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

American87

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 27, 2016
Location
PENNSYLVANIA
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.


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.

Without exact numbers of the Mule Shoe, that is, the exact number in all the divisions engaged, north and south, we can't compare the man-to-man fighting ability. You made your point, which is that the Union army, as a whole, was much larger than the Confederate army as a whole, but that does not get down to the nitty gritty of how many individual soldiers were engaged at the actual mule shoe, and this is tough to take into account given the casualties that took place during the Wilderness and in the rest of the fighting leading up to the Mule Shoe.

It may be that the Unionists far outnumbered the Confederates, or it may be some degree less, even parity. We don't know. I assume the best grounds for parity would be if the Union divisions took heavy casualties beforehand, and the Union divisions were already small, by Confederate standards, at least compared to the ANV.

So without the exact numbers the issue is moot. It may be interesting to find out the exact numbers engaged at the Mule Shoe on May 12, but like I said I only know of Rhea possibly being able to help me, and I don't feel like flipping through his book for something that doesn't exist, given that I've never read it and am not sure what he's talking about.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Without exact numbers of the Mule Shoe, that is, the exact number in all the divisions engaged, north and south, we can't compare the man-to-man fighting ability. You made your point, which is that the Union army, as a whole, was much larger than the Confederate army as a whole, but that does not get down to the nitty gritty of how many individual soldiers were engaged at the actual mule shoe, and this is tough to take into account given the casualties that took place during the Wilderness and in the rest of the fighting leading up to the Mule Shoe.
No, as I say, that's too high a burden of proof. We have four corps in the Union army, and of those:

5th Corps was only lightly engaged on that day since it had already been involved in heavy fighting and was suffering from Cold Harbor Syndrome (early).

2nd Corps went in with all units in the corps to the Mule Shoe fighting.

6th Corps sent in two divisions out of three to the Mule Shoe.

9th Corps sent in two divisions out of four to the Mule Shoe.

This adds up to more than half the Union army. (Half 9th Corps, more than half 6th Corps, and all of 2nd Corps but none of 5th Corps.)

Given the strengths going into the battle, the only way in which the Union can not have outnumbered the Confederates here in the fighting at the Mule Shoe is if literally the entire Confederate army fought at the Mule Shoe. But we know this didn't happen - much of the Confederate 1st and 3rd Corps was holding the rest of the Confederate line.
 

American87

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 27, 2016
Location
PENNSYLVANIA
No, as I say, that's too high a burden of proof. We have four corps in the Union army, and of those:

5th Corps was only lightly engaged on that day since it had already been involved in heavy fighting and was suffering from Cold Harbor Syndrome (early).

2nd Corps went in with all units in the corps to the Mule Shoe fighting.

6th Corps sent in two divisions out of three to the Mule Shoe.

9th Corps sent in two divisions out of four to the Mule Shoe.

This adds up to more than half the Union army. (Half 9th Corps, more than half 6th Corps, and all of 2nd Corps but none of 5th Corps.)

Given the strengths going into the battle, the only way in which the Union can not have outnumbered the Confederates here in the fighting at the Mule Shoe is if literally the entire Confederate army fought at the Mule Shoe. But we know this didn't happen - much of the Confederate 1st and 3rd Corps was holding the rest of the Confederate line.

You're also not mentioning the exact strength of each of the visions employed at the Mule Shoe, after taking the casualties of the Wilderness and everything else leading up to May 12.

Without that precise number, the issue is moot for deciding who was the better fighter, Southern Man, or Northern Man. You think it is too high a burden of proof. So be it. If the proof is too high a burden, then drop it and pick a new argument.

There is no reason to continue this debate when I have already withdrawn my assessment. I'm not going to assume unit strengths for the sake of concluding your argument. But if you could find the precise strength of the units involved, which neither you nor I want to do, even if it would be possible, then that would be great, but not necessary.
 

Scott1967

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
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
This simply isn't true Bob it was a tale of two theatres of war in the East the Confederates did well in the West they faired poorly.

Many people have based their reasoning of Southern troops performing well on the fact they were country boys who were more used to hardship and could handle a firearm , However this is a complete myth as many Southern boys in the west were from vast rural areas and yet they performed far worse than those in the East.

What scant Southern victory's that were achieved in the West came at great cost for the South , Simply put the Northern leadership in the West was vastly superior to its Eastern counterparts and Northern troops performed well in that theatre.

For every Fredericksburg their is a Franklin for every Chancellorsville their is a Gettysburg their simply was no difference between the troops on both sides in both tactics and training imho.
 

