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

Scott1967

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
Except they didn't. There were a couple of pre-war purchased weapons in the hands of militiamen, but the Government absorbed the entire output of the factory, and also purchased all the Spencers in warehouses at the start of the war. There are stories of troops being willing to purchase them, which may be true, but none were available for sale. Wilder's men, for example, received entirely government issued arms.
Yes thankyou I stand corrected Wilders men were going to pay out of their pocket for Henrys not Spencer's which of course were indeed issued by the government.
 

GwilymT

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 20, 2018
Location
Pittsburgh
I do not believe this to be the case, except for the first and possibly 2nd year of the war. When the Civil war broke out there were more Southerners in the U.S. Army than Northerners and the South had a prouder military history. As the war wore on the North had the luxury of being able to train their soldiers better whereas the South had rudimentary training as nearly all of the fighting was in the South and most of the men in the CSA had to be put into battle with little training in comparison the USA military.
I’m certain the south believed they had a prouder military history but am not sure that’s actually the case. Perhaps the south was just prouder. As to the training, both armies were green at the start and training was rudimentary at best.
 

Don Dixon

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 24, 2008
Location
Fairfax, VA, USA
So the Vietnamese were better fighters than the US army?

"'You know, you never beat us on the battlefield,’ I told my North Vietnamese counterpart during negotiations in Hanoi a week before the fall of Saigon. He pondered that remark a moment and then replied, ‘That may be so, but it is also irrelevant.’" GEN Frederick C. Weyand in an interview with COL Henry G. Summers

It is good to be better than the other guy. But so long as you can survive it is more important to have the will to outlast him.

Regards,
Don Dixon
 

DAVIDHAYES

Cadet
Joined
Feb 22, 2020
No , Both North and South were the same men with the same emotions in battle , You could argue the South was fighting on home turf for the vast majority of the war which gave them an added incentive.

You could also argue the South had more charismatic leaders to inspire their troops but in essence its all rubbish , In Numerous battles their were heroics on both sides , If you think the south had better soldiers i will point you to Marlye's Heights and the Union attack at Fredricksburg which Shelby Foote described as the bravest action by any troops in any battle.

This was a war full of volunteer armies to state a man is a better fighter because of what region he lives in is nuts imho because a man in battle needs mental toughness not just fighting ability.

BTW the Iron Brigade says hello :wink:
Brilliant, somebody gets it!
 
Joined
Apr 8, 2018
Location
PA
Not better, but differently.
The great difference between Billy Yank and Johnny Reb seems to have been in their style of fighting—a characteristic noted by many observers. "Three points I noted with regard to our opponents," observed federal captain John W. De Forest. "They aimed better than our men; they covered themselves (in case of need) more carefully and effectively; they could move in a swarm, without much care for alignment and touching elbows. In short, they fought more like [Indians], or like hunters, than we. The result was that they lost fewer men, though they were far inferior in numbers." https://civilwartalk.com/#_edn1


https://civilwartalk.com/#_ednref1 Croushore, James H., ed. A Volunteer's Adventure, by Captain John W. De Forest. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1949. 190. De Forest uses the unfortunate term "redskins" at this point. He was also a field corespondent for a newspaper.
 

Scott1967

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
Not better, but differently.
The great difference between Billy Yank and Johnny Reb seems to have been in their style of fighting—a characteristic noted by many observers. "Three points I noted with regard to our opponents," observed federal captain John W. De Forest. "They aimed better than our men; they covered themselves (in case of need) more carefully and effectively; they could move in a swarm, without much care for alignment and touching elbows. In short, they fought more like [Indians], or like hunters, than we. The result was that they lost fewer men, though they were far inferior in numbers." https://civilwartalk.com/#_edn1


https://civilwartalk.com/#_ednref1 Croushore, James H., ed. A Volunteer's Adventure, by Captain John W. De Forest. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1949. 190. De Forest uses the unfortunate term "redskins" at this point. He was also a field corespondent for a newspaper.
They lost fewer men because most of the time they fought on the defensive when they did fight on the offensive they lost more men with a very few exceptions so they were the same as their Union counterparts imho.
 
Joined
Feb 21, 2021
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.
It is my understanding that the majority of Union forces were first and second generation German Americans and that the Confederate forces were mostly comprised of those with English, French and Irish ancestry.
 

