Lee's Heart Attack.

Luke Freet

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 8, 2018
There are a couple of entertaining novels about this. Stonewall Goes West and Mother Earth, Bloody Ground by R.E. Thomas. Jackson survives his amputation and heads west and takes control of the AOT. Ends up fighting Sherman on one hand and Leonidas Polk on the other.
Would love to read.
Personally of Lee's commanders Longstreet's the only one I see going West and staying there.
 

Scott1967

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
It genuinely frustrates me to hear people proclaiming (not arguing, stating it as if it were a given) that tactics in the civil war were outdated due to technological advances. In reality, the technological advances that were gained between the Napoleonic Wars and 1861 were not as profound as many people assume.
a.) Yes, the average infantryman was now being armed by massed rifled muskets, but they are still using black powder. After the first couple of shots from a rifled musket, and massed volleys across the lines, masses of smoke is formed and make sharpshooting downright impossible unless the wind is favorable that day and blows it away.
b.) Very few units are being armed with breechloaders and repeaters. As of 1863, the only people using the former in large numbers are the Union Cavalry, which is expanding at this point but still not seen much practical use by their commanders; and I can only name one brigade off the top of my head which were using Repeating Rifles as a standard, the Lightning Brigade. And again, black powder is still used by these, and as well as causing issues with accuracy, after rapid use it will fowl up the guns.
c.) People say troops forming up into Napoleonic line formations is a problem, when, in reality, it was the only practical way of control a mass body of citizen soldiers, volunteer and conscript, in a time before radios were a thing. Having infantry operate in loose order in the dust and smoke and noise of battle around, that leads to the regiment just disappating and dividing into uncontrollable pockets, to be picked off by cavalry if they saw the oppurtunity.

Actually i disagree with the advent of the Rifled musket you would be under effective fire for much longer in advancing than you would with Smooth bore if you take pickets charge for an example the range in which the Union opened up was around 250 yards by the time the soldiers reached the enemy they had already sustained heavy fire of maybe 3-4 volleys.

Experiments have proved that a group of 10 infantrymen armed with Smooth bore will hit 1 in 10 at 200 yards where a rifled musket will hit 6 in 10 but of course i do agree smoke would play a factor.

Technology certainly played a big factor in casualties and as the war progressed casualties got a lot worse when many more troops were armed with rifled muskets , Longstreet knew this on Day 3 at Gettysburg he had seen his own troops do the same to the Union at Fredricksburg.

More men were wounded at Gettysburg than the revolutionary war and the 1812 was combined.
 

Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Actually i disagree with the advent of the Rifled musket you would be under effective fire for much longer in advancing than you would with Smooth bore if you take pickets charge for an example the range in which the Union opened up was around 250 yards by the time the soldiers reached the enemy they had already sustained heavy fire of maybe 3-4 volleys.
Incorrect; no Union regiment opened at 250 yards. Two opened at 200 yards; most reserved their fire until 100 yards or less.

Experiments have proved that a group of 10 infantrymen armed with Smooth bore will hit 1 in 10 at 200 yards where a rifled musket will hit 6 in 10 but of course i do agree smoke would play a factor.
The hit rate by the Union at Gettysburg was about one round in 100-200. What this shows us was that the soldiers were not capable of hitting their targets even as accurately as a smoothbore musket would permit, which of course means they couldn't get any more performance out of the rifle.
 

Scott1967

Sergeant
Joined
Jul 11, 2016
Location
England
Incorrect; no Union regiment opened at 250 yards. Two opened at 200 yards; most reserved their fire until 100 yards or less.


The hit rate by the Union at Gettysburg was about one round in 100-200. What this shows us was that the soldiers were not capable of hitting their targets even as accurately as a smoothbore musket would permit, which of course means they couldn't get any more performance out of the rifle.

I doubt they were judging distance to the exact , But even at 200 yards the first volleys would have been deadly to massed infantry in line and advancing we have eye witness accounts of the devastation caused the fact that a small percentage actually made it to any part of Union lines was a miracle in itself.

