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Innovations of Death: The Minié Ball, the Rifled Musket, and the Repeating Rifle

claude_etienne_minie

                                                                                  Claude Minié

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have to admit that I am kind of a geek about militaria and weaponry but in order to understand the broad brush aspects of history one also has to know something about detailed facts. So anyway, here is a section or one of my yet to be published books. This section deals with the advances in weaponry that made the American Civil War and subsequent wars so much more deadly.

Peace

Padre Steve+

minnie-ball

                                                                             The Minié Ball 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

weapons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commonly Used Union and Confederate Rifles and Muskets

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

9 Lbs.

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

1000 yards

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Despite the fact that leaders knew about the increased range and accuracy that came with the rifled musket, tactics in all arms were slow to change, and “on every occasion, a frontal assault delivered against an unshaken enemy led to failure.” [33]Even at Gettysburg Robert E. Lee would demonstrate that he had not fully appreciated the effects of the lethality of the rifled musket when he ordered Hood’s assault on Federal troops at Little Round Top on July 2nd and Pickett’s assault on the Union center on July 3rd1863. Lee should have learned during the bloody battles of 1862 and early 1863 which cost his army over 50,000 casualties.

I find it most interesting and tragic that this increase in firepower, among many other things, was not appreciated by the military leaders of the European powers who went to war in 1914. As a result millions of men died unnecessary deaths.

                                                                                   Notes 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[14] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.317

[15] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.251

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[23] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.250

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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]

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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.

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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.

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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.

15lincoln_cabinet

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]

Mahan_teaser

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]

Henry_Halleck_by_Scholten,_c1865

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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Strategy and Policy: Lee’s Offensive Gettysburg Campaign -The Worst of Both Worlds

A cohesive national strategy involves true debate and consideration of all available courses of action. It must look at the ends, ways and means of achieving national strategic objectives as well as the risk entailed in each course of action. It has to involve both the political leadership and military commanders. Clausewitz said: “the supreme, most far reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish by that test the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature.” [1]

“Wars are not free flowing events, sufficient unto themselves as objects for study and understanding. Instead they are entirely the product of their contexts.” [2] Thus it is imperative that both political and military leaders understand for what purpose they embark on a war or begin a campaign. Even in the recent American experience we can recount time after time where American political leaders of both the Republican and Democrat parties, as well as military leaders and planners have failed to grasp the central truth of was Clausewitz wrote about the nature of war.

davis and cabinet

British political and military theorist Colin S. Gray writes: “Choice of strategy can determine whether or not policy goals will be attainable. And that choice must provide the most vital contexts for tactical behavior. Once policy objectives have been chosen, strategy is the function that delivers victory.” [3] In our recent wars and in the American Civil War this maxim has been born out time and time again.

Thus, the Gettysburg campaign has to be looked at in the context of Grand Strategy and what was necessary for both sides to achieve their goals. For the Confederacy this was independence and in the context of the Gettysburg campaign the key question is whether it should have been made at all. While Lee is regarded as a masterful commander by many, the myth created by the Lost Cause school of history, in which the failure of Confederate war aims cannot be ascribed to Lee, keeps many people from asking the hard questions of strategy, and how Lee as commander failed to understand what was best for his country.

The key consideration, as Alan T. Nolan observes “must be whether a general’s actions helped or hurt the cause of his government in view of that government’s grand strategy. In short, the appropriate inquiry is to ask whether a general’s actions related positively or negatively to the war objectives and national policy of his government.” [4] The question was one of following a strategy of the defensive as Washington had done in the Revolutionary War, or a strategy of the offense culminating in a climactic battle that would decide the outcome of the war.

A defensive strategy was seen by British observers early in the war as the most feasibly for achieving Southern military and political goals in relationship to attaining independence. In the Revolution, Washington remained on the “grand strategic defensive” and “lost many battles and retreated many times, but they kept their forces in the field to avoid being ultimately defeated, and they won because the British decided that the struggle was either too hopeless or too burdensome to pursue.” [5] They had no doubt that this was the best policy for the Confederate government and military to achieve their strategic end.

The terrain of Virginia, particularly the number of east-west running rivers, the swamps that lay to the east of Richmond and the nearly impassible Wilderness to its north made any Union offensive a costly proposition. Clausewitz noted that terrain has “a decisive influence on the engagement, both as to its course and to its planning and exploitation….Their principle effect lies in the realm of tactics, but the outcome is a matter of strategy” [6]

This naturally advantageous terrain gave the advantage to Lee on the defense, but Lee seemed to never fully appreciate the strategic strength that the nature of the terrain, especially that of the Wilderness offered him. J.F.C. Fuller noted that “the Wilderness had been his staunchest ally. It was not only a natural fortress protecting Richmond, but a spider’s web to any army advancing from the north. Lee never fully realized this, for if he had done so his strategy would have been based upon maneuvering his enemy again and again into this entanglement and defeating him.” [7]

However, the strategic defensive was not that of Robert E. Lee. Lee’s view throughout the war, even as late as the siege of Petersburg was that of the offensive and climactic battle: “If we can defeat or drive the armies of the enemy from the field, we shall have peace. Our efforts and energies should be devoted to that object.” [8]

In 1863 the Confederacy was confronted with the choice of how it would deal with the multiple threats to it posed by Union forces in both the West at Vicksburg, as well as in Tennessee as well as the East, where the Army of the Potomac was in striking distance of Richmond. The strategic situation was bad but few Confederate politicians realized just how bad things were, or cared in the post Chancellorsville euphoria.

In the west the strategic river city of Vicksburg Mississippi was threatened by the Army of Union General Ulysses S Grant, and Naval forces under the command of Admiral David Farragut and Admiral David Dixon Porter. If Vicksburg fell the Union would control the entire Mississippi and cut the Confederacy in two. Union forces also maintained a strong presence in the areas of the Virginia Tidewater and the coastal areas of the Carolinas; while in Tennessee a Union Army under Rosecrans, was stalemated, but still threatening Chattanooga, the gateway to the Deep South. The blockade of the United States Navy continually reinforced since its establishment in 1861, had crippled the already tenuous economy of the Confederacy. The once mocked “anaconda strategy” devised by General Winfield Scott was beginning to pay dividends. [9] Of the nine major Confederate ports linked by rail to the inland cities the Union, all except three; Mobile, Wilmington and Charleston were in Union hands by April 1862. [10]

However, the Confederate response to the danger was “divided councils and paralysis” [11] in their upper leadership, between those like Lee who advocated for the offensive and those like Davis who advocated a defensive strategy. The military relationship between Lee and Davis “represented a continuous compromise between the president’s undeclared policy of outlasting the enemy and the general’s purpose of winning by breaking the enemy’s will to continue their effort at subjugation.” [12]

Davis, though he was Commander-in-Chief wavered between the two strategic ideas throughout the first years of the war, something that was worse than coming to no decision at all. Lee’s latest biographer Michael Korda makes the point that: “The danger that the Confederacy might unravel from west to east, whatever happened between the Rappahannock and the Potomac, was Grant’s central strategic idea, and should have been the overriding concern of the Confederate government; but Lee’s position as the South’s most respected and admired military figure, the high drama of his rapid marches and his victories against much larger armies had a profound effect on southern military strategy.” [13] Instead it was not, and a fog of confused policies confounded Confederate war efforts.

Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon and President Jefferson Davis recognized the danger in the winter of 1862-1863. During the winter Davis and Seddon suggested to Lee that he detach significant units, including Pickett’s division to relieve the pressure in the west and blunt Grant’s advance. Lee would have nothing of it; he argued that the war would be won in the East. He told Seddon that “The adoption of your proposition is hazardous, and it becomes a question between Virginia and the Mississippi.” [14] From a strategic point of view it is hard to believe that Lee could not see this, “but in the post-Chancellorsville aura of invincibility, anything seemed possible.” [15]

However, much of Lee’s reasoning can be explained by what he saw as his first duty, the defense of Virginia. Lee’s biographer Michael Korda points out that Lee’s strategic argument was very much influenced by his love of Virginia, which remained his first love, despite his deep commitment to the Confederacy. Korda noted that Lee: “could never overcome a certain myopia about his native state. He remained a Virginian first and foremost…..” [16] Fuller wrote that Lee “was so obsessed by the idea of threatening Washington in order to relieve Northern Virginia, that throughout his generalship he never saw the war as a whole.” [17] It was Lee’s view that if Virginia was lost, so was the Confederacy, and was concerned that whatever units left behind should he dispatch troops from his Army west, would be unable to defend Richmond.

