Discussion European Army

MikeyB

Corporal
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
This is not meant to be a what-if.

But I was wondering if the Union army of 1863 would be outclassed by a British or French army of the same time period. I always see on these boards how marksmanship was not emphasized in the Union army. Would this emphasis and practice in European armies represent a material tactical advantage? By 1863, the Union army was largely veteran. Would you consider the average 1863 AoP soldier to be the equivalent of a professional European soldier?

Also wondering if the Europeans were using significantly better artillery or small arms than we were? I'm guessing since we imported Enfields there isn't too much of an advantage on the small arms side. Was also curious if the European cavalry outclassed their American counterparts. I think about some of the scenes in Waterloo with heavy cavalry charges and the like. I have no idea if this was all obsolete by 1863, but if it wasn't, would Americans have a hard time countering these types of tactics.
 

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 10, 2006
Which European Army?

I'd likely think the AoP would do well against an Austrian or Italian force, but would not fancy their chances against a British, French or Prussian force.
 

MikeyB

Corporal
Joined
Sep 13, 2018
Which European Army?

I'd likely think the AoP would do well against an Austrian or Italian force, but would not fancy their chances against a British, French or Prussian force.

Let's go British. Where does the Royal Army outclass the AoP in your opinion?
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
This is not meant to be a what-if.

But I was wondering if the Union army of 1863 would be outclassed by a British or French army of the same time period. I always see on these boards how marksmanship was not emphasized in the Union army. Would this emphasis and practice in European armies represent a material tactical advantage? By 1863, the Union army was largely veteran. Would you consider the average 1863 AoP soldier to be the equivalent of a professional European soldier?

Also wondering if the Europeans were using significantly better artillery or small arms than we were? I'm guessing since we imported Enfields there isn't too much of an advantage on the small arms side. Was also curious if the European cavalry outclassed their American counterparts. I think about some of the scenes in Waterloo with heavy cavalry charges and the like. I have no idea if this was all obsolete by 1863, but if it wasn't, would Americans have a hard time countering these types of tactics.
Not an expert but the Spanish Army was considered very competent against American forces during the Spanish American War but we're outnumbered. The Spanish Army used 7mm Mausers but what model I forget. Arguably the 7mm Mauser was superior to the Krag -Jourgesen rifle used by the American Army. Of course the Spanish were outnumbered and their Navy did not have a good day at Manila Bay.
Leftyhunter
 

67th Tigers

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 10, 2006
Let's go British. Where does the Royal Army outclass the AoP in your opinion?

The British equipment is generally better, with a few exceptions. Consider the rifle; whereas a Springfield is as good as an Enfield (and visa versa, both were excellent rifle-muskets), the British simply had developed better bullets based upon noting problems, have time to think about it and correct the problems. The US never got the pause.

If you were to compare the Springfield to the French rifle-musket, it beats the hell out of it. The French were busy removing the sights from their to discourage aiming...

What really made the difference is that the British infantry got a lot of musketry practice under controlled conditions that allowed them to find the mistakes the shooters made and train it out of them. Battle doesn't do that, because you don't know of you're shooting high (or whatever) and if you survived the battle you keep doing whatever you were doing. Mistakes don't get corrected.
 

Cavalier

First Sergeant
Joined
Jul 20, 2019
@leftyhunter I get the impression that if the Napoleonic are wars are any indication the Spanish army would need to have improved by leaps and bounds in the fifty year span between then and the American Civil War. Leadership, discipline, organization, equipment, and morale in the Spanish Army were pretty poor generally and their performance on the Napoleonic era battlefields usually reflected that. There were exceptions of course. No expert on the Spanish army of the 1860's here, (or any other time for that matter), but it would be a major surprise to me if they improved that drastically.

John
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I'll also point out that it's the British Army, not the Royal Army. Regiments and components therein are Royal, but the whole is not.


The British Army is composed almost entirely of men who would be considered expert shots by US standards - and by that I mean "qualified for the US Sharpshooters" because the Sharpshooters went through much the same musketry training that was given to every British recruit. Even the cavalry and the gunners were taught to sharpshoot with their short Enfields, and it had become so much an obsession that around this time there are questions raised in Parliament as to whether the Irish Constabulary really need to be trained as battle sharpshooters...

