Did leadership experience in the Civil War help officers in the post Civil War, Indian Wars?

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
Aug 25, 2012
Many Indian War officers developed leadership skills during the Civil War, but how useful were these skills during the Indian Wars? Certainly the ability to lead soldiers in combat could be transferred from the Civil War to the Indian Wars, however, many of the skills officers learned during the Civil War may have been less useful in the Indian Wars.

1. Logistics was a game winner in the Civil War, how important was logistics during the Indian Wars?
2. Leading divisions, Corps, and Armies were hard learned skills during the Civil War. There was not much of a need for leadership skills at Corps or Army Level during the Indian Wars.
3. The proper use of artillery was learned during the Civil War. Artillery was not a game changer during the Indian Wars.
4. Was the knowledge of the use of cavalry during the Civil War, transferable to cavalry operations during the Indian Wars?

Could one argue that skills officers learned during the Civil War, hurt officers more during the Indian Wars than it helped them?
 

Rhea Cole

1st Lieutenant
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Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
This is an interesting question. The regulars that fought at Stones River were sent to the frontier after the war. My interest in the CW dates from a request that my brother gave me. He & his wife had a summer job staffing Fort Hartsuff in Valley County, Nebraska. Capt. Russell Munson, commander received a brevet promotion for bravery at Stones River. He also received a serious wound. My first ever visit to a CW battlefield was to the visitor center seeking information about that.

As to the CW experience applied to his service, Munson spent his time at Hartsuff in a back & forth with Washington seeking a retirement because of wounds received during the CW.

Another Stones River RA veteran was the Fetterman of the Fetterman Massacre. Apparently, his CW experience had imbued Jim with hubris. He stated that he could defeat the whole Sioux nation with just a few hundred men. His lesson in just what kind of warriors he was confronting was short & brutal. His defeat is considered the starting point of the postwar Indian wars.

Red Cloud defeated the army & forced it to abandon forts built in his territory. Whatever lessons they brought from the CW, a whole new set of lessons were going to be taught to veteran officers in upcoming years.

The commander of Fort Hartsuff, Capt. Russell Munson, was not unique. Some of the officers in the 7th Cavalry needed assistance dressing due to CW wounds.

Fort Hartsuff Nebraska State Historic Site is an almost perfectly preserved frontier post. An excellent group of living historians create a vivid portrait of what life was like in the many small garrisons that dotted the map of the Olde West. Perhaps tellingly, there were more cells in the stockade than soldiers in the garrison.
 

Joshism

2nd Lieutenant
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Location
Jupiter, FL
Leadership and combat experience would have come in handy.

Tactically, operationally, and strategically probably not so much. The size and scope were very different. Fighting against guerillas during the ACW probably had the most direct translation to the Indian Wars. Mounted infantry second best. Cavalry third as I think mounted combat on the Great Plains was a rather different experience than in the ACW.

The Indian Wars were also a technological shift. All the way through 1865 most soldiers still had muzzleloaders. The US Army presumably fought out west almost entirely with breechloaders
 

jackt62

Captain
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Location
New York City
I think you may have answered the question by asking about the usefulness of leadership skills acquired during the CW. For sure, noted commanders who played roles in the Indian wars such as Crook, Miles, Terry, et. al had developed some level of experience in leading men in battle, albeit a different sort of fighting on the plains against Native Americans. But their CW experience provided these officers with lessons in management, logistics, and operations that would be invaluable against many types of opponents.
 
Joined
Jun 12, 2016
Location
Memphis
Many Indian War officers developed leadership skills during the Civil War, but how useful were these skills during the Indian Wars? Certainly the ability to lead soldiers in combat could be transferred from the Civil War to the Indian Wars, however, many of the skills officers learned during the Civil War may have been less useful in the Indian Wars.

1. Logistics was a game winner in the Civil War, how important was logistics during the Indian Wars?
2. Leading divisions, Corps, and Armies were hard learned skills during the Civil War. There was not much of a need for leadership skills at Corps or Army Level during the Indian Wars.
3. The proper use of artillery was learned during the Civil War. Artillery was not a game changer during the Indian Wars.
4. Was the knowledge of the use of cavalry during the Civil War, transferable to cavalry operations during the Indian Wars?

Could one argue that skills officers learned during the Civil War, hurt officers more during the Indian Wars than it helped them?
What skills they did learn would be clouded by rank stagnation in western posts. Check out Utley's work on western officership- the rank of Captain could be a decades long position. I haven't read too many books explaining company/field grade officers command armies.
 

