Discussion Did the Southern men fight better than the Northern men?

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
The outcome of many of these land battles depended on marching strength. The number of mules available controlled the train that supported an army on the move. The belligerent buying from a larger agricultural area had more and better horses available. The US armies had better and more varied equipment from 1863 onward.
The US logistical system got stronger and bigger as the war proceeded.
After June 1863 Gettysburg and Chickamauga became the limits of what the Confederates could accomplish. The achieved tactical victories that had no strategic consequences. What a waste of manhood!
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
After June 1863 Gettysburg and Chickamauga became the limits of what the Confederates could accomplish. The achieved tactical victories that had no strategic consequences. What a waste of manhood!
It seems pretty clear to me that in 1864 there was at least the prospect of the Confederates managing to outlast the Union's summer 1864 campaign; it might not be the most guaranteed outcome, but this gets into the philsophy of warfare and at what point you consider a campaign to be lost beyond the prospect of saving it.
 

mcrow43

Private
Joined
Feb 5, 2021
The outcome of many of these land battles depended on marching strength. The number of mules available controlled the train that supported an army on the move. The belligerent buying from a larger agricultural area had more and better horses available. The US armies had better and more varied equipment from 1863 onward.
The US logistical system got stronger and bigger as the war proceeded.
After June 1863 Gettysburg and Chickamauga became the limits of what the Confederates could accomplish. The achieved tactical victories that had no strategic consequences. What a waste of manhood!
Yes, the South just didn't have the industrial might to fight a grinding war with the North. It's not much different, really than Japan vs the US in WWII. The Japanese were equal or even superior in many ways but they couldn't compete with the US ability to refit and resupply and build. Both Japan and the Confederates could only have won with a quick victory or more outside support.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Yes, the South just didn't have the industrial might to fight a grinding war with the North. It's not much different, really than Japan vs the US in WWII. The Japanese were equal or even superior in many ways but they couldn't compete with the US ability to refit and resupply and build. Both Japan and the Confederates could only have won with a quick victory or more outside support.
I mean, it's also the same as the German war against Britain and France in 1939-40, which was only not a complete German victory on account of the English Channel. The kurz et vives way of fighting war is perfectly valid as a way of winning, which is why Prussia (which always fought wars that way) had a reputation for military excellence instead of being comprehensively flattened by the richer nations they usually fought.
 

mcrow43

Private
Joined
Feb 5, 2021
I mean, it's also the same as the German war against Britain and France in 1939-40, which was only not a complete German victory on account of the English Channel. The kurz et vives way of fighting war is perfectly valid as a way of winning, which is why Prussia (which always fought wars that way) had a reputation for military excellence instead of being comprehensively flattened by the richer nations they usually fought.
Yes, but ultimately Germany lost once the US not only committed material support but manpower. Germany had a technological advantage over the rest of Europe, with better tanks, better weapons, generally better planes. That wasn't the case for the South vs the North. Nobody was arguing it's not a valid strategy but I don't think the South or even the North really tried to employ the tactic. They both seemed to think they'd have a couple of decisive battles early on and that would be it but neither seemed to be committed to a "blitzkrieg" sort of war. If that was the intent of either of them they greatly failed at it. Many armies over the history of the world have shown that a quick striking, ruthless attack can be effective. I just don't know that either army in the ACW was committed to it.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
I mean, it's also the same as the German war against Britain and France in 1939-40, which was only not a complete German victory on account of the English Channel. The kurz et vives way of fighting war is perfectly valid as a way of winning, which is why Prussia (which always fought wars that way) had a reputation for military excellence instead of being comprehensively flattened by the richer nations they usually fought.
That has been your theory. But the Confederates found out that projecting power even into Maryland and Kentucky was much harder than they thought. Mustering the soldiers was possible, but building a military machine to sustain the armies was more difficult.
 