British troops are long-service at this time, and a typical infantry battalion will probably have about 6-7 years' experience as the average per-man (with the most grizzled veterans having been in for up to 22 years - they enlisted for ten and could choose to enlist for another twelve, an option which 50% of those discharged took immediately and another 10% did within six months.) The effect of this on the quality of the drill is significant, and it also means that the fraction of men in any given battalion who have not been through multiple runs of the yearly musketry qualification course will be very low.

Importantly, the equipment is pretty standardized in most cases and there are full support arms. Some cavalry regiments were trialling breechloaders, but apart from that:

All artillery is Armstrong breech loading rifles, and the gunners have Enfields as personal weapons. Batteries are "fully manned" and have been for years, which means that rather than the prewar US situation where there were only a couple of dozen trained gun captains each battery comes with a full set of trained personnel (and is at 250 men per battery, so there's no need to draft in men from the infantry to help provide gun labour).
All infantry have the Enfield, rather than the kind of slightly chaotic mess that prevailed even as late as Gettysburg.
All cavalry is in practice trained to act as both shock troops and dragoons, plus being capable of the usual scouting and screening.
The logistics and engineering is handled by separate organizations (the Military Train and Royal Engineers) and so there's none of the usual concern with troops detached to the logistics.


I'll now digress to the Armstrong, because it has a bad reputation it does not deserve.

We should first point out that the reason the Armstrong was rejected was ultimately its tendency for breech blowouts in the larger calibres (the vent piece would blow - each gun carried two spares, it was a bit of safety equipment), but nobody seems to have ever died from an Armstrong gun having a vent piece burst; compare with the larger Parrotts, which were a bit more lethal.
The Armstrong, especially in field gun calibres, is a reliable, accurate, versatile and powerful artillery piece. Tests showed this as such:

Reliable -
"As regards the care of the gun I find no difficulty in keeping it in perfect order in all weathers and all circumstances" (Major Govan, RA)
"On one occasion his guns had very rough work indeed. They were sent out with a division of the army over a swamp, the very worst ground possible for artillery. The guns were in fact almost swallowed up, and were covered with mud when brought into action, but no impediment occurred." (Major Govan, RA)
"On two occasions vent-pieces were blown away; on the last occasion I happened to come up to the gun almost immediately after it had occurred... The traversing screw was jammed, but the gun was not otherwise injured, and with another vent-piece was again serviceable." (Major Hay, RA)
"As a preliminary measure, a new 12-pounder gun, No. 8, was left exposed to the weather without any protection, and untouched, ... [for] 45 days. It rained very constantly during this period... At the expiration of it, it was taken to the marshes, and fired without being cleaned or sponged." (Report from the Select Committee on Ordnance, 23 July 1863)


Accurate -
"The last gun made by Sir W. Armstrong and sent to be tried, was a 12-pounder. The following was the result:—Forty consecutive rounds were fired from the new 12-pounder field gun of 8 cwt., with theminimum charge of 11 lb. 8oz. of slow powder. Experiment shows that we have been wrong for some time in using powder of so quick a detonating nature for artillery practice, and especially for rifled cannon, which require slower powder than that suited to other arms. At seven degrees of elevation in five rounds, the range being from 2,465 to 2,495 yards, the difference in the range was 65 yards, and the greatest difference in width three yards. Then at eight degrees of elevation, the range reaching 2,797 yards, with 60 yards of difference between the five shots, and only one yard of difference in the width. Again, at nine degrees of elevation the range comes up to 3,000 yards and upwards, with 85 yards difference between the five shots, and three yards as the greatest difference in the width. In point of fact, almost all of these shots but three or four would have struck within a 9-feet target. The rapidity and accuracy with which small objects are hit at a great distance in the practice made at Shoeburyness, is something marvellous. "
(HC debates, Feb 1860)
"The 40-pounder we found answer exceedingly well, for coming out of the place we planted common shell, with pillar fuze, wherever we wished, at a range of 3,800 yards. "
- shipboard use on the Euryalus, as per the gunnery lieutenant on board that ship.

