Discussion Did the Southern men fight better than the Northern men?

Pete Longstreet

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Mar 3, 2020
Location
Hartford, CT
The fierceness of the Confederate infantry, especially in the eastern theater, was a substantial factor prolonging the war. In shear fighting ability, they were probably better. But the US Army had a higher percentage of literate soldiers. They had a higher % of people who understood paperwork and quartermaster work. The Confederate soldiers are often described as wasteful and it was going to be a liability once they were not able to capture US quartermaster depots.
Grant put a lot of work into making his logistics based on water transport. Similarly Sherman made plans to protect his rail link to Nashville and Louisville and to be pre-stocked with rails, ties and switches, to repair bridges and tracks very quickly.
Once the Confederates were pinned down defending Richmond and Atlanta, there elan decreased considerably.
Good points. The south, at least at the start of the war, appeared to be much better generaled. I think it was Tecumseh Sherman who said it took their forces a few years to really get going and learn how to function and accomplish what they did in the later years of the war.
 

Scott1967

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
I'd say during big battles the north had more causlties killed and the south had more deaths killed from wounds they didn't have the right man power and medical equipment for that the north had so their causalities mounted more probably after battles. Specially with unkept records that where burnt from the North when coming during Sherman's March.

I don't think that rings true either JD , Lee sustained massive casualties in battle as the attacker at Gettysburg and the Seven Days totalling around 47k casualties , If your on the defensive the chances are your going to inflict more causalities than the attacker this has been proven time and time again in the ACW , The fact that the CSA was on the defensive the majority of the war reflects the casualties the North suffered in relation to what your saying.

When the South was on the offensive they suffered horrendous casualties even Chancellorsville the CSA lost 12k men in battle the same as the Union even 2nd Bull run the casualty figures were the same the only difference is the South captured more men in both battles that scewed the figures.

But i do agree the North had better medical facilities and more staff which helped.
 

JD Mayo

Retired User
Joined
Jun 12, 2020
Location
Greensboro NC
I believe the Seven Days campaign Lee's first attacking battles I think he still lost some 30,000 men. Which was a big loss for the Army of Northern Virginia. Then plus you have all the casualties from Prison sites threw out the war.
 

Waterloo50

Major
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Jul 7, 2015
Location
England
You could use points 1 to 6 to describe the Jacobite army at Culloden. Unfortunately for them the Government troops were better trained, disciplined and armed, among other things. The result was disastrous. Training, discipline and superior arms will almost always make a better soldier.
Very true, but there’s a big difference between better equipped and better fighter, take the battle of isandlwana for example, the British fought better than the attacking Zulu tribes (due to superior British weapons) but the Zulu won the fight and massacred every single British soldier with nothing more than goat skin shields and clubs, the British fought better (with the weapon advantage) but the Zulu were the better fighters.
 

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
Are we talking only the Easter Theater or are we including the Western Theater and the Trans Mississippi theater as well? I think a fair case could me made the Confederate soldiers in the Western Theater were not that much better than Union soldiers in the Western Theater perhaps no better.
 

Mango Hill

Corporal
Joined
Jul 23, 2020
Good points. The south, at least at the start of the war, appeared to be much better generaled. I think it was Tecumseh Sherman who said it took their forces a few years to really get going and learn how to function and accomplish what they did in the later years of the war.

Agree in the Eastern Theater. In the Western Theater, if the CSA has Bragg as their best (which I would consider this) then the CSA is in trouble in the leadership department. This is what Palfrey overlooks in making the generalized Southern soldier as all inclusive.
 

Mango Hill

Corporal
Joined
Jul 23, 2020
Are we talking only the Easter Theater or are we including the Western Theater and the Trans Mississippi theater as well? I think a fair case could me made the Confederate soldiers in the Western Theater were not that much better than Union soldiers in the Western Theater perhaps no better.

From the OP:

"The first thing I noticed is that Palfrey makes his observations and comparisons based only on the soldiers of the ANV and the AOP. In this case it would have been better to have replaced Northerner and Southerner with ANV and AOP soldiers. In my opinion Palfrey is making a general assumption based on a limited area of battle. I'm sure that if Palfrey had included the Northern and Southern soldiery of the Western Theater he would not have reached the same conclusions. I'm looking forward to any and all contributions."
 

Mango Hill

Corporal
Joined
Jul 23, 2020
@Mango Hill ,

The book, The Militant South, by John Hope Franklin, might help shed light on your question.

From the Preface of the book comes the following paragraph:

"...While considerable attention has been given to the social, cultural, and psychological conditions of the South before 1861, certain aspects are yet incomplete. In the ante-bellum period, large numbers of observers, including Southerners, made more than passing references to those phases of Southern life and culture that suggested a penchant for militancy which at times assumed excessive proportions. The persistence of the rural environment, the Indian danger, the fear of slaves, an old-world concept of honor, an increasing sensitivity, and an arrogant self-satisfaction with things as they were contributed. Reflected in the culture and conduct of Southerners, it militated against a calm, deliberate approach to their problems. Several years ago, the late Wilber J. Cash, a distinguished Southern journalist, observed that the ante-bellum Southerner "did not think; he felt." Feeling or groping his way toward a solution of his increasingly complex problems, the Southerner not infrequently reached militantly, indeed violently..."