Likewise, despite the success of his defensive battles at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, Lee was not encouraged. Those victories had elated the Confederacy and caused great concern in the North. But Lee was depressed after each. Lee told Harry Heth after Chancellorsville: “Our people were wild with delight- I, on the contrary, was more depressed than after Fredericksburg; our loss was severe, and again we had not gained an inch of ground, and the enemy could not be pursued…” [18]

Some Confederate leaders realized the mortal danger presented by Grant in the West including officials in the War Department, one of whom wrote “The crisis there is of the greatest moment. The loss of Vicksburg and the Mississippi river…would wound us very deeply in a political as well as a military point of view.” [19]

Despite this Seddon did remain in favor of shifting troops west and relieving Vicksburg. He was backed in this by Joseph Johnston, Braxton Bragg, P.T.G. Beauregard and James Longstreet. In Mid-May of 1863 Beauregard proposed a strategy to concentrate all available forces in in Tennessee and going to the strategic defensive on all other fronts. Beauregard, probably the best Southern strategist “saw clearly that the decisive point lay in the West and not the East.” [20] Beauregard’s plan was to mass Confederate forces was crush Rosecrans, relieve Vicksburg and then move east to assist Lee in destroying the Army of the Potomac in his words to complete “the terrible lesson the enemy has just had at Chancellorsville.” [21] His plan was never acknowledged and in a letter to Johnston, where he re-sent the plan he noted “I hope everything will turn out well, although I do not exactly see how.” [22]

James Longstreet had proposed a similar measure to Seddon in February 1863 and then again on May 6th in Richmond. Longstreet believed that “the Confederacy’s greatest opportunity lay “in the skillful use of our interior lines.” [23] He suggested to Seddon that two of his divisions link up with Johnston and Bragg and defeat Rosecrans and upon doing that move toward Cincinnati. Longstreet argued that since Grant would have the only Union troops that could stop such a threat that it would relieve “Pemberton at Vicksburg.” [24] Seddon favored Longstreet’s proposal but Jefferson Davis having sought Lee’s counsel rejected the plan, Longstreet in a comment critical of Davis’s rejection of the proposal wrote: “But foreign intervention was the ruling idea with the President, and he preferred that as the easiest solution of all problems.” [25] Following that meeting Longstreet pitched the idea to Lee who according to Longstreet “recognized the suggestion as of good combination, and giving strong assurance of success, but he was averse to having a part of his army so far beyond his reach.” [26]

In early May 1863 Lee, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia realized that the Confederacy was in desperate straits. Despite numerous victories against heavy odds, Lee knew that time was running out. Though he had beaten the Army of the Potomac under General Joseph Hooker at Chancellorsville, he had not destroyed it and Hooker’s Army, along with a smaller force commanded by General Dix in Hampton Roads still threatened Richmond. He had rejected the western option presented by Seddon, Beauregard and Longstreet. Lee questioned “whether additional troops there would redress the balance in favor of the Confederacy, and he wondered how he would be able to cope with the powerful Army of the Potomac.” [27]

In Lee’s defense neither of these suggestions was unsound, but his alternative, an offensive into Pennsylvania just as unsound and undertaken for “confused” reasons. Confederate leaders realized that “something had to be done to save Vicksburg; something had to be done to prevent Hooker from recrossing the Rappahannock; something had to be done to win European recognition, or compel the North to consider terms of peace…[28] However added to these reasons, and perhaps the most overarching for Lee was “to free the State of Virginia, for a time at least, from the presence of the enemy” and “to transfer the theater of war to Northern soil….” [29]

On May 14th Lee travelled by train to Richmond to meet with President Jefferson Davis and War Secretary James Seddon. At the meeting Lee argued for an offensive campaign in the east, to take the war to Pennsylvania. Lee had three major goals for the offensive, two which were directly related to the immediate military situation and one which went to the broader strategic situation.

Lee had long believed that an offensive into the North was necessary, even before Chancellorsville. As already noted, Lee did not believe that reinforcing the Confederate Armies in the West would provide any real relief for Vicksburg. Lee believed, quite falsely, that the harsh climate alone would force Grant to break off his siege of Vicksburg. [30] Russell Weigley wrote that “In truth, Lee seems to have been less than fully responsive to the problems of the West, partly out of Virginia parochialism- he always regarded his sword as serving his first state of Virginia-and partly in adherence to his military philosophy,” [31] that of the offensive. Lee was not willing to sacrifice Virginia for the west, and “tenaciously fought every suggestion that the Army of Northern Virginia be denuded to reinforce the west, and his influence over Davis guaranteed, at least until the fall of 1863, that the defense of Virginia would always be able to outweigh the demands for help from the Confederate forces in the West.” [32]

Instead of sending troops west, Lee believed that his army, flush with victory needed to be reinforced and allowed to advance into Pennsylvania. Lee proposed withdrawing Beauregard’s 16,000 soldiers from the Carolinas to the north in order “increase the known anxiety of Washington authorities” [33] and he sought the return of four veteran brigades which had been loaned to D.H. Hill in North Carolina. In this he was unsuccessful. He received two relatively untested brigades from Hill; those of Johnston Pettigrew and Joseph Davis instead two of Pickett’s veteran brigades. The issue of the lack of reinforcements was a “commentary on the severe manpower strains rending the Confederacy…and Davis wrote Lee on May 31st, “and sorely regret that I cannot give you the means which would make it quite safe to attempt all that we desire.” [34]

Lee’s Chief of Staff Colonel Charles Marshall crafted a series of courses of action for Lee designed to present the invasion option as the only feasible alternative for the Confederacy. Lee’s presentation was an “either or” proposal. He gave short shrift to any possibility of reinforcing Vicksburg and explained “to my mind, it resolved itself into a choice of one of two things: either to retire to Richmond and stand a siege, which must ultimately end in surrender, or to invade Pennsylvania.” [35] As any military planner knows the presentation of courses of action designed to lead listeners to the course of action that a commander prefers by ignoring the risks of such action, downplaying other courses of action is disingenuous. In effect Lee was asking Davis and his cabinet to “choose between certain defeat and possibly victory” [36] while blatantly ignoring other courses of action or playing down other very real threats in the West.

Lee embraced the offensive as his grand strategy and rejected the defensive in his presentation to the Confederate cabinet, and they were “awed” by Lee’s strategic vision. Swept up in Lee’s presentation the cabinet approved the invasion despite the fact that “most of the arguments he made to win its approval were more opportunistic than real.” [37] However, Postmaster General John Reagan objected and stated his dissent arguing that Vicksburg had to be the top priority. But Lee was persuasive telling the cabinet “There were never such men in any army before….They will go anywhere and do anything if properly led….” So great was the prestige of Lee, “whose fame…now filled the world,” that he carried the day.” [38]

Although both Seddon and Davis had reservations about the plan they agreed to it. Unfortunately for all of them they never really settled the important goals of the campaign including how extensive the invasion would be, how many troops would he need and where he would get them. [39] The confusion about these issues was fully demonstrated by Davis in his letter of May 31st where he “had never fairly comprehended” Lee’s “views and purposes” until he received a letter and dispatch from the general that day.” [40] That lack of understanding is surprising since Lee had made several personal visits to Davis and the cabinet during May and demonstrates again the severe lack of understanding of the strategic problems by Confederate leaders.

Lee believed that his offensive would relieve Grant’s pressure on Pemberton’s Army at Vicksburg. How it would do so is not clear since the Union had other armies and troops throughout the east to parry any thrust made had the Army of the Potomac endured a decisive defeat that not only drove it from the battlefield but destroyed it as a fighting force. Postmaster General Reagan believed that the only way to stop Grant was “destroy him” and “move against him with all possible reinforcements.” [41]

Likewise Lee believed that if he was successful in battle and defeated the Army of the Potomac in Pennsylvania that it could give the peace party in the North to bring pressure on the Lincoln Administration to end the war. This too was a misguided belief and Lee would come to understand that as his forces entered Maryland and Pennsylvania where there was no popular support for his invading army. The fact was that those that “though there was a strong peace party in the North, they did not realize that Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had settled once and for all the question of foreign intervention, and second that to invade the North would consolidate the Federals instead of dividing them.” [42]

In the meeting with the cabinet, Postmaster-General Reagan, agreed with General Beauregard and warned that “the probability that the threatened danger to Washington would arouse again the whole of the Yankee nation to renewed efforts for the protection of their capital.” [43] Reagan was decidedly against Lee’s offensive. He “saw everything wrong with Lee’s plan and everything right with the plan it had superseded. Grant was the main threat to the survival of the Confederacy, and it was Grant at whom the main blow must be aimed and struck.” [44] But “Lee’s opinion carried so much weight that Davis felt compelled to concur” [45] with Lee and voted with the remaining cabinet members to allow the offensive.

