Civil War Military Organization

Now that I find myself resuming my Civil War studies, I am remembering that one of the fundamentals one needs to master is military organization. You will read and hear references to the 1st Minnesota , for example, which held the center during Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, and the 20th Maine, Joshua Chamberlain’s command on Little Round Top. But what do these mean?

These are Regiments, generally speaking the basic maneuverable units in the Civil War. More importantly, Regiments were recruited from the same state, usually from a single or adjoining counties, and thus had a certain common bond.

Regiments are further broken down into ten companies, denoted by the a letter A-K (skipping J; I would love to know the reason why). Companies may be further broken down into platoons, platoons into squads, but, because of the tactics used at the time (i.e., massed units maneuvered to stand opposed, firing at each other), anything less than the Regiment isn’t as meaningful in Civil War combat as in modern warfare.

For example, Battalions are ad hoc groupings of Companies within a Regiment, generally with a specific purpose, such as artillery or cavalry. To add even further to the confusion, cavalry and other specialized units might be a Battalion, Regiment, or even a Division, such as J.E.B. Stuart’s command.

Finally, the fallout of battle eroded and blurred the organizational lines. As Joshua Chamberlain said while receiving the surrendering troops of the Army of Northern Virginia:

We formed along the principal street, from the bluff bank of the stream to near the Court House on the left,–to face the last line of battle, and receive the last remnant of the arms and colors of that great army which ours had been created to confront for all that death can do for life. We were remnants also: Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York; veterans, and replaced veterans; cut to pieces, cut down, consolidated, divisions into brigades, regiments into one, gathered by State origin; this little line, quintessence or metempsychosis of Porter’s old corps of Gaines’ Mill and Malvern Hill; men of near blood born, made nearer by blood shed. Those facing us-now, thank God! the same.

All that said, here is the general hierarchy:

Regiment < Brigade < Division < Corps < Army

And a more detailed comparison:


Unit Size Components Leader
Army 80,000 3 Corps Major General+
Corps 26,000 2-3 Divisions Major General+
Division 8,000 2-4 Brigades Major General+
Brigade 2,600 2-5 Regiments Brigadier General+
Regiment 800 Companies Colonel+

Civil War Army Organization

I always confuse Regiment, Battalion and Brigade, so a mnemonic I use mnemonic for remembering is that the Brigade is lead by a Brigadier General, which is of higher rank. than a Colonel, who leads a Regiment.




John Smith in New England

We first met John Smith in Virginia. Many don’t know he was instrumental in the settlement of New England as well. Long before the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock, Smith was exploring the northern coastline of America.

John Smith 1616 New England map

As a matter of fact, it was Smith who named “New England”, having published maps and his A Description of New England in 1616, which were used by later settlers, as Smith intended. His purpose was to encourage colonization, in no small part with hopes of gainful employment as a guide. Smith’s experiences in the New World led to a philosophy of colonization.

“Who can desire more content, that hath small meanes; or but only his merit to advance his fortune, then to tread, and plant that ground hee hath purchased by the hazard of his life? If he have but the taste of virtue, and magnanimitie, 1 what to such a minde can bee more pleasant, then planting and building a foundation for his Posteritie, gotte from the rude earth, by Gods blessing and his owne industrie, without prejudice to any? 2 If hee have any graine of faith or zeale in Religion, what can hee doe lesse hurtfull to any; or more agreeable to God, then to seeke to convert those poore Salvages to know Christ, and humanitie, whose labors with discretion will triple requite thy charge and paines? What so truely sutes with honour and honestie, as the discovering things unknowne? erecting Townes, peopling Countries, informing the ignorant, reforming things unjust, teaching virtue; and gaine to our Native mother-countrie a kingdom to attend her; finde imployment for those that are idle, because they know not what to doe: so farre from wronging any, as to cause Posteritie to remember thee; and remembring thee, ever honour that remembrance with”

John Smith, A Description of New England

Most assuredly, “agreeable to God” was quite agreeable to the Puritans as a reason for leaving the Old World and settling the New.



Next Adventure: New England

My son, a naval officer, recently got assigned to a school in Groton, CT, and I’m planning on visiting soon. I have been to New England many times over the years, and am looking forward to what may very well be my last visit.

I have made a point to make a pilgrimage to Walden Pond on each of my visits, but I have decided to forego that this time. There is a saturation point with visitations. I am, however, planning on visiting Salem for the fourth time, where I’ll be staying at the Hawthorne Hotel. Nathaniel Hawthorne was an inspiration to me when I was a young writer, providing the impetus for my first trip to Salem, to see the House of Seven Gables. On that visit I had an idea for a short story about a real witch amidst all the tourist trappings and witch wannabes. The story has evolved in my head over time, but I’m now ready to start laying it out.

The focal point of my trip is The Homestead, Emily Dickinson’s home in Amherst. Since before last March’s A Gathering of Poets I have been studying, and appreciating, Dickinson. I built an Amazon Alexa Skill to read her work and emulate Emily’s personality. It’s a start, and I have a ways to go to realize my vision, meaning I will continue to work on Dickinson into the foreseeable future. I want to see where she lived.

