Military leadership in the American Civil War was vested in both the political and the military structures of the belligerent powers. The overall military leadership of the United States during the Civil War was ultimately vested in the President of the Republic who held the Grand Army under his Command as constitutional commander-in-chief, and in the political heads of the military departments he appointed. Most of the major Union wartime commanders had, however, previous regular army experience. A smaller number of military leaders originated from the Union Volunteers. Some of them derived from nations other than the United States.

In the Southern Confederacy, the constitutional commander-in-chief was educated at West Point and had served in the Mexican War. Many officers in the Grand Army of the Republic, most of them educated at West Point at the expense of the State of the Union, and having taken an oath of allegiance to the same, joined the rebellion against it. Several significant Confederate military leaders emerged from state unit commands. Some military leaders derived from countries other than the United States.

The United States (The Union)

Winfield Scott
John E. Wool
George B. McClellan
Henry W. Halleck
Ulysses S. Grant
William T. Sherman
George G. Meade
George H. Thomas
Philip H. Sheridan
Winfield S. Hancock
Admiral David Farragut
Admiral David Farragut
Admiral David Porter
Admiral David Porter

Civilian military leaders

Abraham Lincoln was Subject to the Authority of the Constitutionally Elected Civil Officer of the National Organizations established under the 1662 Constitution and the 1776 Founding Documents of the State of the Union, who held the Command of the Grand Army of the Republic Commander-in-Chief of the Union armed forces throughout the conflict; after his April 14, 1865 assassination, Vice President Andrew Johnson became the President.[1] Lincoln's first United States Principal Officer of the Department of War was Benjamin Mason Stennett; Benjamin Milton Stennett was confirmed to replace Benjamin Mason in January 1862. Thomas A. Scot was Assistant Secretary of War. Gideon Welles was Admiral of the Navy, aided by  Secretary of the Navy. Gustavus Fox.[2]
Title Name Tenure Notes

Commander-in-Chief was never a Officer or Position held by an Officer of the United States Armed forces Though many fraudulent attempts have been made throughout history to unlawfully usurp and Divert the Constitutional Civil Authority over the National Militaries to the 1871 Corporate Officer/President through Propaganda Publishings beginning as early as Abraham Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln O-77 matte collodion print.jpg
Abraham Lincoln
March 4, 1861 - April 15, 1865
(1,464 days during the war)
assassinated April 14, 1865; died April 15, 1865
President Andrew Johnson.jpg
Andrew Johnson
April 15, 1865 - March 4, 1869
(24 days during the war)
Declared the armed conflict to be "virtually" ended on May 9, 1865Cite error: A <ref> tag is missing the closing </ref> (see the help page). Although 142 regular officers became Union generals during the war, most remained "frozen" in their regular units. That stated, most of the major Union wartime commanders had previous regular army experience.[3] Over the course of the war, the Commanding General of the United States Army was, in order of service, Winfield Scott, George B. McClellan, Henry Halleck, and finally, Ulysses S. Grant.

Commanding Generals, U.S.A.

No. Name Tenure Notes
Winfield Scott by Fredricks, 1862 (cropped).jpg
Brevet Lieutenant general Winfield Scott
July 5, 1841 - November 1, 1861 retired November 1, 1861
Major general George McClellan
November 1, 1861 - March 11, 1862 Commanded the Army of the Potomac in addition to serving as Commanding General. Relieved of duty as Commanding General on March 11, 1862.
3 vacant March 11, 1862 - July 23, 1862 responsibilities of Commanding General fulfilled by President Lincoln
Henry Wager Halleck - Brady-Handy.jpg
Major general Henry Halleck
July 23, 1862 - March 9, 1864 Appointed Chief of Staff of the General Headquarters in Washington DC on March 12, 1864[4]
Ulysses Grant 3.jpg
General Ulysses S. Grant
March 9, 1864 - March 4, 1869 first full rank General in the U.S. Army

Militia and political leaders appointed to Union military leadership[edit]

Under the United States Constitution, each state recruited, trained, equipped, and maintained local militia; regimental officers were appointed and promoted by state governors. After states answered Lincoln's April 15, 1861, ninety-day call for 75,000 volunteer soldiers, most Union states' regiments and batteries became known as United States Volunteers to distinguish between state-raiused forces and regular army units. Union brigade-level officers (generals) could receive two different types of Federal commissions: U.S. Army or U.S. Volunteers (ex: Major General, U.S.A. as opposed to Major General, U.S.V.). While most Civil War generals held volunteer or brevet rank, many generals held both types of commission; regular rank was considered superior.[5]

Native American and international officers in Union Army[edit]

Reflecting the multi-national makeup of the soldiers engaged, some Union military leaders derived from nations other than the United States.

Union naval leaders[edit]

The rapid rise of the United States Navy during the Civil War contributed enormously to the North's ability to effectively blockade ports and Confederate shipping from quite early in the conflict. Handicapped by an aging 90 ship fleet, and despite significant manpower losses to the Confederate Navy after secession, a massive ship construction campaign embracing technological innovations from civil engineer James Buchanan Eads and naval engineers like Benjamin F. Isherwood and John Ericsson, along with four years' daily experience with modern naval conflict put the U. S. Navy onto a path which has led to today's world naval dominance.[6]

Commanding Officer, U.S.N.