Rhea Cole

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Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
What skills they did learn would be clouded by rank stagnation in western posts. Check out Utley's work on western officership- the rank of Captain could be a decades long position. I haven't read too many books explaining company/field grade officers command armies.
That was the strange thing about the postwar army. Captains had held brevet ranks as generals in some cases. After the war, they reverted to their permanent rank. Many of the high ranking regular officers held commissions as volunteers that lapsed after the war was over. In terms of former brevet & volunteer ranks, the Western army was fabulously rank heavy.
 

jackt62

Captain
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Location
New York City
What skills they did learn would be clouded by rank stagnation in western posts. Check out Ut ley's work on western officership- the rank of Captain could be a decades long position. I haven't read too many books explaining company/field grade officers command armies.
On other hand, the size of forces fielded by the United States in the western Indian wars was infinitely smaller than many of the larger 80-100,000 or more plus corps and armies of the CW. And the methods utilized by the army in the west were more consistent with scouting, raiding, and skirmishing, than with line of battle infantry tactics that many brevetted or volunteer officers were used to during the CW. Ultimately, and more than anything else, the destruction of the Native American tribes was accomplished by targeting their sources of food, shelter, and refuge.
 

Rhea Cole

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Joined
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Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Protecting Lakota on the East of Dakota Territory from attacks by hostile Lakota to the west was a major task of the Western army. Fort Sisseton in Eastern South Dakota is an example of a successful operation. The almost farcical attempt to keep gold seekers out of the Black Hills on the western end of the territory, which must have been one heck of duty, is another thing entirely.

The regular officers were veterans, the men in the ranks were often emigrants who were not fluent in English. The last survivor to see Custer alive was an Italian burglar with only basic language skills. Of course, the Buffalo Soldiers were an exception to that rule. Which explains their reputation for competence & soldierly qualities.
 
Joined
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On other hand, the size of forces fielded by the United States in the western Indian wars was infinitely smaller than many of the larger 80-100,000 or more plus corps and armies of the CW. And the methods utilized by the army in the west were more consistent with scouting, raiding, and skirmishing, than with line of battle infantry tactics that many brevetted or volunteer officers were used to during the CW. Ultimately, and more than anything else, the destruction of the Native American tribes was accomplished by targeting their sources of food, shelter, and refuge.
Seminole Wars 2.0
 

Joshism

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 30, 2012
Location
Jupiter, FL
Seminole Wars 2.0

At least the climate and geography of the West weren't (usually) as bad as the Florida wetlands.

I have a hard time calling burning the winter food supplies of a band 2-300 strong as a “strategic center of gravity.”

Indian Wars were generally guerilla wars which can only be won by attacking the guerilla's support. Either winning hearts and minds thus removing the support, or destroying the support. Given the cultural differences and distrust (often justified given so many broken promises) the former is pretty difficult to accomplish permanently. Guerillas are usually too slippery to corner and destroy directly.
 

Irishtom29

2nd Lieutenant
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Jul 21, 2008
Location
Kent, Washington
I have a hard time calling burning the winter food supplies of a band 2-300 strong as a “strategic center of gravity.”

In the Red River War it was Mackenzie's destruction of their supplies and horses in Palo Duro Canyon that was the vital incident in putting paid the hostiles of the southern plains--Comanches, Kiowas and Southern Cheyennes. And at remarkably little loss of life to either side. That and the pressure put on them by several columns of cavalry and infantry crisscrossing the southern plains, some under the command of our old friend John Pope, who commanded the Department of the Missouri.

https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/citations/ADA611972
 
Joined
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Location
Memphis
I have a hard time calling burning the winter food supplies of a band 2-300 strong as a “strategic center of gravity.”
The idea being to destroy the "will" of the fighter- target their source of strength- supply, family, household, existence... Tactical or strategic- the psychological implications of destroying one's CG diminishes one's will to fight. (My opinion)
 

SandiD

Private
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Aug 18, 2021
Location
Somewhere in the Hudson Valley
In the Red River War it was Mackenzie's destruction of their supplies and horses in Palo Duro Canyon that was the vital incident in putting paid the hostiles of the southern plains--Comanches, Kiowas and Southern Cheyennes. And at remarkably little loss of life to either side. That and the pressure put on them by several columns of cavalry and infantry crisscrossing the southern plains, some under the command of our old friend John Pope, who commanded the Department of the Missouri.

https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/citations/ADA611972
Interesting side note to the Red River War. This is the letter from Nelson A. Miles recommending Medals of Honor for individuals involved in the Washita River Battle (Lyman Wagon Train) September 9-14 Sep 1874. Sgt William Koelpin is buried near my grandfather and I discovered the grave while locating my grandfather's headstone. He was in an unmarked grave until 21 years ago. The Texas Historical Society determined that this was where he was buried, the VA provided a headstone, and the Army provided an honor guard for the installation of the stone.

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