What Matter of Men
Pvt. Duke Harless
3rd Regiment, Co. E, Engineers

April 1999

When seeking a proper impression for reenacting, it is necessary in my humble opinion to eschew the glamorous and flashy impressions that permeate the hobby and give the public a view of who the "Average" soldier was. Some things beyond our control, such as age and physical condition make it impossible for some to do an accurate portrayal of an Average Soldier, however being able to educate the public on the facts is a huge step in the right direction.

Too many of our brethren in the hobby grasp at small shards of documentation to base their impression on. Nothing is more discouraging to me than seeing a 50 year old man in a Kilt/ Zouave uniform doing impression of a Jewish Scotch- Irish Sniper who was raised by Indians and is now dismounted Cav telling the public this was how civil war soldiers where.

The purpose of this article is to throw out some figures and averages to base an impression on. The primary sources of these figures are Wiley's "Life Of Johnny Reb" Mitchell's "Civil War Soldiers".


Even up to Appomattox the overwhelming majority ( 75%) of the Active Southern Army was between the ages of 19-29. The youngest soldiers being in the age group 16-18 accounted for less then 10%, the vast majority of these being the 18 year olds... those 16 and 17 years old accounted for only 2 or 3 percent. The numbers who where under 16 is miniscule. Men in their 30's accounted for about 10% and all ages 40 and over where about 5 % the majority of these being in their early to mid 40's.

Even with the passing of Conscription Laws the average age of the army stayed at a constant, even though men 17 years old and 45 and older where conscripted they where not required to join the large standing armies only to serve in the Reserves and Militia. Unlike today’s reserves these would only be called upon to serve if fighting was in the area where they where raised. The quality of their training and equipment was such that they often where assigned to guard duties over supplies and prisoners vs. service on the front.


The majority (roughly 60%) of the Soldiers who served where Farmers. Other occupations that where represented in large percentages where Students, laborers, Mechanics and Carpenters (these occupations accounted for about 20% of the total) about another 3% where Merchants and Blacksmiths, the rest of occupations listed where spread fairly equally none being over 1%


The vast majority (probably about 90% or higher) of the Southern Army were White Anglo Saxon Protestant who were born in the South. Though the numbers aren't specific on the size of the Regiments when this poll was taken, 3 to 4 Members of each regiment listed a Northern state as their birthplace. In early 1863 the average size of a Regiment in the ANV was 430, this would mean roughly less than 1% where born north of the Mason Dixon Line.

About 10% of the Southern Forces where Foreign Born, The vast majority of these being Irishmen, followed by Germans, then a smaller representation of French, Mexican, English and Scottish. Native Americans also were formed into units and fought mostly in the Western Theatre. African Americans where probably the largest group of Ethnic Minorities to serve with the Confederate Army. In fact there where probably at least 1000-3000 either accompanying the Army or working on fortifications at any time, however these where never officially mustered into service until a last ditch measure in March of 1865. Due to the reluctance to use Blacks in a combat they were utilized by the army as servants, cooks, teamsters nurses and laborers with only a handful documented as taking up arms and fighting as soldiers.

Of the States that sent Foreign Born soldiers to the Army, Louisiana sent the most by far (Mostly Irish and French) , Followed by Texas (who had a large Influx of German Immigrants in 1848, as well as Mexicans who came North from Mexico). The other Foreign Born Troops where most likely to come from a large city, such as Richmond, Charleston or Nashville.

As another note, unlike the North who raised entire regiments and even Brigades that where of Foreign origin, Southern Foreigners where raised in Company strength at most.


Contrary to popular belief Southern Units usually had an illiteracy of 20%. These was higher in the extreme rural areas, such as the mountain country where the rate ran as high as 50% but on average 80-90% knew at least the rudiments of reading and writing. Certain units, such as the Washington Artillery of New Orleans and other companies raised from universities were very well educated, but the average soldier was probably at about what would today be considered a 3rd grade or 4th Grade literacy level.

Conclusion and Caveat to

Engineer Impression:

This data is based on research of INFANTRY units. Using this one can conclude that the average soldier was in his mid twenties, was a farmer or worked at manual labor, was born and raised in the South and was able to read a write at an elementary level.

When doing an Engineer Impression, the three big differences would be first, the occupation: Someone who was recruited into an Engineer unit was much more likely to have been selected due to his skills as a Mechanic, Carpenter or even Civilian Engineering Skills (topographer, surveyor, draftsman, etc).

Second his Education: Because of the need to learn these skills he would probably have a higher education level needed to read graphs, blueprints, maps and period manuals on machinery.

Third Age: In order to reach a competent level of skill he would have had to have more schooling and job experience. He could be from a few years to considerably older than his counterpart in the Infantry. The only thing we can do to improve our impression is research, research, research.... and hope the 300 pound lady doing the dismounted Cav. nurse/ spy impression don’t set up her wall tent next to our camp....