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Repeating Historical Myths: The Trump Administration and the “Stab in the Back”

stab-in-the-back

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In light of the many flagrant lies, historical myths and conspiracy theories being floated by President Trump and his supporters  is always appropriate to look at examples of the power of those myths in the lives of nations and their influence on citizens.

It is true that some myths can be positive and inspiring so long as they remain recognized as myth. But myths which are believed as truth lead to conspiracy theories, false accusations and the demonization of others. The vast majority of the time this is done for the purpose of inciting hatred against political, social or religious opponents, or to justify indefensible polices at home or abroad.

Myths also can be used to perpetuate false beliefs about other countries that influence policy decisions, including the decision to go to war that ultimately doom those that believe them. There are many times in history where leaders of nations and peoples embrace myths about their history even when historical, biographical and archeological evidence points to an entirely different record.  Myths are powerful in the way that they inspire and motivate people. They can provide a cultural continuity as a people celebrates the key events and people that shaped their past, even if they are not entirely true.  At the same time myths can be dangerous when they cause leaders and people to make bad choices and actually become destructive.

A good example of this is the Stab in the Back myth that began after the armistice that ended the First World War, as well as the false beliefs held by Hitler and other Nazi leaders about the United States.

Just two days ago President Trump’s Chief Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow accused Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of “stabbing President Trump in the back” following the G7 meeting in Quebec. The choice of words was not only unfortunate but buttresses every action that the President has taken to delegitimatize faithful allies and partners since long before his inauguration.  In doing so he embraced an infamous term used so often by the Nazis and others on the German right following the defeat of Germany in the First World War.

After the war the belief that the German Army was not defeated but was betrayed by the German people, especially those of the political left.  Like all myths there was an element of truth in the “stab in the back” myth, there were revolts against the Monarchy of Kaiser Wilhelm II and even mutiny on elements of the German High Seas Fleet and Army units stationed in Germany. However the crisis had been brought about by General Ludendorff who until the last month of the war refused to tell the truth about the gravity of Germany’s position to those in the German government.

So when everything came crashing down in late October and early November 1918 the debacle came as a surprise to most Germans.  The myth arose because the truth had not been told by Ludendorff who was arguably the most powerful figure in Germany from 1916-1918.  In the looming crisis which included Ludendorff’s collapse and relief, General Wilhelm Groener presented the facts to the Kaiser and insisted on his abdication.  The Republic that was proclaimed on the 9th of November was saddled with the defeat and endured revolution, civil war and threats from the extreme left and right.  When it signed the Treaty of Versailles it accepted the sole responsibility of Germany for the war and its damages. Ordered to dismantle its military, cede territory that had not been lost in battle and pay massive reparations the legend of the “stab in the back” gained widespread acceptance in Germany.

Hitler always believed that the defeat of Germany in the First World War was due to the efforts of internal enemies of the German Reich on the home front and not due to the fact that the German army was collapsing, the U-Boat campaign had failed, and the Navy’s High Seas Fleet was hopelessly outnumbered and incapable of defeating the Royal Navy and breaking the blockade that was strangling Germany.

The Stab in the Back was a fundamental belief of Hitler and was expressed in his writings, speeches and actions.  The internal enemies of Germany for Hitler included the Jews, as well as the Socialists and Communists who he believed were at the heart of the collapse on the home front.  Gerhard Weinberg believes that the effect of this misguided belief on Hitler’s actions has “generally been ignored” by historians. (Germany, Hitler and World War II p. 196)

Hitler believed that those people and groups that perpetrated the “stab in the back” were “beguiled by the by the promises of President Wilson” (World in the Balance p.92) in his 14 Points.  Thus for him Americans were in part responsible for undermining the German home front, something that he would not allow to happen again.  In fact Hitler characterization of Wilson’s effect on the German people in speaking about South Tyrol.  It is representative of his belief about not only the loss of that region but the war: “South Tyrol was lost by those who, from within Germany, caused attrition at the front, and by the contamination of German thinking with the sham declarations of Woodrow Wilson.” (Hitler’s Second Book p.221)

While others will note Hitler’s lack of respect for the potential power of the United States, no other author that I am familiar with links Hitler’s actions and the reaction of the German political, military and diplomatic elites to the entry of the United States into the war to the underlying belief in the “stab in the back.”   Likewise Hitler had little regard for the military abilities or potential of the United States. Albert Speer notes that Hitler believed “the Americans had not played a very prominent role in the war of 1914-1918,” and that “they would certainly not withstand a great trial by fire, for their fighting qualities were low.” (Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs by Albert Speer p.121)

Hitler not only dismissed the capabilities of the Americans but also emphasized the distance that they were from Germany and saw no reason to fear the United States when “he anticipated major victories on the Eastern Front.” (Germany Hitler and World War II p.92)   Hitler’s attitude was reflected by the majority of the military high command and high Nazi officials. Ribbentrop believed that the Americans would be unable to wage war if it broke out “as they would never get their armies across the Atlantic.” (History of the German General Staff, Walter Goerlitz, p.408).  General Walter Warlimont notes the “ecstasy of rejoicing” found at Hitler’s headquarters after Pearl Harbor and the fact that the he and Jodl at OKW caught by surprise by Hitler’s declaration of war. (Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-1945 pp.207-209) Kenneth Macksey notes Warlimont’s comments about Hitler’s beliefs; that Hitler “tended to dismiss American fighting qualities and industrial capability,” and that Hitler “regarded anyone who tried to show him such information [about growing American strength] as defeatist.”(Why the Germans Lose at War, Kenneth Macksey, p.153.)

Others like Field Marshal Erwin Rommel record the disregard of senior Nazis toward American capabilities in weaponry.  Quoting Goering who when Rommel discussed 40mm anti-aircraft guns on aircraft that were devastating his armored forces Goering replied “That’s impossible. The Americans only know how to make razor blades.” (The Rommel Papers edited by B.H. Liddell-Hart p.295) Rommel was one of the few German commanders who recognized the folly of Hitler’s declaration of war on the United States noting that “By declaring war on America, we had brought the entire American industrial potential into the service of Allied war production. We in Africa knew all about the quality of its achievements.” (The Rommel Papers p.296)

When one also takes into account the general disrespect of the German military for the fighting qualities of American soldiers though often with good reason (see Russell Weigley’s books Eisenhower’s Lieutenants and The American Way of War) one sees how the myth impacted German thought.  This is evidenced by the disparaging comments of the pre-war German military attaché to the United States; General Boeticher, on the American military, national character and capability. (See World in the Balance pp. 61-62)

The overall negative view held by many Germans in regard to the military and industrial power and potential of the United States reinforced other parts of the myth. Such false beliefs served to bolster belief in the stab-in-the back theory as certainly the Americans could not have played any important role in the German defeat save Wilson’s alleged demoralization of the German population.  This was true not only of Hitler, but by most of his retinue and the military, diplomatic and industrial leadership of the Reich. Hitler’s ultimate belief shaped by the stab-in-the back and reinforced by his racial views which held the United States to be an inferior mongrel people. This led him to disregard the impact that the United States could have in the war and ultimately influenced his decision to declare war on the United States, a decision that would be a key factor in the ultimate defeat of Germany.

Myth can have positive value, but myth which becomes toxic can and often does lead to tragic consequences. All societies have some degree of myth in relationship to their history including the United States.  The myths are not all the same, various subgroups within the society create their own myth surrounding historic events. The danger is that those myths can supplant reason in the minds of political, military, media and religious figures and lead those people into taking actions that work to their own detriment or even destruction.

Today the President leads the way in promoting lies patently false myths in the name of his personal greatness which he shrouds himself while conflating that with making America great again all the while endangering the country. He has been promoting conspiracy theories for nearly a decade and has never stopped doing so or offered an apology for those words.

It is the duty of historians, philosophers and others in the society to ensure that myth does not override reality to the point that it moves policy both domestic and foreign in a manner that is ultimately detrimental to the nation.  The lesson of history demonstrated by myths surrounding the German defeat and role of the United States in that defeat shows just how myth can drive a nation to irrational, evil and ultimately tragic actions not only for that nation and its people, but for the world.

Sadly, it appears that the United States led by President Trump is following the path of Hitler’s Germany in terms of how it views the world and treats other nations and history will not be kind to us.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Longest Day and Afterwards: D-Day and the Normandy Campaign, an Introduction

The author with Marines at Point du Hoc, Normandy in 2004

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Every year about this time I try to write about D-Day.  This year I spent more time on the Battle of Midway writing or rewriting a total of five articles.

Since we are now about to begin a time of major repairs to our home due to flooding from an plugged air conditioning condensation drains I have decided to do is to re-post a short research paper that I did for one of my Master’s degree courses tonight, actually posting it on Sunday night for publication today, and hope to follow it up with some more articles over the week on specific aspects and personalities of the campaign.  What I hope is that people that are not familiar with the campaign as well as those that are can use this as a portal to other resources on the web and in print.

I have visited Normandy once in 2004 on a trip with the Marines of the Marine Security Force Company Europe that took me to Belleau Wood as well as Normandy.  In both places I had the good fortune to be able to explain aspects of both battles, at Normandy discussing the invasion from the German side of the fence.  The Normandy battlefields are well worth visiting.  Hopefully in the next few years I will get a chance to go back and do some serious exploring.

Introduction

General Dwight D Eisenhower Commander in Chief Allied Forces Europe

The American landings on Omaha Beach were critical to the success of the Allied invasion northwestern Europe in the overall Overlord plan.  Without success at Omaha there would have been a strong chance that the German 7th Army and Panzer Group West could have isolated the remaining beachheads, and even if unsuccessful at throwing the Allies into the sea could have produced a stalemate that would have bled the Allies white.  This quite possibly could have led to a political and military debacle for the western allies which would have certainly changed the course of World War II and maybe the course of history.[i] This is not to say the Germans would have won the war, but merely to state that a defeat on Omaha could have changed the outcomes of the war significantly.   Subsequent to the successful landing there were opportunities both for the Allies and the Germans to change the way that the campaign unfolded, thus the battles leading up to the breakout at Avranches are critical to its development and the subsequent campaign in France.

OVERLORD: The Preparations

Eisenhower’s Key Lieutenants: Patton, Bradley and Montgomery

The planning for the Normandy invasion began in earnest after the QUADRANT conference in Quebec in August 1943.  The timetable for the operation was established at the Tehran conference where Stalin sided with the Americans on the need for an invasion of France in the spring of 1944.[ii] Prior to this there had been some planning by both the British and Americans for the eventual invasion initially named ROUNDUP.  These preparations and plans included a large scale raid at Dieppe in 1942 which ended in disaster but which provided needed experience in what not to do in an amphibious assault on a heavily defended beach.        The failure at Dieppe also darkened the mood of the Allies, the British in particular to the success of such operations, bringing to mind the failed Gallipoli campaign of 1915 as well as the opposed landings at Salerno and the USMC experience at Tarawa.[iii] Despite this the Americans led by General Marshall pushed for an early invasion of northwest Europe. Churchill and the British due to their weakness in land power pushed for land operations in the Mediterranean, and even in Norway as an option to the assault in France. The conflicted mindset of the Allies left them in the position of planning almost exclusively for the success of the initial landings and build up to the near exclusion of planning for the subsequent campaign once they landed. This especially included what one writer described as “the maze of troubles awaiting behind the French shore.”[iv]

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, Commander of Army Group B

Despite conflicts between the Americans and British political and military leadership the planning for the Normandy landings detailed in NEPTUNE and OVERLORD moved ahead.  General Dwight Eisenhower was appointed as the commander of SHAEF with his major subordinates for Land, Air and Sea which caused consternation on both sides of the Atlantic.[v] [vi] The planned operation was expanded from the initial 3 division assault on a narrow front to a minimum 5 division assault on a broad front across Normandy[vii]supplemented by a strong airborne force.[viii] Overall the plan as it developed reflected a distinctly “American willingness to confront the enemy head-on in a collision which Britain’s leaders had sought for so long to defer.”[ix] It is ironic in a sense that the British avoidance of the head on attack was based on their known lack of manpower.  Britain had few infantry reserves to sustain the war effort and the Americans only late recognized their own deficiency in both quantity and quality of infantry forces on which their strategy depended.  That the western allies, so rich in material and natural resources would be so deficient in infantry manpower was a key constraint on the subsequent campaign in France and Germany.  The shortage of infantry forces would cause great consternation among the Allies as the campaign in France wore on.

German Beach Obstacles

The Germans too faced manpower shortages due to the immense losses sustained on the Eastern front, those lost in Africa and those tied down in Italy, the Balkans and Norway as well as the drain caused by Luftwaffe Field Divisions and troops diverted into the Waffen-SS.   The German Army resorted to smaller divisions and the created many “static” divisions manned by elderly or invalid Germans to plug the gaps along the Atlantic wall. The Germans were also forced to recruit “Volksdeutsch” and foreign “volunteers” to fill out both Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS formations.

German fortifications at the Pas de Calais

Prior to the final decision to mount an invasion the Allied planners had contended with the location of the assault in northwestern France.  The Pas de Calais provided a direct route was rejected because it was where the Germans would expect the strike to occur and because it was where the German defenses were strongest.  The fiasco at Dieppe had provided ample proof of what could happen when making an assault into a heavily fortified port.  Likewise the mouth of the Seine near Le Harve was rejected because of the few beaches suitable for landing and because the forces would be split on both sides of the river.  Brittany was excluded due to its distance from the campaigns objectives in Germany.[x]This left Normandy which offered access to a sufficient number of ports and offered some protection from the weather. Normandy offered options to advance the campaign toward the “Breton ports or Le Harve as might be convenient.”[xi] Omaha beach, situated on the center right of the strike would be crucial to the success of the assault situated to the left of UTAH and the right of the British beaches.

Rommel inspecting beach obstacles

Once Normandy was selected as the location for the strike by the Allies, the planning sessions remained contentious.  This was especially true when the Allies debated the amount and type of amphibious lift that could be provided for the landings, particularly the larger types of landing ships and craft to support the Normandy invasion and the planned invasion of southern France, Operation ANVIL.  The increase in OVERLORD requirements for landing craft had an impact in the Mediterranean and resulted in ANVIL being postponed until later in the summer.

“Dummy” Sherman Tank: The Allies created a fictional Army Group to deceive German planners

As part of their preparations the Allies launched a massive deception campaign, Operation FORTITUDE.  This operation utilized the fictitious First Army Group under the “command” of General George Patton. Patton was still smarting from his relief of command of 7th Army following slapping commanded an “Army Group” which incorporated the use of dummy camp sites, dummy tanks, aircraft and vehicles, falsified orders of battle and communications to deceive German intelligence.[xii] The success of this effort was heightened by the fact that all German intelligence agents in the U.K. had been neutralized or turned by the British secret service.  Additionally the Luftwaffe’s limited air reconnaissance could only confirm the pre-invasion build ups throughout England without determining the target of the invasion.[xiii] The German intelligence chief in the west, Colonel Baron von Roenne “was deceived by FORTITUDE’s fantasy invasion force for the Pas de Calais.”[xiv] Despite this Commander of the 7thArmy recognized by 1943 that Normandy was a likely Allied target and efforts were made to shift 7th Army’s center of gravity from Brittany to Normandy.  The one potential German success in getting wind of when the Allied landings would occur was lost when German intelligence discovered two lines of Verlaine’s “Chason d’ Automme” in June 1944 which were to alert the French Resistance of the invasion.  The security section of 15th Army heard them transmitted on the afternoon of 5 June and notified General Jodl at OKW, but no action was taken to alert forces on the coast.[xv] Allied intelligence was aided by ULTRA intercepts of coded German wireless transmissions. However this was less of a factor than during the African and Italian campaigns as more German communications were sent via secure telephone and telegraph lines vice wireless.[xvi] Allied deception efforts were for the most part successful in identifying German forces deployed in Normandy. However they were uncertain about the location of the 352nd Infantry Division which had been deployed along OMAHA and taken units of the 709th Infantry Division under its command when it moved to the coast.[xvii]

USAAF B-17 Bombers and others helped isolate German forces in Normandy by bombing railroads, bridges, and supply lines

The Allied air campaign leading up to the invasion was based on attempting to isolate the invasion site from German reinforcements. Leigh-Mallory the Air Chief developed the “TRANSPORTATION PLAN” which focused efforts on destroying the French railroad infrastructure.[xviii] A more effective effort was led by General Brereton and his Ninth Air Force which was composed of medium bombers and fighters.  Brereton’s aircraft attacked bridges and rapidly achieved success in crippling German efforts to reinforce Normandy.[xix] Max Hastings gives more credit to the American bombing campaign in Germany to crippling the German defense in the west. General Spaatz and the 8th Air Force destroyed German production capacity in oil and petroleum as well as the degraded the German fighter force.  The American daylight raids so seriously degraded the German fighter force that it could not mount effective resistance to the invasion.[xx] Russell Weigley also notes that Albert Speer the Reich Armaments Minister said that “it was the oil raids of 1944 that decided the war.”[xxi]

 

US Navy LST’s being loaded for the invasion

Planning and preparations for OMAHA were based around getting the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions ashore and them securing a beachhead “twenty-five kilometers wide and eight or nine kilometers deep.”[xxii] American preparations were thorough and ambitious, but the American assault would go through the most heavily defended sector of German defenses in Normandy.  The landing beaches were wide and bordered by dunes which were nearly impassable to vehicles and “scrub covered bluffs thirty to fifty meters high…rough and impassable to vehicles even to tracked vehicles except at a few places.  The exits were unimproved roads running through four or five draws that cut the bluffs.”[xxiii] Dug in along those bluffs was the better part of the 352nd Division. The Americans compounded their selection of a difficult and heavily defended landing zone the Americans failed to take advantage of many of the “gadgets” that were offered by the British which in hindsight could have aided the Americans greatly.  The Americans made use of two battalions of DD (Dual Drive) tanks but turned down the offer of flail tanks, flamethrower tanks, and engineer tanks, the “funnies” developed by General Hobart and the British 79th Armored Division.[xxiv]

Dual Drive amphibious tanks were included as part of the US invasion package

Weigley believes that the American view of “tanks as instruments of mobility rather than of breakthrough power.” Likewise the Americans victories in the First World War were won by infantry with little tank support.[xxv] In this aspect the Americans were less receptive to utilizing all available technology to support their landings, something that when considering the fact that Americans were great lovers of gadgets and technology. The British use of the Armor, including the “Funnies” on the beaches to provide direct fire into German strong points lessened their infantry casualties on D-Day. Due to this lack of armor support on the beach American forces on OMAHA had little opportunity to exercise true combined arms operations during the initial landings.[xxvi]

 

