The Soul of Lee, by Randolph H. McKim, Chapter 10

The Soul of Lee


Exigni numero, sed bello vivida virtus.

“It will be difficult to get the world to understand the odds against which we ought.”—Robert E. Lee.

“No one, certainly, since the time of Napoleon has conquered against such immense odds.”—London Times.

To estimate at all correctly the military achievements of Gen. Lee, we must consider the great odds against which he fought, as to numbers, as well as resources. It will be helpful, therefore, to set before the reader a reasonable estimate of the numerical strength of the Confederate Armies as a whole.

Southern writers generally estimate that the Confederate Armies had on their muster rolls, as fighting men, from first to last, from 600,000 to 650,000 men.

Many Northern writers, on the other hand, estimate the actual enrollment of the Confederate Armies as more than 1,100,000—1,500,000 men.

Now there are five lines of independent evidence which support the Southern conclusion upon this question.

I. Our figures are supported by the statements of a number of men who were in position to know what was the total effective strength of the Southern Armies. Among them were Gen. Cooper, adjutant-general of the Confederate Armies, writing in 1869 (see Southern Historical Society Papers, vol. VII, p. 287); Dr. A. T. Bledsoe, Assistant Secretary of War; Gen, John Preston, Chief of the Conscription Bureau; Vice-president Alexander H. Stephens (War Between the States, 1870, vol. II, p. 630) ; Gen. Jubal A. Early, (Southern Historical Papers, vol. II, p. 20); Dr. Joseph Jones (official report, June, 1890, Southern Historical Society Papers, XIX, 14), and Gen. Marcus J. Wright—who now, however, puts the numbers at 700,000 (Southern Historical Society Papers, 19, 254). We ask what better authorities on this subject could be named than the adjutant-general of the army, the Assistant Secretary of War, and Chief of the Conscription Bureau of the Confederate States?

In August, 1869, Dr. Joseph Jones sent to Gen. Cooper a carefully prepared paper on this subject, maintaining the above estimate and asking his opinion as to the accuracy of the data contained therein. Gen. Cooper replied that after having “closely examined” the paper he had “come to the conclusion, from his general recollection,” that “it must be regarded as nearly critically correct.” Is it credible that the adjutant-general of the Confederate Army should have given as his opinion that this number—600,000,—was “nearly critically correct,” if in fact there had been upon the rolls of the Confederate Armies twice that number,—1,277,000 men,—as Gen, Chas. Francis Adams would have us believe?

II. By adding together the Confederate prisoners in the hands of the United States at the close of the war, 98,000; the soldiers who surrendered in 1865, 174,223; those who were killed or died of wounds, 74,508; died in prison, 26,439; died of disease, 59,277; died from other causes, 40,000; discharged, 57,411; deserters, 83,372; we get a total of 613,230. These figures as to the killed and died of wounds, and of disease, are taken from Fox’s monumental work on regimental losses. He “conjectures” that nearly 20,000 must be added to the 74,508 given above, making 94,000; but gives no grounds for this.

III. Again, the official report of Gen. S. Cooper, Adjutant-General, dated March 1, 1862 (127 W.R. 963), states the aggregate of the Confederate Armies, including armed and organized militia, officers and men, as 340,250
Gen. Preston, Superintendent of Conscription, C.S.A,, reports from February, 1862, to February, 1865 (W.R., series 4, vol. 3, p. 1101): Conscriptions (exclusive of Arkansas and Texas)   81,993
Enlistments east of the Mississippi River   76,206
Estimated conscriptions and enlistments west of the river and elsewhere 120,000
Total 618,449

IV. Now compare with these reports the following statement from the New York Tribune of June 26, 1867:

“Among the documents which fell into our hands at the downfall of the Confederacy are the returns, very nearly complete, of the Confederate Armies from their organization in the summer of 1861 down to the spring of 1865. These returns have been care fully analyzed, and I am enabled to furnish the returns in every department and for almost every month from these official sources, We judge in all 600,000 different men were in the Confederate ranks during the war.”

This was accompaneid by a detailed tabular statement.

Is not this good secondary evidence as to the numbers of men in the Confederate Army, especially when we remember the statement of Gen. Cooper, late adjutant-general of the Confederate Armies? He says:

“The files of this office which could best afford this information (as to numbers) were carefully boxed up and taken on our retreat from Richmond to Charlotte, North Carolina, where they were, unfortunately, captured, and, as I learn, are now in Washington.” These files, be it remembered, have never been examined by any Southern writer.

