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Basic Civil War infantry structure

Discussion in 'Campfire Chat - General Discussions' started by Glorybound, Feb 2, 2010.

  1. Glorybound

    Glorybound Major Retired Moderator Honored Fallen Comrade

    Aug 20, 2008
    Stumbled upon this information, and thought it might be useful here on the board. I don't think it's set in stone, and there are inevitably variations on it, but for general purposes it does the job.

    Infantry Military Structure of the Civil War


    The governor of the state would formally ask his legislature for a state bill creating the regiments called for by Congress, but would immediately start jawboning local political men to start recruiting enlisted men, on the promise that the recruiters would be appointed as officers of the company by the Governor. The most typical regimental organization was:

    One Colonel: Commanding the regiment
    One Lieutenant Colonel: Second in command of the regiment, and commanding a brigade or wing of the regiment
    One Major: Commanding another brigade or wing of the regiment
    One Regimental Surgeon: A medical doctor, equal to a captain
    Assistant Surgeon(s): Usually more like a physician's assistant (number, pay and importance varied)
    Ten Captains: Commanding one of ten companies (usually A,B,C,D,E,F,G,H,J & K)
    Ten Lieutenants or 1st Lieutenants: Second in command of the company
    Ten Second Lieutenants: Third in command of the company

    The companies were usually authorized at a strength of sixty enlisted men, but rarely were that large. In general a company was considered full at forty or so men. Typically it was divided into five squads, each with:
    One Sergeant
    One Corporal
    Ten Privates

    Private commanded no one
    Corporal commanded five privates
    Sergeant commanded five privates, and the Corporal and five privates which were the other half of his squad
    Second Lt. commanded four squads
    Lieutenant commanded four squads
    Captain commanded two squads directly, and the other eight squads through his lieutenants
    Major commanded a brigade of four companies
    Lt. Colonel commanded a brigade of four companies
    Colonel commanded two companies directly, and the balance of the regiment as he chose to.

    The structure literally never worked exactly that way. Someone was always absent, and replaced by the next in command. If the regiment was whole, there was no reason for duplication of command, so the separations blurred.

    Sometimes additional 2nd or 3rd lieutenants were authorized, or in some cases the rank of Ensign was used for a third lieutenant. In these instances the size of the company was larger (typically 100 men).

    Every regiment had "WOG" (Warrant Over Grade) positions such as farrier (took care of horses), wagoneer , and adjutant (basically the regimental staff clerk). They were primarily privates who were paid slightly higher for their particular skill, and slightly outranked a common private.

    The regiments were primarily organized by the states, but there were exceptions which were, literally, independent. More definition will follow, but first:

    A battalion was any military group larger than a company (or detachments of several companies) organized for a single purpose. For example, in the 1870's when General George Custer split his 7th Cavalry regiment into three "prongs" of a fork ~ to attack around to the right, up the middle through the village, and around the left to scatter the Indian horse herd ~ they became forever after known as 'Custer's main battalion', 'Reno's battalion' and 'Benteen's battalion'.

    Earlier in the 1850's, the Kansas Jayhawkers formed several militia regiments which marched as a group called 'Lane's battalion' to stop an invasion by pre-slavery Missourians. The commonality between the two sets of names was the singular purpose of the formation.

    Now, lets say that many of the young men of a certain county wanted to go off and fight in the civil war, but the governor of that state had called for every regiment that he was authorized to at that particular time. Some "movers and shakers" of the community, who knew military protocol and procedure; would organize an independent company, regiment, or even a battalion with the singular purpose of being accepted into the regular army once they were ready. This was an especially appropriate procedure if the governor was not of the same political party as the young men who wanted to fight. Some places, like New York, northern Illinois, and northern Kentucky had a lot of Independent organizations. They could be very colorful in uniform and procedure, and often entered the actual war during crucial campaigns, seeing the worst of the combat. In some cases, the independents left excellent local records, but there would be no record with the US Government sources until it ceased to be independent.


    [SIZE=+2]Organization of the Basic Infantry Regiment[/SIZE]

    The basic unit is the company, commanded by a captain

    100 men = 2 platoons = 4 sections = 8 squads

    A company has the following officers (commissioned and non-coms):

    Captain (1), 1st. Lieut. (1), 2nd. Lieut. (1)

    1st Sgt. (1), Sgts. (4) and Corporals (8).

    Plus 2 musicians.

    When the company was divided into platoons, the captain commanded one and the 1st Lt. the other. There was a sergeant for each section, and a corporal for each squad. The 1st Sgt. "ran" the whole company.


    Battalions and regiments were formed by organizing companies together. In the volunteers (Union and Confederate), 10 companies would be organized together into a regiment. The regiment was commanded by a colonel. A regiment has the following staff (one of each):

    Col.; Lt. Col.; Major; Adjutant (1st Lt); Surgeon (maj.);

    Asst Surgeon (capt.); Quartermaster (lieut); Commissary (lieut);

    Sgt-Major; Quartermaster Sgt.