Rommel with Artillerymen of the 21st Panzer Division in Normandy

German preparations for an Allied landing in Normandy were less advanced than the Pas de Calais.  However they had made great strides since late 1943. Field Marshal Rommel greatly increased defensive preparations along the front, including the Normandy beaches.  One of Rommel’s initiatives was to deploy Panzer Divisions near the coast where they could rapidly respond to an invasion.  However Rommel did not get everything that he wanted.  The OKW only allotted him two Panzer Divisions to be deployed near the Normandy beaches.  Only one of these the 21st Panzer Division was deployed near Caen in the British sector.  One wonders the result had the 12th SS Panzer Division been deployed behind OMAHA. [xxvii]

OMAHA: The Landings

The venerable USS Nevada, resurrected from the mud of Pearl Harbor bombarding German positions at Utah Beach

Like the rest of the Allied invasion forces the 1st and 29th U.S. Infantry Divisions set sail from their embarkation ports with the intent of landing on June 5th.  General Bradley, commanding the First Army until the American XII Army Group would be activated accompanied the invasion force.  The OMAHA landing was under the command of General Gerow and his V Corps while VII Corps led by the 4th Infantry Division landed at Utah supported by airdrops of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions inland.  American command and control during the invasion was exercised from sea as in the Pacific, although General Officers were to go ashore with each of the American divisions.  A severe channel storm disrupted the plan to land on the 5th and Eisenhower delayed the invasion one day catching a break in the weather and electing to go on the 6th.[xxviii] This delay while uncomfortable for the embarked troops caused the Germans to believe that no invasion would take place until the next favorable tide and moon cycle later in the month.[xxix] The assumption that no invasion was possible ensured that a number of key senior German leaders, including Rommel were absent from the invasion front when the Allies landed.[xxx]

US Troops ride a LCVP toward Omaha 

The landing beaches at OMAHA stretched about 6500 meters from Colleville-Sur-Mer to Vierville-Sur-Mere in the west.  The beaches are wide with bluffs overlooking them and a seawall between the beaches and the bluffs.  Additionally several small towns dot the beach. To the west of the town of Vierville, a prominent height overlooked the entire beachhead.  Named Pont du Hoc, it was believed to house a 150mm battery sighted where it could enfilade the OMAHA landing zones.  The Americans assigned to the 2nd Ranger Battalion to make a seaborne assault to land, scale the cliffs and take the battery.  Companies from this battalion made a heroic landing and scaled the cliffs to capture the strongpoint only to discover that the guns had not been emplaced.  The Rangers took heavy casualties and held their isolated beachhead against German counterattacks until relieved by the 29th Division on the morning of June 8th.[xxxi]

Landing craft passing the USS Augusta in heavy seas heading toward Omaha Beach

H-Hour for OMAHA was 0630.  Unfortunately the assault troops were transferred to their LCVP landing craft 16-20 kilometers from the beach.  The result was a long and dangerous ride in the small craft for the infantry.  Most of the infantry were completely soaked in sea spay and seasick before going ashore and they carried loads far above what they normally would carry into battle.[xxxii] The Armor support was one battalion of DD tanks, the 741stArmored Battalion, supporting the 16th Infantry Regiment of 1st Infantry Division. These were also launched too far out and nearly all of the tanks were swamped and lost before firing a shot in anger.[xxxiii] Other American support units needed to provide firepower on the beach were equally unfortunate. Weigley notes that at OMAHA “at least 10 of the LCVPs sank” as did “the craft carrying almost all of the 105mm howitzers that were to be the first artillery ashore after the tanks.”[xxxiv] The losses would cripple the assault on OMAHA and nearly cause its abandonment.

Bloody Omaha

As the soldiers of the American divisions on OMAHA came ashore they faced German defenders of the 352nd, 716th and a regiment of the 709th Infantry Division, the latter under the tactical command of the 352nd.   Without the bulk of their tanks artillery and lacking close air support the Americans struggled across the beaches and were cut down in large numbers before being pinned down behind the sea wall.[xxxv] With the Americans pinned down on the beach unable to advance, the time tables for the reinforcing waves became snarled amid the German beach obstacles which had not been cleared.  This was in large part due to 40% casualties among the Combat Engineers and the loss of all but five bulldozers.[xxxvi] Naval officers were frustrated in their attempts to provide naval gunfire support by the lack of identifiable targets on the beaches.  Yet German strongpoint’s were “knocked out by either by superbly directed vigorous gunfire from destroyers steaming as close as 800 yards offshore, or by determined action from Rangers or infantry.[xxxvii]

 

US Infantry struggles ashore at Omaha

Soldiers ashore discovered that they were not facing the static 716th Division but the veteran 352nd Division as well.[xxxviii] Only the leadership and actions of Brigadier General Norman Cota the 29th Division’s Deputy Commander and Colonel Charles Canham of the 116th Infantry kept the situation from complete collapse.  They were able to rally their troops. Under their leadership small units from the 116th which had its linage back to the “Stonewall Brigade” as well as elements of the 16th and 18th Infantry Regiments began to move forward.  Surviving junior leaders began to lead survivors through the dunes and up the bluffs to attack German defenders of the roads leading up from the beach from the flank and rear.  A mid-day break in the weather allowed some close tactical air support giving the troops badly needed support.

US 1st Infantry Division Troops at the Omaha sea wall

With the situation desperate General Bradley considered the evacuation of OMAHA.  At sea events were as confused as Bradley and his staff attempted to make sense of what was going on.  Even later in the evening there was discussion of diverting all further reinforcements from OMAHA to the British beaches.[xxxix]At 1330 hours “Gerow signaled Bradley: “Troops formerly pinned down on beaches…advancing up heights behind beaches.”[xl] By the end of the day Bradley’s aid Major Hansen noted Bradley’s comments to Collins: “They are digging in on Omaha beach with their fingernails. I hope they can push in and get some stuff ashore.”  And Montgomery: “Someday I’ll tell Gen[eral] Eisenhower just how close it was for a few hours.”[xli]

German Fallschirmjaeger Trüppen in Normandy, the German Parachute forces fighting in an infantry role were very effective in the Normandy campaign

The landings at OMAHA succeeded at a cost of over 2000 casualties.  Critical to the success of the landings were the German inability to reinforce their defending troops on the beach.  Likewise the weakness of the units available to mount the standard counterattack that was critical to German defensive plans on D-Day itself kept the Germans from driving the Americans back into the Channel. The 352nd Division fought superbly under the full weight of V Corps and the British XXX Corps on its right suffering heavy casualties as they contested every inch of ground.  The 716th Division composed of second rate troops melted under the onslaught.  Allied air supremacy played a key role as sorties by the 8th and 9th Air Forces helped keep German reinforcements from arriving and interdicted counter attacks inland.  Weigley credits the Allied air superiority with the success of the landings and with limiting casualties.[xlii]Von Rundstedt and other German commanders in France were limited by the delay and refusal of Hitler and OKW to release Panzer reserves when needed most early on June 6th.  By the close of D-Day allied forces had secured the five invasion beaches but not achieved their objectives of taking Caen and Bayuex.  Since the forces on the various beachheads had not linked up the beaches would have been extremely vulnerable had the Germans been able to mount a rapid counterattack by Panzers and strong infantry formations as they had at Salerno.

Major Battles to the Breakout at Avranches

Securing the Beachheads

It took the V and VII Corps nearly a week to secure the beachheads. German forces including the stalwart 352nd Division resisted stubbornly and mounted sharp local counterattacks which kept the Americans off balance.  Elements of the 29th Division and the 90th Division began to push inland and to expand the beachhead toward UTAH. Opposed by the 352nd Division and elements of the 91st Airlanding Division and other non-divisional units the fighting revealed the inexperience of the American infantry formations and the uneven quality of their leadership.  As the Americans tackled the Germans in the labyrinth of the Bocage country the defensive skill of the Germans cost many American lives and delayed the joining of the beachheads. On the 13th the link up was solid enough to enabling the Americans to conduct the follow up operations needed to expand the beachhead, secure Cherbourg and clear the Cotentin.

A Panther tank of the Panzer Lehr Division in Normandy

In some American divisions the hard fighting triggered a leadership crisis.  The lack of success of the 90th Division led General “Lightening Joe” Collins of VII Corps relieve the division commander and two regimental commanders of command, a portent of things to come with other American units.[xliii] As the V and VII corps pushed into the “Bocage” they were followed by a massive build up of troops and equipment delivered to the beaches and to the artificial “Mulberry” harbors.  Despite their numeric superiority, air supremacy and massive Naval gunfire support and facing the weakened 352nd, 91st and the 6thParachute Regiment and other less than quality formations, survivors of the static divisions, the Americans made painfully slow progress as they moved off the beachhead and into the Bocage.[xliv]

The Capture of Cherbourg

US Soldiers of the 29th Division surrender to German Fallschirmjaeger in Normandy

Once the beachheads had been consolidated the Americans turned their attention toward Cherbourg. Cherbourg was the major naval port at the far northwest tip of the Cotentin.  D-Day planners counted on its swift capture and rehabilitation to serve as a supply port for the Allied forces. The 9th Division drove south to the coast near Barneville on the 18th of June cutting off the German forces covering the approaches to Cherbourg.[xlv] This put the Germans in a bind as the 7th Army “had to split its forces in the peninsula in order to hold the fortress a little longer and thus to gain time for the establishment of the southern front on the Cotentin peninsula.[xlvi] The German forces arrayed before Cherbourg waged a desperate defense centered around the 243rd Infantry Division and other assorted battle groups of LXXXIV Corps, whose commander General Marcks one of the best German Generals was killed in action on 12 June.[xlvii] The U.S. VII Corps under Collins with the 9th, 4th and 79th Divisions pushed up the peninsula capturing Cherbourg on June 29th.  Bradley pushed hard for the capture of the port as the Mulberries had been ravaged by a severe Channel storm the week prior. The port of Cherbourg was thoroughly demolished by German engineers and would not be fully operational for months. The loss of the Mulberries and delay in Cherbourg’s availability meant that few supplies were landed on the beaches would “hinder the escape from the constricting land of the hedgerows into which the Americans had come in search of a port.[xlviii]

The Battle of Caumont Gap

Panzer IV Tank in Normandy

V Corps under Gerow made a cautious advance by phase lines toward Caumont, St Lo and Carentan.  The deliberate advance by the Corps toward a line weakly held by the Reconnaissance battalion of the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division was directed by Bradley who did not want to divert attention from the effort against Cherbourg.   After capturing Caumont V Corps halted and continued aggressive patrolling to deceive the Germans while digging in.[xlix] The possibility existed that a strong push against the weak German line could have led to an opportunity to envelope the German line west of Caen. This was a missed opportunity that in part led to the bloody and controversial campaign to capture Caen.[l]

British efforts around Caen

German Panzer Ace Waffen SS Captain Michale Wittman single handedly destroyed a British Battalion at Villers Bocage in his Tiger Tank

Montgomery had ambitious plans to break out of Normandy by capturing Caen on D-Day and driving toward Falaise and Argentan.  The British plans for this were frustrated by the rapid reinforcement of the sector by the Germans and the activities of 21st Panzer, Panzer Lehr, and the 12th SS Panzer Divisions.  A flanking maneuver at Villers-Bocage was frustrated by a few Tiger tanks led by the legendary Waffen SS Panzer commander Captain Michael Wittman whose tanks devastated a British Armored battalion.[li]

Wreckage of a British Battalion at Villers Bocage

A series of disastrous attacks toward Caen (EPSOM, CHARNWOOD and GOODWOOD) strongly supported by air strikes and Naval gunfire finally succeeded in taking that unfortunate city on July 18th but failed to take the heights beyond the town.[lii]

British operations like Operation Epsom met setback after setback against dug in German forces outside of Caen

Against crack well dug in German forces the British took heavy casualties in tanks and infantry seriously straining their ability to conduct high intensity combat operations in the future.[liii] The one benefit, which Montgomery would claim after the war as his original plan was that German forces were fixed before Caen and ground down so they could not be used against Bradley’s breakout in the west at St Lo.[liv]

Clearing the Bocage: The Battle of the Cotentin Plain

US M-5 Light Tank in Normandy

Other German forces arrived, and reinforced the Caumont gap which no longer “yawned invitingly in front of V Corps.” [lv] Bradley wished to push forward rapidly to achieve a breakthrough in the American sector.[lvi] Facing the most difficult terrain in France amid the Bocage and swamps that limited avenues of approach to the American divisions committed to the offensive.  The Americans now faced their old foe the 352nd division as well various elements of II Parachute Corps, the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier and Panzer Lehr Divisions.  American tanks and infantry made slow progress and incurred high losses as they dueled the Germans at close range.  In the VIII Corps sector alone the attack “consumed twelve days and 10,000 casualties to cross eleven kilometers of the Bocage…the achievements of the VII and XIX Corps were no better than comparable.[lvii]

St. Lo

US Tanks advancing with German prisoners moving back to US lines at St Lo

St. Lo was a key to Bradley’s breakout efforts.  His Army had to capture it and the roads leading out of it to launch Operation COBRA along the coast.  The task of capturing St. Lo was assigned to GEROW’S V Corps and Corlett’s XIX Corps.  They faced opposition from the tough paratroops of the German 3rd Parachute Division of II Parachute Corps.  The 2nd, 29th, 30th and 83rd Divisions fought a tough battle advancing eleven kilometers again with high numbers of casualties especially among the infantry to secure St. Lo on 18 July.[lviii] They finally had cleared the hedgerows.  St Lo epitomized the struggle that the American Army had to overcome in the Bocage.  Hard fighting but outnumbered German troops in excellent defensive country exacted a terrible price in American blood despite the Allied control of the skies.[lix]

Operation COBRA

US 155mm Howitzers in Normandy, the Germans had profound respect for American Artillery, a respect that they did not share for American Infantry or Armor forces

With the Bocage behind him Bradley desired to push the Germans hard.  COBRA was his plan to break out of Normandy.  Bradley ably assisted by Collins they realized that the better terrain, road networks favored a breakout.  American preparations included a technical advance that allowed tanks to plow through hedgerows. This was the “Rhino” device fashioned by American troops which was installed on 3 of every 5 First Army Tanks for the operation.[lx] VII Corps was to lead the attack which was to begin on July 24th. American planning was more advanced than in past operations.  Collins and Bradley planned for exploitation operations once the breakthrough had been made. A massive air bombardment would precede the attack along with an artillery barrage by Collins corps artillery which was reinforced by additional battalions.   A mistake by the heavy bombers in the 24th resulted in the American troops being hit with heavy casualties and a postponement of the attack until the 25th.[lxi] The following day the attack commenced.  Another mistake by the bombers led to more American casualties[lxii] but VII Corps units pressed forward against the determined resistance of the survivors of Panzer Lehr and the remnants of units that had fought the Americans since the invasion began.  Although it was a “slow go” on the 25th Bradley and his commanders were already planning for and beginning to execute the breakout before the Germans could move up reinforcements.  The 26th of June brought renewed attacks accompanied by massive air strikes.

The Devastated town of St Lo 

While not much progress was made on the 26th, the Americans discovered on the 27th that the German forces were retreating.  The capture of Marigny allowed VIII Corps to begin exploitation down the coastal highway to Coutances.  On the 27th General Patton was authorized to take immediate command of VIII Corps a precursor to the activation of his 3rdArmy.  COBRA ripped a hole in the German line and inflicted such heavy casualties on the German 7th Army that it could do little to stop the American push.[lxiii] As the American forces pushed forward they reinforced their left flank absorbing the local German counterattacks which were hampered by the Allied close air support.

Avranches and Beyond

US Forces advance through the ruins of St Lo

As the breakthrough was exploited the command of the forces leading it shifted to Patton and the newly activated 3rd Army. By the 28th VIII Corps led by the 4th and 6th Armored Divisions had reached Avranches and established bridgeheads over the See River with additional bridges being captured intact on the 30th.[lxiv] The capture of Avranches allowed the Americans to begin exploitation operations into Brittany and east toward the Seine. Weigley notes that for the first time in the campaign that in Patton the Americans finally had a commander who understood strategic maneuver and would use it to great effect.[lxv]

Conclusion

The American campaign in Normandy cost the U.S. Army a great deal. It revealed weaknesses in the infantry, the inferiority of the M4 Sherman tank to most German types, problems in tank-infantry cooperation and also deficiencies in leadership at senior, mid-grade and junior levels. Heavy casualties among infantry formations would lead to problems later in the campaign. Numerous officers were relieved including Division and Regimental commanders.  Nonetheless during the campaign the Americans grew in their ability to coordinate air and ground forces and adapt to the conditions imposed on them by their placement in the Cotentin.  The deficiencies would show up in later battles but the American Army learned its trade even impressing some German commanders on the ground in Normandy.[lxvi]

[i] See the alternative history of by Peter Tsouras Disaster at D-Day: The Germans Defeat the Allies, June 1944, Greenhill Books, London 1994. Tsouras describes the defeat of the Omaha landings and the effect on the course of the campaign leading to the overthrow of Hitler and a negotiated armistice in the west.  While this outcome could be rigorously debated other outcomes could have led to the fall of the Roosevelt and Churchill governments and their replacement by those not committed to unconditional surrender or a continuation of the war that brought about more German missile attacks on the U.K. and the introduction of other advanced German weapons that could have forced such a settlement. Another option could have led to the dropping of the Atomic Bomb on a German city vice Hiroshima.

Notes 

[ii] Weigley, Russell F. Eisenhower’s Lieutenants: The Campaign of France and Germany, 1944-1945, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 1981 p.33

[iii] Ibid pp. 34-35

[iv] Ibid p.35

[v] General Montgomery 21st Army group and Land Forces, Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey as Allied Naval Expeditionary Force and Air Marshall Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory as Commander in Chief Allied Expeditionary Air Force. Weigley p.43

[vi] Max Hastings in Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy Vintage Books, New York, 1984, comments that many in Britain wondered if Eisenhower with the lack of actual battle experience could be a effective commander and that Eisenhower was disappointed in the appointment of Leigh-Mallory and Ramsey, and had preferred Alexander over Montgomery, pp. 28-29.

[vii] Ibid. Weigley p.40.  Montgomery was the first to object to the 3 division narrow front invasion rightly recognizing that seizing Caen with its road junctions could provide a springboard for the campaign into open country.

[viii] Ibid. p.37

[ix] Hastings, Max. Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy Vintage Books, New York, 1984 p.29  Hastings finds the irony in the selection of the British officers to execute the plan that reflected the American way of thinking.

[x] The Germans agreed with this in their planning leaving Brittany very lightly defended.  See  Isby, David C. Ed. “The German Army at D-Day: Fighting the Invasion.” p.27 The report of General Blumentritt, Chief of Staff OB West noted that only 3 divisions were assigned to Brittany.