Peace Society

Corporal
Joined
Jun 25, 2019
Location
Ark Mo line
Here's the opinion of Private Levi Wagner, 1 OH Inf (Baldwin's brigade, Chickamauga):

Although the Northern and Southern soldiers were equally brave, there was a great difference in their mode of attack. The Southerner comes in at the start with a whirl and a rush, yelling like demons, expecting to overwhelm and confuse like a mighty storm. Indeed their impulsive onslaught was enough to intimidate anything but a cold blooded Yankey. It was that cold, undemonstrative nature of the north that made them superior to all other soldiers. He goes into battle in a cool, calculating, self-confident manner. When the rush comes he plants himself like a rock, pours in his deadly fire and then advances, encounters the enemy, plants himself again, and then onward in a way that nothing could resist.

Quoted in Voices of the Civil War - Chickamauga by the editors of Time-Life Books, Alexandria VA, p.110
 

American87

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 27, 2016
Location
PENNSYLVANIA
Here's the opinion of Private Levi Wagner, 1 OH Inf (Baldwin's brigade, Chickamauga):

Although the Northern and Southern soldiers were equally brave, there was a great difference in their mode of attack. The Southerner comes in at the start with a whirl and a rush, yelling like demons, expecting to overwhelm and confuse like a mighty storm. Indeed their impulsive onslaught was enough to intimidate anything but a cold blooded Yankey. It was that cold, undemonstrative nature of the north that made them superior to all other soldiers. He goes into battle in a cool, calculating, self-confident manner. When the rush comes he plants himself like a rock, pours in his deadly fire and then advances, encounters the enemy, plants himself again, and then onward in a way that nothing could resist.

Quoted in Voices of the Civil War - Chickamauga by the editors of Time-Life Books, Alexandria VA, p.110

He could almost be talking about the 20th Maine.
 

Cavalier

First Sergeant
Joined
Jul 20, 2019
A couple of opinions about all this, (and we all know what opinions are like). I personally do not subscribe to the theory that the southern soldier was superior to the northern soldier at all, but private Wagner's remarks, ("superior to all other soldiers"), seem kinda like hooray for our side cheerleading to me. So me and the esteemed private would part company there.

And is there some reason these remarks would apply to the 20th. Maine more than to a dozen or more other regiments in the Army of the Potomac? Just wondering.

John
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
It's worth remembering that there are often units which are exceptional, and we should avoid generalizing from unusual units.


Something else that's kind of interesting is that in musket combat (i.e. without effective long range rifle fire) then holding fire until an advancing enemy is at very close range can be quite effective - it's what the British did in the Napoleonic Wars - but it's best combined with a short bayonet countercharge. This capitalizes on the moment of shock that a close range volley produces, and will often break the enemy without making actual combat; you can then retire to your initial position.

This requires very good discipline though; I believe it's the case that the initial close volley without the bayonet charge just produces an attritional firefight, and of course it's ineffective against an enemy willing to court a long range firefight anyway.
 

American87

Sergeant
Joined
Aug 27, 2016
Location
PENNSYLVANIA
A couple of opinions about all this, (and we all know what opinions are like). I personally do not subscribe to the theory that the southern soldier was superior to the northern soldier at all, but private Wagner's remarks, ("superior to all other soldiers"), seem kinda like hooray for our side cheerleading to me. So me and the esteemed private would part company there.

And is there some reason these remarks would apply to the 20th. Maine more than to a dozen or more other regiments in the Army of the Potomac? Just wondering.

John

The 20th Maine came to mind. So many other up North too, as in Northern Virginia, and down South too, At Shiloh. It's all good. Union men everywhere led valiant charges.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
For a "this is generally the case" thing, there are two possible approaches. One of them is to look at statistics of the gross battles (i.e. apply Lanchester Square) which does conflate the ability of the generals and the situation, but if there's enough battles to consider you can at least produce trends.

The way the trends work out is that there are basically two options:

1) The Union's troops are on par with the Confederate ones, but McClellan is a little better than Lee and all other Union generals are much worse than Lee.
2) The Union's troops are worse than the Confederate ones, but McClellan is a lot better than Lee and all other Union generals are still worse than Lee...


You can also evaluate based on looking at the statistics of regiment versus regiment engagements. This has been done in the past, and while I can't find the study at the moment I do recall that the Union regiments tended to do better the longer it had been since their last engagement (i.e. Union troops took longer to recover). This may have been due to generally having a more shattering experience, especially since IIRC the data set included the Overland Campaign.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
For a "this is generally the case" thing, there are two possible approaches. One of them is to look at statistics of the gross battles (i.e. apply Lanchester Square) which does conflate the ability of the generals and the situation, but if there's enough battles to consider you can at least produce trends.

