Discussion Change in tactics?

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bankerpapaw

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Why, after the first couple of major battles, didn't the North or the South change their battlefield tactics instead of using the old Napoleon tactics that caused such slaughter?
 
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leftyhunter

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Why, after the first couple of major battles, didn't the North or the South change their battlefield tactics instead of using the old Napoleon tactics that caused such slaughter?
If both armies should not of used Napoleonic tactics then what should they have used? Other then small arms and cannons with more range and power plus repeating rifles(for the Union anyway) what other major military technological change occurred from say Waterloo to 1st Bull Run? At the end of the day Napoleonic tactics worked albit at a heavy price. I am not saying that you are wrong but both sides seemed to get their plays more or less from the same books that they read at West Point.
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AUG

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File and rank tactics had been around since ancient times, since the phalanx formations used in the Greco-Persian War. They had evolved throughout the years to some extent to accommodate the weapons of the period, although their original purpose was to keep large groups of soldiers in order, march them across the battlefield, and engage the enemy in an effective manor. Back when radios and other forms of communication the military has today weren't around, small unit tactics wouldn't have worked in a large conventional army at the time, and no one was willing to completely reinvent the conventional tactics of warfare they had been taught at West Point.

Earthworks and fortifications had a big part in the outcome of battles throughout the war, although they had really been in use for hundreds of years. Attacks against entrenched positions were seen in the Napoleonic Wars, and to the same outcome as in the ACW.
 
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gary

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It's been said that generals always fight the last war.

It took a while for changes to be accepted. Officers had to prove their proficiency and knowledge before an examination board that relied on Casey or Hardee's. Even after Shiloh & Antietam, it took a while before digging in became the norm. The men had to rid themselves of the notion that it was cowardly to hide behind a tree. For the southerners, they also had to overcome the notion that digging was for blacks. The reality of war caused men and officers alike to change. We saw Union units fortify themselves at Gettysburg. By 1864, it was common for units to automatically begin digging rifle pits which then became fox holes that grew into trenches.

Brent Nosworthy's books and Earl Hess' books on worthwhile reading.
 

trice

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Tactics in European military practice had been essentially the same since bayonets replaced pikes and flintlocks replaced matchlocks in the late 1600s. That change allowed musket-armed infantry to protect themselves in shock-combat -- thus allowing more men to carry muskets, increasing firepower. This change was ongoing in the 1690s and early 1700s.

With minor changes, usually related to new technology, tactics remained the same from then until the 1860s and after. This is because the tactics used were an excellent, well-tested, proven way to make use of gunpowder weapons in combat After 150 years of improvement, the high-point of excellence in these tactics may very well have been the French Army of Napoleon III in the war against Austria in Italy (battles of Solferino and Magenta, 1859) and the Franco-Prussian War.

The technological innovations that came along from 1700-1850 had an impact on the battlefield, but none in that period made the basic tactics out-dated or obsolete. The flintlock and the socket bayonet was what really changed things and got this period started. Prussian innovation replaced the wooden ramrod with an iron one, leading to an improved rate of fire (which the Prussians enforced iron discipline to make maximum use of) around 1740. Lighter, more mobile field guns and horse artillery changed the way certain things were done, leading to the peak of the French artillery charges around 1807-1815. Percussion caps made muskets about 10% more likely to fire, and capable of firing in wet weather -- strengthening infantry firepower against cavalry shock tactics. Rifling extended accuracy and range of infantry firepower -- but smoothbore muskets fired about 2-3 times faster than rifles.

As a result of this, the tactics of American units in Mexico contain nothing that would be surprising to Napoleon's veterans, and are no more different from those of Frederick the Great than the French tactics of Napoleon's day. They were pretty much the optimum way to make use of the weapons available. Bragg's use of Horse Artillery to dominate the battlefield at Buena Vista is probably the greatest example of such in the history of the Americas; Napoleon's gunners would have appreciated it as an excellent example of the art.

What begins the change in all this is the introduction of practical rifled-musket technology: the Minie rifle (invention 1847, early adoption in 1849, substantial use in the Crimean War 1853-56 followed by mass adoption in the armies of the Western World). Please note that it is the widespread, mass use of the new weapons technology on the battlefield that really changes things, not the simple invention of it or the use of new weapons by small portions of the forces.

The first real test of the mass use of the new weapons on the battlefield is the Crimean War -- and that is not really decisive nor enough to determine how to best use them. The next big change is the Austro-French War in Italy in 1859. Those were generally considered the best armies in the world at the time. They represented the two major tactical schools of the Napoleonic Wars tradition (the French school and the Austrian school of the Arch-Duke Charles). No one is quite sure what to make of it after that war -- unless you want to consider the Prussian observer von Moltke who considered firepower would now be dominant. In 1862, von Moltke was part of the Prussian group that took power and rearmed the entire prussian Army with the Dreyse "Needle Gun" -- a breechloading rifle that would dominate the 1866 war against Austria.

