History of Confederate States Army Generals

History of Confederate States Army Generals

The General Officers of the Confederate States of America were the senior military leaders of the Confederate States Army (CSA), serving during the American Civil War between 1861 and 1865. They were often former officers from the United States Army (the regular army) prior to the Civil War, while others were given the rank based on merit or when necessity demanded. Most Confederate generals needed confirmation from the Confederate Congress, much like prospective generals in the modern U.S. armed forces.

Like all of the Confederacy's military forces, these generals answered to their civilian leadership, in particular Jefferson Davis, the South's president and therefore "Commander in Chief" of the Army, Navy, and Marines in the Confederate States.


Much of the design of the Confederate States Army was based on the structure and customs of the U.S. Army [Eicher pp. 24-5. This resulted from the Confedaracy's addoption of the U.S. 'Rules and Regulations of the Army' as their own, just with "Confederate States of America" put in wherever "United States of America" was in its text.] when the Confederate Congress established their War Department on February 21, 1861.Eicher, p. 23.] The Confederate Army was composed of three parts; the Army of the Confederate States of America (ACSA, intended to be the permanent, regular army), the Provisional Army of the Confederate States (PACS, or "volunteer" Army, to be disbanded after hostilities), and the various Southern state militias.

Graduates from West Point and Mexican War veterans were highly sought after by Jefferson Davis for military service, especially as general officers. Like their Federal counterparts, the Confederate Army had both professional and political generals within it. Ranks throughout the CSA were roughly based on the U.S. Army in design and seniority.

On February 27, 1861, a General Staff was authorized, consisting of four positions: an Adjutant-General, a Quartermaster-General, a Commissary-General, and a Surgeon-General. Initially the last of these was to be a staff officer only. The post of Adjutant-General was filled by Samuel Cooper (the position he had held as a colonel in the U.S. Army from 1852 until resigning) and he held it throughout the Civil War.Dupuy, p. 190.]

Initially the Confederate Army commissioned only brigadier generals in both the volunteer and regular services. However they would eventually have four separate ranks of general in the volunteer ranks. They were (in order of increasing rank) brigadier general, major general, lieutenant general, and general.

Brigadier general

These generals were most often infantry or artillery brigade commanders, aides to other higher ranking generals, and War Department staff officers. By war's end the Confederacy had at least 383 different men who held this rank in the PACS, and three in the ACSA: Samuel Cooper, Robert E. Lee, and Joseph E. Johnston.Eicher, p. 817.] The organization of regiments into brigades was authorized by the Congress on March 6, 1861. Brigadier generals would command them, and these generals were to be nominated by Davis and confirmed by the Confederate Senate.

Though close to the Union Army in assignments, Confederate brigadiers mainly commanded brigades while Federal brigadiers sometimes led divisions as well as brigades, particularly in the first year of the war. These generals outranked Confederate Army colonels, who commonly led infantry regiments.

This rank is equivalent to a one-star general in the modern U.S. Army.

Major general

These generals were most commonly infantry division commanders, aides to other higher ranking generals, and War Department staff officers. By war's end the Confederacy had at least 88 different men who had held this rank, all in the PACS.Eicher, p. 810.] Divisions were authorized by the Congress on March 6, 1861, and major generals would command them. These generals were to be nominated by Davis and confirmed by the Senate. Major generals outranked brigadiers and all other lesser officers.

This rank was not synonymous with the Union's use of it, as Northern major generals led divisions, corps, and entire armies. This rank is equivalent in most respects to a two-star general in the modern U.S. Army.

Major General line command list

"Not further promoted; top 20"


Robert E. Lee was the only officer appointed to this position, which was created late in the war by the Congress on January 23, 1865, but it had been debated as early as February 27, 1862. Jefferson Davis performed much of the responsibilities of a General-in-Chief throughout the war, acting as both a military operations manager and commander-in-chief.

Lee (March to May 1862) and Braxton Bragg (February 1864 to January 1865) also performed much of these same duties, as they were military advisers to Davis, or "charged with the conduct of military operations in the armies of the Confederacy."

Militia generals

The Southern states had militias in place since Revolutionary War times consistent with the U.S. Militia Act of 1792. They went by varied names such as State "Militia" or "Armies" or "Guard" and were activated and expanded when the Civil War began. These units were commanded by "Militia Generals" to defend their particular state, and sometimes did not leave native soil to fight for the Confederacy. The Confederate militias used the general officer ranks of Brigadier General and Major General.

The regulations in the Act of 1792 provided for militias into two classes based on age. Class one was to include men from 21 to 30 years old, and class two would include men from 18 to 20 years as well as from 31 to 45 years old.Eicher, p. 70.] The various southern states were each using this system when the war began.

Uniform insignia

All Confederate generals wore the same uniform insignia regardless of which rank of general they were, [Eicher, p. 69. The original regulations for uniforms were issued at the time that only brigadier generals were authorized by Congress. These regulations apparently were never reissued when the higher ranks of generals were authorized at later dates.] except for Robert E. Lee who wore the uniform of a Confederate colonel. The only visible difference was the button groupings on their uniforms; three groups of buttons for lieutenant and major generals, and two groups for brigadier generals.

To the right is a picture of the CSA general's full uniform, in this case of Brigadier General Joseph R. Anderson of the Confederacy's Ordnance Department. All of the South's generals wore uniforms like this regardless of which grade of general they were, and all with gold colored embroidering.


The CSA lost more general officers killed in combat than the Union Army did throughout the war, in the ratio of about 5-to-1 for the South compared to roughly 12-to-1 in the North. [Foote, p.1040. Of 583 Union general officers, 47 killed due to combat; of 425 CSA general officers, 77 fell.] Replacing these fallen generals was an ongoing problem during the war, often having men promoted beyond their abilities (a common criticism of officers such as John Bell Hood [Dupuy, p.346. "an excellent brigade and divisional commander, he was out of his depth with larger commands."] and George E. Pickett, [Dupuy, p. 597. "his abilities were not suited to directing larger forces, as demonstrated at Five Forks."] but an issue for both armies), or gravely wounded in combat but needed, such as Richard S. Ewell. [Dupuy, p.244. "but it was a mark of the South's desperation for able leaders that a man with his disabilities should have spent so much time on active campaign."] The problem was made more difficult by the South's depleting manpower, especially near the conflict's end.

The last Confederate general in the field, Stand Watie, surrendered on June 23, 1865, and the war's last surviving full general, Edmund Kirby Smith, died on March 28, 1893. [Dupuy, p.406.] The Confederate Army's system of using four grades of general officers is currently the same rank structure used by the U.S. Army (in use since shortly after the Civil War), and is also the system used by the U.S. Marine Corps (in use since World War II.)

ee also

* List of American Civil War generals
* History of United States Generals


* Dupuy, Trevor N., Johnson, Curt, and Bongard, David L., "Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography", Castle Books, 1992, 1st Ed., ISBN 0-7858-0437-4.
* Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., "Civil War High Commands", Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
* Foote, Shelby, ": Vol. III Red River to Appomattox", Vintage Books, 1986, ISBN 0-394-74622-8.


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