[xi] Ibid. Weigley, pp. 39-40

[xii] Ibid. p.73

[xiii] See Isby p. 69.  General Max Pemsel of 7th Army noted that “During  the spring of 1944, Seventh Army received only tow good photographs of British southern ports, which showed large concentrations of landing craft.”

[xiv] Ibid. Hastings p.63.  Hastings comments also about the success of using the turned Abwehr agents.

[xv] Warlimont, Walter. “Inside Hitler’s Headquarters: 1939-1945.” Translated from theGerman by R.H. Barry. Presidio Press, Novao CA, English Edition Copyright 1964 Wiedenfeld and Nicholson Ltd. Pp.422-423

[xvi] Ibid. Weigley pp. 53-54

[xvii] Ibid. p. 67

[xviii] Ibid. pp.57-64  Weigley spends a great deal of time on the wrangling between Eisenhower, Leigh Mallory and Spaatz on the nature of the plan, the allocation of forces both strategic and tactical assigned to carry it out and its success, or in the light of postwar analysis the lack of effect that it had on German operations.

[xix] Ibid. p.67-68.

[xx] Ibid. Hastings pp. 43-44 In large part due to the long range P-51 Mustang which accompanied the American bombing raids beginning in 1943.  Another comment is that the campaign drew the German fighters home to defend Germany proper and prevented their use in any appreciable numbers over the invasion beaches.

[xxi] Ibid. Weigley p.69

[xxii] Ibid. p.89

[xxiii] Ibid. pp. 88-89

[xxiv] Ibid. p.87

[xxv] Ibid. Weigley also talks about the rejection of General Corlett’s ideas to use Amtracks used by the Marines in the Pacific to land on less desirable, but less defended beaches to lessen casualties on the beaches and the need for additional support equipment even on smooth beaches.  One of Corlett’s criticisms was that too little ammunition was allotted to supporting the landings and not enough supporting equipment was provided. pp. 46-47

[xxvi] Hastings notes that with the strength and firepower of the German forces on OMAHA that many of these vehicles had they been employed would like have ended up destroyed further cluttering the beachhead. “Overlord” p.102

[xxvii] The battle over the deployment of the Panzer Divisions is covered by numerous historians.  The source of the conflict was between Rommel who desired to place the Panzer Divisions on the Coast under his command due to the fear that Allied air superiority would prevent the traditional Panzer counterthrust, General Gyer von Schweppenburg commander of Panzer Group West (Later the 5th Panzer Army) and Field Marshal Von Rundstedt who desired to deploy the divisions order the command of Rundstedt for a counter attack once the invasion had been launched, a strategy which was standard on the Eastern Front, and Hitler who held most of the Panzer reserve including the SS Panzer Divisions under his control at OKW.  Hitler would negotiate a compromise that gave Rommel the satisfaction of having three Panzer Divisions deployed behind coast areas in the Army Group B area of responsibility.  21stPanzer had those duties in Normandy.

[xxviii] Ibid. p.74-75

[xxix] Von Luck, Hans.  “Panzer Commander“ Dell Publishing, New York, 1989 pp. 169-170.  Von Luck a regiment commander in 21st Panzer noted that General Marcks of 84th Corps had predicted a 5 June invasion at a conference May 30th.

[xxx] Almost every D-Day historian talks about the weather factor and its effect on the German high command’s reaction to the invasion.  Rommel was visiting his wife for her birthday and planned to make a call on Hitler. Others including commanders of key divisions such as the 91st Airlanding Division were off to a war game in Rennes and the 21st Panzer Division to Paris.

[xxxi] Ibid. Weigley p. 96

[xxxii] See Cornelius Ryan, “The Longest Day” Popular Library Edition, New York 1959. pp. 189-193 for a vivid description of the challenges faced by soldiers going from ship to landing craft and their ride in to the beaches.

[xxxiii] Ibid. Weigley. p.78 Weigley talks about the order for the tanks to be carried ashore on their LCTs that did not get transmitted to the 741st.

[xxxiv] Ibid.

[xxxv] Ibid. Weigley  p. 87 The weather prevented the aerial bombardment from being effective. Because the bombers could not see their targets they dropped their bomb loads further inland, depriving the infantry of support that they were expecting.  Naval gunfire support had some effect but had to be lifted as the troops hit the beach leaving much of that support to come from Destroyers and specially equipped landing craft which mounted rockets and guns.

[xxxvi] Ibid. Hastings. pp. 90-91.

[xxxvii] Ibid. p.99

[xxxviii] Ibid. Weigley p.80

[xxxix] Ibid. p.101  Also see Weigley p.80

[xl] Ibid. p.99

[xli] Ibid. Weigleyp.95

[xlii] Ibid. p.94

[xliii] Ibid. p.99 Both Weigley and Hastings make note of the failure of both the Americans and British to train their troops to fight in the bocage once they had left the beaches.

[xliv] Ibid. Hastings. pp.152-153

[xlv] Ibid. Weigley p.101

[xlvi] Isby, David C., Ed. “Fighting in Normandy: The German Army from D-Day to Villers-Bocage.” Greenhill Books, London,  2001.  p.143

[xlvii] Ibid. Hastings p.173 Allied fighter bombers exacted a fearful toll among German commanders. The Commanders of the 243rd and 77th Divisions fighting in the Cotentin were also killed by air attacks on the 17th and 18th.   Further east facing the British the commander of the 12th SS Panzer Division, Fritz Witt on the 17th.

[xlviii] Ibid. Weigley. p.108

[xlix] Ibid. p.111-112.

[l] Ibid.

[li] The efforts of the 51st Highland Division and 7th Armored Division were turned aside by the Germans in the area and were dramatized by the destruction of  a British armored battalion by SS Captain Michael Wittman and his platoon of Tiger tanks.  See Hastings pp.131-135.

[lii] The British 8th Corps under General O’Connor lost 270 tanks and 1,500 men on 18 July attempting to crack the German gun line on the ridge beyond Caen. Weigley, pp.145-146.

[liii] Hastings comments about the critical British manpower shortage and the pressures on Montgomery to not take heavy casualties that could not be replaced. Overlord. pp.241-242.

[liv] Ibid. Weigley pp.116-120

[lv] Ibid. p.122

[lvi] Ibid. p121 Bradley told Eisenhower “when we hit the enemy this time we will hit him with such power that we can keep going and cause a major disaster.”

[lvii] Ibid. 134

[lviii] Ibid. Weigley. pp. 138-143.  Weigley notes of 40,000 U.S. casualties in Normandy up to the capture of St. Lo that 90% were concentrated among the infantry.

[lix] Weigley quotes the 329th Regiment, 83rd Division historian “We won the battle of Normandy, [but] considering the high price in American lives we lost. P.143. This is actually a provocative statement that reflects America’s aversion to massive casualties in any war.

[lx] Ibid. p.149

[lxi] Ibid. p. 152

[lxii] Ibid. pp. 152-153.  Among the casualties were the command group of the 9th Division’s 3rd Battalion 47th Infantry and General Leslie McNair who had come to observe the assault.

[lxiii] Ibid. pp.161-169. Weigley notes the advances in U.S. tactical air support, the employment of massive numbers of U.S. divisions against the depleted German LXXXIV Corps, and the advantage that the “Rhino” device gave to American tanks by giving them the ability to maneuver off the roads for the first time.

[lxiv] Ibid. pp.172-173.

[lxv] Ibid. p.172

[lxvi] Ibid. Isby, David C. “Fighting in Normandy,” p.184, an officer of the 352nd Division referred to the American soldier “was to prove himself a in this terrain an agile and superior fighter.”

Bibliography

Carell, Paul. “Invasion: They’re Coming!” Translated from the German by E. Osers, Bantam, New York 1964.

Hastings, Max. Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy Vintage Books, New York, 1984

Isby, David C. Ed. “The German Army at D-Day: Fighting the Invasion.” Greenhill Books, London 2004

Isby, David C., Ed. “Fighting in Normandy: The German Army from D-Day to Villers-Bocage.” Greenhill Books, London, 2001.

Ryan, Cornelius, “The Longest Day” Popular Library Edition, New York 1959

Tsouras, Peter. “Disaster at D-Day: The Germans Defeat the Allies, June 1944,”Greenhill Books, London 1994.

Von Luck, Hans.  “Panzer Commander“ Dell Publishing, New York, 1989

Warlimont, Walter. “Inside Hitler’s Headquarters: 1939-1945.” Translated from theGerman by R.H. Barry. Presidio Press, Novao CA, English Edition Copyright 1964 Wiedenfeld and Nicholson Ltd. Warlimont, Walter. “Inside Hitler’s Headquarters: 1939-1945.” Translated from theGerman by R.H. Barry. Presidio Press, Novao CA, English Edition Copyright 1964 Wiedenfeld and Nicholson Ltd.

Weigley, Russell F. Eisenhower’s Lieutenants: The Campaign of France and Germany, 1944-1945, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 1981

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Filed under History, leadership, Military, nazi germany, us army, US Army Air Corps, world war two in europe

The Context of History, Memory & War

16-2 Gettysburg Staff Ride, May 2016-37

With my Students at Little Round Top

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As always I have been doing a lot of reading and of course that has led me to do some more revisions to my Civil War and Gettysburg text. I re-wrote the introduction to the first chapter in order to talk about the nature and role of history in understanding who we are as a people today. The section is part of a chapter that is now over 150 pages long and probably will become a book in its own right. Of course this section, and the rest of the chapter will likely be worked on some more in the coming months but I think that you will like it.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

“No one is so sure of his premises as the man who knows too little.” [1]

Barbara Tuchman

Finite human beings find themselves bound by time and space, we live in the present, but not the present alone, but rather three worlds: one that is, one that was, and one that will be. Ernst Breisach wrote, “In theory we know these three worlds as separate concepts but we experience as inextricably linked and influencing each other in many ways. Every new and important discovery about the past changes how we think about the present and what we expect of the future; on the other hand every change in the conditions of the present and in the expectations of the future revises our perception of the past. In this complex context history is born ostensibly as reflection of the past; a reflection which is never isolated from the present and the future. History deals with human life as it “flows” through time.” [2]

Richard Evans wrote something in the preface to his book The Third Reich in History and Memory that those who study military history often forget. He noted: “Military history, as this volume shows, can be illuminating in itself, but also needs to be situated in a larger economic and cultural context. Wherever we look, at decision making at the top, or at the inventiveness and enterprise of second rank figures, wider contextual factors remained vital.” [3] Thus while this work is an examination of the Gettysburg campaign it is important to understand the various issues that were formative for the men who directed and fought the battle, as well as the vast continuum of often distant and seemingly events that come together at one time in the lives of the participants in any historic event.

One cannot understand the determination the determination of Robert E. Lee to maintain the offensive, the dogged persistence of Joshua Chamberlain or Strong Vincent to hold Little Round Top, what brought John Buford to McPherson’s Ridge, what motivated Daniel Sickles to move Third Corps to the Peach Orchard, and what motivated the men of Pickett’s division to advance to their death on Cemetery Ridge, without understanding the broader perspective of history, as well as how culture, politics, economics, religion, sociology, ideology, experience, and  that shaped these men and their actions.

Likewise in order to understand the context of this battle, or for that matter any battle in any war, one has to understand the events, ever distant events which play a role in the battle. All too often those that delve into military history, or a particular battle see that as separate event, often disconnected from other historical events. But as historian Edward Steers Jr. correctly notes, history “does not exist in a series of isolated events like so many sound bites in a newscast. It is a continuum of seemingly unrelated and distant events that so often come together in one momentous collision of time.” [4] In the case of Gettysburg events like Lincoln’s publication of the Emancipation Proclamation, the failure of Confederate diplomacy to bring France or Great Britain into the war or at least to recognize the Confederacy, the failures of the Confederate armies in the West to maintain their hold on the Mississippi River, all play a crucial role in Robert E. Lee’s ill-advised decision to launch an invasion of Pennsylvania. Additionally, the loss of so many key leaders in the Army of Northern Virginia, especially that of Stonewall Jackson impacts how Lee manages the campaign, and shows up at numerous crucial points in the battle.

Another element that must be connected in order to understand the Battle of Gettysburg is the part that policy, strategy, war aims and operational doctrine played in the campaign of 1863 and how those influenced the decisions of participants before, during and after the campaign. Finally, the Battle of Gettysburg cannot be looked at as a stand-alone event. What happens there as the Confederacy surges to and ebbs back from its “high water mark” influences the rest of the While the war would go on for nearly two more years, the Union victory at Gettysburg coupled with the victory of Grant at Vicksburg ensured that the Confederacy, no matter how hard it tried would not be able to gain its independence through military means.

Maybe even more importantly the story of Gettysburg is its influence today. The American Civil War was America’s greatest crisis. It was a crisis that that “has cast such a shadow over the relations between the North and the South that the nation’s identity and its subsequent history have been considerably influenced by it.” [5]

The Battle of Gettysburg itself is enshrined in American history and myth and is woven deeply into the story of the nation. In this narrative the Battle of Gettysburg is often different ways; in the North viewed as a victory that brings an end to the institution of slavery, and freedom for enslaved African Americans, and preserves the Union. In the South it is often part of the myth of the Noble Confederacy and the Lost Cause where the South was defeated by the Northern superiority in men and war making ability.

Yet in both cases, the truth is not so simple; in fact it is much more complex, and the truth is we are still in the process of learning from and interpreting the historical records of the events that led to the American Civil War, the war itself, and the aftermath. They are all connected and for that matter still influence Americans today more than any other era of our history. In fact James McPherson who is one of the nation’s preeminent scholars on the Civil War and Reconstruction wrote,

“I became convinced that I could not fully understand the issues of my own time unless I learned about their roots in the era of the Civil War: slavery and its abolition; the conflict between North and South; the struggle between state sovereignty and the federal government; the role of the government in social change and resistance to both government and social change. These issues are as salient and controversial today as they were in the 1960s, not to mention the 1860s.” [6]

The prolific American military historian Russel Weigley wrote of how the war, and in particular how the Battle of Gettysburg changed the American Republic.

“The Great Civil War gave birth to a new and different American Republic, whose nature is to be discovered less in the Declaration of Independence than in the Address Delivered at the Dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg. The powerful new Republic shaped by the bayonets of the Union Army of the Civil War wears a badge less benign aspect than the older, original American Republic. But it also carries a larger potential to do good for “the proposition that all men are created equal” both at home and around the world.” [7]

Thus it is important for Americans to learn about the Battle of Gettysburg and the American Civil War, but not solely for its military significance, nor for clear cut answers or solutions. The fact is that “situations in history may resemble contemporary ones, but they are never exactly alike, and it is a foolish person who tries blindly to approach a purely historical solution to a contemporary problem. Wars resemble each other more than they resemble other human activities, but similarities can be exaggerated.” [8]  As Michael Howard warned, “the differences brought about between one war and another by social or technological changes are immense, and an unintelligent study of military history which does not take into account these changes may quite easily be more dangerous than no study at all. Like the statesman, the soldier has to steer between the dangers of repeating the errors of the past because his is ignorant that they have been made, and of remaining bound by theories deduced from past history although changes in conditions have rendered these theories obsolete.” [9] The ideal that we reach for is to understand the Battle of Gettysburg and the American Civil War in context, which includes understanding what led to the war as well as the period of Reconstruction, and the post-Reconstruction era. In doing so we attempt to draw lessons from it without making the mistake of assuming that what we learn and know about them is immutable and thus not subject to change, for the past influences the present, even as the present and future will influence how we view and interpret the past.

Notes

[1] Tuchman, Barbara The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam Random House Publish Group, New York 2011 p.319

[2] Breisach, Ernst, Historiography: Ancient, Mediaeval & Modern University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London 1983 and 1994 p.2

[3] Evans, Richard J. The Third Reich in History and Memory Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2015 p.ix

[4] Steers, Edward Jr. Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln The University of Kentucky Press, Lexington 2001 p.5

[5] Perman, Michael and Murrell Taylor, Amy editors The Civil War and Reconstruction Documents and Essays Third Edition Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.3

[6] McPherson, James The War that Forged a Nation: Why the Civil War Still Matters Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2015 p.4

[7] Weigley, Russell F. A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History 1861-1865 Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 2000 p.xviii

[8] Griess, Thomas E. A Perspective on Military History in A Guide to the Study and Use of Military History edited by John E. Jessup Jr. and Robert Coakley, Center for Military History, United States Army, 1982 p.33

[9] Howard, Michael. The Use and Abuse of Military History  in Journal of the Royal United Service Institution 107 (1962):7

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The First Modern War – Introduction

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Those who are habitual readers here know that I teach military history and ethics. One of the things that I lead is a Staff Ride at Gettysburg for which I am in the process of writing a text which will probably when I am done will be two, maybe even three books. The text is massive and I have been done a lot of editing, revising and even expanding it as I come to realize just how limited my previous vision was for producing it.

I have been writing about the pursuit of truth for several months, and one of those truths is that war cannot be separated from its contexts and that military power alone does not win wars or establish a just and equitable peace. That is one of the problems with many who write popular military history, they are so focused on the battles, campaigns, tactics and technology that they focus so much on the military aspects, that the miss the other contexts that are so important.

A few days ago I released a section of this same chapter dealing with women in the Civil War. Today is the introduction to that chapter, appropriately titled “The First Modern War.” It deals with the political, social-cultural, economic, technological, military strategic, geographical, and historical contexts of the war and introduces us to the importance of capable and competent civilian leadership as was exhibited by Lincoln and his advisers; and that how that knowing understanding the contexts keeps leaders from seeking short-cuts from the snake oil salesmen who promise a “silver bullet” with which all war can be won.

I’ll be releasing the second section of this chapter dealing with the importance of civilian leadership either tomorrow or Wednesday because I need to get my opinion piece that deals with the Duggaring of the Religious Right.

So, have a wonderful evening.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Hancock doncemeteryhilljuly1_zps512a40fa

The American Civil War was the first modern war. It was a watershed event in an era, which introduced changes in new types of weapons, more lethal versions of older weapons, tactics, army organization, logistics, intelligence and communications. Though the war did not change the essential nature of war, which Clausewitz says is “is an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfill our will” [1] it expanded the parameters of war and re-introduced the concept of “total war” to the world and “because its aim was all embracing, the war was to be absolute in character.” [2] In a sense it was a true revolution in military affairs.

The Civil War was truly a revolution in military affairs. The war changed the character of war, as it had been known for centuries, since the Peace of Westphalia and the end of the Thirty Years War. In the American Civil War, the character of war changed from a limited war waged between opposing armies to a total war, waged between two people who shared much in common but were divided by an ideology which encompassed politics, economics, society, law, and even religion.