Stephens the fire breathing Vice President “wanted to negotiate for peace, and he foresaw rightly that Lee’s offensive would strengthen and not weaken the war party in the North….Stephens was strongly of the opinion that Lee should have remained on the defensive and detached a strong force to assist Johnston against Grant at Vicksburg.” [46] However, he was kept in the dark as to Lee’s plans until after Lee had crossed the Potomac.

Likewise, Lee, the consummate defender of Virginia was determined to at least for a season remove the war from his beloved state. He believed that if he could spend a summer campaign season in the North, living off of Union foodstuffs and shipping booty back to the Confederacy that it would give farmers in Northern Virginia a season to harvest crops unimpeded by major military operations.

While the offensive did give a few months relief to these farmers it did not deliver them. Likewise Lee’s argument that he could not feed his army flies in the face of later actions where for the next two years the Army of Northern Virginia continued to subsist. Alan Nolan noted that if a raid for forage was a goal of the operation then “a raid by small, mobile forces rather than the entire army would have had considerably more promise and less risk.” [47] D. H. Hill in North Carolina wrote his wife: “Genl. Lee is venturing upon a very hazardous movement…and one that must be fruitless, if not disastrous.” [48]

Though Lee won permission to invade Pennsylvania, he did not get all that he desired. Lee wanted, and believed that he would have his entire army to conduct his offensive. However, Davis did not understand or conceive that Lee’s offensive scheme was a “change in the existing policy, a shift from the defense to the offense. To Davis, Lee’s invasion was merely a necessary expedient in the policy of static, scattered defensiveness.” [49]

Davis refused Lee reinforcements from the coastal Carolinas, and “had not the slightest intention of reducing a single garrison to support Lee’s offensive.” [50] Davis insisted on units being left to cover Richmond in case General Dix advanced on Richmond from Hampton Roads. Much of this was due to political pressure as well as the personal animus of General D. H. Hill who commanded Confederate forces in the Carolinas towards Lee. The units included two of Pickett’s brigades which would be sorely missed on July third in the doomed effort to break the Union center on Cemetery Ridge. As a result Lee was without a significant portion of his army when he moved north. Lee did not learn “until he had crossed the Potomac that four of his best brigades, the equivalent of a division, were to be uselessly employed away from the army.” [51]

Lee’s decision revealed an unresolved issue in Confederate Grand Strategy, the conflict between the strategy of the offensive and that of the defensive. Many in the Confederacy realized that the only hope for success was to fight a defensive campaign that made Union victory so expensive that eventually Lincoln’s government would fall or be forced to negotiate.

The conflict between those who believed in the offensive like Lee, and those that advocated a strategic defensive strategy resulted in indecision, which resulted in a policy that brought about “the worst of both worlds.” [52] The fact that Lee got permission to invade but was denied significant numbers of experienced troops as well as support from other departments meant that “what Lee designed as a total stroke from a concentration of its armed strength, was reduced to a desperate, unsupported gamble of one man with one army-and not all of that.” [53] Knowing this, Lee still chose to continue his offensive, something that along with his “own awareness of factors that argued against it.” [54]

Lee was convinced that ultimate victory could only be achieved by decisively defeating and destroying Federal military might in the East. His letters are full of references to crush, defeat or destroy Union forces opposing him. His strategy of the offensive was demonstrated on numerous occasions in 1862 and early 1863, however in the long term, the strategy of the offensive was unfeasible and “counterproductive in terms of the Confederacy’s “objects of war.” [55]

Lee’s offensive operations always cost his Army dearly in the one commodity that the South could not replace, nor keep pace with its Northern adversary, his men. His realism about that subject was shown after he began his offensive when he wrote Davis about how time was not on the side of the Confederacy. He wrote: “We should not therefore conceal from ourselves that our resources in men are constantly diminishing, and the disproportion in this respect…is steadily augmenting.” [56] Despite this, as well as knowing that in every offensive engagement, even in victory he was losing more men percentage wise than his opponent Lee persisted in the belief of the offensive.

When Lee fought defensive actions on ground of his choosing, like at Fredericksburg, he was not only successful but husbanded his strength. However, when he went on the offensive in almost every case he lost between 15 and 22 percent of his strength, a far higher percentage in every case than his Union opponents. In these battles the percentage of soldiers that he lost was always more than his Federal counterparts, even when his army inflicted greater aggregate casualties on his opponents. Those victories may have won Lee “a towering reputation” but these victories “proved fleeting when measured against their dangerous diminution of southern white manpower.” [57] Lee recognized this in his correspondence but he did not alter his strategy of the offensive until after his defeat at Gettysburg.

The course of action was decided upon, but one has to ask if Lee’s decision was wise decision at a strategic level, not simply the operational or tactical level where many Civil War students are comfortable. General Longstreet’s artillery commander, Colonel Porter Alexander described the appropriate strategy of the South well, he wrote:

“When the South entered upon war with a power so immensely her superior in men & money, & all the wealth of modern resources in machinery and the transportation appliances by land & sea, she could entertain but one single hope of final success. That was, that the desperation of her resistance would finally exact from her adversary such a price in blood & treasure as to exhaust the enthusiasm of its population for the objects of the war. We could not hope to conquer her. Our one chance was to wear her out.” [58]

What Alexander describes is the same type of strategy successfully employed by Washington and his more able officers during the American Revolution, Wellington’s campaign on the Iberian Peninsula against Napoleon’s armies, and that of General Giap against the French and Americans in Vietnam. It was not a strategy that completely avoided offensive actions, but saved them for the right moment when victory could be obtained.

It is my belief that Lee erred in invading the North for the simple fact that the risks far outweighed the possible benefits. As Russell Weigley noted “for a belligerent with the limited manpower resources of the Confederacy, General Lee’s dedication to an offensive strategy was at best questionable.” [59] The offensive was a long shot for victory at best, and Lee was a gambler, audacious possibly to a fault. His decision to go north exhibited a certain amount of hubris as he did not believe that his army could be beaten, even when it was outnumbered. Lee had to know from experience that even in victory “the Gettysburg campaign was bound to result in heavy Confederate casualties…limit his army’s capacity to maneuver…and to increase the risk of his being driven into a siege in the Richmond defenses.” [60] The fact that the campaign did exactly that demonstrates both the unsoundness of the campaign and is ironic, for Lee had repeatedly said in the lead up to the offensive in his meetings with Davis, Seddon and the cabinet that “a siege would be fatal to his army” [61] and “which must ultimately end in surrender.” [62]

Grand-strategy and national policy objectives must be the ultimate guide for operational decisions. “The art of employing military forces is obtaining the objects of war, to support the national policy of the government that raises the military forces.” [63] Using such criteria, despite his many victories Lee has to be judged as a failure as a military commander.

Lee knew from his previous experience that his army would suffer heavy casualties. Lee also understood that a victory over the Army of the Potomac deep in Northern territory could cost him dearly. He knew the effect that a costly victory would have on his operations, but he still took the risk. That decision was short sighted and diametrically opposed to the strategy that the South needed to pursue in order to gain its independence. Of course some will disagree, but I am comfortable in my assertion that it was a mistake that greatly affected the Confederacy’s only real means of securing its independence, the breaking of the will of the Union by making victory so costly that it would not be worth the cost.

In light of all of these factors one has to ask a question that is applicable as much today as it was to Lee. Since the object of a campaign is to be able to connect national strategy to the operational and tactical objectives of any campaign, in other words the connection of the campaign to grand-strategy objectives of a nation. In the case of the Confederacy it was to achieve independence, and as Clausewitz so keenly noted that “the political object, which was the original motive, must become an essential factor in the equation.” [64] The Gettysburg campaign, “Lee’s most audacious act, is the apogee of his grand strategy of the offensive.” But the question that has to be asked is “whether Lee should have been there at all.” [65] The same question should be asked by any political or military leader before embarking on a war or campaign within the war.

Notes

[1] Clausewitz, Carl von. On WarIndexed edition, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976 p.88

 

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

[3] Ibid. Gray Fighting Talk p.54

[4] Nolan, Alan T. Robert E. Lee: A Flawed General in Major Problems in American Military History: Documents and Essays Edited by Chambers, John Whiteclay II and Piehler, G. Kurt Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York 1999 p.175

[5] Nolan, Alan T. R. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.9

[6] Clausewitz, Carl von. On WarIndexed edition, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976 p.348

[7] Fuller, J.F.C Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana, 1957 p.192

[8] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.5

[9] 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.101 Fuller has a good discussion of the Anaconda strategy which I discussed in the chapter: Gettysburg, Vicksburg and the Campaign of 1863: The Relationship between Strategy, Operational Art and the DIME

[10] Ibid. Fuller The Conduct of War 1789-1961 p.101

[11] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.629

[12] Dowdy, Clifford. Lee and His Men at Gettysburg: The Death of a Nation Skyhorse Publishing, New York 1986, originally published as Death of a Nation Knopf, New York 1958 pp.20-21

[13] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 pp.524-525

[14] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.34

[15] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.647

[16] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.525

[17] Ibid. Fuller, J.F.C Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship p.193

[18] Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.339

[19] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.5

[20] Ibid. Fuller, J.F.C Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship p.193

[21] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.429

[22] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.429

[23] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee p.525

[24] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p.241

[25] Longstreet, James From Manassas to Appomattox, Memoirs of the Civil War in America originally published 1896, Amazon Kindle Edition location 4656

[26] Ibid. Longstreet, James From Manassas to Appomattox, Memoirs of the Civil War in America location 4705

[27] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.5

[28] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and p.194

[29] Taylor, Walter. General Lee: His campaigns in Virginia 1861-1865 With Personal Reminiscences University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln Nebraska and London, 1994 previously published 1906 p.180.

