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The Development of Artillery from the Napoleon Period to the American Civil War: Part One

cannons

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I’ve been working on revisions to one of my Civil War texts, A Great War in a Revolutionary Age of Change and decided to post one of those today. Hopefully tomorrow I will follow up with the second part of this section, which deals with the development of artillery from the pre-Napoleonic era to the beginning of the American Civil War. This is kind of a post for geeks who study the period.

I hope that you enjoy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

The Gribeauval System, Napoleon, and the U.S. Army

Like the infantry and cavalry the technical specifics and tactics of the artillery of the United States Army had their roots in the Napoleonic era. Artillery theory “emphasized both the offensive and defensive role of field artillery, with the emphasis on the offensive role in support of infantry assault tactics.” [1] Much of this was due to how Napoleon, a master of artillery tactics, employed his artillery. Napoleon depended heavily on his artillery, he “liked to assemble them in a Grand Battery and use them as an offensive, as against a defensive weapon. At Wagram, in 1809, Napoleon had torn the heart out of an Austrian army with a Grand Battery of 112 guns.” [2] Napoleon would also use a tactic called the artillery rush in which just prior to launching an attack, “the greater part of his artillery reserve would rush to the front. An intensive bombardment would pulverize the opposing line at the point of assault.” [3] If successful he would unleash his heavy and light cavalry in pursuit of broken enemy formations, if not, the guns would cover the retreat of the assault troops.

Napoleon used the system of General Jean Baptiste Gribeauval (1715-1789) who was the real father of artillery in the French army. Gribeauval adapted the Prussian system of Frederick the Great for France. “He “undertook a complete overhaul of the French artillery system.” [4] He developed an entire artillery system for the French army including field, siege and coastal artillery manned by specially trained soldiers. These soldiers were trained in specialized artillery schools. Napoleon, who was trained in the artillery school of the Regiment La Fere in 1785, “used Gribeauval’s guns, equipment, and organization as steppingstones on the path to becoming First Counsel of France and later of a large part of Europe.” [5]

In order to improve mobility, Gribeauval standardized weapons in each arm of the artillery, and most importantly for field artillery he reduced the number of gun types found in different artillery units. He “selected 4-, 8-, and 12-pr guns, all plain unchambered pieces of 18 caliber length, and 6-in howitzers. All of these fired well-fitting projectiles with powder charges about one-third the weight of the shot.” [6] To increase accuracy he ordered that the bore of artillery pieces be drilled rather than case which “produced more exact tolerances within the bore and reduced the windage between the projectile and the bore’s wall.” [7] To enhance mobility he designed standardized limbers and caissons for his guns and all field artillery pieces were “mounted on the same basic carriage so that many carriage parts were interchangeable.” [8] Likewise, the Frenchman “introduced a series of innovations that aimed at improving the artillery’s accuracy. He introduced an elevating screw to adjust the guns range instead of a wedge, allowing for more precise ranging. Gribeauval also provided the gun crews with graduated rear sights. The elevating screw and the rear sight were seen as the most significant improvements regarding cannon in two hundred years.” [9]

One of the most important aspects of Gribeauval’s system was that it touched “nearly every aspect of cannon design, construction, carriages, and deployment, the so-called Gribeauval System served France into the Napoleonic Era. It was so far reaching that it also profoundly influenced artillery in other nations, including that of the emerging United States” [10] which adopted the Gribeauval System in 1818.

American Army officers had long been in the thrall of Napoleon and had been educated in Napoleon’s theory of war by Napoleon’s Swiss interpreter, Henri Jomini, through Denis Hart Mahan, the first military theoretician of the United States who had studied in France and taught at West Point. As such the army sent officers to France to study, among them was Lieutenant Daniel Tyler who went to France in 1828. He translated all of Gribeauval’s System and noted that the French were in the process of adopting British designs of weapons and accouterments, which they had found to be superior to the older designs. Tyler recommended that the Army continue with the Gribeauval System.

One of these advancements was the stock-rail carriage to mount artillery, which was superior to the Gribeauval designs. Janice McKenny, in her book The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 noted that Tyler also translated copies of the French evaluations of British designs, and “obtained complete drawings and specifications of the Système anglais modié, which the Americans later named the “stock-trail system” after the design of the carriage. The new trail consisted of a solid block of wood, simpler and stronger than the old split-trail then in use by the American army, and was significantly superior in maneuverability.” [11] In response to Tyler, some American designers “began fabricating stock trail prototypes” [12] from Tyler’s drawings. However, it took over a decade for the Army to adopt the design, but once adopted the army would use the stock-rail system for its field artillery guns until after the Civil War.

This was in large part due to the work of Captain Alfred Mordecai, who traveled to France in 1833-1834 and collected data on the French development of the stock-rail system. His information, “which included detailed drawings, became the basis for U.S. prototypes of the design.” [13] An Ordnance officer, Mordecai went on to become head of the Frankford Arsenal and later was appointed to the Ordnance Board where he wrote the 1841 Ordnance Manual for the Use of Officers in the United States Army. Mordecai was instrumental in standardizing weapons types and carriages. The guns of his 1841 Pattern, 6- and 12-pound guns, as well as the 12-pound howitzer were all mounted on a standard carriage. Larger weapons, the 24- and 32- pound howitzers of the 1841 pattern were developed but did not see as much service due to their weight. Additionally, limbers and caissons were redesigned to lighten them and improve mobility. Though approaching obsolescence, many these guns saw action in early part of the Civil War and Confederate artilleryman Porter Alexander noted that the 24-pound howitzer was “his favorite gun” [14] for the effectiveness of its heavy shells and canister.

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M-1841 6-Pounder Artillery Carriage and Limber

The artillery service in United States Army was organized like the French army into batteries of six guns, which in turn were detailed to brigades, regiments or battalions. The regimental system was adopted in 1821, following discussions by Secretary of War John C. Calhoun and Congress. As a result, the existing artillery of the army, “the Corps of Artillery and the Regiment of Light Artillery were consolidated to form the 1st, 2d, 3d, and 4th Regiments of Artillery. One of the nine companies authorized to each of the four regiments was to be equipped as light artillery…. The number of artillery companies was reduced from forty-two (thirty-two in the Corps of Artillery and ten in the Regiment of Light Artillery) to thirty-six in the four artillery regiments.[15] The units were dispersed at forts as coastal artillery and depots around the country.

Most of the artillery companies of the period were maintained well below strength and none were organized as horse artillery. In order to give artillerymen practical experience and training working as part of a larger force, Calhoun and the Army established an artillery school at Fortress Monroe. This was an important step. The mission of the school was to provide artillerymen the necessary training in the science of gunnery and artillery tactics, which could not be accomplished in isolated posts. To ensure that the total force was trained the army determined that, “ten artillery companies were to be drawn from the four regiments and assembled as the Artillery Corps for Instruction. The faculty was to be selected from the artillery at large. Through a plan of rotation, all artillery companies were eventually to pass through the school. Cadets assigned to the artillery after graduating from West Point were to receive a year’s instruction at the school before joining their regiments.” [16] The school was closed in 1835 due to the demands for artillerymen in the increased number of coastal fortifications and the need for troops to serve in Florida against the Seminoles.

Though almost all artillery units participated in the war “for the most part, the artillerists were limited in employment to manning the numerous stockades erected to confine the Indians to the Everglades.” [17] Thus they gained no practical experience in their trade. In spite of this by the late 1830s a high percentage of the West Point faculty and staff were men who had served with the artillery in Florida. Major Richard Delafield, an artilleryman became Superintendent in 1838 and gave “artillery instruction wider curricular attention: an artillery “laboratory” would be set up, and practice with lightweight and mobile cannon would receive new impetus.” [18] In another move, Secretary of the Army Joel Poinsett decided to implement the provision of the 1821 regulations to establish four light companies. Using surplus horses from the war he mounted one company as horse artillery in which each crew member had his own horse or rode on the limber, and three as mounted units, “meaning that though the guns were horse-drawn, the cannoneers rode on the carriages or caissons or they walked. In theory the mounted units were to be employed with infantry as regular field artillery and the horse (or light) artillery was to be employed with cavalry.” [19]

The Apex of the Smoothbore

12 pound napoleon

12 Pound M-1857 Napoleons at Gettysburg

Most of the improvements in artillery design between the Napoleonic era and the Civil War were on focused on lightening the weight of the tube, developing better and more mobile limbers, and improvements to fuses and ammunition. During this time the smoothbore cannon reached the apex of its development. In the United States this was realized with the brass M 1857 12-pound Napoleon, which was developed from a French design, however the gun “embodied none of the recent advances in technology” and was “already considered obsolescent by the French Army.” [20] However, much of the choice was dictated by purchasing agents and the budget which required any new ordnance to be cheap. The Napoleon was intended to replace the 1841 patter 6 and 12 pound guns and the 12 pound howitzer. It was nearly 500 pounds lighter than the old guns and “though it was technically a gun, owing to its ability to fire canister and solid shot, the Napoleon was often referred to as a gun-howitzer for its ability to fire explosive shell.” [21] It would see its first action at the Battle of Bull Run and nearly 1,800 of these versatile cannon would be produced in Northern and Confederate foundries during the war. Despite its obsolescence it “proved to be the most popular field piece during the Civil War,” [22] and Union artillery General Henry Hunt later acclaimed the Napoleon as “the best all round field piece of this era.” [23] Robert E. Lee told the Prussian observer to the Army of Northern Virginia, Justus Scheibert: “Nothing surpasses… the impression of a battery of 12-pound smoothbores which approaches to within 400-600 paces of the enemy…. In such moment rifled artillery, the advantages of which in open country I fully appreciate, cannot replace the smoothbore.” [24] Some of these guns remained in service until 1880.

The Development of Rifled Cannon and Breechloaders

While the development of rifled, breech loading, and repeating rifles advanced the capabilities of the infantry in terms of firepower, range, accuracy and battlefield lethality, developments to modernize the artillery around the world lagged behind the rifled musket due to the economic costs involved. Because of the cost “no country would face the cost of re-equipment.” [25] This would begin to change in the mid-1850s as the experience of the Crimean began to give new impetus to weapons development.

However, a number of artillerymen and innovators began to experiment with breech loading and rifled cannon. These were not new ideas, and “when combined, they were first experimented with in England in 1745,” [26] but it would take another hundred years before Italian Major Giovanni Cavalli developed “a cast iron gun, its bore cut with simple two groove rifling to accept an elongated projectile fitted with corresponding lugs that mated with the gun’s grooves.” [27] As Cavalli improved his design others in Europe designed rifled guns. In France Colonel Treuille de Bealieu designed a similar gun to Cavalli; but which fired a cylindrical projectile. Napoleon III who was himself authority on artillery ordered brass smoothbores to be rifled on Bealieu’s design. [28] Swedish Baron Martin Wahrendorf “experimented with smaller, multiple-grooved rifling using lead-sheathed projectiles” [29] Cavalli’s guns were used by the Sardinian army, while the French deployed a number of theirs to Algeria and against the Austrians in Italy.

