Confederate States Army

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Some Confederate soldiers

The Confederate States Army (CSA) was formed in February, 1861, to defend the Confederate States of America, which had itself been formed that same year when seven southern states seceded from the United States (with four more to follow). The army was formed around a core of 313 officers who left the United States Army, and had an initial enlistment of 82,000 volunteers. In August of 1861, the Congress of the Confederacy authorized the recruitment of 400,000 men. In April of 1862, The Confederate Congress passed the Conscription Act, which drafted all white men aged 18 to 35. In total, 1,406,180 men enlisted or were drafted into the Confederate States Army.

The CSA was initially a (strategically) defensive army, and many soldiers resented it when Lee led the Army of Northern Virginia in an invasion of the North in the Antietam Campaign. As many as 50,000 men deserted during the start of the campaign, claiming that their enlistments were for defense of their homeland, not invasion. After the losses at Vicksburg and Gettysburg, the number rose to 100,000.

The CSA differed from many contemporaneous armies in that all officers under the rank of brigadier general were elected by the soldiers under their command. In addition, no medals were awarded, due to the belief that all soldiers were heroes. The only rewards were to be promoted or to be mentioned in official dispatches after a battle.



Confederate Battle flag
Confederate Battle flag


The army did not have an overall military commander until late in the War. Confederate President Jefferson Davis, himself a former U.S. Army officer and U.S. Secretary of War, provided the strategic direction for Confederate land and naval forces. General Robert E. Lee, who served as Davis' military advisor and then as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, was promoted on January 31, 1865, to be general in chief of all the armies. By this time the armies of the Confederacy were near exhaustion and Lee was bottled up by Ulysses S. Grant in the Siege of Petersburg, so he was unable to use this new power to any great effect. The lack of centralized control was a strategic weakness for the Confederacy and there are few instances of multiple armies acting in concert across multiple theaters to achieve a common objective. (An exception to this was in late 1862 when Lee's invasion of Maryland was coincident with two other actions: Braxton Bragg's invasion of Kentucky and Earl Van Dorn's advance against Corinth, Mississippi. All three initiatives were unsuccessful, however.)

Armies and Prominent Leaders

The CSA was composed of independent armies and military departments that were constituted, renamed, and disbanded as needs arose, particularly in reaction to offensives launched by the Union. These major units were generally named after states or geographic regions (in comparison to the Union's custom of naming armies after rivers). Armies were usually commanded by full generals (there were eight in the CSA) or lieutenant generals. Some of the more important armies and their commanders were:

Some other prominent Confederate generals who led significant units operating sometimes independently in the CSA included Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, James Longstreet, J.E.B. Stuart, Gideon Pillow, and A.P. Hill.


The Army of Northern Virginia was disbanded on April 9, 1865, when General Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. The other Confederate armies surrendered by June, 1865.


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