Combatants of the Civil War

By William Charles Henry Wood, 1921

Civil War Map

Civil War Map

No map can show the exact dividing line between the actual combatants of North and South. Eleven states seceded: Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas. But the mountain folk of western Virginia and eastern Tennessee were strong Unionists, and West Virginia became a state while the war was being fought. On the other hand, though officially Federal under the stress of circumstances, the four border States were divided against themselves.

In Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and Kansas, many citizens took the Southern side. Maryland would have gone with the South if it had not been for the presence of overwhelming Northern seapower and the absence of any promising land frontier of her own. Kentucky remained neutral for several months. Missouri was saved for the Union by those two resourceful and determined men, Lyon and Blair. Kansas, though preponderantly Unionist, had many Confederates along its southern boundary. On the whole, the Union gained significantly throughout the borderlands as the war went on; and the remaining Confederate hold on the border people was more than counterbalanced by the Federal hold on those in the western parts of old Virginia and the eastern parts of Tennessee. Among the small seafaring population along the Southern coast, there were also some strongly Union men.

Counting out Northern Confederates and Southern Federals as canceling each other, so far as effective fighting was concerned, a comparison made between the North and South along the line of actual secession reveals the one real advantage the South enjoyed all through–an overwhelming party in favor of the war. Once the die was cast, there was undoubtedly not a tenth of the Southern whites who did not belong to the war party; and the peace party always had to hold its tongue. The Southerners formed simpler and far more homogeneous communities of the old long-settled stock and were more inclined to act together once their feelings were profoundly stirred.

The Northern communities, on the other hand, being far more complex and far less homogeneous, were plagued with peace parties that grew like human weeds, clogging the springs of action everywhere. There were immigrants new to the country and therefore not inclined to take risks for a cause they had not learned to make their own. There were also naturalized, and even American-born, aliens, aliens in speech, race, thought, and every way of life. Then there were the oppositionists of different kinds, who would not support any war government; however, it might be like a perfect coalition. Some Northerners did business with the South, especially the men who financed the cotton and tobacco crops.

The Copperhead Party - in favor of a vigorous prosecution of peace!

The Copperhead Party – in favor of a vigorous prosecution of peace!

Others, again, were those loose-tongued folk who think any vexed question can be settled by unlimited talk. Next came those “defeatist” cranks who always think their side must be wrong and who are of no more practical use than the out-and-out “pacifists” who think everybody is wrong except themselves. Finally, there was those slippery folk who tried to evade all public duty, especially when it smacks of danger. These skulkers flourish best in large and complex populations, where they may even masquerade as patriots of the kind so well described by Lincoln when he said how often he had noticed that the men who were loudest in proclaiming their readiness to shed their last drop of blood were generally the most careful not to shed the first.

Many of these fustian heroes formed the mushroom secret societies that played their vile extravaganza right under the shadow of the real tragedy of war. Worse still, not content with the abracadabra of their silly oaths, the busybody members made all the mischief they could during Lincoln’s last election. Worst of all, they not only tried their hands at political assassination in the North, but they lured many a gallant Confederate to his death by promising to rise in their might for a “Free Northwest” the moment the Southern troopers should appear. Needless to say, not a single one of the whole bombastic band of cowards stirred a finger to help the Confederate troopers who rode to their doom on Morgan’s Raid through Indiana and Ohio.

The peace party wore a copper as a badge and became known as “Copperheads,” much to the disgust of its more inflated members, who called themselves the Sons of Liberty. With a better appreciation of how names and things should be connected, the war party used their own descriptive “Copperhead” in its appropriate meaning of a poisonous snake in the grass behind.

The Indians would have preferred neutrality between the two kinds of inevitably dispossessing whites. But neutrality was impossible in what was then the Far West. Not ten thousand Indians fought for both sides put together. On the whole, they fought well as skirmishers, though they rarely withstood shell fire, even when their cover was good and their casualties small.