Versatile -
The Armstrong gun carries a standardized but expensive "segment" shell that can be fired in four different modes. It can be used with a time fuze as a shrapnel round, with a Pillar percussion fuze as a contact explosive, with a plug in the shell hole as a shot or bolt, and with nothing in the fuze hole as cannister (as it bursts instantly).
This is important as it means a battery can't be caught with the wrong type of ammunition. The fuzes are also reliable (which is a point of merit over American fuzes, which had something of a failure rate).
The Segment shell was less effective in any given role than what it replaced, but the versatility was useful (though the tradeoff was hotly debated).


Powerful -
In testing, the 12 pounder firing segment shell penetrated 4 feet of artificial earthwork or 3 feet 2 in of gravel clay in natural buttress. This proved to be capable of firing at a rifle pit, penetrating it and (with percussion shell) bursting inside. Mercer of the Royal Artillery, on his time in New Zealand:

'The guns were loaded and laid, and the gunners with lanyard in hand waited for the word from the officer, who was watching until some heads appeared above in that direction, or a puff of smoke revealed their presence, when the gun was instantly fired, and the shell, entering just below the crest of their pits, burst inside.

'The following evidence has been given concerning the action of the Armstrong shell with the concussion fuze (i.e., percussion fuze) only:- Colour-Serjeant J. Morant, Royal Engineers, was at the head of the sap, and saw an Armstrong shell go through a rifle pit, about four feet of earth, and burst inside, and heard the enemy shout as in pain; he also observed that the shell from the Armstrong gun entered the rifle pits as soon or sooner than the report was heard, so that the natives had not time to get out of the way. Bomber J. Singer, No. 3 Battery, 12th Brigade RA, was at the head of the sap, and in the advance parallel with the Coehorn mortars, when he saw several shell from the Armstrong gun go through the enemy's rifle pits and burst inside. After the cessation of hostilities one of the natives told my sergeant-major that they were sometimes able to get out of the way of the mortar or large shells, but never out of the way of the shell (whether with time or concussion, or concussion fuze only) from the gun "all the same as the rifle," meaning the Armstrong guns, as the shell was amongst them as soon as they heard the report. These natives have designated the Armstrong shell "the quick shell".

'The different statements made both by those who were in the sap as well as by the natives themselves corroborate the observations taken from the battery, viz., that the Armstrong shell only entered the crest of the enemy's rifle pits and burst inside; whether there were few or many natives in the pit at the time cannot be ascertained.'

When the Armstrong started to use common shell instead of segment shell (in 1865) for the purpose of shelling, the bursting charge was 269 grams - which is compared to 167 grams for the 3" rifle. Obviously in 1863 they're using the segment shell instead, but it demonstrates that the Armstrong was not weaker than the 3" rifle for shelling purposes.
 

leftyhunter

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
May 27, 2011
Location
los angeles ca
@leftyhunter I get the impression that if the Napoleonic are wars are any indication the Spanish army would need to have improved by leaps and bounds in the fifty year span between then and the American Civil War. Leadership, discipline, organization, equipment, and morale in the Spanish Army were pretty poor generally and their performance on the Napoleonic era battlefields usually reflected that. There were exceptions of course. No expert on the Spanish army of the 1860's here, (or any other time for that matter), but it would be a major surprise to me if they improved that drastically.

John
I just remember reading that the Spanish Army was well regarded by the American soldiers as far as I can tell. If we get into the semi modern era they were very good fighters.
It's certainly possible that the Spanish Army was below par in 1863 but they seem to of improved.
Leftyhunter
 
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Harms88

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 13, 2019
Location
North of the Wall & South of the Canucks
The North had an issue with all it’s armies that was actually still hampering it by late 1864. Few recruits were put in existing regiments, as most were put in new regiments being raised. These regiments would have few veterans, and those would only be men that were returning to the ranks after their regiments were dissolved due to the end of enlistments. Many of them that were put in existing regiments were bounty jumpers and draftees, men who weren’t exactly enthusiastic about their lot in life.