The war was revolutionary in other ways, and brought about a host of social, philosophical, economic, and political changes which continue to impact the lives of people in the United States and around the world even today. Some of these, especially those regarding the abolition of slavery and emancipation, as well as the beginnings of the Women’s Rights movement have had a ripple effect in matters of political and social equality for other previously disenfranchised groups of citizens. As one author noted “The Civil War uprooted institutions, transformed our politics, influenced social relationships of half a continent, and wrought changes that echo down the generations.” [3]

In a sense, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed “a new birth of freedom” in his Gettysburg address it served as a watershed moment in American history because it brought to the forefront the understanding of Jefferson and the other signers of the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal.

Thus it is important to study the Gettysburg campaign in the context of the Civil War because the campaign of 1863 in the east cannot be divorced from what was happening in the west at Vicksburg, nor the Union blockade, nor the diplomatic, economic and informational aspects of the war. Likewise the Gettysburg campaign cannot be separated from its relationship to the broader understanding of the nature and character of war. To do this one must examine the connection between them and policies made by political leaders; to include the relationship of political to military leaders, diplomats, the leaders of business and industry and not to be forgotten, the press and the people. Likewise we must understand the various contexts of war, to include the social, political, ideological and even the religious components of war, how they impacted Civil War leaders and why civilian policy makers and military leaders must understand them today.

While the essential nature of war remains constant, wars and the manner in which they are fought have changed in their character throughout history, and this distinction matters not only for military professionals, but also policy makers. The changing character of war was something that military leaders as well as policy makers struggled with during the American Civil War much as today’s military leaders and policy makers seek to understand the character of warfare today. British military theorist Colin Gray writes “Since the character of every war is unique in the details of its contexts (political, social-cultural, economic, technological, military strategic, geographical, and historical), the policymaker most probably will struggle of the warfare that is unleashed.” [4] That was not just an issue for Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, both of whom struggled with the nature of the war which had been unleashed, but it is one for our present political leaders, who as civilian politicians are “likely to be challenged by a deficient grasp of both the nature of war as well as its contemporary context-specific character.” [5]

In addition to being the first modern war, or maybe I should say, the first war of the Industrial Age, the Civil War became a “total war.” It was the product of both the massive number of technological advances which both preceded and occurred during it, in which the philosophical nature of the Industrial Revolution came to the fore. Likewise, the enmity of the two sides for one another which had been fostered by a half century of relentless and violent propaganda which ushered from the mouths of politicians, the press and even from the pulpit, even to the point of outright armed conflict and murder in “Bleeding Kansas” during the 1850s.

As a total war it became a war that was as close to Clausewitz’s understanding of absolute war in its in character waged on the American continent, and it prefigured the great ideological wars of the twentieth century, as J.F.C. Fuller noted “for the first time in modern history the aim of war became not only the destruction of the enemy’s armed forces, but also of their foundations- his entire political, social and economic order.” [6] It was the first war where at least some of the commanders, especially Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman were men of the Industrial Age, in their thought and in the way that they waged war, in strategy, tactics even more importantly, psychologically. Fuller wrote:

“Spiritually and morally they belonged to the age of the Industrial Revolution. Their guiding principle was that of the machine which was fashioning them, namely, efficiency. And as efficiency is governed by a single end- that every means is justified- no moral or spiritual conceptions of traditional behavior must stand in its way.” [7]

Both men realized in early 1864 that “the South was indeed a nation in arms and that the common European practice of having standing armies engaged each other in set-piece battles to determine the outcome of a war was not enough to win this struggle.” [8] Though neither man was a student of Clausewitz, their method of waging war was in agreement with the Prussian who wrote that “the fighting forces must be destroyed; that is, they must be put in such a position that they can no longer carry on the fight” but also that “the animosity and the reciprocal effects of hostile elements, cannot be considered to have ended so long as the enemy’s will has not been broken.” [9]

William Tecumseh Sherman told the mayor of Atlanta after ordering the civilian population expelled that “we are not only fighting hostile armies, but a hostile people, and must make the old and young, the rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war.” [10] Sherman was one of the first American military leaders to understand that a civil war could not be waged according to the limited war doctrines most American officers had been taught. He not only “carried on war against the enemy’s resources more extensively and systematically than anyone else had done, but he developed also a deliberate strategy of terror directed against the enemy’s minds.” [11] While some might find this troubling, the fact remains that it was Sherman’s Southern sweep of all that lay before him that broke the back of the Confederacy.

Abraham Lincoln came to embrace the eternal nature of war as well as the change in the character of the war over time. Lincoln had gone to war for the preservation of the Union, something that for him was almost spiritual in nature, as is evidenced by the language he used in both of his inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address. Instead of a war to re-unite the Union with the Emancipation Proclamation the war became a war for the liberation of enslaved African Americans, After January 1st 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, Lincoln “told an official of the Interior Department, “the character of the war will be changed. It will be one of subjugation…The [old] South is to be destroyed and replaced by new propositions and ideas.” [12] That too was a modern understanding of war.

Of course, the revolution in military affairs that characterized the Civil War took time, but it was the political and military leaders of the North who better adapted themselves and their nation to the kind of war that was being fought. “Lincoln’s remarkable abilities gave him a wide edge over Davis as a war leader, while in Grant and Sherman the North acquired commanders with a concept of total war and the determination to make it succeed.” [13]

At the beginning of the war the leaders and populace of both sides still held a romantic idea of war. The belief that the war would be over in a few months and that would be settled by a few decisive battles was held by most, including many military officers on both sides. There were some naysayers like the venerable and rather corpulent General Winfield Scott, but politicians and the press mocked Scott and those who even suggested that the war would be long, hard, and bloody. Of course those who predicted a short, easy, and relatively bloodless war who were proven wrong, and the war became the bloodiest war ever waged by Americans, and it was against other Americans.

The Civil War became an archetype of the wars of the twentieth century, and I believe will be so for the twenty-first century as well because of the emphasis on competing ideologies often buttressed with near fanatical religious extremism. The American Civil War evolved into a clash between peoples with radically different ideologies, which extended beyond the province of purely military action. The war “was preceded by years of violent propaganda, which long before the war had obliterated all sense of moderation, and awakened in the contending parties the primitive spirit of tribal fanaticism.” [14]

Those who conducted the American Civil War added new dimensions to war, and the technology they embraced increased war’s lethality in ways that they did not anticipate. For the first time since the 30 Years’ War, this war on the American continent saw opponents intentionally target the property, homes and businesses of the opposing civilian populations as part of their military campaign. The Civil War was a precursor to the wars that followed, especially the First World War that it prefigured in so many ways.

British general and military theorist J.F.C. Fuller encapsulated the massive amount of change brought about by the Civil War quite well in his book A Military History of the Modern World:

The war fought by Grant and Lee, Sherman and Johnston, and others closely resembled the First of the World Wars. No other war, not even the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, offers so exact a parallel. It was a war of rifle bullets and trenches, of slashings, abattis, and even of wire entanglements- an obstacle the Confederates called “a devilish contrivance which none but a Yankee could devise” because at Drewry’s Bluff they had been trapped in them and slaughtered like partridges.” It was a war of astonishing in its modernity, with wooden wire-bound mortars hand and winged grenades, rockets, and many forms of booby traps. Magazine rifles and Requa’s machine guns were introduced and balloons were used by both sides although the confederates did not think much of them. Explosive bullets are mentioned and also a flame projector, and in June, 1864, General Pendleton asked the chief ordnance officer at Richmond whether he could supply him with “stink-shells” which would give off “offensive gases” and cause “suffocating effect.” The answer he got was “stink-shells, none on hand; don’t keep them; will make them if ordered.” Nor did modernity end there; armoured ships, armoured trains, land mines and torpedoes were used. A submarine was built by Horace H. Hundley at Mobile….” [15]

However, like all in nearly all wars, the many lessons of the American Civil War were forgotten, or even worse, completely dismissed by military professionals in the United States as well as in Europe. Thus 50 years later during First World War, the governments Britain, France, Imperial Germany, Austria-Hungary and Imperial Russia wasted vast amounts of manpower and destroyed the flower of a generation because they did not heed the lessons of the Civil War. For that matter neither did General John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force who three and a half years after those countries destroyed the flower of their nation’s manhood and repeated all of their mistakes with the lives of American soldiers. Fuller noted:

“Had the nations of Europe studied the lessons of the Civil War and taken them to heart they could not in 1914-1918 have perpetuated the enormous tactical blunders of which that war bears record.” [16]

The lessons of the war are still relevant today. Despite vast advances in weaponry, technology and the distances with which force can be applied by opponents, war remains an act of violence to compel an enemy to fulfill our will. War according to Clausewitz is “more than a chameleon that slightly adapts its characteristics to the given case.” [17] but it is always characterized by the violence of its elements, the province of chance and its subordination to the political objective and as such forces political and military leaders as well as policy makers to wrestle with “the practical challenge of somehow mastering the challenge of strategy in an actual historical context.” [18]

Colin Gray in his book Fighting Talk emphasizes that the “contexts of war are all important.” Gray makes a case for seven essential contexts that must be understood by policy makers and military leaders regarding war, which if ignored or misunderstood “can have strong negative consequences.” [19] Gray enunciates seven contexts of war that policy makers as well as military professionals ignore at the own peril: There is the political context, the social context, the cultural context, the economic context; the military-strategic context, the geographic context and the historical context. Gray notes these seven contexts “define all the essential characteristics of a particular armed conflict.” [20]

Gray discusses the importance of this. Noting that strategists are “ever on the look out for shortcuts” [21] and because they are pragmatic, wanting simple and well defined solutions they tend not to want to deal with complexities that muddy the water, that those who decide on strategy are “eternally at hazard to the siren call of the technological solution, the cultural fix, the promise of historical understanding and so forth.” [22] He notes that there are always those trying to sell strategists catalogs, which promise “products that answer the strategist’s questions” turning “the base metal of confusion of information into the pure gold of comprehension.” [23] But such easy answers are often little more than snake oil. The virtue of seeing war through all of these contexts “obliges strategists to examine holistically, in the round,” [24] that the “recognition of war’s multiple contexts helps immunize the strategist against getting captured by such fantasies.” [25]

The study of the Civil War can be helpful to political leaders, military strategists, joint planners and commanders because it so wonderfully shows just how important understanding the context of wars is. Likewise it gives us an American context where we can see the interplay of how Clausewitz’s “paradoxical trinity- composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; of the play of chance and the element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason alone.” [26]

This is especially important, because we live during an era of great technological, social, geopolitical and philosophical change, just as did the leaders of the United States and the Rebel Confederates States did in the ante-bellum and the war years. The importance of this cannot be underestimated, for in this era of change, like in every era, some leaders and commanders were either resistant to, or failed to understand the changes being forced upon them in their conduct of war by the industrialization of war and its attendant technology.

Examples of this are found in the actions of so many leaders and commanders in the Civil War. Like the American political and military leaders who in Iraq “were ignorant of how to conduct themselves in a military and social-cultural context of irregular warfare” [27] many of the officers who fought the Civil War completely ignorant of what they were facing. Educated in Napoleonic the principles of Henri Jomini, officers who only knew limited war in Mexico and irregular warfare against Indians were faced with fighting a total war on a continental scale. The war witnessed a host of new technologies and “many officers found themselves wholly unprepared for what they faced, in effect, compelled to purchase learning with lives.” [28]

However, unlike many political leaders, Abraham Lincoln came to understand the radical and revolutionary nature of the war and had to find military leaders who understood the same. In frustration Lincoln rebuked those who urged limited war saying “The government cannot much longer play a game in which it stakes all, and its enemies stake nothing. Those enemies must understand that they cannot experiment for ten years trying to destroy the government, then if the fail still come back into the Union unhurt.” [29]

Eventually Lincoln found Ulysses Grant and his lieutenants William Tecumseh Sherman and Philip Sheridan. These me not only understood the military aspects of the contexts of the war, but embraced them and applied them with ruthless skill and vigor that stunned the leaders and the people of the South. When John Bell Hood wrote Sherman a letter in which he condemned the Union commander for the destruction of Atlanta, and the forced evacuation of its inhabitants, even invoking God’s judgment Sherman would have nothing of it. Sherman wrote back that “Hood’s appeal to a “just God” was “sacrilegious,” Sherman insisted, for it was the South which had “plunged a nation into war, dark and cruel war, who dared and badgered us to battle.” Having created the war, the South would now experience it.” [30]

Strategists and planners must develop a philosophical foundation that they must seek to understand the contexts of war matters now more than ever. By looking at the Gettysburg campaign in context we can begin to draw lessons that we can apply today. Not that our situation is the same as the leaders who led the Union and Confederacy in the Civil War, but exploring these issues is vital to us understanding the contexts of the wars that we fight today and the world in which we live.

Notes

[1] Clausewitz, Carl von. On War Indexed edition, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976 p.75

[2] Fuller, J.F.C. The Conduct of War 1789-1961 Da Capo Press, New York 1992. Originally published by Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick N.J p.99

[3] Lowry, Thomas P. The Stories the Soldiers Wouldn’t Tell: Sex in the Civil War Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 1994 p.176

[4] Gray, Colin S. Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace, and Strategy Potomac Book, Dulles VA 2009 p.36

[5] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.36

[6] Fuller, J.F.C. A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three: From the Seven Days Battle, 1862, to the Battle of Leyte Gulf, 1944 Minerva Press 1956 p.88

[7] Ibid. Fuller A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three p.88

[8] Flood, Charles Bracelen, Grant and Sherman: The Friendship that Won the War, Harper Perennial, New York 2005 p.238

[9] Ibid. Clausewitz p.90

[10] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.809

[11] Weigley, Russell F. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy University of Indiana Press, Bloomington IN, 1973 p.149

[12] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.558

[13] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.857

[14] Ibid. Fuller The Conduct of War 1789-1961 p.99

[15] Ibid. Fuller A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three p.89

[16] Ibid. Fuller A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three p.89

[17] Ibid. Clausewitz On War p.89

[18] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.38

[19] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.5

[20] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.3

[21] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.5

[22] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk pp. 5-6

[23] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.5

[24] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.5

[25] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.5

[26] Ibid. Clausewitz On War p.89

[27] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk pp.38-39

[28] Sinnreich, Richard Hart Awkward Partners: military history and American military education in The Past as Prologue: The Importance of History to the Military Profession edited by Williamson Murray and Richard Hart Sinnreich Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York 2006 p.56

[29] McPherson, James M. Drawn With the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1996 p.80

[30] Fellman, Michael. Lincoln and Sherman in Lincoln’s Generals edited by Gabor S. Boritt University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln NE 1994 p.153

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The Character, Nature and Context of The Civil War and Why it Still Matters Part 2

Gettysburg-Casualties1

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Here is part two to yesterday’s post.

Since I am now working my way back to Gettysburg his is a significant revision of an article that I published here earlier in the year and that is a part of my Gettysburg Staff Ride text. The actual full title of the chapter is The Foundations of the First Modern War: The Character, Nature and Context of the Civil War and its Importance to Us Today but that is rather long to put as the title here. This is pretty detailed and specialized so many may not want to read it, however, for those with in interest in how United States policy in regard to how we use our military today and the myriad of tensions that we wrestle with that have been with us for about 150 years it should prove enlightening. Todays article is more concerned with how the war was waged and developments which began in the Civil War which changed the ways that later wars were conducted.

Have a great night! 

Peace

Padre Steve+

Part Two…

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Weaponry, Tactics, Technical Advancements and Mobilization

All of these factors influenced and affected the Union and Confederate armies as they campaigned. Likewise, advances weaponry particularly the rifled musket, posed a conundrum for officers educated in the Napoleonic tactics that both armies began the war. The tactics the officers were educated in were developed at a time when the maximum effective range of muskets was barely 100 meters. Yet by 1860 the rifled muskets had an effective range of about 400 meters, and the advent of the repeating rifle increased the firepower available to individual soldiers. This made it especially difficult for the armies that fought the Civil War 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.” [1] Despite the increased range and accuracy that came with the rifled musket tactics in all arms were slow to change and even at Gettysburg Lee would demonstrate that he had not fully appreciated the effects of the change of warfare learned during the battles of 1862.

Though there were a number of mounted combats between Union and Confederate cavalry, “they were incidental both to the cavalry’s primary role and to the course of tactical development” [2]which generally fought dismounted. The way in which both sides used their cavalry showed that by the end of 1863 each had “arrived at a war of tactical entrenchment dominated by infantry armed with the rifled musket, and supported by the defensive deployment of smoothbore artillery.” [3]

Another issue faced by all of the officers now commanding large formations in the Civil War was their inexperience in dealing with such large numbers of troops. When the war began, the officers educated at West Point, as well as others who had been directly appointed had previously only commanded small units. Even those who commanded regiments such as Lee seldom had more than a few companies with them at any given time. Those who had campaigned and fought in Mexico, and had some experience in handling larger formations were handicapped because that war was still very much a Napoleonic War fought with Napoleonic era weapons against a more numerous but poorly equipped enemy.

These men were now faced with the task of organizing, training and employing large armies made up primarily of militia units and volunteers. Most had little experience commanding such units and their experience with militia and volunteer formations during the Mexican War did not increase the appreciation of Regulars for them or for their leaders. J.F.C Fuller noted that at the beginning of the war “the Federal soldier was semiregular and the Confederate semiguerilla. The one strove after discipline, the other unleashed initiative. In battle the Confederate fought like a berserker, but out of battle he ceased to be a soldier.” [4] Both required certain kinds of leadership and Regular officers serving in both the Union and Confederate armies “embedded with the volunteers to give them some professional stiffening privately regarded them as uncontrollable adolescents who kicked off every back-home restraint the moment they were on campaign.” [5] Over the course of time this did change as the units of both armies learned to be professional soldiers.

The Regular Army numbered but 16,000 men at the beginning of the war most scattered in isolated posts and coastal defense fortifications around the country. Most of the Army remained loyal to the Union, “except for 313 officers who resigned their commissions, but this force was swamped by a Union war army that reached about 500,000 within four months of the firing on Fort Sumter.” [6] These officers however were among the Army’s best and brightest who rose to prominence and fame in their service to the Confederacy.

