The 20 Greatest Armies of the Civil War

The American Civil War began with the Attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861, and ended four years later, with General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. During the war, as many as 3.9 million troops were mobilized to fight, and an estimated 620,000 were killed. Against today’s population base, this is comparable to about 41.5 million troops and 6.5 million fatalities.

In support of their respective causes, the Union and Confederate sides of the war raised armies of unprecedented size. Typically structured in distinct, hierarchical fighting units – from smaller regiments to larger brigades, divisions, and corps – the armies of the Civil War often counted tens of thousands of troops in their ranks. 

The circumstances of the Civil War were constantly shifting, and so too were the strategies and short-term objectives of the two sides. To adapt, many armies of the Civil War existed for only a few months before being dissolved and integrated into new or existing armies. Still, others lasted for years.  

Using data from An Encyclopedia of American History, a peer reviewed reference guide, 24/7 Wall St. identified the largest and most important armies of the Civil War. We ranked the 10 largest Union and 10 largest Confederate armies by reported troop strength. It is important to note that for each army on this list, troop size varied considerably throughout the war, and reported figures represent only a snapshot of their ranks. In cases where estimates of a single army’s troop count was provided as a range, we favored the larger enlistment figure. 

The Confederacy was outmanned and outgunned by their Union adversaries throughout the war. Nearly 2.7 million soldiers enlisted to fight for the Union, compared to a high-end estimate of only 1.2 million Confederate troops. As a result, Confederate armies were often smaller than Union armies. All of the five smallest armies on this list fought on the Confederate side, while three of the five largest armies belonged to the Union. (Here is a look at the most commonly used firearms in the Civil War.)

The largest and most important armies of both the Union and Confederate forces were their primary fighting force in the Eastern Theater for most of the war – the Army of the Potomac on the Union side, and the Army of Northern Virginia on the Confederate side. These armies were led by some of the most well-known generals of the war, including George B. McClellan and Ambrose E. Burnside in the North, and P.G.T. Beauregard and Robert E. Lee of the South. (These are the states where the most Civil War battles were fought.)

Click here to see the 20 largest armies assembled during the Civil War.

Click here to read our detailed methodology.

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