GwilymT

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 20, 2018
Location
Pittsburgh
It is my understanding that the majority of Union forces were first and second generation German Americans and that the Confederate forces were mostly comprised of those with English, French and Irish ancestry.
You’d be incorrect in that understanding. While Union forces did indeed have a lot of immigrants, to state that they were “majority German” while the southern forces were “English, French, and Irish” misses the mark. Heck, there were far more of Irish ancestry in Union ranks than rebel ranks. The majority of both armies were roughly of the same “American” stock with the United States Army having many more immigrants in its ranks than the rebels. It’s also worth pointing out that over 100,000 African Americans served as soldiers in the United States Army during the war.

A healthy percentage of immigrants in the ranks of the United States armed forces is a proud tradition that continues to this day.
 
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leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
They lost fewer men because most of the time they fought on the defensive when they did fight on the offensive they lost more men with a very few exceptions so they were the same as their Union counterparts imho.
Some historians have made good arguments that Confedrate generals undercounted their losses.
Leftyhunter
It is my understanding that the majority of Union forces were first and second generation German Americans and that the Confederate forces were mostly comprised of those with English, French and Irish ancestry.
A not insignificant amount of Union soldiers were Southern whites per " Lincoln's Loyalists Union soldiers from the Confedracy" Richard Current North East University Press.
Leftyhunter
 

Georgia Sixth

Sergeant Major
Joined
Dec 14, 2011
Location
Texas
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's description of southerners actually makes a good case that these men would be born bushwhackers, but not make such good soldiers. He described men who would be self-motivated and naturally oriented to frontier (think Indian style) fighting. But these characteristics frankly aren't needed in big battles where the greatest requirement of the soldier is to follow orders, maintain ranks, etc. Plus, the poor provisions for the CSA soldiers ought to create the by product of weaker, less durable fighters. Of course, we've seen in other wars how being under provisioned can actually promote a fierce determination to humble the rich opponent. (Think the Viet Cong vs. our guys.) I think the greatest explanation for the southern fighting spirit is the collective sense of being invaded and the clear understanding that the other side is out to impose its will on your side.
 

Georgia Sixth

Sergeant Major
Joined
Dec 14, 2011
Location
Texas
I think there are arguments on both sides. Overall, through the war you could say the Southern men had a certain determination that commands respect. But as previously stated, certain Union charges, like at Marye's Heights, was possibly the most courageous charge of the war. I think sometimes more credit is given to southern men because of the inferior supplies and weapons, yet they managed to repulse the larger , better equipped Union army on numerous occasions. Good posts. Enjoy reading this thread.
Yes, and I would add the sacrificial charge of the 1st Minnesota at Gettysburg. No greater bravery was shown anywhere on any battlefield.
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
They lost fewer men because most of the time they fought on the defensive when they did fight on the offensive they lost more men with a very few exceptions so they were the same as their Union counterparts imho.
Some historians have made good arguments that Confedrate generals undercounted their losses.
Leftyhunter
It is my understanding that the majority of Union forces were first and second generation German Americans and that the Confederate forces were mostly comprised of those with English, French and Irish ancestry.
A not insignificant amount of Union soldiers were Southern whites per " Lincoln's Loyalists Union soldiers from the Confedracy" Richard Current North East University Press.
Leftyhunter
Palfrey's description of southerners actually makes a good case that these men would be born bushwhackers, but not make such good soldiers. He described men who would be self-motivated and naturally oriented to frontier (think Indian style) fighting. But these characteristics frankly aren't needed in big battles where the greatest requirement of the soldier is to follow orders, maintain ranks, etc. Plus, the poor provisions for the CSA soldiers ought to create the by product of weaker, less durable fighters. Of course, we've seen in other wars how being under provisioned can actually promote a fierce determination to humble the rich opponent. (Think the Viet Cong vs. our guys.) I think the greatest explanation for the southern fighting spirit is the collective sense of being invaded and the clear understanding that the other side is out to impose its will on your side.
Comparing the Viet Cong to even Confedrate guerrllas is comparing apples to oranges. There not not even close in terms of tactics and motivation.
Do you mean Southern or Confedrate fighting spirit ? Over two hundred thousand Southeners were enlisted in the Union Army that would be 104k white Southeners and 170k US Colored Troops most of whom are Southeners.
There were also many Unionist guerrillas many of whom were Confedrate troops who deserted.
The Confedrate Army suffered quite a bit of desertion and defection. The war wasn't about the North imposing it's will on the South but the determination of many but not all Southern whites to establish an independent slave republic.
Leftyhunter
 
Joined
Apr 8, 2018
Location
PA
They lost fewer men because most of the time they fought on the defensive when they did fight on the offensive they lost more men with a very few exceptions so they were the same as their Union counterparts imho.
You did note that the quotation was from an officer who was there, right?
 

