Confederate Organisations: Western and Gulf Coast Theatres
Go to Eastern and Appalachian Theatres / Trans-Mississippi and Frontier Theatres / Atlantic Coast Theatre
The Western Theatre broadly covers the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and adjacent operational regions in Louisiana, Florida Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, South Carolina, and North Carolina.
The Gulf Coast Theatre broadly covers the western part of Florida, the eastern part of Louisiana, and the southern parts of Alabama, Mississippi, and adjacent operational regions. From June 1862, it was effectively subordinated to the operations of the Western Theatre so it is described as part of the Western Theatre.
This was the decisive theatre of operations where the foundations of Union victory were firmly established. Being geographically central, operations in this theatre inevitably impinged on and overlapped with all the other theatres of war. Confederate military organisation evolved in response both to Union incursions and to facilitate offensive operations. The primary focus was on two main lines of possible advance by the Union Army, both assisted by naval forces on the inland rivers. The first followed the line of the Mississippi southwards and the second followed the line of the Tennessee River into northern Georgia from 1862 to 1864. The exploitation of the latter advance in late 1864 and 1865 took dominant Union forces from the western theatre across Georgia to the Atlantic Coast and then north through the Carolinas.
The very first large-scale military organisation of the Confederacy was the Department of Louisiana, created before the outbreak of war to defend New Orleans, the most populous city of the South and the gateway to the Mississippi. The Confederates understood that the Mississippi River was a vital strategic artery and access to it needed to be defended as an urgent priority. Furthermore, the Confederacy’s economic and strategic dependence on cotton exports required every available port to be held open and their fortifications to be acquired by State or national troops. The unofficial Department was re-designated briefly as the District of Louisiana after war broke out, but the first significant Confederate formation was Department No 1, established on 27 May 1861, comprising the state of Louisiana except along the Mississippi River north of the 31st parallel: and also, southern Mississippi and southern Alabama including Mobile. The remainder of Mississippi, northwestern Louisiana, and Alabama came under the counterpart Department No 2 better known as the Western Department.
Department No 1 was responsible primarily for the defence of the Mississippi River, so the District of Alabama was established on 12 September 1861, to organise forces in the southern parts of Alabama east of the Pascagoula River. After just over a month, it was found more convenient to transfer this Alabama segment entirely under the new Department of Alabama and West Florida. After the fall of New Orleans, this Department saw little action and on 25 June 1862 it was discontinued, with the parts of Louisiana west of the Mississippi transferred to the Trans-Mississippi Department.
The Department of West Florida was formed before the war to oppose the US garrison at Fort Pickens, at Pensacola, Florida. On 7 October 1861, it was extended by the addition of parts of Alabama from Department No 1 and was renamed the Department of Alabama and West Florida. The subordinate District of Alabama was short-lived. The Confederates gathered and recruited a comparatively large force along the Gulf Coast, but the impossibility or undesirability of capturing Fort Pickens or Pensacola was soon apparent. The majority of the field forces were transferred to the operations in Tennessee and north Mississippi in early 1862. By the end of June 1862, the remaining commands were transferred to the supervision of the Western Department and remained subordinated to the strategic demands of that wider theatre.
Confederate military organisation necessarily evolved into two diverging and competing segments: one defending the Mississippi sector and the other protecting the invasion routes through Tennessee into Georgia. There were repeated efforts to coordinate the two sectors, but they were largely ineffective as resources were insufficient to strengthen either segment at the expense of the other without risking defeat in the weaker sector. The Confederates aspired repeatedly to launch aggressive counteroffensives, but their efforts floundered beyond the tactical level. The invasion of Kentucky in 1862 was an ambitious but fruitless enterprise, while the attacks at Shiloh and Corinth in 1862, Chickamauga in 1863 and Tennessee in 1864 showed comparable aggressiveness and ambition.