In the 1850s three English inventors, Charles William Lancaster, Joseph Whitworth, and William George Armstrong began to develop rifled guns. During the Crimean War the British Army modified some old large-caliber guns as breech-loaders. The “first British rifled ordnance consisted of a few old 68-pr and 8-in. cast iron guns, which were made oval and twisted in the bore and so converted to pieces rifled on the Lancaster principle.” [30] Some of these guns saw action during the siege of Sevastopol. Whitworth also produced a breech loading rifled cannon. His gun had a very long range and was exceptionally accurate, however the design was complex and temperamental, and the gun “ultimately proved impractical for general use.” This was in part due to their complexity and the “precise tolerances used in the manufacture… required meticulous maintenance by gun crews to avoid malfunctions, and even moderate bore wear led to jamming in the bores.” [31] A few Whitworth rifles were employed by the Confederate army during the Civil War, two seeing action in Richard Ewell’s Second Corps at Gettysburg.

Armstrong, proposed a lightweight rifled field gun, made of forged rather than cast iron to the Duke of Newcastle, Secretary of State for War in 1854. [32] His design incorporated features that remain today. “His rifled breechloader had multiple groves to distribute the twisting force equally around the projectile. The iron projectile was coated with lead to permit a tight sealing into the grooves. Later projectiles have employed copper rotating bands to produce the tight seal without leaving the deposits of lead which tended to foul the cannon.” [33] The only real issues with Armstrong’s guns was that his “breech-loading system was complex and rather advance of its time, and there were a number of accidents due to various mechanical weaknesses.” [34] Likewise, the early breech-loading systems “were so clumsy and slow to operate that a good crew could fire a muzzle-loader faster than a breach loader.” [35]

The United States Army began to examine the possibilities of rifled guns, but the process took time, and much struggle due to the bureaucracy and political infighting. “In the mid-1850s, experiments with the forerunners of rifled cannon began at Fort Monroe. In 1860, a board of artillery and ordnance officers was established to make further tests on rifling, and the board submitted its report late that year. It recommended that at least 50 percent of the guns at forts and arsenals be converted into rifles.” [36]

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15 inch Rodman Gun

During the same time period a number of Americans both military, and civilian, began to develop their own variations of rifled cannon for use in the U.S. Army. The most important of these were Captain Robert Jackson Rodman and Captain Robert Parrott. Rodman was a true scientist who understood both metallurgy and gunpowder. Rodman was instrumental in using his knowledge to design the largest guns of the era. Called Columbiads, these heavy guns came in 8 inch, 10 inch, 15 inch and even a 20 inch model. They were used in coastal fortifications. In the 1870s over 200 of the 10 inch model were converted to 8 inch rifles. The Rodman guns remained in service the rest of the century and are considered to be the best cast-iron cannon ever produced.

Parrott was the Superintendent of the West Point Iron and Cannon Foundry of Cold Spring New York. Parrott “became interested in rifled guns after the successes of Krupp in Germany. In the following years he applied his own skills to designing an American rifled gun.” [37] Parrott focused on improving cast-iron guns. He “developed a method for shrinking wrought-iron bands around the breech of a cast barrel.”[38] The band was designed to strengthen the cast iron barrel and “the final result was a relatively lightweight, economical gun and gave the Parrot rifle its distinctive profile.” [39] For field artillery use Parrot designed a 2.9 inch 10-pounder in 1861 which was modified to a 3 inch bore in 1863 to standardized ammunition with the 3 inch Ordnance Rifle. Parrot also designed a 20-pound 4.7 inch rifle for field service. Both models were manufactured in the North and the South and saw wide use with over 2,000 produced for the Federal government. When he was at VMI in 1860, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was “one of the first to test and recommend for adoption the rifled Parrott guns.” [40] At Jackson’s “recommendation, Virginia purchased twelve” of the new rifled guns. [41]

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10 Pound Parrot Rifle at Devil’s Den Gettysburg

Parrot also produced heavy guns used by the Navy for use on ships, and the Army for seacoast and siege weapons. The one problem with the Parrot rifles was the fact that the cast-iron barrel was brittle and prone to burst, especially those of large caliber, which made it unpopular among its crews and caused the Navy to withdraw them from service aboard ship. Porter Alexander reported that during the Battle of Fredericksburg that for the first and only time he had 30-pound Parrott rifles in the field and that during the battle “they filled a great want, until they, unfortunately, both exploded towards the middle of the day, one on the 37th round & one on the 42nd.” [42]

A civilian, John Griffen of the Phoenix Ironwork of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, “pioneered the use of wrought iron in the construction of field pieces[43] and patented his prototype in 1855. The designed was slightly modified by the Ordnance Department and adopted by the army in 1861. The weapon was known as the Ordnance Rifle and is had a bore of 3 inches and threw a 10-pound projectile. Unlike the cast iron Parrot, it was “constructed of tougher wrought iron, consisting of iron bands welded together around a mandrel and then lathed to a sleek, modern profile. It was then bored and rifled.” [44] The Ordnance rifles were light, easy to maneuver and beloved by their crews for their accuracy, and dependability. Phoenix manufactured over 1,000 of these weapons for the Federal government.

To be continued…

Notes

[1] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.21

[2] Ibid. Cornwell Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles p.165

[3] Nesmith, Vardell E. Stagnation and Change in Military Thought: The Evolution of American Field Artillery Doctrine, 1861-1905 – An Example United States Army Command and Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS 1976 p.5

[4] Kinard, Jeff Artillery: An Illustrated History of Its Impact ABC Clio, Santa Barbara, Denver, and Oxford 2007 p.148

[5] Stevens, Phillip H. Artillery Through the Ages Franklin Watts Inc. New York 1965 p.47

[6] Rogers, H.C.B. A History of Artillery The Citadel Press, Secaucus NJ 1975 p.58

[7] Ibid. Kinard Artillery: An Illustrated History of Its Impact p.148

[8] Ibid. Stevens, Phillip H. Artillery Through the Ages Franklin Watts Inc. New York 1965 p.48

[9] Garcia, Manuel R. The Pursuit of Precision in Field Artillery School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth KS 2010 pp.7-8

[10] Ibid. Kinard Artillery: An Illustrated History of Its Impact p.148

[11] McKenny, Janice E. The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 Center For Military History, United States Army, Washington D.C. 2007 p.36

[12] Ibid. Kinard Artillery: An Illustrated History of Its Impact p.170

[13] Ibid. Kinard Artillery: An Illustrated History of Its Impact p.169

[14] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander p.182

[15] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 p.32

[16] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 p.34

[17] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 p.34

[18] Longacre, Edward G. The Man Behind the Guns: A Military Biography of General Henry J. Hunt, Chief of Artillery, Army of the Potomac Da Capo Press, a Perseus Group, Cambridge MA 2003 p.28

[19] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 p.38

[20] Ibid. Stevens, Phillip H. Artillery Through the Ages Franklin Watts Inc. New York 1965 pp.62-63

[21] Ibid. Kinard Artillery: An Illustrated History of Its Impact p.188

[22] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 p.49

[23] Ibid. Longacre The Man Behind the Guns: A Military Biography of General Henry J. Hunt, Chief of Artillery, Army of the Potomac p.70

[24] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.257

[25] Ibid. Fuller The Conduct of War 1789-1961 p.89

[26] Ibid. Fuller The Conduct of War 1789-1961 p.89

[27] Ibid. Kinard Artillery: An Illustrated History of Its Impact p.222

[28] Ibid. Rogers A History of Artillery p.94

[29] Ibid. Kinard Artillery: An Illustrated History of Its Impact p.222

[30] Ibid. Rogers A History of Artillery p.94

[31] Ibid. Kinard Artillery: An Illustrated History of Its Impact p.223

[32] Ibid. Rogers A History of Artillery p.94

[33] Ibid. Stevens, Phillip H. Artillery Through the Ages Franklin Watts Inc. New York 1965 p.60

[34] Ibid. Rogers A History of Artillery p.94

[35] Ibid. Stevens, Phillip H. Artillery Through the Ages Franklin Watts Inc. New York 1965 p.60

[36] Ibid. McKenny The Organizational History of Field Artillery 1775-2003 pp.50-51

[37] Ibid. Kinard Artillery: An Illustrated History of Its Impact p.190

[38] Ibid. Stevens, Phillip H. Artillery Through the Ages Franklin Watts Inc. New York 1965 p.61

[39] Ibid. Kinard Artillery: An Illustrated History of Its Impact p.190

[40] Ibid. Gwynne Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson p.88

[41] Ibid. Nesmith Stagnation and Change in Military Thought: The Evolution of American Field Artillery Doctrine, 1861-1905 – An Example p.15

[42] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander p.172

[43] Ibid. Nesmith Stagnation and Change in Military Thought: The Evolution of American Field Artillery Doctrine, 1861-1905 – An Example p.14

[44] Ibid. Kinard Artillery: An Illustrated History of Its Impact p.192

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Infantry Tactics at the Beginning of the American Civil War

2nd michigan

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today another revised section of one of my Civil War texts.

Blessings

Padre Steve+

The heart of the Civil War armies was the infantry, of which the key unit was the infantry regiment. The U.S. Army had ten Regular Army infantry regiments that the outbreak of the war, most of which were scattered about the country in small garrisons especially in the west, where they were engaged in providing security in the newly acquired territories and states. The few Regular Army units of the United States Army were expanded during the war, and more importantly were joined by hundreds of volunteer regiments during the war.

The Confederacy, lacking a regular army also raised hundreds of volunteer infantry regiments.  The regiment was built around the infantry company that was composed of sixty to one hundred soldiers commanded by a Captain. Most companies, in the case of the volunteer regiments came from the same town, county or neighborhood. The infantry regiment was composed of ten companies. Union infantry regiments “maximum strength was fixed at 39 officers and 986 men. A Confederate regiment was larger: 49 officers and 1,340 men maximum.”  [1] However, in practice these guidelines were not rigidly adhered to, depending on recruiting efforts some regiments have fewer men than their authorized strength when organized and others from more populous areas had more.

However, most regiments were rarely at their authorized strength after their muster into service and this got far worse for units after they had been on campaign and in battle. Federal statistics show that, “by April 1862, an average regiment had 560 men; by July 1863, it would number only 375 soldiers.” [2] These were average numbers, at Gettysburg, some regiments like the 8th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, which on July 3rd decimated the men of John Brockenbrough and Joseph Davis’s brigades on the left flank during Pickett’s Charge had just 209 men in its the ranks. The 124th New York Volunteer Infantry had just 18 officers and 220 men in its ranks when Hood’s brigades of Texans, Georgians and Arkansas men hit them at Devil’s Den on July 2nd 1863 at Gettysburg. [3]

Prior to the war regiments tended to be scarred about the nation in small garrisons or on the frontier, and the brigade was the largest unit within the army, and then only put together for combat or expeditionary operations. A brigade was typically composed of two to five regiments. In theory brigades were commanded by Brigadier Generals but many times commanded by Colonels. In addition to their organic infantry brigades usually had their “own quartermaster, commissary, and ammunition trains. Medical teams and sometimes artillery, were assigned to brigades.” [4] With the attachments the brigade could function as an independent unit.

