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:
|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+|
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.