[30] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.430

[31] Weigley, Russell F. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy University of Indiana Press, Bloomington IN, 1973 pp.114-115

[32] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction p.340

[33] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee p.528

[34] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.51

[35] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431

[36] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431

[37] Tredeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.6

[38] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.647

[39] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.7

[40] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.7

[41] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.432

[42] 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.222

[43] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.432

[44] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.432

[45] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.647

[46] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and p.194

[47] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburgin the First Day at Gettysburg p.2

[48] Ibid. Sears. Gettysburg p.51

[49] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.27

[50] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.27

[51] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.36

[52] Ibid. Weigley The American Way of War p.118

[53] Ibid. Dowdy Lee and His Men at Gettysburg p.28

[54] Ibid. Nolan Robert E. Lee: A Flawed General p.176

[55] Ibid. Nolan Robert E. Lee: A Flawed General in Major Problems p.176

[56] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His CriticsBrassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.134

[57] 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.120

[58] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander, ed. Gary W. Gallagher, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC, 1989 p.415

[59] Ibid. Weigley The American Way of War p.118

[60] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.11

[61] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.11

[62] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431

[63] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.4

[64] Ibid. Clausewitz On War pp.80-81

[65] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.10

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The Failure to Link Grand-Strategy and Operational Objectives: Robert E. Lee and the Decision to Invade Pennsylvania 1863

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A cohesive national strategy involves true debate and consideration of all available courses of action. In 1863 the Confederacy was confronted with the choice of how it would deal with the multiple threats to it posed by Union forces in both the West at Vicksburg, as well as in Tennessee as well as the East, where the Army of the Potomac was in striking distance of Richmond. However in May of 1863 the leaders of the Confederacy allowed themselves to choose the worst possible course of action for their circumstances simply because it was proposed by Robert E. Lee.

The strategic situation was bad but few Confederate politicians realized just how bad things were, or cared in the euphoria after the Lee and Jackson’s victory at Chancellorsville. In the west the strategic river city of Vicksburg Mississippi was threatened by the Army of Union General Ulysses S Grant, and Naval forces under the command of Admiral David Farragut and Admiral David Dixon Porter.

If Vicksburg fell the Union would control the entire Mississippi and cut the Confederacy in two. Union forces also maintained a strong presence in the areas of the Virginia Tidewater and the coastal areas of the Carolinas; while in Tennessee a Union Army under Rosecrans, was stalemated, but still threatening Chattanooga, the gateway to the Deep South. The blockade of the United States Navy continually reinforced since its establishment in 1861, had crippled the already tenuous economy of the Confederacy. The once mocked “anaconda strategy” devised by General Winfield Scott was beginning to pay dividends. [1] Of the nine major Confederate ports linked by rail to the inland cities the Union, all except three; Mobile, Wilmington and Charleston were in Union hands by April 1862. [2]

However, the Confederate response to the danger was “divided councils and paralysis” [3] in their upper leadership. Some Confederate leaders realized the mortal danger presented by Grant in the West including officials in the War Department, one of whom wrote “The crisis there is of the greatest moment. The loss of Vicksburg and the Mississippi river…would wound us very deeply in a political as well as a military point of view.” [4]

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Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon and President Jefferson Davis recognized the danger in the winter of 1862-1863. During the winter Davis and Seddon suggested to Lee that he detach significant units, including Pickett’s division to relieve the pressure in the west and blunt Grant’s advance. Lee would have nothing of it; he argued that the war would be won in the East. He told Seddon that “The adoption of your proposition is hazardous, and it becomes a question between Virginia and the Mississippi.” [5] From a strategic point of view it is hard to believe that Lee could not see this, however, much of Lee’s reasoning can be explained by what he saw as his first duty, the defense of Virginia. Lee’s biographer Michael Korda points out that Lee’s strategic argument was very much influenced by his love of Virginia, which remained his first love, despite his deep commitment to the Confederacy. Korda noted that Lee: “could never overcome a certain myopia about his native state. He remained a Virginian first and foremost…..” [6] It was Lee’s view that if Virginia was lost, so was the Confederacy, and was concerned that whatever units left behind should he dispatch troops from his Army west, would be unable to defend Richmond.

Despite this Seddon did remain in favor of shifting troops west and relieving Vicksburg. He was backed in this by Joseph Johnston, Braxton Bragg, P.T.G. Beauregard and James Longstreet. In Mid-May of 1863 Beauregard proposed a strategy to concentrate all available forces in in Tennessee and going to the strategic defensive on all other fronts. Beauregard, probably the best Southern strategist “saw clearly that the decisive point lay in the West and not the East.” [7] Beauregard’s plan was to mass Confederate forces was crush Rosecrans, relieve Vicksburg and then move east to assist Lee in destroying the Army of the Potomac in his words to complete “the terrible lesson the enemy has just had at Chancellorsville.” [8] His plan was never acknowledged and in a letter to Johnston, where he re-sent the plan he noted “I hope everything will turn out well, although I do not exactly see how.” [9]

James Longstreet had proposed a similar measure to Seddon in February 1863 and then again on May 6th in Richmond. Longstreet believed that “the Confederacy’s greatest opportunity lay “in the skillful use of our interior lines.” [10] He suggested to Seddon that two of his divisions link up with Johnston and Bragg and defeat Rosecrans and upon doing that move toward Cincinnati. Longstreet argued that since Grant would have the only Union troops that could stop such a threat that it would relieve “Pemberton at Vicksburg.” [11] Seddon favored Longstreet’s proposal but Jefferson Davis having sought Lee’s counsel rejected the plan, Longstreet in a comment critical of Davis’s rejection of the proposal wrote: “But foreign intervention was the ruling idea with the President, and he preferred that as the easiest solution of all problems.” [12] Following that meeting Longstreet pitched the idea to Lee who according to Longstreet “recognized the suggestion as of good combination, and giving strong assurance of success, but he was averse to having a part of his army so far beyond his reach.” [13]

In early May 1863 Lee, commanding the Army of Northern Virginia realized that the Confederacy was in desperate straits. Despite numerous victories against heavy odds, Lee knew that time was running out. Though he had beaten the Army of the Potomac under General Joseph Hooker at Chancellorsville, he had not destroyed it and Hooker’s Army, along with a smaller force commanded by General Dix in Hampton Roads still threatened Richmond. He had rejected the western option presented by Seddon, Beauregard and Longstreet. Lee questioned “whether additional troops there would redress the balance in favor of the Confederacy, and he wondered how he would be able to cope with the powerful Army of the Potomac.” [14] In Lee’s defense neither of these suggestions was unsound, but his alternative, an offensive into Pennsylvania just as unsound and undertaken for “confused” reasons. Confederate leaders realized that “something had to be done to save Vicksburg; something had to be done to prevent Hooker from recrossing the Rappahannock; something had to be done to win European recognition, or compel the North to consider terms of peace…[15] However added to these reasons, and perhaps the most overarching for Lee was “to free the State of Virginia, for a time at least, from the presence of the enemy” and “to transfer the theater of war to Northern soil….” [16]

On May 14th Lee travelled by train to Richmond to meet with President Jefferson Davis and War Secretary James Seddon. At the meeting Lee argued for an offensive campaign in the east, to take the war to Pennsylvania. Lee had three major goals for the offensive, two which were directly related to the immediate military situation and one which went to the broader strategic situation.

