Regimental Counts

Was the Fifty-First Illinois a big regiment?  Hardly. It was a little regiment trying to grow itself throughout 1862, 1863, and most of 1864. (See Michael Musick's article on "little" regiments, linked at the bottom of this page.)

February, 1862: First Count. On February 14, 1862, the Fifty-First Illinois left Camp Douglas, Chicago, for the war. It consisted of eight companies instead of the standard ten. It had no Company F, and it had no Company I. In its original formation the regiment was to have a cavalry company and an artillery company—along with eight infantry companies. The adjutant general of Illinois altered the plan, gave other assignments to the forming cavalry and artillery companies, and told the staff of the Fifty-First that he would assign two additional infantry companies to the regiment. That never happened. The regiment left Chicago with 700 men (whereas other regiments went to the field with 900 or more men).

July-September, 1862: Effective & Absent. There are various accountings of the numbers of men in the regiment throughout its history. One of the fullest from the field came from the regimental adjutant in July and September, 1862.

Headquarters 51st Ill. Inf
Nashville, Tenn., Nov. 13th, 1862

Allen C. Fuller, Adjutant General, State of Illinois

Your circular of Aug 25th was rec'd yesterday only, owing to the breaking up of communication between Nashville & the north.
On the 2nd of July, 1862, the regiment numbered as its effective force, 19 officers, 437 men; absent 10 officers, 115 men.
On the 1st of Sept., 23 officers, 467 men; absent 7 officers, 101 men.
On the 10th of Sept., 21 officers, 463 men; absent 9 officers, 76 men.
Between July 2nd & Sept. 1st, the regiment rec'd no recruits.

Henry W. Hall
1st Lieut. & Acting Adjt.
51st Ill. Inf.

In the course of six or seven months, then, the regiment had shed two hundred of its members—to disability, death by disease, and desertion. Another one hundred men were away from the regiment, recovering from illness or on detached service.

December, 1862: Guns in Use. On December 3, 1862 Bradley informed the War Department's that the regiment held 457 "new Austrian Rifles"; 403 were "in use". This gives a practical count of regimental strength in late 1862—403 using guns, less than a month away from Stone's River.

September & October, 1863: Before and After Chickamauga. Reports of the number of soldiers the Fifty-First carried into the Battle of Chickamauga range from 209 to 325. The 209 figure comes from the adjutant general's regimental history but seems rather unlikely—too low (the casualties would have reduced that number to a mere 50). Captain Albert Tilton, who was in the fighting both days, set the figure at about 325. This figure seems more likely. But, either way, the regiment had shrunk to the size of two or three companies by the time it went into action at Chickamauga on September 19, 1863. Shortly after the battle, Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Raymond, who commanded the regiment at Chickamauga, gave its post-battle strength as 167 "fighting men present" and 267 "aggregate present and absent".

November, 1863: Men Engaged. The adjutant general's regimental history said the regiment had 150 men engaged at Missionary Ridge on November 25, 1863, two months after Chickamauga with its heavy casualties.

The consolidated report for November 15 listed 7 men present "for duty" in Company H and 6 in Company K. Neither company had any officers present. John Whitson, the first captain of Company H had died of disease in July 1862. His brother, Charles Whitson, who succeeded him, was wounded at Stone's River and was discharged for disability. William Greenwood, who succeeded Charles Whitson, was on detached service as aide-de-camp to General David Stanley. Lieutenant Osman Cole who commanded the company at Chickamauga was shot in the face and taken captive on the second day near Bloody Pond. It was similar in Company K. Captain Rufus Rose was on sick leave. Otis Moody, the first lieutenant, was on brigade staff and was killed the first day at Chickamauga. The company was under the command of the acting second lieutenant Henry Buck, and Buck too was killed on September 19. As a point of comparison, when the regiment left Chicago in February 1862, Company H had 62 men present "for duty", 2 on detached service, and 7 sick—plus 3 commissioned officers, and 5 non-commissioned officers: 79 men altogether.

June, 1864: Guns Left. Two days after the battle for Kennesaw Mountain with its heavy casualties in the Fifty-First, Chaplain Lewis Raymond wrote, "I believe we have about ninety guns left of the 51st Ill. Vol. So you see we are nearly played out." We are trying to verify Raymond's figure but believe it is reliable; however, the regiment was not played out. Men who had recovered from their wounds trickled back to the regiment. Men were recalled from detached service elsewhere in the Army of the Cumberland. The State of Illinois had instituted a draft, and the adjutant general was preparing to send men to the regiment.

September, 1865: at Muster-Out. When the Fifty-First Illinois was mustered out on September 25 1865 at Camp Irwin, Texas, there were only 261 men to muster out. One hundred fifteen men had been killed in battle; 135 men succumbed to disease while serving with the regiment. Original three-year men who had not reenlisted were discharged in February, 1865. Men of the regiment who had been prisoners of war were often mustered out upon their release during the first four months of 1865. Company F, under James Skidmore, had mustered out of the service and returned to Illinois in mid-June. (At the time the rest of the regiment reenlisted in early 1864, Company F had not served long enough to reenlist, so their three-year term expired in June, and they were gone.) Many—not all—of the draftees and substitutes who joined the regiment in October and November 1864 were discharged in June 1865.

Recruiting Growth.
While disease, casualties, and detached service ate away at regimental strength, the regiment was often engaged in recruiting activities to build its strength in numbers. The Illinois adjutant general's office also occasionally assigned men to the regiment. The first significant increase came, as mentioned above, with the addition of a Company F to the regiment in July, 1862. Throughout the late summer and early autumn of 1862, Thomas Lester was in Illinois recruiting for the tenth company, the elusive Company I. This detachment of 60-65 men, which Lester recruited, joined the regiment in November, 1862, but, by a last-minute change in staff thinking, they were distributed among the existing nine companies, to build their dwindling numbers. Still there was no Company I.

In March, 1864, the regiment was back in Illinois on its thirty-day reenlistment furlough. Recruiting officers fanned out across Illinois, with some success, and recruited 86 men for the regiment. These new recruits were distributed among the existing nine companies of the regiment.

In October and November, 1864, just after the Georgia Campaign, just at the start of the defense of Federal position in Tennessee, the Illinois adjutant general's office assigned 192 newly drafted men (or their substitutes) to the Fifty-First Illinois. This doubled the number of men in the regiment.

On April 11, 1865, after direct hostile confrontation with the Confederate enemy had ceased for the Fifty-First, the regiment finally was blessed with its tenth company; Company I joined the regiment in Tennessee. The regiment had another four months to go before muster-out. Also in June a number of men were transferred from the One Hundredth Illinois to the Fifty-First. The One Hundredth was due to muster out but there were still men who owed service time, and they were assigned to the Fifty-First.


Administrative Files of Civil War Regiments, 51st Infantry Regiment, R.S. 301.18, Illinois State Archives, Springfield, Illinois.

Michael P. Musick, "The Little Regiment: Civil War Units and Commands."