in combat, or from injuries sustained in combat,
disease, or other causes, and 281,881 were wounded. More than 1 out
of every 4 Union soldiers was killed or wounded during the war;
casualties in the Confederate Army were even worse—1 in 3 Southern
soldiers were killed or wounded. Though it should be noted that the
Confederates suffered a considerably lower amount of overall
casualties than the Union, at roughly 260,000 total casualties to
the Union's 360,000. This is by far the highest casualty ratio of
any war in which America has been involved. By comparison, 1 out of
every 16 American soldiers was killed or wounded in World War II
, and 1 out of every 22 during the
In total, 620,000 soldiers died during the Civil War. There were 34
million Americans at that time, so 2% of the American male
population died in the war. In today's terms, this would be the
equivalent of 5.9 million American men being killed in a war.
The Union Army was composed of many different ethnic groups,
including large numbers of immigrants. About 25% of the white people
who served in the Union Army were
Breakdown of the approximately 2.2 million Union soldiers:
immigrant soldiers formed their own regiments, such as the Irish Brigade (69th New
York, 63rd New York, 88th New York, 28th Massachusetts,
116th Pennsylvania); the Swiss Rifles (15th Missouri); the Gardes Lafayette (55th New York); the
Garibaldi Guard (39th New York); the Martinez Militia (1st New
Mexico); the Polish Legion (58th New York); the German Rangers
(52nd New York); the Highlander Regiment (79th New York); and the
Scandinavian Regiment (15th Wisconsin).
- 1,000,000 (45.4% of all Union soldiers) native-born Americans of British ancestry.
- 516,000 (23.4%) Germans; about 216,000
were born in Germany.
- 210,000 (9.5%) African
American. Half were freedmen who lived in the North, and half
were ex-slaves or escaped
slaves from the South. They served in more than 160 "colored"
regiments. One such regiment, the 54th Massachusetts, is dramaticized in
the film Glory. Others served
under white officers in Federal regiments organized as the United States Colored Troops
- 200,000 (9.1%) Irish.
- 90,000 (4.1%) Dutch.
- 50,000 (2.3%) Canadian.
- 50,000 (2.3%) born in England.
- 40,000 (1.8%) French or French Canadian. About half were born
in the United States of America, the other half in Quebec.
- 20,000 (0.9%) Scandinavian (Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish).
- 7,000 Italian
- 7,000 Jewish
- 6,000 Mexican
- 5,000 Polish (many of whom
served in the Polish Legion of
Brig. Gen. Włodzimierz
- 4,000 Native
- Several hundred of other various nationalities.
But for the most
part, the foreign-born soldiers were scattered as individuals
For comparison, the Confederate Army was not very diverse: 91% of
Confederate soldiers were native born and only 9% were
foreign-born, Irish being the largest group with others including
Germans, French, Mexicans (though most of them simply happened to
have been born when the Southwest was still part of Mexico), and
British. Some Southern propaganda
compared foreign-born soldiers in the Union Army to the hated
of the American Revolution
. As well, a
relatively small number of Native Americans (Cherokee
, and Creek
) fought for the Confederacy.
Army administration and issues
Various organizational and administrative issues arose during the
war, which had a major effect on subsequent military
Blacks in the army
The inclusion of blacks as combat soldiers became a major issue.
Eventually, it was realized, especially after the valiant effort of
Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry
in the Battle of Fort Wagner
that blacks were fully able to serve as competent and reliable
soldiers. This was partly due to the efforts of Robert Smalls
, who, while still a slave, won
fame by defecting from the Confederacy, and bringing a Confederate
transport ship which he was piloting. He later met with Edwin Stanton
, Secretary of War, to argue for
including blacks in combat units. This led to the formation of the
first combat unit for black soldiers, the 1st South Carolina
. Regiments for black soldiers were eventually
referred to as United
States Colored Troops
. The blacks were paid less than white
soldiers until late in the war and were treated harshly. This is
one of the biggest reasons why they protested.
Battlefield supplies were a major problem. They were greatly
improved by new techniques in preserving food and other
perishables, and in transport by railroad. General Montgomery C. Meigs
was one of the most important
Union Army leaders in this field.
Medical care was, at first, extremely disorganized and substandard.