The initial military organisation coalesced around the Mississippi River, attempting to coordinate forces on the western and eastern banks, and on the disputed state of Kentucky. The Western Department (or, Department No 2) was formed on 25 June 1861 to organise forces on both banks of the Mississippi as far as north as Kentucky and west of the Tennessee River, while Department No 1 oversaw the southern stretches of the Mississippi. By September 1861, the Department had been extended to include northern Alabama, the parts of Mississippi and Louisiana along the Mississippi River, Kentucky, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, and the Indian Territory. The Indian Territory was soon taken away as it was too distant for effective direction. Field forces collected around fortified strongholds along the Mississippi, Tennessee, and Cumberland, and attempted to become established in central and eastern Kentucky. The unexpected vulnerability of riverside forts to attack armoured by armoured warships undermined this strategy and as Union forces penetrated inland along the major rivers, the Confederate line of defence was forced back broadly to a line along the southern edge of Tennessee and the neighbouring states.
The difficulty of coordinating operations on both banks of the Mississippi was acknowledged in May 1862 and the Trans-Mississippi parts of the Western Department gained autonomy. The discontinuation of Department No 1 in June 1862 meant that the Department now controlled the vast theatre between the Mississippi, the Appalachian massif, and the Gulf of Mexico. This extension now added a third competing sector to the strategic challenge – the defence of the Gulf ports – but this remained a mercifully minor problem until late 1864.
The invasion of Kentucky in 1862, intended as a bold sweep to regain the territory as far north of the Ohio River, necessitated the extension of the Department into mountainous East Tennessee and the emergence of what became the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana and its army to hold the Mississippi live while the Army of Mississippi advanced from middle to join the Army of East Tennessee/Kentucky from eastern Tennessee in an uneasy collaboration.
There were desperate efforts to coordinate the operations of these three armies but to little avail so in November 1862, the first attempt to provide a clear strategic oversight was enacted with the formation of the Military Division of the West. General Joseph Eggleston Johnston led this supreme headquarters, but it was immediately apparent to him that it was impossible to meet all of his diverging priorities or to concentrate his field forces to gain a consistent ascendancy at any point. The merger of the Department of East Tennessee and the Western Department into the Department of Tennessee in July 1863 was a positive move, but even though Johnston took immediate command in the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana after the fall of Vicksburg, it was impossible to reverse the effects that disaster.
Another bold initiative to wrest back the initiative in Tennessee occurred in the autumn of 1863 as strong reinforcements were transferred from Virginia to Tennessee. Despite tactical success at Chickamauga and strenuous efforts to regain eastern Tennessee, the endeavour was unsuccessful. It was proving impossible to hold the line at all the threatened points and simultaneously to form a concentration in the western theatre powerful enough to reverse Union progress decisively. Indeed, this offensive provoked a major shift in the Union High Command as Ulysses Simpson Grant was given the predominant command to save Chattanooga and the first truly unified Union command (the Military Division of the Mississippi) enabled the effective and coordinated application of force in 1864 and 1865 that had eluded the Confederates in 1862 and 1863.
The Military Division of the West was finally disbanded as an unworkable ideal in December 1863 after the fiasco at Chattanooga. The Georgia sector was defended by the Army of Tennessee which had been formed from the merged Army of Mississippi and the Army of Kentucky. Even when reinforced from Mississippi, it did not seem likely to halt the Union steamroller towards Atlanta.
The Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana (soon renamed the Department of Alabama and East Mississippi and then later as the Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and Eastern Louisiana), provided the command structure in the western and Gulf sectors while the Department of Tennessee directed the primary eastern sector. Harassing operations continued in Mississippi and Alabama, but there were never enough troops to reverse the Union domination of the Mississippi valley and the majority of these forces were drawn back to the primary sector in northern Georgia once the Union began its advance towards Atlanta.
The next major evolution came after the fall of Atlanta. Incapable of regaining the city by a direct approach, the Confederates made one last attempt to reverse the Union invasion in the Georgia sector by another far-reaching offensive campaign. Renaming the Department of Tennessee as the Department of Tennessee and Georgia, General John Bell Hood inadvertently revealed the two diverging areas of geographical responsibility. He opted to attack the lengthy enemy lines of communications through Tennessee, and in so doing left Georgia almost defenceless. The audacity of the Union response, an unsupported march from Atlanta across Georgia to the Atlantic Ocean rather than a hasty retreat to guard its rear, was not foreseen.