African-American Soldier

African-American Soldier

The ten times more numerous negroes were naturally a much more serious factor. The North encouraged the employment of colored labor corps and even colored soldiers, especially after Emancipation. But the vast majority of negroes, whether slave or free, preferred or put up with their Southern masters, whom they generally served faithfully enough either in military labor corps or on the old plantations. As the colored population of the South was three and a half million, this general fidelity was of great importance to the forces in the field.

The total population of the United States in 1861 was about thirty-one and a half million. Of this total twenty-two and a half belonged to the North and nine to the South. The grand total odds were, therefore, five against two. The odds against the South rise to four against one if the blacks are left out. There were twenty-two million whites in the North against five and a half in the South.

But to reach the real fighting odds of three to one, we must also eliminate the peace parties, large in the North, small in the South. If we take a tenth off the Southern whites and a third off the Northern grand total, we shall get the approximate war-party odds of three to one, for these subtractions leave fifteen million in the North against only five in the South.

This gives the statistical key to the startling contrasts that were so often noted by foreign correspondents at the time and are still so puzzling in the absence of the key. The war visibly changed the everyday life of the South. But in the North, the inquiring foreigner could find, on the one hand, the most steadfast loyalty and heroic sacrifice, both in the Northern armies and among their folks at home, while on the other he could find a wholly different kind of life flaunting its most shameless features in his face. The theaters were crowded. Profiteers abounded, taking their pleasures with ravenous greed; for the best of their blood, money would end with the war.

There was the same fundamental difference between the patriots who carried on the war and the parasites that hindered them. Of course, the two-thirds who made up the war party were not all saints or perfect patriots.

Nor was the other third composed exclusively of wanton sinners. There were, for instance, the genuine settlers whom the Union Government encouraged to occupy the West, beyond the actual reach of war. But the distinction remains.

Though sorely hampered, the Union Government did, on the whole, succeed in turning the vast and varied resources of the North against the much smaller and less varied resources of the South. The North held the machinery of the national government, though with the loss of a good quarter of the engineers. In agriculture of, all kinds both North and South were very strong for purposes of peace. Each had food in superabundance. But the trading strength of the South lay in cotton and tobacco, neither of which could be turned into money without going north or to sea. In finance, the North was overwhelmingly strong, especially because Northern seapower shut off the South from all its foreign markets. In manufactures, the South could not compare at all.

The army moving around the circumference is said to be operating on exterior lines, while the army moving from point to the point of the circumference by the straighter, and therefore shorter, lines inside is said to be operating on interior lines. In more homely language, the straight road beats the crooked one. In plain slang, it’s best to have the inside track.

Of course, there is a reverse to all this. If the roads, rails, and waterways are better around the circle than inside it, then the odds may be turned the other way; and this happens most often when the forces on the exterior lines are better provided with seapower.

Again, suppose the exterior forces are so much stronger than the interior forces that these latter dare not leave any strategic point open in case the enemy breaks through. In that case, it is evident that the interior forces will suffer all the disadvantages of being surrounded, divided, worn out, and defeated.

Federal Soldiers of the Civil War

Federal Soldiers of the Civil War

Northern factories alone could not supply the armies. But finance and factories together could. The Southern soldier looked to the battlefield and the raiding of a base for supplying many of his most pressing needs in arms, equipment, clothing, and even food– for Southern transport suffered from many disabilities. Fierce wolfish cries would mingle with the rebel yell in battle when the two sides closed. “You’ve got to leave your rations!”–“Come out of them clothes!”–“Take off them boots, Yank!”–“Come on, blue bellies, we want them blankets!”