Gradually, medical experts began calling for higher standards, and
created an agency known as the United States Sanitary
. This created professional standards, and led to
some of the first advances in battlefield medicine
as a separate
specialty. General William
of the Medical
did some major work and provided some important
leadership in this area.
Additionally, care of the wounded was greatly improved by medical
pioneers such as Clara Barton
often worked alone to provide supplies and care, and brought a new
level of dedication to caring for the wounded.
The Civil War drove many innovations in military strategy. It
brought the first mass movement of troops by railroad
. The electric telegraph
was used by both sides, which enabled
political and senior military leaders to pass orders to and receive
reports from commanders in the field.
There were many other innovations brought by necessity. It also
forced generals to reexamine the Napoleonic infantry tactics of
maneuvering large groups of soldiers towards the enemy by walking
as a single mass. The improvement of the rifle
made this tactic almost obsolete, as defenders could cause more
damage at a long range. Thus the Civil War saw the beginning of
modern tactics of mobility.
Desertions and draft riots
was a major problem for both
sides. The daily hardships of war, forced marches, thirst,
suffocating heat, disease, delay in pay, solicitude for family,
impatience at the monotony and futility of inactive service, panic
on the eve of battle, the sense of war weariness, the lack of
confidence in commanders, and the discouragement of defeat
(especially early on for the Union Army), all tended to lower the
morale of the Union Army and to increase desertion.
In 1861 and 1862, the war was going badly for the Union Army and
there were, by some counts, 180,000 desertions. In 1863 and 1864,
the bitterest two years of the war, the Union Army suffered over
200 desertions every day
, for a total of 150,000
desertions during those two years. This puts the total number of
desertions from the Union Army during the four years of the war at
nearly 350,000. Using these numbers, 15% of Union soldiers deserted
during the war. Official numbers put the number of deserters from
the Union Army at 200,000 for the entire war, or about 8% of Union
Army soldiers. It is estimated that 1 out of 3 deserters returned
to their regiments, either voluntarily or after being arrested and
being sent back.
Many of the desertions were by "professional" bounty men, men who
would enlist to collect the often large cash bonuses and then
desert at the earliest opportunity to do the same elsewhere. If not
caught, it could prove a very lucrative criminal enterprise.
The Irish were also the main participants in the famous "New York Draft Riots
" of 1863 (as
dramatized in the film Gangs of
). The Irish had shown the strongest support for
Southern aims prior to the start of the war and had long had an
enmity with black populations in several Northern cities dating
back to nativist attacks on Irish immigrants in the 1840s, when it
was observed that blacks, who rivaled the Irish at the bottom of
the economic ladder, were frequently reported encouraging on
nativist mobs. With the view that the war was an upper class
abolitionist war led in large part by former nativists to free a
large black population, which might move north and compete for jobs
and housing with the poor Irish and others, it could hardly be
expected that the poorer classes would welcome the draft that a
richer man could buy his way out of. As a result of the
Enrollment Act, rioting began in
several Northern cities, the most heavily hit being New York City. A mob reported as consisting principally of
Irish immigrants rioted in the summer of 1863, with the worst
violence occurring in July during the Battle of
The mob set fire to everything from African
American churches and an orphanage to the office of the
New York Tribune
principal victims of the rioting were African Americans and
activists in the anti-slavery movement. Not until victory was
achieved at Gettysburg could the Union Army be sent in; some units
had to open fire to quell the violence and stop the rioters. By the
time the rioting was over, perhaps up to 1,000 people had been
killed or wounded (estimates varied widely, then and now).
- Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David
J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University
Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
- Hattaway, Herman, and Jones, Archer, How the North Won: A
Military History of the Civil War, University of Illinois
Press, 1983, ISBN 0-252-00918-5.
- McPherson, James M., What
They Fought For, 1861-1865, Louisiana State University Press,
1994, ISBN 978-0807119044.
- Grant, Ulysses S., Personal
Memoirs of U. S. Grant, Charles L. Webster & Company,
1885–86, ISBN 0-914427-67-9.
- See, for example, usage in Grant, Preface p. 3.
- Hattaway & Jones, pp.9-10.
- Hattaway & Jones, p. 10.
- Eicher, pp.37-38.
- McPherson, pp.36-37.
- Laurence Otis Graham notes that there were as many as 345,000
blacks in the Union Army and Navy in his book on the career of
Blanche Kelso Bruce, The Senator and
the Socialite (2006).