Compare this to the South, where by basically 1863 put all new recruits into existing regiments. This hindered the combat effectiveness of green Northern soldiers, who had few men of experience to help steady them in combat.

Author Harry Harrison in his alternate history book Star & Stripes Forever stated that by mid-1862, even one American army, north or south, could have easily beaten the combined might of Europe. 🤣 As has already been stated, British soldiers spent years in the ranks. Maybe the US Regular Army division could go toe-to-toe, as these men had a similar demand on them, but the majority of the AOTP was made up of citizen soldiers, basically a higher trained militia soldier.

It is also arguable that the tactics of the European armies had were perhaps of better quality as well. Such as European foot soldiers could handle cavalry attacks a bit better than I feel that American troops could, as European cavalry was used much more aggressively on the battlefield than especially the AOTP’s cavalry was.

If anything, I think the AOTP may be able to fight the British and the French to a draw individually, but I don’t think they would be able to decimate them on the battlefield.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Maybe the US Regular Army division could go toe-to-toe, as these men had a similar demand on them, but the majority of the AOTP was made up of citizen soldiers, basically a higher trained militia soldier.
I actually don't know about that - remember that much of the manpower in the Regulars was actually newly recruited at the start of the war. They probably trained better, but the 11th Infantry for example wasn't long-service.

If anything, I think the AOTP may be able to fight the British and the French to a draw individually, but I don’t think they would be able to decimate them on the battlefield.

Really? I'm not sure how you can get the AotP fighting the British (say) to a draw - there are simply so many capabilities the British army has that are not in the Army of the Potomac, and no countervailing massive advantage in the other direction.

What counter does the AotP have to British artillery wheeling into battery on a hill a mile and a half away and starting to methodically counterbattery the Union gunners? Or British skirmish lines setting up at 600 yards to snipe out anyone they can see?
 
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Cavalier

First Sergeant
Joined
Jul 20, 2019
@leftyhunter An interesting little story concerned a Spanish regiment going into battle and upon discharging their own muskets became so frightened they proceed to discard them and flee. Weather exactly true or not, I believe there might be some disagreement.the

It is my impression however, that the consensus among Napoleonic historians is not that the Spanish soldiers were inferior to the soldiers of other armies but that the administration and leadership of the army in that time were so poor that the army was unable to function in most respects, as it should.

John
 

Cavalier

First Sergeant
Joined
Jul 20, 2019
I always found it remarkable that in one of the most professional and respected armies in the world, the British officer purchased his commission.

John
 

Harms88

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 13, 2019
Location
North of the Wall & South of the Canucks
I actually don't know about that - remember that much of the manpower in the Regulars was actually newly recruited at the start of the war. They probably trained better, but the 11th Infantry for example wasn't long-service.



Really? I'm not sure how you can get the AotP fighting the British (say) to a draw - there are simply so many capabilities the British army has that are not in the Army of the Potomac, and no countervailing massive advantage in the other direction.

What counter does the AotP have to British artillery wheeling into battery on a hill a mile and a half away and starting to methodically counterbattery the Union gunners? Or British skirmish lines setting up at 600 yards to snipe out anyone they can see?

I would say the sheer manpower of the AOTP compared to most sized British and French armies. They also were trained to take 1.5x the number of steps most were trained while under fire, thanks to the Hardee Tactics manual that was a primer in American soldiery at the time.

These would help somewhat with the disadvantages, by making them faster than most European armies were under fire. But the British also still had implemented the Purchasing Program for advancement at this time, so the officer class wasn’t yet meritocracy. There was of course political appointments within the AOTP, but many of the officer Corps advanced due to merits on the battlefield (that and of course the need to replace lost commanders).

The British Army was also going through a transitional period as well. After the Crimean War, and especially after the Peel Coommission of 1858, led to a deal of reformation within the army. So the British Army in 1863 were not even half a decade into this remodeling.

