Civil War Battles Fought By Amateurs

Bronnie Vaughn asked:

A large percentage of Civil War soldiers, both Union and Confederate, were amateurs. This applied more to the enlisted men than to the armies’ officers. The majority of Civil War officers were trained military professionals and had attended and graduated from West Point. Many of these officers had also seen service in the Mexican War and other conflicts. The enlisted men were largely volunteers; city business men, factory workers and farmers who had taken up arms for whichever cause appealed to their personal beliefs and then fought for their respective republics.

Lincoln’s top general, Winfield Scott, had fought with volunteers during the Mexican War and didn’t appreciate them as soldiers. He had found the untrained volunteers to be unruly, unskilled and generally men that didn’t take to following orders. In his eyes these qualities made them useless as soldiers and not fit for battle. Whether Scott’s viewpoint was valid or not was moot. The Union had plenty of weapons but not enough men to make up an army needed for the war building on the horizon.

Lincoln put out a call for 75,000 militia and other volunteers to enlist for three months on 15th of April 1861. This was the how long he thought it would take the Union army to put down the rebellion and bring the southern states back to the Union. He got his 75,000 volunteers and more. Jefferson Davis had called for and got more than 100,000 men in the South for one year enlistments. Both the Union Army as well as a new Confederate Army was now ready for the bloodiest war in American history.

General Scott pleaded with President Lincoln for time to train his volunteers and to get the supply services in place needed to sustain his Army because he knew that his newly formed army was far from ready to go into battle against an armed enemy. Few if any of the men had any training in combat, strategy or in the use of their weapons. This extensive warfare training would take more time than Lincoln had to give because of the intense pressure he was getting from Congress and the public to bring the war to a quick end and a victory for the United States.

Even though they also received little or no military training, the Confederate Army was somewhat better off as a fighting force. The majority of the Southerners were farmers and outdoor types and more adept in the use of their rifles and other commonly carried Civil War weapons such as pistols and fighting knives. Another decided advantage was that the Confederate soldiers were fighting in their own back yard and were more familiar with the terrain.

Once the armies engaged in earnest fighting the soldiers on both sides quickly learned that shooting at another man, and being shot at, was far from deer or rabbit hunting and the reality of war set in. The soldiers were literally baptized by fire and found battle more frightening than could be imagined. Those soldiers not killed or wounded in their first battle became seasoned fighters and were of great help in the training of replacements.

Participating in a Civil War reenactment, wearing authentic reproduction Confederate or Union Uniforms and other period correct clothing and gear, is to experience some of these feelings of being in a shooting war.

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