With the expansion of the armies divisions of infantry were formed. Composed of two or more brigades divisions could operate independently or banded together as part of an army corps. Corps were composed of two or more divisions. Two or more corps would compose an army.

Infantry formations on both sides relied on Napoleonic infantry tactics which when they were formulated worked well due to the types of weapons used by opposing armies. Depending on the tactical situation, infantry regiments, brigades and divisions advanced into battle in either column formation or line shoulder to shoulder.

The column formation, a tactic borrowed from the French, but also used by other armies was used to move quickly into battle. It involved “massing troops on a narrow front, like a swinging a ram, could smash into, and disrupt, an enemy infantry formation and make it run for its life.” [5] During the Napoleonic Era the French often used to charge in the offense as it could provide weight of numbers at the point of attack. The drawback to this formation was that the attacking units were extremely vulnerable to enemy artillery fire, particularly Solid Shot cannonballs “which could do hideous damage to a tightly packed column with just a few well-placed rounds[6] if the enemy artillery was not sufficiently disrupted or destroyed before they came into range.

Columns could be formed from battalion level up. At Waterloo Napoleon deployed a Corps in column, to gain a better understanding it is best to look at the battalion or regiment in column. Typically a column would be one to two companies wide making a front of 30 to 60 soldiers. Thus a full strength regiment deployed in a two company front column would have about 17 ranks.

The line formation was adopted from the British although the French and Prussians used it as well. The line formation was designed to maximize the fire of regiments by placing the men in a formation of “two or three lines which allowed the full play of musket fire along its front.” [7] Since the rate of fire of muzzle loading muskets, rifled or not was much slower in battle conditions, the tactic enabled infantry regiments to maintain a good volume of fire against enemy units, in the offense or in the defense. However the line was an “extremely fragile formation. Attempting to march a line forward across anything except the smoothest parade ground led to disorder. Men straggled, stumbled, wavered, and the line would soon lose all cohesion.” [8] Confederate General D.H. Hill “later in life once asked, rhetorically but memorably: ‘Whoever saw a Confederate line advancing that was not crooked as a ram’s horn? Each ragged rebel yelling on his own hook and aligning on himself.’” [9]

The great virtue of the line formation was “its ability to deliver musket fire by volley and its relative immunity to artillery fire,” [10] at least fire delivered from the front as it presented a small target. However if enemy artillery was able to get in position to deliver enfilade fire, or fire from the flank as happened to the Confederate troops who made Pickett’s Charge, the effect could be devastating.  Unlike the column formation, the line formation took a great deal of time to deploy in line of battle and to maneuver swiftly as a unit once formed and it was vulnerable to cavalry if caught in the open.

The first American infantry drill manual was issued in 1779 when General Von Steuben was given the task of training the Continental Army. The books was based on the tactics of the Prussian Army under Frederick the Great. However, over time, Americans came to favor French drill manuals. In 1835 General Winfield Scott translated the revised French drill manual and issued it as Infantry Tactics and Rules for the Exercise and Manoeuvers of the United States Infantry. The Army that Scott led into Mexico in 1846 used the manual with success and it remained in publican until 1861, and “its general structure remained the heart of all the civil War drill manuals.” [11] As tacticians began to appreciate the impact of the rifled musket infantry tactics saw some adjustments in order to “increase the speed and mobility of tactical movement.” [12]

Scott’s manual was superseded by the volume produced by William J. Hardee who later became a Confederate general. Hardee’s work, Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics for the Exercise of Manoeuvers of Troops when acting as Light Infantry or Riflemen was “based directly on a new generation of French manuals.” [13] Hardee modified the line formation from three lines to two and had an increased role for skirmishers. Likewise Hardee added “extra provisions for rifle fire and manoeuvers at a gymnastic pace (‘double quick’) of 165 to 180 steps a minute.” [14] While an improvement on the older manuals it was still very similar to Scott’s work.

civilwararmyinfantry

In 1862 the U.S. Army adopted Silas Casey’s manual, Infantry Tactics as its official doctrine. Casey’s work was for the most part a composite of Scott’s and Hardee’s work. That being said, Casey “also contributed tactical doctrine for brigade and larger-unit tactics and made revisions that improved the deployment from column to line.” These contributions were important to both armies as the “Confederates quickly followed the Union army in adapting his revisions.” [15] While Casey’s became the official doctrine it was Hardee’s that “won the widest usage and was issued in the most variants.” [16] These included adaptations for U.S. Colored Troop regiments as well as militia forces.

Casey’s manual was particularly helpful for officers serving as brigade and regimental commanders. Previous manuals had been unclear as to where they should place themselves in the order of march, or when the unit was moving in line or column on the attack. Casey clarified this so that “Budding commanders could easily work out where they should place themselves as their regiments marched to the front in column or line, how brigade artillery should be employed, how the head of a column should be maneuvered to give direction to the main mass, and so on.” [17] Even so new officers who had crammed their heads with Scott, Hardee, or Casey for a few weeks could cause havoc among his own troops. A soldier of the 14th New Hampshire Infantry noted: “The men were serene in their ignorance of tactics; but ambitious officers of the line, who had been cramming Casey for a fortnight, were in a vertebral, cold-shiver temperature…. That the men got caught in a snarl, a tangle, a double twisted, inextricable tactical knot, is tame delineation. The drill caused a great deal of serious reflection…” [18]

As the war went on more use was made of skirmishers, which traditionally had deployed in front of the line. With the rifled muskets the skirmishers, advancing ahead of the massed formations could use the longer range and greater accuracy of their weapons to inflict significant numbers of casualties on the enemy, and to pick off enemy officers and artillerymen. The artillery despised the skirmishers as they could do little to combat them without having their own close infantry support.

But skirmishers took a long time to train and the massed volunteer armies, mostly officered  by volunteers had precious little time or experience to train good skirmishers. The Union attempted to rectify this by organizing Sharpshooter regiments, “two of which were organized for the army of the Potomac by Hiram Berdan in 1862.” [19] Both of these units served well at Malvern Hill in 1862 and Gettysburg on July 2nd and proved their worth on other battlefields of the war.  Highly trained and motivated Berdan’s sharpshooters “lived like a band of brothers, imbued with the one feeling of patriotism in their voluntary enlistment for three years.” [20]

Notes

[1] Robertson, James I. Soldiers Blue and Gray University of South Carolina Press, Columbia 1988 p.21

[2] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.19

[3] For a listing of the numbers of soldiers that each regiment went into battle with at Gettysburg see Petruzzi, J. David and Stanley, Steven The Gettysburg Campaign in Numbers and Losses: Synopses, Orders of Battle, Strengths, Casualties and Maps, June 9 – July 1, 1863 Savas Beatie LLC, El Dorado Hills CA 2012

[4] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.24

[5] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.38

[6] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg the Last Invasion p.39

[7] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg the Last Invasion p.38

[8] Ibid. Cornwell Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles p.69

[9] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.111

[10] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg the Last Invasion p.38

[11] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.100

[12] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.20

[13] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.100

[14] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.100

[15] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.20

[16] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.101

[17] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.103

[18] Ibid. Robertson Soldiers Blue and Gray p.50

[19] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg the Last Invasion  p.38

[20] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg the Last Invasion  p.261

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A Revolution in Killing: The Rifled Musket and the Minié Ball

claude_etienne_minie

Claude Minié

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have continued to work on my various Gettysburg and Civil War texts and today something from one of them that should appeal to those interested in Civil War infantry weaponry and tactics.  I have to admit that I am kind of a geek about this kind of stuff but in order to understand the broad brush aspects of history one also has to know something about detailed facts. So anyway, here is a section of my text dealing with the advances in weaponry that made the American Civil War and subsequent wars so much more deadly.

Peace

Padre Steve+

minnie-ball

Minié Ball 

While various individuals and manufacturers had been experimenting with rifles for some time the weapons were difficult to load as the rifled groves slowed down the loading process. The British pioneered the use of the rifle during the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812. The issue of the Baker rifle, a rifled flintlock which was accurate to about 300 yards was limited to specific Rifle Regiments which were considered elite units, as well as skirmishers in some other regiments. The soldiers assigned to the Rifle regiments wore a distinctive green uniform as opposed to the red wore by the rest of the British Army. When the United States Army formed its first Sharpshooter regiments in late 1861 under the command of Colonel Hiram Berdan. Like the British the men of the regiment as well as the 2nd Regiment of Sharpshooters wore a distinctive green uniform instead of the Union Blue.

In 1832 a captain Norton of the British Army “invented a cylindroconoidal bullet. When fired, its hollow base automatically expanded to engage the rifling of the barrel, thus giving the bullet a horizontal spin.” [1] But the bullet was unwieldy, so it and other bullets that were “large enough to “take” the rifling was difficult to ram down the barrel” and slowed down the rate of fire significantly, and since “rapid and reliable firing was essential in a battle, the rifle was not practical for the mass of the infantrymen.” [2]

In was not until 1848 when French Army Captain Claude Minié who “perfected a bullet small enough to be easily rammed down a rifled barrel, with a wooden plug in the base of the bullet to expand it upon firing to take the rifling.” [3] Unfortunately the bullets were expensive to produce and it was not until in 1850 an American armorer at Harpers Ferry, James Burton “simplified the design that had made Minié famous and developed a hollow based, .58-caliber lead projectile that could be cheaply mass produced.” [4] Burton’s ammunition was very easy to load into weapons, and soldiers were able to drop the cartridge into the muzzle of their rifles as easily as they could musket balls down a smoothbore.

The tactics the officers were educated in were developed at a time when the maximum effective range of muskets was barely 100 yards. However, the Army did make some minor adjustments to its tactics to increase speed and mobility in the tactic movement of the infantry. Colonel William J. Hardee went on to become a Confederate General adapted changes first made by the French to the U.S. infantry manual. These changes “introduced double-quick time (165 steps per-minute) and the run and allowed changes to the order of march to be made in motion rather than after coming to a halt.” [5]

During Napoleon’s time assaulting an opponent with a large body of troops was a fairly easy proposition, one simply maneuvered out of the rage of the enemy’s artillery and muskets, thus “to bring a heavy mass of troops upon them was possible because of the limited destructiveness of smoothbore firearms. Their range was so restricted that defenders could count on getting off only one reasonably effective volley against advancing soldiers. By the time that volley was unloosed, the attackers would be so close to their objective that before the defenders could reload, the attacking troops would be upon them.” [6] One of Napoleon’s favorite tactics was for his troops to make well executed turning maneuvers aimed at the enemy’s flanks, but the increased range and lethality meant that even when such maneuvers were executed, they often produced only a short term advantage as the defenders would form a new front and continue the action.

