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

Scott1967

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
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.
That sounds good but that was not Lee's intention which was to engage the AoP on ground of his choosing the fact that Lee ended up fighting a battle at all is a fluke and pure fate , He did not want to engage at all.

Lee had no knowledge of where the Union corps were and its testament to the fighting ability of Union troops on the first day that they managed to hold him up for so long again myth busting that the CSA soldier was better , Lee by rights should have carried the high ground on that first day having 2 much larger corps than the two fielded by the Union but poor decision making at brigade and division level meant it wasn't to be.

I don't think enough credit is given to the XI corp they always seem to be the scape goats for that first day but from what i have read they performed the best they could under extreme pressure and poor command choices.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Lee had no knowledge of where the Union corps were and its testament to the fighting ability of Union troops on the first day that they managed to hold him up for so long again myth busting that the CSA soldier was better , Lee by rights should have carried the high ground on that first day having 2 much larger corps than the two fielded by the Union but poor decision making at brigade and division level meant it wasn't to be.
Well, yes, but the reason he didn't is that Stuart had buggered off on a ride into the blue (something which can probably be blamed on Longstreet rather than Lee himself, looking at the orders). It's quite feasible that with better scouting/screening that Lee would know at least roughly where the AotP was and be able to come down on Gettysburg in a managed way.

The concept behind manoeuvre warfare (Bewegungskrieg) is to create situations in which the local situation is easily winnable - that Day One at Gettysburg is a good example, because 1st and 11th Corps basically represent Meade's numerical edge (if he actually had any, which depends on how you count). As it was they both took smashing damage and suddenly Lee is facing a battle on Day Two where he has the numerical advantage, and if multiple Confederate division commanders don't go down in quick succession there's real scope for the echelon attack on Day Two to destroy the cohesion of the Union line before 6th Corps has properly arrived.

This means that instead of facing a force of equal or superior strength all in one go, Lee is facing:
Day One - a smaller force on the field than his own.
Day Two - a force of comparable strength to his own on the field, but where two of the corps got routed yesterday and so Lee has more units fit for the fight.
Day Three - the Union 6th Corps and whatever hasn't been broken yet against the whole of Lee's army.

We know based on the actual casualty counts from Day One and Day Two that this process works to produce one-sided casualty counts.

Similarly, another staple of bewegungskrieg, the encirclement battle (kesselsalacht) is able to not merely force an enemy off the field but destroy them. As potent as the Northern Virginia campaign was at shattering Pope's army, if Jackson had been/had been able to attack as well then it could have been worse for the Union; it takes only one or two decisions going differently at Chancellorsville to see a significant part of the Union Army cut off from the rest, encircled and destroyed; there's also the opportunity there at Shiloh, but poor force management by ASJ and PGT Beauregard messes it up.
 

Flash Titan

Cadet
Joined
Oct 21, 2020
I do not believe this to be the case, except for the first and possibly 2nd year of the war. When the Civil war broke out there were more Southerners in the U.S. Army than Northerners and the South had a prouder military history. As the war wore on the North had the luxury of being able to train their soldiers better whereas the South had rudimentary training as nearly all of the fighting was in the South and most of the men in the CSA had to be put into battle with little training in comparison the USA military.
 

Pete Longstreet

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Mar 3, 2020
Location
Hartford, CT
Can you give me an example of an engagement in which the US cavalry's advantage in repeaters made it victorious when it otherwise would not have been?
September 20th, 1863, Battle of Chickamauga

The Lightning Brigade attacks General Manigault's Brigade at Glenn Hill at noon. The Lighting Brigade and the 39th Indiana were armed with Spencer repeating rifles.

Manigault later said: "The fire we got under when first we became engaged in the morning, exceeded anything I ever before or after experienced."

Not calvary. But sure seems like the firepower was advantageous in this portion of the battle.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
September 20th, 1863, Battle of Chickamauga

The Lightning Brigade attacks General Manigault's Brigade at Glenn Hill at noon. The Lighting Brigade and the 39th Indiana were armed with Spencer repeating rifles.