Observe also that the American Encyclopedia (1875), of which Mr. Charles A. Dana, late Assistant Secretary of War. U.S., was editor, quotes Gen. Cooper’s statement as to numbers, without comment, thus tacitly admitting the truth of that statement. Can it be justly said, in the light of these facts, that the estimate usually given by Southern writers is “based on assertion only”?

V. There is a fifth line upon which we are led to a very similar conclusion.

In the work of Lieut-Col. Wm. F. Fox, Regimental Losses in the Civil War, we find the strength of the Confederate Armies furnished by the seceded States and by the Border States as well, reckoned as follows: 529 regiments and 85 battalions of infantry; 127 regiments and 47 battalions of cavalry; 8 regiments and I battalion of partisan rangers; 5 regiments and 6 battalions of heavy artillery, and 261 batteries of light artillery—in all equivalent to 764 regiments of 10 companies. In making this statement Col. Fox assures his readers that “no statistics are given that are not warranted by the official records.”

As to the size of the regiments we get some light from the following reports: The Confederate adjutant-general reports in March, 1862, an average strength of 823 men in 369 regiments and 89 battalions (127 W.R. 963). Beauregard’s Corps (32 regiments) is reported August 31, 1861, as numbering 1037 men to the regiment (5 W.R. 824). Longstreet’s Virginia troops, June 23, 1862, averaged 754 men to the regiment. (14 W.R. 614, 615.)

But more important is the legislation of the Congress. The Confederate Act of March 6, 1861, prescribed for infantry companies the number of 104, and for cavalry 72, which gives, for an infantry regiment (10 companies) 1040 men, and for a cavalry regiment 720 men—provided the ranks were full, which was by no means the rule but rather the exception. Observe now that in November, 1861, the War Department prescribed that no infantry company should be accepted with less than 64 men and no cavalry company with less than 60 and no artillery company with less than 70. On this basis infantry regiments might number only 640 men and cavalry regiments only 600.

This marked change in the standard of the size of companies and regiments prescribed by the War Department in November, 1861, as compared with the Act of March, 1861, lowering the requisite number of men in an infantry regiment from 1040 to 640, and in a cavalry regiment from 720 to 600, is suggestive of the fact that it was not found easy to raise regiments of the size originally prescribed.

Now in calculating the strength of the Confederate Army from the number of regiments, we shall probably approximate a correct result by taking the mean between the larger and smaller number just referred to. But the mean between 1040 and 640 is 840, and that between 720 and 600 is 660.

Applying this standard to Col. Fox’s statement of the troops in the entire Confederate Army, we get the the following result:

529 regiments of infantry, 840 each 444,360
85 battalions infantry, 400 each   34,000
127 regiments cavalry, 600 each   76,200
47 battalions cavalry, 400 each   18,800
261 batteries light artillery, 70 each   16,270
5 regiments heavy artillery, 800 each     4,000
6 battalions heavy artillery, 400 each     2,400
8 regiments partisan rangers, 700 each     5,600
1 battalion partisan rangers        350

The size of infantry and cavalry battalions and of regiments and battalions of heavy artillery in this calculation, as well as of the regiments of partisan rangers, is in each case suggested by that accomplished and experienced officer, Col. Walter H. Taylor, adjutant-general on the staff of Gen. Robert E. Lee. His figures may be rather high-certainly they are not too low. Of course such a calculation is necessarily only approximate, but the basis on which it is made appears reasonably reliable, To one who had personal observation of the armies in Virginia from the first battle of Manassas to Appomattox, the standard of strength in regiments and battalions in the field above adopted, seems in conformity with the facts.

These five lines of evidence appear to give strong support to the conclusion that the Southern writers allude to.

Let us add, however, some important considerations of a general nature bearing on the problem.

I. During the first year of the war the Confederate Government could not have availed itself of even 500,000 men for its armies, inasmuch as it was utterly unable to arm and equip them. The supply of arms and of artillery was utterly inadequate for even half that number.[1] As the war progressed the muskets, the sabres, the cannon, used in the Confederate Army, if examined, would have been found to have been in larger part captured on the field of battle. Pompey the Great is reported to have said, “I have only to stamp with my foot to raise legions from the soil of Italy.” Had Jefferson Davis been able by the stamp of his foot to summon 1,000,000 men to the Confederate colors in the spring of 1861, what advantage would it have been? He could not have armed them, even if he could have fed and clothed and transported them.