mcrow43

Private
Joined
Feb 5, 2021
That has been your theory. But the Confederates found out that projecting power even into Maryland and Kentucky was much harder than they thought. Mustering the soldiers was possible, but building a military machine to sustain the armies was more difficult.
Yes, I have not studied logistics for the ACW very much but from what I have read it seems like not only did the North have more resources but they also had better supply chain management.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Yes, but ultimately Germany lost once the US not only committed material support but manpower. Germany had a technological advantage over the rest of Europe, with better tanks, better weapons, generally better planes. That wasn't the case for the South vs the North. Nobody was arguing it's not a valid strategy but I don't think the South or even the North really tried to employ the tactic. They both seemed to think they'd have a couple of decisive battles early on and that would be it but neither seemed to be committed to a "blitzkrieg" sort of war. If that was the intent of either of them they greatly failed at it. Many armies over the history of the world have shown that a quick striking, ruthless attack can be effective. I just don't know that either army in the ACW was committed to it.
As it happens Germany largely did not have a technological advantage in WW2. The French and British were outproducing them and the German hardware was not actually better in most cases - what was better was the way they were able to apply it during the first year of the war, in which they front-loaded everything they were capable of rather than aiming to fight a long war.

The whole German (Prussian -> German) way of fighting war is based on this and has been since the 17th century - aiming to win a war of manoeuvre rather than a war of materiel, which they would lose.


In the case of the South, an example of their actions which are directed towards this are the early and heavy callout of troops (where the South went all-in on enlisting troops early on, while the North did not) and Lee's manoeuvre-based methods of attack during 1862 where he rejects the idea of defending Richmond against Union regular approaches.

Now, to be clear, this isn't a sure win. But it is a natural fit with the South's situation (resource poor) - they're in the position of having to "gamble", so they may as well go for it!
 

Zack

Corporal
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Location
Los Angeles, California
Comparing simply the fighting ability of the average soldier in the ranks in the Army of the Potomac and Army of Northern Virginia - not the generals or officers or command and control - they come out equal in my eyes.

I think what is often forgotten in discussions of Northern v Southern soldiers in the Eastern Theater is how difficult it is to maintain cohesion and spirit after defeat. The Northern soldier in the East was defeated over and over and over, yet they continued to get back up and go back into the fray. That takes a special kind of mettle.

I think the soldiers on both sides showed a tremendous fighting ability throughout the war. As to the supply difference, I have noticed on both sides a disconnect between what the army had available and what actually made it to the soldiers. Obviously it varied regiment to regiment and soldier to soldier, but both sides endured tremendous hardships over the course of the war. That's my thought on the 5th point.

I also don't think there is any substantial difference in the toughness of a farmer or a factory worker or a dockhand or a butcher or even a shopkeeper or whatever. Most jobs required hard manual labor. The cities of the 19th Century were far from cushy for the majority of inhabitants. That's my opinion on the "different modes of life" argument. That being said, I do think amongst the aristocratic class they are quick to turn to violence to redress mistakes. Bruce Levine makes an interesting argument in FALL OF THE HOUSE OF DIXIE about how dueling and slave-owning contributed to the mindset of Southern planters and why they would quickly jump to war. I don't, however, think that has anything to do with the fighting ability of Southern soldiers.

People in the 19th Century loved to classify groups into different "races" and outline their "traits." I definitely see that in some of Palfrey's characterizations. It's most evident in his second and fourth points. Even the third really, which seems to vastly oversimplify life in the North or South for the purposes of creating traits.

I know plundering of the battlefield was absolutely a practice during the Civil War (see: Fredericksburg or the observations of one barefoot Confederate soldier at Second Manassas complaining that all the Union corpses had already had their shoes taken). I've never read of a Confederate soldier expressing some extra drive to fight hard out of a desire to loot the battlefield but that certainly does not mean it didn't occur. This is the only point he makes I'd be intrigued to dig into further.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
As it happens Germany largely did not have a technological advantage in WW2. The French and British were outproducing them and the German hardware was not actually better in most cases - what was better was the way they were able to apply it during the first year of the war, in which they front-loaded everything they were capable of rather than aiming to fight a long war.

