Discussion Change in tactics?

AUG

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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.
I understand your point about Fort Donelson and Henry, but my central point in that post was that not every battle saw a conventional stand up fight, and earthworks saw use at Shiloh, Stones River, Corinth, many of the Seven Days battles (like Seven Pines, Gaines' Mill, and Glendale) battles of the Vicksburg Campaign such as Chickasaw Bayou, Port Gibson, Raymond, Jackson, Champion Hill. Many of these battles did not see such extensive works as what were built, as I said before, in the Overland Campaign or Atlanta Campaign for instance, but earthworks and breastworks were built on the battlefield and were used in battles that were relatively early in the war.

I understand that as the war went on, larger and more extensive earthworks were used in a more similar way to what was seen in WWI. Everytime an army would stop they would dig in and when the other army caught up with them, they would dig in. This wasn't seen early in the war except for siege warfare, but my point is that earthworks were present from 1861 - 1863 and in some cases in the battles I listed above, played an instrumental role. As for "Tree hugging and earth hugging," that was seen early in the war as well. Even at First Manassas, regiments were ordered to 'lay down' to stay under the fire and on numerous occasions the reverse slope of a hill, a ravine, railroad cut, or sunken road were used for cover.
 

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AUG

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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.
Actually troops knew how to dig fortifications and did throughout the war from the beginning. Since from early in the war, both armies dug in when expecting to confront the enemy, camped in a position, or defending or besieging a town. What about the earthworks at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, the small breastworks used in many battles throughout the Vicksburg Campaign, the fortifications Earl Van Dorn's Army of the West attacked at Second Corinth, some of the breastworks used at Stones River etc. It was actually the norm for armies to entrench almost every time they stopped, maybe not to the extent of the Overland Campaign or Atlanta Campaign of 1864, but troops certainly dug breastworks when bivouacked on many occasions.

I think the reason why battles like Shiloh, Antietam, First Manassas etc. were fought the way they were was the way they had began and how quick the battle escalated. At Shiloh for instance, one side was surprised to some extent and did not have time to properly dig in under the pressure of the attacks, until stopping at the "sunken road" at what would be called the "hornet's nest." However there were breastworks built around the Federal camps. I know that Cleburne's Brigade did have a hard time getting past these earthworks, this is the reason the 6th Mississippi in his brigade lost so many men. And soldiers certainly did "hide behind trees" in many of these battles. Shiloh, Stones River, Chickamauga, Chancellorsville, Wilderness etc. were all heavily wooded and soldiers did fight from behind cover when they could, maybe still in general two rank formation in a sense, but soldiers certainly did not keep perfect military formation when in battle.

The idea that fortifications only played a major role late in the war is a repeated and widely thought mainstream view, just like the idea that rifled muskets caused higher casualties, until you read about the battles in more detail. The idea that the rifled musket caused a major impact is a whole other topic, but I won't get into that in this post. Earthworks had been in use since ancient times, certainly built in different shapes and forms, but still for the same purpose of defending, cover, and in siege. Earthworks played major roles in many battles in the Napoleonic Wars, I like to use Borodino as an example - a bloodier battle than any ACW battle and fought mostly all in one day. Earthworks also saw major use in the Crimean War to the extent where they effected the outcome of many battles.
 

Kyle Kalasnik

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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.
Dave,

Great observation. I wholeheartedly agree.

You would think that in WWI where there machine guns and artillery was much improved, commanders would have thought of better ways to conduct warfare.

All that lead to was heavy casualties and deadlocked trench lines that rarely moved. They were definitely behind the times.
 

Irishtom29

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You would think that in WWI where there machine guns and artillery was much improved, commanders would have thought of better ways to conduct warfare.

All that lead to was heavy casualties and deadlocked trench lines that rarely moved. They were definitely behind the times.
They tried but it was difficult. For example at the beginning of the Great War the British army was aware from its experience in the Boer War that magazine rifles, high explosives and machine guns changed the nature of combat and the practices of the small regular British army of 1914 reflected that knowledge. But fighting a vast war with these weapons using huge armies on a constricted non flank able front was a different game and devising effective offensive techniques took time and hard won experience. The British tried various new techniques from 1915 through 1918; some of which worked and some didn't.

The British Army of 1918 had the answer and was the first modern army using a combination of coordinated infantry (using new techniques based on smaller units with squad machine guns), artillery, tanks and air support.
 
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Information wasn't real time then where today we can adapt very quickly. We had monthly meetings when I was in Iraq and those meetings were for just that adjustment of tactics. So I agree with the comment t above about it took time to learn lessons in the1860's.
 


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