Manigault later said: "The fire we got under when first we became engaged in the morning, exceeded anything I ever before or after experienced."

Not calvary. But sure seems like the firepower was advantageous in this portion of the battle.
And what was the actual strength of the units involved? Remember, what I'm after is an engagement where the repeater is clearly involved in producing a victory when there would otherwise not be one; one brigade versus one brigade isn't exactly the stuff of "certain defeat", especially when the attacking brigade is inserted from reserve as a counterattack rather than the defending brigade being behind works. The fact that a counterattack from reserve is often effective is why reserves exist.
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
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.
If an economy is based on agricultural exports that require maritime transport then a defensive strategy will not work. The Union Army was able to size port after port so a defensive strategy was simply not viable. Even before a port was siezed the USN could drastically restrict the amount of cargo going to and from a port.
A defensive strategy will not work and could not work when the Confedracy had such a large area to defend with no natural defenses such has steep mountains and to few men. Indeed major rivers flowed right through the Confedracy and the USN had the material and technological lead over the CSN.
Other then a few exceptions to the rule such has the battle of Malta and Napoleon's failed invasion of Russia defensive war ends in defeat.
Leftyhunter
 

Pete Longstreet

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Joined
Mar 3, 2020
Location
Hartford, CT
And what was the actual strength of the units involved? Remember, what I'm after is an engagement where the repeater is clearly involved in producing a victory when there would otherwise not be one; one brigade versus one brigade isn't exactly the stuff of "certain defeat", especially when the attacking brigade is inserted from reserve as a counterattack rather than the defending brigade being behind works. The fact that a counterattack from reserve is often effective is why reserves exist.
Ok. Let's just dumb this wayyy down then. If you take two identical brigades with the same amount of men, same training, same equipment, same environment. Everything is identical. And one is armed with repeaters and the other is armed with old flintlocks... it seems very obvious that the brigade with the repeaters has a clear and distinct advantage. I think what your exactly looking for is a scenario that might not exist, or "perfect world" situation. And being in the 1860's, documentation is not what it would be today, clearly. So based on equals, the men with the better firepower would most likely prevail. I don't know how you would argue against that based on the aforementioned. I understand your looking for a specific engagement, but there may not be one. But what is clear and proven, is more advanced weaponry is advantageous to the men who are looking through the sights.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Other then a few exceptions to the rule such has the battle of Malta and Napoleon's failed invasion of Russia defensive war ends in defeat.
This is a truly stupendous simplification. Defensive war often leads to victory, it's just that people who want to argue that defensive warfare rarely works apply a double standard - whereby to count as a defensive war the war must be so defensive that it doesn't allow for a counterstroke. This limits the consideration to sides which are not merely defensive but passive (and usually heavily overmatched to the extent that a counterstroke isn't feasible)

A defensive strategy or method of operations has worked to win wars which an offensive strategy would have lost, all through history - we need only point out the Roman strategy in Italy against Hannibal. Yes, the Italians eventually went on the offensive, but in the theatre of operations mainly involving Hannibal's primary army they were on the defensive because otherwise Hannibal would destroy them.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Ok. Let's just dumb this wayyy down then. If you take two identical brigades with the same amount of men, same training, same equipment, same environment. Everything is identical. And one is armed with repeaters and the other is armed with old flintlocks... it seems very obvious that the brigade with the repeaters has a clear and distinct advantage. I think what your exactly looking for is a scenario that might not exist, or "perfect world" situation. And being in the 1860's, documentation is not what it would be today, clearly. So based on equals, the men with the better firepower would most likely prevail. I don't know how you would argue against that based on the aforementioned. I understand your looking for a specific engagement, but there may not be one. But what is clear and proven, is more advanced weaponry is advantageous to the men who are looking through the sights.
I think the problem here is that you've biased the comparison. You've got one side armed with repeaters, and the other side with "old flintlocks" - but you haven't considered "repeaters" versus "rifle muskets" (which is to say, repeaters versus the weapon which was the other actual choice at the time). This isn't a straight upgrade but a tradeoff, because the rifle musket has more power per shot and more range; the repeater has more rate of fire in a burst, but the need to then reload slowly evened out the rate of fire.

