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

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
True enough. And in most Civil War battles, an observer would see the Confederate infantry performing well especially for their limited numbers. As far as the fighting goes, the Confederates had an advantage. What the journalists did not observe was the vast logistical machine that was growing behind the US land forces. Buying and paying, and running railroad divisions just wasn't very exciting.
You're assuming a lot about these journalists. It was Russell's reporting about the logistical problems in the Crimea which caused the reforms - there wasn't much to complain about in the battle outcomes, after all, since those usually saw the British doing quite well - so he was certainly inclined to talk about logistics.
 

wausaubob

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You're assuming a lot about these journalists. It was Russell's reporting about the logistical problems in the Crimea which caused the reforms - there wasn't much to complain about in the battle outcomes, after all, since those usually saw the British doing quite well - so he was certainly inclined to talk about logistics.
:thumbsdown: You jumped over to the Crimean War pretty quick, my friend.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
:thumbsdown: You jumped over to the Crimean War pretty quick, my friend.
It's an immediately available example that proves not only that journalists did pay attention to logistics but that the first war correspondent was able to use it as the lynchpin of his reporting. It seems like a relevant case here to show that journalists were not necessarily ignorant of the logistical side of things.

Of course, it's possible that Russell's reporting was of a type more incisive than that typically found in the US, which would explain why he was barred from reporting on the affairs of the army by the US government and sent many, many death threats...
 

wausaubob

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Location
Denver, CO
It's an immediately available example that proves not only that journalists did pay attention to logistics but that the first war correspondent was able to use it as the lynchpin of his reporting. It seems like a relevant case here to show that journalists were not necessarily ignorant of the logistical side of things.

Of course, it's possible that Russell's reporting was of a type more incisive than that typically found in the US, which would explain why he was barred from reporting on the affairs of the army by the US government and sent many, many death threats...
Russell was on a different level. He penetrated the veneer of glory.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Daniel Harvey Hill should have the final word. He earned it.
"Give me Confederate infantry and Yankee artillery and I'll whip the world."
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Harvey_Hill
But he doesn't have a frame of reference, does he? Union artillery was better than Confederate, but no Union artillery piece is remotely as accurate as the Armstrong RBL 12 pounder (or their RML replacements) or the Krupp rifled breech loaders.

Similarly, perhaps Confederate infantry was better than Union, but I know of no individual capability in which an ordinary Confederate line regiment was superior to an ordinary British one.

More to the point, though, DH Hill did not know either. Compare DH Hill's comment (which you say he earned) with Lee's own:

"Just give me Prussian formations and Prussian discipline along with it - you'd see things turn out differently here" - RE Lee, lamenting the poor performance of his infantry at Chancellorsville to a Prussian observer.

Lee had no real basis for comparison either, of course, but he did know the Prussian reputation for discipline and knew that what he was watching wasn't that.


We cannot simply take the statements of historical actors at face value. When for example one British observer says that the fortifications of Washington are not very good, we give his views some weight because he is a qualified military engineer himself (and has seen and been taught about modern fortifications in many countries to give him a basis of comparison), and when he says portions of the works could be overcome not merely by infantry but by cavalry we give his views additional weight because he promptly borrowed a horse and demonstrated how to charge over the parapet on horseback.

When DH Hill (notoriously willing to write his comically propogandist maths book) says that CS infantry and Union artillery would let him defeat any army in the world, assumedly at roughly an even scale of army strength (i.e. 90,000 Americans versus 90,000 of some European army, for example) then what basis do we have to believe this is any more than bombast?


And history demonstrated that Hill's assessment was accurate.
...when?

You can't simply assume that American infantry from WW1/WW2 was the same quality as American infantry from 1860... or for that matter miss the extent to which the US Army took on British and French practice for artillery management in that period, just as one example.
 

LetUsHavePeace

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Dec 1, 2018
If we are going to use the bombast standard for historical comparisons in 1861-1865, there is no question the European monarchies and their general staffs win.
 