The way the trends work out is that there are basically two options:

1) The Union's troops are on par with the Confederate ones, but McClellan is a little better than Lee and all other Union generals are much worse than Lee.
2) The Union's troops are worse than the Confederate ones, but McClellan is a lot better than Lee and all other Union generals are still worse than Lee...


You can also evaluate based on looking at the statistics of regiment versus regiment engagements. This has been done in the past, and while I can't find the study at the moment I do recall that the Union regiments tended to do better the longer it had been since their last engagement (i.e. Union troops took longer to recover). This may have been due to generally having a more shattering experience, especially since IIRC the data set included the Overland Campaign.
A person could do that. But the point of the war from the US perspective beginning in about November of 1864 was not to kill the Confederates, but to get them to surrender. That makes things a bit sticky in looking at the data.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
A person could do that. But the point of the war from the US perspective beginning in about November of 1864 was not to kill the Confederates, but to get them to surrender. That makes things a bit sticky in looking at the data.
Only if you assume that the Union - from the high command down to the individual soldiers - was willing to suffer their own casualties rather than inflict Confederate ones.
 

Scott1967

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
You can also evaluate based on looking at the statistics of regiment versus regiment engagements. This has been done in the past, and while I can't find the study at the moment I do recall that the Union regiments tended to do better the longer it had been since their last engagement (i.e. Union troops took longer to recover). This may have been due to generally having a more shattering experience, especially since IIRC the data set included the Overland Campaign.
Erm no.

As has been stated time and time again their were very few lopsided victories most engagements ended up with pretty much equal casualties.

Their was absolutely no difference between regiments only commanders and circumstances.

If my memory serves me right the Overland campaign was pretty much a defensive campaign for the CSA with the Union attacking constantly thus increasing the Norths casualties because the trend in the war itself was the side that attacked tending to receive more casualties , Even at Chancellorsville Lee took more dead and wounded than the Union it was only the fact he captured 5k Union troops that made the battle look more lopsided than it was.

Two exception to this was Antietam and 2nd Bull Run where the Union actually inflicted a heavy defeat on Lee while on the offensive and Longstreet managed to crush the Federals with a mass flank attack inducing 2-1 casualties but this was rare while on the offensive.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
If my memory serves me right the Overland campaign was pretty much a defensive campaign for the CSA with the Union attacking constantly thus increasing the Norths casualties because the trend in the war itself was the side that attacked tending to receive more casualties , Even at Chancellorsville Lee took more dead and wounded than the Union it was only the fact he captured 5k Union troops that made the battle look more lopsided than it was.


The thing is, we can actually factor that out. The way it works is that the benefits from the defensive should produce a consistent signal in the CEV - for example, if two commanders are of equal capability and fight half a dozen battles against one another, with both sides spending some time on the attack, then the average offensive CEV for one of the commanders should be less than one and the average defensive CEV should be greater than one. Multiply the two together and you should get about one.


For example, for McClellan vs. Lee, the stats I have in my notes are for the following battles:

Mechanicsville​
4.5​
Def​
Gaines Mill​
3.55​
Def​
Peach Orchard Glendale and Malvern Hill​
1.28​
Def​
South Mountain​
0.64​
Att​
Antietam​
0.7​
Att​

The average offensive CEV for McClellan is about 0.66 (2/3) and the average defensive CEV for McClellan is about 3. From this we could conclude that McClellan vs. Lee tends to come out better for McClellan, because offensive CEV times defensive CEV is greater than one for McClellan (it comes out as two); it would imply the average battle between the two would see McClellan's CEV as about 1.4 (the square root of two).

Based on this, we could also expect that between two roughly equivalent commanders the defensive CEV should be somewhere around 2. The point here is that we shouldn't expect it to be greater than perhaps four (the average of Mechanicsville and Gaines Mill, both Confederate attacks on entrenchments).




Meade only has one battle in the dataset before Grant takes over:

Gettysburg​
0.88​
Def​

Notice that here, despite being on the defensive, Meade's CEV is less than one. This indicates that Meade is not as good a commander as Lee, because all else being equal we should expect a commander to get a CEV greater than one on the defensive (and less than one on the offensive).
As it happens, at Gettysburg the casualty honours are about even, which is pretty good for the smaller army when it's the one attacking.