So I think a factor of the sheer size of the AOTP, compared to what England probably could have scrounged to face them (the 15,000 man force during the Trent Affair I feel is a good measure of what they could genuinely spare at this time), an army that demanded faster movements on the battlefield to close the gap quickly and the more meritorious system of especially the lower-grade unit commanders may have helped the AOTP hold it’s own against the British.
 

edgeworthy

Private
Joined
Aug 18, 2016
Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics; for Exercise and Maneuvres of Troops when acting as Light Infantry or Riflemen, was never intended as a replacement for Scott's 1835 manual, merely a supplement. Higher tactics and formations were left to the latter, anything above Battalion. And Hardee's work is a translated (verging on plagiarised) copy of the Manual of the Chasseurs a Pied with a few modifications.
And is effectively a generation behind Field Exercise and Evolutions of Infantry, as revised ... 1859.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I would say the sheer manpower of the AOTP compared to most sized British and French armies. They also were trained to take 1.5x the number of steps most were trained while under fire, thanks to the Hardee Tactics manual that was a primer in American soldiery at the time.
The Army of the Potomac wasn't actually enormous compared to most British and French armies. The British never really deployed a field army in this period, as such, but they had enough support troops and disposable formations for five binary corps of binary divisions, which pretty much means a formation on par with the Army of Northern Virginia at Gettysburg. (20 inf brigades at 2,550 effectives, 5 cav brigades at 1,350 effectives, 40 batteries at ~250 effectives, total about 68,000)

The French army deployed in 1859 to Northern Italy was 128,000 men - larger than the AotP at Gettysburg.


As for taking steps under fire, there is a difference between what the manual says and the actual capability. One of the most glaring problems with American armies throughout the Civil War - Union and Confederate - is that while American troops can stand under fire they have a great deal of difficulty manoeuvering under fire. And if you're not moving at all then it doesn't really matter that you're trained to take more steps. (Look at all the times when an attack comes under fire and slows to a halt to fire back.)
The French are actually a case in point. French doctrine in 1863 was to run into close quarters, and they did - straight under enemy fire at Solferino, which let them win the battle.
But the bigger question really is how much time the British are going to be spending under fire in the first place. British formations have artillery that shoots out to two miles with a reasonable degree of accuracy and every battalion has sharpshooters that can hit area targets (like enemy lines or columns) at half a mile with some shots - no matter what you count as "under fire", British troops can manage to put their enemy under it at much greater range.


These would help somewhat with the disadvantages, by making them faster than most European armies were under fire. But the British also still had implemented the Purchasing Program for advancement at this time, so the officer class wasn’t yet meritocracy. There was of course political appointments within the AOTP, but many of the officer Corps advanced due to merits on the battlefield (that and of course the need to replace lost commanders).

A lot of the officer corps got their start in the Army of the Potomac because they were well-off, or because they got elected to the position (i.e. a popularity contest). It's true that two years in there's been some meritocratic influence, but on the other hand the British have fought several wars over the last decade so the same applies.

All British officers have at least a minimum of professional training and thus competence, many of them have been promoted without purchase for action in the Crimea or the Mutiny or in China, and a substantial amount of the junior officers have actually had to pass exams to enter the army or assume their purchased rank. (That's before considering that the British have access to the graduands of Sandhurst and Woolwich, a pool 6-8 times the size of the West Point graduate pool which itself got split between the Union and the Confederacy.)
Compare this with the state in the Union army, where most officers have had to pick it up as they go along, and don't even have the benefit of being able to fall back on NCOs with 12+ years experience...

The British Army was also going through a transitional period as well. After the Crimean War, and especially after the Peel Coommission of 1858, led to a deal of reformation within the army. So the British Army in 1863 were not even half a decade into this remodeling.

Ah, this may be part of the issue. What you're probably not aware of is that the reforms after the Crimean War were done quite promptly; it's after 1863 that the army starts being shrunk as part of a desire to reduce expenditure, and then Cardwell and Childers (again in the name of economy) actually make the army worse by reducing service time, reducing the number of battalions that can deploy overseas without problems, and otherwise cutting costs.