Its also impossible to say what the hit rate was in any battle but what we do know is the vast number of casualties sustained in the ACW were by Mini Ball we also know the ACW was most bloody war in American History and the Rifled Musket and out dated Tactics was the cause of that imho and in a lot of people's opinion.

I think its fare to say technology had changed but the tactics remind the same for a least another 60 years after the ACW.
 

Luke Freet

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 8, 2018
I doubt they were judging distance to the exact , But even at 200 yards the first volleys would have been deadly to massed infantry in line and advancing we have eye witness accounts of the devastation caused the fact that a small percentage actually made it to any part of Union lines was a miracle in itself.

Its also impossible to say what the hit rate was in any battle but what we do know is the vast number of casualties sustained in the ACW were by Mini Ball we also know the ACW was most bloody war in American History and the Rifled Musket and out dated Tactics was the cause of that imho and in a lot of people's opinion.

I think its fare to say technology had changed but the tactics remind the same for a least another 60 years after the ACW.
The most common cause of death was disease, not bullets. Disease due to the fact that the nation was mobilizing armies that thus far had been unprecidented in American history and were not prepared for.
Technology had advanced, but not enough to make a dramatic change in tactics practical. The Minie ball and the rifled musket were more advanced than what Napoleon used in his day, but Napoleon would be able to recognize what it is.
World War 1 was when the change in tactics became both practical in addition to necessary. Nothing Lee could have done would have helped him in any way.
 

Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
I doubt they were judging distance to the exact , But even at 200 yards the first volleys would have been deadly to massed infantry in line and advancing we have eye witness accounts of the devastation caused the fact that a small percentage actually made it to any part of Union lines was a miracle in itself.

Its also impossible to say what the hit rate was in any battle but what we do know is the vast number of casualties sustained in the ACW were by Mini Ball we also know the ACW was most bloody war in American History and the Rifled Musket and out dated Tactics was the cause of that imho and in a lot of people's opinion.
In the first place, if they weren't judging distance that precisely they'd have missed. This is the whole issue with small arms fire using a Minie rifle at long range - if you get the range estimation wrong you miss. At short range ("point blank" range, around 100-150 yards) you just point the gun level and hit.

We know how many men became casualties at Gettysburg (about 50,000 from all causes, including prisoners and the artillery) and we have an estimate of how many bullets were fired (about 7 million). What this means is that, if artillery did nothing, one in 140 bullets fired actually caused a casualty.

So we do know the hit rate at Gettysburg as a whole was no better than about 1 in 150.


Now, as for the issue of "even at 200 yards the first volleys would have been deadly" - remember, the Confederates advanced to within 100 yards, engaged in a firefight for close to half an hour, and then retreated. About half of them retreated, and some of the men who did not retreat were captured rather than WIA/KIA.

I think it's more likely that most of those casualties happened in the 20+ minutes of firefight, rather than the one volley from two regiments which happened at longer than 100 yards range, simply because any other conclusion is basically impossible.


And as for your point about "a small percentage actually made it to any part of Union lines was a miracle in itself" - well, that's what I was saying, isn't it? Most of the men were not killed by the first volley - they slowed down, fired back, and got settled into a firefight. If they had kept going then they would have taken about three volleys before reaching the Union position (it's impossible for them to have taken any more, the weapons do not fire fast enough) and would have stormed the position - much like Emory Upton's men stormed the position they were launched at, because they did not stop.



Finally I'd like to point something out about the WW1 tactics comparison.

You see, I'd like to compare some situations.

With the Napoleonic war, you have smoothbores able to be fired five times a minute in an emergency which can hit targets reliably out to 100 yards if aimed correctly. Men advancing from 100 yards to close range over the course of a minute will take five close range volleys, and from 100 defending men that will mean they have 500 bullets fired at them - at an accuracy rate of about 1 in 100 to 1 in 200 (typical values for a whole battle, in the same way the Gettysburg number was calculated), it means that those 100 men will cause about 3-5 casualties on the attackers.
So to recap:
Napoleonic: 100 men means 500 bullets and 3-5 casualties.