CanadianCanuck

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Forum Host
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Nov 21, 2014
One North American battle which may be of interest to this discussion, purely for comparative purposes in terms of infantry drill and and the efficacy of veterans versus non-veterans, is the Battle of Ridgeway in 1866.

The Battle was fought between members of the paramilitary Fenian Brotherhood (roughly 800 in number) under John O'Neill and a snap mobilization of Canadian militia under Col. Alfred Booker. The Canadian force was a scratch brigade composed of the partially mobilized 2nd Battalion "Queens Own Rifles" of Toronto and the 13 Battalion of Volunteer Infantry from Hamilton, as well as two independent militia companies, with roughly 850 Canadians on the field. Since neither side had cavalry or artillery, it came down to training, experience, and the dispositions of the infantry. Even though Canada was a British colony, no British officers were present on the field that day which made it a purely "North American" affair.

The Canadians were armed with Enfield Rifles, and one company were armed with Spencer Repeaters they had never been issued until the day before the battle. The Fenians were armed with a hodgepodge of Civil War era rifles.

I'd also note that the Canadian militia, who were trained under British officers and NCO's, and were arguably better armed, had no experience of war outside their training camps which met for only a few days a year so as to not completely disrupt economic activity. They had no experience with war - save for a small number of men who had enlisted South of the border and returned home upon the Civil War's conclusion. The Fenians on the other hand, were almost all veterans of the Civil War, having fought for the North and South.

The resulting battle (well, skirmish really) was an interesting exercise in comparing an amateur but drilled militia force, to a force of veterans. The Canadians and their officers behave very well under fire, advancing and driving the enemy out of pre-selected positions. The Fenians - and there is debate here - calmly withdrew from their own positions and regrouped on their HQ. However, at this point a mistaken order was given for the men to 'form square' as someone, and it is unclear who, reports the presence of enemy cavalry. The square is formed, but almost immediately rescinded as the commanding officer (Booker) realizes the error.

At this point there is debate about the exact nature of events, some historians have said that the Fenians deliberately led the Canadians back to their main position, while others claim the Fenians were indeed slowly driven back from initial positions by the Canadians. I personally believe it is a combination of the two, the Fenian skirmishers did indeed retreat in a feigned withdrawal, but the Fenian left was actually turned by an advance by the Canadian right. However it turned out though, the Fenians, seeing the Canadians disorganized by the mistaken order to form square, deliberately charged the now disorganized Canadians and forced their center to retire in disorder. Some Canadians did retreat in good order (specifically on the flanks) but the main body was indeed forced to withdraw haphazardly.

Writing post battle, many Fenians would comment on the mistakes the Canadians made. They too often deliberately exposed themselves to fire, did not seek cover, and broadly did not respond well to reverses. That said, even the infrequent training the Canadians had clearly paid off as they were able to advance, respond rapidly to their orders, and even when the mistake was made their commander quickly rescinded it. Unfortunately, the veteran Fenians reacted more rapidly and were able to make a mess of the Canadian confusion.

What is interesting is that neither side were great marksmen. The Fenians lost roughly 8-9 killed at Ridgeway (assuming that one man was not entered twice as a casualty) while the Canadians lost 9 killed as well. It may speak to a paucity of marksmanship by the American veterans, but clearly the Canadians weren't much better. That said, the infrequency of their training dates and the emphasis on drill may be responsible on the Canadian side - their British trainers also commented that the Canadian militiamen were terrible in caring for their rifles.

It does go to show that while training - even infrequent over time - can make men perform well on the battlefield and follow orders, simple drill often won't be enough against experienced bodies of men led by veteran leaders.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
If we are going to use the bombast standard for historical comparisons in 1861-1865, there is no question the European monarchies and their general staffs win.
That's a bit of a cop out, though. You said that DH Hill should be given the last word on the subject; I've tried to show why he shouldn't.

We should compare the actual capabilities of the units.