    There were also volunteer organizations containing less than 10 companies: if they contained from 4-8 companies, they were called battalions, and usually were commanded by a major or lieutenant colonel. The (Union) Regular regiments organized before the war (1st-10th) were 10 company regiments like the volunteers. When the NEW Regular regiments. were authorized, a different organization was used. The new Regular regiments were organized 8 companies to a battalion and 2 battalions to the regiment. Thus new Regular regiments contained 16 companies. These regiments frequently fought as battalions rather than as single regiments. However, often the 2nd battalion could not be recruited up to strength, in which case they fought as a single regiment.


    A brigade is formed from 3 to 6 regiments and commanded by a brigadier general. The South tended to use more regiments than the North, thus having bigger brigades. At some times in the war, some artillery would be attached to the infantry brigade: see the Artillery section below. Each brigade would also have a varying number of staff officers.


    A division is commanded by a major general and is composed of from 2 to 6 brigades. In the North usually 3 or 4, but in the South normally 4 to 6. Thus, a Southern division tended to be almost twice as large as its Northern counterpart, if the regiments are about the same size. At some times in the war, some artillery or, less often, cavalry might be attached: see the Cavalry and Artillery sections below. Each division would also have a varying number of staff officers.


    A corps is commanded by a major general (Union) or a lieutenant general (Confederate) and is composed of from 2 to 4 divisions. Again the North tended to have 2 or 3, while the South had 3 or 4. Each corps would also have a varying number of staff officers.


    Corps within a geographic department were aggregated into armies. The number of corps in an army could vary considerably: sometimes an army would contain only 1 corps and other times as many as 8. Armies were commanded by major generals in the North, and usually by full generals in the South. Corps and armies usually had some artillery and cavalry attached: again, see below. Each army would also have a varying number of staff officers.

    To summarize, the nominal strengths and commanding officers were:

    UNIT MEN Commander Example NAME

    Company 100 Captain Co. A (but not J, looks like I)

    Regiment 1000 Colonel 38th N.C. Infantry

    Brigade 4000 Brig Genl 3rd Brigade (US) **

    Division 12000 Maj. Genl Pender's Division (CS) **

    Corps 36000 Maj. Genl* IIIrd Corps (US) **

    Army Maj. Genl+ Army of Northern Virginia (CS) ++

    * or Lieutenant General in the South

    + or General in the South

    ** Numerical designation was used in the North, the Commander's name was typically used in the South, e.g. A. P. Hill’s Corps.

    ++ The South mainly used the name of the area or state where the army operated. Rivers were used primarily as names in the North, e.g. Army of the Cumberland

    Tin cup and damYankee like this.

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  3. captainrlm

    captainrlm Sergeant

    Jun 10, 2009
    Northern Kentucky
    Cool stuff. I think I've got a pretty decent grasp on much of it (except for the company level) but I'll try to print or bookmark this as a quick refernce when I get confused.
  4. gary

    gary Captain

    Feb 20, 2005
    It's funny but a Civil War regiment was rarely at its full authorized strength. Sometimes the entire regiment was drilled and it was called battalion drill. It was noted at several companies could be detached and formed into a battalion. Such is the case of the 42nd PA (13th Penn Res or Bucktails) when a small battalion was sent into the Shenandoah Valley where they joined in the pursuit of Jackson and killed Turner Ashby.

    By late 1864-65, many Confederate regiments were down to 350 soldiers of all ranks and it was not unusual for smaller companies to be down to as few as 20 soldiers (thanks to sickness, detachments, desertions, deaths). They were regiments or companies (respectively) only in name.
  5. Severon

    Severon Cadet

    Sep 17, 2009
    Good ol' Texas
    Amazing stuff Glorybound!
  6. ole

    ole Brev. Brig. Gen'l Retired Moderator

    Feb 20, 2005
    Near Kankakee
    Yes, amazing stuff, Glorybound. Especially the part about "rarely."

    Some time ago, I got into the fixation of creating an OoB of the battle I was looking at. Too much detail. This regiment was at point X, but companies H and K were detached and assigned elsewhere. Where? Wagon guards. Supporting a battery. Herding prisoners. You name it.

    Speaking of rarely, the basic structure was just that: basic. In the real world, the structure was rarely quite so pristine.
  7. M E Wolf

    M E Wolf Colonel Retired Moderator

    Feb 9, 2008
    Dear Glorybound;

    Excellent work sir.

    Thank you for posting for all to learn and refer to.

    Respectfully submitted,
    M. E. Wolf
  8. huskerblitz

    huskerblitz Captain

    Jun 8, 2013
    Bumping this because of the good info provided.
    Tin cup likes this.
  9. damYankee

    damYankee 1st Lieutenant

    Aug 12, 2011
    We miss you Glorybound.
  10. frankconrad

    frankconrad Sergeant

    Sep 19, 2009
    At the time of Mustering in All Iowa Inf Company were 100 men + - 1 or 2.
    From 1863 and 1864 Adjutant General Report State of Iowa. The two Volumes contain names, age, home town or county, birth place, of every soldier or Calvryman , from the 1st Iowa through 1864. Some Regiments were consolidated by 1864 due to end of enlistment or death or capture. but they all started out as a 100 man CO.

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