2. The fact must not be overlooked that by May, 1862, the Northern Armies were in permanent occupation of middle and west Tennessee, nearly the whole of Louisiana, part of Florida, the coasts of North and South Carolina, southeastern Virginia, much of northern Virginia, and practically the whole of that part of Virginia known as Western Virginia. The population thus excluded from the support of the Confederacy may be estimated conservatively at 1,200,000, leaving 3,800,000 to bear the burden of the war. Hence the estimate of the arms-bearing population in 1862, when the real tug began, would be, according to the accepted ratio, not 1,000,000, but 760,000. Of this number, one-fifth would be regularly exempt, i.e., 152,000; and many thousands more were detailed for various branches of industry. Doubtless during the first year thousands entered the Confederate Army from this territory—a fair proportion of the 340,000 on the muster rolls in March, 1862; but the conscript law could not operate, never did operate—in this fourth of the Southern territory.

3. The seceded States (including West Virginia) furnished the Northern Armies, according to the returns of the War Department, 86,000 men. The records of the War Department show a total of white soldiers from all Southern States, including Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, West Virginia, Delaware and District of Columbia, of 295,481.

4. It must be remembered that while the unanimity with which the Southern people supported the war has perhaps never been surpassed in so large a revolution, yet there was a large element of disloyalty, especially in the mountainous regions of the South. For instance, in the Valley of Virginia there were large numbers of Quakers and Dunkards, all opposed to war. There were also in that region the numerous descendants of the Hessian prisoners, who were not in sympathy with us. The number of Union men in the South who did not take up arms has been estimated at 80,000.

5. It must also be remembered that “there was also an element of baser metal,—men who begrudged the sacrifice for liberty and shirked danger.”

6. It has been said that the Confederate States passed the most drastic conscript law on record—which may be true; but it is a mistake to suppose that this law was successfully executed. Thus, Gen, Cobb writes, December, 1864, from Macon, Georgia, to the Secretary of War: “I say to you that you will never get the men into the service who ought to be there, through the conscript camp. It would require the whole army to enforce the conscript law if the same state of things exists throughout the Confederacy which I know to be the case in Georgia and Alabama, and I may add Tennessee.” (W.R., series 4, vol. 3, p. 964.)

Again, H. W. Walters, writing from Oxford, Mississippi, to the Department, December, 1864, says: “I regard the conscript department in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi as almost worthless.” Yet again Gen. T. H. Holmes reports to Adjutant-Gen, Cooper as to North Carolina, April 29, 1864: “After a full and complete conference with Col. Mallett, commandant of conscription, . . . I am pained to report that there is much disaffection in many of the counties, which, emboldened by the absence of troops, are being organized in some places to resist enrolling officers.“ And Gen. Kemper reports, December 4, 1864, that in his belief there were 40,000 men in Virginia out of the army between the ages of eighteen and forty-five. (W.R., series 4, vol. 3, p. 855.)

In support of his thesis that the whole military population was enrolled in the Confederate Armies Col, Livermore quotes a letter of Gen. Lee, urging the necessity of “getting out our entire arms-bearing population in Virginia and North Carolina.” But this letter, written October 4, 1864, six months before the surrender, is strong evidence that up to that time the stringent conscript laws had failed to get out even in Virginia and North Carolina, “the entire arms-bearing population.”—(Livermore, Numbers and Losses, p. 17.)

Col. Livermore quotes another letter of Gen. Lee, dated September 16, 1864, in confirmation of his opinion that the conscription laws were thoroughly enforced, in which Gen. Lee speaks of the “imperious necessity of getting all our men subject to military duty in the field”; but we must note that the General adds, “I get no additions.” (Id,, p. 17.) Is that statement consistent with the rigid and successful enforcement of the conscript law? Is it not rather the most conclusive evidence that it was not successfully enforced? Or is our Bœotian wit so dull that we cannot see the point? If so, we pray to be enlightened!

The statement is often made that the Confederate Conscription embraced all white males between 16 and 60 years of age. This is an error. The first Act, April 16, 1862, embraced men between 18 and 35 years; the second, of September 27, 1862, men between 18 and 45 years; the third and last, of February 17, 1864, men between 17 and 50. Both Gen. Adams and Col. Livermore acknowledge this. Yet the latter rests his argument on the supposition that the Conscription gathered in all males between 16 and 60 years.

In further illustration of this subject, I may point out that one of the difficulties confronting the conscript officers was the opposition of the governors of some of the States, notably the Governor of Mississippi, the Governor of North Carolina, and the Governor of Georgia. Thus the doctrine of States Rights, which was the bedrock of the Southern Confederacy, became a barrier to the effectiveness of the Confederate Government! South Carolina passed an exemption law which nullified to a certain extent the conscript laws of the Confederacy, and Governor Vance of North Carolina proposed “to try title with the Confederate Government in resisting the claims of the conscript officers to such citizens of North Carolina as he made claim to for the proper administration of the State.”