Lee had long believed that an offensive into the North was necessary, even before Chancellorsville. As I have already noted, Lee did not believe that reinforcing the Confederate Armies in the West would provide any real relief for Vicksburg. He believed, quite falsely, that the harsh climate alone would force Grant to break off his siege of Vicksburg. [17] Instead, Lee believed that his army, flush with victory needed to be reinforced and allowed to advance into Pennsylvania. He proposed withdrawing Beauregard’s 16,000 soldiers from the Carolinas to the north in order “increase the known anxiety of Washington authorities” [18] and sought the return of four veteran brigades which had been loaned to D.H. Hill in North Carolina. In this he was unsuccessful receiving two relatively untested brigades from Hill, those of Johnston Pettigrew and Joseph Davis. The issue of the lack of reinforcements was a “commentary on the severe manpower strains rending the Confederacy…and Davis wrote Lee on May 31st, “and sorely regret that I cannot give you the means which would make it quite safe to attempt all that we desire.” [19]

Lee’s Chief of Staff Colonel Charles Marshall crafted a series of courses of action for Lee designed to present the invasion option as the only feasible alternative for the Confederacy. Lee’s presentation was an “either or” proposal. He gave short shrift to any possibility of reinforcing Vicksburg and explained “to my mind, it resolved itself into a choice of one of two things: either to retire to Richmond and stand a siege, which must ultimately end in surrender, or to invade Pennsylvania.” [20] As any military planner knows the presentation of courses of action designed to lead listeners to the course of action that a commander prefers by ignoring the risks of such action, downplaying other courses of action is disingenuous. In effect Lee was asking Davis and his cabinet to “choose between certain defeat and possibly victory” [21] while blatantly ignoring other courses of action or playing down very real threats.

Lee embraced the offensive as his grand strategy and rejected the defensive in his presentation to the Confederate cabinet, and they were “awed” by Lee’s strategic vision. Swept up in Lee’s presentation the cabinet approved the invasion despite the fact that “most of the arguments he made to win its approval were more opportunistic than real.” [22] However, Postmaster General John Reagan objected and stated his dissent arguing that Vicksburg had to be the top priority. But Lee was persuasive telling the cabinet “There were never such men in any army before….They will go anywhere and do anything if properly led….” So great was the prestige of Lee, “whose fame…now filled the world,” that he carried the day.” [23]Although both Seddon and Davis had reservations about the plan they agreed to it, unfortunately for all of them they never really settled the important goals of the campaign including how extensive the invasion would be, how many troops would he need and where he would get them. [24] The confusion about these issues was fully demonstrated by Davis in his letter of May 31st where he “had never fairly comprehended” Lee’s “views and purposes” until he received a letter and dispatch from the general that day.” [25] That lack of understanding is surprising since Lee had made several personal visits to Davis and the cabinet during May and demonstrates again the severe lack of understanding of the strategic problems by Confederate leaders.

Lee believed that his offensive would relieve Grant’s pressure on Pemberton’s Army at Vicksburg. How it would do so is not clear since the Union had other armies and troops throughout the east to parry any thrust made had the Army of the Potomac endured a decisive defeat that not only drove it from the battlefield but destroyed it as a fighting force. Postmaster General Reagan believed that the only way to stop Grant was “destroy him” and “move against him with all possible reinforcements.” [26]

Likewise Lee believed that if he was successful in battle and defeated the Army of the Potomac in Pennsylvania that it could give the peace party in the North to bring pressure on the Lincoln Administration to end the war. This too was a misguided belief and Lee would come to understand that as his forces entered Maryland and Pennsylvania where there was no popular support for his invading army. In the meeting with the cabinet Postmaster-General Reagan, agreeing with General Beauregard warned that “the probability that the threatened danger to Washington would arouse again the whole of the Yankee nation to renewed efforts for the protection of their capital.” [27] Likewise, Stephens the fire breathing Vice President “wanted to negotiate for peace, and he foresaw rightly that Lee’s offensive would strengthen and not weaken the war party in the North….Stephens was strongly of the opinion that Lee should have remained on the defensive and detached a strong force to assist Johnston against Grant at Vicksburg.” [28]

Lee believed that if he could spend a summer campaign season in the North, living off of Union foodstuffs and shipping booty back to the Confederacy that it would give farmers in Northern Virginia a season to harvest crops unimpeded by major military operations. While the offensive did give a few months relief to these farmers it did not deliver them. Likewise Lee’s argument that he could not feed his army flies in the face of later actions where for the next two years the Army of Northern Virginia continued to subsist. Alan Nolan notes that if a raid for forage was a goal of the operation then “a raid by small, mobile forces rather than the entire army would have had considerably more promise and less risk.” [29] D. H. Hill in North Carolina wrote his wife: “Genl. Lee is venturing upon a very hazardous movement…and one that must be fruitless, if not disastrous.” [30]

Though Lee won permission to invade Pennsylvania, he did not get all that he desired. Davis refused Lee reinforcements from the coastal Carolinas, and insisted on units being left to cover Richmond in case General Dix advanced on Richmond from Hampton Roads. Much of this was due to political pressure as well as the personal animus of General D. H. Hill who commanded Confederate forces in the Carolinas towards Lee. The units included two of Pickett’s brigades which would be sorely missed on July third.

Likewise Lee’s decision revealed an unresolved issue in Confederate Grand Strategy, the conflict between the strategy of the offensive and that of the defensive. Many in the Confederacy realized that the only hope for success was to fight a defensive campaign that made Union victory so expensive that eventually Lincoln’s government would fall or be forced to negotiate.

Lee was convinced that ultimate victory could only be achieved by decisively defeating and destroying Federal military might in the East. His letters are full of references to crush, defeat or destroy Union forces opposing him. His strategy of the offensive was demonstrated on numerous occasions in 1862 and early 1863, however in the long term, the strategy of the offensive was unfeasible and counterproductive to Southern strategy. Lee’s offensive operations always cost his Army dearly in the one commodity that the South could not replace, nor keep pace with its Northern adversary, his men. His realism about that subject was shown after he began his offensive when he wrote Davis about how time was not on the side of the Confederacy. He wrote: “We should not therefore conceal from ourselves that our resources in men are constantly diminishing, and the disproportion in this respect…is steadily augmenting.” [31] Despite this, as well as knowing that in every offensive engagement, even in victory he was losing more men percentage wise than his opponent Lee persisted in the belief of the offensive.

When Lee fought defensive actions on ground of his choosing, like a Fredericksburg he was not only successful but husbanded his strength. However, when he went on the offensive in almost every case he lost between 15 and 22 percent of his strength, a far higher percentage in every case than his Union opponents. In these battles the percentage of soldiers that he lost was always more than his Federal counterparts, even when his army inflicted greater aggregate casualties on his opponents. Those victories may have won Lee “a towering reputation” but these victories “proved fleeting when measured against their dangerous diminution of southern white manpower.” [32] Lee recognized this in his correspondence but he did not alter his strategy of the offensive until after his defeat at Gettysburg.

The course of action was decided upon, but one has to ask if Lee’s decision was wise decision at a strategic point level, not simply the operational or tactical level where many Civil War students are comfortable. General Longstreet’s artillery commander, Colonel Porter Alexander described the appropriate strategy of the South well, he wrote:

“When the South entered upon war with a power so immensely her superior in men & money, & all the wealth of modern resources in machinery and the transportation appliances by land & sea, she could entertain but one single hope of final success. That was, that the desperation of her resistance would finally exact from her adversary such a price in blood & treasure as to exhaust the enthusiasm of its population for the objects of the war. We could not hope to conquer her. Our one chance was to wear her out.” [33]

What Alexander describes is the same type of strategy successfully employed by Washington and his more able officers during the American Revolution, Wellington’s campaign on the Iberian Peninsula against Napoleon’s armies, and that of General Giap against the French and Americans in Vietnam. It was not a strategy that completely avoided offensive actions, but saved them for the right moment when victory could be obtained.

It is my belief that Lee erred in invading the North for the simple fact that the risks far outweighed the possible benefits. It was a long shot and Lee was a gambler, audacious possibly to a fault. His decision to go north also exhibited a certain amount of hubris as he did not believe that his army could be beaten, even when it was outnumbered. Lee had to know from experience that even in victory “the Gettysburg campaign was bound to result in heavy Confederate casualties…limit his army’s capacity to maneuver…and to increase the risk of his being driven into a siege in the Richmond defenses.” [34] The fact that the campaign did exactly that demonstrates both the unsoundness of the campaign and is ironic, for Lee had repeatedly said in the lead up to the offensive in his meetings with Davis, Seddon and the cabinet that “a siege would be fatal to his army” [35] and “which must ultimately end in surrender.” [36]

Grand-strategy and national policy objectives must be the ultimate guide for operational decisions. “The art of employing military forces is obtaining the objects of war, to support the national policy of the government that raises the military forces.” [37] Using such criteria, despite his many victories Lee has to be judged as a failure as a military commander. Lee knew from his previous experience that his army would suffer heavy casualties. He understood that a victory over the Army of the Potomac deep in Northern territory could cost him dearly. He knew the effect that a costly victory would have on his operations, but he still took the risk. That decision was short sighted and diametrically opposed to the strategy that the South needed to pursue in order to gain its independence. Of course some will disagree, but I am comfortable in my assertion that it was a mistake that greatly affected the Confederacy’s only real means of securing its independence, the breaking of the will of the Union by making victory so costly that it would not be worth the cost.