For Grant's tenure, meanwhile, the offensive CEVs are terrible:


Union​
Wilderness​
0.22​
Normal​
Union​
10th May at Spotsylvania​
0.39​
Att​
Union​
12th May ditto​
0.35​
Att​
Union​
Cold Harbor​
0.09​
Att​
Union​
Petersburg​
0.07​
Att​
Union​
Crater​
0.12​
Att​

(n.b. these numbers do not incorporate recent analysis on the size of the Union army in the Overland, which would tend to depress them; for Spotsylvania as a whole the Union CEV is 0.14 or less depending on whether reinforcements arriving before the end of the battle are counted. Counting all reinforcements would put Spotsylvania as a whole at 0.08)

The fact these numbers are so low (and consistently so) indicates either that Grant was a much worse battlefield commander than Meade (and McClellan) or that the Army of the Potomac was undergoing a morale and capability collapse over the summer of 1864.

Notably, I could have classified the Wilderness as a Union defensive battle since most of the fighting was the Union defending against Confederate attack. If I had done so then the average Union offensive battle times the average Union defensive battle for Grant would have been roughly 0.022, which is very bad; if we instead class Wilderness as a battle without either side getting the benefit of the defensive then we would anticipate Grant's defensive CEV to be on the order of 0.5.


Incidentally, if you do qualify Wilderness as a Union defensive battle then it's another one where the offensive Confederacy did more damage than they suffered.


Their was absolutely no difference between regiments only commanders and circumstances.
Except that "circumstances" here is a fuzzy word that includes level of training and experience. Green regiments don't fight as well as veterans, and the CSA's front-loading of their military recruitment meant that their troops rarely suffered a decline in average training/experience (while the USA's multiple bursts of recruitment meant that their troops did suffer that decline.)
 

Scott1967

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
Except that "circumstances" here is a fuzzy word that includes level of training and experience. Green regiments don't fight as well as veterans, and the CSA's front-loading of their military recruitment meant that their troops rarely suffered a decline in average training/experience (while the USA's multiple bursts of recruitment meant that their troops did suffer that decline.)
Their is no documented evidence that green units fought poorly in fact in many cases they out performed their veteran counterparts simply because they didn't know what to expect , We do see instances of veteran troops refusing orders because they know what's coming , The use of the word veteran can be applied to any man who has served from a wagon driver to a front line soldier its over used a lot to my disdain.

Good units normally had good commanders from Division command all the way down to regimental and company commanders and i do consider the South had the advantage in the early war period and was blessed with solid command chain in the East the West was another story.

The success of the South in the East was down to Lee not because he was a tactical genius but because he was great figurehead for an army his troops would lay down their lives for him unlike the North who had nobody like him in their ranks.

Having a charismatic leader is vital for morale and one of the main reasons the South fought so hard in the East , I suppose McClellan was the closest to Lee in that regard with Sherman in the West.

As to recruitment I suppose both had their advantages and disadvantages , The North had core veteran regiments that reduced in number over the course of the war but were easier to manage from a brigade point of view you could argue a brigade commander may wish to blood his new regiments while keeping his veteran regiments in reserve until needed.

The CSA on the other hand liked to mix veterans with raw recruits but that could be hit and miss , Many new recruits would pick up bad habits from the veterans or vital information on how to survive.

In essence both sets of soldiers were the same but i will concede the South in the East had better morale and better high ranking officers which obviously filtered down the chain of command making the CSA army in the East a formidable opponent unlike their Western counterparts who performed poorly imho.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Their is no documented evidence that green units fought poorly in fact in many cases they out performed their veteran counterparts simply because they didn't know what to expect , We do see instances of veteran troops refusing orders because they know what's coming , The use of the word veteran can be applied to any man who has served from a wagon driver to a front line soldier its over used a lot to my disdain.
But men refusing orders usually results from units becoming "used up". It's part of a general trend in the way soldiers develop.


You start off with an essentially random selection of men with their eagerness and willingness to fight more or less distributed randomly. Some of them are gung-ho while others are reluctant.
You also start off with men who have, basically, no idea of how to fight beyond guesswork. When first recruited they've done no training (in the Civil War especially, there weren't even many reservists or militiamen as the militia system had degraded so much) and they're not conditioned to life in the field.


Training time - as in, time actually drilling - improves the ability of the men to follow the drill book, which is after all a book about how to fight. This means that men who have spent time training are more effective than men who have not.
Experience (as in, facing combat, and taking part in it to varying degrees) also improves men, because it gets over their initial shock reaction to combat. It makes it easier for them to follow their drill in subsequent fights, because it is no longer a new experience.
High casualties and repeated combat, especially unsuccessful combat, both make men worse. This is partly because they simply get tired, partly because each individual is discouraged by their fighting not being rewarded with success, and partly because the men who are more eager are more likely to become casualties (as they are the ones who are at the front, especially in an attack) which reduces the average aggression of the formation by actively killing off the ones who would be aggressive.