In the above mentioned battle at Ridgeway, what we see is that Canadian militiamen with a few days' training a year are not totally outclassed by (but may be outmatched by) Fenians who were veterans of years of service in the Civil War. We should naturally expect that British regulars (professional soldiers drilled all year round and put through Hythe, and many of them veterans themselves) would be significantly better - consider that the Canadian militiamen in question should (by time served in training and in the field) be inferior to the armies of First Bull Run (and yet are not simply swept from the field) and you can see how the scaling works here.

We could also compare musketry records, but there is little to no directly comparable data except for the fact that British regulars (for example) regularly practice, and US troops don't. This should by itself indicate that the British regulars should be more capable, on the fundamental military principle that being trained at something makes you better at it.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
This is like asking what QB was the best ever in the NFL. Lebron vs Jordan in the NBA?
Well, we can reduce the question of "southern better than northern" in some cases down to fairly simple mathematics.


Basically, given the actual CEV calculations, there are two possibilities.
Either the Union generals were consistently worse than the Confederate ones on average across the whole war (except for McClellan), or the Union soldiers were on average less capable man for man.

(This is average, not in any particular case.)
 

American87

Sergeant
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Aug 27, 2016
Location
PENNSYLVANIA
Sometimes. Sometimes not.

This was definitely a stereotype at the beginning of the war, but the example of the Mule Shoe at Spottsylvania proves it wrong. There the best army of the Confederacy, and the Army of the Potomac, fought hand to hand to a stand-still, and I forget if the North captured the works by force, or if it was Lee who gave his men the order to withdraw.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
This was definitely a stereotype at the beginning of the war, but the example of the Mule Shoe at Spottsylvania proves it wrong. There the best army of the Confederacy, and the Army of the Potomac, fought hand to hand to a stand-still, and I forget if the North captured the works by force, or if it was Lee who gave his men the order to withdraw.
The question you have to ask then is twofold. The first is as to whether this was an unusual situation (for example the guns being removed from the works, meaning that the attack site was unusually poorly protected), and the second is about the relative strengths involved. The ANV at Spotsylvania was down to ca. 55,000 men PFD (after Wilderness casualties) while the AotP at Spotsylvania was down to about 123,000 men PFD going into Spotsylvania (this counts the cavalry which then left) but recieved about 36,000 reinforcements by the end of the battle. I would thus expect that the odds ratio at the Mule Shoe was more than 2:1, and if you've ended up with a hand to hand fight to a standstill at 2:1 odds you've actually underperformed.

The AotP at Gettysburg (defending a fortified position and with their artillery in good support) achieved a CEV of between 0.6 and 1, which means that the AotP defending field works was about equivalent in combat power per man to the AoNV attacking (or more precisely the AotP there were slightly worse). At Spotsylvania meanwhile the AotP's achieved CEV is below 0.4, which indicates that the ANV defending field works outperformed the AotP significantly (by a factor of two or more in this engagement).
 

American87

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The question you have to ask then is twofold. The first is as to whether this was an unusual situation (for example the guns being removed from the works, meaning that the attack site was unusually poorly protected), and the second is about the relative strengths involved. The ANV at Spotsylvania was down to ca. 55,000 men PFD (after Wilderness casualties) while the AotP at Spotsylvania was down to about 123,000 men PFD going into Spotsylvania (this counts the cavalry which then left) but recieved about 36,000 reinforcements by the end of the battle. I would thus expect that the odds ratio at the Mule Shoe was more than 2:1, and if you've ended up with a hand to hand fight to a standstill at 2:1 odds you've actually underperformed.

The AotP at Gettysburg (defending a fortified position and with their artillery in good support) achieved a CEV of between 0.6 and 1, which means that the AotP defending field works was about equivalent in combat power per man to the AoNV attacking (or more precisely the AotP there were slightly worse). At Spotsylvania meanwhile the AotP's achieved CEV is below 0.4, which indicates that the ANV defending field works outperformed the AotP significantly (by a factor of two or more in this engagement).

You're assuming that the entire AoP was concentrating against the entire ANV at the Mule Shoe, which wasn't the case. Both armies extended to the left and right in that battle.