“The laws of North Carolina,” Gen, Preston complains (W.R. 4, 3, p. 867), “have created large numbers of officers, and the Governor of that State has not only claimed exemption for those officers, but for all persons employed in any form by the State of North Carolina, such as workers in factories, salt-makers, etc.”

This bureau has no power to enforce the Confederate law in opposition to the . . . claims of the State.

Gov. Brown of Georgia forbade the enrollment of “large bodies of the citizens of Georgia.”

The number is supposed to have reached 8000 men liable to Confederate ser[vi]ce, Gen. Preston complains in like strain of the action of the Governor of Mississippi.

There is an important report by Gen, Preston in February, 1865 (W.R. 4, 3, pp. 1099–1111). In this he gives the number of exempts allowed by the Conscript Bureau in seven States, and parts of two States, east of the Mississippi as 66,586.

He then gives the agricultural details, details for public necessity, and for government service, contractors and artisans, a total of 21,414–the whole aggregating 87,990 men.

In another report, already referred to, November, 1864, he gives the number of State officers exempted on the certificates of governors in nine States as 18,843. This, with the preceding, makes a grand total of 106,833.

These are exemptions under the Confederate States’ law in seven States, and in parts of two States. They do not include the States west of the Mississippi. But in addition to these there were many thousand exemptions under purely State laws. We have no complete record of these last; but in the State of Georgia alone we have a record of 11,031 such exemptions.

7. We must also consider the large numbers of men employed on the railroads, in the government departments, in State offices, and in the various branches of manufacture necessary for the support of the Army and of the people; and in directing the agricultural labor of the slaves. Factories were started for making swords, bayonets, muskets, percussion caps, powder, cartridges, cartridge boxes, belts, and other equipment; for clothing, for caps and shoes, for harness and saddles, for artillery-caissons and carriages; for guns, cannon and powder.

We may also refer to the statement of Gen. Kemper that in December, 1864, “the returns of the bureau, obviously imperfect and partial, show 28,035 men in the State of Virginia between eighteen and forty-five I exempt and detailed for all causes.” The South having an agricultural population, it was necessary, as just said, when war came, to organize manufactories of every kind of equipment for the Army.

After all, the most important question to determine is the number of men actually serving with the colors in the armies of the Confederate States. And even if we admit an enrollment in the Confederate Army of 700,000, and reduce our estimates of exemptions and details for special work from 125,000 to 100,000, there remain apparently for service in the field only about 600,000 men; and that, I suppose, is what Gen. Cooper and other Southern authorities had in mind.

We know approximately the respective numbers in the great battles of the war, and we submit that these numbers are far more consistent with the maximum of 600,000 serving with the colors than with the maximum of 1,200,000.[2] If, indeed, the Confederacy had been able to muster in arms 1,200,000 men, it is greatly to the discredit of their able generals that never in any one battle were they able to confront the enemy with more than 80,000 men.


In the month of Hay, 1862, as we have shown above, at least one-fourth of the Southern territory had been wrenched from the control of the Confederate Government. In the territory remaining there was in round numbers a population of about 3,800,000 souls. The military population then should have been 760,000.

To this must be added, by the extension of the military age down to 17 and up to 50, 10 per cent—that is, in all, six additional years, 76,000.

Then we must make a further addition (adopting Gen. Chas. Francis Adams’ ratio), for youths reaching military age in four years, of 12 per cent of the military population, or 91,200 men. This, with the age extension addition—76,000—makes a total of 167,200 which, added to the original estimated population of 760,000 makes a grand total of 927,200.

To this number Mr. Adams would add the men furnished by the Border States to the Confederate Army, viz. (as is alleged), 117,000, a grand available total of 1,044,200.

But this estimate of 117,000 men furnished the Confederate Army by the Border States (Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri) cannot be relied upon as even approximately accurate. For example, it included 20,000 men alleged to have been furnished by the State of Maryland. But a careful examination of all the Maryland organizations, including several companies in Virginia regiments, gives a total of only 4580 from the State of Maryland.