In addition to that, time spent in camp increases the bonds of cameraderie and improves the ability of the soldiers to sustain marches without becoming tired.

This doesn't mean someone who's spent most of their time as a wagon driver is going to be a good soldier, but it means that a regiment which has managed to spend several months training and then been involved in two or three victorious battles (where their personal experience was victorious) with light or moderate casualties is going to be a lot better as a formation than one which has been thrown into battle without much training, defeated, and is then forced to fight for a second time shortly afterwards.



This is a pattern across most of human history and across most of the military spectrum. Training makes you better at things and newly recruited troops are often unskilled in combat - and while they can be very brave, that bravery is fragile and if disrupted they can shatter and panic. If you want a unit to be able to take adversity and stay in good order, it's a well-drilled and ideally battle-experienced formation which has avoided defeat that you need.
 

Cavalier

First Sergeant
Joined
Jul 20, 2019
I do have the impression that the Army of Northern Virginia was a far superior performer than its Western Confederate counterparts. Is that a fair assumption?

John
 

Scott1967

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
This is a pattern across most of human history and across most of the military spectrum. Training makes you better at things and newly recruited troops are often unskilled in combat - and while they can be very brave, that bravery is fragile and if disrupted they can shatter and panic. If you want a unit to be able to take adversity and stay in good order, it's a well-drilled and ideally battle-experienced formation which has avoided defeat that you need.
Again their are faults in what you say here , Throughout history battle hardened well trained troops have been beaten by undisciplined mobs of green recruits simply because they have a clever savvy charismatic commander who understood tactics and a way to beat the enemy.

On the other hand we see smaller well trained armies beat bigger less trained armies it really is swings and roundabouts here.

Any soldier will tell you if they have been in multiple combat situations that you never get used to it the adrenaline kicks in regardless how many times you experience combat , This would have been no different in the ACW.

I do have the impression that the Army of Northern Virginia was a far superior performer than its Western Confederate counterparts. Is that a fair assumption?
Absolutely this what I have been saying all along that goes to show that battle results relied more leadership and tactics and that the rank and file were the same in both armies.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Again their are faults in what you say here , Throughout history battle hardened well trained troops have been beaten by undisciplined mobs of green recruits simply because they have a clever savvy charismatic commander who understood tactics and a way to beat the enemy.
But that's not the trend. The fact that sometimes spearmen beat riflemen does not make the rifle inferior to the spear.
What case are you thinking of of battle hardened well trained troops being beaten by an undisciplined mob? I suspect it's going to involve (probably greatly) superior numbers.

Any soldier will tell you if they have been in multiple combat situations that you never get used to it the adrenaline kicks in regardless how many times you experience combat , This would have been no different in the ACW.
I think any soldier would also tell you that experience and training help. If neither do, it begs the question as to why armies throughout history have sought them both out.


Absolutely this what I have been saying all along that goes to show that battle results relied more leadership and tactics and that the rank and file were the same in both armies.
But it doesn't necessarily, because the armies had different amounts of time to train and drill together.
 

Scott1967

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
But that's not the trend. The fact that sometimes spearmen beat riflemen does not make the rifle inferior to the spear.
What case are you thinking of of battle hardened well trained troops being beaten by an undisciplined mob? I suspect it's going to involve (probably greatly) superior numbers.
Not really , Hannibal is a classic example at Cannae and the pre battles of a smaller ill trained army beating a vastly superior well trained army with mainly barbarian troops due to his charismatic leadership and clever tactics.

You could also debate that the War of independence was won by volunteer troops vs professional troops.

Heck if you look at the Union army at Gettysburg and take note of the New York regiments anything in 70s was considered a veteran regiment , So you find the 124th NY formed in Sep 1862 giving the 1st Texas a bloody nose on the 2nd day due to fantastic leadership of its senior officers.
I think any soldier would also tell you that experience and training help. If neither do, it begs the question as to why armies throughout history have sought them both out.
Training helps of course it does but you can never tell how a man reacts in any given situation , Most is instinctive , I totally agree with what you say about comradeship its thee most important factor in a unit it gives the unit cohesion as well as having good officers and NCOs.
But it doesn't necessarily, because the armies had different amounts of time to train and drill together.
Iverson's men were lined up like on parade when they were slaughtered the lack of leadership and the fact that no skirmishers were sent out meant that all the training and drill in world could not prevent them getting decimated.
 
Top