CSA Today

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Dec 3, 2011
Location
Laurinburg NC
Some historians have made good arguments that Confedrate generals undercounted their losses.
Leftyhunter

A not insignificant amount of Union soldiers were Southern whites per " Lincoln's Loyalists Union soldiers from the Confedracy" Richard Current North East University Press.
Leftyhunter

Comparing the Viet Cong to even Confedrate guerrllas is comparing apples to oranges. There not not even close in terms of tactics and motivation.
Do you mean Southern or Confedrate fighting spirit ? Over two hundred thousand Southeners were enlisted in the Union Army that would be 104k white Southeners and 170k US Colored Troops most of whom are Southeners.
There were also many Unionist guerrillas many of whom were Confedrate troops who deserted.
The Confedrate Army suffered quite a bit of desertion and defection. The war wasn't about the North imposing it's will on the South but the determination of many but not all Southern whites to establish an independent slave republic.
Leftyhunter

Actually the opposite is more likely true, duplicate listing appears to be the culprit. For years, North Carolina war time death toll from all causes was estimated at 40,000, but recent studies have totals at 31.000 to 35,000. The problems causing the overcount in North Carolina is probably true for other states too.
 

Scott1967

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
You did note that the quotation was from an officer who was there, right?

Even Generals tend to elaborate story's it was quite common to do so.

I'm not sure what your driving at here all the evidence suggests that tactics were virtually the same for both sides their were very few sweeping all out victory's in the war with the majority of battles being inconclusive especially in the East.

If their is one battle that disproves the whole CSA soldier superiority it would be Antietam.

The Union on the offensive with 54k engaged soldiers defeated a 40k engaged force under Lee , Most believed this was a draw at best a strategic Union victory however with the release of the Grave maps we now know that Little Mac actually gave Lee a very serious defeat , Instead of the 2100 dead Lee admitted in his reports with the Grave map its seems closer to 3800 closer to what Mac said which was 4000.

Now if you look a few months before Antietam at Lee's offensive in the Seven Days and you can clearly see Lee's takes huge casualties compared to the Union and nearly double the dead so that officers remarks are just pure speculation even if he was there.
 
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leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
Actually the opposite is more likely true, duplicate listing appears to be the culprit. For years, North Carolina war time death toll from all causes was estimated at 40,000, but recent studies have totals at 31.000 to 35,000. The problems causing the overcount in North Carolina is probably true for other states too.
The critizism I was referring to was more about General Lee undercounting deaths in the AnV.
Leftyhunter
 

Stone in the wall

Sergeant Major
Joined
Sep 19, 2017
Location
Blue Ridge Mountains, Jefferson County WV
Even Generals tend to elaborate story's it was quite common to do so.

I'm not sure what your driving at here all the evidence suggests that tactics were virtually the same for both sides their were very few sweeping all out victory's in the war with the majority of battles being inconclusive especially in the East.

If their is one battle that disproves the whole CSA soldier superiority it would be Antietam.

The Union on the offensive with 54k engaged soldiers defeated a 40k engaged force under Lee , Most believed this was a draw at best a strategic Union victory however with the release of the Grave maps we now know that Little Mac actually gave Lee a very serious defeat , Instead of the 2100 dead Lee admitted in his reports with the Grave map its seems closer to 3800 closer to what Mac said which was 4000.

Now if you look a few months before Antietam at Lee's offensive in the Seven Days and you can clearly see Lee's takes huge casualties compared to the Union and nearly double the dead so that officers remarks are just pure speculation even if he was there.
All it proves is Union Artillery superiority. On top of the Union having more of and larger guns, over 1/2 ANV guns were small 6 lb or howitzers. "Artillery H*ll " and higher losses for the Confederates.
 
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