It was the same in almost every kind of goods. The South made next to none for herself and had to import from the North or overseas. The North could buy silk for balloons. The South could not. The Southern women gave in their whole supply of silk for the big balloon lost during the Seven Days’ Battle in the second year of the war. The Southern soldiers never forgave what they considered the ungallant trick of the Northerners who took this many-hued balloon from a steamer stranded on a bar at low tide down near the mouth of the James. Thus fell the last silk dress, a queer tribute to Northern seapower! Northern seapower also cut off nearly everything the sick and wounded needed, which raised the death rate of the Southern forces far beyond the corresponding death rate in the North. Again, preserved rations were almost unknown in the South. But they were plentiful throughout the Northern armies: far too plentiful, indeed, for the taste of the men, who got “fed up” on the desiccated vegetables and concentrated milk, which they rechristened “desecrated vegetables” and “consecrated milk.”

U.S.S. Sabine in 1864

U.S.S. Sabine in 1864

There is the same tale to tell about transport and munitions. Outside the Tredegar Iron Works at Richmond, the only places where Southern cannon could be made were Charlotte in North Carolina, Atlanta and Macon in Georgia, and Selma in Alabama. The North had many places, each with a superior plant, besides which the oversea munition world was far more at the service of the open-ported North than of the close-blockaded South. What seapower meant in this respect may be estimated from the fact that out of the more than three-quarters of a million rifles bought by the North in the first fourteen months of the war, all but a beggarly thirty thousand came from overseas.

Transport was done by road, rail, sea, and inland waters. Other things being equal, a hundred tons could be moved by water as easily as ten by rail or one by road. Now, the North not only enjoyed enormous advantages in seapower, both mercantile and naval, but in the road, rail, canal, and river transport too.

The road transport that affected both sides most was chiefly in the South because most maneuverings took place there. “Have you been through Virginia? — Yes, in several places” is a witticism that might be applied to many other states where muddy sloughs abounded. In horses, mules, and vehicles, the richer North wore out, the poorer and blockaded South. Both sides sent troops, munitions, and supplies by rail whenever they could, and here, as a glance at the map will show, the North greatly surpassed the South in mileage, strategic disposition, and every other way.

The South had only one through-line from the Atlantic to the  Mississippi, and this ran across that Northern salient, which threatened the South from the southwestern Alleghenies. The other rails all had the strategic defect of not being convenient for rapid concentration by land, for most of the Southern rails were laid to get surplus cotton and tobacco overseas. The strategic gap at Petersburg was due to a very different cause; to keep its local transfers, the town refused to let the most important Virginian lines connect.

Taking seapower in its fullest sense, including all naval and mercantile parts on both salt and fresh water, we can quite understand how it helped the nautical North get the stranglehold on the landsman’s South. The great bulk of the whole external trade of the South was done by shipping. But, though the South was strong in exportable goods, it was very weak in ships. It owned comparatively few of the vessels that carried its rice, cotton, and tobacco crops to market and brought back made goods in return. Yankees, Britishers, and Bluenoses (as Nova Scotian craft were called) did most overseas transportation.

Moreover, the North was vastly stronger than the South on all the inland waters that were not “Secesh” from end to end. The map shows how Northern seapower could not only divide the South in two but almost enisled the eastern part.

A battle at sea

A battle at sea

Holding the Mississippi would affect the division, while holding the Ohio would make the eastern part a peninsula, with the upper end of the isthmus safe in Northern hands between Pittsburgh, the great coal and iron inland port, and  Philadelphia, the great seaport, less than three hundred miles away. The same isthmus narrows to less than two hundred miles between Pittsburgh and Harrisburg (on the Susquehanna River), and its whole line is almost equally safe in Northern hands. A little farther south, along the disputed borderlands, it narrows to less than 100 miles, from Pittsburgh to Cumberland (on the Potomac canal). This is not the narrowest part of the isthmus, less than70 miles across from Cumberland to Brownsville (on the Monongahela) and less than 50 from Cumberland to Ohiopyle Falls (on the Youghiogheny). These last distances are measured between places that are only fit for minor navigation. But even small craft had an enormous advantage over road and rail together when bulky stores were moved. So Northern seapower could make its controlling influence felt in one continuous line all around the eastern South, except for 50 miles where the small craft was concerned and for 200 miles in the case of larger vessels. These two hundred miles of land were between the Ohio River port of Wheeling and the Navy Yard at Washington.

