Discussion Average number of days of combat for a soldier during the civil war?

Waterloo50

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Last night I was watching a tv documentary called ‘The lost tapes of Vietnam’, at the end of one of the episodes the claim was made that during WW2, troops would see an average of 10 days combat in one year, during the Vietnam war the average number of combat days increased to 240 per year, of course, these claims made me wonder about the number of combat hours a soldier could expect to see during the civil war. My question is this, Has there been any research carried out that gives us any idea how many combat hours a CW soldier would experience or is it impossible to know?
Thank you in advance.👍
 

John Hartwell

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How would you even calculate such a figure?

There were scores, possibly hundreds of regiments, battalions, independent companies that never saw combat at all, or even an active campaign. You would be comparing men who served 3 months, 9 months, a year, 3 years, or the duration of the war.

You might take it regiment by regiment, I suppose ... how many days each spent on active campaign, skirmishing, in battle ... but, which man was present or absent at a particular fire-fight?

I don't see any way to come up with a meaningful figure.
 

Waterloo50

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How would you even calculate such a figure?

There were scores, possibly hundreds of regiments, battalions, independent companies that never saw combat at all, or even an active campaign. You would be comparing men who served 3 months, 9 months, a year, 3 years, or the duration of the war.

You might take it regiment by regiment, I suppose ... how many days each spent on active campaign, skirmishing, in battle ... but, which man was present or absent at a particular fire-fight?

I don't see any way to come up with a meaningful figure.
That’s probably why I can’t finding anything, there must be a way though, they managed to work out the average for WW2 and given the vast number of troops involved in that war they still came up with an answer.

What’s your thinking, higher or lower than a WW2 soldier. I’m thinking that it would probably be more, but I’ve nothing to support that. It seems to me from the accounts of soldiers that I’ve read that some CW soldiers found themselves moving from one battle to another or indeed involved in battles that lasted for days.
 

Waterloo50

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The other interesting question about this issue is how many of the original volunteers of 1861 were still in the ranks by 1865. Or if we consider the 3 year Union men, how many who joined (or what percentage), were able to complete their terms of service.
That creates another question, what was the average life expectancy. I expect it depends on the hours of combat a soldiers was involved in.
 

jackt62

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That creates another question, what was the average life expectancy. I expect it depends on the hours of combat a soldiers was involved in.
For sure. I don't have an answer to those questions; I suspect however, that there was less rotation of fighting units from combat operations then may been the case in later wars. So the odds of being involved in combat may have been higher for the average CW soldier.
 

Joshism

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1. How are we defining combat? Firing at an enemy or being fired upon by them, for any duration?

2. Are we only counting infantry regiments? Among only regiments that saw combat?

A big difference between WW2 and the ACW is the vast increases in the number of support units in 20th century armies. Many served behind the lines without ever coming under fire.

In the ACW the answer varies wildly. A regiment in the AOTP probably saw more combat in 1864 than 1861-1863 combined. Heavy artillery units saw no combat in DC in 1863 then a lot of combat with the AOTP in 1864. A regiment that spent the entire war guarding the B&O RR might have had a few fights with guerillas but nothing more.

The big difference between Vietnam and earlier conflicts is thar there ceased to be a front line. In WW2, you might have to worry about an occasional air raid, but otherwise if you were behind the lines you were pretty safe. There was no safe place in Vietnam.

For broad strokes, maybe look at how many days specific armies were engaged in the ACW?
 

Lincoln56

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1. How are we defining combat? Firing at an enemy or being fired upon by them, for any duration?

2. Are we only counting infantry regiments? Among only regiments that saw combat?

A big difference between WW2 and the ACW is the vast increases in the number of support units in 20th century armies. Many served behind the lines without ever coming under fire.

In the ACW the answer varies wildly. A regiment in the AOTP probably saw more combat in 1864 than 1861-1863 combined. Heavy artillery units saw no combat in DC in 1863 then a lot of combat with the AOTP in 1864. A regiment that spent the entire war guarding the B&O RR might have had a few fights with guerillas but nothing more.

The big difference between Vietnam and earlier conflicts is thar there ceased to be a front line. In WW2, you might have to worry about an occasional air raid, but otherwise if you were behind the lines you were pretty safe. There was no safe place in Vietnam.

For broad strokes, maybe look at how many days specific armies were engaged in the ACW?

Excellent question - Perhaps this wasn't considered an essential statistic in the ACW?

Rotation wasn't common, if at all, other than the occasional furlough? Weren't ACW troops rotated out for specific reasons otherwise no? For example the quelling of the New York draft riots by the Union or Longstreet's Suffolk campaign where gathering forage was a main objective.

Even in WW1, arguably the definition of a static front line war, the troops were rotated in and out of the front line on a regular basis.
Though does random sniping in your general trench area count as a combat day?

As far as WW2, here is a link: http://lonesentry.com/usdivisions/days_combat.html

Haven't yet found a similar reference for WW1 but will post if I do.
 
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Waterloo50

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For sure. I don't have an answer to those questions; I suspect however, that there was less rotation of fighting units from combat operations then may been the case in later wars. So the odds of being involved in combat may have been higher for the average CW soldier.
I think furlough/ rotation was almost non existent or at least very difficult to come by for some CW soldiers and as you say, it stands to reason that they’d find themselves in combat more often. Individual rotation did happen but it had to be approved by the CO and it involved a lot of red tape and wasn’t always granted, from what I’ve read about civil war furlough it was a bone of contention with many soldiers. I’m not sure how often entire units were withdrawn or rotated during the civil war but I’d imagine it was far less than later wars.