 

[1] 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.101 Fuller has a good discussion of the Anaconda strategy which I discussed in the chapter: Gettysburg, Vicksburg and the Campaign of 1863: The Relationship between Strategy, Operational Art and the DIME

[2] Ibid. Fuller The Conduct of War 1789-1961 p.101

[3] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.629

[4] Coddington, Edwin B. The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster New York, 1968 p.5

[5] Guelzo, Allen C. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 2013 p.34

[6] Korda, Michael. Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2014 p.525

[7] Fuller, J.F.C Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship Indiana University Press, Bloomington Indiana, 1957 p.193

[8] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian Random House, New York 1963 p.429

[9] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.429

[10] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee p.525

[11] Wert, Jeffry D. General James Longstreet The Confederacy’s Most Controversial Soldier, A Touchstone Book, Simon and Schuster, New York and London 1993 p.241

[12] Longstreet, James From Manassas to Appomattox, Memoirs of the Civil War in America originally published 1896, Amazon Kindle Edition location 4656

[13] Ibid. Longstreet, James From Manassas to Appomattox, Memoirs of the Civil War in America location 4705

[14] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.5

[15] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and p.194

[16] Taylor, Walter. General Lee: His campaigns in Virginia 1861-1865 With Personal Reminiscences University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln Nebraska and London, 1994 previously published 1906 p.180.

[17] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.430

[18] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee p.528

[19] Sears, Stephen W. Gettysburg. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston and New York 2003 p.51

[20] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431

[21] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431

[22] Tredeau, Noah Andre. Gettysburg: A Testing of Courage, Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2002 p.6

[23] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.647

[24] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.7

[25] Ibid. Coddington The Gettysburg Campaign: A Study in Command, p.7

[26] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.432

[27] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.432

[28] Ibid. Fuller Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and p.194

[29] Nolan, Alan T. R. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg edited by Gallagher, Gary W. Kent State University Press, Kent Ohio 1992 p.2

[30] Ibid. Sears. Gettysburg p.51

[31] Taylor, John M. Duty Faithfully Performed: Robert E Lee and His CriticsBrassey’s, Dulles VA 1999 p.134

[32] 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.120

[33] Alexander, Edward Porter. Fighting for the Confederacy: The Personal Recollections of General Edward Porter Alexander, ed. Gary W. Gallagher, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC, 1989 p.415

[34] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.11

[35] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.11

[36] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume Two Fredericksburg to Meridian p.431

[37] Ibid. NolanR. E. Lee and July 1 at Gettysburg in the First Day at Gettysburg p.4

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Gettysburg: The Connection between Policy, Strategy, and Operational Art

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As I have been working to revise my materials form my next Gettysburg Staff Ride I did some revisions to my text that I use with my students. The footnotes did not show up so Monday I will repost the text of this article with them. The article is important even for non-military types who care about the country and are involved in politics or policy, because it shows the linkage between the advantages that a nation with a strong strong and effective central government has over one which adopts what we would call today a Libertarian form of government. In fact I would call the effort of the Confederacy in the Civil War “The Failed Libertarian War.” But that is possibly a subject for an article or maybe even a book, but I digress…

So anyway here is the latest,

Peace

Padre Steve+

Today we look at the Gettysburg Campaign in terms of how we understand the connection between strategy and operational art. In doing so we have to place it in the context that Lee’s campaign has in relationship to the Confederate command relationships and where it fits in the continuum of unified action as we understand it today.

To do so we have to make the connection between national strategic objectives, theater objectives, operational objective and tactical objectives. We have to explore command and control structures, staff organization and the understand the effect of the Diplomatic, Informational, Economic and Military elements of national power that impact a nation’s ability to wage war.

The summer campaign of 1863 in the Civil War gives us the opportunity to do this as we explore the Gettysburg campaign in relation to Vicksburg and the overall strategic situation that both sides faced. This includes the elements that we now associate with the DIME.

While Confederate army units and their commanders generally excelled on the tactical level, and their soldiers endured hardship well, this would not be enough to secure victory. They displayed amazing individual initiative on the battlefield and they won many victories against superior forces, especially in the early part of the war. Even during the final year of the war, Lee’s forces fought skillfully and helped prolong the war. But neither the Confederate government nor the various army commanders were able to translate battlefield success to operational, theater specific or national strategic objectives.

The Confederacy had a twofold problem in its organization for war and how it conducted the war. First it had no organization at the strategic level to direct the war, and it never developed one to coordinate its military, military, diplomatic or economic policies. While Southern strategists understood that they needed to “wear down the ability of the North to wage war” they were consistently hobbled by its own internal political divisions which served to undermine efforts to coordinate the effort to defend the Confederacy. These divisions focused on the opposition of the states’ rights proponents to the central government in Richmond.

The overarching national strategic objective of the Confederacy was to attain independence. The Confederates could not hope to conquer the Union and because of that their “strategic problem was to resist conquest” and to do so they would have to “tire the Federals out, and force them to abandon the war.” Jefferson Davis seems to have understood this early in the war, but political considerations and the temperament of most Southerners and their political leaders frustrated his attempts. Generals like Lee and Joseph E. Johnston “were of the opinion that the more remote frontiers should be abandoned, and that the scattered forces of the Confederacy be concentrated, political reasons overruled their judgment.”

Southern politicians, especially the governors and congressmen demanded that troops “defend every portion of the Confederacy from penetration by “Lincoln’s abolition hordes.” Likewise, most Southerners believed that they “could whip any number of Yankees” and as early as 1861 the Confederate press was advocating an offensive strategy as the Richmond Examiner declared “The idea of waiting for blows rather than inflicting them, is altogether unsuited to the genius of our people….The aggressive policy is the truly defensive one. A column pushed forward into Ohio or Pennsylvania is worth more to us, as a defensive measure, than a whole tier of seacoast batteries from Norfolk to the Rio Grande.”

This combination of wanting to defend everything, which defied Frederick the Great’s classic dictum that “he who defends everything defends nothing” and the persistent employment of the offensive even when it “drained the Confederacy’s manpower and weakened its long term prospects for independence” were key strategic factors in its defeat.

The South did get an earlier start to in mobilizing for war then the Union. Even before the “Confederate Congress authorized an army of 100,000 volunteers for twelve months” on March 6th 1861 the governors of the eleven Confederate States raised units to fight any Federal armies which dared to force them back into the Union. This involved dusting off the old militias which had been allowed to decay in the period between the Mexican War and 1860. Most of these units in the South as well as the North were volunteer companies in which the discipline, equipment and training varied to a significant degree. Most had little in the way of real military training and “many of them spent more time drinking than drilling.” The early Confederate mobilization outstripped the availability of arms and equipment forcing many volunteers to be sent home.

Other than the stated desire for independence and their common hatred of the “Yankee,” there was little in the way of unity within the Confederate States, “the incurable jealousy of the States, especially those not immediately affected by the war, established a dry rot within the Confederacy.” Within the Confederacy, each state viewed itself as an independent nation only loosely bound to the other states and some legislatures enacted laws which actively opposed the central government in Richmond.

The various Confederate states controlled the use of their units and often resisted any effort at centralization of effort. Some kept their best units at home, while others dispatched units to Confederate armies such as Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Initially most states limited enlistment periods to one year despite the opposition of Robert E. Lee who helped Jefferson Davis pass the Conscription Act of 1862, a measure that was “heavily watered down by those politicians whose first concern was states’ rights and by those who felt that it would undermine patriotism.” That measure, even in its watered down form was distinctly unpopular, especially with the following declaration of martial law in parts of the Confederacy.

Both measures were brought by realists who understood that for the Confederacy to survive the war effort had to become a total war, with “the whole population and the whole production…put on a war footing.” Such measures provoke more attacks and opposition by their opponents who advocated states’ rights even if it worked against the overall interests of the Confederacy. By the time of Gettysburg if not sooner, “Confederate society began to unravel. The yeomanry and poor white people resented conscription, the tax-in-kind impressment, and other governmental measures than the wealthy. Planters sought to safeguard their property and status to the detriment of national goals.”

This included how state governments responded to the military needs of the Confederacy. Some governors hoarded weapons seized from Federal armories, “retaining these weapons to arm regiments that they kept at home… defend state boarders and guard against potential slave uprisings.” When in response to threats within the Confederacy Jefferson Davis suspended the writ of habeas corpus it resulted in a firestorm of opposition from the states. “Mississippi and Georgia passed flaming resolutions against the act; Louisiana presently did so, too, and North Carolina soon had a law on its books nullifying the action of the central government.” Alexander Stephens, the Confederate Vice President noted that there was “no such thing as a citizen of the United States, but the citizen of a State, and that “the object of quitting the Union, was not to destroy, but to save the principles of the Constitution.”