An interesting concept.

Sincerely,
Unionblue

Yes, interesting and helpful indeed. I believe what the author above explains is pretty much what Palfrey says in a less elegant way. Palfrey also notes that patriotic zeal was not in question for either side.
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
This question has been asked many times and in many ways. The usual response (mostly according to Southerners') is yes, but the Northerners had better artillery. (That's what I've run into, anyways). The reason I'm making a thread on this subject is because it is raised by Francis Winthrop Palfrey in his book The Antietam and Fredericksburg Campaign. Palfrey wrote this book in 1882 as part of a series of 12 books on the land war and 3 on the naval war written mostly by active participants of the CW. What I find of interest in this question are Palfrey's own conclusions. He's very "diffident" with his opinions and says he only raises this question "as a contribution to the discussion of the subject, than as an absolute solution to the problem." This is a good guide to follow and it's within the spirit in which this thread is created.

Palfrey makes several observations of the fighting men of the ANV and the AOP of which some I'm sure are arrived at from personal experience; I'll list these in the following manner:

Man for man greater results were achieved by the ANV than by the AOP because;

1) "different modes of life at the South and at the North made the Southern soldier more fond of fighting than the Northern men."
2) "the intenser and more passionate character of the Southerner as compared with that of the Northerner"
3) "the comparatively lawless (not to speak invidiously) life at the South, where the population was scattered, and the gun came ready to the hand, made the Southern man an apter soldier than the peaceful, prosperous, steady going recruit from the North.
4) "The Southerner felt the gaudium certaminis (joy of battle). With the Northerners it was different. They were ready to obey orders, they were ready to do the work to which they had set their hands, they were ready to die in their tracks if need be, but they did not go to battle as if to feast"
5) "the needy condition which was common among the Southerners......while the Northern soldier were abundantly provided with everything" (typical Lost Cause argument?)
6) For the Southerner a field won was a field to plunder. "To the Northerners a field won meant simply a field won. In this difference it is almost certain there existed a powerful motive to stimulate the avidity with which the Southerners went into action."

The first thing I noticed is that Palfrey makes his observations and comparisons based only on the soldiers of the ANV and the AOP. In this case it would have been better to have replaced Northerner and Southerner with ANV and AOP soldiers. In my opinion Palfrey is making a general assumption based on a limited area of battle. I'm sure that if Palfrey had included the Northern and Southern soldiery of the Western Theater he would not have reached the same conclusions. I'm looking forward to any and all contributions.
Palfrey is full of it. I have thread that I can bump up " By what metric was the Confedrate Army superior". In no way was the Confedrate Army superior and in fact in many battles outnumbered Union forces beat the Confedrate Army even outnumbered two to one at the batttle of Honey Springs. Also outnumbered Union forces won at the battles of Pea Ridge,Prarrie Grove Mill Springs, Atlanta and no doubt I missing a few.
Leftyhunter
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
That's where the south fail was at they couldn't pay most of there soldiers if lucky 1 dollar a month. If you where a officer you got to have some furlough etc. North was able to draft immigrants into their regiments right off the NY port to put onto the front lines. Plus after they passed the slave law allowing soldiers to go home who had 20 or more slaves they got to go home. So you had many Confederates desert in 1862 and 1863.
Per James McPherson in his book " Battle Cry of Freedom" only five percent of the Union Army was drafted. Major cities after the draft riots purchased substitutes for those city residents that did not wish to be drafted. I can bump an old thread with the page numbers.
Leftyhunter
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
This question has been asked many times and in many ways. The usual response (mostly according to Southerners') is yes, but the Northerners had better artillery. (That's what I've run into, anyways). The reason I'm making a thread on this subject is because it is raised by Francis Winthrop Palfrey in his book The Antietam and Fredericksburg Campaign. Palfrey wrote this book in 1882 as part of a series of 12 books on the land war and 3 on the naval war written mostly by active participants of the CW. What I find of interest in this question are Palfrey's own conclusions. He's very "diffident" with his opinions and says he only raises this question "as a contribution to the discussion of the subject, than as an absolute solution to the problem." This is a good guide to follow and it's within the spirit in which this thread is created.

Palfrey makes several observations of the fighting men of the ANV and the AOP of which some I'm sure are arrived at from personal experience; I'll list these in the following manner:

Man for man greater results were achieved by the ANV than by the AOP because;

1) "different modes of life at the South and at the North made the Southern soldier more fond of fighting than the Northern men."
2) "the intenser and more passionate character of the Southerner as compared with that of the Northerner"
3) "the comparatively lawless (not to speak invidiously) life at the South, where the population was scattered, and the gun came ready to the hand, made the Southern man an apter soldier than the peaceful, prosperous, steady going recruit from the North.
4) "The Southerner felt the gaudium certaminis (joy of battle). With the Northerners it was different. They were ready to obey orders, they were ready to do the work to which they had set their hands, they were ready to die in their tracks if need be, but they did not go to battle as if to feast"
5) "the needy condition which was common among the Southerners......while the Northern soldier were abundantly provided with everything" (typical Lost Cause argument?)
6) For the Southerner a field won was a field to plunder. "To the Northerners a field won meant simply a field won. In this difference it is almost certain there existed a powerful motive to stimulate the avidity with which the Southerners went into action."