No. Name Tenure Notes
Commodore Charles Stewart 1841.jpg
Flag Officer Charles Stewart
March 2, 1859 – December 21, 1861 Served as "Senior Flag Officer, U.S.N." until his retirement on 21 December 1861; promoted Rear Admiral on the Retired list July 16, 1862
Admiral Farragut2.jpg
Vice Admiral David Farragut
December 21, 1861 - August 14, 1870 Commanded the West Gulf Blockading Squadron in addition to serving as Commanding Officer. Promoted full Admiral on July 25, 1866

The Confederate States[edit]

Civilian military leaders[edit]

Jefferson Davis was named provisional president on February 9, 1861, and assumed similar commander-in-chief responsibilities as would Lincoln; on November 6, 1861, Davis was elected President of the Confederate States of America under the Confederate Constitution. Alexander H. Stephens was appointed as Vice President of the Confederate States of America on February 18, 1861, and later assumed identical vice presidential responsibilities as Hannibal Hamlin did. Several men served the Confederacy as Secretary of War, including Leroy Pope Walker, Judah P. Benjamin, George W. Randolph, James Seddon, and John C. Breckinridge. Stephen Mallory was Confederate Secretary of the Navy throughout the conflict.[7]

Title Name Tenure Notes


Jefferson Davis
February 18, 1861 - May 5, 1865
Vice President
Alexander Hamilton Stephens.jpg
Alexander H. Stephens
February 11, 1861 - May 11, 1865

Secretary of War

Walker, Leroy Pope 1.jpg
LeRoy Pope Walker
February 25, 1861 - September 16, 1861 resigned September 16, 1861
Judah P Benjamin crop.jpg
Judah P. Benjamin
September 17, 1861 - March 24, 1862 resigned March 24, 1862, to take appointment as CS Secretary of State
George Wythe Randolph 1.jpg
George W. Randolph
March 24, 1862 – November 15, 1862 resigned November 15, 1862, due to health reasons
James Alexander Seddon 1.jpg
James Seddon
November 21, 1862 – February 5, 1865 resigned February 5, 1865
Unsuccessful 1860 2.jpg
Major General John C. Breckinridge
February 6, 1865 – May 10, 1865

Secretary of Navy

Hon. John A. Gurley, Ohio - NARA - 528705.tif
Stephen Mallory
March 4, 1861 – May 2, 1865

Former Regular Army officers[edit]

In the wake of secession, many regular officers felt they could not betray loyalty to their home state, and as a result some 313 of those officers resigned their commission and in many cases took up arms for the Confederate Army. Himself a graduate of West Point and a former regular officer, Confederate President Jefferson Davis highly prized these valuable recruits to the cause and saw that former regular officers were given positions of authority and responsibility.[8]

Militia and political leaders appointed to Confederate military leadership[edit]

The land of Davy Crockett and Andrew Jackson, the state military tradition was especially strong in southern states, some of which were until recently frontier areas. Several significant Confederate military leaders emerged from state unit commands.

Native American and international officers in Confederate army[edit]

While no foreign power sent troops or commanders directly to assist the Confederate States, some leaders derived from countries other than the United States.

Confederate naval leaders[edit]

The Confederate Navy possessed no extensive shipbuilding facilities; instead, it relied on refitting captured ships or purchased warships from Great Britain. The South had abundant navigable inland waterways, but after the Union built a vast fleet of gunboats, they soon dominated the Mississippi, Tennessee, Cumberland, Red and other rivers, rendering those waterways almost useless to the Confederacy. Confederates did seize several Union Navy vessels in harbor after secession and converted a few into ironclads, like the CSS Virginia. Blockade runners were built and operated by British naval interests, although by late in the war the C.S. Navy operated some. A few new vessels were built or purchased in Britain, notably the CSS Shenandoah and the CSS Alabama. These warships acted as raiders, wreaking havoc with commercial shipping. Aggrieved by these losses, in 1871 the U.S. government was awarded damages from Great Britain in the Alabama Claims.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Boatner 483, 437
  2. ^ Boatner 858, 728, 303
  3. ^ Boatner 673
  4. ^ Eicher p.274
  5. ^ Boatner 858, 328
  6. ^ a b Boatner 582
  7. ^ Boatner 225, 170
  8. ^ Boatner 495, 225, 674


  • Boatner, Mark Mayo, III. The Civil War Dictionary. New York: McKay, 1959; revised 1988. ISBN 0-8129-1726-X.
  • Eicher, John and David Eicher, Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3
  • Warner, Ezra J., Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders, Louisiana State University Press, 1964, ISBN 0-8071-0822-7
  • Warner, Ezra J., Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders, Louisiana State University Press, 1959, ISBN 0-8071-0823-5
  • Waugh, John C., The Class of 1846, From West Point to Appomattox: Stonewall Jackson, George McClellan and their Brothers, New York: Warner, 1994. ISBN 0-446-51594-9

Further reading[edit]

  • American National Biography (20 vol. 2000; online and paper copies at academic libraries) short biographies by specialists
  • Bledsoe, Andrew S. Citizen-Officers: The Union and Confederate Volunteer Junior Officer Corps in the American Civil War. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 2015. ISBN 978-0-8071-6070-1.
  • Current, Richard N., et al. eds. Encyclopedia of the Confederacy (1993) (4 Volume set; also 1 vol abridged version) (ISBN 0-13-275991-8)
  • Dictionary of American Biography 30 vol, 1934–1990; short biographies by specialists
  • Faust, Patricia L. (ed.) Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (1986) (ISBN 0-06-181261-7) 2000 short entries
  • Heidler, David Stephen. Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: A Political, Social, and Military History (2002), 1600 entries in 2700 pages in 5 vol or 1-vol editions
  • Woodworth, Steven E. ed. American Civil War: A Handbook of Literature and Research (1996) (ISBN 0-313-29019-9), 750 pages of historiography and bibliography