Likewise as economic conditions worsened and inflation soared in late 1861 the Confederate Congress “in its allotments to the War Department refused to face up to the costs of running the war…it forced the department to scramble in an atmosphere of uncertainty for allotments on a short-run basis.” There was much distrust of any attempt to organize a true central government with any actual authority or power in Richmond. Jefferson Davis may have been President but his country was hamstrung by its own internal divisions, including the often vocal opposition of Stephens for whom states’ rights remained a paramount issue. Stephens, in a statement that defied the understanding that military victory had to be achieved for independence to be won said during the habeas corpus debate “Away with the idea of getting independence first, and looking to liberty afterward.” This, like so many other aspects of the Confederate war effort showed the radical disconnection between legislators, policy makers and the Army and defied any understanding of the importance of government and the unity of effort in pursuing war aims. .

The Confederacy lacked a clear defined command structure to coordinate its war efforts. At the beginning of the war this was true of the Union as well, however, by the Union was much more adept at responding to the needs of the war, this included its military operations, diplomatic efforts and economy. Out of necessity it established a War Department as well as a Department of the Navy in February 1861 and Jefferson Davis, the new President who had served in Mexico and as Secretary of War prior to secession “helped speed southern mobilization in 1861.” However helpful this was initially Davis, who micromanaged Confederate war efforts “eventually led to conflict with some army officers.”

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Jefferson Davis was an able man to be sure, but he “totally misunderstood the nature of the war.” Davis was a man given to suspicion and had major personality conflicts with all of his senior commanders save Robert E. Lee. These included Joseph Johnston who he loathed and P.T.G. Beauregard, both of whom he quarreled with on matters of strategy. These conflicts did impact operations, just as did the refusal of various states to support operations or campaigns apart from ones that impacted their state directly.

While Jefferson Davis and his Secretary of War theoretically exercised direction of the war no formal mechanism existed to coordinate the needs of the various military departments or armies. In 1863 Davis, Lee and the Secretary of War, James Seddon were acting as an “informal board which had a say in all major questions of Confederate strategy. Seddon, who had definite ideas of his own about military affairs, was usually but not always a party to Davis’ discussions with Lee…but Davis usually dominated them…. In contrast to the Northern command organization, the South had no general in chief. If anyone fulfilled his functions, it was the President.” It was not until February of 1865 that Lee was named as General in Chief of all armies, and by then the war had been lost.

While Jefferson Davis and his Secretary of War theoretically exercised direction of the war no formal mechanism existed to coordinate the needs of the various military departments or armies. In 1863 Davis, Lee and the Secretary of War, James Seddon were acting as an “informal board which had a say in all major questions of Confederate strategy. Seddon, who had definite ideas of his own about military affairs, was usually but not always a party to Davis’ discussions with Lee…but Davis usually dominated them…. In contrast to the Northern command organization, the South had no general in chief. If anyone fulfilled his functions, it was the President.” It was not until February of 1865 that Lee was named as General in Chief of all armies, and by then the war had been lost.

In effect each Confederate army and military department operated independently, often competing with each other for the troops, supplies and materials needed to fight. They also had to contend with recalcitrant state governments, each loathe to sacrifice anything that might compromise their own independence. Attempts by the authorities in Richmond to centralize some measure of authority were met with resistance by the states. Thus states’ rights were “not only the cause of the war, but also the cause of the Confederate downfall.”

In a country as vast as the Confederacy that lacked the industry, transportation infrastructure, population and economic power of the North this was a hindrance that could not be overcome by the soldierly abilities of its armies alone. An example of the Confederate problem was that “neither the army nor the government exercised any control of the railroads.” The Confederate Subsistence Department, which in theory was responsible for ensuring the supply of food, stores and the logistical needs necessary to maintain armies in the field could not plan with confidence. “Tied to the railroads, unable to build up a reserve; frequently uncertain whether or not their troops were going to be fed from one day to the next, field commanders understandably experienced a general loss of confidence in the Subsistence Department….” Even though the subsistence and even the survival of the army was dependent on the use of railroads, the railroad owners “responded by an assertion of their individual rights. They failed to cooperate….and Government shipments were accorded low priority. In May of 1863 the Confederate Congress finally granted the government broad authority over the railroads, but “Davis hesitated to wield the power. “ It would not be until early 1865 that the Confederacy would “finally take control of the railroads.”

All of these factors had a direct effect on the campaign of 1863. In the west, Confederate commanders were very much left to fend for themselves and to add to their misery failed even to coordinate their activities to meet the threat of Grant and his naval commander, Admiral David Dixon Porter. In the East, Lee having established a close relationship with Jefferson Davis as his military advisor during the first year of the war exercised a disproportionate influence on the overall strategy of the Confederacy because of his relationship with Davis. However, Lee was hesitant to use his influence to supply his army, even when it was suffering. Even though he willingly shared in the plight of his solders, Lee refused “to exert his authority to obtain supplies….” As the army prepared to invade Pennsylvania, “the paltry rationing imposed by Richmond was made worse by a tenuous supply line….”

Lee in theory was simply one of a number of army or department commanders, yet he was responsible for the decision to invade the Union in June of 1863. This decision impacted the entire war effort. The Confederate cabinet “could reject Lee’s proposal as readily as that of any other department commander, Bragg, or Pemberton or Beauregard, for example, each of whom was zealous to protect the interests of the region for which he was responsible…” But this was Lee, “the first soldier of the Confederacy- the first soldier of the world…” Lee’s plan was approved by the cabinet by a vote of five to one. The lone dissenter was Postmaster General John H. Reagan who “believed a fatal mistake had been made…”

Lee in theory was simply one of a number of army or department commanders, yet he was responsible for the decision to invade the Union in June of 1863. This decision impacted the entire war effort. The Confederate cabinet “could reject Lee’s proposal as readily as that of any other department commander, Bragg, or Pemberton or Beauregard, for example, each of whom was zealous to protect the interests of the region for which he was responsible…” But this was Lee, “the first soldier of the Confederacy- the first soldier of the world…” Lee’s plan was approved by the cabinet by a vote of five to one. The lone dissenter was Postmaster General John H. Reagan who “believed a fatal mistake had been made…”

Seddon desired to turn the tide at Vicksburg and proposed sending Longstreet’s Corps to reinforce Johnston to relieve the embattled city and maintain the front on the Mississippi. However, Lee believed that any attempt “to turn the Tide at Vicksburg…put Lee’s army in Virginia at unacceptable risk.”

The lack of any sense of unity in the Confederate hierarchy and lack of a grand strategy was disastrous. The lack of agreement on a grand strategy and the inability of the Confederate States Government and the various state governments to cooperate at any level culminated in the summer of 1863 with the loss of Vicksburg and the failure of Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania. The Confederate failure in this demonstrates the absolute need for unity of effort and even more a whole of government and whole of nation approach to war.

This can be contrasted with the Union, which though it was slow to understand the nature of the war did have people who, through trial and error developed a cohesive strategy that led to success at the operational level and the tactical level. The genus in Union strategy came from Lieutenant General Winfield Scott who “appreciated the relationship between economic factors and attack.” Scott’s strategic plan was to establish a blockade and form two major armies, “one to move down the Mississippi and cut off the western half of the Confederacy from its eastern half, while the other threatened Richmond and pinned down the main Confederate forces in Virginia.” It was a plan for total war called Anaconda which was mocked in both the Northern and Southern press and it would become the blueprint of Federal success at the war progressed. Scott was the first to recognize that the war would not be short and his plan was the first to “recognize the North’s tremendous advantage in numbers and material, and it was the first to emphasize the importance of the Mississippi Valley in an over-all view of the war.”

Abraham Lincoln had little in the way of military acumen and frequently, until Grant took control of the armies interfered with his senior commanders, often with good reason. However, Lincoln was committed to winning the war and willing to take whatever steps necessary to do so. Fuller describes him as “none other than a dictator” by bypassing Congress and on his own authority declaring a blockade of Southern ports, calling for 75,000 volunteers and suspending habeas corpus.

Likewise Lincoln as well as Congress understood the value and necessity of the railroads and in January 1862 “Congress authorized to take possession of any railroads and place them under military control when the public safety warranted it.” Lincoln formed the Department of Military Railroads the following month and appointed Daniel C McCallum as its director. In May President Lincoln formally took possession of all railroads, but “saw to it that cooperative lines received government aid.”