Nor was this virtual enlistment the only advantage to be won. For a while, the strong right arm of Union seapower, facing northward from the Gulf, could hold the coast. Its sinewy left could hold the Mississippi. The supple left fingers could feel their way along the tributary streams until the clutching hand had got its grip on the whole of the Ohio, Cumberland, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, and Red Rivers. This meant that the North would not only enjoy the vast advantages of transport by water over transport by land but that it would cause the best lines of invasion to be opened up as well.

Civil War Ships by Henry Bill, 1862.

Civil War Ships by Henry Bill, 1862.

Of course, the South had some seapower of her own. Nine-tenths of the United States Navy stood by the Union. But, with the remaining tenth and some foreign help, the South managed to contrive the makeshift parts of what might have become a navy if the North had only let it grow. The North, however, did not let it grow.

Though very small to start with, the regular navy of the United States was always strong enough to keep the command of the sea and prevent the makeshift Southern parts of a navy from ever becoming a whole. Privateers took out letters of marque to prey on Northern shipping. But privateering soon withered off because prizes could not be run through the blockade in sufficient numbers to make it pay, and no prize would be recognized except in a Southern port. Raiders did better and for a much longer time. The Shenandoah was burning Northern whalers in the Bering Sea at the end of the war. The Sumter and the Florida cut a wide swath under instructions which “left much to discretion and more to the torch.” The famous Alabama only succumbed to the U.S.S. Kearsarge after sinking the Hatteras man-of-war and raiding seventy other vessels. Yet still the South, despite her ironclads, raiders, and rams, despite her river craft, of the home ships or foreigners that ran the blockade, and of all her other efforts, was a landsman’s country that could make no real headway against the native seapower of the North.

Perhaps the worst of all the disabilities under which the abortive Southern navy suffered was lubberly administration and gross civilian interference. The administration actually refused to buy the beginnings of a ready-made sea-going fleet when it had the offer of ten British East Indiamen specially built for rapid conversion into men-of-war. Forty thousand bales of cotton would have bought the lot. The Mississippi record was even worse. Five conflicting authorities divided the undefined and overlapping responsibilities between them: the Confederate Government, the State governments, the army, the navy, and the Mississippi skippers. A typical result may be seen in the fate of the 14 “rams” which were absurdly mishandled by 14 independent civilian skippers with two civilian commodores. This “River Defense Fleet” was “backed by the whole Missouri delegation” at Richmond, and blessed by the Confederate Secretary of War, Judah P. Benjamin, that very clever lawyer-politician and ever-smiling Jew. Six of the fourteen “rams” were lost, with sheer futility, at New Orleans in April 1862; the rest at Memphis the following June.

As a matter of fact, the Confederate navy never had, but one real man-of-war, the famous Merrimac, and she was a mere razee, cut down for a particular purpose and too feebly engined to keep the sea. Even the equally famous Alabama was only a raider, never meant for action with a fleet.

Over three hundred officers left the United States Navy for the South; but, as in the case of the Army, they were followed by very few men. The total personnel of the regular Confederate navy never exceeded four thousand at any one time.

Confederate Ironclad Steamer, the Merrimac

Confederate Ironclad Steamer, the Merrimac

The irregular forces afloat often did gallant, and sometimes even skillful, service in little-isolated ways. But when massed together, they were always at sixes and sevens, and they could never do more than make the best of a very bad business indeed. The Secretary of the Confederate navy, Stephen R. Mallory, was not to blame. He was one of the very few civilians who understood and tried to follow any naval principles at all. He had done good work as chairman of the Naval Committee in the Senate before the war and learned more than his Northern rival, Gideon Welles. He often saw what should have been done. But men and means were lacking.