Yet by 1860 the rifled muskets had an effective range of about 500 yards and sometimes, depending on the type of weapon even more, but in most cases during the Civil War infantry engagements were fought at considerable shorter ranges. Paddy Griffith notes that even in the modern era long range firing by infantry units is still rare, and that there is “a fallacy in the notion that longer range weapons automatically produce longer-range fire. The range of firing has much more to do with the range of visibility, the intentions of the firer and the general climate of the army.” [7] Drew Gilpin Faust wrote that Civil War battles still “remained essentially intimate; soldiers were often able to see each other’s faces and to know who they had killed.” [8] They knew their weapons could fire at longer range, and one Union soldier explained, “when men can kill one another at six hundred yards they would generally would prefer to do it at that distance.” [9] But for the average infantryman such occasions were the exception.

The advent of the breach loading and later the repeating rifle and carbine further increased the firepower available to individual soldiers. However, with the exception of the Prussian Army, armies in Europe as well as the United States Army were slow to adapt the breech loading rifles. In “1841 the U.S. Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, had prepared the pattern weapons of the first general-issue rifled shoulder arm of the U.S. Army” [10]

The process of conversion to the new weapons was slow, conservatism reigned in the Army and the lack of suitable ammunition was a sticking point. However, the U.S. Army began its conversion “to the rifled musket in the 1840s but rejected both the repeating rifle and the breechloader for infantry because of mechanical problems.” [11] Even so there was a continued resistance by leaders in the army to arming infantry with the rifled muskets despite the already noted obsolescence of them during the Crimean War. In discussing the differences of rifles and smoothbore muskets during the Peninsular Campaign, Edward Porter Alexander wrote that “In the Mexican War fought with smooth bore, short range muskets, in fact, the character of the ground cut comparatively little figure. But with the rifles muskets & cannon of this war the affair was proven both at Malvern Hill, & at Gettysburg….” [12]

However, in 1855 the new Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis ordered the Army to convert to “the .58 caliber Springfield Rifled Musket. Along with the similar British Enfield rifle (caliber .577, which would take the same bullet as the Springfield), the Springfield became the main infantry arm of the Civil War.” [13] Even so the production of the new rifles was slow and at the beginning of the war only about 35,000 of all types were in Federal arsenals or in the hands of Federal troops.

The one failure of Union Chief of Ordnance Ripley was his “insistence in sticking by the muzzle loading rifle as the standard infantry arm, rather than introducing the breach-loading repeating rifle.” [14] Ripley believed that a “move to rapid fire repeating rifles would put too much stress on the federal arsenals’ ability to supply the repeaters in sufficient quantities for the Union armies.” [15] There is a measure of truth in this for troops armed with these weapons did have the tendency to waste significantly more ammunition than those armed with slow firing muzzle loaders, but had he done so the war may not have lasted nearly as long.

weapons

Had Ripley done this Union infantry would have enjoyed an immense superiority in sheer weight of firepower on the battlefield. The noted Confederate artilleryman and post-war analyst Porter Alexander believed that had the Federals adopter breech loading weapons that the war would have been over very quickly, noting, “There is reason to believe that had the Federal infantry been armed from the first with even the breech-loaders available in 1861 the war would have been terminated within a year.” [16] Alexander’s observation is quite correct. As the war progressed and more Union troops were armed with breach loaders and repeaters Confederates found themselves unable to stand up to the vastly increased firepower of Union units armed with the newer weapons. A Union soldier assigned to the 100th Indiana of Sherman’s army in 1865:

“I think the Johnnys are getting rattled; they are afraid of our repeating rifles. They say that we are not fair, that we have guns that we load up on Sunday and shoot all the rest of the week. This I know, I feel a good deal confidence in myself with a 16 shooter in my hands, than I used to with a single shot rifle.” [17]

During the war both the Union and Confederate armies used a large number of shoulder-fired rifles and muskets of various manufactures and vintage. This was in large part because of a shortage of the standard M1861 Springfield Rifled Musket at the beginning of the war and initially standardization was a problem, and as a result many units went to war armed with various types of weapons which made supply, training, and coordinated fires difficult. At the beginning of the war, the Federal government had only about 437,000 muskets and rifles in its inventory, and only about 40,000 of these were rifled muskets, either older weapons converted from smoothbores or the newly manufactured Springfield rifles.

The disparity of types of weapons that might be found in a single regiment contributed to difficulties in supplying ammunition to them, and proved to be nightmarish for experienced quartermasters. This was especially the case when the amateur quartermasters of many regiments did not specify exactly what types of ammunition they required.

Likewise, in addition to the existing stocks of weapons available for use, the Federal government only had two armories capable of manufacturing arms, Harpers Ferry Virginia, which had to be abandoned in 1861 when Virginia seceded from the Union, and the other in Springfield Massachusetts, which had a capacity to manufacture between 3,000 and 4,000 rifles a month. Ordnance Chief Ripley solved that problem by contracting with U.S. and foreign manufacturers to make up for what government armories could not do. In the first year of the war he contracted for nearly 750,000 rifles from U.S. and foreign arms suppliers. During the war he expanded the capacity at Springfield so that it could produce over 300,000 weapons a year. Even so at Gettysburg sixty-five of the 242 Union infantry regiments, some 26%, were fully or partially armed with older substandard weapons, both smoothbores and antiquated rifles. In 1863 and 1864, the Confederate Army of the Tennessee over half of the army was armed with smoothbores or antiquated rifles. [18]

But the initial shortage of weapons caused problems for both sides. The Confederacy had to make the best use of what they had obtained in captured federal depots at the beginning of the war, which amounted to 140,000 smoothbores and another 35,000 rifled muskets.  Like the Federal Government, the Confederacy which had much less industrial capacity was forced to purchase many of its weapons from England expending badly needed capital to do so and requiring the weapons to be shipped through the Union blockade on blockade runners operating from England, the Bahamas, or other English Caribbean possessions. During the war the Confederates purchased approximately 300,000 rifled muskets and 30,000 smoothbores from Europe while producing just over 100,000 shoulder fired weapons of all types during the war. The Union through its economic superiority was able to acquire a million rifled muskets, 100,000 smoothbores from Europe in addition to the 1.75 million rifled muskets, 300,000 breechloaders, and 100, repeaters of its own wartime manufacture. [19]

In the end the disparity in quality and quantity of arms would doom the élan of the Confederate infantry in battle after battle. Porter Alexander wrote of the Confederate equipment situation:

“The old smooth-bore musket, calibre 69, made up the bulk of the Confederate armament at the beginning, some of the guns, even all through 1862, being old flint-locks. But every effort was made to replace them by rifled muskets captured in battle, brought through the blockade from Europe, or manufactured at a few small arsenals which we gradually fitted up. Not until after the battle of Gettysburg was the whole army in Virginia equipped with the rifled musket. In 1864 we captured some Spencer breech-loaders, but we could never use them for lack of proper cartridges.” [20]

The number of kinds of weapons that a given unit might be equipped was difficult for commanders and logisticians on both sides.  For example, Sherman’s division at the Battle of Shiloh “utilized six different kinds of shoulder arms, with each necessitating a different caliber of ammunition,” [21] which caused no end of logistical problems for Sherman’s troops as well as other units equipped with mixed weaponry.

Commonly Used Union and Confederate Rifles and Muskets

Type Designed Manufactured Weight Length Caliber Rate of Fire (Rounds per Minute) Feed System Effective Range Maximum Range
M1861 Springfield 1861 ~1,000,000

9 Lbs.

56 inches .58 2-4 Muzzle Loaded 100-400 yards 500-620 yards
M1863 Springfield 1863 700,000 9 Lbs. 56 inches .58 2-3 Muzzle Loaded 200-300 yards 800-1000 yards
Pattern 1853 Enfield (England) 1853 1,500,000 total 900,000 estimated used in Civil War 9.5 Lbs. 55 inches .58 3+ Muzzle Loaded 200-600 Yards 1250 yards
Lorenz Rifle (Austria) 1853  ~325,000 used in Civil War 8.82 Lbs. 37.5 inches .54 2 Muzzle Loaded 100-600 yards 900-1000 yards
M186 to M1842 Springfield Musket 1816-1842 ~1,000,000 10 Lbs. 58 inches .69 2-3 Muzzle Loaded 75-100 yards 200 yards
Sharps Rifle 1848 120,000+ 9.5 Lbs. 47 inches .52 8-9 Breech Loading 500 yards 1000 yards
Spencer Repeating Rifle 1860 200,000 10 Lbs. 47 Inches .52 14-20 Breech Loading 500 yards

1000 yards

 

While this increase in range, accuracy, and rate of fire were important, they were also mitigated by the fact that the smoke created by the black, non-smokeless gunpowder powder expended by all weapons during the Civil War often obscured the battlefield, and the stress of combat reduced the rate and accuracy of fire of the typical soldier. This was compounded by the fact that most soldiers received little in the way of real marksmanship training. Allen Guelzo notes that the “raw inexperience of Civil War officers, the poor training in firearms offered to the Civil War recruit, and the obstacles created by the American terrain generally cut down the effective range of Civil War combat to little more than eighty yards.” [22] That being said well-drilled regiments engaging enemy troops in the open on ground of their choosing could deliver devastating volley fire on their enemies.

But the real increase in lethality on the Civil War battlefield was the Minié ball “which could penetrate six inches of pine board at 500 yards.” [23] as such, the bullet was decidedly more lethal than the old smoothbore rounds, and most wounds “were inflicted by Minié balls fired from rifles: 94 percent of Union casualties were caused by bullets.” [24] The old musket balls were fired at a comparatively low velocity and when they hit a man they often pass through a human body nearly intact, unless there was a direct hit on a bone. Thus wounds were generally fairly simple to treat unless a major organ or blood vessel had been hit. But the Minié ball ushered in for those hit by it as well as the surgeons who had to treat their wounds:

“The very attributes that increased the bullet’s range also increased its destructive potential when it hit its target. Unlike the solid ball, which could pass through a body nearly intact, leaving an exit would not much larger than the entrance wound, the soft, hollow-based Minié ball flattened and deformed on impact, while creating a shock wave that emanated outward. The Minié ball didn’t just break bones, it shattered them. It didn’t just pierce organs, it shredded them. And if the ragged, tumbling bullet had enough force to cleave completely through the body, which it often did, it tore out an exit wound several times the size of the entrance wound.” [25]

When these bullets hit the arm and leg bones of soldiers the effects were often catastrophic and required immediate amputation of the limb by surgeons working in abysmal conditions. “The two minie bullets, for example, that struck John Bell Hood’s leg at Chickamauga destroyed 5 inches of his upper thigh bone. This left surgeons no choice but to amputate shattered limbs. Hood’s leg was removed only 4 and 1/2 inches away from his body. Hip amputations, like Hood’s, had mortality rates of around 83%.” [26]

This technological advance changed the balance and gave armies fighting on the defensive an edge. The advance in the range and killing power embodied in the rifled musket made it especially difficult for the armies that fought the Civil War to successfully execute frontal assaults on prepared defenders. The defensive power was so enhanced that even a “well executed turning maneuver was likely to produce only a decidedly temporary advantage in the Civil War.” [27] Well trained units could change their front against enemies assailing their flanks and turning them back as was demonstrated by Joshua Chamberlain’s 20th Maine at Little Round Top. Occasionally some assaulting troops would get in among the enemy’s lines, despite the enormous costs that they incurred during their attacks, but “the greater problem was how to stay there and exploit the advantage once the enemy’s line had been pierced. Almost invariably, by that time the attacker had lost so heavily, and his reserves were distant, that he could not hold on against a counterattack by the defending army’s nearby reserves.” [28]

Despite the increased range of the rifled muskets many infantry firefights were still fought at closer ranges, usually under 200 yards, not much more than the Napoleonic era. Much of this had to do with the training of the infantry as well as visibility on the battlefield which in North America was often obscured by heavy forested areas and thickets in which armies would battle each other at close range. Battles such as the Seven Days, Chancellorsville, and much of the Overland Campaign were fought in such terrain.