At the beginning of the war General George McClellan successful fought the break-up of the Regular Army. He helped keep it separate from the militia units organized by the States. This preserved a professional core in a time where the new volunteer units were learning their craft. In the North a parallel system “composed of three kinds of military organizations” developed as calls went out for “militia, volunteers and an expanded regular army” went out. [7]

Regular Army units were formed for the duration and were exclusively under the control of the Federal government. While comparatively few in number they often held the line and kept the Army of the Potomac intact during the early battles where volunteer units collapsed. Volunteer regiments, often officered by regulars or former regulars “remained state-based, and they signed up for two- or three- year periods, after which they returned to civilian life and their evaporated without any further fiscal obligations.” [8] Some of the volunteer regiments were formed from various state militia units, but since few states had effective militia systems, militia units “were usually employed only on emergency rear-echelon duties, to free up the volunteers and regulars.” [9]

The Confederacy faced a similar situation to the Union, but it did not have a Regular Army and all of its units were raised by the various states. “In early 1861 the Confederate Congress authorized the creation of a provisional army of 100,000 men. To get these troops [the first Confederate Secretary of War Leroy Pope] Walker asked state governors to raise regiments and transfer them to the national army. The War Office provided generals and staff officers and, in theory at least, could employ the troops and their officers in any way it pleased once they mustered the provisional army.” [10] Some states were quite cooperative but others were not and the tension between the central government in Richmond in regard to military policy and some states would continue throughout the war. The quality of these units varied widely, mostly based on the leadership provide by their officers. That being said many of the regiments mustered into service early in the war proved tough, resilient and served with distinction throughout the war.

Southern units were officered by a collection of professionals from the Ante-bellum Army, militia officers, political appointees or anyone with enough money to raise a unit. However command of divisional sized units and above was nearly always reserved to former professional soldiers from the old Army, most being graduates of West Point. At Gettysburg only one officer commanding a division or above was a non-academy graduate, Robert Rodes, who was a graduate of VMI. The quality of these officers varied greatly, as some of the old regulars failed miserably in combat and some of the volunteers such as John Gordon were remarkably successful as leaders of troops in combat. .

As in the North militia and home guard units remained to free up these units. However, the South was always wrestling with the intense independence of every state government, each of which often held back units from service with the field armies in order to ensure their own states’ defense. The withholding of troops and manpower by the states hindered Confederate war efforts, even though “the draft had been “eminently successful” in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina, but less so in Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.[11]

draft riots

New York Draft Riots

The Changing Character of the Armies and Society

Gettysburg was the last battle where the original volunteer armies predominated as nature of both armies was changed by the war. Initially both sides sought to fight the war with volunteers but the increasingly costly battles which consumed vast numbers of men necessitated conscription and the creation of draft laws and bureaus.

The in April 1862 Confederate Congress passed the Conscription Act of 1862 which stated that “all persons residing in the Confederate States, between the ages of 18 and 35 years, and rightfully subject to military duty, shall be held to be in the military service of the Confederate States, and that a plain and simple method be adopted for their prompt enrollment and organization.” [12] The act was highly controversial and often resisted and the Congress issued a large number of class exemptions. Despite the exemptions “many Southerners resisted the draft or assisted evasion by others” [13] The main purpose of the conscription act was “to stimulate volunteering rather than by its actual use” [14] and while it did help increase the number of soldiers in Confederate service by the end of 1862 it was decidedly unpopular among soldiers, chafing at an exemption for “owners or overseers of twenty or more slaves” [15] who referred to the war as a “rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight.” [16]

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Richmond Bread Riot

Some governors who espoused state’s rights viewpoints “utilized their state forces to challenge Richmond’s centralized authority, hindering efficient manpower mobilization.” [17] Some, most notably Georgia’s governor Joseph Brown “denounced the draft as “a most dangerous usurpation by Congress of the rights of the States…at war with all principles for which Georgia entered the revolution.” [18] Brown and a number of other governors, including Zebulun Vance of North Carolina fought the law in the courts but when overruled resisted it through the many exemption loopholes, especially that of civil servants. Governor Brown “insisted that militia officers were included in this category, and proceeded to appoint hundreds of new officers.” [19] Due to the problems with the act and the abuses by the governors, Jefferson Davis lobbied Congress to pass the Conscription Act of 1864 which “severely limited the number of draft exemption categories and expanded military age limits from eighteen to forty-five and seventeen to fifty. The most significant feature of the new act, however, was the vast prerogatives it gave to the President and War Department to control the South’s labor pool.” [20] Despite the problems eventually “mobilized 75 to 80 percent of its available draft age military population.” [21]

The Congress of the United States authorized conscription in 1863 as the Union Army had reached an impasse as in terms of the vast number of men motivated to serve “for patriotic reasons or peer group pressure were already in the army” while “War weariness and the grim realities of army life discouraged further volunteering” and “the booming war economy had shrunk the number of unemployed men to the vanishing point.” [22] Like the Confederate legislation it was also tremendously unpopular and ridden with exemptions and abuses. The Federal draft was conducted by lottery in each congressional district with each district being assigned a quota to meet by the War Department. Under one third of the men drafted actually were inducted into the army, “more than one-fifth (161,000 of 776,000) “failed to report” and about 300,000 “were exempted for physical or mental disability or because they convinced the inducting officer that they were the sole means of support for a widow, an orphan sibling, a motherless child, or an indigent parent.” [23]

The Union draft law provoked great resentment, more from the way that it was administered than its purpose as “which brought the naked power of military government into play on the home front and went much against the national grain.[24] Open clashes and violence erupted in several cities and President Lincoln was forced to use Union Soldiers, recently victorious at Gettysburg to end the rioting and violence taking place in New York where protestors involved in a three day riot, many of whom were Irish immigrants urged on by Democratic Tammany Hall politicians, “soon degenerated into violence for its own sake” [25] wrecking the draft office, seizing the Second Avenue armory, attacking police, soldiers and blacks on the streets and soon “the mob had undisputed control of the city.” [26] The veteran troops quickly and violently put down the insurrection and “poured volleys into the ranks of protestors with the same deadly effect they had produced against the rebels at Gettysburg two weeks earlier.” [27]

civil-war-earthworks-petersburg

The Rise of Positional Warfare

As the opposing sides prepared, organized and adapted for war, the Union and Confederate armies in the field evolved in terms of their tactical, organizational and operational methods during the war. The realities of the deadliness of the rifled muskets and other advances in firepower which “made the defensive the stronger form of war” [28] brought about a renewal of interest and use of field fortifications, which had been taught to so many at West Point and the state military schools through the work of Mahan, Halleck and their students.

McClellan made extensive use of them on the Peninsula in 1861 and 1862 as did Lee outside of Richmond in 1862 where his troops derisively nicknamed him “the King of Spades.” However after the Seven Days Lee only made sporadic use of them instead following a strategy of the offense which culminated in the defeat at Gettysburg. [29] After Gettysburg, Lee made much more use of field fortifications, especially during the Wilderness campaign and the battles around Richmond culminating in the defense of Petersburg “where both sides became so extensively entrenched that siege warfare set in and lasted for nearly ten months.” [30]

The developments in field works and firepower gave the advantage to the defense, an advantage that made the massed frontal attack by infantry or massed cavalry charge obsolete as a tactic and disastrous to those commanders that attempted it. “On every occasion, a frontal assault delivered against an unshaken enemy led to costly failure. Nevertheless, neither side learnt this lesson.” [31] The examples of Burnside at Fredericksburg, Lee at Malvern Hill and Pickett’s Charge or Grant at Vicksburg and Cold Harbor demonstrated the futility of such tactics.

This was especially the case when opposing armies made the frontal attacks which were at the heart of Jominian offensive tactics.  Early in the war commanders including Grant at Shiloh and Lee at Antietam failed to dig in, but over time both the Union and Confederate armies learned to dig hasty field works as a matter of course.[32] At Gettysburg the well placed and constructed field fortifications and abattis constructed by XII Corps on Culp’s Hill would prove impregnable to the assaults of Ewell’s Second Corps on the night of July 2nd and morning of July 3rd.

Both sides also learned to use maneuver in combination with positional warfare to force the enemy to battle. In the West, Grant, Sherman and Rosecrans all did this successfully, particularly Stone’s River, during the Vicksburg Campaign, and the campaigns in middle Tennessee.[33] During the 1864-65 campaign around Richmond and Sherman’s campaigns in Georgia and the Carolinas the use of field fortifications and entrenchments became common. Of particular note is how Sherman’s forces routinely entrenched while on the offensive [34] where “the mobility of his campaign was due, not only to his skill in maneuvering his men, but also in his ability to manouvere their entrenchments with them.” [35]

Sherman’s opponent Confederate General Joseph Johnston made skillful use of entrenchments on the defensive and his attention to detail and training his men to fight well defensively was a hallmark of his campaign against Sherman, as had Lee against Grant. They were not without their critics. General John Bell Hood who was “the most uncompromising advocate of the orthodox view that weakened moral and made troops cautious” [36] was a stern critic of Johnston, who had relieved him following the fall of Atlanta. Hood’s tactics were costly and produced ghastly numbers of casualties.

The changing nature of how the war was being fought was demonstrated by General Joe Wheeler who commanded Johnston’s cavalry in Georgia and the Carolinas toward the end of the war. Wheel and his troopers made significant use of entrenchments, something not seen before by an arm traditionally known for its dependency on maneuver. He habitually fought his troops dismounted and at Atlanta fought from behind successive lines of barricades. Wheeler successfully integrated his cavalry with the infantry at the Battle of Bentonville North Carolina, constructing a line of breastworks 1200 yards long. Hagerman notes that “it is fitting to the changing nature of warfare that some of the most vivid description of trench warfare is found in Wheeler’s report of cavalry action as fighting came to an end at Bentonville.” [37]

The Corps of Engineers in both armies were changed by the war. Prior to the war the Corps of Engineers was primarily responsible for building coastal fortifications, civil projects and outposts in the west. Both remained small by 1864 the Federal Corps of Engineers numbered only eighty-six officers, split between civil and topographical engineers. The Confederates grew their Corps of Engineers more than the Union during the war and by 1865 the Confederates had “13 regular officers, 115 provisional officers, and 188 officers assigned to engineer troops.” [38] It should be noted the paucity West Point trained engineers of all types in the Confederate Army. Though many senior officers including Lee were trained as engineers they were not serving as such, and Lee’s Engineering Staff Officer at Gettysburg was but a Captain.

During the war both sides created Engineer or Pioneer units from scratch. The Union efforts to form permanent units began under McClellan beginning in 1861 as such units specialized units had not existed in the old army. The Union Army Corps of Engineers initially had a difficult time adapting to war. The dispersion of the Corps among the line and its civil duties were impediments to responding to the needs of war.  There was a hesitancy and resistance to creating engineering units by Congress, despite the pleas of McClellan and Lincoln for specialized engineering units.[39]

By the middle of the war organized units of Pioneers and Engineers were enhancing both offensive and defensive operations. Meade had three battalions of Engineers available to him at Gettysburg, the 15th New York, the 50th New York and the United States Engineer Battalion, but these were not on the battlefield being at Beaver Creek Dam on July 1st before being ordered to the defenses of Washington. [40]

The Confederate army began the war with only thirteen Corps of Engineers officers and Congress never acceded to Secretary of War James Seddon’s pleas “failed to provide the Confederate army with the pioneer troops that Seddon had requested” [41] and it was not until March 1863 that the Confederate Congress authorized the formation of “one company of engineer troops, to consist of one hundred men” [42] from in each division.

When they were established most of the newly organized engineer units had few very few West Point trained Corps of Engineers officers. Most Union Engineer Units were primarily staffed and commanded by officers detailed from the line or who had come from civilian life. The effect was a “decline in the antebellum definition of professionalism embodied in the Corps of Engineers” [43] which prior to the war were considered the elite branch of the Army. While this opened up new ideas, the Corps of Engineers remained resistant to change. In the years following the war as the Corps of Engineers retained its privileged status and the West Point curriculum remained mostly the same as it had during the ante-bellum period.

Strategy and operational level adapted to the new reality of war. Attrition and exhaustion became as important in relation to both positional and maneuver warfare. In 1864 in the East the “ascendancy of positional warfare” allowed Lee to hold out as Grant attempted to fight and maneuver him out of Richmond.[44] Lee was fighting on interior lines at this point and the campaign demonstrated that “an army fighting on interior lines, even under nearly overwhelming conditions of deprivation and against vastly superior numbers, could sustain a prolonged existence by use of field fortification and defensive maneuver.” [45]

Despite the increasing power of positional warfare in relation to fortifications in the East and around Atlanta, maneuver was not ignored. Sherman’s campaign in Georgia and the Carolinas demonstrated how an army could exploit “diversion, dispersion, and surprise to successfully pursue a modern total-war strategy of exhaustion against the enemy’s resources, communications and will.[46] Sherman used maneuver to force his opponents out of their prepared positions and did not hesitate to target the key infrastructure and infrastructure needed by the Confederate armies. The same was true in Virginia where in 1864 General Phillip Sheridan laid waste to the Shenandoah Valley, the breadbasket of the Army of Northern Virginia.

civil-war-city-point-dock

Logistics, Transportation and Signals

While the advances in weaponry, technology turned the adoption of field fortifications and the tactical defense even during offensive operations changed the way that the armies conducted the war; other advances were occurring. These took place in logistics, transportation, signals and communications.

In a country as vast as the United States logistics was a major concern of both armies. The ante-bellum Army developed its logistic doctrine from Napoleonic examples. That doctrine had to be modified in light of the American reality of a less developed continent with far greater distances involved in the movement of troops. “While the North’s logistical mobilization expanded, the South’s peaked in early 1863 and then declined. Fundamental interlocking problems beset logistics. The Confederacy had few preexisting industries to expand and lacked sufficient raw materials upon which to build an industrial base.” [47]

The Confederacy “did not have the material resources to fight a mass industrial war” [48] and the actions of its leaders from Jefferson Davis down did not help their cause. “The South needed a careful weighing of assets and liabilities, the setting of strict priorities, and centralized direction in order to use its resources efficiently. But Confederate leaders allowed events to control planning, resulting in uncoordinated, tardy, and incompetent centralization of the logistical effort.” [49]

The issue was not limited to industry but also agriculture, which in a region as rich as the Confederacy should not have been a problem. However, it was a major issue that became ever more serious throughout the war, not only for the Confederate armies in the field but for the population as a whole. While the South managed to maintain effective armies until the end of 1864, it “failed to preserve the population’s well-being.” [50] By the spring of 1863 five major cities experienced bread riots, the most serious being in Richmond; where Jefferson Davis had to personally give an ultimatum to rioters ordering them to disperse or have the militia open fire. [51] Many blamed merchants in general and the press labeled most businesses as speculators and extortionists. However as a result of the great privations at home and the need for a scapegoat, the specter of anti-Semitism rose in the Confederacy. Many, including some influential newspapers and government officials “focused on the Jews as the worst “extortioners” [52] blaming them for many if not most of the Confederacy’s economic woes.

During the war, both armies learned to adapt their logistical support services to the reality of war, however, the South for a number of reasons especially poor infrastructure and the lack of standardized rail systems, and the inability of the government in Richmond, the various states and the private sector to work together helped doom the Confederacy. The South did not lack food supplies, it was a rich agricultural region, but however its ability to provide sustenance for its people and its armies was hindered due to woeful infrastructure and various self-inflicted political and economic reasons. Several major issues affected the South’s ability to feed its people and its armies.

Among these were “the deficiencies of the Confederate rail system” which deteriorated throughout the war and was made worse by the lack of cooperation of Confederate railroad owners. The South “did not have a railroad network that tied its scant industrial base together or readily permitted long distance movements.” [53] This would hamper Confederate attempts to move and supply its armies as well as sustain its economy throughout the war. The Confederacy never nationalized its railroads, and “no centralized planning or organization developed, and field commanders, supply agencies, and civilian shippers competed for use of Southern rolling stock.” [54] Southern policy towards the use of its railroads was muddled at best and the demands of the war and by 1863, “the excessive wear of wartime rail movement was chewing up southern rail lines[55] which resulted in the “South barely keeping a few lines operating by cannibalizing less important lines and could not replace its rolling stock.” [56] The combination of the lack of a strong industrial base to produce the iron to make replacement rails and the similar lack of producing facilities to manufacture locomotives and rolling stock, combined with the “unsure policies of the Confederate government and military” [57] ran the already feeble Southern railway system into the ground.

The Confederacy also faced a basic unwillingness of many producers of food, textiles and other necessities to cooperate with the Confederate government which often could not even find ways for its own agencies to cooperate with each other. “The government gave no overall direction to the supply bureaus, which often bid against each other for materials and labor.” [58] This was a pervasive problem, and not helped by the efforts of some parts of the Confederate government to nationalize various parts of their economy in direct competition with the private sector. This contrasted starkly with the Union whose “quartermaster and commissary heads contracted out their needs for weapons, horses and clothes by bid on the open market, rather than by appropriating existing industries for government use.” [59]

The confederate policies meant that many citizens and businesses found ways to not submit to government edicts. There was a basic “unwillingness of farmers to sell goods and produce at government rates” [60] and the greed of hoarders and war profiteers who through “hoarding, black marketing and simple withdraw from the market[61] crippled Southern war efforts and by “1862 much of the Confederate economy had become unmanageable.” [62] When Davis attempted to use the religious faith of the people to bolster more and “called for a day of fasting and prayer in March 1863, one man wrote that the president asked for “fasting in the midst of famine.” [63]

Where possible each side used railroads and maritime forces to move troops and supplies. The Confederacy, as has been noted was lacking in both, and was at a severe disadvantage. The Union however enjoyed a great advantage in modern rail networks, as well as ocean and river based maritime power. By late 1863 the Army of the Potomac, as well as forces in the West demonstrated “the close integration of operational planning and that of the general in chief and supply bureaus. In this one area, the development of a mature and modern staff was evident.” [64]

Once the armies were away from railheads or the ports from where they drew supplies both armies, like their Napoleonic cousins relied on wagons to transport essential food, supplies and ammunition when on campaign. In both armies commanders and their logisticians experimented with the number of wagons per regiment and how army commanders, modified that number at various points during the war based on their situation. At the beginning of the war the Napoleonic standards by which both armies based the number of wagons, 12 wagons per 1000 men to support the troops on campaign were found to be insufficient as it “placed too much emphasis on foraging for American conditions” [65] and throughout the war standards for what the armies needed would be debated and commanders in different theaters of the war often set their own standards based on their needs and the availability of wagons and livestock to draw them.

army-potomac-1500

As the war went on the Federal army experimented with the use of the “flying column” as a response to the dependency on wagons in order to increase their mobility. The flying column was an idea drawn from the French by Major General Montgomery Meigs, the Union Quartermaster General. The idea was simple; in order to reduce dependency on wagons the army itself would be reorganized at the lowest level, the infantry squad.