To sum up this part of the argument: Let it be granted that there was an available military population, first and last, in that part of the Confederacy not occupied by the Federal Armies, of 927,200, to which may be added volunteers first year of war from territory occupied by Federal forces after May, 1862      85,000
And also men from Border States      75,000
Aggregate 1,087,200
Deductions from this as follows:
Natural death rate in two and one-half years, before being enrolled in Army, 2½ per cent      11,055
Southern men from Confederate States in U. S. Army,      55,000
Disloyal, estimated      80,000
Exempt for physical and mental disability:
Twenty per cent of the whole (after deducting the two previous items), viz., 782,200    158,440
Leaving available aggregate    782,705
Aggregate 1,087,200

Now let us remember that; out of this available aggregate (exaggerated though we believe the number to be), there had to be created for the service of the Confederate States three armies,—an army of soldiers, an army of civil servants and an army of industrial and agricultural workers. If we put the strength of the fighting army at 620,000, there will remain for the other two armies 162,000 men,—and we have seen grounds for believing that there were 40,000 soldiers detailed for special work, and 120,000 exempt as State officers, workmen in various occupations, agricultural and necessary purposes, mechanics, railway servants, etc. And it may be asked with confidence whether for all these manifold purposes 162,000 men can be considered an excessive or unreasonable number? To support the army in the field, to equip the civil governments of eleven great States, and to supply the life blood of civilization in a country of such vast extent as the Southern Confederacy, necessarily absorbed the energies of a great number of men.

Finally consider the following record:

Officers and men in all the Confederate Armies, February, 1865:

Aggregate for duty 160,000
Aggregate present and absent
(W.R. iv, iii, p. 1182).

Gen. Marcus Wright, an expert authority, estimates the strength of the Confederate Armies at the close of the war, thus:

Present    157,613
Absent    117,387
Total    275,000
And of the Union Army thus:
Absent    202,700

Compare also the fact that there were mustered out of the Union Army at the end of the War 1,034,000 men, and in all the Confederacy there were surrendered Confederate soldiers to the number of 174,000 only, and this included all paroled men in hospitals or in the homes, as well as those in armies.

No wonder Lee wrote to Early shortly after the war, “It will be difficult to get the world to understand the odds against which we fought.”

Reviewing the whole record we may still claim for the Armies of the Southern Confederacy the encomium passed by Virgil nearly two thousand years ago:

Exigui numero, sed bello vivida virtus.

Light is shed upon the question of the numerical strength of the Confederate Armies by a consideration of the numbers in the armies of the nations of Europe at the present time.

It will be conceded that the Southern States were not under greater pressure to put forth all their strength, than are the nations now at war. Now if Mr. Chas. Francis Adams’ estimate of the number of men at the front in the South be taken as the standard (Military Studies, p. 285–6) what should be the size of the armies of Belgium, France and England and Germany today?

That is to say, If the Confederate States, with a white population of 5,000,000, really mustered an army of at least 1,200,000 men, as Mr. Adams declares, what should be the size of the armies now contending in Europe, if the same proportion obtains?

Here is the answer:

Little Belgium, with a population of 7,000,000 should have an army of 1,680,000 men (she has perhaps 300,000 or possibly 400,000). Great Britain and Ireland with a population of say 45,000,000 should have an army of 10,800,000 (she has 5,000,000 of which about 1,000,000 come from her overseas colonies not included in the population given). France, with a population of say 40,000,000 should have an army of 9,600,000 (she may actually have 4,500,000). And Germany with a population of say 68,000,000 should have an army of 16,000,000 (does she even reach 8,000,000 exclusive of Austria’s contingent?).

On the other hand if we accept as approximately correct the highest Southern estimate of the strength of the Confederate Armies, viz., about 650,000, and apply the same ratio to the countries just named, Belgium would muster 910,000; Great Britain (exclusive of her colonies), 5,850,000; France, 5,200,000, and Germany, 8,840,000.

These figures seem to furnish conclusive practical proof of the grave error of Mr. Adams’ estimate.


[1] The author acted as adjutant of the Third Brigade. A.N.Va., in the Gettysburg campaign. Even then, in the third year of the war, and in that best equipped army, the returns showed only 1480 muskets to 1941 men in the brigade. One-fourth of the command was without arms.

[2] Thus, to quote that able and expert authority Gen. Marcus J. Wright; Battles around Richmond (1862): Lee, 80,835; McClellan, 115,249, At Antietam, Confederates, 35,255 ; Federals, 87,164. At Fredericksburg, Confederates, 78,110; Federals, 110,000. At Chancellorsville, Confederates, 57,212; Federal, 131,661. At Gettysburg, Confederates, 64.000; Federals, 95,000. At the Wilderness, Confederates, 63,981; Federals, 141,160.

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