The thing is that we actually have an example of an engagement where the superior firepower of the repeater is said to have triumphed, and it's Hoover Gap - but contemporary reports do not in any way cite the superior firepower of the repeater as decisive, and it's only read in decades later.

What we would expect to see, if the repeater really did offer some kind of significant advantage, is that whenever repeaters went up against even somewhat superior numbers of men armed with rifle-muskets it would be the repeater men who won. This would in turn mean that the Union cavalry could be employed much more aggressively - if for example a repeater made the brigade armed with them able to outfight the enemy at 2:1 odds on the open field (and thus even higher odds behind defensive breastworks) then the repeater brigade could be thrown into situations where they'd have to defend themselves against enemy divisions and still do okay.

Instead, what we see is that sometimes the repeater offers a moderate advantage, and sometimes it actually offers a disadvantage (there's at least one contemporary account of a Confederate unit going to ground while a repeater unit burned through their ready ammunition, then attacking while they were all reloading - something which is much more likely to happen with a repeater than (say) a breechloading carbine, or indeed a rifle musket because it's harder for a force armed with muzzle loading weapons to forget that their weapons take a while to reload once discharged.) More often it just acts in the same way it would without superior weapons, and is forced backwards by equal numbers of infantry when attacked (for example, which happens in the Wilderness) or wins by outflanking the enemy when it has superior numbers (Hoover Gap).



Compare this with Union cavalry conducting saber charges. This is a capability they develop which genuinely opens new options, and it is highly effective.
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
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.
If an economy is based on agricultural exports that require maritime transport then a defensive strategy will not work. The Union Army was able to size port after port so a defensive strategy was simply not viable. Even before a port was siezed the USN could drastically restrict the amount of cargo going to and from a port.
A defensive strategy will not work and could not work when the Confedracy had such a large area to defend with no natural defenses such has steep mountains and to few men. Indeed major rivers flowed right through the Confedracy and the USN had the material and technological lead over the CSN.
Other then a few exceptions to the rule such has the battle of Malta and Napoleon's failed invasion of Russia defensive war ends in defeat.
Leftyhunter
This is a truly stupendous simplification. Defensive war often leads to victory, it's just that people who want to argue that defensive warfare rarely works apply a double standard - whereby to count as a defensive war the war must be so defensive that it doesn't allow for a counterstroke. This limits the consideration to sides which are not merely defensive but passive (and usually heavily overmatched to the extent that a counterstroke isn't feasible)

A defensive strategy or method of operations has worked to win wars which an offensive strategy would have lost, all through history - we need only point out the Roman strategy in Italy against Hannibal. Yes, the Italians eventually went on the offensive, but in the theatre of operations mainly involving Hannibal's primary army they were on the defensive because otherwise Hannibal would destroy them.
My point is simply that wars are almost always won on the offense. Nothing wrong with giving some ground at first but eventually an army to be victorious needs to win in the offense. Brilliant defense does not lead to victory. As former Green Bay Packers Football Coach Vince Lombardi said " the best defense is a good offense " and he also said" winning isn't everything it's more important then that".
Leftyhunter
 

Scott1967

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
Instead, what we see is that sometimes the repeater offers a moderate advantage

Tell Custer that :smile coffee:

Only reason why repeaters were not standard issue was the expense.

Imagine British troops at Isandlwana with Henrys , 16 shots at 150 yards time to reload and another 16 shots sheer firepower.
 
Last edited:

thomas aagaard

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 19, 2013
Location
Denmark
Tell Custer that :smile coffee:

Only reason why repeaters were not standard issue was the expense.