No one knew how these things were going to work out in 1860. The military experts were having vast arguments about it in their journals, and the invention of a practical rifle was not the only innovation going on (rifled artillery changed everything as well, and by 1870 it was the new Krupp steel breech-loading guns that dominated the battlefield with artillery fire).

That's just a long way of saying that blaming Americans for not suddenly adopting new tactics is totally unrealistic. Someone had to invent new tactics first before they could adopt them, and it took 50 years, really, for the military world to begin to answer the technological innovations of weaponry with workable tactics. There were no other tactics for the Union and Confederate officers to suddenly switch to in 1861.

Tim
 
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Dave Wilma

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I recall reading in Catton that the role of skirmishers expanded significantly, that in assaults most of the regiments were deployed out front in extended order ahead of the packed ranks. I don't recall reading that the skirmishers advanced in rushes, but dropping to the prone position complicated reloading. I suspect that the technology of attack did not catch up with the technology of defense.

But the CW era leaders can be cut slack since the old tactics persisted into 1914-18 War with even more disastrous results.

This is the way we do it, this is the way we've always done it, this is the way we're always going to do it.
 

Henry Whitworth

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I recall reading in Catton that the role of skirmishers expanded significantly, that in assaults most of the regiments were deployed out front in extended order ahead of the packed ranks. I don't recall reading that the skirmishers advanced in rushes, but dropping to the prone position complicated reloading. I suspect that the technology of attack did not catch up with the technology of defense.

But the CW era leaders can be cut slack since the old tactics persisted into 1914-18 War with even more disastrous results.

This is the way we do it, this is the way we've always done it, this is the way we're always going to do it.
Indeed. If anyone can be castigated for this look at the French military schools teaching that the overwhelming 'elan' of their soldiers was going to overwhelm the opposition with the passion of their frontal assaults. They were hammered afterwards for this because obviously, with the invention of the machine gun, this was impossible. But the fact is they were even stupider than that because our war had shown how false this was even with muzzle loaded rifles, let alone machine guns. AND they had their own experience in 1870 getting thumped by the Prussians. It shows just how blinkered people can get making theories about war. In truth, Americans dealt with the technological advances and developed tactics quite a lot during our war. There was no special slowness in the American way of war as compared to other people.
 

Dave Wilma

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At some point, the infantryman has to get up and move out against the enemy. All the technology of air strikes, artillery barrages, vertical envelopment, and mechanized armor don't change that. What would have been a better way to take Cemetery Ridge or the Horseshoe or Marye's Heights? Probably not shoulder to shoulder, but how else?
 
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Henry Whitworth

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At some point, the infantryman has to get up and move out against the enemy. All the technology of air strikes, artillery barrages, vertical envelopment, and mechanized armor don't change that. What would have been a better way to take Cemetery Ridge or the Horseshoe or Marye's Heights? Probably not shoulder to shoulder, but how else?
I've pictured the armies trying harder to outmarch each other and being more stubborn about choosing the moment for launching assaults. Always move to the flank and try to fall on a vulnerable part of the enemy and only drive forward when you achieve this to some degree. I feel like this is how Jackson saw it.
 

ErnieMac

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It's just my opinion, but I think that it takes a while for the lesson to sink in. Shiloh and Antietam, flukes - it was just a lack of coordination of the fact that we were surprised. We'll do better the next time. It wasn't until the lesson was repeated over time that the generals began to say 'maybe we need to rethink things'.

How tactically different was the Somme in 1916 from Pickett's Charge?
 

leftyhunter

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I've pictured the armies trying harder to outmarch each other and being more stubborn about choosing the moment for launching assaults. Always move to the flank and try to fall on a vulnerable part of the enemy and only drive forward when you achieve this to some degree. I feel like this is how Jackson saw it.
I would argue that for Jackson's tactics to work it would require a stupid enemy . Unfortunately for the 11th Union corps their officer fits that description. per Sears account of Chancelorville a Capt of the Ohio Artilery saw Jackson moving against the 11ths Corp and the senior officers ignored his warning thus getting"surprised". Perhaps if Jackson survived Chancelorville the Union army would smarten up and have better flank security we will of course never know.
Leftyhunter
 