With the Civil War, you have muzzle loading rifles able to be fired no more than twice a minute (Minie rifles were slower loading than smoothbores because the bullets fitted more tightly) and which at Gettysburg can hit targets out to - well, let's say 200 yards, even though most regiments opened fire at a shorter range. Men advancing from 200 yards to close range over the course of two minutes will take four volleys, and from 100 defending men that means they will have 400 bullets fired at them - if we assume an accuracy rate of 1 in 80 (which is twice as good as the real Gettysburg whole-battle value) it means those 100 men will cause about 5 casualties on the attackers.
Gettysburg: 100 men means 400 bullets and 5 casualties.

At the Battle of the Inkerman in the Crimea, you have Minie rifles being fired out to 600 yards effectively, and at that battle we know the hit rate was at least 1 in 18 (because we have the Russian records of how many men were wounded by Minie balls). Men advancing from 600 yards to close range over the course of six minutes will take 12 volleys, and from 100 defending men that means they will have 1200 bullets fired at them - which means they will suffer about 60 casualties.
Inkerman: 100 men means 1200 bullets and 60 casualties.

In the First World War, you have magazine rifles able to fire twenty aimed shots a minute, plus the company machine gun which has about 450 rounds per minute. They can engage the enemy at long range and with high accuracy, but for now we'll assume the hit rate is 1 in 80 (no better than Gettysburg) and that they can engage the enemy at 300 yards (in reality it would be more than this).
In 3 minutes the 100 men will generate 3 x 100 x 20 = 6,000 shots, plus another 1,350 from the company machine gun, for a little over 7,200 rounds. Even at Gettysburg hit rates, this will generate about 90 casualties.
WW1: 100 men means 7,200 bullets and 90 casualties.

What you're effectively arguing is that Gettysburg is closer to WW1 than it is to Napoleonic. I don't think there's the evidence to support this; if the accuracy stats were as good as they were for Inkerman then I'd perhaps agree with you, but they are verifiably not - if Pickett's Charge had gone up against men with a 1 in 18 hit rate, then over the course of the 20 minutes of the firefight every single one of them would have died twice.
 

Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
The fact of the matter is that the most reasonable explanation for why the Civil War looked the way it did is that the troops were not well enough trained - because they had not had a chance to become well enough trained. They had not spent years in uninterrupted training to become properly inculcated, and they did not have experienced men training them to ensure they at least picked up the right sort of basics - and the result of that is that at no point in the war did the Union army have an organized musketry training regime. (Nor indeed did the Confederate army for the most part.)

You can basically understand almost every single Civil War engagement by assuming the sharpshooters have rifles and everyone else is armed with smoothbores. It's not even as if the idea of a defender being able to blast an attacker back with musket fire was unknown in Napoleon's day, it's basically Wellington's thing...
 

Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Its also impossible to say what the hit rate was in any battle but what we do know is the vast number of casualties sustained in the ACW were by Mini Ball we also know the ACW was most bloody war in American History and the Rifled Musket and out dated Tactics was the cause of that imho and in a lot of people's opinion.
I think "in American History" is the problem. It was nothing unusual, it was just unusual in America.

In the Napoleonic Wars, which is when there were not worries about Napoleonic tactics being outdates, the Waterloo Campaign saw around 120,000 casualties of all types. The three days of the 16 to 18 June saw:
Quatre Bras 9,000
Ligny 22,000
Waterloo 49,000
Wavre 5,000
For a total of 85,000 battle casualties (exclusive of desertions), nearly double that at Gettysburg, and the Waterloo campaign was not particularly large by Napoleonic War standards.

Borodino is one of the largest battles of the Napoleonic Wars, but not the largest - it isn't even the Gettysburg of the Napoleonic Wars - and it was one day's fighting which saw about 73,000 battle casualties.

This is nothing to do with how outdated the tactics were. It's just what happens when you have large battles and one side is not able to achieve a clear superiority over the other; Lee's tactics perhaps did not fully grasp that inability, but they're fully in keeping with the capabilities of the technology of the time.
 