The second coming of the Military Division of the West, led by General P G T Beauregard, intended to provide expert supervision to the inexperienced Hood and to coordinate in his support the Department of Western Kentucky, the Department of East Tennessee and West Virginia, the Department of Tennessee and Georgia and the Department of Alabama, Mississippi and Eastern Louisiana was another false start and it was abandoned after the crushing of Hood’s hopes and army at Nashville in December 1864.
The constituent Departments regained their autonomy after Beauregard’s Military Division was discontinued, but now they all lacked a substantial field force capable of resisting relentless Union progress through Georgia, the Carolinas, or Alabama. The defeat of the forts defending Mobile on the Gulf Coast was protracted but inevitable and the most strenuous efforts to create an Army of the South under Johnston from the remnants of armies and garrisons across Tennessee, Georgia, and the Carolinas, resulted in the capacity to harass and annoy the advancing Union armies but not to halt them. The surrender of the Confederate Army in Virginia was followed within a month by the dissolution of the armies in North Carolina and Alabama.
The Confederates sought repeatedly to seize the strategic initiative in the western theatre, and made genuine attempts to achieve coordination and clarity of effort. However, shortage of resources, and the impossibility of defending all of the threatened avenues of invasion simultaneously, led to a proliferation of rival commands that were defeated in turn.
This is an alphabetical Index of each Organisation by Level and then by name
Details of each specific organisation can be found in the Introduction to Confederate Military Organisations – Types -by searching for the Level and then the Name of the Organisation
Military Division of the West #1 4 November 1862-16 December 1863
Military Division of the West #2 3 October 1864-16 December 1864
Department of Alabama and West Florida 7 October 1861-29 June 1862
Department of Alabama and East Mississippi 28 January 1864-15 August 1864
Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and Eastern Louisiana 15 August 1864-4 May 1865
Department of West Florida 7 March 1861-7 October 1861
Department of Kentucky 25 March 1865-4 May 1865
Department of Western Kentucky 6 September 1864-25 March 1865
Department of Louisiana #1 22 February 1861-17 April 1861
Department of Louisiana #2 (Department No 1) 27 May 1861-25 June 1862
Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana 1 October 1862-28 January 1864
Department of Tennessee 25 July 1863-15 August 1864
Department of Tennessee and Georgia 15 August 1864-26 April 1865
Department of East Tennessee 26 February 1862-25 July 1863
Western Department (Department No 2) 25 June-1861-25 July 1863
District of Alabama #1 12 September 1861-27 January 1862
District of Alabama #2 11 March 1865-4 May 1865
District of Central Alabama 24 September 1864-11 March 1865
District of North Alabama 22 February 1862-27 June 1862
District of Northern Alabama 6 February 1864-11 March 1865
Gulf District 2 July 1862-2 May 1865
First Geographical Division 2 September 1861-5 March 1862
District of Louisiana 17 April 1861-27 May 1861
District of Mississippi and East Louisiana 5 March 1864-25 January 1865
District One of Mississippi and East Louisiana 21 October 1862-2 September 1863
District Two of Mississippi and East Louisiana 21 October 1862-2 September 1863
District Three of Mississippi and East Louisiana 21 October 1862-9 July 1863
District Four of Mississippi and East Louisiana 1 April 1863-2 September 1863
District Five of Mississippi and East Louisiana 9 March 1863-2 September 1863