In Vietnam soldiers did their one year tour of duty with one week of leave, they did get some down time whenever possible. I guess the one year of service before rotation explains the high combat hours.

During WW2 troops could expect leave once every eleven months but there was no real time limit to their service, some soldiers only managed a few weeks leave during the entire war, some battalions were placed into reserve but were soon ordered straight back into combat. During WW1 troops were rotated off the line approximately every four days, battalions could be moved to the rear for rest but it was rare. I think that WW1 troops despite their regular rotation would have had the highest combat hours.

so...I’m thinking that combat hours for CW troops had to be higher than we think they are. It would be useful to get some statistics from those who have a particular interest in individual regiments, maybe someone can work out the average combat hours for that regiment, it would at least offer some kind of ball park figure.
 

Waterloo50

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John Ellis' book The Sharp End: The Fighting Man in World War II is, by far, the best study on the subject of what "combat" was for soldiers in that war.
I’ve not read the sharp end but I have read a fantastic book called ‘Somme mud’ written by E.P.F Lynch, it’s one of those books that makes a lasting impression.
 

Joshism

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Rotation wasn't common, if at all, other than the occasional furlough?

No, I don't think it was the norm, except occassionally when a unit was wrecked. Pickett's division being transferred to Richmond after Gettysburg, for example. Otherwise, transfers of units seems to me to have been a purely for strategic reasons.

The Union in particular paid for this lack of foresight in 1864. They were left with troops that were either veterans that had been campaigning since 1862, or which had seen practically no fighting. Some of the latter were at least well-drilled while others had been parceled out at the regiment or company level for guard/garrison duty thus didn't even have experience marching and maneuvering as part a brigade. Powell points out this was a serious problem in Sigel's army.
 

JeffFromSyracuse

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I'll compile later, but the Overland Campaign drastically raised the amount of exposure AoP regiments had to "combat scenarios", both continuous battles and close contact with the ANV.

Off the top of my head, the 147th of the I Corps and later the V Corps likely had 20 days or fewer of "heightened" enemy contact (I made this term up, I mean it as battle or holding a line with active picket fire) between October 1862 and late April 1864. By late June 1864, I'd estimate they had seen an additional 45 days of "combat."
 

TerryB

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I'm always surprised to come across a Confederate CSR that shows he enlisted in 1861 and survived to the end of the war. My ancestor Col. Marcellus Pointer joined up before Fort Sumter and was wounded five times. Still he surrendered in April or May of 1865. His last fight, in Feb 1865, put him out of action, but didn't kill him.
 

Claude Bauer

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Last night I was watching a tv documentary called ‘The lost tapes of Vietnam’, at the end of one of the episodes the claim was made that during WW2, troops would see an average of 10 days combat in one year, during the Vietnam war the average number of combat days increased to 240 per year, of course, these claims made me wonder about the number of combat hours a soldier could expect to see during the civil war. My question is this, Has there been any research carried out that gives us any idea how many combat hours a CW soldier would experience or is it impossible to know?
Thank you in advance.👍
According to this source, "During the fair-weather campaign season, soldiers could expect to be engaged in battle one day out of 30." So, if the "fair-weather campaign season" was 6 months, that would equal about 6 days a year and 24 days for the duration of the war:
https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/life-civil-war-soldier-camp

I also recall reading that the Army of the Potomac was engaged in about 40 days of actual combat for the whole time they were in the field, but that was a long time ago, and I don't have the source. I don't know what criteria they used to get that result.

The rest of the time they were either moving from one place to another or in camp experiencing long periods of hunger, boredom, and disease. Some of their exploits in battle may have been, "covered in glory," but it really wasn't a glamorous life.
 
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hoosier

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What I know about is my great-grandfather's brigade, the Second Vermont Brigade (12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, and 16th regiments). The brigade participated in only one battle during their nine-month term of service, that being the Battle of Gettysburg.

Not all five regiments were engaged in combat during that battle, as the 12th and 15th were assigned to guard supply wagons. The 13th, 14th, and 16th arrived on the battlefield late in the day on July 1 and were directed to a position within the Union line, so it is not clear that they were engaged in combat before the second day. But if they were on the battlefield while the battle was underway, I guess it could be said that they were engaged.

So for three of the five regiments, the average number of days of combat was three days over the span of 9 months, which extrapolates to four days per year. Taking into account that only 3/5 of the brigade was engaged, the average over the entire brigade works out to 4 x 3/5, or 2.4 days per year.

Other brigades, I'm sure, had more days spent in combat. Probably there were some that didn't even have as many.
 

rpkennedy

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Last night I was watching a tv documentary called ‘The lost tapes of Vietnam’, at the end of one of the episodes the claim was made that during WW2, troops would see an average of 10 days combat in one year, during the Vietnam war the average number of combat days increased to 240 per year, of course, these claims made me wonder about the number of combat hours a soldier could expect to see during the civil war. My question is this, Has there been any research carried out that gives us any idea how many combat hours a CW soldier would experience or is it impossible to know?
Thank you in advance.👍
I would say that it would be between the WWII and Vietnam numbers. For example, I briefly looked at the 42nd New York which served from June 22, 1861-July 13, 1864 and was in the thick of a lot of the fights in which the Second Corps participated. I counted 16 days in which they saw significant combat (not counting relatively minor skirmishing) and they were a pretty hard charging regiment, having suffered 727 casualties during their time in service. I would say that for regiments that were active for 3 or more years, this would have been pretty typical.

Ryan
 
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