And while you're right that Lee withdrew his artillery before the assault, that is a case of generalship, not man-for-man fighting between the men in the ranks. The infantry in this case showed that both were equal, if in fact the numbers concentrated on the Mule Shoe were about equal, and in fact that the Northern infantry may even have been better, assuming the same.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
You're assuming that the entire AoP was concentrating against the entire ANV at the Mule Shoe, which wasn't the case. Both armies extended to the left and right in that battle.
Of course, but I'd assume that the AoP would concentrate a greater or at least equivalent % of their strength against the AoNV during a battle the AotP initiated. Otherwise the AotP's leadership was fundamentally incompetent - the entirety of the advantage the attacker has is the ability to pick the time and position of his attack and to thus start out with a greater available strength.

The concentration of strength launched on the initial attack was Hancock's 2nd Corps (pretty much all of it at least according to the situation map I can check at the moment) plus part of Burnside's 9th Corps (two divisions of four) and of Wright's 6th Corps (two of three). Given the relative strengths of the two sides (to whit, the Union had twice the number of men on the field) Hancock's corps alone would be about half the strength of the entire Army of Northern Virginia; adding the divisions from 6th and 9th Corps means the strength of the attack on the Mule Shoe is going to have beem more like 2/3 the numbers of the whole of Lee's army, in terms of the men who got involved at some point in the fighting. It may even have been more.



And while you're right that Lee withdrew his artillery before the assault, that is a case of generalship, not man-for-man fighting between the men in the ranks. The infantry in this case showed that both were equal, if in fact the numbers concentrated on the Mule Shoe were about equal, and in fact that the Northern infantry may even have been better, assuming the same.
It's a case of generalship, but what it means is that there is an influencing factor when comparing it with other fighting in the war. That is, if we compared the Mule Shoe with another attack during the war, we would have to factor in the difference from the artillery being missing.

I think the assumption that the numbers concentrated on the Mule Shoe were equal is not substantiated. Assuming that 40% of the casualties at Spotsylvania had taken place before the Mule Shoe assault, then:

Union starting strength in PFD (deducting cavalry) ~120,000 PFD on crossing the Rapidan
Casualties before Mule shoe:
Wilderness ~16,000 (cavalry already deducted so avoid double count)
40% of Spotsylvania (40% of 18,500) is 7,400, so total ~23,400
Reinforcements by end of Spotsylvania were 33,200
Assume that only 3,000 of these had arrived by May 12 (which I think is quite minimalist on the number that had arrived by then)
Union strength is thus ~100,000 PFD

Confederate starting strength in PFD (not deducting cavalry) = 66,000 on Grant crossing the Rapidan
Casualties before Mule Shoe:
Wilderness 11,000
40% of Spotsylvania ~5,000
Remaining Confederate strength ~50,000 PFD

So the Union had around 2:1 total strength on the field. We thus can't assume that an attack by what amounted to roughly half the Union army was at numerical parity!
 

American87

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Of course, but I'd assume that the AoP would concentrate a greater or at least equivalent % of their strength against the AoNV during a battle the AotP initiated. Otherwise the AotP's leadership was fundamentally incompetent - the entirety of the advantage the attacker has is the ability to pick the time and position of his attack and to thus start out with a greater available strength.

The concentration of strength launched on the initial attack was Hancock's 2nd Corps (pretty much all of it at least according to the situation map I can check at the moment) plus part of Burnside's 9th Corps (two divisions of four) and of Wright's 6th Corps (two of three). Given the relative strengths of the two sides (to whit, the Union had twice the number of men on the field) Hancock's corps alone would be about half the strength of the entire Army of Northern Virginia; adding the divisions from 6th and 9th Corps means the strength of the attack on the Mule Shoe is going to have beem more like 2/3 the numbers of the whole of Lee's army, in terms of the men who got involved at some point in the fighting. It may even have been more.