This was demonstrated time and time again throughout the course of the war as commanders attempted frontal assaults on such positions. “The only way to impose heavy enough casualties upon an enemy army to approximate that army’s destruction was to accept such heavy casualties oneself that no decisive advantage could accrue.” [29] Lee’s assault on Malvern Hill and his numerous frontal assaults on prepared positions at Gettysburg, Burnside’s ghastly assaults at Fredericksburg, Grant’s first attack at Vicksburg, and Grant’s ill-advised attack at Cold Harbor demonstrated the futility and ghastly cost of such tactics. The ability of infantry in the assault to “rise up and deliver a frontal attack became almost always futile against any reasonably steady defenders. Even well executed flank attacks tended to suffer such heavy casualties as experienced riflemen maneuvered to form new fronts against them that they lost the decisiveness they had enjoyed in the Napoleonic Wars.” [30] During the Wilderness Campaign battles were fought for hours on end at point blank range amid heavy woods and fortifications.

As important as the rifled muskets were, the real revolution in battlefield firepower was brought about by the repeating rifles and muskets which came into use during the war. The early examples were not reliable because the ammunition available was in a paper cartridge which sometimes caused gas and flames to escape form the breach, making the weapon dangerous to the user. But this was corrected with the introduction of brass cartridges and later weapons became deadly instrument. Because of its range as compared to the older smoothbores, the rifled musket “added a new spatial dimension to the battlefield,” [31] but the repeating rifles, which had a shorter range than the rifled muskets looked forward to the day of semi-automatic and automatic weapons. The repeaters could “pump out so many shots in such a short time that it offered a new perspective in tactical theory from that used by the old carefully aimed one-shot weapons,” and added “a new temporal dimension to the close range volley.” [32]

Despite the fact that leaders knew about the increased range and accuracy that came with the rifled musket, tactics in all arms were slow to change, and “on every occasion, a frontal assault delivered against an unshaken enemy led to failure.” [33] Even at Gettysburg Robert E. Lee would demonstrate that he had not fully appreciated the effects of the lethality of the rifled musket when he ordered Hood’s assault on Federal troops at Little Round Top on July 2nd and Pickett’s assault on the Union center on July 3rd 1863. Lee should have learned during the bloody battles of 1862 and early 1863 which cost his army over 50,000 casualties.

Notes 

[1] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.15

[2] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.474

[3] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.474

[4] Leonard, Pat The Bullet that Changed History in The New York Times Disunion: 106 Articles from the New York Times Opinionator edited by Ted Widmer with Clay Risen and George Kalogerakis, Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, New York 2013 p.372

[5] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.20

[6] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.33

[7] Griffith, Paddy, Battle Tactics of the Civil War Yale University Press, New Haven and London 1989 p.148

[8] Ibid. Faust This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War p.41

[9] Ibid. Faust This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War p.41

[10] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War p.32

[11] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.17

[12] Ibid. Alexander Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander p.111

[13] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.474

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.317

[15] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.251

[16] Alexander, Edward Porter Military Memoirs of a Confederate: A Critical Narrative 1907 republished 2013 by Pickle Partners Publishing, Amazon Kindle Edition location 1691 of 12969

[17] Davis, Burke. Sherman’s March Open Roads Integrated Media, New York, 2016, originally published by Vintage Press 1980 p.196

[18] Ibid. Griffith,  Battle Tactics of the Civil War  pp.76-77

[19] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.80

[20] Ibid. Alexander Military Memoirs of a Confederate location 1683 of 12969

[21] Ibid. McDonough William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of My Country, A Life  p.2

[22] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening pp.255-256

[23] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.250

[24] Ibid. Faust This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War p.41

[25] Ibid. Leonard, Pat The Bullet that Changed History p.372

[26] Goellnitz, Jenny Civil War Battlefield Surgery The Ohio State University, Department of History retrieved from https://ehistory.osu.edu/exhibitions/cwsurgeon/cwsurgeon/amputations 22 December 2016

[27] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History 1861-1865 p.34

[28] Ibid. Weigley The American Way of War p.117

[29] Ibid. Weigley A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History 1861-1865 p.34

[30] Ibid. Weigley, American Strategy from Its Beginnings through the First World War In Makers of Modern Strategy, from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age p.419

[31] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.75

[32] Ibid. Griffith, Battle Tactics of the Civil War p.75

[33] Ibid. Fuller, The Conduct of War 1789-1961 p.104

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“A Spirit of Unbelief”: A.P. Hill, Harry Heth and the Prelude to the Battle of Gettysburg

Hill.28135413_stdLieutenant General A.P. Hill

Note: One of the most important things to understand about the Battle of Gettysburg or for that matter any battle or campaign is leadership as well as organizational structure and climate of command. The study of A.P. Hill’s Third Corps is important to understanding how the battle unfolds and what happens at Gettysburg particularly on July 1st. In our understanding “Successful mission command demands that subordinate leaders at all echelons exercise disciplined initiative, acting aggressively and independently to accomplish the mission. Essential to mission command is the thorough knowledge and understanding of the commander’s intent at every level of command.”

While the leaders at Gettysburg on both sides would be unaware of our present definition they certainly would have been acquainted with the maxims of Napoleon, who many studied under Dennis Hart Mahan at the West Point. Napoleon noted: “What are the conditions that make for the superiority of an army? Its internal organization, military habits in officers and men, the confidence of each in themselves; that is to say, bravery, patience, and all that is contained in the idea of moral means.”

Likewise in a maxim that has direct application to the Confederate campaign in Pennsylvania Napoleon noted “To operate upon lines remote from each other and without communications between them, is a fault which ordinarily occasions a second. The detached column has orders only for the first day. Its operations for the second day depend on what has happened to the main body. Thus according to circumstances, the column wastes its time in waiting for orders or it acts at random….” [1]

I have spent more time in this chapter developing the issues of organization, leadership, climate of command and relationships between leaders because of their importance to the campaign. From these students should be able to draw lessons that would be applicable to leadership, organization and campaigning at the operational level of war.

As the Army of Northern Virginia began to concentrate near Cashtown after the reports that the Army of the Potomac was in Maryland it was Lieutenant General A.P. Hill’s Third Corps that was nearest to Gettysburg. Major General Harry Heth’s division led the corps and arrived on June 29th followed by Major General Dorsey Pender’s division on the 30th. Hill ordered his last division under the command of Major General Richard Anderson to remain behind and join the corps on July 1st. [2]

On the 30th Harry Heth sent Johnston Pettigrew’s Brigade to Gettysburg to “search the town for army supplies (shoes especially), and to return the same day.” [3] It was the first in a series of miscalculations that brought Lee’s army into a general engagement that he wished to avoid.

The Confederate Third Corps commanded by Lieutenant General Ambrose Powell (A.P.) Hill had been formed as part of the reorganization of the army following Stonewall Jackson’s death after the Battle of Chancellorsville. Hill had a stellar reputation as a division commander; his “Light Division” had distinguished itself on numerous occasions, especially at Antietam where its timely arrival after a hard forced march from Harper’s Ferry helped save Lee’s army late in the battle. At Chancellorsville Hill briefly succeeded Jackson until he too was wounded.

But that being said Hill was no stranger to controversy, beginning with a clash with James Longstreet during the Seven Days battles in which time Longstreet placed Hill under arrest and Hill challenged Longstreet to a duel. Lee quickly reassigned Hill to Jackson’s command as Jackson was operating in a semi-independent assignment. [4] Hill was in an intractable controversy with Stonewall Jackson for nearly a year until Jackson succumbed to his wounds. Jackson at one point during the invasion of Maryland prior to Antietam had Hill placed under arrest for the number of stragglers that he observed in Hill’s hard marching division as well as other errors that Jackson believed Hill had made. The dispute continued and the animosity deepened between the two men and in January 1863 Hill asked Lee for a trial by courts-martial on charges preferred against him by Jackson. Lee refused this and wrote to Hill: “Upon examining the charges in question, I am of the opinion that the interests of the service do not require that they be tried, and therefore, returned them to General Jackson with an indorsement to that effect….” [5] Just before Chancellorsville Jackson wrote to Lee “I respectfully request that Genl. Hill be relieved of duty in my Corps.” This time Lee simply ignored the request and though the two generals remained at loggerheads they also remained at their commands at Chancellorsville. [6]

Hill was recommended for promotion to Lieutenant General and command of the new Third Corps by Lee on May 24th and was promoted over the heads of Harvey Hill and Lafayette McLaws. The move displeased Longstreet who considered McLaws “better qualified for the job” and but who felt that the command should have gone to Harvey Hill whose “record was as good as that of Stonewall Jackson…but, not being a Virginian, he was not so well advertised.” [7]

Hill was slightly built and high strung. “Intense about everything” Hill was “one of the army’s intense disbelievers in slavery.” [8] Hill was an 1847 graduate of West Point and briefly served in Mexico but saw no combat. He spent some time in the Seminole wars and in garrison duty along the East Coast, spending 1855-1860 in the Coastal Survey and resigned his commission before Virginia’s secession. At the outbreak of the war he “received his commission as colonel, and soon trained one of Johnston’s best regiments in the Valley.” [9] He commanded a brigade under Longstreet on the Peninsula and was promoted to Major General and command of a division in May 1862. He was plagued by health problems which had even delayed his graduation from West Point, health issues that would arise on the first day at Gettysburg.