George McClellan, who Lincoln appointed as commander of the Army of the Potomac in 1862, whatever his many faults as a field commander “possessed a strategic design for winning the war,” understood the necessity of unity of command and successfully built an effective army. Now his design was different than that of Scott, for he desired to “crush the rebels in one campaign” by an overland march to Richmond. While this was unrealistic because of McClellan’s constant overestimation of his enemy and inability to risk a fight when on the Peninsula and at the gates of Richmond, the Union might have at least had a chance should he have defeated the major Confederate forces deployed to defend that city. While that would have been unlikely to win the war in a single stroke it would have been a significant reversal for the Confederacy in 1862.

Logistics was one of the deciding factors of e war, both the Confederate weakness and Union ability to adapt society and government needs to wartime conditions. As a general principle Union leaders, government and business alike understood the changing nature of modern war. This stood in stark contrast to the inefficient and graft ridden Confederate agencies where even those who wanted more effective means to wage war were hindered by politicians, land owners and businessmen who insisted on their rights over the needs of the nation. The Union developed an efficient and well managed War Department where the importance of logistics inter-bureau cooperation became a paramount concern.

Union industry “geared up up for war production on a scale that would make the Union army the best fed, most lavishly supplied army that have ever existed.” The Quartermaster’s Department under the direction of Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs was particularly efficient in supplying the needs of a military fighting on exterior lines in multiple theaters of operation. Unlike the Confederate Subsistence Bureau the Federal Quartermaster Bureau supplied almost everything the army could need: “uniforms, overcoats shoes, knapsacks, haversacks, canteens, mess gear, blankets, tents, camp equipage, barracks, horses, mules, forage, harnesses, horseshoes, and portable blacksmith shops, supply wagons, ships when the army could be supplied by water, coal and wood to fuel them, and supply depots for storage and distribution.” The ill-equipped Confederates could only look on with awe, in fact during his absence from Lee J.E.B. Stuart was ecstatic over the capture of “one hundred and twenty five of the best United States model wagons and splendid teams….” likewise one of the reasons that A.P. Hill allowed Harry Heth to send his division the Gettysburg was to find shoes that the Confederate Subsistence Department could not provide for them. Thus one of the reasons for the Battle of Gettysburg is directly linked to the failed logistics system of the Confederacy.

Early in the war the Union logistics effort was beset by some of the same problems that plagued the Confederacy throughout the war. Graft and corruption ran rife until 1862 when “Congress established investigative committees to uncover fraud and passed laws regulating the letting of contracts.” Meigs overhauled the bureau. At the beginning of the war it had only one department, for clothing. He modernized this and added eight new departments, which dealt with “specialized logistical functions such as forage and fuel, barracks and hospitals and wagon transportation.” During the war Meigs managed nearly half the direct costs of the Union war effort,” over 1.5 billion dollars in spending. He has been called by James McPherson as “the unsung hero of northern victory.”

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The Unsung Union Hero: General Montgomery Meigs 

This had a profound effect on operations. When the Union forces by necessity had to operate in enemy territory they were well supplied whereas whenever Confederate Forces conducted operations in the North or even in supposedly friendly Border States they were forced to subsist off the land. This meant that Confederate operations in the north were no more than what we would call raids, even the large invasions launched by Lee in 1862 and 1863, both which ended in defeat and near disaster.

Because of their poor logistic capabilities Confederate forces had no staying power to keep and hold any ground that they took in enemy territory. This can be contrasted with the Union which when it sent its forces south meant them to stay.

Lee could not fathom this and because he believed that no Federal Army could stand a summer in the Deep South and that Grant would be forced to withdraw. The use of railroads to supply its far flung forces operating in the south as well as its use of maritime transportation along the coast and on inland waterways ensured that Northern armies could always be supplied or if threatened could be withdrawn by ship.

Some senior Union officers also understood the importance of logistics. Henry Halleck was the first true American military theorist. He published the first American work on strategy, Elements of Military Art and Science in 1846. While his is often given short shrift because he was not an effective field commander and had an acerbic personality which rubbed people the wrong way, Halleck was one of the most important individuals in organizing the eventual Union victory. This included matters of strategy, picking effective subordinate commanders and understanding the logistical foundations of strategy.

Weigley wrote of Halleck:

“He sponsored and encouraged the operations of Brigadier General Ulysses. S. Grant and Flag Officer Andrew H. Foote that captured Forts Henry and Donaldson in February 1862 and thereby opened up the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers for Union penetration deep into the state of Tennessee and toward the strategically important Memphis and Charleston Railroad. Halleck’s insights into the logistical foundations of strategy proved consistently accurate. Throughout the war, he maintained a shrewd eye for logistically viable lines of operation for the Union forces, and he increasingly recognized that one of the most effective weapons of offensive strategy, in an age when battle meant exposure to rifled firepower, was not to aim directly at the enemy armies but at their logistical base.”

Halleck was also instrumental in helping to oust Hooker just before Gettysburg and raise Meade to command the Army of the Potomac. When Lincoln brought Grant east to become General in Chief Halleck took on the new position of Chief of Staff. This was a task that he fulfilled admirably, allowing Grant to remain in the field and ensuring clear communication between Lincoln and Grant as well as relieving “Grant of the burden of personally corresponding with his department commanders.”

By establishing what we now understand as the beginning of a modern command and staff organizational structure the Union was far more able to link its national, theater and operational level objectives with its tactical objectives, even when some of its commanders were not as good as Confederates and blundered into defeats. Above the army, at the administration level Stanton, the Federal Secretary of war organized a War Board and “composed of department heads and chaired by Major General Ethan Allen Hitchcock…as an embryonic American-style general staff.”

In the end during the summer of 1863 it was the Union which was better able to link the ends, ways and means of the strategic direction of the war. This is something that Davis and Lee were unable to do as they struggled with political division, a lack of cooperation from the states, and the lack of any true grand strategy.

Lee’s strategy of the offensive was wrong and compounded the problems faced by the Confederacy. The losses that his army suffered were irreplaceable, not just in terms of overall numbers of soldiers but in terms of his mid-level leaders, his battalion, regiment and brigade commanders who suffered grievous losses and were even more critical to the leadership of his army.

Lee recognized the terrible effects of his officer casualties in a letter to General John Bell Hood on May 21st: “There never were such men in an Army before. But there is the difficulty- proper commanders- where can they be obtained?” His actions at Gettysburg only added to his crisis in keeping his army supplied with competent commanders, as so many were left dead, wounded or captured during the campaign.

Even had Lee won the battle of Gettysburg his casualties in Union territory would have been prohibitive. He would have spent most of his ammunition, incurred serious losses in personnel and horses, and been burdened by not having to care for his wounded and still been deep in Union territory away from his nearest logistics hub. Had Lee won at Gettysburg “his ammunition would have been nearly exhausted in victory, while Federal logistics would have improved as the Army of the Potomac fell back toward the eastern cities.” This would have forced him to withdraw from Pennsylvania even had he been victorious.

It is true that a victory on northern soil might have emboldened the peace party in the North, but even then that could not have an effect on the desired effect on the Lincoln Administration until the election of 1864, still 16 months away. Likewise, in July 1863 such a victory would probably not have triggered foreign recognition or assistance on the part of France or England. “Skilful northern diplomacy prevented an internal conflict from becoming an international war.” Jefferson Davis held on to his fantasy until August 1863, when even he was forced to deal with reality was a vain hope indeed and ended his diplomatic efforts to bring England into the war.

England would not intervene for many reasons and the Confederate government did not fully appreciate the situation of the countries that they hoped would intervene on their behalf:

“its dependence on northern foodstuffs, access to new cotton supplies, turmoil in Europe, fear of what might happen to Canada and to British commerce in a war with the Union, and an unwillingness to side with slavery. The British government also wanted to establish precedents by respecting the blockade, a weapon that it often used.”

Confederate politicians were hindered by a very narrow, parochial view of the world, had little understanding of modern industry, economics and the type of diplomacy employed by Europeans both to strengthen their nations, but also to maintain a balance of power.

As we look at the Gettysburg and Vicksburg campaigns in the summer of 1863 these are important things to consider. The relationship between national strategic objectives, theater objectives, operational objectives and tactical success cannot be minimized. Success on the battlefield alone is almost always insufficient to win a war unless those wins serve a higher operational and strategic purpose, and the costs of battles and campaigns have to be weighed in relation to the strategic benefits that derive from them.

In the end the total failure of the two campaigns destroyed any real hope of Confederate military victory. At Vicksburg the Confederacy lost all of Pemberton’s army, 33,000 men and Lee suffered over 28,000 casualties from an army which had begun the campaign with about 80,000 troops. The losses were irreplaceable.

This essay is certainly not an exhaustive look at the subject, but if we do not consider these factors we cannot really understand the bigger picture of the situation that the two sides faced and how they dealt with them. While the weapons and tactics employed by the sides are obsolete the thought processes and strategic considerations are timeless.

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