District of Mississippi, East Louisiana, and West Tennessee 25 January 1865-3 February 1865
District of North Mississippi and West Tennessee 3 February 1865-4 May 1865
District of Southern Mississippi and Eastern Louisiana #1 26 May 1862-1 October 1862
District of Southern Mississippi and Eastern Louisiana #2 3 February 1865-4 May 1865
District of the Mississippi 2 July 1862-11 October 1862
District of Western North Carolina 18 September 1863-26 April 1865
District of East Tennessee #1 26 July 1861-26 February 1862
District of East Tennessee #2 25 July 1863-2 May 1864
District of Middle Tennessee 27 September 1862-20 November 1862
District of West Tennessee 14 November 1863-15 January 1865
District of the Tennessee 21 July 1862-25 July 1863
Sub-District of Northern Mississippi 6 November 1864-3 February 1865
First Sub-District of Southern Mississippi and Eastern Louisiana 28 June 1862-1 October 1862Second Sub-District of Southern Mississippi and Eastern Louisiana 26 June 1862-1 October 1862
Third Sub-District of Southern Mississippi and Eastern Louisiana 26 June 1862-1 October 1862
Sub-District of Southwest Mississippi 24 September 1864-4 May 1865
Defences of Vicksburg, Mississippi 28 December 1862-4 July 1863
Army of Kentucky 16 August 1862-13 October 1862
Army of Central Kentucky 18 September 1861-29 March 1862
Army of Eastern Kentucky 1 November 1862-8 March 1862
Army of Mississippi #1 5 March 1862-20 November 1862
Army of Mississippi #2 7 December 1862-4 July 1863
Army of Mississippi #3 30 July 1863-4 May 1864
Army of Mobile, Alabama 27 January 1862-27 June 1862
Army of Pensacola, Florida 22 October 1861-12 March 1862
Army of the South 22 February 1865-9 April 1865
Army of Tennessee 20 November 1862-26 April 1865
Army of East Tennessee 8 March 1862-16 August 1862
Army of Middle Tennessee 28 October 1862-20 November 1862
Army of West Tennessee 28 September 1862-24 November 1862
Army of the West 19 January 1862-28 September 1862
Western Army (Missouri) 4 August 1861-19 January 1862
Forces in Missouri 2 July 1861-4 August 1861
Forces in New Orleans, Louisiana (Army of Louisiana) 22 February 1861-14 August 1861
Forces in Pensacola, Florida 7 March 1861-7 October 1861
First Grand Division (I Corps) Mississippi 5 March 1862-29 March 1862
Second Grand Division (II Corps) Mississippi 5 March 1862-29 March 1862
Left Wing Tennessee 19 September 1863-21 September 1863
Right Wing Tennessee 19 September 1863-21 September 1863
I Corps Mississippi #1 29 March 1862-15 August 1862
Right Wing (I Corps) Mississippi 15 August 1862-7 November 1862
I Corps Mississippi #2 7 November 1862-20 November 1862
I Corps Mississippi #3 7 December 1862-20 May 1863
I Corps Northern Virginia attached Tennessee 9 September 1863-7April 1864
I Corps Tennessee 20 November 1862-26 April 1865
II Corps Mississippi #1 29 March 1862-15 August 1862
Left Wing (II Corps) Mississippi 15 August 1862-7 November 1862
II Corps Mississippi #2 7 November 1862-20 November 1862
II Corps Mississippi #3 7 December 1862-20 May 1863
II Corps Tennessee 20 November 1862-26 April 1865
III Corps Mississippi #1 29 March 1862-15 August 1862
III Corps Mississippi #2 (Army of Kentucky) 13 October 1862-20 November 1862
Smith’s III Corps Tennessee (Army of Kentucky) 20 November 1862-23 December 1862
III Corps Tennessee #1 23 July 1863-31 October 1863
III Corps Tennessee #2 4 May 1864-26 April 1865
Cavalry Corps Tennessee 16 March 1863-22 February 1865
Reserve Corps Mississippi 6 March 1862-4 November 1862
Reserve Corps Tennessee 23 August 1863-4 November 1863
Reserve Forces of Alabama 30 April 1864-4 May 1865
Reserve Forces of Georgia 30 March 1864-26 April 1865
Reserve Forces of Mississippi 23 July 1864-4 May 1865
Reserve Forces of Tennessee 1 September 1864-4 May 1865