Hill’s Third Corps was emblematic of the “makeshift nature of the reorganization of the whole army.” [10] It was composed of three divisions; the most experienced being that of the recently promoted and hard fighting Major General Dorsey Pender. Pender’s division, was built around four excellent brigades from Hill’s old “Light Division” one of which Pender had commanded before his promotion. Hill strongly recommended Pender’s promotion which was accepted by Lee. Pender found the command to be a heavy burden. He was “an intelligent, reflective man, deeply religious and guided by a strong sense of duty….” [11]

Hill’s second experienced division was that of Major General Richard Anderson, transferred from Longstreet’s First Corps, something else which failed to endear Hill to Longstreet. [12] The unassuming Anderson had distinguished himself as a brigade and division commander in Longstreet’s corps, but in “an army of prima donnas, he was a self-effacing man, neither seeking praise for himself nor winning support by bestowing it on others.” [13] At Chancellorsville he fought admirably and Lee wrote that Anderson was “distinguished for the promptness, courage and skill with which he and his division executed every order.” [14] With four seasoned brigades under excellent commanders it was a good addition to the corps, although the transition from Longstreet’s stolid and cautious style of command to Hill’s impetuous style introduced “another incalculable of the reshuffled army.” [15]

heth

Major General Harry Heth

Major General Harry Heth’s division was the final infantry division assigned to the corps. This division was recently formed from two brigades of Hill’s old Light Division and “the two new brigades that Jefferson Davis had forced on an already disrupted army organization.” [16] The organization of this division as well as its leadership would be problematic in the days to come, especially on June 30th and July 1st 1863.

Heth like Pender was also newly promoted to his grade and the action at Gettysburg would be his first test in division command. Heth was a native Virginian, well connected politically who through his social charm had “many friends and bound new acquaintances to him” readily. [17] Heth was a West Point graduate who had an undistinguished academic career graduating last in the class of 1847. His career in the ante-bellum army was typical of many officers, he served “credibly in an 1855 fight with Sioux Indians” but his real claim to fame was in authoring the army’s marksmanship manual which was published in 1858. [18]

Heth’s career with the Confederate army serving in western Virginia was undistinguished but he was a protégé of Robert E. Lee who recommended him as a brigade commander to Jackson before Chancellorsville. Tradition states that of all his generals that Heth was the only one “whom Lee called by his first name.” [19] A.P. Hill when writing Lee about the choice of a successor for the Light Division noted that Heth was “a most excellent officer and gallant soldier” but in the coming campaign “my division under him, will not be half as effective as under Pender.” [20] Douglas Southall Freeman noted that Heth was “doomed to be one of those good soldiers…who consistently have bad luck.” [21]

Heth’s division was composed of two depleted brigades from the Light Division which had taken heavy casualties at Chancellorsville. The brigade commanded by James Archer from Alabama and Mississippi was “well led and had a fine combat reputation.” But the second brigade was more problematic. A Virginia brigade it had once been considered one of the best in the army had deteriorated in quality following the wounding of its first commander Brigadier General Charles Field. Heth took command of it at Chancellorsville and both he and the brigade performed well, but when Heth was promoted the lack of qualified officers left it under the command of its senior colonel, John Brockenbrough. [22] His third brigade came from Mississippi and North Carolina and was commanded by Brigadier General Joe Davis whose uncle was President Jefferson Davis. Davis had served on his uncle’s staff for months and had no combat experience. [23] One author noted that Davis’s promotion to Brigadier General “as unadulterated an instance of nepotism as the record of the Confederacy offers.” [24] His subordinate commanders were no better, one William Magruder was so bad that J.E.B. Stuart suggested that “he have his commission revoked” and only one of the nine field grade officers in his brigade had military training, and that from the Naval Academy. [25]

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Brigadier General Johnston Pettigrew

Heth’s largest brigade was new to the army. Commanded by the North Carolina academic Johnston Pettigrew it had no combat experience though Pettigrew was considered a strong leader, badly wounded at Seven Pines and thinking his wound mortal “he refused to permit his men to leave the ranks to carry him to the rear” [26] and was captured but later paroled and returned to the army later in the year.

Hill was under the impression that Meade’s army was still miles away, having just come from meeting Lee who assured him that “the enemy are still at Middleburg,” (Maryland) “and have not yet struck their tents.” [27] With that assurance Heth decided to use June 30th to send Pettigrew’s brigade on the foraging expedition to Gettysburg. An officer present noted that Heth instructed Pettigrew “to go to Gettysburg with three of his regiments present…and a number of wagons for the purpose of collecting commissary and quartermaster stores for the use of the army.” [28]

However Heth did instruct Pettigrew in no uncertain terms not to “precipitate a fight” should he encounter “organized troops” of the Army of the Potomac. [29] Heth was specific in his report that “It was told to Pettigrew that he might find in the town in possession of a home guard,…but if, contrary to expectations, he should find any organized troops capable of making resistance., or any part of the Army of the Potomac, he should not attack it.” [30]

That in mind one has to ask the question as to why Heth would employ “so many men on a long, tiring march, especially as without a cavalry escort he took the risk of sending them into a trap” when his “objects hardly justified” using such a large force. [31] Likewise it has to be asked why the next day in light of Lee’s standing orders not to provoke an engagement that Hill would send two divisions, two thirds of his corps on a reconnaissance mission. Some have said that Hill would have had to move to Gettysburg on July 1st anyway due to forage needs of the army, [32] but this is not indicated in any of Hill or Heth’s reports.

As his troops neared Gettysburg Pettigrew observed the Federal cavalry of Buford’s 1st Cavalry Division as they neared the town. He received another report “indicating that drumming could be heard in the distance – which might mean infantry nearby, since generally cavalry generally used only bugles.” [33] He then prudently and in accordance with his orders not to precipitate a fight “elected to withdraw rather than risk battle with a foe of unknown size and composition.” [34] His troops began their retrograde at 11 a.m. leaving Buford’s cavalry to occupy the town at ridges. On Confederate wrote “in coming in contact with the enemy, had quite a little brush, but being under orders not to bring a general engagement fell back, followed by the enemy.” [35]

Upon returning Pettigrew told Hill and Heth that “he was sure that the force occupying Gettysburg was a part of the Army of the Potomac” but Hill and Heth discounted Pettigrew’s report. [36] “Heth did not think highly of such wariness” and “Hill agreed with Heth” [37] Hill believed that nothing was in Gettysburg “except possibly a cavalry vidette.” [38] Hill was not persuaded by Pettigrew or Pettigrew’s aide Lieutenant Louis Young who had previously served under Hill and Pender who reported that the “troops that he saw were veterans rather than Home Guards.” [39] Hill reiterated that he did not believe “that any portion of the Army of the Potomac was up” but then according to Young Hill “expressed the hope that it was, as this was the place he wanted it to be.” [40] The West Point Graduates Hill and Heth may have manifested an often typical “distain for citizen soldiers…a professional questioning a talented amateur’s observations” [41] If so it was a distain that would cost the Confederacy dearly in the days to come.

Pettigrew was “aghast at Hill’s nonchalant attitude” [42] and Young was dismayed and later recalled that “a spirit of unbelief” seemed to cloud their thinking. [43] In later years he wrote “blindness in part seems to have come over our commanders, who slow to believe in the presence of an organized army of the enemy, thought that there must be a mistake in the report taken back by General Pettigrew.” [44]

Heth then asked Hill since neither believed Pettigrew’s report “whether Hill would have any objection to taking his division to Gettysburg again to get those shoes. Hill replied “none in the world.” [45] Douglas Southall Freeman wrote “On those four words fate hung” [46] and then, in “that incautious spirit, Hill launched Harry Heth’s division down the Chambersburg Pike and into battle at Gettysburg.” [47]

Notes

[1] Napoleon Bonaparte, Military Maxims of Napoleon in Roots of Strategy: The Five Greatest Military Classics of All Time edited by Phillips, Thomas R Stackpole Books Mechanicsburg PA 1985 p.410

[2] Coddinton, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command A Touchstone Book, Simon and Shuster New York 1968 p.194

[3] Ibid. Coddinton, The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p. 263

[4] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a NationKnopf, New York 1958 p.81

[5] Freeman, Douglas Southall, Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command, One volume abridgement by Stephen W Sears, Scribner, New York 1998 p.460

[6] Sears, Stephen W. Chancellorsville A Mariner Book, Houghton and Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1996 p.51

[7] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.453

[8] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.79

[9] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.109

[10] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.88

[11] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.85

[12] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.86

[13] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.86

[14] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.512

[15] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.86

[16] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.87

[17] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.527

[18] Krick, Robert K. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge: Failures of Brigade Leadership on the First Day of Gettysburg in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.96

[19] Ibid. Krick. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.96

[20] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.527

[21] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.46

[22] Ibid. Dowdy, Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation p.87

[23] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.533

[24] Ibid. Krick. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.99

[25] Ibid. Krick. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.101

[26] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p.136

[27] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.131

[28] Tredeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.128

[29] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.136

[30] Ibid. Tredeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.129

[31] Ibid. Coddinton,. The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p. 263

[32] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.131 This argument does have merit based on the considerations Guelzo lists but neither Hill, Heth or Lee make any mention of that need in their post battle reports.

[33] Ibid. Tredeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.130

[34] Gallagher, Gary. Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg: A.P. Hill and Richard S. Ewell in a Difficult Debut in The First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.42

[35] Ibid. Tredeau Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, p.135

[36] Ibid. Coddinton, The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command pp. 263-264

[37] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.465

[38] Pfanz Harry W. Gettysburg: The First Day University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London 2001 p.27

[39] Ibid. Gallagher, Gary. Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p.42

[40] Ibid. Pfanz. Gettysburg: The First Day p.27

[41] Ibid. Gallagher, Gary. Confederate Corps Leadership on the First Day at Gettysburg p.42

[42] Ibid. Guelzo. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.131

[43] Ibid. Coddinton, The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p. 264

[44] Ibid Pfanz Gettysburg: The First Day p.27

[45] Ibid. Coddinton, The Gettysburg Campaign, A Study in Command p. 264

[46] Ibid. Freeman Lee’s Lieutenant’s a Study in Command p. 563

[47] Ibid. Krick. Three Confederate Disasters on Oak Ridge p.94

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Christmas at the Front 2013: A Look at Christmas Now and in Military History

German Bundeswehr army soldiers decorate a fir tree imported from Germany for Christmas eve in the army camp in Kunduz

German Bundeswehr Soldiers decorating for Christmas in Afghanistan 

Today as on so many Christmas Days in days gone by military personnel serve on the front lines in wars far away from home. Today American and NATO troops engage a resourceful and determined enemy in Afghanistan. American Marines are working to safeguard the lives of Americans in South Sudan while French troops are intervening in Mali and the Central African Republic to attempt to prevent genocide. In many corners of the globe others stand watch on land, at sea and in the air. Unfortunately on this Christmas wars continue and most likely will until the end of time as we know it.

