The Civil War, 1861-1865

Author: James G. Blaine  | Date: 1865

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The Disbanding of the Federal Army

THE wonder excited by the raising of the vast army which saved the Union from destruction was even surpassed by the wonder excited by its prompt and peaceful dissolution. On the day that the task of disbandment was undertaken, the Army of the United States bore upon its rolls the names of one million five hundred and sixteen men (1,000,516). The killed, and those who had previously retired on account of wounds and sickness and from the expiration of shorter terms of service, aggregated, after making due allowance for reenlistments of the same persons, at least another million. The living among these had retired gradually during the war, and had resumed their old avocations, or, in the great demand for workmen created by the war itself, had found new employment. But with the close of hostilities many industries which had been created by the demands of war ceased, and thousands of men were thrown out of employment. The disbandment of the Volunteer Army would undoubtedly add hundreds of thousands to this number, and thus still further overstock and embarrass the labor market. The prospect was not encouraging, and many judicious men feared the result.

Happily all anticipations of evil proved groundless. By an instinct of self-support and self-adjustment, that great body of men who left the military service during the latter half of the year 1865 and early in the year 1866 reentered civil life with apparent contentment and even with certain advantages. Their experience as soldiers, so far from unfitting them for the duties and callings of an era of Peace, seem rather to have proved an admirable school, and to have given them habits of promptness and punctuality, order and neatness, which added largely to their efficiency in whatever field they were called to labor. After the Continental Army was dissolved, its members were found to be models of industry and intelligence in all the walks of life. The successful mechanics, the thrifty tradesmen, the well-to-do farmers in the old thirteen States were found, in great proportion, to have held a commission or carried a musket in the Army of the Revolution. They were, moreover, the strong pioneers who settled the first tier of States to the westward, and laid the solid foundation which assured progress and prosperity to their descendants. Their success as civil magistrates, as legislators, as executives was not less marked and meritorious than their illustrious service in war. The same cause brought the same result a century later in men of the same blood fighting with equal valor the same battle of constitutional liberty. The inspiration of a great cause does not fail to ennoble the humblest of those who do battle in its defense. Those who stood in the ranks of the Union Army have established this truth by the twenty years of honorable life through which they have passed since their patriotic service was crowned with victory.

The officers who led the Union Army throughout all the stages of the civil conflict were in the main young men. This feature has been a distinguishing mark in nearly all the wars in which the American people have taken part, and with a few notable exceptions has been the rule in the leading military struggles of the world. Alexander the Great died in his thirty-second year. Caesar entered upon the conquest of Gaul at forty. Frederick the Great was the leading commander of Europe at thirty-three. Napoleon and Wellington, born the same year, fought their last battle at forty-six years of age. On the exceptional side Marlborough’s greatest victories were won when he was nearly sixty (though he had been brilliantly distinguished at twenty-two), and in our own day the most skillful campaign in Europe was under the direction of Von Moltke when he was in the seventieth year of his age….

General Grant won his campaign of the Tennessee, and fought the battles of Henry, Donelson, and Shiloh when he was thirty-eight years of age. Sherman entered upon his onerous work in the southwest when he was forty-one, and accomplished the march to the sea when he was forty-four. Thomas began his splendid career in Kentucky when he was forty-three, and fought the critical and victorious battle of Nashville when he was forty-six. Sheridan was but thirty-three when he confirmed a reputation, already enviable, by his great campaign in 1864 in the Shenandoah Valley. Meade won the decisive battle of Gettysburg when he was forty-seven. McClellan was but thirty-five when he succeeded General Scott in command of the army. McDowell was forty-five when he fought the first battle of magnitude in the war. Buell was forty-two when he joined his forces with Grant’s army on the second day’s fight at Shiloh. Pope was scarcely over forty when he attained the highest credit for his success in the southwest. Hancock was forty-one when he proved himself one of the most brilliant commanders in the army by his superb bearing on the field of Spottyslvania. Hooker was forty-six when he assumed command of the Army of the Potomac….

Among the officers who volunteered from civil life the success of young men as commanders was not less marked than among the graduates of West Point General Logan, to whom is conceded by common consent the leading reputation among volunteer officers, and who rose to the command of an army, went to the field at thirty-five. General Butler was forty-two when he was placed at the head of the Army of the Gulf, and began his striking career in Louisiana. General Banks was forty-four when with the rank of major-general he took command of the Department of Maryland. Alfred Terry, since distinguished in the regular service, achieved high rank as a volunteer at thirty-five. Garfield was a major-general at thirty-one with brilliant promise as a soldier when he left the field to enter Congress. Frank Blair at forty-one was a successful commander in the arduous campaign which ended with the fall of Vicksburg.


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Chicago: James G. Blaine, "The Disbanding of the Federal Army," The Civil War, 1861-1865 in America, Vol.8, Pp.301-305 Original Sources, accessed December 8, 2022,

MLA: Blaine, James G. "The Disbanding of the Federal Army." The Civil War, 1861-1865, in America, Vol.8, Pp.301-305, Original Sources. 8 Dec. 2022.

Harvard: Blaine, JG, 'The Disbanding of the Federal Army' in The Civil War, 1861-1865. cited in , America, Vol.8, Pp.301-305. Original Sources, retrieved 8 December 2022, from