It's a case of generalship, but what it means is that there is an influencing factor when comparing it with other fighting in the war. That is, if we compared the Mule Shoe with another attack during the war, we would have to factor in the difference from the artillery being missing.

I think the assumption that the numbers concentrated on the Mule Shoe were equal is not substantiated. Assuming that 40% of the casualties at Spotsylvania had taken place before the Mule Shoe assault, then:

Union starting strength in PFD (deducting cavalry) ~120,000 PFD on crossing the Rapidan
Casualties before Mule shoe:
Wilderness ~16,000 (cavalry already deducted so avoid double count)
40% of Spotsylvania (40% of 18,500) is 7,400, so total ~23,400
Reinforcements by end of Spotsylvania were 33,200
Assume that only 3,000 of these had arrived by May 12 (which I think is quite minimalist on the number that had arrived by then)
Union strength is thus ~100,000 PFD

Confederate starting strength in PFD (not deducting cavalry) = 66,000 on Grant crossing the Rapidan
Casualties before Mule Shoe:
Wilderness 11,000
40% of Spotsylvania ~5,000
Remaining Confederate strength ~50,000 PFD

So the Union had around 2:1 total strength on the field. We thus can't assume that an attack by what amounted to roughly half the Union army was at numerical parity!

From the first part, you make some good points, but again that's assuming Hancock's Corps and the other divisions were at full strength, whereas we know the sustained casualties, perhaps heavy, in the Wilderness, especially Hancock's corps, perhaps. I agree, now that I'm remembering the battle more clearly, that Grant intentionally massed divisions for the assault, so you may be right that he sent "wave after wave" of assaults, but I'm not entirely satisfied until I read the strengths of the attacking divisions, as they were on that day. And the only book I have that may give that information is Rhea's book on Spottsylvania, but I haven't read it and don't feel like searching for something that might not exist. But you may be right from what I remember.

As to the second part, which I just read, you make some good points again. I'm still not convinced without detailed numbers from the Union divisions on the day of attack, but I remember Grant massing troops intentionally, so yes, they very well could have been numerically superior, and I have to withdraw my assessment that they were likely or probably on equal terms.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
As to the second part, which I just read, you make some good points again. I'm still not convinced without detailed numbers from the Union divisions on the day of attack, but I remember Grant massing troops intentionally, so yes, they very well could have been numerically superior, and I have to withdraw my assessment that they were likely or probably on equal terms.
I think that's a bit too high of a burden of proof in this case. We have the numbers for the Union army when it crossed the Rapidan and we know how many casualties they suffered; we have the numbers for the Confederate army and we know how many casualties it suffered. For the Union army (on the field as a whole, not just those making the assault) to be "merely" 50% stronger than the Confederate army, given known Confederate casualties just at the Wilderness, then we would need:

Confederates post-Wilderness = 55,000 (66,140 minus 11,033)
150% of 55,000 is 82,500
Union infantry corps at start of Wilderness= ~120,000
~16,000 Wilderness casualties, so ~104,000 left
Difference = 21,500

Essentially, for the Union army to be down to just 150% of the Confederate one, we'd need the Union to have suffered 21,500 casualties at Spotsylvania before the Mule Shoe assault and the Confederates to have suffered nil. (If the Confederates suffered 2,000 casualties before the Mule Shoe then we need to up the number the Union needs to have suffered by 3,000.)
I simply don't find that plausible, indeed I don't see how it can possibly happen, not when the casualties at Spotsylvania as a whole for the Union were the (already high) 18,400. This is why I believe it to be the case that the Union army had nearly or actually twice as many men on the field as a whole, which is our first approximation for the force ratio at the Angle.

From the first part, you make some good points, but again that's assuming Hancock's Corps and the other divisions were at full strength, whereas we know the sustained casualties, perhaps heavy, in the Wilderness, especially Hancock's corps, perhaps.
As noted above, it's not, really; it's just assuming that they suffered casualties roughly in proportion with the rest of the Union army. A few thousand one way or another doesn't materially affect the conclusion, either.
 
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