“The soldier in a flying column carried eight days’ compressed rations, including desiccated vegetables on his back. He carried a blanket but no overcoat. The men were divided into squads of eight, one of whom was to carry a covered cooking kettle, another a large mess tin, another an axe, another a pick, and one a shovel. One man in each company carried the hospital knapsack. Each man carried his share of a shelter tent. The cavalry were pickets and grain for their horses.” [66]

After Gettysburg and the unsuccessful pursuit of Lee’s army, Halleck and Rufus Ingalls the Army of the Potomac’s chief quartermaster made provision and set standards “to convert the army into a flying column that would be self-sufficient for eight- and twelve- day periods away from the base of supply.” [67] In contrast the Confederacy lacked in wagons and livestock to support the field operations of the army on campaign. Wagons, especially those suited for military operations were in short supply and any time the opportunity presented Confederate commanders ensured the capture of Union wagons. This turned out to be a major problem during the Gettysburg campaign, when Stuart during his ride around the Army of the Potomac “succumbed to temptation of capturing a beautifully equipped and heavily laden Union supply train near Rockville, Maryland, at the cost of exhausting his cavalry and wasting precious time.” [68] In most cases Stuart’s action would have been commendable, and he certainly felt that such should have been the case here as well, but the cost to his operations and Lee’s need for his cavalry were such that it was a mistake of disastrous consequences.

The basic load of food and ammunition carried by each soldier in order to increase strategic maneuverability was adjusted to meet the operational need. Both armies, but more often the Confederate army frequently had to live off the land. The success and failure of forage operations and the requirements for people and animals in each theater of operations had a large impact on each army. By early 1863 the Army of Northern Virginia was “greatly deficient in all areas of supply….there were extreme shortages of footwear, clothing, draft animals, and wagons.” [69] When the Army of Northern Virginia advanced into Pennsylvania they found it to be “a land of plenty” while “quartermaster and commissary details, acting under official instructions, filled wagons and supplies with foodstuffs.” [70]

While the Federal army never lacked in provisions or supplies the Confederate armies were almost always in short supply, even in regard to adequate food supplies needed to maintain an adequate caloric intake on the march were almost impossible to achieve, but were so critical that they were barely adequate when the army was encamped. In fact one of the reasons which Lee based his invasion of Pennsylvania was to alleviate his desperate supply situation. One regimental commander in Pickett’s division recalled that Lee told him that “the movement was a necessity; that our provisions and supplies of every kind were nearly exhausted in Virginia, and we had to go into Pennsylvania for supplies.” [71]

The size of the armies and the distances involved on the battlefield made command and control difficult.  As such communications became more important and each army experimented with new signals organizations that used both old and new communication technologies. At the beginning of the war both sides made extensive use of visual signals and couriers, but rapidly began to rely on the telegraph for rapid communications.

The organizational tension was particularly evident in the rivalry between the U.S. Army Signal Corps and the Military Telegraph Service.  The Signal Corps focused on wireless communications. It preferred the Beardslee wireless telegraphs which had the limitations of such early wireless technology. The Union Army command favored the traditional wire bound networks operated by the Military Telegraph due to better reliability and security and eventually the Military Telegraph Service and its Morse trained operators were given “jurisdiction for all field telegraph” services at the urging of President Lincoln in November 1863. [72]Though the Army rejected the Beardslee equipment some commanders requested it for their operations.[73] As each Army became more dependent on the telegraph, each feared that their signals could be compromised through wiretapping and made efforts to encode their transmissions.

While the various forms of telegraphic communication were important in keeping higher headquarters in contact with armies in the field, battlefield communication could be difficult. Commanders on both sides relied on messengers to relay orders to subordinate commanders as well as pass information to senior commanders. On the battlefield this took time, and since the messengers were subject to the same dangers as ordinary soldiers messages might not reach the intended commanders. It took approximately an hour for a message to travel from an army commander to a corps commander, 30 minutes from a corps commander to a division commander, 20 from division to brigade, 15 from brigade to regiment and 5 minutes from regiment to company. [74]

Written orders generally provided better clarity if detailed enough but if they were passed orally, as was Lee’s preferred method they could easily be miscommunicated by messengers, or misunderstood or even ignored by commanders. This was a major source of Lee’s consternation during the Gettysburg campaign. A major problem for Lee during the campaign was that his orders, be they written or oral were frequently vague and discretionary, something that we will discuss in detail later, but Lieutenant General Richard Ewell spoke for many Confederate subordinate commanders on the evening of June 30th when he asked his division commanders in frustration “Why can’t a commanding General have someone on his staff who can write an intelligent order?” [75]

The Union Signal Corps also pioneered the use and development with a “modern system of semaphores with a telegraphic alphabet…” as well as “a cipher disk…that allowed the Union Signal Corps to change the code hourly if need be.” [76] The one disadvantage to this form of visual communication was that it could be limited due to weather conditions or the smoke of battle. While semaphore was used with a good deal of success by the Union, and Meade would make good use of it at Gettysburg, it was not used by the Confederate army.

Likewise Meade “set a precedent in command procedures” during the Gettysburg campaign, where “for perhaps the first time in military history the commanding general of a large army was kept in communication during active operations with his corps and division commanders.” Likewise Meade “set a precedent in command procedures when he brought signal officers to the conference table for consultation on the plan of battle” [77] and for the first time Signal Corps officers were assigned directly to each corps, when Meade ordered that two Signal Corps officers be “detached for service with each corps.” [78]

The troops of the Union Signal Corps were also a vital link in the transmission of military intelligence gathered by Colonel George Sharpe’s Bureau of Military Information, whose network of scouts during the Gettysburg campaign were “supported by Signal Corps detachments which could establish chains of flag stations from Harpers Ferry to “South Mountain, Monterey, Greencastle…up to Parnell’s Knob, in the Cumberland Valley.” [79] This link helped provide Meade with much better intelligence regarding the movement of Lee’s army throughout the campaign.

Regardless of the means of transmitting orders the fact was that at Gettysburg the element of friction entered the communication process. Wireless could suffer from encryption problems, semaphore from visibility issues on a smoke covered battlefield, written orders could be delayed, lost or misunderstood and verbal orders were frequently misunderstood or understood in the manner that best fit the situation of the recipient.

The developments in tactics, maneuver, defense and logistics and how those were developed over the course of the war brought about a form of warfare that remained dominant of decades. In studying the campaigns, developments and tensions between the competing theories of Jomini and Mahan in the Civil War a student can begin to recognize them in future wars fought by the US Army including World War Two.

Russell Weigley picks up this theme in his books The American Way of War and Eisenhower’s Lieutenants. Weigley discusses Lee’s use of Napoleonic strategy and Grant’s corresponding strategy of annihilation as well as Sherman’s campaign against Johnston, Sheridan’s devastation of the Shenandoah Valley to impose its aims on the Confederacy, [80] lessons which influenced American strategic doctrine over the next century. “Because it worked so well, achieving total submission, American soldiers thereafter tended to generalize the United States strategy of the Civil War into the appropriate strategy for all major, full scale wars.” [81]

The Timeless Art of Strategy and Statecraft

It is important for planners and commanders at the operational level to see the importance the developments of the Civil War on how we campaign today. While the technology and tactics of the war are now antiquated, the ideas are not and still pervade much of American military thought. Joint Publication 1: Doctrine for the Armed Forces notes that: “The two fundamental strategies in the use of military force are strategy of annihilation and strategy of erosion” both of which were at the heart of Union strategy after 1863.

One example of how the Civil War provides examples of and prefigures how the United States conducts joint operations is the example is that of how Grant and Sherman working together with Flag Officer Samuel Foote and Admiral David Dixon Porter on the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers. The joint operations of the Army and Navy at Island Number Ten, Fort Donaldson and Fort Henry and in particular during the Vicksburg campaign, still influence modern American thinking in terms of Joint Operations and are mentioned in a number of Joint Publications.

The understanding of war that came out of the Civil War, where for the first time the United States waged a modern war where what we now refer to as the DIME was practiced. The precedents in the use of the diplomatic, informational, military and economic elements of national power are reflected various Joint and Service doctrinal publications including Joint Publication 1 which notes that: “As a nation, the US wages war employing all instruments of national power—diplomatic, informational, military, and economic.” [82]

MCDP 1 Warfighting which discusses the maneuver and attrition warfare continuum.[83] It is important for students of operational art to be able recognize the these developments and principles in what we do today, to see the logical development of each of these elements in modern war and to find new ways to apply them within the scope of the technologies we now use that those that will be available in the coming years.

The important things that we learn from studying the various campaigns of the Civil War and the Gettysburg campaign are timeless. If we only focus on the military aspects of the great battles we can miss the really important lessons. The battles and leadership lessons that we learn from them are important, especially in how we understand and practice the concept of Mission Command. However it is the often arcane but important subjects such as transportation, logistics, communications and signals, fortifications, as well as the diplomatic, economic and informational aspects of the war that are often more important.

At the end of his discussion of the Corps of Engineers and the Army following the war, he notes “that change in war requires time for digestion before lessons are converted-if they are converted-into theory and doctrine.” [84] Such is true in every war and we too will need to reflect on the lessons of the wars that we have been engaged in Iraq, Afghanistan and other lesser known theaters of the War on Terror.

We typically do not do this well. After the Civil War American military theory stagnated, very few took of the mantle of Mahan and Halleck. One who did was John Bigelow, who commanded a battery at the Plum Run during the climactic hour of the second day at Gettysburg. Bigelow attempted to interpret the American experience of the Civil War in light of Jominian maneuver, but no matter how he tried he tried the “American experience on which Bigelow relied for examples tended to undercut confidence that such maneuver could suffice to achieve the object of war….” [85] This sent many American soldiers back to the tradition of Grant as the United States became a world power in the early twentieth century who believed “that the superior weight of military force that America could bring to bear against almost any rival would be their only sure military reliance.” [86]

When the United States entered ground combat operations in the First World War, General John Pershing’s strategy revisited some of the worst mistakes of the Civil War, as well as the bloody lessons learned by the Europeans during the first three years of that war.

Such an observation can be made about the wars that the United States has waged in the Middle East over the past decade as well as our experience in Vietnam where Irregular Warfare has predominated. We need to ask if the lessons of previous insurgencies have been digested, even going back to the lessons of the Union Army operating in the hostile lands of the conquered Confederacy.[87] Likewise it is fair game for us to examine how our military adjusts to developments in weaponry, technology and tactics today in relation to past examples. Such studies must include regular and irregular warfare. Thus when we look at the Civil War, it is important to use those lessons to better understand the timeless aspects of military history, theory, doctrinal development, logistics, communications and experiential learning in war.

History is our guide to war, warfare, diplomacy and statecraft. The American Civil War and the Gettysburg Campaign are part of a historical continuum that we are a part. As Colin Gray noted; “the most important features of statecraft and strategy do not change.” [88]

History serves as our guide in such an understanding, but we must also be aware of the human context of war and how individual and group psychology, sociology as well as political, philosophic and religious ideology cannot be ignored when we examine military history in context. The human actors are still the most important part of the war, because while the characteristics of war may change, and as Gray notes; the challenges that modern leaders face are “identical in nature” to what leaders in previous eras have faced. [89]



Notes

[1] 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

[2] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.146

[3] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.146

[4] Fuller, J.F.C. Decisive Battles of the U.S.A. 1776-1918 University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 2007 copyright 1942 The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals p.182

[5] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.12

[6] 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

[7] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.143

[8] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.143

[9] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.143

[10] Thomas, Emory The Confederate Nation 1861-1865 Harper Perennial, New York and London 1979 p.74

[11] Gallagher, Gary W. The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism and Military Strategy Could not Stave Off Defeat Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1999 p.34

[12] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.152

[13] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.152

[14] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p. 432

[15] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.154

[16] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.431

[17] Millet, Allan R. and Maslowski, Peter, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States The Free Press a Division of Macmillan Inc. New York, 1984 p.166

[18] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.433

[19] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.431

[20] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.261

[21] Ibid. Gallagher The Confederate War p.28

[22] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.600

[23] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.601

[24] Ibid. Foote , The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.635

[25] Ibid. Foote , The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.636

[26] Ibid. Foote , The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.637

[27] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.610

[28] Ibid. Fuller The Conduct of War p.105

[29] The most notable use of them between the Peninsula campaign and the Wilderness was at Fredericksburg by Longstreet’s Corps. Many wonder why Lee failed to entrench at Antietam.

[30] Ibid. Fuller The Conduct of War p.104

[31] Ibid. Fuller The Conduct of War p.104

[32] Fuller, J.F.C. Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN 1957.  Fuller comments “Thus over a year of bitter fighting was necessary to open the eyes of both sides to the fact that the trench was a byproduct of the rifle bullet, and like so many by-products, as valuable as the product itself.” (p.269) He calls it “astonishing that Lee, an engineering officer, made no use of entrenchments at the battle of Antietam.” (pp.269-270)

[33] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare pp. 198-21

[34] Ibid. p.295 Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare Hagerman comments on how Sherman’s troops outside Atlanta began to entrench both the front and rear of their positions.

[35] Ibid. Fuller The Conduct of War p.105

[36] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.297

[37] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare pp.297-298

[38] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.238

[39] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.238

[40] 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 p.100

[41] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p. 238

[42] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p. 238

[43] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare 238

[44] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.272

[45] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.274

[46] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.293.  Additionally B.H. Liddell-Hart in comparing the campaigns of Grant and Sherman makes an important note that Sherman’s strategy is more “suited to the psychology of a democracy…” and “ he who pays the piper calls the tune, and that strategists might be better paid in kind if they attuned their strategy, so far as rightly possible, to the popular ear.” Liddell-Hart, B.H. Strategy Faber and Faber Ltd, London 1954 and 1967, Signet Edition, The New American Library, New York 1974 p.132

[47] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defense p.216

[48] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.135

[49] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defense pp.216-217

[50] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defense p.218

[51] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.617-618

[52] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.441

[53] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defense p.156

[54] Ibid. Thomas, The Confederate Nation p.211

[55] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.319

[56] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defense p.216

[57] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.323

[58] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defense p.217

[59] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.322

[60] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.320

[61] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.322

[62] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.442

[63] Ibid. Millet and Maslowski For the Common Defense p.219

[64] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.79

[65] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.44

[66] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.71

[67] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.76

[68] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.198

[69] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.126

[70] Wert, Jeffry D. A Glorious Army: Robert E. Lee’s Triumph 1862-1863 Simon and Schuster, New York and London 2011 p.229

[71] Ibid. West A Glorious Army p.230

[72] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.87

[73] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.87

[74] Cole, Phillip M. Command and Communication Friction in the Gettysburg Campaign Colecraft Industries, Ortanna PA 2006 p.80

[75] Trudeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.140

[76] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare pp.43-44

[77] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.87

[78] Ibid. Guelzo Gettysburg: The Last Invasion p.123

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

[80] Ibid. Weigley The American Way of War pp.145-146.

[81] Weigley, Russell  F. Eisenhower’s Lieutenants: The Campaign in France and Germany 1944-1945. Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN 1981 p.3

[82] ___________. JP1 Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Washington DC 2013 p.I-1

[83] ___________. MCDP-1 Warfighting. United States Marine Corps, Washington D.C. 1997. pp. 36-39

[84] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.239

[85] Ibid. Weigley, American Strategy from Its Beginnings through the First World War. In Makers of Modern Strategy, from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age p.440

[86] Ibid. Weigley, American Strategy from Its Beginnings through the First World War. In Makers of Modern Strategy, from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age p.440

[87] Ibid. Fuller. Fuller’s comments on the situation of the Northern Soldier are eerily similar to the wars that the United States has fought in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past decade: “Consequently, minor tactics were definitely against the Northern soldier, because his major tactics demanded the offensive; for without the offensive the South could not be brought to heel.  It was the problem which had faced the French in LaVendee and in the Peninsula of Spain, which faced Napoleon in Russia, and the British in South Africa during the Boer War of 1899-1902. Not only was the Northern soldier, through force of circumstances, compelled to fight in the enemy’s country, but he was compelled to devastate it as well as conquer it, in order to protect himself against the bands of irregular troops which were here, there and everywhere.” pp.247-248

[88] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.149

[89] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.149

 

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The Character, Nature and Context of The Civil War and Why it Still Matters Part. 1

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Since I am now working my way back to Gettysburg his is a significant revision of an article that I published here earlier in the year and that is a part of my Gettysburg Staff Ride text. The actual full title of the chapter is The Foundations of the First Modern War: The Character, Nature and Context of the Civil War and its Importance to Us Today but that is rather long to put as the title here. This is pretty detailed and specialized so many may not want to read it, however, for those with in interest in how United States policy in regard to how we use our military today and the myriad of tensions that we wrestle with that have been with us for about 150 years it should prove enlightening.

Since it is pretty long I am dividing it up between two posts. Have a great day!

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The First Modern War

The American Civil War was the first modern war. It was a watershed time which introduced changes in tactics, logistics, and communications, while showed the world exactly what the concept of total war entailed. Though it did not change the essential nature of war, which Clausewitz says is “is an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfil our will” [1] it expanded the parameters of it and re-introduced the concept of “total war” to the world and “because its aim was all embracing, the war was to be absolute in character.”[2] In a sense it was a true revolution in military affairs.

Thus it is important to study the Gettysburg campaign in the context of the Civil War, as well as in relationship to the broader understanding of the nature and character of war. To do this one must examine the connection between them and policies made by political leaders; to include the relationship of political to military leaders, diplomats, the leaders of business and industry and not to be forgotten the press and the people. Likewise we must understand the various contexts of war, how they impacted Civil War leaders and why they must be understood by civilian policy makers and military leaders today.

While the essential nature of war remains constant, wars and the manner in which they are fought have changed in their character throughout history, and this distinction matters not only for military professionals, but also policy makers. The changing character of war was something that military leaders as well as policy makers struggled with during the American Civil War much as today’s military leaders and policy makers seek to understand the character of warfare today. British military theorist Colin Gray writes “Since the character of every war is unique in the details of its contexts (political, social-cultural, economic, technological, military strategic, geographical, and historical), the policymaker most probably will struggle of the warfare that is unleashed.” [3] That was not just an issue for Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, both of whom struggled with the nature of the war which had been unleashed, but it is one for our present political leaders, who as civilian politicians are “likely to be challenged by a deficient grasp of both the nature of war as well as its contemporary context-specific character.” [4]

In addition to being the first modern war, or maybe I should say, the first war of the Industrial Age, the Civil War became a “total war.” It was the product of both the massive number of technological advances which both preceded and occurred during it, in which the philosophical nature of the Industrial Revolution came to the fore. Likewise, the enmity of the two sides for one another which had been fostered by a half century of relentless and violent propaganda which ushered from the mouths of politicians, the press and even from the pulpit, even to the point of outright armed conflict and murder in “Bleeding Kansas” during the 1850s.

