Reading American Civil War High Command

Reading the Day-by-Day Chronology

This Chronology has been compiled primarily to support a study of the evolution of higher military organisations and commanders of the American Civil War. 

The Chronology records changes in each major military organisation, and changes of commanders in the context of the wider events of the war.

It also lists the promotions and other important changes of status involving General Officers of the Confederate and Union armies.

The Timeline begins in detail on 1 January 1861 and ends on 31 August 1865, with brief summaries from the end of 1860 and from September to December 1865 and selectively to the end of 1869.

Every day of the American Civil War is individually listed, to the following format.

The first line lists the Month, Date, Year and Day:

May 3 1862 Saturday

Then, significant Battles, Events, and Incidents of the day are listed:

Yorktown, VA

Then, ongoing Major Campaigns are listed next:

Peninsula Campaign – Siege of Yorktown
Corinth Campaign
Confederate Evacuation of New Mexico

Then, Events are described by Location, in this order:

Events or actions in overseas or maritime locations
Events or actions in the USA not specific to a state or territory
Events or actions in the CSA not specific to a state or territory
Events or actions in US and CS states or territories in alphabetical order

For example,

Arkansas. Incident at Batesville.
Georgia. Incidents at Lookout Creek and Watkins Ferry.
Virginia. Martial law was declared in southwestern Virginia.
Virginia. Confederate General Joseph Eggleston Johnston ordered Major-General John Bankhead Magruder to abandon the defences of Yorktown and to fall back towards new defences being built around Richmond… etc.

Note: The term “incident” is used as a very broad term to refer to a range of events; it does not necessarily indicate or imply a military clash of arms. It may refer to a departure, arrival, encounter, occupation, reconnaissance, political or civil incident, or other event or noted circumstance. “Incidents”, especially if they are military engagements, may be described in more detail within the longer text that follows, but more frequently they are not elaborated further. They can be considered of minor importance to the general conduct of the war, albeit of local interest. The same incident may be mentioned more than once under different names or variant spellings of names, or by both a local and by a more general name. Expeditions and Reconnaissances may be described by their destination, or their departure point or by waymarks – or even all three – and might be duplicated within a state or across more than one state.

Then, there may follow a more detailed account of battles, raids, operations, expeditions, reconnaissances, etc. These longer passages may include major strategic or political events and decisions, changes in military organisations, planning and decisions, and important interactions between or involving individuals. Wherever possible, the Union or Confederate allegiance of individuals, and their full name is noted the first time they are mentioned on a particular day. Subsequently, they would typically only be mentioned by surname on the same day

Events and incidents outside the specific area and scope of the Civil War (e.g. military operations against Native Americans and naval operations) are included in many cases to reflect the wider context of events across the continent.

Then, Changes in Military Organisation for the Union:

For example,

USA: Brigadier-General James Gilpatrick Blunt arrived to command the Department of Kansas.

Then, Changes in Military Personnel at General and equivalent grades, for the Union:

USA: William Tecumseh Sherman promoted Major-General USV 3 May 1862 to rank from 1 May 1862

Then, Changes in Military Organisation for the Confederacy:

For example,

CSA: III Corps (Northern Virginia) was established in the Army of Northern Virginia.
CSA: Lieutenant-General Ambrose Powell Hill assumed command of III Corps (Northern Virginia).

Then Changes in Military Personnel at General and equivalent grades, for the Confederacy:

CSA: Brigadier-General Robert Augustus Toombs resigned to resume his political career.

Detailed information about Military Organisations can be found on the Organisations pages.

Detailed Commander Biographies can be found on the Commanders pages.

Naval information can be found on the Navies pages.

Reading the Union Organisations and Confederate Organisations

This Resource has been compiled primarily to support the study of the evolution of Higher Military Organisations during the American Civil War.

The Chronology allows major military reorganisations and changes of command to be identified and followed sequentially. To achieve that aim, each Day’s Chronology includes a Structural Chart of each Military Division, Department, District, Sub-District, Army, and Army Corps, and their equivalents.

Commanders are listed against each command, but not their current rank.
In many cases, there were delays between the date of appointment and the date of “arrival” to command. Arrival can mean either an arrival in person to assume command or a date on which an appointment comes into force where a commander is already present or is serving in an interim or temporary capacity and is appointed permanently.
Where a commander is appointed but never arrives to assume a significant command their name is not listed but this will be noted in the Timeline.
Where there is a temporary or interim commander their name is listed until the substantive commander “arrives” to command.
Where (as in the case of a fatality or incapacitation) the command changes on a day, the replacement commander is listed.

This format makes it possible to follow the changing scope and size of the military organisations of the Union and the Confederacy, and also to identify quickly the status and hierarchical relationships of individuals within the structure. It also permits reference to the status of the command structure on any specific date.

Reading the Organisation Tables

The Organisation Table is structured to demonstrate the hierarchy of command. Where commands are subordinated, they are indented below their parent command.