Pvt Bilbo

Cadet
Joined
May 4, 2020
So when it comes to the guys with the most combat experience as a leader, Longstreet ranks way up there, and I think everyone knew it. His whole Army career, federal and Confederate, is leading the Infantry - 15 years of it, mostly 8th U.S. Infantry, before the Civil War. He's a well-known combat Veteran of the Mexican War, and then a lot more time spent out west, leading his companies against the Comanches and Mescalero Apaches. And he commands the Fort Bliss garrison off and on 1856-58. Almost from the start in the Civil War, Longstreet leads significantly large units of Infantry, and when Lee takes command, Longstreet is right there with him planning the strategy and tactics, and continues to lead large contingents of the Army of Northern Virginia - in fact, nearly half the Army during the Seven Days Battles. Lee succumbs to a heart attack - you better pick the most able commander who knows what's going on and knows how to command the Army. There's probably no one else but Longstreet. With that in mind, would there have been a Gettyburg, and if so, how would Longstreet have fought it?
 

steve59p

Sergeant
Joined
Oct 21, 2016
The British - who were musketry mad in this period - actually stopped using volley fire entirely, and soldiers were to fire on their own initiative and when they were sure of their targets. This coupled with the British battalions using skirmish formation (to thus cover a much wider frontage) meant that they had much less in the way of smoke problems.

Saphroneth

One question here. Would they still have problems if their opponents were using volley fire in close ranks because then the target would have been largely obscured by their own fire? Or would it have been not occurring since an untrained target wouldn't be firing much at all at longer range?

Steve
 

Carronade

Captain
Joined
Aug 4, 2011
Location
Pennsylvania
If there is even a 20% chance of finishing the job then it is a good idea to try

I've had the same thought. The Confederacy was in dire straits, and Lee needed something more than just another battle where the armies beat each other up a bit and went home. Before the campaign, the Confederates had debated their other option, sending part of the ANV to try to retrieve the situation in the west, and chosen to entrust to Lee the task of turning the tide.
 

Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
One question here. Would they still have problems if their opponents were using volley fire in close ranks because then the target would have been largely obscured by their own fire? Or would it have been not occurring since an untrained target wouldn't be firing much at all at longer range?
There's basically a possibility matrix.

If the enemy is poorly trained and volley firing at long range, then (1) the enemy is wasting their powder and (2) you can still drop balls into the smoke cloud - if your range estimate is pretty good then you'll be happy with it, and you can get your sight line from the muzzle flashes and smoke bursts if all else fails. You'll be firing at less than 100% but they'll be firing at 0%.
If the enemy is well trained but close order volley firing at long range, then (1) they're spraying the area of your skirmishers with balls and you're spraying the area of their close order ranks with balls. You'll be doing better at inflicting losses relative to your investment than they will, because a denser line means more men to catch bullets - even if you're both scoring the same number of hits per minute, you're doing it with much fewer men and so the rest of your force can be off doing something else (like outflanking them).
If the enemy is close order volley firing at close range, they had to make an approach march first and you did them damage over that time (and they're probably not as well trained as you, so will also be less accurate in the close range fight).

It should also be noted that the smoke problem is a relative one and not an absolute one. We know for example that French chassepots in 1870 inflicted deadly execution on Prussian attack columns, despite the chassepot being a bolt action rifle with a rate of fire of ~10 rounds per minute - they only had a hit rate of a couple of % at that range, but the range in question was "a thousand paces" (by one source) which sounds to me like on the order of 1/3 to 1/2 a mile.
So clearly the French could see who they were shooting at whatever lateral density they were using, with chasspots; they were probably less accurate than they would have been if they were firing individually
 