As a total war it became a war that was as close to Clausewitz’s understanding of absolute war in its in character waged on the American continent, and it prefigured the great ideological wars of the twentieth century, as J.F.C. Fuller noted “for the first time in modern history the aim of war became not only the destruction of the enemy’s armed forces, but also of their foundations- his entire political, social and economic order.” [5] It was the first war where at least some of the commanders, especially Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman were men of the Industrial Age, in their thought and in the way that they waged war, in strategy, tactics even more importantly, psychologically. Fuller wrote:

“Spiritually and morally they belonged to the age of the Industrial Revolution. Their guiding principle was that of the machine which was fashioning them, namely, efficiency. And as efficiency is governed by a single end- that every means is justified- no moral or spiritual conceptions of traditional behavior must stand in its way.” [6]

Both men realized in early 1864 that “the South was indeed a nation in arms and that the common European practice of having standing armies engaged each other in set-piece battles to determine the outcome of a war was not enough to win this struggle.” [7] Though neither man was a student of Clausewitz, their method of waging war was in agreement with the Prussian who wrote that “the fighting forces must be destroyed; that is, they must be put in such a position that they can no longer carry on the fight” but also that “the animosity and the reciprocal effects of hostile elements, cannot be considered to have ended so long as the enemy’s will has not been broken.” [8] Sherman told the mayor of Atlanta after ordering the civilian population expelled that “we are not only fighting hostile armies, but a hostile people, and must make the old and young, the rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war.” [9] Sherman not only “carried on war against the enemy’s resources more extensively and systematically than anyone else had done, but he developed also a deliberate strategy of terror directed against the enemy’s minds.” [10]

Abraham Lincoln came to embrace eternal nature of war as well as the change in the character of the war over time. Lincoln had gone to war for the preservation of the Union, something that for him was almost spiritual in nature, as is evidenced by the language he used in both of his inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address. Instead of a war to re-unite the Union with the Emancipation Proclamation the war became a war for the liberation of enslaved African Americans, After January 1st 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, Lincoln “told an official of the Interior Department, “the character of the war will be changed. It will be one of subjugation…The [old] South is to be destroyed and replaced by new propositions and ideas.” [11]

Of course, the revolution in military affairs took time and it was the political and military leaders of the North who better adapted themselves and their nation to the kind of war that was being fought. “Lincoln’s remarkable abilities gave him a wide edge over Davis as a war leader, while in Grant and Sherman the North acquired commanders with a concept of total war and the determination to make it succeed.” [12]

At the beginning of the war the leaders and populace of both sides still held a romantic idea of war. The belief that the war would be over in a few months and that would be settled by a few decisive battles was held by most, including many military officers on both sides, there were some naysayers like the venerable General Winfield Scott, but they were mocked by both politicians and the press.

The Civil War became an archetype of the wars of the twentieth century, and the twenty-first century. It became a war where a clash between peoples and ideologies which extended beyond the province of purely military action as “it was preceded by years of violent propaganda, which long before the war had obliterated all sense of moderation, and awakened in the contending parties the primitive spirit of tribal fanaticism.” [13]

The conduct of the American Civil War added new dimensions to war, increased its lethality and for the first time since the 30 Years’ War saw opponents intentionally target the property, homes and businesses of civilian populations as part of their military campaign. The Civil War was a precursor to the wars that followed, especially the First World War which it prefigured in so many ways. [14]

However, like all wars many of its lessons were forgotten by military professionals in the United States as well as in Europe. Thus 50 years later during World War One, British, French, German, Austrian and Russian wasted vast amounts of manpower and destroyed the flower of a generation because they did not heed the lessons of the Civil War. Fuller noted:

“Had the nations of Europe studied the lessons of the Civil War and taken them to heart they could not in 1914-1918 have perpetuated the enormous tactical blunders of which that war bears record.” [15]

The lessons of the war are still relevant today. Despite vast advances in weaponry, technology and the distances with which force can be applied by opponents, war remains an act of violence to compel an enemy to fulfill our will. War according to Clausewitz is “more than a chameleon that slightly adapts its characteristics to the given case.” [16] but it is always characterized by the violence of its elements, the province of chance and its subordination to the political objective and as such forces political and military leaders as well as policy makers to wrestle with “the practical challenge of somehow mastering the challenge of strategy in an actual historical context.” [17]

Colin Gray makes a case for seven essential contexts that must be understood by policy makers and military leaders regarding war, which if ignored or misunderstood “can have strong negative consequences.” [18] The contexts which Gray enunciates: a political context, a social-cultural context, an economic context; a military-strategic context, a geographic context and a historical context and as Gray notes they “define all the essential characteristics of a particular armed conflict.” [19]

The study of the Civil War can be helpful to the joint planner and commander because it so wonderfully shows the interplay of Clausewitz’s “paradoxical trinity- composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; of the play of chance and the element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason alone.” [20] during an era of great technological and philosophical change. The importance of this cannot be underestimated, for in this era of change, like in every era, some leaders and commanders were either resistant to, or failed to understand the changes being forced upon them in their conduct of war by the industrialization of war and its attendant technology; while others, like Sherman, Grant and Sheridan not only understood them, but embraced them and applied them with skill and vigor in ways that stunned the people of the South.

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The Whole of Government and National Power

Over time the Union developed what we would now refer to as a “whole of government approach” to the war. This included not only the military instrument but the use of every imaginable means of national power, from the diplomatic, the economic and the informational aspects of the Union in the effort to subdue the Confederacy. The understanding and use of the “whole of government approach” to war and conflict is still a cornerstone of United States military policy in “unified action, to achieve leverage across different domains that will ensure conditions favorable to the U.S. and its allies will endure.” [21] The working staff of the War Department headed by Edwin Stanton and Major General Montgomery Meigs developed rapidly. It effectively coordinated with railroads, weapons manufactures and suppliers of clothing, food and other necessities to supply the army and navy so well that “Union forces never seriously lacked the materials necessary to win the war.” [22] Stanton and Meigs were “aided by the entrepreneurial talent of northern businessmen” which allowed “the Union developed a superior managerial talent to mobilize and organize the North’s greater resources for victory in the modern industrialized conflict that the Civil War became.” [23]

The understanding of this eternal nature and ever changing character of war to leaders of nations as well as military commanders and planners has been very important throughout history. It can be seen in the ways that Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln conducted their relationships with their military commanders, including during the Gettysburg campaign and we are reminded by Colin Gray notes that political leaders and policy makers who are in charge of policy often ignorant of the nature and character of war, and this fact “directs attention to the difficulties of translating political judgment into effective warmaking.” [24] Military leaders should be the people to advise and instruct policy makers in aligning their policy to what is actually feasible based on the ends ways and means, as well as the strengths and limitations of the military to carry out policy decisions and history reminds us “that policymakers committed strongly to their political desires are not easily deflected by military advice of a kind that they do not want to hear.” [25]

While there was much support for the Confederacy in the aristocracies of Europe, the effectiveness of the Union military in winning the key battles that allowed Lincoln to make his Emancipation Proclamation ensured that Europe would not recognize the Confederacy, . Charles F. Adams, the United States minister to Britain successfully defused the crisis of the Trent affair, which could have led to British recognition of the Confederacy and intervention in the war. Adams’ efforts were so successful that they “left Anglo-American relations in better shape than before the crisis.” [26]

(c) Southampton City Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Trent Affair

The Importance of Diplomacy

Related to this understanding of warfare one has to also look at the importance of diplomacy, especially in picking the right diplomat for a critical post is a part of a whole of government approach to war and warfare. This was very important in the early stages of the Civil War as there was much support for the Confederacy in the aristocracies of Europe. The effectiveness of the diplomacy was increased by the Union military efforts. The Union suffered many failures at the outset of the war by the time of the Gettysburg campaign they did enough to prevent English or French intervention on the side of the Confederacy, which was also aided by tensions in Europe regarding the Schleswig-Holstein problem between Prussia and Austria as well as unrest in Poland, and the British in particular were loath to risk intervening in a conflict that might be “a disturbance in the precarious balance of power which might be the signal for a general conflagration, they recalled Voltaire’s comment that a torch lighted in 1756 in the forests of the new world had promptly wrapped the old world in flames.” [27] Thus, European leaders and diplomats were very hesitant to allow Southern legations to convince them to intervene.

Though the Confederates won many early battles in 1861 and 1862 it was the success of the Union military that altered the diplomatic landscape and helped doom the Confederacy. The joint operations conducted by Ulysses Grant and Flag Officer Foote at Island Number Ten, Fort Henry, Fort Donaldson and Shiloh opened the door to the western Confederacy making it vulnerable to Union invasion. Likewise, the joint operations conducted by the Union Navy and Army against the Confederacy through the blockade and capture of key ports such as New Orleans by 1862; combined with the bloody repulses of Confederate armies at Perryville and Antietam allowed Lincoln to make his Emancipation Proclamation, an act which reverberated across the Atlantic.

These military successes enabled Lord Palmerston to reject a French proposal for France, England and Russia to propose to the warring parties, a “North-South armistice, accompanied by a six month lifting of the blockade. The result, if they had agreed- as they had been in no uncertain terms warned by Seward in private conversations with British representatives overseas- would have been a complete diplomatic rupture, if not an outright declaration of war.” [28]

The issuance of that proclamation ensured that Europe would not recognize the Confederacy because even pro-Southern English political leaders could not appear to even give the appearance of supporting slavery, especially as both England and France had abolished slavery decades before, while Russia had only recently emancipated its serfs and “was pro-Union from the start….” [29] Popular sentiment in those countries, outside of the ruling class and business elites, was heavily in favor of emancipation, especially among the working classes. The leaders of the workingmen of Manchester England, a major textile producer, who which had been among the “hardest hit by the cotton famine, sent him [Lincoln] an address approved at a meeting on New Year’s Eve, announcing their support of the North in its efforts to “strike off the fetters of the slave.” [30]

There were issues related to the blockade but Charles F. Adams, the United States minister to Britain successfully defused the crisis of the Trent affair, which could have led to British recognition of the Confederacy and intervention in the war in a manner that “left Anglo-American relations in better shape than before the crisis.” [31]

The Union blockade was a key factor in the diplomatic efforts. As I have noted there were many in both Britain and France who sympathized with the South and hoped for Southern victory that were not impressed by Southern moves to subject them to an embargo of Southern cotton until they received recognition. While many Englishmen were offended by Seward’s bluster, many “resented even more the Confederacy’s attempt at economic blackmail.” [32]

The British especially were keen on not going to war for the sake of the South, there was far too much at stake for them. This was something that the Southern leaders and representatives did not fully comprehend. Prime Minister Viscount Palmerston and Foreign Minister Lord Russell were concerned about the economic impact of the loss of Southern cotton but also “recognized that any action against the blockade could lead to a conflict with the United States more harmful to England’s interests than the temporary loss of Southern cotton.” [33] Palmerston well remembered the war of 1812 when he served as Minister of War, and the disastrous results for the British Merchant Marine, and he realized that “England could not only afford the risk of a loss in a sideline war; she could not even afford to win one.” [34]

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Dennis Hart Mahan the First American Military Theorist

The Development of American Military Culture and Theory

As we examine the Civil War as the first modern war we have to see it as a time of great transition and change for military and political leaders. As such we have to look at the education, culture and experience of the men who fought the war, as well as the various advances in technology and how that technology changed tactics which in turn influenced the operational and strategic choices that defined the characteristics of the Civil War and wars to come.

The leaders who organized the vast armies that fought during the war were influenced more than military factors. Social, political, economic, scientific and even religious factors influenced their conduct of the war. The officers that commanded the armies on both sides grew up during the Jacksonian opposition to professional militaries, and for that matter even somewhat trained militias. The Jacksonian period impacted how officers were appointed and advanced. Samuel Huntington wrote:

“West Point was the principle target of Jacksonian hostility, the criticism centering not on the curriculum and methods of the Academy but rather upon the manner of how cadets were appointed and the extent to which Academy graduates preempted junior officer positions in the Army. In Jacksonian eyes, not only was specialized skill unnecessary for a military officer, but every man had the right to pursue the vocation of his choice….Jackson himself had an undisguised antipathy for the Academy which symbolized such a different conception of officership from that which he himself embodied. During his administration disciple faltered at West Point, and eventually Sylvanus Thayer, the superintendent and molder of the West Point educational methods, resigned in disgust at the intrusion of the spoils system.” [35]

This is particularly important because of how many officers who served in the Civil War were products of the Jacksonian system and what followed over the next two decades. Under the Jackson administration many more officers were appointed directly from civilian sources than from West Point, often based on political connections. “In 1836 when four additional regiments of dragoons were formed, thirty officers were appointed from civilian life and four from West Point graduates.” [36]

While this in itself was a problem it was made worse by a promotion system based on seniority, not merit. There was no retirement system so officers who did not return to the civilian world hung on to their careers until they quite literally died with their boots on. This held up the advancement outstanding junior officers who merited promotion and created a system where “able officers spent decades in the lower ranks, and all officers who had normal or supernormal longevity were assured of reaching higher the higher ranks.” [37]

Robert E. Lee was typical of many officers who stayed in the Army. Despite his success he was haunted by his lack of advancement. While still serving in Mexico having gained great laurels including a brevet promotion to Lieutenant Colonel, but “the “intrigues, pettiness and politics…provoked Lee to question his career.” He wrote “I wish I was out of the Army myself.” [38] In 1860 on the brink of the war Lee was “a fifty-three year-old man and felt he had little to show for it, and small hope for promotion.” [39] Lee’s discouragement was not unwarranted, despite his exemplary service there was little hope for promotion and to add to it Lee knew that “of the Army’s thirty-seven generals from 1802 to 1861, not one was a West Pointer.” [40] Other exemplary officers including Winfield Scott Hancock languished with long waits for promotion between the Mexican War and the Civil War. The long waits for promotion and duty in often desolate duty stations separated from family caused many officers to leave the Army; a good number of whom in 1861 became prominent in both the Union and Confederate armies. Among these officers were such notables as Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, Henry Halleck, George McClellan and Jubal Early.

The military education of these officers at West Point was based on the Napoleonic tactics and methods espoused by Henri Jomini as Clausewitz’s works had yet to make their way to America. Most were taught by Dennis Hart Mahan. Mahan, who graduated at the top of the West Point class of 1824 and spent four years in France as a student and observer at the “School of Engineering and Artillery at Metz” [41] before returning to the academy where “he was appointed professor of military and civil engineering and of the science of war.” [42]

In France Mahan studied the prevailing orthodoxy of Henri Jomini who along with Clausewitz was the foremost interpreter of Napoleon and the former Chief of Staff of Marshal Ney. Jomini’s influence cannot be underestimated, some have noted, a correctly so that “Napoleon was the god of war and Jomini was his prophet.” [43]

The basic elements of Jominian orthodoxy were that: “Strategy is the key to warfare; That all strategy is controlled by invariable scientific principles; and That these principles prescribe offensive action to mass forces against weaker enemy forces at some defensive point if strategy is to lead to victory.” [44] Jomini interpreted “the Napoleonic era as the beginning of a new method of all out wars between nations, he recognized that future wars would be total wars in every sense of the word.” [45] Jomini laid out a number of principles of war including elements that we know well today, operations on interior and exterior lines, bases of operations, and lines of operation. He understood the importance of logistics in war, envisioned the future of amphibious operations and his thought would be taken to a new level by Alfred Thayer Mahan, the son of Dennis Hart Mahan in his book The Influence of Sea Power on History.

Jomini also foresaw the horrific nature of the coming wars and expressed his revulsion for them and desire to return to the limited wars of the eighteenth century:

“I acknowledge that my prejudices are in favor of the good old times when the French and English guards courteously invited each other to fire first as at Fontenoy, preferring them to the frightful epoch when priests, women. And children throughout Spain plotted the murder of individual soldiers.” [46]

Jomini’s influence was great throughout Europe and was brought back to the United States by Mahan who principally “transmitted French interpretations of Napoleonic war” [47]including that of Jomini. However, Mahan returned from France somewhat dissatisfied knowing that much of what he learned was impractical in the United States where a tiny professional army and the vast expenses of territory were nothing like European conditions. Mahan thought prevailing doctrine “was acceptable for a professional army on the European model, organized and fighting under European conditions. But for the United States, which in case of war would have to depend upon a civilian army held together by a small professional nucleus, the French tactical system was unrealistic.” [48]

Mahan set about rectifying this immediately upon his return and though “steeped in French thought, but acutely sensitive to American conditions that in his lectures and later writings he modified the current orthodoxy by rejecting one of its central tenants-primary reliance on offensive assault tactics.” [49] Mahan believed that “ If the offensive is attempted against a strongly positioned enemy, Mahan cautioned, it should be an offensive not of direct assault but of the indirect approach, of maneuver and deception. Victories should not be purchased by the sacrifice of one’s own army….To do the greatest damage to our enemy with the least exposure of ourselves,” said Mahan, “is a military axiom lost sight of only by ignorance to the true ends of victory.” [50] However, “so strong was the attraction of Napoleon to nineteenth-century soldiers that American military experience, including the generalship of Washington, was almost ignored in military studies here.” [51]

Thus there was a tension in American military thought between the followers of Jomini and Mahan. Conservative Jominian thinking predominated much of the Army, and within the army “Mahan’s decrees failed to win universal applause.” [52] This may have been due in part to the large number of officers accessed directly from civilian life during the Jacksonian period. Despite this it was Mahan who more than any other “taught the professional soldiers who became the generals of the Civil War most of what they knew through the systematic study of war.” [53]

Mahan’s influence on the future leaders of the Union and Confederate armies went beyond the formal classroom setting. Mahan established the “Napoleon Club,” a military round table at West Point.[54] Mahan dominated the academy in many ways, and for the most part he ran the academic board, which ran the academy, and “no one was more influential than Mahan in the transition of officership from a craft into a profession.” [55] Mahan was a unique presence at West Point who all students had to face in their final year. Mahan was:

“aloof and relentlessly demanding, he detested sloppy thinking, sloppy posture, and a sloppy attitude toward duty…Mahan would demand that they not only learn engineering and tactics, but that every manner and habit that characterizes an officer- gentlemanly deportment, strict integrity, devotion to duty, chivalric honor, and genuine loyalty- be pounded into them. His aim was to “rear soldiers worthy of the Republic.” [56]

Mahan’s greatest contributions in for American military doctrine were his development of the active defense and emphasis on victory through maneuver. Mahan stressed “swiftness of movement, maneuver, and use of interior lines of operation. He emphasized the capture of strategic points instead of the destruction of enemy armies,” [57] while he emphasized the use of “maneuver to occupy the enemy’s territory or strategic points.” [58]

That being said Mahan’s “greatest contribution to American military professionalism was, in all probability, his stress upon the lessons to be learned from history. Without “historical knowledge of the rise and progress” of the military art, he argued, it is impossible to get “even tolerably clear elementary notions” beyond “the furnished by mere technical language…It is in military history that we are able to look for the source of all military science.” [59] Mahan emphasized that “study and experience alone produce the successful general” noting “Let no man be so rash as to suppose that, in donning a general’s uniform, he is forthwith competent to perform a general’s function; as reasonably he might assume that in putting on robes of a judge he was ready to decide any point of the law.” [60] Such advice is timeless.

