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Thread: US Civil War Experts needed

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    US Civil War Experts needed

    I am just an interested amateur when it comes to the Civil War. In my studies, I was struck at how similar some of the photos looked when compared to WW1. For example, the siege breastworks, trenches, and gigantic mortars commonly in use in 1864 could almost have been taken in 1914.

    The rifled musket, improved artillery, and the staggering losses earlier in the war gave way to two "new" modes of combat:

    1) Sherman's March - almost a blitzkrieg light, a high-speed total war concept of rapid movement, envelopment or bypass, with the target being the enemy's capacity to produce. They made extensive use of cavalry, rail, and sea transportation to overwhelm a large portion of the South.

    2) Siege work - rather than hurling tens of thousands of troops at well-defended works, the technique of "dig in and bomb/starve them into submission" became the norm. Pictures of these sieges at Petersburg and elsewhere are stunning in their similarity to WW1.

    Yet when I talk to people, the general impression is one of Napoleonic lines wheeling and getting cut down by the thousands. I maintain that any similarity was abandoned very early. Troops dug in, ducked, took cover, and it became a war primarily of maneuver, with the addition of localized WW1-style trench warfare in places.

    Which vision is more accurate? Napoleonic, massed troop movements, or a preview of the horrors of WW1? Or both? Thanks.

    Some pics:



    Dead soldiers in a trench

    A Confederate battery well-protected by sandbags
    Last edited by Chogy; 26 Jun 09, at 14:33. Reason: added pics

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    Chogy,

    depends on the timeframe you're talking about. from 1861-early 1863 both union and confederate commanders were enanamored of napoleon and tried to re-create the whole "napoleonic" style warfare of seizing the tactical offensive, massed artillery, and assault columns shattering the enemy army in a grand battle.

    however, this died out by 1862/3, as the amateur armies got bloodied in actions such as malvern hill and antietam. the last really successful execution of something that might be classified as napoleonic was chancellorsville.

    however, on both western and eastern campaigns, commanders found out that the faster, more accurate, longer-range rifles coming into play simply made the defense very hard to shatter even with a concentration of force. lee tried the ultimate napoleonic move at gettysburg and got shattered for it.

    in the eastern campaign, terrain limited manueverability, and in any case grant soon realized that WWI style attrition tactics and fixing lee in place would do more to kill the confederacy than trying to match lee manuever for manuever.

    in the western campaign, even with greater manueverability, the use of field works and better communications made it much harder for the union to have a "decisive" battle- instead sherman sought to outflank his enemy while ripping up the countryside.

    WWI just sharpened all the technological advantages for the defender, at least until 1917-1918. if you think about it, the eastern campaign by sherman was eerily similar to what happened in 1914 with the "race to the sea", which ended once both sides had no more room to manuever.
    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."- Isaac Asimov

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    The civil war was an odd mix of personalities and tactics. Lee ordered the use of trenches to defend Richmond as early as 1862. And suffered a lot of derisive comments for doing so, being called Granny Lee. Lee saw firsthand the horrible effect of masses of troops attacked entrenched or fortified positions at Fredricksburg, yet he did the exact same thing at Gettysburg, and suffered the same fate. And then Grant returned the favor at Cold Harbor. Over the course of the war, Napoleonic tactics did lose favor somewhat, but even at the last major battle of the war (Bentonville), they were still being used.

    And it seems that even after that, American generals didn't learn their lesson. They were still charging entrenched positions in world war, despite their own lessons from the Civil War, and watching the French, Germans, and British bleed each other dry in the first three years of World War I.

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    johnny,

    Over the course of the war, Napoleonic tactics did lose favor somewhat, but even at the last major battle of the war (Bentonville), they were still being used.

    And it seems that even after that, American generals didn't learn their lesson. They were still charging entrenched positions in world war, despite their own lessons from the Civil War, and watching the French, Germans, and British bleed each other dry in the first three years of World War I.
    i think the question here is, how much flexibility did technology of the time allow? in the trench warfare-style fighting in the eastern campaign, union troops were known to have used leapfrogging tactics. but obviously they didn't have the communication and transport technologies to really exploit this, so in the end the commanders (particularly union) could only rely upon napoleonic mass to substitute for manuever.

    if you look at WWI, it was only with the development of much better coordination with artillery strikes, better artillery accuracy (box barrage) by mid-1916 that each side started to look at stormtrooper/leapfrogging tactics again instead of mass. even this couldn't really break the paradigm- the obvious response to that was to have a strong reserve and a thinly held front, and that highly limited anything commanders could do on an operational or strategic level until tanks came along.

    smart generals knew that napoleonic warfare didn't really work anymore, but the limitations of technology really made it a lot harder to come up with anything else.
    There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."- Isaac Asimov