The whole German (Prussian -> German) way of fighting war is based on this and has been since the 17th century - aiming to win a war of manoeuvre rather than a war of materiel, which they would lose.


In the case of the South, an example of their actions which are directed towards this are the early and heavy callout of troops (where the South went all-in on enlisting troops early on, while the North did not) and Lee's manoeuvre-based methods of attack during 1862 where he rejects the idea of defending Richmond against Union regular approaches.

Now, to be clear, this isn't a sure win. But it is a natural fit with the South's situation (resource poor) - they're in the position of having to "gamble", so they may as well go for it!
It was a valid strategy, but without a standing army, and with a significant domestic arms industry, it was going to be difficult to out mobilize the US. Nonetheless, they almost achieved in in the eastern theater in 1862. But by the time their quick mobilization was taking affect, they lost the 5 border areas. The also lost the middle Mississippi and also New Orleans and other coastal enclaves and towns. In addition the strategy had no application in the west, where the US forces had the advantages in California and Colorado.
So while it worked in the east, it left the rest war to go the way of the US.
Most of the people in the Midwest and far west considered the war as well over by July 1863.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
It was a valid strategy, but without a standing army, and with a significant domestic arms industry, it was going to be difficult to out mobilize the US. Nonetheless, they almost achieved in in the eastern theater in 1862. But by the time their quick mobilization was taking affect, they lost the 5 border areas. The also lost the middle Mississippi and also New Orleans and other coastal enclaves and towns. In addition the strategy had no application in the west, where the US forces had the advantages in California and Colorado.
Well, sure, it's not a method which is a guaranteed success, but one which has a chance at winning (through striking directly at the Union capital) is going to be better than one which is just waiting for the Union to grind them down and win. At that, the Confederacy could definitely have mobilized faster and more completely (sell cotton rather than withold it, use the proceeds to buy the guns the Union historically got hold of, delay Union mobilization and get to maximum Confederate mobilization sooner). Then you can put the large armies into action a month or two sooner.

If you combine that with a kurz et vives policy in the West (i.e. pull back from the frontier defences at Forts Henry and Donelson, rely on strategic mobility and concentrating at the site of the first major Union offensive) you can get a Shiloh-alike which is a victory owing to the clumsy nature of Union mobilization.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Therefore they had the military manpower and the fighting spirit. But the Confederate government could not support the eastern army well enough to lead to an early capture of Washington, D.C. And since it never happened, we don't know if the fall of the 73 year capital, which was not the financial capital of the US would have caused the US to abandon the war.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Therefore they had the military manpower and the fighting spirit. But the Confederate government could not support the eastern army well enough to lead to an early capture of Washington, D.C.
In what sense do you say they couldn't support it well enough?
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
Yes. Country folks who grew up hunting and shooting are probably going to be better in a fight.
A lot of the yankees were country folk but statistically the south had more.
Based on what objective evidence? European armies of that era or at least some actually conducted extensive firearms training and testing. No reason an urban individual can't easily exceed an untrained rural man in marksmanship.
Leftyhunter
 

lurid

First Sergeant
Joined
Jan 3, 2019
Yes. Country folks who grew up hunting and shooting are probably going to be better in a fight.
A lot of the yankees were country folk but statistically the south had more.

Complete, utter nonsense. Shooting an animal and a human being are totally two different things. There's something called, "the moment of truth," where not every soldier/marine pulls the trigger, or aims to KIA another human being. Your country folk theory has no merit and is a poor metric to use except for shooting defenseless animals, not humans who shoot back.
 

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 10, 2006
Yes, but ultimately Germany lost once the US not only committed material support but manpower. Germany had a technological advantage over the rest of Europe, with better tanks, better weapons, generally better planes. That wasn't the case for the South vs the North. Nobody was arguing it's not a valid strategy but I don't think the South or even the North really tried to employ the tactic. They both seemed to think they'd have a couple of decisive battles early on and that would be it but neither seemed to be committed to a "blitzkrieg" sort of war. If that was the intent of either of them they greatly failed at it. Many armies over the history of the world have shown that a quick striking, ruthless attack can be effective. I just don't know that either army in the ACW was committed to it.
Bewegungskrieg (war of movement), as the Germans called it, is a very old idea going back to Frederick the Great, as Saph noted.