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It is easy to understand the verse penned by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his song I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day after the death of his wife and wounding of his son in the US Civil War:

And in despair I bowed my head

“There is no peace on earth,” I said,

“For hate is strong and mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I have done my time in Iraq at Christmas on the Syrian-Iraqi Border in 2007 with our Marine advisors and their Iraqis.  That was the most memorable Christmas and the most important Christmas Masses that I ever celebrated. Since returning home have thought often of those that remain in harm’s way as well as those soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen, American and from other nations that have spent Christmas on the front lines. Some of these events are absolutely serious while others display some of the “light” moments that occur even in the most terrible of manmade tragedies.

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Christmas 1776 at Trenton

In American history we can look back to 1776, of course we could go back further but 1776 just sounds better. On Christmas of 1776 George Washington took his Continental Army across the Delaware to attack the British garrison at Trenton. Actually it was a bunch of hung over Hessians who after Christmas dinner on the 24th failed to post a guard which enabled them to be surprised,  but it was an American victory.

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In 1777 Washington and his Army had a rather miserable Christmas at Valley Forge where they spent the winter freezing their asses off and getting drilled into a proper military force by Baron Von Steuben.

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The Eggnog Riot

While not a battle in the true sense of the word the Cadets at West Point wrote their own Christmas legend in the Eggnog Riot of 1826 when the Cadets in a bit of holiday revelry had a bit too much Eggnog and a fair amount of Whiskey and behaved in a manner frowned upon by the Academy administration. Needless to say that many of the Cadets spent the Christmas chapel services in a hung over state with a fair number eventually being tossed from the Academy for their trouble.

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The Battle of Lake Okeechobee

In 1837 the U.S. Army was defeated at the Battle of Lake Okeechobee by the Seminole Nation, not a Merry Christmas at all.  In 1862 the Army of the Potomac and Army of Northern Virginia faced each other across the Rappahannock River after the Battle of Fredericksburg while to the south in Hilton Head South Carolina 40,000 people watched Union troops play baseball some uttering the cry of many later baseball fans “Damn Yankees.”

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Blue and Grey Christmas Baseball

In 1864 the Army of the Potomac and Army of Northern Virginia faced each other again in the miserable trenches of Petersburg while General William Tecumseh Sherman enjoyed Christmas in Savannah Georgia after cutting a swath of destruction from Atlanta to the sea. He presented the city to Lincoln who simply said “nice, but I really wanted Richmond.”

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Napoleon had something to celebrate on December 25th 1801 after surviving an assassination attempt on Christmas Eve and 1809 he was celebrating his divorce from Empress Josephine which had occurred on the 21st of December.

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The Christmas Truce 

In 1914 “Christmas Truce” began between British and German troops and threatened to undo all the hard work of those that made the First World War possible.  Thereafter the High Commands of both sides ensured that such frivolity never happened again. The movie Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas) does a wonderful job in bringing home the miraculous truce.

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General and Montgomery and his Staff, winter 1942

World War II brought much suffering. In 1941 after Pearl Harbor the Japanese forced the surrender of Hong Kong and its British garrison while two days later the Soviets launched their counterattack at Moscow against Hitler’s Wehrmacht. In Libya the British were retaking Benghazi from the Afrika Corps after a brutal series of tank battles in Operation Crusader.  A year later the Americans were clearing Guadalcanal of the Japanese. General Montgomery’s 8th Army was pursuing Rommel’s Afrika Korps into Tunisia as American and British forces under General Dwight D. Eisenhower were slogging their way into Tunisia against tough German resistant.  In Russia the Red Army was engaged in a climactic battle against the encircled German 6th Army at Stalingrad. At Stalingrad a German Physician named Kurt Reuber painted the famed Madonna of Stalingrad.

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Kurt Reuber’s Madona of Stalingrad

The drawing which was taken out of Stalingrad by one of the last German officers to be evacuated now hangs in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin. Reuber drew another in 1943 while in a Soviet POW campbefore his death from Typhus in early 1944. Reuber wrote to his wife of painting in Stalingrad:

“I wondered for a long while what I should paint, and in the end I decided on a Madonna, or mother and child. I have turned my hole in the frozen mud into a studio. The space is too small for me to be able to see the picture properly, so I climb on to a stool and look down at it from above, to get the perspective right. Everything is repeatedly knocked over, and my pencils vanish into the mud. There is nothing to lean my big picture of the Madonna against, except a sloping, home-made table past which I can just manage to squeeze. There are no proper materials and I have used a Russian map for paper. But I wish I could tell you how absorbed I have been painting my Madonna, and how much it means to me.”

“The picture looks like this: the mother’s head and the child’s lean toward each other, and a large cloak enfolds them both. It is intended to symbolize ‘security’ and ‘mother love.’ I remembered the words of St.John: light, life, and love. What more can I add? I wanted to suggest these three things in the homely and common vision of a mother with her child and the security that they represent.”

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Christmas Concert at Guadalcanal 

In 1943 the Marines were battling the Japanese at New Britain while the Red Army was involved in another major winter offensive against the Wehrmacht. In 1944 Christmas found the Russians advancing in Hungary.

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Bastogne Christmas 

In December 1944 the Americans were engaged in a desperate battle with the Germans in the Ardennes now known as The Battle of the Bulge. On Christmas day the leading German unit, the 2nd Panzer Division ran out of gas 4 miles from the Meuse River and was destroyed by the American 2nd Armored Division.

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As that was occurring the embattled 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne was relieved by General George Patton’s 3rd Army. Patton had his Chaplain pen this Christmas prayer:

“Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations.”

In the Philippines Douglas MacArthur’s forces were fighting hard to liberate Leyte, Samar and Luzon from the Japanese. At sea US and Allied naval forces fought off determined attacks by Kamikazes.

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USO Christmas Show in WWII

During the war the USO sponsored many entertainers who went to combat zones to perform Christmas shows, among them was Bob Hope.

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Bob Hope Christmas Show on USS Ticonderoga CVA-14 off Vietnam 

In the years following the Second World War Christmas was celebrated while armies continued to engage in combat to the death. Christmas of 1950 was celebrated in Korea as the last American forces were withdrawn from the North following the Chinese intervention which the 1st Marine Division chewed up numerous Red Chinese divisions while fighting its way out of the Chosin Reservoir.

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Bob Hope with 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam

In 1953 the French garrison of Dien Bien Phu celebrated Christmas in primitive fashion unaware that Vietnamese General Giap was already marshaling his forces to cut them off and then destroy them shortly after Easter of 1954.   In 1964 the U.S. committed itself to the war in Vietnam and for the next 9 years American Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen battled the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong with Marines fighting the North at Khe Sanh during Christmas of 1967. A hallmark of that war would be Bob Hope whose televised Christmas specials from that country helped bring the emotion of Christmas at the front back to those at home.

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In the years after Vietnam American troops would spend Christmas in the Desert of Saudi Arabia preparing for Operation Desert Storm in 1990, in Somalia the following year and in the Balkans. After September 11th 2001 U.S. Forces spent their first of at least 12 Christmas’s in Afghanistan. From 2003 thru 2011 US and coalition partner troops spent 8 years in Iraq, that was my war.

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Christmas with Bedouin on Christmas Eve (above) and Christmas games at COP North Al Anbar Province Iraq 2007 (Below)

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Christmas Services at COP South Al Anbar Province, Iraq 2007

Today Americans and our Allies serve around the world far away from home fighting the war against Al Qaeda and its confederates and some may die on this most Holy of Days while for others it will be their last Christmas.

Please keep them and all who serve now as well as those that served in the past, those that remain and those that have died in your prayers.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil war, faith, History, iraq,afghanistan, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, Religion, world war two in europe, world war two in the pacific

England Expects….Horatio Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar October 21st 1805

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Admiral Horatio Nelson

“Duty is the great business of a sea officer; all private considerations must give way to it, however painful it may be.” Horatio Nelson

I have always been fascinated by the life of Admiral Horatio Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar. In fact I still have a biography of Nelson written for young people and published by American Heritage Publishers that I bought when I was in 5th Grade.

Since then there has been a lot of water under my keel but even today, about 43 years later I still am fascinated about the very heroic and flawed man who commanded the British Fleet on that day.

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HMS Victory

In 1805 Britain was facing the threat of invasion by Napoleon’s French Empire which was allied with Spain. All Napoleon had to do was have he combined French and Spanish naval might to defeat the Royal Navy and a least for a time control the English channel to allow the French invasion force to land.

It was a daunting challenge to the British but the force the Royal Navy send to hunt down the combined fleet of France and Spain was commanded by the diminutive one eyed, one armed victor of the Battle of the Nile and Battle of Copenhagen Admiral Horatio Nelson.

When the French Fleet under the command of Charles Villeneuve escaped into the Atlantic aided by storms which forced Nelson’s Fleet off station in early 1805. Nelson assumed it was heading to Egypt and sailed into the Mediterranean in pursuit. He found out that he was wrong and that Villeneuve had sailed to the Caribbean he went after him. Barely missing contact with the combined French and Spanish Fleet Nelson followed it to Cadiz where the Combined Fleet took refuge.

Villeneuve’s task was difficult. Though he outnumbered the British force his crews were inexperienced and  because the ships had been blockaded for many years not trained to the standard of French forces in earlier times. Likewise many French naval leaders had not survived the bloodletting of the Revolution or been killed in action at the Battle of the Nile. In order to execute Napoleon’s strategy he would have to take his Combined Fleet out of Cadiz, rendezvous with another French Squadron from Brest, defeat the Royal Navy and gain control over the channel.

However Napoleon changed the plan and on September 16th 1805 ordered the Fleet to break out of Cadiz and sail to Naples, however Villeneuve had misgivings and deliberating with his Captains and Spanish Allies remained in Cadiz. That changed on October 18th when Villeneuve gave the order to sail despite light winds. His decision was based less on strategy or tactics but the fact that he had discovered that he was to be relieved of command and that his relief was on the way to Cadiz.

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Nelson was a controversial and often contradictory man. He was the son of an Anglican Priest, a man of faith who struggled in marriage and had an affair with Lady Emma Hamilton which bore him a daughter and eclipsed his marriage. He was a man of valor who lost an arm and eye in battle and led his sailors to victory time and time again. He was loved by the men who served under him but the target of the jealousy of officers who disapproved of him.

When Villeneuve attempted to break out on October 18th Nelson was alerted by the screen of frigates conducting the close blockade of Cadiz. Nelson began to pursue and when Villeneuve discovered this he attempted to return to Cadiz. On the morning of the 21st the fleets drew closer, Nelson with 27 Ships of the line mounting 2148 guns against the Combined Fleet of 33 Ships of the Line mounting 2568 guns. It was a battle that many a British Tar believed held the faye of the nation.

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Nelson was less than orthodox in is conduct of battle. Instead of laying alongside the French line he opted to split his force into two columns and break the French and Spanish line with the intent of the total destruction of the enemy force in close combat where the individual superiority of his ships and sailors . It was a risky strategy of the approach meant that the Combined Fleet would if properly handled could possibly use its superior firepower against a few British ships at a time.