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    Quote Originally Posted by astralis View Post
    johnny,



    i think the question here is, how much flexibility did technology of the time allow? in the trench warfare-style fighting in the eastern campaign, union troops were known to have used leapfrogging tactics. but obviously they didn't have the communication and transport technologies to really exploit this, so in the end the commanders (particularly union) could only rely upon napoleonic mass to substitute for manuever.

    if you look at WWI, it was only with the development of much better coordination with artillery strikes, better artillery accuracy (box barrage) by mid-1916 that each side started to look at stormtrooper/leapfrogging tactics again instead of mass. even this couldn't really break the paradigm- the obvious response to that was to have a strong reserve and a thinly held front, and that highly limited anything commanders could do on an operational or strategic level until tanks came along.

    smart generals knew that napoleonic warfare didn't really work anymore, but the limitations of technology really made it a lot harder to come up with anything else.

    The obvious answer was to avoid attacking fixed positions. Of course, that limits one's offensive possibilities. But mobility and speed were the best options for attack. Get there before the enemy can entrench, build field fortifications, etc.. Some generals did seem grasp the changes better than others. Forrest is one that comes to mind. But once the enemy has been in a certain postion for a while, especially a strong position, then it was probably a good idea to avoid attacking him there, and move off somewhere else.

    Lee won on the first day at Gettysburg because his army and the feds arrived at about the same time, and he had more men. He lost on the third day because the yankees had been there for three days and had time to prepare the position for attack.

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    johnny,

    The obvious answer was to avoid attacking fixed positions. Of course, that limits one's offensive possibilities. But mobility and speed were the best options for attack. Get there before the enemy can entrench, build field fortifications, etc.. Some generals did seem grasp the changes better than others. Forrest is one that comes to mind. But once the enemy has been in a certain postion for a while, especially a strong position, then it was probably a good idea to avoid attacking him there, and move off somewhere else.
    unfortunately in the eastern campaign that's a lot harder to do- only so many passable roads, fords, and trails...and establishing field fortifications was relatively easy.

    there's a quote out there- forget whom said it, but basically within fifteen minutes of stopping an army could have rifle pits, within an hour a trench system with ramparts, within a day they would have a hardened system complete with palisade, ditches, and artillery emplacements.

    Lee won on the first day at Gettysburg because his army and the feds arrived at about the same time, and he had more men. He lost on the third day because the yankees had been there for three days and had time to prepare the position for attack
    and he very oblingly went napoleon style and charged right ****** ****** up the middle. i wonder how it would have went had longstreet gotten his way with a flank movement.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Johnny W View Post
    The obvious answer was to avoid attacking fixed positions. Of course, that limits one's offensive possibilities. But mobility and speed were the best options for attack. Get there before the enemy can entrench, build field fortifications, etc.. Some generals did seem grasp the changes better than others. Forrest is one that comes to mind. But once the enemy has been in a certain postion for a while, especially a strong position, then it was probably a good idea to avoid attacking him there, and move off somewhere else.
    Forest and to an extent Jackson did not have to contend with automatic weapons. Had the defenses of Harpers Ferry and the Federal Troops in the Shenandoah Valley had a dozen machine guns....

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    Quote Originally Posted by zraver View Post
    Forest and to an extent Jackson did not have to contend with automatic weapons. Had the defenses of Harpers Ferry and the Federal Troops in the Shenandoah Valley had a dozen machine guns....
    Yea, and if Jackson had a few Sherman tanks, then it would have been vastly different. Of course, Stonewall might not have called them Sherman's.


    Seriously, it seems to me the best leaders are able to adjust to the circumstances they face. Lee did, to a certain extent, in 1864, although perhaps he was forced to due to the losses the South had suffered. I wonder if Stonewall would have been able to adjust his tactics if and when Grant moved east?
    Last edited by Johnny W; 26 Jun 09, at 20:52.

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    Quote Originally Posted by astralis View Post
    johnny,



    unfortunately in the eastern campaign that's a lot harder to do- only so many passable roads, fords, and trails...and establishing field fortifications was relatively easy.

    there's a quote out there- forget whom said it, but basically within fifteen minutes of stopping an army could have rifle pits, within an hour a trench system with ramparts, within a day they would have a hardened system complete with palisade, ditches, and artillery emplacements.



    and he very oblingly went napoleon style and charged right ****** ****** up the middle. i wonder how it would have went had longstreet gotten his way with a flank movement.

    Just as Grant did at Cold Harbor. Sometimes I wonder if both sides were so desperate to end the bloodshed, that they took to many risk in order to get that waterloo type of win?

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    johnny,

    Just as Grant did at Cold Harbor. Sometimes I wonder if both sides were so desperate to end the bloodshed, that they took to many risk in order to get that waterloo type of win?
    the difference being that lee thought smashing through the federal center would give him that waterloo win. i don't think grant really thought the cold harbor attack would give him that. for him, cold harbor was just another attrition battle, but so badly managed that he acknowledged that he gored himself much worse than lee did.

    from what i understand, grant and sherman (unlike previous US commanders) moved considerably away from napoleon, while lee never really managed to free himself of that thinking. grant was the holding force while sherman was the killing force- killing here being the annihilation of the SOUTH (and southern cities/industries/countryside/logistics).

    lee always wanted to annihilate a federal army. his two thrusts north were not meant to destroy northern infrastructure or attrite so much as movement into contact and win that waterloo. but he was stopped at antietam and gettysburg.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Johnny W View Post
    Yea, and if Jackson had a few Sherman tanks, then it would have been vastly different. Of course, Stonewall might not have called them Sherman's.


    Seriously, it seems to me the best leaders are able to adjust to the circumstances they face. Lee did, to a certain extent, in 1864, although perhaps he was forced to due to the losses the South had suffered. I wonder if Stonewall would have been able to adjust his tactics if and when Grant moved east?
    Your missing my point, by 1914 the advantage in defensive firepower was so great that the type of raids Forest and Jackson did would not have been possible except on the Eastern Front. The German attack into France lost a number of days and probably the war by the tiny Belgian Army who because of defensive firepower could not simply be brushed aside. The leige forts and 70,000 Belgians held off the Germans with 320,000 men for 12 days. had that been the South attacking the North the North could have moved in far more than 320,000 troops in 12 days.

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    Quote Originally Posted by zraver View Post
    Your missing my point, by 1914 the advantage in defensive firepower was so great that the type of raids Forest and Jackson did would not have been possible except on the Eastern Front. The German attack into France lost a number of days and probably the war by the tiny Belgian Army who because of defensive firepower could not simply be brushed aside. The leige forts and 70,000 Belgians held off the Germans with 320,000 men for 12 days. had that been the South attacking the North the North could have moved in far more than 320,000 troops in 12 days.
    No, I understood your point, and I agree with you. My point was that if they couldn't find a way to attack without massed frontal assaults against fortified positions, then doing nothing would have been the best option. Of course, I realize thats a hard sell to military men trained to attack.

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    Quote Originally Posted by astralis View Post
    johnny,



    the difference being that lee thought smashing through the federal center would give him that waterloo win. i don't think grant really thought the cold harbor attack would give him that. for him, cold harbor was just another attrition battle, but so badly managed that he acknowledged that he gored himself much worse than lee did.

    from what i understand, grant and sherman (unlike previous US commanders) moved considerably away from napoleon, while lee never really managed to free himself of that thinking. grant was the holding force while sherman was the killing force- killing here being the annihilation of the SOUTH (and southern cities/industries/countryside/logistics).

    lee always wanted to annihilate a federal army. his two thrusts north were not meant to destroy northern infrastructure or attrite so much as movement into contact and win that waterloo. but he was stopped at antietam and gettysburg.
    Agree with you about Grant's purpose, but it was still a massed assault against a prepared position.

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    The impression I get, then, is that Lee, despite his obvious talents, could not break out of the "I must destroy the Army of the Potomac" mindset, while later Union Generals took the fight more to the infrastructure of the South, blockading ports, destroying rail, enveloping cities, etc. Towards the end of the war, Lee knew he did not have the manpower to destroy the Union Army in the field, and rather than disburse his troops to possibly fight a guerilla war, he capitulated with much of his army intact, if hungry and ill-equipped.

    Did the thought of guerilla warfare occur to him? Or, seeing the secession as a lost cause, surrender to spare the South further suffering?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chogy View Post
    The impression I get, then, is that Lee, despite his obvious talents, could not break out of the "I must destroy the Army of the Potomac" mindset, while later Union Generals took the fight more to the infrastructure of the South, blockading ports, destroying rail, enveloping cities, etc. Towards the end of the war, Lee knew he did not have the manpower to destroy the Union Army in the field, and rather than disburse his troops to possibly fight a guerilla war, he capitulated with much of his army intact, if hungry and ill-equipped.

    Did the thought of guerilla warfare occur to him? Or, seeing the secession as a lost cause, surrender to spare the South further suffering?

    I vaguely remember something about a guerilla war discussion between him and Jefferson Davis. Lee didn't want any part of it. Good thing to, if he had, things would have been worse. Fortunately, Lee had more influence than Davis did, even if he didn't always desire to use it.

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