Mahan certainly admired Napoleon and was schooled in Jomini, but he believed that officers needed to think for themselves on the battlefield. And “no two things in his military credo were more important than the speed of movement- celerity, that secret of success- or the use of reason. Mahan preached these twin virtues so vehemently and so often through his chronic nasal infection that the cadets called him “Old Cobbon Sense.” [61] Like Jomini, Mahan was among the first to differentiate between strategy, which involved “fundamental, invariable principles, embodied what was permanent in military science, while tactics concerned what was temporary….and “the line which distinguishes one from another is “that which separates the science from the art.” [62]

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Henry Wager Halleck

Mahan’s teaching was both amplified and modified by the work of his star pupil Henry Wager Halleck wrote the first American textbook on military theory Elements of Military Art and Science which was published in 1846 and though it was not a standard text at West Point “it was probably the most read book among contemporary officers.” [63] The text was based on a series of twelve lectures Halleck had given the Lowell Institute in 1845, as Halleck was considered one of America’s premier scholars.

Like Mahan, Halleck was heavily influenced by the writings of Jomini, and the Halleck admitted that his book “was essentially a compilation of other author’s writings,” [64] including those of Jomini and Mahan; and he “changed none of Mahan’s and Jomini’s dogmas.” [65] In addition to his own book, Halleck also “translated Jomini’s Life of Napoleon” from the French. [66] Halleck, like his mentor Mahan “recognized that the defense was outpacing the attack” [67] in regard to how technology was beginning to change war and “five of the fifteen chapters in Halleck’s Elements are devoted to fortification; a sixth chapter is given over to the history and importance of military engineers.” [68] Halleck’s Elements became one of the most influential texts on American military thought during the nineteenth century, and “had a major influence on American military thought” [69] being read by many before, during and after the war, including Abraham Lincoln.

Halleck, as a part of Mahan’s enlightenment too fought against the Jacksonian wave, eloquently speaking out for a more professional military against the Jacksonian critics. Halleck plead “for a body of men who shall devote themselves to the cultivation of military science” and the substitution of Prussian methods of education and advancement for the twin evils of politics and seniority.” [70]

As we look the Gettysburg campaign it is important to note how much of Mahan’s teaching either shows up in the actions of various commanders, such as Meade’s outstanding use of interior lines on the defense; or how in some cases his advice, particularly on attacking strongly held positions was ignored by Lee. In fairness to Lee he “was the only principle general of the war who had attended West Point too early to study the military art under Dennis Mahan.” [71] Likewise, during his tenure as the Superintendent of West Point Lee had little time to immerse himself in new studies due to the changes being wrought at the Academy in terms of discipline and curriculum. If anything can be said about Lee was that he was much more affected by what he read about Napoleon’s battles and campaigns; in which he took a lifelong interest in while a cadet, reading the French editions of the “three volumes of General Montholon’s memoirs of Napoleon dealing with the early campaigns, and the first volume of General Segur’s Expedition de Russie dealing with Napoleon’s advance to Moscow in 1812” [72] than he was with Jomini’s theories, though he certainly would have had some familiarity with them. Lee continued his study of Napoleon’s campaigns during his time as superintendent of West Point, in which “of fifteen books on military subjects that he borrowed from the academy library during his superintendency, no more than seven concerned Napoleon.” [73] Lee’s studies of the emperor’s campaigns allowed him to draw “more aggressive strategic concepts that previous American generals” [74] concepts that he would execute with alacrity during his campaigns of 1862 and 1863.

While West Point was the locus of American military thought and professionalism there was in the South a particular interest in military thought and this “was manifest in the creation of local military schools. Virginia Military Institute was established in 1839, the Citadel and the Arsenal set up in South Carolina in 1842, Kentucky Military Institute in 1845. By 1860 every Southern state, except Texas and Florida, had its own state supported military academy patterned on the models of West Point and VMI.” [75] There was no such development in the North, making these schools a unique part of the American military heritage, only some of which remain.

As the American theorists began their period of enlightenment, there was no real corresponding development in tactical doctrine, in part because “in Europe almost all the tactical experience of the major armies seemed to bear Jomini out.” [76] The American Army lacked “an integrated tactical system for infantry, artillery and cavalry doctrine” [77] which showed up frequently during the Civil War as commanders struggled to adapt tactics to advances in weaponry. The events in Europe, “all seemed to testify that it was the army on offense that won European battles, and at lightning speed.” [78] As such there existed an “ambivalence of thinking on the merits of the offense versus the defense in infantry tactics….while American artillery doctrine firmly subordinated the artillery to the infantry” [79] as many American officers were convinced that this was the face of war and all the major infantry tactics handbooks “borrowed heavily from Napoleonic sources and stressed the virtue of quick, aggressive movements on the battlefield.” [80] The often disjointed developments in infantry, artillery and cavalry tactics of the ante-bellum Army demonstrated that “Military thinking, and even more strategic organization, remained essentially within the Napoleonic tradition filtered through an eighteenth-century world view….” [81] It would take the bloody experience of war to change them. As Fuller noted that “the tactics of this war were not discovered through reflection, but through trial and error.” [82]

To be continued….

Notes

[1] Clausewitz, Carl von. On War Indexed edition, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976 p.75

[2] Fuller, J.F.C. The Conduct of War 1789-1961 Da Capo Press, New York 1992. Originally published by Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick N.J p.99

[3] Gray, Colin S. Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace, and Strategy Potomac Book, Dulles VA 2009 p.36

[4] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.36

[5] Fuller, J.F.C. A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three: From the Seven Days Battle, 1862, to the Battle of Leyte Gulf, 1944 Minerva Press 1956 p.88

[6] Ibid. Fuller A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three p.88

[7] Flood, Charles Bracelen, Grant and Sherman: The Friendship that Won the War, Harper Perennial, New York 2005 p.238

[8] Ibid. Clausewitz p.90

[9] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.809

[10] Weigley, Russell F. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy University of Indiana Press, Bloomington IN, 1973 p.149

[11] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.558

[12] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.857

[13] Ibid. Fuller The Conduct of War 1789-1961 p.99

[14] Fuller has an excellent synopsis of this in his book A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three (p.89). He wrote: The war fought by Grant and Lee, Sherman and Johnston, and others closely resembled the First of the World Wars. No other war, not even the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, offers so exact a parallel. It was a war of rifle bullets and trenches, of slashings, abattis, and even of wire entanglements- an obstacle the Confederates called “a devilish contrivance which none but a Yankee could devise” because at Drewry’s Bluff they had been trapped in them and slaughtered like partridges.” It was a war of astonishing in its modernity, with wooden wire-bound mortars hand and winged grenades, rockets, and many forms of booby traps. Magazine rifles and Requa’s machine guns were introduced and balloons were used by both sides although the confederates did not think much of them. Explosive bullets are mentioned and also a flame projector, and in June, 1864, General Pendleton asked the chief ordnance officer at Richmond whether he could supply him with “stink-shells” which would give off “offensive gases” and cause “suffocating effect.” The answer he got was “stink-shells, none on hand; don’t keep them; will make them if ordered.” Nor did modernity end there; armoured ships, armoured trains, land mines and torpedoes were used. A submarine was built by Horace H. Hundley at Mobile….”

[15] Ibid. Fuller A Military History of the Modern World, Volume Three p.89

[16] Ibid. Clausewitz On War p.89

[17] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.38

[18] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.5

[19] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.3

[20] Ibid. Clausewitz On War p.89

[21] ________ JCWS Student Text 1 3rd Edition, 14 June 2013 p.2-4

[22] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012

[23] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.857

[24] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.38

[25] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.38

[26] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.391

[27] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.154

[28] Ibid. Foote , The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.153

[29] Ibid. Foote , The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.153

[30] Ibid. Foote , The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.155

[31] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.391

[32] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.384

[33] Ibid. McPherson. The Battle Cry of Freedom p.384

[34] Ibid. Foote , The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two p.154

[35] Huntington, Samuel P. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1957 pp.204-205

[36] Ibid. Huntington The Soldier and the State p.206

[37] Ibid. Huntington The Soldier and the State p.207

[38] Thomas, Emory Robert E. Lee W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 1995 p.139

[39] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.213

[40] Ibid. Huntington The Soldier and the State p.207

[41] Hagerman, Edward. The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare Midland Book Editions, Indiana University Press. Bloomington IN. 1992. p.7

[42] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.7

[43] Hittle, J.D. editor Jomini and His Summary of the Art of War a condensed version in Roots of Strategy, Book 2 Stackpole Books, Harrisburg PA 1987 p. 429

[44] Shy, John Jomini in Makers of Modern Strategy, from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age edited by Paret, Peter, Princeton University Press, Princeton New Jersey 1986 p.146

[45] Ibid. Hittle, Jomini and His Summary of the Art of War p. 428

[46] Ibid. Hittle Jomini p.429

[47] Ibid. Shy Jomini p.414

[48] bid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.7

[49] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.9

[50] Ibid. Weigley The American Way of War p.88

[51] Ibid. Shy Jomini p.414

[52] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.13

[53] Ibid. Shy Jomini p.414

[54] Hagerman also notes the contributions of Henry Halleck and his Elements of Military Art and Science published in 1846 (p.14) and his influence on many American Officers.  Weigley in his essay in Peter Paret’s Makers of Modern Strategy would disagree with Hagerman who notes that in Halleck’s own words that his work was a “compendium of contemporary ideas, with no attempt at originality.” (p.14) Weigley taking exception gives credit to Halleck for “his efforts to deal in his own book with particularly American military issues.” Paret, Peter editor. Makers of Modern Strategy: For Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1986 p.416.

[55] Millet, Allan R. and Maslowski, Peter, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States The Free Press a Division of Macmillan Inc. New York, 1984 p.126

[56] Waugh, John C. The Class of 1846: From West Point to Appomattox, Stonewall Jackson, George McClellan and their Brothers Ballantine Books, New York 1994 pp.63-64

[57] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p.30

[58] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.14

[59] Ibid. Huntington The Soldier and the State p.220

[60] Ibid. Huntington The Soldier and the State pp.221

[61] Ibid. Waugh The Class of 1846 p.64

[62] Ibid. Huntington The Soldier and the State pp.220-221

[63] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.14

[64] Marszalek, John F. Commander of All of Lincoln’s Armies: A Life of General Henry W. Halleck The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 2004 p.42

[65] Ambrose, Stephen E. Halleck: Lincoln’s Chief of Staff Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge and London 1962 p.6

[66] Weigley, Russell F. American Strategy from Its Beginnings through the First World War. In Makers of Modern Strategy, from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age edited by Paret, Peter, Princeton University Press, Princeton New Jersey 1986 p.416

[67] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.14

[68] Ibid. Weigley, American Strategy from Its Beginnings through the First World War. In Makers of Modern Strategy, from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age p.417

[69] Ibid. Ambrose Halleck p.7

[70] Ibid. Huntington The Soldier and the State p.221

[71] Ibid. Weigley, American Strategy from Its Beginnings through the First World War. In Makers of Modern Strategy, from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age p.415

[72] Ibid. Korda, Clouds of Glory p.35

[73] Ibid. Weigley, American Strategy from Its Beginnings through the First World War. In Makers of Modern Strategy, from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age p.424

[74] Ibid. Weigley, American Strategy from Its Beginnings through the First World War. In Makers of Modern Strategy, from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age p.424

[75] Ibid. Huntington The Soldier and the State p.219

[76] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.147

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

[78] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.147

[79] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare pp.20-21

[80] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lighteningp.147

[81] Ibid. Hagerman The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare p.27

[82] Ibid. Fuller. Grant and Lee p.269  A similar comment might be made of most wars including the war in Iraq current Afghanistan war.

 

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The Stab in the Back: The Destructive Power of Myth in the Life of a Nation

stab-in-the-back

In light of the many historical myths and conspiracy theories being floated by pseudo “historians” like the infamous David Barton it is always appropriate to look at examples of the power of those myths in the lives of nations and their influence on citizens. Some myths can be positive and inspiring, but others can lead to conspiracy theories, false accusations and the demonization of others for the purpose of inciting hatred against political, social or religious opponents. They also can be used to perpetuate false beliefs about other countries that influence policy decisions, including the decision to go to war that ultimately doom those that believe them. A good example of this is the Stab in the Back myth that began after the armistice that ended the First World War, as well as the false beliefs held by Hitler and other Nazi leaders about the United States.

There are many times in history where leaders of nations and peoples embrace myths about their history even when historical, biographical and archeological evidence points to an entirely different record.  Myths are powerful in the way that they inspire and motivate people. They can provide a cultural continuity as a people celebrates the key events and people that shaped their past, even if they are not entirely true.  At the same time myths can be dangerous when they cause leaders and people to make bad choices and actually become destructive. Such was the case in Germany following the First World War.

After the war the belief that the German Army was not defeated but was betrayed by the German people, especially those of the political left.  Like all myths there was an element of truth in the “stab in the back” myth, there were revolts against the Monarchy of Kaiser Wilhelm II and even mutiny on elements of the German High Seas Fleet and Army units stationed in Germany. However the crisis had been brought about by General Ludendorff who until the last month of the war refused to tell the truth about the gravity of Germany’s position to those in the German government.

So when everything came crashing down in late October and early November 1918 the debacle came as a surprise to most Germans.  The myth arose because the truth had not been told by Ludendorff who was arguably the most powerful figure in Germany from 1916-1918.  In the looming crisis which included Ludendorff’s collapse and relief, General Wilhelm Groener presented the facts to the Kaiser and insisted on his abdication.  The Republic that was proclaimed on the 9th of November was saddled with the defeat and endured revolution, civil war and threats from the extreme left and right.  When it signed the Treaty of Versailles it accepted the sole responsibility of Germany for the war and its damages. Ordered to dismantle its military, cede territory that had not been lost in battle and pay massive reparations the legend of the “stab in the back” gained widespread acceptance in Germany.

Hitler always believed that the defeat of Germany in the First World War was due to the efforts of internal enemies of the German Reich on the home front and not due to battlefield losses or the entry of the United States.  This was a fundamental belief for him and was expressed in his writings, speeches and actions.  The internal enemies of Germany for Hitler included the Jews, as well as the Socialists and Communists who he believed were at the heart of the collapse on the home front.  Gerhard Weinberg believes that the effect of this misguided belief on Hitler’s actions has “generally been ignored” by historians. (Germany, Hitler and World War II p. 196)

Hitler believed that those people and groups that perpetrated the “stab in the back” were “beguiled by the by the promises of President Wilson” (World in the Balance p.92) in his 14 Points.  Thus for him Americans were in part responsible for undermining the German home front, something that he would not allow to happen again.  In fact Hitler characterization of Wilson’s effect on the German people in speaking about South Tyrol.  It is representative of his belief about not only the loss of that region but the war: “South Tyrol was lost by those who, from within Germany, caused attrition at the front, and by the contamination of German thinking with the sham declarations of Woodrow Wilson.” (Hitler’s Second Book p.221)

While others will note Hitler’s lack of respect for the potential power of the United States, no other author that I am familiar with links Hitler’s actions and the reaction of the German political, military and diplomatic elites to the entry of the United States into the war to the underlying belief in the “stab in the back.”   Likewise Hitler had little regard for the military abilities or potential of the United States. Albert Speer notes that Hitler believed “the Americans had not played a very prominent role in the war of 1914-1918,” and that “they would certainly not withstand a great trial by fire, for their fighting qualities were low.” (Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs by Albert Speer p.121)

Hitler not only dismissed the capabilities of the Americans but also emphasized the distance that they were from Germany and saw no reason to fear the United States when “he anticipated major victories on the Eastern Front.” (Germany Hitler and World War II p.92)   Hitler’s attitude was reflected by the majority of the military high command and high Nazi officials. Ribbentrop believed that the Americans would be unable to wage war if it broke out “as they would never get their armies across the Atlantic.” (History of the German General Staff, Walter Goerlitz, p.408).  General Walter Warlimont notes the “ecstasy of rejoicing” found at Hitler’s headquarters after Pearl Harbor and the fact that the he and Jodl at OKW caught by surprise by Hitler’s declaration of war. (Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-1945 pp.207-209) Kenneth Macksey notes Warlimont’s comments about Hitler’s beliefs; that Hitler “tended to dismiss American fighting qualities and industrial capability,” and that Hitler “regarded anyone who tried to show him such information [about growing American strength] as defeatist.” (Why the Germans Lose at War, Kenneth Macksey, p.153.)

Others like Field Marshal Erwin Rommel record the disregard of senior Nazis toward American capabilities in weaponry.  Quoting Goering who when Rommel discussed 40mm anti-aircraft guns on aircraft that were devastating his armored forces Goering replied “That’s impossible. The Americans only know how to make razor blades.” (The Rommel Papers edited by B.H. Liddell-Hart p.295) Rommel was one of the few German commanders who recognized the folly of Hitler’s declaration of war on the United States noting that “By declaring war on America, we had brought the entire American industrial potential into the service of Allied war production. We in Africa knew all about the quality of its achievements.” (The Rommel Papers p.296)

When one also takes into account the general disrespect of the German military for the fighting qualities of American soldiers though often with good reason (see Russell Weigley’s books Eisenhower’s Lieutenants and The American Way of War) one sees how the myth impacted German thought.  This is evidenced by the disparaging comments of the pre-war German military attaché to the United States; General Boeticher, on the American military, national character and capability. (See World in the Balance pp. 61-62)

The overall negative view held by many Germans in regard to the military and industrial power and potential of the United States reinforced other parts of the myth. Such false beliefs served to bolster belief in the stab-in-the back theory as certainly the Americans could not have played any important role in the German defeat save Wilson’s alleged demoralization of the German population.  This was true not only of Hitler, but by most of his retinue and the military, diplomatic and industrial leadership of the Reich. Hitler’s ultimate belief shaped by the stab-in-the back and reinforced by his racial views which held the United States to be an inferior mongrel people. This led him to disregard the impact that the United States could have in the war and ultimately influenced his decision to declare war on the United States, a decision that would be a key factor in the ultimate defeat of Germany.

Myth can have positive value, but myth which becomes toxic can and often does lead to tragic consequences. All societies have some degree of myth in relationship to their history including the United States.  The myths are not all the same, various subgroups within the society create their own myth surrounding historic events. The danger is that those myths can supplant reason in the minds of political, military, media and religious figures and lead those people into taking actions that work to their own detriment or even destruction.

It is the duty of historians, philosophers and others in the society to ensure that myth does not override reality to the point that it moves policy both domestic and foreign in a manner that is ultimately detrimental to the nation.  The lesson of history demonstrated by myths surrounding the German defeat and role of the United States in that defeat shows just how myth can drive a nation to irrational, evil and ultimately tragic actions not only for that nation and its people, but for the world.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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