Research Most accurate methodology for determining unit strength

tony_gunter

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Feb 19, 2011
Location
Mississippi
Measuring the number of soldiers in a unit is very scattershot in history books. Generally, I see wild guesses that contradict each other depending on the source. Has there ever been a gold standard methodology for deriving the strength of a regiment at a point in time? Are those numbers in communications not entered in the O.R., because I don't see them entered by regiment (for example, in the Confederate returns after the Siege of Jackson, they are entered by division). Do you have to simply pull up the service records of each soldier to verify his service on a particular date?
 

RedRover

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Dec 16, 2019
Measuring the number of soldiers in a unit is very scattershot in history books. Generally, I see wild guesses that contradict each other depending on the source. Has there ever been a gold standard methodology for deriving the strength of a regiment at a point in time? Are those numbers in communications not entered in the O.R., because I don't see them entered by regiment (for example, in the Confederate returns after the Siege of Jackson, they are entered by division). Do you have to simply pull up the service records of each soldier to verify his service on a particular date?
Yes! The original muster rolls at the national archives, which were employed to make the Compiled service records for each soldier which are readily accessed, are the best means to derive an effective strength for a given unit on a given day (the day of the muster roll). Every day, Company commanders reported their strength to their regimental commanders, and thence to their brigade, division, corps, etc. However on certain days the muster rolls were submitted to higher headquarters, and to the government. Also, on given days a "return" of strength was ordered to be reported; and even it is based on the strengths of the various component units on that day. Many of these army level returns are found in the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, which volumes are now online.
That said, there are some returns reporting the strengths of some units on the morning of battle, compared with their casualties. I recall one for Preston's Division of Buckner's Corps at Chickamauga in the Official Records, Armies.

So far as I can tell, most historians often simply take the strengths of the armies recorded nearest to a given battle to determine the unit or army strength, even though by all accounts men would fall out on the march, straggle, etc. in varying numbers, or be detailed, or otherwise become non-battle casualties; so that by the time of a battle the effective strength of a unit might have varied widely from the previous recorded returns or muster rolls. At the company level, only the captain would have known exactly how many of his men were effective when they entered a fight, and if he never wrote a specific statement that information is lost to history. I believe that the latter is generally the case.

Best,

J. Marshall,
Hernando, FL
 

Joshism

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Apr 30, 2012
Location
Jupiter, FL
Every day, Company commanders reported their strength to their regimental commanders, and thence to their brigade, division, corps, etc. However on certain days the muster rolls were submitted to higher headquarters, and to the government. Also, on given days a "return" of strength was ordered to be reported; and even it is based on the strengths of the various component units on that day. Many of these army level returns are found in the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, which volumes are now online.

It's important to note that Union and Confederate didn't always report unit strength the same way.
 

RedRover

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Dec 16, 2019
It's important to note that Union and Confederate didn't always report unit strength the same way.
Yes, I understand the Union and Confederate Armies had different, though very similar "Regulations" to follow. The official reports are limited in value regarding strengths, as, I believe both sides were fully aware their opponents were going to read them.

That said, it appears to me the "Provisional Army of the Confederate States" was frequently somewhat lax in enforcing the paperwork side of things, and that is besides the loss of official records with the fall of Richmond, etc. In studying the Army of Tennessee in 1864, for a few particular regiments, I notice there is almost no official returns of casualties, or muster rolls in the last year of the war. I always assumed they were lost, but looking at diaries of several officers and men, it appears the constant tempo of operations, the high turnover of company/regimental (not to mention brigade) commanders, I've come to suspect the required muster rolls were just never processed... Strengths thus have to be estimated based on army returns of brigade/division strengths made every few months, and estimates of unit strengths given in some letters home, diaries, etc.

J. Marshall,
Hernando, FL.
 

tony_gunter

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Mississippi
Follow up question: if a regiment marched all day, deployed beyond the road half a mile the next morning, fought a tough battle, retreated back to the road, and then marched until nightfall ... would they count the casualties at nightfall or do a quick count on the road once in column after the battle?
 

RedRover

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Dec 16, 2019
Follow up question: if a regiment marched all day, deployed beyond the road half a mile the next morning, fought a tough battle, retreated back to the road, and then marched until nightfall ... would they count the casualties at nightfall or do a quick count on the road once in column after the battle?
They counted the casualties when they had occasion to. Here's a period example. A.C. Buell records his battery calling the roll after their fighting at Gettysburg to determine "the butcher's bill." link (bottom of page):

A.C. Buell, the Cannoneer


J. Marshall
 

Belfoured

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Aug 3, 2019
As we know, there are many things that can still get "lost" with these numbers. For example only, on the Union side the "extra duty" subtraction. A commander can be "efficient" or "inefficient" in making these assignments, but there's no systemic way of assessing that. Another example is Confederate "carried into action", which could be significantly lower than PFD - why?
 

Lubliner

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Chattanooga, Tennessee
As we know, there are many things that can still get "lost" with these numbers. For example only, on the Union side the "extra duty" subtraction. A commander can be "efficient" or "inefficient" in making these assignments, but there's no systemic way of assessing that. Another example is Confederate "carried into action", which could be significantly lower than PFD - why?
Possibly due to detachments on special orders.
Lubliner.
 

Belfoured

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Aug 3, 2019
Possibly due to detachments on special orders.
Lubliner.
Agree, but "the devil is in the details". I'd wager a good chunk of change that there were variations in the % of men that given commanders felt were necessary for "extra duty", for example - especially if fighting was imminent. And you'll come across Confederate entries showing "carried into" well below "PFD", to the extent you wonder where everybody went and why.
 

speedylee

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Aug 15, 2017
The Compiled Service Records for each soldier is a good source for where individual soldiers were during their military careers, but you'd have to start with the original muster roll for the regiment. Elsewhere in this string, I have seen the term Alpha Roll which is a decent description. States have archive departments where the information is kept. You can find some of this stuff on Fold3, but I have had an increasingly difficult time working with that site. If you can make an appointment to visit a state archive, that's the best place to start. You probably already know this stuff, but in case you didn't, now you do.
 

RedRover

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Dec 16, 2019
The Compiled Service Records for each soldier is a good source for where individual soldiers were during their military careers, but you'd have to start with the original muster roll for the regiment. Elsewhere in this string, I have seen the term Alpha Roll which is a decent description. States have archive departments where the information is kept. You can find some of this stuff on Fold3, but I have had an increasingly difficult time working with that site. If you can make an appointment to visit a state archive, that's the best place to start. You probably already know this stuff, but in case you didn't, now you do.
Getting to the original muster rolls is virtually impossible, they are in the national archives, and researching there is a pain. Instead, just take the compiled service record cards (which are based on the muster rolls that survive) and "reconstruct" the rolls for a company/ regiment...

J. Marshall,
Hernando, FL
 

Lubliner

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Nov 27, 2018
Location
Chattanooga, Tennessee
Getting to the original muster rolls is virtually impossible, they are in the national archives, and researching there is a pain. Instead, just take the compiled service record cards (which are based on the muster rolls that survive) and "reconstruct" the rolls for a company/ regiment...

J. Marshall,
Hernando, FL
Sometimes a State Archive will have the information.
Lubliner.
 

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