Men and means were also lacking in the naval North at the time the war began. But the small regular navy was invincible against next to none, and it enjoyed many means of expansion denied to the South.

On the outbreak of hostilities, the United States Navy had ninety ships and about nine thousand men–all ranks and ratings (with marines) included. The age of steam had come. But fifty vessels had no steam at all. Of the rest, one was on the Lakes, five were quite unserviceable, and thirty-four were scattered about the world without the slightest thought of mobilizing a fleet at home. The age of ironclads had begun already overseas. But in his report to Congress on July 4, 1861, Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, only made some wholly non-committal observations in ponderous “officialese.” In August, he appointed a committee that began its report in September with the sage remark that “Opinions differ amongst naval and scientific men as to the policy of adopting the iron armament for ships-of-war.” In December, Welles transmitted this report to Congress with the still sager remark that “The subject of iron armature for ships is one of great general interest, not only to the navy and country but is engaging the attention of the civilized world.” Such was the higher administrative preparation for the ironclad battle of the following year.

It was the same in everything. The people had taken no interest in the navy, and Congress had faithfully represented them by denying the service all chance of preparing for war till after war had broken out. Then there was the usual hurry and horrible waste. Fortunately for all concerned, Gideon Welles, after vainly groping about the administrative maze for the first five months, called Gustavus V. Fox to his assistance. Fox had been a naval officer of exceptional promise, who had left the service to go into business, who had a natural turn for administration, and who now made an almost ideal Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He was, indeed, far more than this, for, in most essentials, he acted throughout the war as a regular Chief of Staff.

One of the greatest troubles was the glut of senior officers who were too old and the alarming shortage of juniors fit for immediate work afloat. After the disaster at Bull Run, Congress authorized the formation of a Promotion Board to see what could be done to clear the active list and make it a list of officers fit for active service. Up to this time, there had been no system of retiring men for inefficiency or age. An officer who did not retire of his own accord simply went on rising automatically till he died. The president of this board had himself turned sixty. But he was the thoroughly efficient David Glasgow Farragut, a man who was to do greater things afloat than even Fox could do ashore. How badly active officers were wanted may be inferred from the fact that before the appointment of Farragut’s promotion board, the total number of regular officers remaining in the navy was only 1457. Intensive training was tried at the Naval Academy.

Yet 7500 volunteer officers had to be used before the war was over. These came mostly from the merchant service and were generally brave, capable, first-rate men. But a nautical is not the same as naval training, and the dearth of good professional naval officers was felt to the end. The number of enlisted seamen authorized by Congress rose from 7600 to 51,500. But the very greatest difficulty was found in “keeping up to strength,” even with the most lavish use of bounties.

The number of vessels in the navy kept on growing all through. Of course, not nearly all of them were regular men-of-war or even fighting craft “fit to go foreign.” At the end of the first year, there were 264 in commission; at the end of the second, 427; at the end of the third, 588; and at the end of the fourth, 671.

Bearing this in mind and remembering the many other Northern odds, one might easily imagine that the Southern armies fought only with the courage of despair. Yet, such was not the case. This was no ordinary war, to be ended by a treaty in which compromise would play its part. There could be only two alternatives: either the South would win her independence, or the North would have to beat her into complete submission. Under the circumstances, the united South would win whenever the divided North thought that complete subjugation would cost more than it was worth. Therefore, the great aim of the South was not to conquer the North but to sicken the North from trying to conquer her. “Let us alone, and we’ll let you alone” was her insinuating argument, and this, as she knew very well, was echoed by many people in the North. Thus, regarding her own objective, she began with hopes that the Northern peace party never quite let die.

