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

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
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.
There is an interesting book I have at home from an officer that was verified by a historian that Humphreys was a lousy drunk. When I get home I can if you want give you the title. There were plenty of good Union officers in the West and of course some bad ones. It certainly wasn't like the Confedracy had better officers then the Union.
Leftyhunter
 

Pete Longstreet

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Mar 3, 2020
Location
Hartford, CT
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
The south did inflict a higher ratio due to their defensive campaign. But looking objectively at the fighting spirit of men on both sides, it says a lot that the south was able to hold on for 4 years based on the numbers of soldiers compared to that of the north, minus the other things, i.e. weapons, technology, naval ships, etc.
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
The south did inflict a higher ratio due to their defensive campaign. But looking objectively at the fighting spirit of men on both sides, it says a lot that the south was able to hold on for 4 years based on the numbers of soldiers compared to that of the north, minus the other things, i.e. weapons, technology, naval ships, etc.
True many Confedrate soldiers fought well. I don't buy into the "hold out for four years" school of thought. The Confedracy lost territory every single year of the war. No doub many Confedrate troops fought well no doubt about that but there isn't any evidence they were intrinsically better then Union soldiers.
Leftyhunter
 

Rio Bravo

First Sergeant
Joined
Oct 6, 2013
Location
Suffolk, U.K.
Out-Manned, Out-Gunned, Out-Supplied, but Never Out -Fought.
The one thing that carried the South for so long, was the superior leadership of it’s Generals,& the Soldiers complete trust in them ! It took real leadership to inspire their men to repeatedly fight overwhelming odds with amazing success until depredations & attrition wore them down. Soldiers often fought without guns, ammo, food, winter coats or shoes. I haven’t read of Northern soldiers fighting in similar conditions. They were so well supplied & cared for.
 

Pete Longstreet

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Mar 3, 2020
Location
Hartford, CT
True many Confedrate soldiers fought well. I don't buy into the "hold out for four years" school of thought. The Confedracy lost territory every single year of the war. No doub many Confedrate troops fought well no doubt about that but there isn't any evidence they were intrinsically better then Union soldiers.
Leftyhunter
I think the "hold out for 4 years" comes from lack of supplies, man power, etc, etc. If the roles were reversed, the same thing would probably be said for the Union. I'm not discrediting how valiantly the Union troops fought. I also think that some of the Southern soldier image comes from their loss. For example, because they lost, many former Confederates made it appear the Southern army was the best ever assembled and their leaders, like R.E Lee, to be a god-like figure.
 

A. Roy

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Sep 2, 2019
Location
Raleigh, North Carolina
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."

Yes, this is an interesting topic. I'm almost 70, and I've lived about half of my life in the South and about half in New England. I know that we can't really impose today's culture on people living 160 years ago, but I find myself doing it anyway, and I can't help but bring my own experience today to a discussion like this.

I was born and grew up in North Carolina, and had relatives north and south. I moved north in my 20s and stayed there until moving back in my 50s. Maybe I'm paranoid, but I've thought that some Northerners carry a prejudice that Southerners are more inclined to volatility and violence. They've seemed to expect it of me, and to treat me with a little circumspection as a result. The truth is, though, that I've known many thoughtful, calm, and reticent people in both regions; and also a few ornery ones on both sides as well.

Here's a question: Does it mean anything that the Southern battle cry might have been along the lines of a maniacal shriek; whereas the Northern version was more of a deliberate 'Huzzah'?

Roy B.
 

jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
Out-Manned, Out-Gunned, Out-Supplied, but Never Out -Fought.
The one thing that carried the South for so long, was the superior leadership of it’s Generals,& the Soldiers complete trust in them ! It took real leadership to inspire their men to repeatedly fight overwhelming odds with amazing success until depredations & attrition wore them down. Soldiers often fought without guns, ammo, food, winter coats or shoes. I haven’t read of Northern soldiers fighting in similar conditions. They were so well supplied & cared for.

It does seem that the conditions that southern soldiers had to contend with in terms of lack of adequate food and footware (to name just a few), were not equally matched by the experience of northern soldiers, who were generally better equipped. There is something to be said for their motivation and command leadership that enabled them to go on fighting for as long as they did.
 

jackt62

Captain
Joined
Jul 28, 2015
Location
New York City
Does it mean anything that the Southern battle cry might have been along the lines of a maniacal shriek; whereas the Northern version was more of a deliberate 'Huzzah'?

This is what a Wisconsin soldier said about the "Rebel Yell."
"There is nothing like it this side of the infernal region, and the peculiar corkscrew sensation that it sends down your backbone under these circumstances can never be told. You have to feel it, and if you say you did not feel it, and heard the yell, then you have never been there."

Don't think any northern huzzah could match that!
 

A. Roy

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Sep 2, 2019
Location
Raleigh, North Carolina
Although I do not think the Southerner was a better soldier than the Union soldier, is it possible that the common Northern practice of creating new regiments rather than replacing losses in the old ones might make it appear so?

