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June 24, 2018

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General Confusion

There was considerable difference in the way the Union and Confederate armies allocated general officers.

During the Gettysburg Campaign, the Army of the Potomac had 65 generals, while the Army of Northern Virginia had 53.

The highest rank in the Army of the Potomac was major general of volunteers, which was shared by fourteen officers, including the army commander, George G. Meade, the chief of staff, eight corps commanders, and four division commanders. There were also 51 brigadier generals. Brigadier generals commanded 18 divisions, including the three of cavalry. Of 50 infantry and six cavalry brigades, half of each were led by brigadier generals and half by colonels, and there were five brigadier generals at army headquarters, serving in various staff capacities. In contrast, the Army of Northern Virginia had one full general, commanding, Lee, plus three lieutenant generals, one for each corps. There were eleven major generals, one for each division, including the cavalry, plus a spare at headquarters. Of 37 infantry brigades, brigadier generals commanded all but six, which were led by colonels, while in the cavalry there were six brigadier generals leading brigades and only one colonel.

There were about 1,430 troops for each of the 65 generals in the Army of the Potomac, and approximately 1,300 troops for each of the 53 generals in the Army of Northern Virginia. Adding in the colonels serving in command of brigades, the ratios fall to about 1,010 men for each of the 92 general officer posts in the Army of the Potomacand 1,165 for each of the 60 general officer posts in the Army of Northern Virginia. These figures may seem excessive by modern standards, but were quite normal for the times, when communications were much more difficult and it was necessary to have more rank at lower levels. In fact, the somewhat lower proportion of troops to generals probably gave the Army of the Potomac a useful, if small, advantage, since it was possible to supervise the troops more closely. In 1863 generals actually led their troops into action, as demonstrated by their casualty rates during the battle; five Confederate and four Union generals were killed or mortally wounded during the battle, while a dozen Confederate and thirteen Union generals were less seriously wounded, making for a Confederate general officer casualty rate of 32-percent and a Union one of 26-percent. In addition, four Union colonels were killed and seven wounded leading brigades, as well as six Confederate colonels wounded leading brigades. So 30-percent of the 92 Union officers holding brigade or higher commands became casualties, as did 38-percent of their Confederate counterparts, exclusive of men taken prisoner. Leading troops during the Civil War was not a low risk proposition.

Although the relative ranks involved were lower, the Union artillery was much worse off than the Confederate artillery in terms of rank. Of fifteen Union artillery brigades (so-called lbecause Chief of Artillery Brig. Gen. Henry Hunt preferred "brigades" in the hope of getting promotions for gunners) two were commanded by colonels, one by a lieutenant colonel, one by a major, ten by captains, and one by a lowly lieutenant. In the Confederate artillery the situation was much better, for each corps had a colonel as chief of artillery, and of fourteen battalions, two were led by colonels, three by lieutenant colonels, and the balance by majors.

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