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American Civil War Life: Filling the Ranks – Order of Battle: The Regiment/Battalion

Updated on October 27, 2018
garytameling profile image

I'm a Sr. Financial Analyst from Long Island, NY and am an American Civil War buff and Living Historian (Company H, 119th NY Volunteers).

Order of Battle: The Regiment / Battalion

As mentioned earlier, several Volunteer or Militia Companies were consolidated by State Governors into larger combat units. This next largest unit was called the Regiment, though for the purpose of instruction by officers, Regiments were interchangeably called Battalions.

As State Governors essentially created them, Regiments were intended to be composed of Companies and troops from the same state. In actual practice, this was not always the case. Men, sometimes entire Companies of them, travelled to neighboring states to find forming Regiments that accepted them if they were declined from joining their own state’s units. Companies and Regiments, already at full strength, turned-away any additional volunteers, and recruitment offices often closed when enlistment quotas were met.

Volunteer and Militia Regiments each normally contained ten Companies (Figure 1), though there were exceptions, as we’ll soon learn. Many Militia Regiments, in fact, did not follow this standard, perhaps due to pre-existing Regimental organization plans or similar reasoning. Volunteer Regiments tended to have fewer such exceptions.

There seems to have been some variety in the definition of “full strength” for a Volunteer Regiment. 1,025 officers and men appears to be the most followed standard. However, fewer than 1,000, and as many as 1,046, were also mentioned as “full-strength”, as per the regulations. By comparison, the full regulation strength of a Militia Regiment was 780 officers and men, somewhat lower than that of a Volunteer Regiment for some currently unknown reason.

Regiments were designated by number and state (i.e. 67th Regiment, New York Volunteers, or 7th Regiment, New York Militia). The number represented the chronological order in which the state’s Regiment was raised. The 67th Regiment New York Volunteers was the 67th Regiment of infantry Volunteers to be raised by the state of New York during the American Civil War. Some other states had a slightly different numbering method. For example, the first Regiment of infantry Volunteers to be raised by the state of Indiana, for the American Civil War, was the 6th Regiment. Indiana had raised five Volunteer infantry Regiments during the Mexican War, numbered 1st through 5th. These were the very first Volunteer Regiments raised by Indiana since it became a state. Thus, Indiana decided to continue the numbering method subsequent to those very first Volunteer Regiments.

Cavalry and Artillery units were similarly identified by number and state, though their numbering system was separate from the other Arms of the Army. For example, a state could have raised the 1st Regiment, Infantry Volunteers, the 1st Regiment, Cavalry Volunteers, and 1st Regiment, Light Artillery Volunteers.

The following list details the Regiment’s commander and his administrative staff:

A Colonel – he was the commanding officer of a Regiment.

A Lieutenant Colonel – he was the second-in-command of the Regiment.

A Major – he was the third-in-command of the Regiment.

There may have been a “junior” Major present as well, who would have been the fourth-in-command.

An Adjutant (rank of 1st Lieutenant) – he handled the administrative details of the Regiment.

A Quartermaster Lieutenant and a Quartermaster Sergeant – they were responsible for the Regiment’s equipment, supplies, and transportation.

A Commissary Sergeant – he was responsible for the Regiment’s food reception and distribution.

A Surgeon (rank of Major), 2 Assistant Surgeons (rank of Captains), and a Hospital Steward (from Private to as high as Lieutenant) – they were all responsible for the medical needs of the Regiment.

A Chaplain – he provided moral and spiritual guidance to the Regiment, served as a counselor for those in emotional distress, and attended to the wounded and sick,

A Sergeant Major – he served as the commander’s liaison to, and advocate for, all the enlisted men and NCO’s in the Regiment,

2 Principal Musicians (ranked somewhere “between” Corporal and Private) – one headed the Field Music (fifes/bugles and drums), and one headed the Regimental Band, if there was one.

The number of officers of a Volunteer Regiment usually totaled 38 (ten Captains, ten 1st Lieutenants, ten 2nd Lieutenants, one Colonel, one Lieutenant Colonel, one Major, one Adjutant, one Quartermaster Lieutenant, one Surgeon, and two Assistant Surgeons). For some reason, Militia Regiments were only authorized to have 37 officers each. One officer from the above list must have been omitted, though it is currently unknown which one.

Each Regiment was allowed to have a Band of, on average, 12 to 16 musicians, though up to 26 were allowable. The Band was to provide a morale boost to the Regiment by playing popular patriotic and/or dance songs. They were especially useful in recruiting efforts, as the songs they played stirred up the emotions of the listeners and encouraged them to enlist. Instruments for a Regimental Band generally included brass instruments, such as horns and tubas for example. Regimental Band members were often members of a band back home, perhaps for a local Militia Company, which then attached themselves to their chosen Regiment. Not every Regiment chose to have a Band, however.

Those Regiments that did have Bands often saw the Bands eventually dissolve for various reasons. Instruments were often lost and/or damaged and replacement instruments difficult to afford. To carry and maintain instruments was impractical for long periods of field service, and trying to play and be heard during battle was often futile due to the noise of combat. Many Bands eventually disbanded and the men within them gave up being musicians and became medical or other support personnel for their Regiments.