The first thing I noticed is that Palfrey makes his observations and comparisons based only on the soldiers of the ANV and the AOP. In this case it would have been better to have replaced Northerner and Southerner with ANV and AOP soldiers. In my opinion Palfrey is making a general assumption based on a limited area of battle. I'm sure that if Palfrey had included the Northern and Southern soldiery of the Western Theater he would not have reached the same conclusions. I'm looking forward to any and all contributions.
Does Palfrey mention that many Southeners black and white fought for the Union and we're very determined and sucessful fighters?
Leftyhunter
 

Mango Hill

Corporal
Joined
Jul 23, 2020
Palfrey is full of it. I have thread that I can bump up " By what metric was the Confedrate Army superior". In no way was the Confedrate Army superior and in fact in many battles outnumbered Union forces beat the Confedrate Army even outnumbered two to one at the batttle of Honey Springs. Also outnumbered Union forces won at the battles of Pea Ridge,Prarrie Grove Mill Springs, Atlanta and no doubt I missing a few.
Leftyhunter

I don't believe Palfrey is referring to the Southern army but to the individual Southern soldier. Palfrey I believe makes a sweeping assumption about the Southern soldier as a superior fighter because he only looks at it from the field of battle he was familiar with and doesn't take into account the Western Theater. One thing that should be recognized though is that Palfrey was a soldier himself, so that should count for something. Palfrey goes on to note that even applied to officers with some notable exceptions such as Sheridan, Hancock, Humphreys, Kearny, Custer and Barlow. I don't believe Palfrey ever served under Grant because, if he did, it's an unpardonable omission.
 

Mango Hill

Corporal
Joined
Jul 23, 2020
Does Palfrey mention that many Southeners black and white fought for the Union and we're very determined and sucessful fighters?
Leftyhunter
No, and I believe Palfrey is limiting his observations to the period he covers in his book.
 

Mango Hill

Corporal
Joined
Jul 23, 2020
Southerners certainly believed before the war that they were individually equal to ten, or however many Yankees.

But after a battle or two, they learned that wasn't true.

There's this quote of a Southerner that says Yankees fight much better in their country. I'm paraphrasing here. I think this was after the battle of Antietam.
 

Pete Longstreet

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Mar 3, 2020
Location
Hartford, CT
Agree in the Eastern Theater. In the Western Theater, if the CSA has Bragg as their best (which I would consider this) then the CSA is in trouble in the leadership department. This is what Palfrey overlooks in making the generalized Southern soldier as all inclusive.
I would agree with that. Although hated by many, Bragg wasn't inept. Although his inability to lead men and communicate with his subordinate generals caused tension and infighting within the upper echelon. It's hard to generalize this topic, as there's so many factors involved as previously stated. I know it's so simple to say... but both sides fought valiantly. But there is also instances where men, north and south, ran in confusion and disorder. I also think if you look strictly at numbers... it favors the south in making them look as better fighting men for accomplishing what they did with the numbers they had.
 

Mango Hill

Corporal
Joined
Jul 23, 2020
I would agree with that. Although hated by many, Bragg wasn't inept. Although his inability to lead men and communicate with his subordinate generals caused tension and infighting within the upper echelon. It's hard to generalize this topic, as there's so many factors involved as previously stated. I know it's so simple to say... but both sides fought valiantly. But there is also instances where men, north and south, ran in confusion and disorder. I also think if you look strictly at numbers... it favors the south in making them look as better fighting men for accomplishing what they did with the numbers they had.

Bragg wasn't inept for sure but I think he was indecisive at crucial moments plus what you point out about his character flaws. What really motivated me about opening this thread is how surprised I was at the rather crude way Palfrey described what I believe he thinks was the typical Southerner of that period. Palfrey was an educated man. Palfrey was apparently an Abolitionist which might explain what could be seen as a whiff of contempt for the typical Southerner.
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
I would agree with that. Although hated by many, Bragg wasn't inept. Although his inability to lead men and communicate with his subordinate generals caused tension and infighting within the upper echelon. It's hard to generalize this topic, as there's so many factors involved as previously stated. I know it's so simple to say... but both sides fought valiantly. But there is also instances where men, north and south, ran in confusion and disorder. I also think if you look strictly at numbers... it favors the south in making them look as better fighting men for accomplishing what they did with the numbers they had.
Then again an army on the defensive should inflict a higher kill ratio then the offensive army. On the other hand wars are not won on the defensive. Either an army can seize and hold enemy territory or it can't . Most likely the side that can't losses.
Leftyhunter
 
Top