I would argue that the political structures of the CSA prevented them committing to an offensive strategy early in the war where they had a chance of making it work. There were suggestions ca. September 1861 of making a massive concentration (ca. 130,000 troops) at Washington and hence invading Maryland and occupying Washington. Federal intelligence was able to inform the then SECWAR of this plan, and McClellan acted to counter it by strengthening the defences of Washington, arresting the Maryland legislature etc.

Of course, this plan came from the field commanders, but the CS government couldn't convince the states to send the troops from the coastal defences in SC etc. to make this work (see my post here). It wasn't until the capture of Fort Donelson that Davis started to agree that they needed to make a heavy levy from the states and concentrate them in field armies.

I would argue that had the CSA made a force commitment like it did after the passage of the first conscription act, and concentrated them into field armies, they would have stood a reasonable chance of a knockout blow in 1861.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Indeed, there was nothing really new about the concept of Blitzkrieg (which wasn't delineated as a distinct thing in Germany) except that the units doing it were now motorized.


Lee's actions in the Gettysburg campaign point towards the possibility of his being able to catch the AotP strung out on the roads and defeat them in that way, and if that happens the Union army in the East needs a significant if not complete rebuild - he only really needs to do that a few times total over the course of the war before the calculus starts to become "This war is seeing too many defeats and too much expense".
 

Scott1967

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
Indeed, there was nothing really new about the concept of Blitzkrieg (which wasn't delineated as a distinct thing in Germany) except that the units doing it were now motorized.


Lee's actions in the Gettysburg campaign point towards the possibility of his being able to catch the AotP strung out on the roads and defeat them in that way, and if that happens the Union army in the East needs a significant if not complete rebuild - he only really needs to do that a few times total over the course of the war before the calculus starts to become "This war is seeing too many defeats and too much expense".
What ifs , I'm sure we all have a long list of what ifs in the ACW.

Fact is both of Lees invasions were dismal failures expending what little resources the South had to offer and while i agree the Souths best chance was to win the war by inducing war fatigue on the North and thus getting a new administration into the Whitehouse which might sue for peace or negotiate a cease fire it would have been better for the South to keep on the defensive and keep the moral high ground and the great advantage of fighting a defensive war.

I think its a proven fact that the offensive side will lose more men than the defensive in the vast majority of battles with some exceptions its also a fact very few battles were complete victory's until near the end of the war with one side retreating but being pretty much intact.

All this proves that both sets of soldiers were equal and disproves that common misconception that CSA soldiers were superior , Given adequate defences the Union soldier could inflict just as many casualties as his CSA counterpart the fact that Union was on the offensive most of the war sort of skews the figures to make it look like the CSA soldier was the better soldier but that's not the case the combination of poor leadership and offensive actions caused large casualties to the Union in the early mid war this was of course not down to the Union Soldier but the aggressive tactics and expectation from the US government.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I think its a proven fact that the offensive side will lose more men than the defensive in the vast majority of battles with some exceptions its also a fact very few battles were complete victory's until near the end of the war with one side retreating but being pretty much intact.
I think the problem here is that it fails to engage with the concept of Bewegungskrieg. The whole idea is to be able to generate engagements which you then win decisively on account of your numerical and positional superiority at the point of contact - for example, Day One of Gettysburg pretty much aligns with this in concept. Lee catches some of the AotP with most of his army and largely destroys two corps, and then on Day Two he has a real opportunity to bring on the decisive engagment while large chunks of the AotP have not yet arrived on the field.

Certainly operating on the defensive offers advantages, but so does operating on the offensive; the point of operations is to create situations where you can come off the winner overall. If the whole AoNV got to isolate, engulf, attack and overwhelm one Union corps at a time, it would do much better than if it had to fight the whole AotP concentrated in one place.
 
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