From the Attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861 to General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse in April 1865, the Civil War was the most devastating conflict in U.S. history. Between the Union and Confederate forces, as many as 3.9 million troops were mobilized to fight, and an estimated 620,000 were killed – comparable to about 41.5 million troops and 6.5 million fatalities with today’s population base.
With federalist, free states, and territories in the Northeast, Midwest, and West Coast pitted against anti-federalist, slave states in the South, both the Union and Confederate sides of the war raised armies of unprecedented size to support their respective causes. Typically structured in distinct, hierarchical fighting units – from smaller regiments to larger brigades, divisions, and corps – the armies of the Civil War often counted tens of thousands of troops in their ranks.
With ever evolving circumstances, objectives, and strategies, many armies of the Civil War existed for only a few months before being dissolved and integrated into new or existing armies. Others, meanwhile, lasted for years.
Using data from An Encyclopedia of American History, a peer reviewed reference guide, 24/7 Wall St. identified the largest and most important armies of the Civil War. We ranked the 10 largest Union and 10 largest Confederate armies by reported troop strength. It is important to note that for each army on this list, troop size varied considerably throughout the war, and reported figures represent only a snapshot of their ranks. In cases where estimates of a single army’s troop count was provided as a range, we favored the larger enlistment figure.
Throughout the war, the Confederacy was outmanned and outgunned by their Union adversaries. Nearly 2.7 million soldiers enlisted to fight for the Union, compared to between 750,000 and 1.2 million Confederate troops. With limited manpower, Confederate armies were often smaller than Union armies. All of the five smallest armies on this list fought on the Confederate side, while three of the five largest armies belonged to the Union. (Here is a look at the states that sent the most troops to the Civil War.)
The largest and most important armies of both the Union and Confederate forces were their primary fighting force in the Eastern Theater for most of the war – the Army of the Potomac on the Union side, with an estimated 120,000 troops, and the Army of Northern Virginia on the Confederate side, with ranks totalling about 90,000. These armies were led by some of the most well-known generals of the war, including George B. McClellan and Ambrose E. Burnside on the Northern side, and P.G.T. Beauregard and Robert E. Lee of the South. (Here is a look at the states where the most battles were fought during the Civil War.)
Click here to see the 20 largest armies assembled during the Civil War.
Click here to read our detailed methodology.
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