Imagine British troops at Isandlwana with Henrys , 16 shots at 150 yards time to reload and another 16 shots sheer firepower.
Then they would not have been able to open effective fire at 500+ yards.
In that specific battle, that would likely had been a good trade. But in general the brits wanted firepower at long range as well as close range.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
In that specific battle, that would likely had been a good trade. But in general the brits wanted firepower at long range as well as close range.
I'm not even sure it would have been a good trade! The question is how much effective fire you can put on an opponent before they close the range successfully.

With a Martini-Henry, you can fire one shot every six seconds as the enemy closes from at least 500 yards (the weapon is effective well past 800 in fact), and the rounds are deadly at that range (impactful enough to kill or disable); the lighter rounds of a Henry rifle don't have nearly so much energy (they're propelled by 25 grains of powder instead of 85, meaning that the Martini-Henry has three and a half times the energy irrespective of the benefits of a longer barrel, and retains that momentum better because it's heavier), and while there's sixteen rounds in the chamber it has to be realized that a running man at 5 yards per second will still be taking (500 yards at 5 yards/second is 100 seconds, 100 seconds/6 seconds per round is 16 rounds) from a Martini-Henry anyway as they charge through the effective range.
That's before getting into the difficulties with aiming when rattling off all the rounds in the magazine at full speed. The "Mad Minute" (performed by well trained men with a bolt-action rifle) aimed for 15 rounds in a minute on-target, while the Lee-Enfield could fire at least twice as fast as that at maximum fire rate - this implies that men who aren't superbly well trained will need at least a second or two to actually aim, and to fire off the 16 rounds a Henry can carry would take at least 2 seconds per round if you want them all to be aimed. That adds up to 32 seconds, and with that same charging speed as mentioned above you need to open fire at 160 yards (which is getting out to the point where the Henry is ineffective).

This means that the Henry is straining itself to put 16 aimed rounds downrange during a charge, while the Martini-Henry can do it with a comfortable margin for error - and stronger individual rounds - and without considering that it's easier for enemy infantry to sustain charge speed for 160 yards than 500.
 

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 10, 2006
Tell Custer that :smile coffee:

Only reason why repeaters were not standard issue was the expense.

Imagine British troops at Isandlwana with Henrys , 16 shots at 150 yards time to reload and another 16 shots sheer firepower.
An even more ignominious defeat?

The Martini-Henry with a full tube had 15 rounds, which a good shooter could empty in about 20 seconds if not actually aiming. They you've a major issue; you need to reload it.

With black powder, the barrel and magazine would be dangerously hot to hold (even with modern smokeless powder they get pretty toasty). This was a problem even with muzzleloaders. Sadly, the Henry has no wooden furniture to protect you from the heat.

The rounds were pretty anemic, and certainly would not be sufficient to reliably stop a charging Zulu without good shot placement. The M-H has about 3.5 times the muzzle energy of a Henry. The energy of the M-H drops to that of the Henry at the muzzle at around 850 yards.

For a point of reference, if the Henry is zeroed at 100 yards, at 150 yards the round is 12 inches below the point of aim (a drop of 15") and at 200 yards it is 33 inches below the point of aim. At 250 yards it is 66 inches below the point of aim. (a drop of 87").

It should be noted that the M1873 Springfield Custer's troops had actually fire at about the same rate as a Spencer when the magazine is in use, and a bit faster if the Stabler cut-off is in use (or the magazine is empty). There is very little difference between the rate because neither is self-cocking. With the Spencer you had a very long pull to actuate the lever action which can't be done in the shoulder. In the same time a soldier with a M1873 could open the trapdoor (keeping it in the shoulder) and insert a new cartridge and close the trapdoor again.

Spencer's bought and paid for by the soldiers themselves its seems they had a lot of faith in them which says a lot in itself.

Except they didn't. There were a couple of pre-war purchased weapons in the hands of militiamen, but the Government absorbed the entire output of the factory, and also purchased all the Spencers in warehouses at the start of the war. There are stories of troops being willing to purchase them, which may be true, but none were available for sale. Wilder's men, for example, received entirely government issued arms.
 
Top