A Volunteer Michigan Regiment on the parade ground
A Volunteer Michigan Regiment on the parade ground
A New York Volunteer Regiment posing for a photograph
A New York Volunteer Regiment posing for a photograph
 A Volunteer Regiment rests while on parade
A Volunteer Regiment rests while on parade
Figure 1: A Regiment subdivided into ten Companies.
Figure 1: A Regiment subdivided into ten Companies.
An illustration from Casey's drill manual showing the positions of each Company of a Regiment, along with the postings of officers, NCO's, and the Band
An illustration from Casey's drill manual showing the positions of each Company of a Regiment, along with the postings of officers, NCO's, and the Band
A Regimental Band prepares to play as the Regiment forms up behind them.
A Regimental Band prepares to play as the Regiment forms up behind them.
A Regimental Band for a Zouave unit
A Regimental Band for a Zouave unit

Special Case Regiments

When more than two Companies, but less than ten Companies, were formed together, the resulting unit was specifically called a Battalion. The commander of a Battalion could have been a Colonel, or perhaps a Lieutenant Colonel, but was most likely a Major. With a smaller amount of men in a Battalion, it was not considered necessary for a rank as high as a Colonelcy for its commander. This logic of Officer Ranks to Number of Men was similarly applied to under-strength units as well. Most other attributes of a Regiment were also in place in a Battalion.

In unusual circumstances, more than ten companies were consolidated together. Some of these special-case Regiments were raised specifically to be trained as both Infantry and Artillery. These were known as Heavy Artillery Regiments, and they generally contained twelve Companies. Heavy Artillery Regiments were often stationed in fixed fortifications where large artillery pieces were readily accessible to them. If these Regiments were ever re-assigned to field duty, they were usually forced to leave behind any artillery and revert to strictly Infantry duty. Their artillery pieces were often too large and cumbersome for the quick and agile mobility required in field artillery.

Other Regiments, with more than ten Companies but were not Heavy Artillery, performed as any other normal infantry Regiment, though with a complication: they had one or more extra Companies for which to find a place in line and to maneuver!

In rare cases, influential citizens sought, and were given, permission by the Secretary of War to raise Legions under their commands. These Legions were Regiment-sized units that comprised mixed Arms (Figure 2): some Companies were infantry, some were cavalry, and some were artillery, and all were known collectively as the commander’s Legion (ie. Purnell’s Legion). The mixture of Arms caused Legions to be a bit unwieldy, so the Legions’ Arms were made independent of each other whenever the opportunity presented itself (upon the resignation of the commander, for example). If deemed necessary for purposes of command and strength, the Companies were consolidated into other Battalions / Regiments of the same Arms.

Figure 2: An example of a Legion, with 6 Companies of infantry, 3 Companies of Cavalry, and 1 Artillery Company
Figure 2: An example of a Legion, with 6 Companies of infantry, 3 Companies of Cavalry, and 1 Artillery Company

U.S. Regulars Regiments

As a result of the 1861 expansion, the Regular Army had two different organizations for its Regiments during the War.

The new Regiments created in the expansion had an unusual organization, which was based on the French military system. These Regular Regiments were composed of three Battalions (Figure 3) and each contained 811 officers and men. Two Battalions were the field force of the Regiment, for maneuver and battle. The third Battalion maintained a depot (a camp, for all intents and purposes) for receiving and training new recruits for the Regiment.

A Battalion comprised eight Companies (Figure 4) of 100 officers and men each (three or four officers and 97 NCO’s and privates). This Battalion system was thought to be the most efficient and manageable. The individual Battalions were believed to be small enough to maneuver, as well as to be within the vocal range of the commanding officer. They were also believed to be large enough to handle and repulse attacks by enemy cavalry forces. At the time, cavalry was considered to be the most dangerous force with which the infantry needed to contend on the battlefield. Many revisions in the organization, strength, and firepower of infantry Regiments were made for that very reason.

The already established Regular Regiments – those not part of the expansion of the Regular Army – were composed of ten Companies. This was very much similar to the Volunteer Regiments (which were, after all, modeled after the Regular Regiments). However, the size of the Regular Companies was smaller, with only 84 NCO’s and privates and three or four officers in each.

It is interesting to note that the Regulars never came close to reaching their recruitment goal. The vast majority of recruits chose to join the Volunteer units instead. As a result, in most of the new Regular Regiments, the third Battalion was never organized at all. The other Regiments were forced to organize much smaller third Battalions.

The officer ranks of the Regular Regiments closely resembled those in the Volunteer Regiments, though there were slightly less officers (three less), on average.

A group of U.S. Regulars.
A group of U.S. Regulars.
An example of the new structure of a U.S. Regular Regiment composed of 3 Battalions.
An example of the new structure of a U.S. Regular Regiment composed of 3 Battalions.
An example of the structure of a U.S. Regular Battalion composed of 8 Companies as per the new U.S. Regular Regiment organization.
An example of the structure of a U.S. Regular Battalion composed of 8 Companies as per the new U.S. Regular Regiment organization.


As mentioned before, the Companies of a Regiment - Militia, Volunteer, or Regular - were raised in various areas within a state (sometimes out of the state altogether). However, the men were bonded by the allegiance to the Regiment as a whole. A Regiment’s pride was, therefore, very strong, and the Regiment became the nucleus around which the troops rallied.


The next article in this series is called American Civil War Life: Filling The Ranks - Order of Battle: Brigade and Above.

© 2013 Gary Tameling


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    • garytameling profile imageAUTHOR

      Gary Tameling 

      5 years ago from Islip, NY

      Thanks Ron and lions44 for the generous comments. If there is one thing for which the Army is known, it is the chain of command, and that is well reflected in its order of battle! :-)

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      5 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      This is good info for someone interested in the Civil War, as I am. Of course, every account of the war you read includes references to companies, regiments, brigades, etc, but with little systematic explanation of just what comprised each of those organizations. This hub helps fill in the picture of how a regiment was organized. Thanks!

    • lions44 profile image

      CJ Kelly 

      5 years ago from Auburn, WA

      The level of detail you included is great. Everyone forgets about the variety of volunteer and militia units that fought in the Civil War, particularly in the first two years. Voted up.


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