Federal Navy Officers, 1862

Federal Navy Officers, 1862

Then, so far as her patriotic feelings were concerned, the South was not fighting for anyone point at issue–not even for slavery, because only a small minority held slaves–but for her whole way of life, which, rightly or wrongly, she wanted to live in her own Southern way; and she passionately resented the invasion of her soil. This gave her army very high morale, which, in its turn, inclined her soldiers the better to appreciate their real or imagined advantages over the Northern hosts. First, they and their enemies both knew that they enjoyed the three real advantages of fighting at home under magnificent leaders and interior lines. Robert Lee and Stonewall Jackson stood head and shoulders above any Northern leaders till Grant and Sherman rose to greatness during the latter half of the war.

Like Jackson and several more, Lee himself was never surpassed, and he made the best use of home surroundings and interior lines. Anybody can appreciate the prime advantage of interior lines by imagining two armies of equal strength operating against each other under perfectly equal conditions, except that one has to move around the circumference of a circle while the other moves to meet it along the shorter lines inside.

Stonewall Jackson

Stonewall Jackson

The army moving around the circumference is said to be operating on exterior lines, while the army moving from point to point of the circumference by the straighter, and therefore shorter, lines inside is said to be operating on interior lines. In more homely language, the straight road beats the crooked one. In plain slang, it’s best to have the inside track.

Of course, there is a reverse to all this. If the roads, rails, and waterways are better around the circle than inside it, then the odds may be turned the other way; and this happens most often when the forces on the exterior lines are better provided with seapower.

Again, suppose the exterior forces are so much stronger than the interior forces that these latter dare not leave any strategic point open in case the enemy breaks through. In that case, it is evident that the interior forces will suffer all the disadvantages of being surrounded, divided, worn out, and defeated.

This happened at last to the South and was one of the four advantages she lost. Another was the hope of foreign intervention, which died hard in Southern hearts but was already moribund halfway through the war. A third was the hope of dissension in the North, a hope which often ran high till Lincoln’s reelection in November 1864, and one which only died out entirely with the surrender of Lee. The fourth was the unfounded belief that Southerners were the better fighting men.

They certainly had an advantage at first in having a larger proportion of men accustomed to horses and arms and inured to life in the open. But, other things being equal, there was nothing to choose between the two sides, so far as natural fighting values were concerned.

Practically all the Southern “military males” passed into the ranks, and a military male eventually meant anyone who could march to the front or do non-combatant service with an army, from boys in their teens to men in their sixties. Conscription came after one year with very few exemptions, such as the clergy, Quakers, doctors, newspaper editors, and “indispensable” civil servants. Lee used to express his regret that all the greatest strategists were tied to their editorial chairs. But sterner feelings were aroused against that recalcitrant State Governor, Joseph Brown of Georgia, who declared eight thousand of his civil servants to be exempt. From first to last, conscripts and volunteers, nearly a million men were enrolled: equaling one-fifth of the entire war-party white population of the seceding States.

Conquered Banner of the Confederacy

Conquered Banner of the Confederacy.

All branches of the service suffered from a constant lack of arms and munitions. As with the ships for the navy, so with munitions for the army, the South did not exploit the European markets while her ports were still half open and her credit good, Jefferson Davis was spotlessly honest, an able bureaucrat, and full of undying zeal. But, though an old West Pointer, he was neither a foresightful organizer nor fit to exercise any of the executive power which he held as the constitutional commander-in-chief by land and sea. He ordered rifles by the thousand instead of by the hundred thousand, and he told his Cabinet that if he could only take one wing while Lee took the other, they would surely beat the North. Worse still, he and his politicians kept the commissariat under civilian orders and full of civilian interference, even at the front, which, in this respect, was always a house divided against itself.

The little regular army of ’61, only sixteen thousand strong, stood by the Union almost to a man, though a quarter of the officers went over to the South. Yet, the enlisted man was despised even by the common loafers who would not fight if they could help it. “Why don’t you come in?” asked a zealous lady at a distribution of patriotic gifts, “aren’t you one of our heroes?” “No, ma’am,” answered the soldier, “I’m only a regular.”