The British Army in 1863 is at the peak; it's large, extremely well trained and equipped, has recently been reformed in keeping with experience. The reform urge has not yet lost its way.

So I think a factor of the sheer size of the AOTP, compared to what England probably could have scrounged to face them (the 15,000 man force during the Trent Affair I feel is a good measure of what they could genuinely spare at this time)

Not really, unless your measure for how big the army the US could create is what they had one calendar month after Lincoln called for volunteers. The fact that there was a climbdown caused the cancellation of preparations.

In the 1861-5 period, there were about enough disposable British infantry battalions, home cavalry regiments and home foot, horse and garrison artillery battalions to raise five complete (British pattern) army corps. This is 60 battalions out of about 150 in the army in total, which means it's 40% of the army being deployed overseas; with about 230,000 men in the army in 1863 then that's about 92,000 men counting support troops etc. (so about 92,000 men AP.)

In the Crimean War the British deployed about 30,000 men in the initial movement to the Crimea out of a total army size of ~150,000; since then the British have expanded their militia system, created a volunteer system for home defence, and added another ~80,000 men to the total strength of the army. Their deployable manpower has increased considerably, because Crimea revealed a potential problem and the British responded to it.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I always found it remarkable that in one of the most professional and respected armies in the world, the British officer purchased his commission.
Interestingly it actually served a useful purpose - a retiring officer got a pension by selling his commission!

It had been recognized as an issue, but the issue with changing it was essentially monetary. If purchase was abolished then it would be required to pay out serving officers to reflect their investment, and in fact Cardwell had to do just this (which was a problem because his remit was to abolish purchase and also cut costs - so he cut the size of the army enormously, in fact too much, plus reduced the capability to deploy battalions overseas to save money.)

Rather than do this, examinations had been introduced (which ensured that anyone purchasing a commission was at least minimally qualified) and the time in grade system ensured that someone had spent years doing their current job before they could acquire a higher role by purchase.
In practice the way the system worked made it sort of like a seniority system (as the rank was first offered to the person who would have inherited the role by seniority, if they had sufficient time in grade) and promotion without purchase happened often, especially but not only in time of war.


This is a system which has been recognized and hedged around with other systems to mitigate the damage; it's a detriment compared to a complete professional system, which would be a problem if they were facing an enemy with a complete professional system...
 

privateflemming

Corporal
Joined
Jul 2, 2019
Location
California, USA
I think the American army was certainly on par with any European army in the 1860s. Not to sound jingoist, but they already beat the British in the American Revolution and the War of 1812. It's safe to say they would have done just as well if not better fifty years later.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I think the American army was certainly on par with any European army in the 1860s. Not to sound jingoist, but they already beat the British in the American Revolution and the War of 1812. It's safe to say they would have done just as well if not better fifty years later.
There are some basic problems with this argument, in fact there are three.

The first is that the army that the British faced in the American Revolution was not exclusively the American army - a lot of what the British faced was French - and the army in question was in fact largely dissolved shortly after the Revolution. The Continental Army no longer existed.

The second is that the American Army in the War of 1812 did not actually beat the British. The British were heavily involved with fighting Napoleon, with most of the available British Army in Spain or at home/ on expedition to the Low Countries (Bergen-op-Zoom in 1814 for example has nine battalions) and not much to spare to go to America (a lot of the battalions that went there were sent there because it was a quiet theatre pre-1812). The Americans launched a surprise attack intending to take Canada while the British were distracted, and singally failed to do so even though the British could free up only a small amount of troops until the end of the war with Napoleon.
The most well talked about victory, New Orleans, is against what are largely low-quality British battalions and after more than two decades of war; even then all it really demonstrates is that defensive works work against low quality troops.
If one's army is better, one does not start a war by a surprise attack, get two years to do your work without major enemy reinforcements, and end the process with your capital city on fire and no gained territory.

