- Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia: A Statistical Portrait of the Troops Who Served under Robert E. Lee
The rise of the new economic history in the 1960s brought a substantial reliance on mathematics into a discipline that still resembled literature much more than it did a social science. Spurred by the cliometricians, political and social historians soon began enthusiastically if controversially following their lead in basing conclusions on carefully assembled databases of statistical information. Historical volumes suddenly came equipped with a plethora of tables, bar graphs, methodological appendixes, equations, and chi-square tests. Civil War historians, however, generally straggled behind their colleagues' van like heavily laden new recruits, while those who focused most squarely on military topics usually stayed in their camps, citing Mark Twain on damned lies and statistics. More recently, of course, quantitative research has become an important part of many home front studies, while even books about soldiers and their motivations now boast their share of percentages and tables. The most recent culmination of the new direction in Civil War military history is Joseph Glatthaar's General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse (2008), a prizewinning work that deftly combines extensive qualitative and quantitative sources with sophisticated metrics into the best interpretation yet of the Army of Northern Virginia and the men who fought under its banners.
Soldiering in the Army of Northern Virginia, essentially a companion volume to General Lee's Army, grew out of the author's conclusion that much remained unexplored in his accumulated data. Lacking the information required for true random sampling, Glatthaar constructed a new stratified cluster sample of 600 soldiers: 300 from the infantry, 150 from artillery, and 150 from the mounted branch, with the data separated into fifty-four categories. The findings appear in thirteen chapters and no fewer than 130 bar graphs that break down the data by service arm, birthplace and residence, rank, year of enlistment, age, family status, and class. Readers should note that the decision to provide what are essentially separate statistical essays often creates narrative overlap, as when, for example, discussions of the average age of cavalrymen appear in both the chapters on age and the cavalry.
To a significant extent, Glatthaar's conclusions reinforce his earlier findings or simply confirm what we thought we already knew. The average soldier in Lee's army was likely to be a young, single farmer. Young, single men dominated the first wave of enlistment in 1861, more married [End Page 100] men followed in 1862, and in the second half of the war the army increasingly turned to the young, the graybeards, and skilled workers who had escaped service earlier. Officers tended to be older, wealthier, and more likely to represent white-collar professions. The infantry bore the brunt of casualties, while in contrast the old jibe "Who ever saw a dead cavalryman?" had real basis in fact, as the average infantryman was much more likely to be killed or wounded. Horse soldiers themselves tended to be the wealthiest men in gray, especially when parents' land and slave assets are counted, and young men flocked to the cavalry. Locality and opportunity affected desertion, but so did age and marital status. Poor men, especially conscripts and substitutes, deserted proportionally in greater numbers.
Yet for those willing to wade through sometimes dense statistical discussions—or at least jump ahead to the conclusion—Glatthaar offers significant rewards. One fascinating discussion, for example, firmly links fatherhood to higher desertion rates. Most important, he conclusively puts to rest the old notion that the conflict really was a rich man's war and a poor man's fight. Undergirding conclusions in General Lee's Army with still firmer foundations, the author points to the sizable number of men in the army, well over a third, who were slave owners or at least members of immediate slave-owning households. Counties with higher slave populations produced more soldiers than largely white...