Luke Freet

First Sergeant
Joined
Nov 8, 2018
So when it comes to the guys with the most combat experience as a leader, Longstreet ranks way up there, and I think everyone knew it. His whole Army career, federal and Confederate, is leading the Infantry - 15 years of it, mostly 8th U.S. Infantry, before the Civil War. He's a well-known combat Veteran of the Mexican War, and then a lot more time spent out west, leading his companies against the Comanches and Mescalero Apaches. And he commands the Fort Bliss garrison off and on 1856-58. Almost from the start in the Civil War, Longstreet leads significantly large units of Infantry, and when Lee takes command, Longstreet is right there with him planning the strategy and tactics, and continues to lead large contingents of the Army of Northern Virginia - in fact, nearly half the Army during the Seven Days Battles. Lee succumbs to a heart attack - you better pick the most able commander who knows what's going on and knows how to command the Army. There's probably no one else but Longstreet. With that in mind, would there have been a Gettyburg, and if so, how would Longstreet have fought it?
From what I could tell, Longstreet had large reservations about a campaign in the North, and wanted to make sure that if the army got into battle, it would fight defensively from a strong position, not attack on unfriendly soil. I don't think he'd be up for such an endeavor.
However, Jackson would be strongly in favor of a northern offensive, wanting to tear up the north and bring the war straight to Northern homes. Plus, the other big reason Lee wanted to move North was so he could supply the army with forage from the fertile fields of Pennsylvania, as Virginia was being stripped dry.
The way I see it, Longstreet sends a division west to Vicksburg (maybe McLaws', as he's the most senior division commander of Longstreet's, his men come from the Deep South, and they had been bloodied at Chancellorsville). However, Jackson (and, if Lee survives but incapacitated, writting his suggestions to the army and Davis) push Longstreet to go north. Assuming he relents, I imagine he'd play a more conservative offensive, maybe keeping Stuart with him.
 

Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
It's worth realizing that to win a decisive victory you need to be attacking at at least some point - even if all it is is a counterattack.

Looking at the strategic geography of the North in that area, I think once you start moving into the Cumberland valley and with the Union coming up from the south it really does start to seem likely that there's a battle around Gettysburg - so many of the good roads converge there to an extent that isn't true elsewhere.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
I think Joe Johnston would have been given back his command. He was the best at doing all the administrative work necessary to keep the war going. But General Lee's health probably never completely recovered in real life. And eating bad food out of dirty dishes probably did not help him feel better.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
Most of the time there was cover in the battlefields in the US Civil War. Some tactical commanders learned to use the cover of vegetation and uneven ground, some did not. Many advances, by both belligerents, that were conducted with proper cover, succeeded with minimal casualties.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
The battle at Gettysburg stands out somewhat, because there was a lot of open ground involved on the third day. That was always an advantage for the US. The US usually had more artillery, more range, more accuracy and more trained gun crews. I believe that in the eastern theater, the Confederate infantry never advance on US artillery without the cover of darkness after Gettysburg.
 

Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
Most of the time there was cover in the battlefields in the US Civil War. Some tactical commanders learned to use the cover of vegetation and uneven ground, some did not. Many advances, by both belligerents, that were conducted with proper cover, succeeded with minimal casualties.
The thing is, though, the tricky bit is getting over the "last hundred yards" - and you'd have to be quite blasé to accept a defensive position with a covered approach to it. Certainly some defenders made that mistake, but others did not.
Meanwhile close terrain also impedes the ability of marchers.

I'd feel somewhat more confident that war had changed from the Napoleonic period if what you actually saw during the war was Napoleonic tactics being tried and failing. But there's no appearance of the ordre mixte, attack columns generally do not appear (and when something like them does they usually work)...
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Apr 4, 2017
Location
Denver, CO
The casualties in the US were heavy for a US war, because railroad logistics supported very large armies for very long periods, while sanitation and care of the wounded remained primitive.
 

Saphroneth

Captain
Joined
Feb 18, 2017
The battle at Gettysburg stands out somewhat, because there was a lot of open ground involved on the third day. That was always an advantage for the US. The US usually had more artillery, more range, more accuracy and more trained gun crews. I believe that in the eastern theater, the Confederate infantry never advance on US artillery without the cover of darkness after Gettysburg.
I mean, it's not really a ringing endorsement of how much war has changed, has it, when there's very few cases the Confederate infantry advances at all because it's generally at a numeric disadvantage.

The casualties in the US were heavy for a US war, because railroad logistics supported very large armies for very long periods, while sanitation and care of the wounded remained primitive.
I don't think you need to call upon railroad logistics as the explanation - the opposing sides at the Battle of Leipzig were supplied by horse, cart (and possibly ship) and numbered 560,000 men between them, while Borodino was twice the size of Gettysburg and fought hundreds of miles into Russia.

It's just... a Napoleonic-scale war, fought by people who hadn't experienced it before.
 
Top