Union Enlistment by Year

Robert Gudmestad's picture


I am looking for a quality source that has the number of men who enlisted in the Union Army for each year of the war. Alternately, it could note the percentage of men who enlisted per year. I have found a figure of 421,000 for 1862 but no statistics for other years

Thanks in advance,

Robert Gudmestad

Colorado State University

As you probably know, the difficulty in determining enlistments by year lies in the fact that enlistments are more often grouped by the various troop calls (such as the "300,000 more" call of July 1862), which could last beyond a year as states took time to meet their quotas. However you may find this information or at least make estimates from the tables in James Geary's "We Need Men" and Eugene Murdock's "Patriotism Limited."


The closest you'll find is in Benjamin Gould's "Investigations in the Military and Anthropological Statistics of American Soldiers" (1869) on page 5 [you'll find it on Google Books]. That said, tread very lightly. Unfortunately, there is next to no way to tabulate a round number of Federal enlistments at any point, or even for the entire war, with total confidence. Any count of "total enlistments" is not a count of unique individuals, but rather includes all of those who enlisted and were borne on the rolls of a regiment, battalion, battery, squadron, etc. for any length of time at all (including, most problematically, 90-day units at the beginning of the war and enrolled militias, home guards, etc.). For the most part, that's because those keeping the stats during the war were far more interested in quotas than they were with any scientific tabulation for posterity. Those who enlisted in 90-day commands, re-enlisted when their term ran out and the regiment turned into a 3-year unit, and then re-enlisted again in '64 are often counted three times. That describes a very large share of the Union Army as a whole. Even more problematically, we have almost no way of ascertaining just how many enlisted multiple times under pseudonyms, jumped bounties, were discharged for disability only to somehow-re-enlist under false pretenses in another unit, deserted and re-enlisted in another regiment due to gripes with a particular chain of command, or any other number of possible contingencies. Gould and a few other contemporaries did their best to contend with these problems, and that probably makes his numbers a bit closer to the mark than others, but the sad truth of the matter is that we'll probably never know with anything approaching absolute certainty. If it's not surgical accuracy you're after though, it's probably close enough for government work, at least until some new-age Dyer comes along and opts to sacrifice their sanity for the sake of historiography.

All the best,
Eric Burke
UNC Chapel Hill