The command question was often vexed, and many mistakes were made before the final answers came. The most significant of all emergent facts was this: that though the officers who had been regulars before the war did not form a hundredth part of all who held commissions during it, yet these old regulars alone supplied every successful high commander, Federal and Confederate alike, both afloat and ashore.

The North had four times as many whites as the South; it used more blacks as soldiers, and the complete total of all the men who joined its forces during the war reached two million and three-quarters. But this gives a pretty misleading idea of the actual odds in favor of the North, especially the odds available in battle. A third of the Northern people belonged to the peace party and furnished no recruits until after conscription came in. The late introduction of conscription, the abominable substitution clause, and the prevalence of bounty-jumping combined to reduce the quantity and quality of the recruits obtained by money or compulsion. The Northerners that did fight were generally fighting in the South, among a very hostile population, which, while it made the Southern lines of communication perfectly safe, threatened those of the North at every point and thus obliged the Northern armies to leave more and more men behind to guard the communications that each advance made longer still. Finally, the South generally published the numbers of only its actual combatants, while the Northern returns always included every man drawing pay, whether a combatant or not. Overall, the North had more than double numbers, even if compared with a Southern total that includes non-combatants. But it should be remembered that a Northern army fighting in the heart of the South, and therefore having to guard every mile of the way back home, could not meet a Southern one with equal strength in battle unless it had left the North with fully twice as many.

Conscription came a year later (1863) in the North than in the South and was vitiated by a substitution clause. The fact that a man could buy himself out of danger made some patriots call it “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” And the further fact that substitutes generally became regular bounty-jumpers, who joined and deserted at will, over and over again, went far to increase the disgust of those who served. Frank Wilkeson’s “Recollections of a Private Soldier in the Army of the Potomac” is a true voice from the ranks when he explains “how the resort to volunteering, the unprincipled dodge of cowardly politicians, ground up the choicest seed corn of the nation; how it consumed the young, the patriotic, the intelligent, the generous, and the brave; and how it wasted the best moral, social, and political elements of the Republic, leaving the cowards, shirkers, egotists, and moneymakers to stay at home and procreate their kind.” That is to say; it was so arranged that the foggy-witted lived while the lion-hearted died.

The organization of the vast numbers enrolled was excellent whenever experts were given a free hand. But this freehand was rare. One vital point only needs special notice here: the wastefulness of raising new regiments when the old ones were withering away for want of reinforcements. A new local regiment made a better “story” in the press, and new and extra regiments meant new and superfluous colonels, mainly of the speechifying kind. So it often happened that the State authorities felt obliged to humor zealots set on raising those brand-new regiments which doubled their difficulties by having to learn their lesson alone, halved the efficiency of the old regiments they should have reinforced, and harassed the commanders and staff by increasing the number of units that were of different and ever-changing efficiency and strength. It was a system of making and breaking all through.

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The end came when Northern sea power had strangled the Southern resources, and the unified Northern armies had worn out the fighting force. Of the single million soldiers raised by the South, only two hundred thousand remained in arms, half-starved, half-clad, with the scantiest of munitions, and without reserves of any kind. Meanwhile, the Northern hosts had risen to a million in the field, well-fed, well clothed, well-armed, abundantly provided with munitions, and at last well-disciplined under the unified command of that great leader, Grant. Moreover, behind this million stood another million fit to bear arms and obtainable at will from the two million enrolled reserves.

The cost of the war was astonishing. But the losses of war are not to be measured in money. The actual loss was the loss of a million men on both sides put together, for these men who died were of the nation’s best.

Compiled and edited by Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2021.

About the Author –  The Combatants is the second chapter in William Charles Henry Wood’s Captains of the Civil War, A Chronicle of the Blue and the Gray, published in 1921 by Brook Glasgow in Toronto, Canada. Woods also authored several other books, including The Father of British Canada: A Chronicle of Carleton, The Great Fortress: A Chronicle of Louisbourg, The Passing of New France: A Chronicle of Montcalm, The Winning of Canada: A Chronicle of Wolfe, and many others.