The third is that you have assumed that the Americans have got better and the British have remained static.
In fact the British have got much, much better - every man in the British Army has training as a sharpshooter, an essentially randomly picked collection of battalions proved capable of putting out effective rifle fire against an enemy artillery battery at 800 yards at Inkerman, and their battle hit rate is about 1 Minie ball hit out of 16-18 fired in fog (compare at Gettysburg where the hit rate is about 1 in 200 in clear weather) while British artillery is much better than American equivalents as regards accuracy at range (plus bursting charge, for the 20 pounder position guns).
Meanwhile the Americans haven't got much better. There simply has not been the time to train all the officers in what to train all the men - unlike the Continetal Army there has been no Valley Forge moment - and even in weapons and equipment not all troops have Springfields by the time of Gettysburg. Ditto for the artillery (gun captain training was lacking) and the cavalry (it takes years to make good cavalry, years the British squadrons have had and the AotP ones haven't really) and while most of the infantry does have Springfield rifles the training to actually use them effectively is totally lacking.
 
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Will Carry

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 1, 2015
Location
The Tar Heel State.
The British didn't do to that well at Isandlwana against the Zulu, and they didn't do very well at Colenso against the Boer. I know it wasn't in 1863 but all a good army needs to be destroyed is one bad commanding general.
 

Saphroneth

Major
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
The British didn't do to that well at Isandlwana against the Zulu, and they didn't do very well at Colenso against the Boer. I know it wasn't in 1863 but all a good army needs to be destroyed is one bad commanding general.
Well, yes, the odd battalion massacre or other error happens. But look more closely at them.

At Isandlwana what we have is basically one battalion of British troops in skirmish order being attacked by twenty thousand elite Zulu warriors (men who charge home at the sprint). In the course of the fighting they inflict something on the order of four thousand casualties - compare this to Pickett's Charge and you can see that this charge would have overwhelmed the Army of the Potomac, since most of the casualties Pickett took were after his men had slowed down and were exchanging fire. The Zulus would have just kept coming through the first volley or two of defensive fire.

When the British actually use close order (which is to say, a doctrine that would be outdated in European warfare unlike the skirmish order they originally used) they throw back subsequent Zulu attacks with heavy Zulu casualties and trifling casualties for themselves.


Colenso is essentially caused by the Boers being able to deliver long ranged fire from outside a range the British can effectively reply against troops in cover. (Boer fieldcraft was particularly good and they had specialized in marksmanship.)


In both cases, what's going on is that the enemy has an unusual capability and use it effectively; there's no such capability possessed by the Army of the Potomac which can be used in such a way.

More to the point, though, the examples you're using to illustrate the problems of the British Army aren't from 1863 - and you admit this - but you should consider how far from 1863 they are. One is from 1879 (sixteen years down the line) and the other is from 1899 (thirty-six years down the line). In neither case is this even the same British Army - major changes have taken place, and not all for the good.


The British Army fights all over the world, in all manner of conditions, against all manner of opponents, for most of the 19th century. One campaign they're facing heavily drilled and numerous tribal spearmen where open order means their fire isn't dense enough to stop the attackers, and suffer one defeat before completely changing their tactics to suit; three years later in Egypt they're facing a professional army with modern weapons, and smash them with incredible ease and without the need for an initial defeat to show them what they're doing wrong.


By contrast, the Army of the Potomac fights for a few years in a small geographical area against one opponent with the same doctrine and inferior numbers and weapons; it's much easier for the Army of the Potomac to avoid making these kinds of errors, and yet it still happens - in fact, it happens over and over again for most of the war.




So if you do want to bring up Isandlwana and Colenso, which are from decades away, there are three ways we could approach this.

One of them, the mudslinging way, is to bring up comparable failings of the US Army - despite the US Army not having been involved doing much in the latter half of the 19th century other than the Civil War, it should be quite possible to find a few.

The second one is to explain why it is that you feel these battles are comparable to British Army vs Army of the Potomac. Which capabilities do the Army of the Potomac possess which will permit them to have this kind of unexpected major advantage?

The third is to instead focus on the actual capabilities of the armies, and assume that the skill of the generals and officers is - at best - a wash, with neither side benefitting.
 
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