The time she lived is also important, which is why I’m resuming my Civil War studies, and will include stops in Appomattox and Gettysburg. I’ve been to both, and always felt another trip to Gettysburg was needed. I have another story about ghosts in Gettysburg, which, of all the Civil War battlefields I have visited, I found most moving.

I’m thinking of revisiting Monticello while in the area of Appomattox. I would also like to hit Saratoga while I’m in upstate New York as well, but there probably won’t be time, even though I read a book on the battle a few months back in anticipation of the trip. I would have liked to visit Emerson’s house as well, and Herman Melville’s Arrowhead, but it looks like both will be closed.

Oh, well. I’ve been to Emerson’s on a couple of previous occasions, and have picture in my mind. Arrowhead is too far inland for my great white whale.



The use of travel

“The use of travelling,” Doctor Johnson wrote Mrs. Thrale, “is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.””


from “The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 (Oxford History of the United States)” by Robert Middlekauff –

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Captain John Smith’s Map of Virginia

“Here doth inhabite the people of Sarapinagh, Nause, Arseek, and Nantaquak the best Marchants of all other Salvages.”

“Captain John Smith: A Select Edition of His Writings (Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia)” by John Smith, Karen Ordahl Kupperman. Start reading this book for free:

Map of Virginia, c1606 as Described by Captain John Smith – 24″x36″ Poster

Anticipating a trip to Virginia in September, I’ve been reading Captain John Smith, again. It dawned on me that it would be cool to have a full size poster of his map of Virginia to determine exactly where he is talking about.


I thought of you when I read this quote from “Captain John Smith: A Select Edition of His Writings (Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia)” by John Smith, Karen Ordahl Kupperman –

“surely God did most mercifully heare us, till the continuall inundations of mistaking directions, factions, and numbers of unprovided Libertines neere consumed us all, as the Israelites in the wildernesse.”

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Witchcraft as a primitive science

I thought of you when I read this quote from “A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 1718” by Wallace Notestein –

“The kynge laye att Hamtone courte the same tyme, and me lord protector at the Syone; unto whome I caryed this Alen, with his bokes off conejuracyons, cearkles, and many thynges beloungynge to thatt dyvlyshe art, wiche he affyrmed before me lorde was a lawfulle cyens [science], for the statute agaynst souche was repealed. ‘Thow folyshe knave! (sayde me lorde) yff thou and all thatt be off thy cyens telle me what I shalle do to-morow, I wylle geve the alle thatt I have’; commaundynge me to cary hym unto the Tower.””

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The scope of witchcraft

I thought of you when I read this quote from “A History of Witchcraft in England from 1558 to 1718” by Wallace Notestein –

“IT HAS BEEN SAID BY a thoughtful writer that the subject of witchcraft has hardly received that place which it deserves in the history of opinions. There has been, of course, a reason for this neglect—the fact that the belief in witchcraft is no longer existent among intelligent people and that its history, in consequence, seems to possess rather an antiquarian than a living interest. No one can tell the story of the witch trials of sixteenth and seventeenth century England without digging up a buried past, and the process of exhumation is not always pleasant. Yet the study of English witchcraft is more than an unsightly exposure of a forgotten superstition. There were few aspects of sixteenth and seventeenth century life that were not affected by the ugly belief.”

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I thought of you when I read this quote from “The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 (Oxford History of the United States)” by Robert Middlekauff –

“Perhaps with more hope than realism it was Hobbes who, in 1651, consigned superstition to the past and who assumed that rationality distinguished the mind of his day. In the past, now happily departed according to Hobbes, men explained invisible agencies by calling up “a god, or a Divel.” Their own mental quirks and events in nature which seemed inexplicable were explained, and men had “invoked also their own wit, by the name of Muses; their own ignorance, by the name of Fortune; their own lusts, by the name of Cupid, their own rage, by the name of Furies.”10 But such explanations had long since lost their power to persuade. Reason and light apparently governed the eighteenth century, along with the down-to-earth, the solid, the dependable, the commonsensical realities.”

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No more English witches

I thought of you when I read this quote from “The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 (Oxford History of the United States)” by Robert Middlekauff –

“The excesses of the seventeenth century—antinomianism, fanaticism, and a bloody civil war—had not left a legacy of moral weariness or social fatigue, but they had created a suspicion of inspiration, extravagance, and innovation—especially, though not exclusively, in day-to-day behavior, religion, and politics. There were, of course, cranks and fanatics in England throughout the eighteenth century, and there were political radicals, but all these sorts were outsiders, butting their heads against a social order resistant to all but the familiar, the known, and the conventional. For the English air was no longer full of ghosts and sprites, furies and fairies, witches and goblins. It did not nourish the prophets and sectarians who had sought to make the world over in the full tide of the Spirit a century earlier. The process of clearing the atmosphere had begun while it was still full of fancies, and while men still dreamed extravagant dreams of the New Jerusalem incarnate in England.”

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