I’ve been pondering the situation of the regulars at the outbreak of the Civil War, and have determined there are definitely two different types of regulars. I haven’t fully developed the idea yet, but thought I’d post what I’ve come up with so far here for comment.
During the summer and fall of 1861, Regular and volunteer units concentrated around Washington, D.C. Once their own company and regimental drills were accomplished, they began to drill in larger units and more complicated drills.
The Regulars, at least in the early going, needed the drill nearly as much as the volunteers they thought so little of. Without exception they had been scattered across the frontier in company sized or smaller garrisons, and had not faced a “modern” enemy since the end of the Mexican War.
This is not to say that these units gained nothing from the 10-15 years of Indian fighting they had experienced on the frontier. They were accustomed to hard fighting against a tenacious opponent in a difficult environment, generally while undermanned and poorly resourced. When not actively campaigning against the Indians, many long hours and days were spent in small unit drills that enhanced teamwork and obedience to orders from superiors. They returned from the frontier accustomed to a life governed by Army regulations and the articles of war. They were trained and disciplined soldiers with high morale.
As the war’s initial campaigns began, there were two kinds of regulars. The first was the hard-bitten “Old Army” soldiers of the frontier. These soldiers were for the most part commanded by veteran West Point trained officers and former sergeants. The second type was either the new recruit assigned to an older regular regiment or those selected to fill the ranks of the new regular units created at the beginning of the war. While these new recruits were no different than their volunteer neighbors when they enlisted, they had the advantage of receiving their training from experienced cadres of officers and sergeants. They also had the additional pressure of living up to the reputation of their regiments. This second group greatly outnumbered the first, as nearly all regular regiments were significantly below full strength at the beginning of the war.
These regiments, regulars old and new, were their army’s reserve, or backbone. In the Army of the Potomac, the Artillery Reserve was a division by the opening of the peninsula campaign in March 1862, with a regular light brigade and a regular horse brigade in addition to its other subordinate units. The infantry’s Reserve Division had two brigades of nine regular regiments. The cavalry’s Reserve Brigade initially contained over four regular cavalry regiments, but was divided on the eve of the campaign into a Cavalry Reserve of two brigades and supplemented with a few selected volunteer units. All of these organizations were designed to harness and protect the reliable units until or in case they were needed.
Adept at small unit tactics, the older regiments were quickly able to integrate new recruits into their familiar company level and below drills. Once this was accomplished, however, they needed training to operate at the unfamiliar regimental and brigade levels. What reads easily in a manual is a completely different story on a cold, windy winter parade field hoof-deep in mud.
The new regular units shared these problems, but their paths were much easier than their volunteer counterparts due to experienced sergeants and former sergeant junior officers familiar with the drills and responsibilities of regular service.