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trice

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Indeed. If anyone can be castigated for this look at the French military schools teaching that the overwhelming 'elan' of their soldiers was going to overwhelm the opposition with the passion of their frontal assaults. They were hammered afterwards for this because obviously, with the invention of the machine gun, this was impossible. But the fact is they were even stupider than that because our war had shown how false this was even with muzzle loaded rifles, let alone machine guns. AND they had their own experience in 1870 getting thumped by the Prussians. It shows just how blinkered people can get making theories about war. In truth, Americans dealt with the technological advances and developed tactics quite a lot during our war. There was no special slowness in the American way of war as compared to other people.
On the French doctrine of "Elan"
  1. "Elan" came from a rising officer in the French military named Ferdinand Foch, later to command the Allied Armies; he was possibly the most original thinker the French military developed in the generation before WWI. He was a strong proponent of the offensive, but also advised great discernment and care because of the increased lethality of the battlefield. His theories became corrupted by the extreme offensive doctrines (l'offensive à outrance) of Grandmaison: it was much easier to talk of "Elan" and ignore the Foch emphasis on "qualification and discernment" as well as his warnings that "recklessness in attack could lead to prohibitive losses and ultimate failure".
  2. The French spent the 43 years after the Franco-Prussian War preparing for the next war with Germany. This involved extremes of militarism and hubris that have to be studied to be believed. Example: the Germans adopted field-gray uniforms, the British went to khaki while the French Army insisted on retaining the red pants and blue coats. One advocate proclaimed: "les pantalons rouge c'est la france"(The red pants are France, roughly). French military circles were divided into "chapels", cult-like groups organized around particular polices/concepts. Grandmaison was head of one "chapel" that won out in the years before WWI. In 1914, brave French troops were slaughtered in droves as they advanced against the Germans, partially as a result.
  3. The French standardized on the famous French quick-firing 75mm field gun, an excellent weapon -- and virtually ignored the development of heavy artillery (the 170mm and above kind that smashed fortifications and trenches). When the war came, they had few heavy guns, and limited stores of heavy artillery ammo -- with limited industry ready to ramp up and produce more, and virtually no new designs or plans for the heavy weapons so desperately needed.
  4. Because German population was rapidly rising and French population was generally static/slow growing, the French went to extremes to raise troops. The Germans replied in kind, forcing the French to do more. By 1913, in peacetime, 86% of the French 18 year old males went directly into the Army for a year of training followed by reserve duty for many years. The Germans, with a larger population base, were at about 50%.
  5. Whereas the French favored defensive strategies and counter-attacks in 1871-1895 (the defensive-offensive style of Longstreet), by the 1900s the French had switched over to offensive strategy and the extremes of the offensive (l'offensive à outrance). If you have the smaller force and want to attack, you have to be aggressive, very aggressive. The French made it almost into a religion, then a cult, almost a mania.
  6. Both the Germans and the French sent observers to the Russo-Japanese War, a bloody meat-grinder eventually won by the Japanese. The Germans came back and revised their operational manual to emphasize digging in and organizing a defensive position at any real halt. Not deep enough for what was to come in 1914, but at least they took into account the need for protection from firepower. The French came back and said that the Russo-Japanese War proved their doctrine of l'offensive à outrance: the Japanese had taken every position they attacked by spirit and discipline and strength of will.This was true, but ignores the Russian difficulties in operating thousands of miles from their bases and the mounds of Japanese dead needed to take those positions. Both felt the experiences of that war bolstered the case for their own doctrines.
Relatively speaking, a few short years of combat brought major changes to the way Union and Confederates fought. They were not slow in adopting new methods -- they changed quickly.

Tim
 
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Why, after the first couple of major battles, didn't the North or the South change their battlefield tactics instead of using the old Napoleon tactics that caused such slaughter?
Banker,

Answer: Because in the era of non-repeating weapons one had to mass troops in order to mass firepower in order to achieve favorable tactical results.

Therefore, maneuver in order to create conditions favorable to achieve desired results was essential.

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AUG

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I think what a lot of people don't realize is that the rifled musket did NOT cause a major difference in casualties than what was seen in the Napoleonic Wars, where the common weapon was the smoothbore musket firing buck and ball as the standard round. Take Borodino for instance, fought on September 7, 1812 during the French invasion of Russia. Over 30,000 - 40,000 casualties were suffered by both sides for a total of over 60,000 - 80,000 casualties, more than any ACW battle, and it all took place mostly in a single day. In this battle, the Russian army fell back to the village of Borodino outside Moscow and entrenched, forming their fortifications around several strong points and redoubts. Napoleon sent in attack after attack against the Russian lines, the redoubts changing hand multiple times. It was an extremely fiercely fought and bloody battle, one of the bloodiest Napoleon ever fought. Think of the attack against the Mule Shoe at Spotsylvania on a much larger scale on several different redoubts.