That's intriguing. How might that difference make Confederate soldiers seem better? Maybe it's obvious to others, but I'm curious about this.

Roy B.
 

Ole Miss

Captain
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Regtl. Staff Shiloh 2020
Joined
Dec 9, 2017
Location
North Mississippi
For the life of me I am unable to discern any inherent differences between the average Rebel and Yank. American soldiers as a group have always been brave and valiant, regardless of which state they hail from. The men on both sides had similar values and beliefs and had just a dozen years before fought together in Mexico.

Putting aside our various biases, American soldiers fought each other to the death for their individual beliefs but they all were good soldiers when needed.

The answer to the OP in my opinion is No.
Regards
David
 

Scott1967

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
I am going to quote one example that should put this debate to bed.

124th NY with 220 men held off the famed 2nd Texas and part of Benning's brigade before retiring both its commanding officers were killed.

I could quote many many more from both-sides which goes to prove that a cohesion of a unit is vastly more important than where that unit comes from geographically.

And i must stress once again that defending will cause more casualties than attacking and considering the Union virtually steamrolled down the Mississippi taking various strong points along the way i would suggest the myth about Northern Troops being inferior is one of the biggest myths in the ACW.

Just to give you another example of myths like these being debunked.

A Scotsman is considered tough as nails and yet time and time again the English beat them in battle and yet all we ever here is Bannockburn and bloody Mel Gibson you don't hear anything about Flooden Fields , Pinkie Clough , Falkirk , Dumbar the list could go on so this Celtic nonsense is rubbish as well.

History and people mentality tend to big up the underdog giving them super human powers and the moral high ground most historians do it to sell books most film-makers to sell tickets.

The truth is we are all men and each of us is an individual but its how we work together that counts being inspired like the 124th NY by their two commanders or being proud of your battle flag is what makes better soldiers not where you come from.

All my opinion of course.
 
Last edited:

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
I think the "hold out for 4 years" comes from lack of supplies, man power, etc, etc. If the roles were reversed, the same thing would probably be said for the Union. I'm not discrediting how valiantly the Union troops fought. I also think that some of the Southern soldier image comes from their loss. For example, because they lost, many former Confederates made it appear the Southern army was the best ever assembled and their leaders, like R.E Lee, to be a god-like figure.
I think it came from the same school of thought expressed by the actor Dustin Hoffman in the Movie " Meet the Fookers" who spoke about having trophies made for his son ( played by Ben Stiller) celebrating fifth place wins at summer camp competitions.
Unfortunately war doesn't give participation trophies. War is as Von Clawdwitz wrote " politics by other means". Either the Confedracy achieved it's politcal goals or it didn't. The Lost Cause and it's present day advocates are more in the Hoffman school of thought that the Confedracy should get participation trophies.
Leftyhunter
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
That's intriguing. How might that difference make Confederate soldiers seem better? Maybe it's obvious to others, but I'm curious about this.

Roy B.
The basic argument is that soldiers that have fought together for a long time have a bond and or an esprit de corp that they can impart to new soldiers vs just fielding a new regiment from scratch give or take some experienced NCOs and officer's.
In theory the established regiment will fight better. It's a logical theory I don't know if there is any research to back that up or what metrics would be used.
Leftyhunter
 

Pete Longstreet

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Joined
Mar 3, 2020
Location
Hartford, CT
The basic argument is that soldiers that have fought together for a long time have a bond and or an esprit de corp that they can impart to new soldiers vs just fielding a new regiment from scratch give or take some experienced NCOs and officer's.
In theory the established regiment will fight better. It's a logical theory I don't know if there is any research to back that up or what metrics would be used.
Leftyhunter
To dovetail off of this... maybe the courage of the individual soldier didn't waiver from regiment to regiment, but i would assume after enduring battle after battle with the same men, you'd begin to trust and rely on one another. This trust may have given a certain regiment an advantage over one that was newly formed with men who didn't know each other.
 

Scott1967

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
To dovetail off of this... maybe the courage of the individual soldier didn't waiver from regiment to regiment, but i would assume after enduring battle after battle with the same men, you'd begin to trust and rely on one another. This trust may have given a certain regiment an advantage over one that was newly formed with men who didn't know each other.

Its a proven fact many units came from the same towns and small hamlets that bonded them together you had brothers , Cousins , Father and sons all fighting in the same unit , The downside was that male populations could drop in said towns if the unit takes really bad casualties the same was said for WWI.

But yes you are spot on and that was true of both North and South even in the city's like New York where Factories , Fire Brigades , Dock Workers would all volunteer together , So yes been bonded in blood if far more important than where you come from.
 

Joshism

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 30, 2012
Location
Jupiter, FL
Speculation here: Other than disease resistance, isn't a farm boy the ideal infantry grunt? Used to rough conditions and hard labor, and more likely to be experienced with firearms.

If so, the South had an advantage that most Southern enlisted men were from such families whereas the North was much more varied. You had lots of Midwestern farm boys but lots of cityslickers in the East (NYC, Boston, Philly).
 
Top