Discipline & Training of Soldiers

Rather than learning in training camp, Civil War regiments had to learn to fight on the battlefield. The training of regiments was lacking and consisted mainly of the manual of arms, little target practice, company and regimental drills in basic maneuvers and brigade drill and skirmishing tactics. Division drill or mock combat was a rare occurrence. Many regiments went into combat only three weeks after being organized. 

Brigades were not combined into divisions until July 1861 or later, nor divisions into corps until the spring and summer of 1862. This means that no one, not even the officers had any experience fighting in such large numbers. 

In the Union,  the culture, traditions and attitudes of the Regular Army provided a standard for the volunteer army to emulate during the Civil War. In the Confederacy, despite not having a regular army at the start of the war, the widespread influence of the many military school trained officers and resigned officers of the U.S. federal army provided the Confederate volunteer troops with an example of proper army culture, traditions and attitudes. However, the amount of volunteers dwarfed the relatively small regular army and number of professional officers.

Amateurism and a flexible legal system became the norm, which did not please the volunteers nor the professional soldiers. Citizen soldiers defied the enemy, but were also against being told what to do by the army. The Federal troops hardly obeyed the rules but performed well during battle. Citizen soldiers considered themselves men first and obedient soldiers second while officers demanded respect but often failed to earn it and live up to their own standards. Citizen soldiers found it hard to obey cut-and-dried forms of authority that was custom of West Point-educated officers. Soldiers gave up citizen life for military life but didn’t want to give up rights or privileges.

The influence of the Regular Army did not create a Regular-Army-like discipline as much as they tried to disseminate the culture. Defiance to Regular-Army-like discipline ranged from refusing to accept that level of discipline to outright rebellion against it. Citizen soldiers did not understand the undemocratic way of life of a soldier where they could not elect their own officers, had to submit themselves to the hierarchical nature of officer rank and follow discipline that they were not used to in everyday life. Rather than believing the discipline to be something necessary for the greater good of the Union Army’s effort to win the war, they believed that the army-level of discipline was infringing on their rights as citizens.

(1, 2, 6, 8)

Photo: http://www.archives.gov/research/military/civil-war/photos/images/civil-war-035.jpg

leadr Written by: