The American Civil War marked the transition in terms of war time tactics and the focus on technology that latently started in the Civil war and changed the mode of warfare for all times to come. The visionary zeal of the war tactics and the accent on technology was spread on both the warring sides. For the latter, most prominent was the defeated general Robert Lee who is held in high esteem not only for his moral stature but also for his extra ordinary vision in evolving the modern warfare. Technology as it applied tot he development and effectiveness of the weaponry was exploited more by the Union generals and their troops.
The battles provide the background of the psychological upheaval of a nation divided in half. The major personalities of the war, instrumental in the conduct and in some instances the peaceful culmination of the war, provide the mood of the nation and the identity of the people who have provided history with examples of all noble human traits and qualities.
The study of weaponry and tactics involved offer us a detailed ground level details of the warfare of a bygone era and hopefully remind us of the futility of War.
The American Civil War: A Transition War for Tactics and Technology
The American Civil War, apart from being a watershed in terms of world History in general and American History in particular, also marked the transition in terms of war time tactics and the focus on technology that latently started in the civil war and changed the mode of warfare for all times to come.
It is interesting to note that the visionary zeal of the war tactics and the accent on technology was spread equally on both the warring sides. To this day, the defeated general Robert Lee is held in high esteem not only for his moral stature but also for his extra ordinary vision in evolving the modern warfare.
It is, however, important to mention as a preface, the chain of events that culminated in the greatest civil unrest of modern times that had implications on global concerns. While there were arguably many issues that led to the sectional conflict such as ethnocultural differences, anti-Catholic sentiments and temperance, the central issue pointed to slavery and race (Walther, 1996).
The ascendancy of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency further agitated the Southerners that the abolition of slavery may come into fruition. His speech in Philadelphia did nothing to assuage their anxiety, “I would rather be assassinated on this spot than surrender that sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gives liberty not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, to the whole world, for all future time.” In addition, it can also be believed that the thinkers and the leaders of the time were led into believing that a war that aims to bring about the secession of states alienated from the philosophy of the majority would also be considered entirely legitimate. Lincoln emphasized this in his inaugural address that, “If a minority will secede rather than submit, they make a precedent for their own ruin” (cited in Draper 1868, p. 15). According to William Barney as contained in The Road to Secession: A New Perspective on the Old South (1972), that by then, the Southern politicians and planters were so frustrated in their attempts to expand slavery and even more so that they are now faced with abolition had left them “no choice but disunion through secession” (1996, p. 131). Besides, the Civil war, as most Historians fondly believe, honed the sense of nation hood in the young USA, which till then was an assorted collection of common interests and not in any perfect sense a nation aspiring to greatness.
Before we make any attempt to decipher the importance of the battles that marked the event line of this Historic war it would be better to ascertain the colorful and varied personalities of the main players involved in this grim theatre of death. Both Federal and Confederate forces boasted of greatest military tacticians of all times.
The first of these figures is a man more admired for his military tactics, brilliant leadership of the army and his astounding victory as head of the Federal army than the presidency to which he ascended later, Ulysses S. Grant whose name was, for all posterity, changed from Hiram Ulysses Grant to Ulysses.S.Grant due to a lapse of memory on the part of the congressman Thomas Hamer who appointed him to West point (McFeeley,1981, p. 14). He was the brain behind the brilliant maneuvers that brought his rival Robert Lee to surrender and signaled the end of the American Civil War. At the outbreak of the war, Grant who was working in his Father’s leather store was appointed by the governor to head the volunteers who could at best be described as unruly. Beginning thus, Grant succeeded in whipping his regiment into such shape that his rise was meteoric.
In February of 1862, his campaign which culminated in the surrender of Confederate army in Fort Henry and Fort Donnellson saw Lincoln appoint Grant as the Major General of Volunteers. So great was the personal impression he made while on the war front that even after his unspectacular and less clear campaign at Shiloh in the west, Abraham Lincoln who was said to have remarked, “I can’t spare this general. He fights.” reinstated him to his command. Grant interpreted the reconfirmation of his appointment as a free rein in handling the rebels (McFeely, 1981, p. 121).
Grant made his name in the battle of Vicksburg which became one of the most significant steps towards the ultimate breakdown in the Confederate army. By capturing Vicksburg, a key city in the Mississippi, he effectively divided the confederate states into two and opened to the Union a river route through the Confederacy. This growing list of illustrious successes in the Civil war gave Grant his reputation which led him to being appointed the General-in-Chief of the Union Army in 1864. He then broke the confederate hold on Chattanooga which was the beginning of the end of the Confederate military successes. Grant directed Sherman to drive through the south while he himself went after the illustrious Robert Lee and finally effected his surrender at the Appomattox Court house on April 9, 1865.
An examination of Grant’s presidency as the 18th president of the United States is a study in contrast to his highly successful military career. In one of the History’s greatest paradoxes the man with the best vision for the future in warfare was accused to be a man of limited or impaired vision and lack of governing skills (Ritter, 1988).
It is a historian’s delight to be provided two great characters facing each other in one of the most memorable settings of American history, the Civil War. Robert E. Lee dubbed the Marble statue in his early military days for his near perfect performance in the military academy is a study in contrast to the more flamboyant Grant. Lee is a surprise element in the beginning days of the Confederate army as he was a strong believer in the Union Constitution and the Union. Alan Nolan in his book Lee Considered: General Robert E. Lee and Civil War History opined that “the tradition that Lee was opposed to slavery is a principal strand in the image of Lee as a tragic hero, fighting for the South in a war that was all about the abolition or the survival of slavery” (1991, p. 10.) His career grew in stature to become the military advisor to the Provisional president Jefferson Davis. When Joseph E. Johnston got badly wounded defending Richardson, Lee was given command of the Confederate Forces.
Lee’s tactical brilliance was instrumental in the series of losses inflicted upon the Union army starting at the battle of Gaines’ Mill notwithstanding the greater numbers and unlimited resources at its disposal. Robert E. Lee is till date considered as one of the best military tacticians of all times and there still are certain lessons that are continued to be taught in the Military academies of the world which owe their origin to this outstanding man from Virginia. Leaving behind a tradition of military service to the nation, all three of Lee’s sons served in the Confederate army and had remarkable careers. Moreover, in building the reputation of his subordinates like Stonewall Jackson, Lee showed extreme maturity and leadership of the finest kind.
Robert E. Lee is remembered as much for his quiet dignity and shining integrity as he is for his tactical brilliance. His conduct and his ascension to the Presidency of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) made him a legend in his own lifetime. There are historians of the opinion that Lee belonged to the tradition of the warrior philosophers like Marcus Aurelius. “Thomas L. Connelly summed up the situation when in 1977 he wrote that Lee ‘became a God figure for Virginians, a saint for the white Protestant South, and a hero for the nation . . . who represented all that was good and noble’” (Nolan 1991, p. 5).
Another important figure was Ambrose E. Burnside who must be counted as one of the most unfortunate men as far as the military history of the American Civil war is concerned. He inherited the command of the army from Major General George. B. McClellan on 7 November 1862. His vision of the war was different and more risky than that of his predecessor and this trait which would have otherwise earned the laurels of the world as daring and original actually led to his downfall which in his position meant a monumental loss of lives to the Federal Army and a loss of face and momentum to the Union. (Ritter, 1988).
Ambrose Burnside’s inability to accept the tactical supremacy of the Confederate general Thomas. J. “Stonewall” Jackson in Fredericksburg was instrumental in the grim statistics of 12600 lost lives of the Federal Army. The struggle to cross the Rappahannock River with the aid of the Pontoon building division and the vulnerable position it inflicted on his army had doomed his first campaign to a certain defeat even before a shot as fired. There were several voices of reason in his own advisors which Burnside chose to ignore in order to cater to the public demand of victory before the onset of the inclement Winters of Virginia. Sealing the lid on his military career was the infamous “Mud March” where Burnside was ridiculed for persisting to march through the heavy rain where he, his troops, horses and supplies got stuck in the resulting bog (Sutherland, 1998, p. 91). The element of surprise that Jackson seemed to always hold over Burnside and the final stonewalling of the oncoming waves of the Federal soldiers in spite of being limited in resources further embedded to Jackson the sobriquet of “Stonewall” and to Burnside the dubious distinction of losing the first large scale campaign he had initiated.
Given the above, it is thus vital to study the gloriously successful Thomas J. “Stonewall’ Jackson in the context of the most brilliant of the military tacticians and bravest of the commanders of the American civil war. With already a reputation for immense courage in the face of adversity as an officer in the Mexican War, Jackson became an instructor at the Virginia Military Institute in charge of grooming the next generation of the American Army. Thus, his appointment as a Brigadier General at the beginning of the Civil war came as a surprise to none. The nickname “Stonewall” stuck when, during the Battle of Bull Run, Brig. Gen. Barnard Elliott Bee, Jr., was said to have rallied his troops by exclaiming, “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Follow me.” (Henderson 1905, p. 163.)
After having proven himself indispensable to his commander Robert E. Lee by manifestly defeating the Federal army in several battles like the Battle of Fredericksburg which reinforced his military acumen and reputation for all posterity, it was highly unfortunate for Jackson to fall to the bullets of his own side while on a night time reconnaissance exercise during another successful battle in Chancellorsville.
The tactics adopted by Jackson in the battle of the doomed battle of Fredericksburg have remained case study material to the military tacticians till date. We saw the birth of the Trench warfare and the military status to this mode of warfare was accorded essentially only after the American Civil war. He was also one of the first generals of American army on any side to recognize the futility of close range combat in the face of modern technological innovations which turned distance in to an advantage. As luck would have it, the person instrumental in providing his commander Lee with the most spectacular victory on the superior resources of the Federal army died before its culmination and has left behind a legacy so rich and dynamic, that today his cemetery is a cultural tourist site in Virginia.
In this historical context, it would be enlightening to focus on some key issues of the actual conduct of the American Civil War and its implications in bringing about the change in the future course of Warfare all over the world.
Fredericksburg, as mentioned earlier, is the background to the rather non-illustrious career of Burnside, the general of the Federal army. It was a disaster whose statistics are grim reminders of traditional warfare’s reluctance to accept and adapt to the changing face of technology. There were 12600 Federal troops killed against the loss of lives of 5300 soldiers of Confederate army which was a tactical victory to Lee and Jackson though as Lee himself remarked to his general, James Longstreet in the midst of watching his victory, “It is well that war is so terrible–we should grow too fond of it!” (Henry, 2004, P.146).
At the onset, it had already been apparent to Lee that the Federals then under McClellan were on the advance. Lee’s tactic was to let them cross the Rappahannock while he dispatched his generals to position themselves to cover the rear and right flank in case the Federals decided to go to Richmond instead. He read it correctly. When Burnside took over from McClellan, he set his sights on Richmond via Fredericksburg. He hoped that y giving the appearance that he intended to strike at another spot, he would have the element of surprise on his side and if successful, he would also essentially block any attempts by the Confederate army to advance to Washington by way of this route. However, his pontoons for his bridges were delayed and surprise was not his any longer. Burnside made errors in his calculations that instead of quick action and simultaneous advances, his frontal attack was a stop and go at the most. He met up with Stonewall Jackson’s troops, who, on the other hand had sufficient time to plan his defense and the eventually successful counterattack up to the point of manipulating the site of the battle where his troops will be well positioned (Sutherland, 1998).
The Battle of Chancellorsville was another victory for the Confederates. In one of the many battles that had a decisive effect in just over a seven day period, Chancellorsville was considered to be one of Lee’s greatest battles. Encountering a superior force of 97382 to his own 57352 and assisted ably by Stonewall Jackson and later by James E.B. (Jeb) Stuart who took charge after Jackson was mortally wounded, Lee succeeded in repulsing the Federal army led by General Joseph “Fighting Joe” Hooker who took command after the Mud March fiasco.
On 27 April 1863, General Hooker led a campaign to turn the Confederate left flank by crossing the Rappahannock and Rapidian rivers. On facing increased resistance from the federals after turning the orange turnpike on their way to Fredericksburg, General Hooker ordered his forces to suspend the advance and take the defensive position, which in retrospect snatched the initiative away from him and this defensive posture allowed Lee to have Jackson crush the Union XI corps. In a brilliant maneuver, Lee divided his army and set Stonewall Jackson off to a secondary route to crush the Union right wing in a surprise attack. While triumphant, Jackson was wounded in error by his own men and died just after his arm was amputated (Miers, 1965).
Though Lee suffered the traumatic mortal injury to Jackson, Jeb Stuart was also successful in repulsing the Federal advancement. The two-pronged and unexpected attack of the Confederates forced the federal army under Hooker to retreat to a U formation with their back to the Rappahannock river. At last after a loss of total of about 24000 lives (14000 Federal and 10000 Confederate army men including Union Generals Berry and Whipple and confederate general Paxton), Hooker was forced to cross back to the north bank of Rappahannock (Sutherland,1998).
Then, in one of the bloodiest battles of all time which took place from 1-3 July 1863, Gettysburg a small town of 2400 population at that time saw action between 75000 Confederates trying to capture the position of the Union manned by 97000 Federal troops. In a span of two days over 172000 men and 634 cannons had been positioned and engaged in the bloodiest of warfare in a area just a little over 25 square miles. To this day and forever to be known as Picket’s charge, the charge of the confederacy under the leadership of General George E. Pickett 15000 confederate troops charged across a field towards the center of the Union position. They marched for a mile under the barrage of artillery and gunfire and in a little over 50 minutes, in one of the ghastliest carnages of all time 10000 lives were snuffed out in the bravest charge in the history of modern warfare. Lee was misled in believing that they could break the Union defenses though they were well-entrenched by then. Perhaps, banking on his previous successes, he believed too much in the invincibility of his troops that despite Longstreet’s reluctance, the attack was ordered. Their spirits could also have been buoyed because the artillery fire from the North ceased giving the impression that they were disabled. It was too late when they realized that it was a ruse to draw them out to the open (McPherson, 1988).
Gen. Daniel Hill who lost 2000 of his 6500 men in this charge wrote afterwards,” It was not war — it was murder.!” (cited in Jamieson & McWhiney, 1984,p. 4).
The war would continue for two more bloody years. Lee and his troops will win other battles but they were a shadow of their previous reputation after Gettysburg. It was a turning point. Such huge loss of lives and the resultant failure in capturing the Union lines must have weighed on Lee’s conscience, as we can only speculate considering the high moral stature of Lee, and could even have been a defining reason in his eventual surrender.
As statisticians have recorded, the town of Gettysburg was left with 51000 casualties combined from both sides and was also the trigger for one of the most poignant words ever spoken by any leader anywhere in the world in the form of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address which till date is a glittering example of statesmanship in the face of adversity and danger to human dignity and liberty. “….and this government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth” are words that have found an echo in all parts of the democratic globe. It is ironic that Lincoln made a wrong prediction in his speech which only reflects the esteem under which he placed democracy and liberty far above individual greatness and glory when he said “The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here…” (Carmichael, 1917, p. 115).
As 1865 drew close the superior power of the Federal army and the great steely resolve of President Lincoln never to accede to the secession of the southern states started placing a great strain on the sustenance of the Confederate war. In February, there came a chance for reconciliation by way of peace negotiations. Lincoln and Seward, his Secretary of State met with three Confederate commissioners. However, Jefferson Davis rightly saw it as a farce as he knew that the subject of slavery is not one for compromise. The Northerners went home reassured that the Confederates have lost hope and surrender was near (Eckenrode, 1923, p. 324).
Starting from late March the reverses of Confederate army began to become more frequent and started making an alarming pattern. Between March 27 and April 8, Major General E. R. S. Canby’s forces moved along the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, surrounded the for t by April 1, and captured it on April 8, 1865 leaving the confederate soldiers under Brigadier General Randall. L . Gibson to flee. At last the Spanish Fort was no longer a threat and the supplies to the Union army troops fighting their brave battles in the south became easier and accessible. The tables were turned and the blockades and lack of supplies began to affect the confederate army and the problem of the starving soldiers deserting Lee’s army began to grow.
On the other hand starting March 22 and ending on April 2, Major General James H. Wilson demonstrated that the well protected Selma under the seemingly invincible Lt. General Nathan B. Forrest was vulnerable to the might of the Union forces and that signaled to the world that the unrelenting Union forces could not be stopped. With signs of desperation General Lee attacked General Grant’s army at Petersburg but was predictably defeated and thus he had to evacuate Richmond, the confederate capital. Major General George A. Custer’s capture and burning of General Lee’s essential supplies at the Appomattox County was a signal that the end was near. General Lee’s troops were surrounded at Appomattox County on April 7, 1865 and General Grant called for Lee’s surrender. Two days hence, the two commanders met at the Appomattox courthouse and agreed to the terms of the surrender (Marvel, 2002, p. 180).
General Grant, it is agreed by most historians, offered one of the most magnanimous and humane surrender terms to General Lee and his army men. The lack of vindictiveness in this final surrender helped greatly in healing the secessionist wounds from the psyche of the American people in the long run.
The curtains on the Civil war have not yet been closed before the tragic assassination of President Lincoln by Booth, a confederate sympathizer who did not recognize that he was doing the world a disservice by snatching away a statesman of the greatest stature from America and the world.
On 18th December 1865, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified abolishing slavery, the issue which almost split United States into two. One belief widely held is that this experience in the early history of the young democracy helped define its future aspirations and goals as the protector of human rights and democracy in all parts of the world.
In the entire history of American Civil war, the generals and their troops were not the only players. All throughout, in all attacks, defenses, skirmishes, the weapons of war were present. Of great significance were the muzzle-loaded rifle and the Spencer carbine, which were instrumental in deciding life and death and in most instances victory and defeat.
Any weapon smaller than cannon and carried by a soldier was known as a small arm. During the Civil War, small arms included muskets, rifles, shoulder guns with spiral grooves cut into the inner surface of the barrel; carbines, short-barreled rifles; and handguns, including pistols and revolvers. Small arms were designated by their caliber, mode of loading (breech or muzzle), and maker. The principal small arms on both sides were the .5 8 caliber Springfield musket and the .69 caliber Harpers Ferry Rifle, both muzzle loading arms that fired the deadly minié ball.
The introduction of these rifled pieces compelled a radical change in infantry tactics, which had been based on the use of the shorter range, less accurate smoothbore musket until the Civil War. The effective range of the muzzle-loaders was about 60 yards. Using smoothbore muskets, firing lines even 100 yards apart could not inflict much damage upon each other. For an attack to be successful, then, soldiers were forced to mass together and run directly into their enemies which so dramatically enacted in several war movies of Hollywood depict them as they were – madness or suicide. The Civil War rifled musket, with its greater accuracy and longer range, was able to kill at a distance of over a half-mile, making a direct, frontal assault a particularly deadly affair so ignominiously ignored by Burnside in Fredericksburg. The continued charge of Federal army against well entrenched Confederate army with their long range weaponry resulting in the mass casualties was a macabre example of reluctance to accept the potency of evolving technology in war tactics. (Henderson, G. F. R. C. B., 1905, p. 140).
One of the greatest small arms controversies during the war involved the debate over breechloaders and muzzle-loaders. Since breechloaders were able to fire more rapidly, they created a need for more ammunition which neither army had in great supply. Breech-loaders were used primarily by the cavalry: one of the most effective was the recently-invented Spencer carbine. The Spencer carbine, which held seven .52 caliber cartridges, was easy to use and lightweight (Nosworthy, 2003).
The mile long marches carrying the rations, ammunitions and the lack of certainty in supplies with both the warring armies concentrating their energies on cutting off each others’ supplies was made a just a bit easier by the lighter weight, longer range and more rapid firing Spencer carbine. For the sheer magnitude of the difference it made, Spencer Carbine needs to be mentioned as a key player in the Civil War Theater.
Other important shoulder arms included the Henry repeating rifle, which carried 15 rounds of .44 caliber cartridges in its magazine, and the Sharps carbine. Hundreds of thousands of revolvers of different makes and models were used by Confederate and Union soldiers. By far, the most common was the Colt revolver, primarily the .44 caliber Model 1860 and the .36 caliber Model 1851 Navy, both of which were lightweight (less than three pounds). The Remington New Model and the Starr Army Percussion revolvers were also purchased in large numbers by both sides.
As in artillery, the North enjoyed an overwhelming advantage over the South in small arms. For much of the war, the Confederacy depended on imports smuggled through the increasingly effective naval blockade. Several different foreign models, particularly from France and England, were imported by the Confederate army, and some were made famous by the generals who used them. The French LeMat revolver, for instance, was favored by Confederate generals Jeb Stuart and P. G. T. Beauregard. Developed by a French-born New Orleans physician, the .44 caliber was produced in France when the Confederates could no longer supply the machinery or metal at home. The English Enfield rifle, which fired a .557 caliber shot, was another important import; about 700,000 were used by Confederates during the war. (Dastrup,1994).
The over dependence of the Confederate army on supplies from overseas suppliers as mentioned above was one major reason for their dwindling fortune as the War progressed. It is a lesson reiterated from Napoleonic times that the army needs to be well fed and well armed and any General who can assure the supplies of both these essentials has his battle half won even before a shot is fired. In this regard, Federal army was readily more superior and this advantage translated into victories as the war entered its third and the fourth years.
Apart from the arms, the emphasis on tactics was a great shift in the Civil War. Most Generals from both sides being seasoned veterans of warfare and in most cases being erudite scholars or thinkers that the initiatives and innovativeness brought about in the execution of traditional plans were exemplary. Lee and Jackson, for example, had teaching backgrounds and academic study on the art of warfare as their mainstay during their non-military days.
Napoleonic warfare had already been popular in Germany and Russia by the 1850s. In the West Point, it had its main proponent in the person of Prof. Dennis Hart Mahan who taught the art of war for nearly twenty years. His student, Henry Hallock even translated from French Jomini’s work on the life of Napoleon including the theory in the “Elements of the Art of Military Science.” Hallock became a Union officer from 1862-1864. (O’Brien, 2000).
A most striking aspect of the Civil War was the fact that ferocity and bravery with which cavalry and infantry took on the artillery of the opposing force which might be termed ridiculously close to suicide in modern times. This was common for both Federal and Confederate armies.
This is the essence of Napoleon’s campaigns – the tactical offensive. In Jomini’s treatise on Napoleon’s tactics in his Precis de L’ART de la Guerre, the one that was most stressed was the “massive and speedy infantry attacks against weak points in the fortifications.” This ran parallel to the general mood of the civil war with both sides wanting to conquer the other. Such a tactic was used with great success by Lee in Chancellorsville and Second Manassas but major defeat in Gettysburg. In Fredericksburg, Burnside employed the tactic but was blocked by a stone wall. Lee again suffered huge casualties in Malvern Hill. In the movie, Glory, we felt the fear, nobility and ultimate death of the black troops of the 54th Massachusetts as they stormed the wee entrenched Confederates. (O’Brien, 2000).
To demonstrate a point, the following is a quote from The Bloody Crucible of Courage: Fighting Methods and Combat Experience of the Civil War tells of just such an occurrence during the battle of Battle of New Market Cross-Roads (June 30, 1862) as recollected by John Urban, a Union infantryman:
The First Regiment Pennsylvania Reserves with which Urban served initially withheld its fire as the artillery pummeled the Confederate infantry in its front. Finally, the regiment was ordered to fire. Crowding between the guns, the men immediately directed a lively fire at the common enemy. The Confederate forces vainly struggled to take the position with desperate frontal assaults for almost two hours, but the “slaughter was horrible in the extreme.” Each time, the Confederates managed to advance to within forty to fifty “steps,” pushing forward over their fallen comrades and making a heroic effort to remain oblivious to the carnage surrounding them. The Union infantry were firing so quickly that their rifle barrels started to heat up and their hands began to blister. Despite these efforts, the enemy kept advancing and for a moment, it appeared that the defenders would be overrun. But, just at this crisis, the Confederates succumbed to the beating inflicted by both infantry and artillery, and broke, leaving behind the dead, the dying and those desperately struggling to survive. (Nosworthy, 2003. p.112)
Statistics now show that the side which took the offensive-defensive tactic incurred the heaviest casualties and in inverse proportion when they took the defensive stance. On the table below, one can examine this statement. Note that the South took the tactical offensive in 91per cent of the battles where they suffered their greatest losses and they defended in 89 per cent of the battles where they suffered the least losses.
The first twelve major campaigns or battles of the war in which total casualties exceeded 6,000 men
Number of Men Engaged
Losses ; % Lost
US ; CS
US ; CS
29,396 * (100.0)
Total engaged in these twelve campaigns
Total losses in these twelve campaigns
US = 809,456
US = 113,160 (or 13.9% of those engaged)
CS = 622,265
CS = 152,841 (or 24.6% of those engaged)
187,191 more US troops engaged
39,681 more CS troops lost
(Source: Jamieson ; McWhiney, 1984,p.114)
With the great improvements in firepower as discussed earlier, variations of warfare from frontal assaults, where the enemy was taken by surprise or the attack was made from entrenched positions which offered complete safety to the defender while the attacker suffered from too much visibility and hence rendered vulnerable, were employed in various stages by brilliant Generals on both sides.
In the battle of Fredericksburg General “Stonewall” Jackson used more than one ploy to weaken the enemy lines and all these measures are great examples of Trench warfare which form case studies in all the World’s military academies.
Jackson spread his limited number of cavalry and artillery in four separate groups one after the other and successfully created a seven mile line before Federal army could reach his Infantry. He also hid heavy cannon guns atop a hill on the advancing path of the Federal army and held off action until the enemy army was within artillery range and timed his barrage to precision to effect maximum damage.
In retrospect even the ground which Jackson allowed Meade to gain in Fredericksburg seems to be a ploy to encourage the enemy to underestimate him before he could successfully drive out the tired and depleted Federal army out of the Forest and to the Railroad.
One more aspect of Trench Warfare that General Lee demonstrated in the same theater was that he employed considerable number of his artillery men atop a hill on the only possible escape route Jackson would allow the Federal army and the losses suffered by them in their escape were greater than during their engagement. These tactics of surprising and then shocking the enemy lines by accurate anticipation and out thinking led to the glowing accolades heaped on General Lee and Jackson. (Dougherty, 2005).
The success of the trench warfare had been aided greatly by the improved firepower of the era. In the Mexican War which took place in 1846-1848, the Napoleonic tactics worked because they were still using smooth bore muskets which had an effective range of 60 yards. This is far too short and reloading took far too long that close distance fighting is till the way to win. With the increase in quality and technical effectiveness of the artillery, the tactical defensive became the more prudent approach. (Koehl, 1996).
Regardless, some were slow to appreciate and put into good use the rifle advantage. Mahan himself, the West Point professor, while acknowledging the improvements made on the rifle also downplayed any impact it may have on the conduct of the war. This mind set carried on with the old guards and those who participated in the Mexican war. In 1864, nearing the surrender of the Confederate troops, Gen. Bragg even blamed Gen. Johnston for the troops’ low morale on keeping them in the trenches notwithstanding the fact that the Northern protagonists under Gen. William Sherman were meeting with success by fighting from the trenches in the same campaign. (Eckenrode, 1923).
It can be said that the rifle won the war for the north as the Federals were the ones who recognized its killing power from the entrenchments. Sherman, in fact, exploited it so fully that he became the first great master of trench warfare. As noted by Col. Theodore Lyman, “Put a man in a hole and he will best off three times his number even if he is not a good soldier.” (cited on Jamieson ; McWhiney, 1984).
In the above study it can be noted that American Civil war had been a precursor to, and the end of, several military, social and political movements. The war strategies have changed towards the optimal use of firepower and the exploitation of technology to develop more effective weapons of war. Some like the Secessionist demands ended abruptly with the Civil War while some like the nationhood and the global identity of the United States of America picked up momentum. The turning point in the History of independent America was soaked in blood and though its overall effect was benign on the nation’s history and psyche, it is important for all of us to look back and note and study the various aspects of that period which throw up brilliant examples of courage under fire, the tenacity to hold on to one’s belief in the face of extreme adversity, a commitment to nation and/or a cause above one’s self, and to move forward.
The battles provide the background of the psychological upheaval of a nation divided in half. The major personalities of the war, instrumental in the conduct and in some instances the peaceful culmination of the war, provide the mood of the nation and the identity of the people who have provided history with examples of all noble human traits and qualities. The study of weaponry and tactics involved offer us a detailed ground level details of the warfare of a bygone era and hopefully remind us of the futility of War.
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