For most Civil War battles, there is precious little accurate information as to the exact (or even estimated) number of men who fought in each regiment. Brigade strength information is more commonly available, particularly in the Official Records and other contemporary reports. Usually the scenario designer will simply estimate the number of soldiers in each regiment based upon the aggregate in the brigade or division.
There are a few sources of regimental data for some of the larger battles, such as Busey & Martin’s classic Regimental Strengths and Losses at Gettysburg. I used this, coupled with adding back in battle losses and estimated stragglers to work backwards from Gettysburg to Hunterstown to Hanover to Upperville to Middleburg to Aldie to Brandy Station for my popular Crossed Sabers all-cavalry scenario book.
Here are a few tips for researching regimental strengths for the next battle you want to fight on the tabletop…
1. Search the Official Records for that particular battle. At times (not often, however), the regimental commanders made some comment such as “I led 219 muskets into the fight,” or similar report on their effective strength.
2. Regimental histories, soldier’s diaries and letters home, post-war memoirs, etc. again on occasion will be of value. I found several good references to Antietam strengths in this fashion that I incorporated into my Undying Courage: Antietam in Miniature JR3 scenario book.
3. Do Google or Yahoo searches for each regiment involved in the fight. While tedious and boring, there are nuggets to be gleaned times. There may also be other goodies such as the weather, the density of a woods or some other obstacle, comments about visibility or some particular landmark, etc. that can be incorporated into the scenario design.
4. The ultimate source of information is to visit the National Archives and pore through the microfilmed muster rolls of the various regiments in the time frame of the battle. These will often have the list of names for all men in the regiment, including cooks, hospital stewards, teamsters, pioneers, bandsmen, and other noncombatants who did not shoulder a musket in the fighting, but the records are very, very useful. Of course, you need hours (even days) to use this technique, and not all records are complete (or even existant) for many battles.
5. When in doubt, estimate!! Use your own best judgement, based upon division or brigade strength. You can look up when the regiment was formed, what previous actions it was in, and guesstimate what it may have been like at the battle being modeled, based upon previous hard fighting or softer garrison duty, numbers of dead from disease, etc.
It’s not a precise science, and the goal is to have fun, not necessarily to be accurate down to the exact number of men in a particular unit.
More to come in a future post…