As his Fleet approached the Combined Fleet Nelson penned a prayer:

“May the great God, whom I worship, grant to my country and for the benefit of Europe in general, a great and glorious victory: and may no misconduct, in any one, tarnish it: and may humanity after victory be the predominant feature in the British fleet.

For myself individually, I commit my life to Him who made me and may His blessing light upon my endeavours for serving my country faithfully.

To Him I resign myself and the just cause which is entrusted to me to defend.

Amen. Amen. Amen.” 

At 1145 Nelson had his signalmen hoist the signal that would go down in history. ENGLAND EXPECTS THAT EVERY MAN WILL DO HIS DUTY. The signal as composed by Nelson said that ENGLAND CONFIDES THAT EVERY MAN WILL DO HIS DUTY. However that signal was more complicated and the Signal’s Officer LT Pasco informed Nelson that “Expects” was in the signals vocabulary where “confides” would have to be spelt requiring extra lifts. Nelson concurred.

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In the slow run up to the Combined Fleet the British took a beating, but when the British broke the French line and opened fire the battle took a different turn. Following Nelson’s orders his captains and his second in command Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood took the fight to the enemy.

Nelson’s flagship, the HMS Victory delivered he opening broadsides into the stern of Villeneuve’s flagship the Bucentaure with devastating results. After passing Bucentaure the Victory was engaged in close combat by the 74-gun Redoutable and the ships became locked together. Redoutable was commanded by one of the finest Captain’s in French Fleet, Captain Lucas who had trained his crew well including in close combat. His marksmen took a deadly toll of Victory’s crew exposed on the upper decks and one of his marksmen mortally wounded Nelson as the British Admiral walked his flagship’s quarterdeck.

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Nelson is Mortally Wounded

Nelson was carried to the sick bay of Victory where as he lay dying he continued to receive updates on the battle. Knowing a storm was coming he gave orders for his ships to anchor. Upon being informed of the number of French and Spanish ships taken he whispered “Thank God I have done my duty” and Nelson’s Chaplain noted Nelson’s last words as “God and my country.

By the end of the battle the British had captured or sunk 22 of the 33 French and Spanish Ships of the Line including Villeneuve’s flagship Bucentaure and the largest warship of time the 130 gun Spanish behemoth Santisima Trinidad. On the night of the battle and the days following the British Fleet and the survivors of the Combined Fleet were battered by a massive storm causing much more suffering, misery and loss of life as badly damaged ships succumbed and sank or ran aground on the shores of Cape Trafalgar.

The battle broke the naval strength of the French and Spanish and removed the threat of invasion from Britain. Napoleon hid the defeat from his people and calling it a victory, but throughout England it was celebrated even as Nelson was mourned.

The Battle of Trafalgar epitomized the courage of Nelson and the Royal Navy. As an officer of the United States Navy I tip my hat and drink a toast to Admiral Nelson.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Paths Taken and Not: The Tapestry of Life, Authenticity and Wisdom Passed Down

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Nearly 32 years ago I was getting ready to embark on a military career. It was  the fall of 1980 and I was a junior at California State University Northridge. Within the year I was beginning my first furtive steps in my career by enlisting in the California National Guard and enrolling in the Army ROTC program at UCLA.

It was an interesting time. My imagination of the military back in the days of the Cold War was quite orthodox and founded on what a “normal” Army career should look like. I would get commissioned, serve as a platoon leader, company executive officer, battalion staff officer and company commander. I would attend the appropriate military schools, the officer basic course, the advanced course, specialized courses and Command and General Staff College and then hopefully be promoted to the field grade ranks and after serving 20-30 years would retire as a Major, Lieutenant Colonel or maybe even a Colonel.

If that had been the case I would have had a very different life than I have today. Certainly a good life, but not what I have today. I would be me, but a different me. I would have probably played everything safe and been the perfect servant of the institution while ensuring my own success.

Instead the tapestry of my life and choices have produced something different than I could have ever imagined 32 years ago. Those choices have resulted in successes and failures, blessings and great difficulties as well as trials that honestly I would never want to go through again. However all of those things have helped make me what and who I am today.

I look back at the people in my life who have influenced me at different points, as well as critical junctures where I made decisions I see a tapestry that I could never have thought possible, a tapestry much richer and diverse than I could have thought of back then. It has not been without pain but it has been worth it.

One of the things that I discovered early was that as hard as I tried to fit the mould of the Army, I was a non-comformistby nature.  I thought outside of the box and that in attempting to fit in I was not happy. I had one rater  in his evaluation of me offer the criticism that thought too much of my abilities that “lent me to criticism.” That may have been true to some extent, and my rather blunt and outspoken opinions to criticize higher ranking officers and to take liberties with orders got me in trouble at times.

However I did survive some of my more stupid escapades such as telling my Medical Group Commander that he had embarrassed our command as a very junior Army 1st Lieutenant and in another case banned the two local CID investigators from running amok on a fishing expedition in my barracks without probable cause or a warrant for their investigation. They never returned with probable cause or a warrant. Another time I told the the senior personnel officer in the command I was stationed as a Captain that he could take his spies out of my command, as well as getting thrown out of the Army Chaplain Officer Advanced Course in 1992. It would take too long to explain the details of these incidents here but assuredly they were the fault of a young, opinionated and outside the box thinking officer who dared to voice his opinion to men who were institutional careerists, they were not bad people, just people conformed to and servants of institutional norms. That being said my troubles were troubles brought on me by my own actions because I did not understand what the institution, any institution can do to otherwise well meaning and honorable people.

Despite some black eyes I did make Major in the Army Reserve and finally to get back on active duty reduced in rank to enter the Navy back in 1999. The good thing was that I learned from my experiences and have been able to use them to learn, survive and succeed in my Navy-Marine Corps career.

In the process there were men and women who at various times in my life and career passed along wisdom, not just advice, not just knowledge, but wisdom. It is to them that I owe my successes. Without their sage advice, authentic leadership and honesty I would have certainly crashed and burned a long time ago, a prisoner of my own limited insight and unlimited ambition.

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But more than succeeding in my career I have learned that it is okay to be me, to be authentic and to be honest about who I am and what I do. My goal now as a relatively senior chaplain is to care for, mentor and allow those men and women who work directly for me to succeed, even as well as those that I serve.  It is no longer about my career. I am on the backside of my career regardless of my next assignment or even if I get promoted to Captain in the Navy several years from now when I am eligible. But promotion is not an end to itself, if I have learned anything it is that many times promotion to a higher office can be a prison that some men never escape.

The fact is that I have far fewer years left to serve than I have served to this point. Thus it is far more important to do right for the people that I serve and help them take lessons that I have learned into their futures and if they remain in the military pass them along to others as they become authentic leaders. Johann_von_Staupitz

Johann Von Staupitz

My study of history and more practically in my case military history and to some extent church history and theory shows me quite those who don’t achieve the highest levels of command or institutional power often have a greater influence in the long term than those who do. Without Johann von Stauptiz it is doubtful if the young Martin Luther would have began to study the Bible and hence bring about the Protestant Reformation.

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Carl Von Clausewitz

As the foremost interpreter of Napoleon, a relatively unknown Prussian General Staff Officer, Carl von Clausewitz had a greater impact on warfare and military theory than did Napoleon himself. There are many other examples of such individuals in history, men and women, many times of far lesser estate than Clausewitz or Staupitz who have by their wisdom helped those that eventually held power or influence in thinking outside the bounds of tradition to accomplish things that were not possible to their teachers.

Wisdom comes slowly to most of us, especially people like me. The problematic thing is that is, for the most part wisdom is a commodity that is not highly treasured in a society built upon expediency and crass materialism. It is certainly not something the most men and women that seek power are gifted with, despite their intellectual gifts and often well earned knowledge. But learned knowledge and raw intelligence are different than wisdom. Knowledge and intelligence are quite wonderful but ungoverned by wisdom the ambition that they breed is often the undoing of those that rely on them as well as their physical, economic or even military power.

The key thing is that wisdom, experience and learning was passed along to men and women who, God willing, will be serving long after I retire from the Navy. Today I was approached by one of our wounded warriors stationed at our hospital because of his injuries. He engaged me in a conversation and he said that he would like to spend some time with me, to listen to some of my stories about my life in the military and experience. Evidently a couple of his young friends have told him a bit about me. That meant a lot to me, just as the times that young people have come to me not because of my position, or rank, but because they see me as a real person, approachable and available.  The nice thing for me is that there are many times that I learn from them, for many times it is young people that can see the greatest problems and offer ideas and solutions that elude older and more experienced people in every walk of life.

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B. H. Liddell-Hart

I recently read B.H. Liddell-Hart’s biography of T.E. Lawrence, perhaps one of the most gifted military commanders, philosophers and men of the 20th Century. Lawrence and to some extent Liddell-Hart understood something about wisdom that most of their contemporaries and even students miss. Liddell-Hart himself, though a medically retired as a Captain due to wounds suffered in World War One was one of the more influential thinkers of his day. His works had a profound impact on the most successful commanders of the Second World War. He understood that the key to wisdom is self understanding and a recognition of their own knowledge as well as limitations. Liddell-Hart wrote of Lawrence, wisdom and humanity in 1937:

“A study of history, past and in the making, seems to suggest that most of mankind’s troubles are man-made, and arise from the compound effect of decisions taken without knowledge, ambitions uncontrolled by wisdom and judgements that lack understanding.  Their ceaseless repetition is the grimmest jest that destiny plays on the human race. Men are helped to authority by their knowledge continually make decisions on questions beyond their knowledge. Ambition to maintain their authority forbids them from admitting the limits of their knowledge and calling upon the knowledge that is available in other men. Ambition to extend the bounds of their authority leads them to a frustration of others opportunity and interference with others’ liberty that, with monotonous persistency, injures themselves or their successors on the rebound.  

The fate of mankind in all ages has ben the plaything of petty personal ambitions. The blend of wisdom with knowledge would restrain men from contributing to this endless cycle of folly, but understanding can guide them toward progress.” B.H. Liddell-Hart “Lawrence of Arabia” DeCapo Press, Reprint, originally published as “The Man Behind the Legend” Halcyon House 1937 

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T. E. Lawrence

It is my hope that no matter what my next assignment is and no matter how long I have left in the military as well as in life that I will be able to be one of those wise old sages who helps the next generations do things that were impossible for my generation, to succeed where we failed and who like Staupitz, Clausewitz, Liddell-Hart and Lawrence inspired others to greatness far beyond their own.

I am coming up for orders soon, order that will take me to my next assignment. I have spent the past two years as a geographic bachelor, apart from my wife, by the time I leave this assignment it will be close to three years. I have been assured that my next assignment will be in the area where our home is, however I do not know what it will be. I know what I want to do but do not know if it is possible based on the needs of the Navy. However, that being said I do know enough that no matter where I am assigned the mission is the same, as well as the pay. That mission is to care for, guide and assist those that work for me as well as those that I have the honor of serving, or possibly simply be the wise old sage.

I think I like that idea.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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