This battle is an example of how the fierce combat and high casualties seen in the ACW was also seen in the Napoleonic Wars. At Borodino and many other battles, like Leipzig, Waterloo, Eylau etc. casualties matched or outnumbered those seen in the ACW. In reality it is said that it took a man's weight in lead during the ACW to kill him, meaning that it took that many round fired for each casualty. A regiment would go through thousands of rounds of ammunition and the regiment they faced would suffer some hundred something casualties. Just because a musket is rifled doesn't mean that makes every soldier is a sharpshooter and crack shot marksman. A soldier may have even hunted before the war and had experience with muskets, but that doesn't mean he will be a crack shot when the shot and shell flies and know how to properly use the sights on a P53 Enfield or 61 Springfield.
 
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gary

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Earthworks like Fort Donelson, Fort Henry and other forts or batteries don't count. They were planned that way to make a place more defensible by a smaller force. We were talking about tactics and if forts were to be included, we should be discussing Vauban and siege warfare. The Siege of Yorktown, Vicksburg and Battery Wagner are great examples of siege craft (though neither Yorktown nor Wagner per se were sieges).

It's expedient fieldworks that I was talking about. Read the early accounts by soldiers and they thought it was unmanly to hide behind a tree during an open battle. By 1864, tree hugging and earth hugging were common and it was though foolhardy to charge an opponent who was behind earthworks. Fredericksburg taught the Army of the Potomac that and Gettysburg did the same for the Confederates. The Union Army of 1863 thought that Meade's planned attack at Mine Run would be another disaster ala Fredericksburg. They were overjoyed when Gouvernor Warren called it off. We see both sides digging in at The Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, the North Anna all the way until the breakthrough at Petersburg (at Five Forks). BTW, Professor Hess discusses the subject in his books. He also addresses the fallacy that the rifle musket changed warfare all that much in another of his works.
 

trice

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Earthworks like Fort Donelson, Fort Henry and other forts or batteries don't count. They were planned that way to make a place more defensible by a smaller force. We were talking about tactics and if forts were to be included, we should be discussing Vauban and siege warfare. The Siege of Yorktown, Vicksburg and Battery Wagner are great examples of siege craft (though neither Yorktown nor Wagner per se were sieges).

It's expedient fieldworks that I was talking about. Read the early accounts by soldiers and they thought it was unmanly to hide behind a tree during an open battle. By 1864, tree hugging and earth hugging were common and it was though foolhardy to charge an opponent who was behind earthworks. Fredericksburg taught the Army of the Potomac that and Gettysburg did the same for the Confederates. The Union Army of 1863 thought that Meade's planned attack at Mine Run would be another disaster ala Fredericksburg. They were overjoyed when Gouvernor Warren called it off. We see both sides digging in at The Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, the North Anna all the way until the breakthrough at Petersburg (at Five Forks). BTW, Professor Hess discusses the subject in his books. He also addresses the fallacy that the rifle musket changed warfare all that much in another of his works.
On field fortifications: they had existed for at least 2000 years. Napoleon noted that the Romans were far ahead in that art compared to what the European armies of 1800 were doing.

In the American Civil War, 1863 was a pivotal year on this matter. In December 1862, at Fredericksburg, Longstreet was starting to fall in love with trenches; six months earlier he'd been in favor of attacking up Malvern Hill. The AoP is using them at Chancellorsville after they fall back; the Vicksburg campaign sees them. Chickamauaga sees Thomas using them heavily. In the East, the Armies are now using them routinely after Gettysburg. By the start of 1864, they are de rigeur, started with no orders from above. Probably the last real example of a major army not using them when on the defensive is Bragg during the siege of Chattanooga (the Confederates are laying a new line out on Seminary Ridge the night before Thomas' troops attack up the ridge). Men like John Bell Hood raged against it, thinking it drained the "offensive spirit" of their troops.

On rifles, however, I disagree. There were some significant effects in the ACW period from the Minie-equipped weapons. One was that the close-in offensive use of artillery became essentially a losing game. You cannot find examples like Senarmont at Friedland in 1807, or even Bragg at Buena Vista in 1847 in the ACW. Gunners and horses trying to maneuver their guns at close range were just too vulnerable to rifle fire. Close-in defensive use of artillery continued to be extremely effective (defensive artillery became even more effective due to increased range and better ammo).

Better infantry weaponry also came close to eliminating the traditional massed heavy cavalry charge of the Napoleonic days. Masses of cavalry were now subject to infantry fire at much greater ranges, which meant more volleys per charge. Percussion caps meant infantry could now fire in the wet, eliminating another long-time cavalry advantage. While died-in-the-wool cavalry purists continued to try to mass cavalry for the battlefield right through WWI, the Civil War marks the beginning of the end of that.

Tim[/QUOTE]
 
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