The Political Hierarchy, with specific responsibility for military affairs, for example:

Commander in Chief: President Abraham Lincoln
Vice-President: Hannibal Hamlin
Secretary of War: Edwin McMasters Stanton
Secretary of the Navy: Gideon Welles

For the Union only, the US Navy structure and hierarchy, for example:

North Atlantic Blockading Squadron: Louis Malesherbes Goldsborough
South Atlantic Blockading Squadron: Samuel Francis Du Pont
West Gulf Blockading Squadron: Rear Admiral David Glasgow Farragut

The Senior Commanding General:

General–in-Chief: Henry Wager Halleck

The Highest Level of Territorial Commands is a Military Division, usually established to coordinate the operations of more than one Department at a grand strategic level:

Military Division of the Mississippi: Ulysses Simpson Grant

The next Level of Territorial Command is usually a Department; these exist to direct and organise operations at a strategic level:

Department of the Cumberland: George Henry Thomas

Within a Department, there may be one or more subordinate Districts; these exist to direct and organise operations at a regional level:

District of Nashville: Lovell Harrison Rousseau

Within a District, there may be one or more subordinate Sub-Districts; these exist to direct and organise operations at a specific post or local level:

Sub-District of Columbus: Isaac Ferdinand Quinby

Field forces of a larger size – or with strategic significance – are generally referred to as Armies; typically, but not necessarily, they are subordinated to a Department and commanded by the Department commander:

Army of the Cumberland: George Henry Thomas

Within an Army or a Department, there may be one or more permanently constituted parts of an Army or other groups of large formations. From 1862 these were often termed Army Corps or Corps, and they are listed with their parent organisation in brackets.

The use of Roman numerals to designate Army Corps is a modern convention used for clarity and convenience. At the time of the Civil War, these commands were referred to in words, e.g. Eighteenth Corps, or informally by their commander’s name e.g. Slocum’s Corps:

IV Corps (Cumberland): Gordon Granger
XI Corps (Cumberland): Oliver Otis Howard….

For example:

Department of the Ohio: John Gray Foster

  • District of the Clinch: Orlando Bolivar Willcox
  • District of Western Kentucky: Jeremiah Tilford Boyle
  • District of Kentucky: Jacob Ammen
  • District of Middle Tennessee: Jacob Ammen
  • Army of the Ohio: John Gray Foster
    • IX Corps (Ohio): Ambrose Everett Burnside
    • XXIII Corps (Ohio): Jacob Dolson Cox

There are some anomalies where a particular territorial or field command was not subordinated to a higher level of hierarchy but reported directly to the War Department. These can be identified by reading the indentation of their line.

Status of Command

The command status of any particular organisation is not noted if the officer has been appointed and deemed to have assumed and held a command substantively.
However, if that status is in some way interim or not substantive the following terms may be used:

Assumed: a commander was appointed or arrived to take command;
Arrived: a commander previously appointed  arrives to assume command;
Awaited: a commander appointed but not yet arrived to assume command or, if present, not yet formally assumed command;
Interim: a new commander has been appointed but not yet arrived to assume command and the current or incumbent commander remains in post interim pending their arrival;
Retained: a current commander retains command after an organization or an equivalent renamed organisation is transferred to a new parent command;
Temporary: the commander is appointed temporarily to command in the absence of the incumbent or current commander, awaiting the appointment of a new commander, or commanding on an interim basis pending confirmation of their own appointment.

Reading the Union and Confederate Generals Lists

This Resource makes it possible to identify on a day-by-day basis, the current grade, rank, and order of seniority of the general officers of each side. The accuracy of these records is as sound and reliable as possible but the complexity of this topic means that there may be some anomalies, especially where two individuals are appointed on the same date.

The Union Generals list is in grade order as follows, and then by rank order (date) within each grade:

Lieutenant-General USA
Major-General USA
Major-General USV
Brigadier-General USV
Brigadier-General USA
Brigadier-General USA (Staff)

Note: where an officer holds rank in both the US Army and US Volunteers, they are listed under both lists with asterisks or brackets to indicate.

The Confederate Generals list is in grade order as follows, and then by rank order (date) within each grade:

General ACSA or PACS
Lieutenant-General PACS
Major-General PACS
Brigadier-General ACSA or PACS

Note: Officers with a grade in the ACSA are listed with precedence over officers with grades in the PACS.

Reading the General Lists

Officers who are active are in standard font, with their grade and ranking dates.

If an officer holds a General grade in both the US Regular Army and the US Volunteers, both are listed with asterisks or brackets to indicate.

The reason for their interruption or end is listed; this may be one of KIA (killed in action), DOW (died of wounds), Died (of non-combat causes), Resigned, Retired, Commission Expired, Mustered Out, Discharged, or one of several other reasons, etc.

For example, a Union Seniority List may include entries such as:

Union Generals

Note: Italics, awaiting confirmation of the commission

Major-General USA

George Brinton McClellan
John Charles Frémont
Henry Wager Halleck

Major-General USV

John Adams Dix
Nathaniel Prentiss Banks
Benjamin Franklin Butler
David Hunter
Edwin Denison Morgan

Brigadier-General USA

John Ellis Wool
William Selby Harney
Edwin Vose Sumner
Joseph King Fenno Mansfield
Irvin McDowell
Robert Anderson
William Starke Rosecrans
Philip St George Cooke

Brigadier-General USV

Samuel Peter Heintzelman
Erasmus Darwin Keyes

etc…

And, for example, a Confederate Seniority List may include entries such as:

Confederate Generals

Note: Italics, awaiting confirmation of the commission

General ACSA/PACS

Samuel Cooper
Robert Edward Lee
Joseph Eggleston Johnston
Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard
Braxton Bragg

Lieutenant-General PACS

James Longstreet
Edmund Kirby Smith
Leonidas Polk
Theophilus Hunter Holmes
William Joseph Hardee
Thomas Jonathan Jackson
John Clifford Pemberton

Major-General PACS

Earl Van Dorn
Benjamin Huger
John Bankhead Magruder
Mansfield Lovell
Richard Stoddert Ewell
William Wing Loring
Sterling Price
etc…

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