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Was the Civil War the first Modern War.

Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by jgoodguy, Apr 12, 2017.

?

Was the Civil War the First Modern War

  1. Yes

    20 vote(s)
    27.8%
  2. No

    27 vote(s)
    37.5%
  3. Maybe

    5 vote(s)
    6.9%
  4. Insufficient defination

    23 vote(s)
    31.9%
  5. North America Only

    3 vote(s)
    4.2%
Multiple votes are allowed.
  1. jgoodguy

    jgoodguy Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    A goggle of "Civil War First Modern War" gets 13 million hits and it is a common theme in Civil War History.
    Google books gets 1.4 million hits on a search
    Ngram on "first modern war" shows it use starts after WW I and really goes way up after 1960.

    The following exchange exchanged happen in another thread and I think it is worth exploring.
    One issue is what is meant by 'modern war'

     
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  3. wausaubob

    wausaubob 2nd Lieutenant

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    It was only modern for the military in the sense that the railroad and steamships created a different ability to stay in the field longer than had been present in the past.
    The US had the railroads and could build as many steamships as they needed.
    It was modern in that the telegraph, the railroad and inexpensive newspapers made news travel fast.
     
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  4. jgoodguy

    jgoodguy Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    Extensive use of rifled bullets? Metallic cased rounds? Gatling gun?
     
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  5. wausaubob

    wausaubob 2nd Lieutenant

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    For the press, it was modern. The telegraph, the railroad, newspapers and a literate public, made it modern.
    Citizens had a chance to keep track of how their relatives and townsmen were fairing.
    On land, it was not very modern. Artillery, infantry and cavalry functioned about the same as the had in the past.
    Neither side explicitly adopted hygenic practices based on germ theory, although big cities in the East already knew that cleanliness and productivity were inseparable. Neither side fully employed the British naval knowledge of anti-scorbotics. The successes in maintaining nutritional sufficiency are not recorded.
    These scientific deficiencies caused the very high death rates due to disease and malnutrition.
    At sea, steam engines, bolted anchor chain armor, and steel plating changed everything.
     
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  6. thomas aagaard

    thomas aagaard 2nd Lieutenant

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    Yes, plenty of american writers want to make the civil war special and love the idea that is was the fist modern/total war... And way to many of them never studied other wars...

    First case of trench warfare (Siege of Troy?)
    First use of rifled muskets (1848 if not before)
    first use of railroads (1848 if not before)
    first use of breechloaded rifles (1848),
    first use of ironclads (Crimean war, but yes, it saw the first battle between ironclads was during the civil war)

    The first hit is "John Keegan" who wrote a lot of stuff about things he was not an expert on... including the civil war and medieval firearms.

    and the second is this
    "The Civil War - which was fought with a new generation of weapons and trench systems similar to those of World War I - has traditionally been portrayed as the first modern war. Now Paddy Griffith argues that these innovations did not have a significant effect on the outcome or the conduct of the war, and that the conditions of combat were actually little changed from those of earlier times. Far from being the birthplace of modern battlefield tactics, says Griffith, the Civil War was in reality the last Napoleonic-style war. Reappraising the events, the weapons used, the men of the novice armies, their leaders, and the strategies employed, Griffith shows that despite the 'rifle revolution,' attacks still turned into protracted firefights at close range. (...)"
    He is clearly agreeing with me. (Or I with him...)

    And number 5 is about a war in Ethiopia...
    ---


    Now depending on the exact definition of "modern war" I would argue that it was 1915 or franco-prussian war... or Napoleonic wars or even Seven Year War.

    I will expand on this, but I got to wait until tomorrow
     
  7. thomas aagaard

    thomas aagaard 2nd Lieutenant

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    The rifled musket was in common use in wars before the ACW. If this is the defining characteristic of a modern war, then earlier wars was modern
    The use of metallic cartridges was very limited. But might have been a first.
    The Gatling was only used in very limited numbers. And it was not a machine gun... (or if it was, then there was plenty of machine guns in use before this)
     
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  8. wausaubob

    wausaubob 2nd Lieutenant

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    Those things are not enough.
    Put Nathan Forest's cavalry tactics together with breech loading rifles and things begin to change.
     
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  9. jgoodguy

    jgoodguy Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    This is the United States after all.
     
  10. jgoodguy

    jgoodguy Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    Last edited: Apr 12, 2017
  11. Saphroneth

    Saphroneth Sergeant

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    To me the first step is to determine what "modern war" means. I think one definition of a "modern war" is that you have a situation where people are unable to fight in the open as a matter of course - that is, that troops have to stay under cover for the most part, not just during a siege but on a regular battlefield.

    By this standard the Civil War does not qualify.

    Another possible definition is a war in which the defining feature is a continuous front line (that is, that armies were able to occupy the entire front line of the conflict).
    The Civil War does not qualify here either, indeed the Franco-Prussian War is probably the first one that gets close. (The frontages in the Civil War were incredibly dense, the entire Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg was eventually packed into about a five-mile front.)

    The first widespread use of steamships? Crimean War.

    Looking at the tactics, meanwhile, one sees not a modern mode of war, but for the most part a pre-Napoleonic mode of war. (This is best demonstrated with Upton's tactics, which were quite Napoleonic but which were almost a revelation.)

    Most of the things which are usually pointed to to mean that this was a modern war (breechloader rifles, metallic cartridges, machine guns) were very small fractions of the actual armies, and for more than half the war the Army of the Potomac was still armed with at least some smoothbore muskets.


    I think there's a definite argument that Crimea to Franco-Prussian is a "Transitional" period, and the Civil War fits in there.




    At least one historian said that the Boer War displayed a new kind of fighting which presaged WW1, which was high-velocity small-bullet magazine rifles PLUS machine guns PLUS smokeless powder and high explosive shells. This to me is what makes a modern war (troops are unable to exist as a matter of routine within line of sight of the enemy) and the Civil War had none of these.



    ED: something to note is that the Civil War, unlike Crimean or Austro-Prussian or Franco-Austrian or Franco-Prussian, was fought by a country (or two?) without a longstanding regular corps of any size; that is, they were making things up as they went along in large part. This leads to a preference for novelty, but it also means the "basics" are poorly executed - the difference in simple rifle accuracy between American troops and almost any other Great Power is startling, and the Americans don't look good.
     
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  12. thomas aagaard

    thomas aagaard 2nd Lieutenant

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    That don't make it correct
     
  13. jgoodguy

    jgoodguy Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    You wanna bet.
     
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  14. jgoodguy

    jgoodguy Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    Again instead of imagining what the US historians are calling a 'modern war' maybe quote them and see their definition and arguments.
     
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  15. jgoodguy

    jgoodguy Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    Please keep in mind that my post said "It was the first modern war fought on the North American Continent, perhaps in the world." Lots of wiggle room in it.

    In any case, I am having lunch with my disable son and then debating with weeds about occupying the space where I am planting my tomatoes. My time to research is limited and so it falls to you all.
     
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  16. Saphroneth

    Saphroneth Sergeant

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    So here's a quick comparison of how things worked in the various wars, focusing specifically on infantry combat.


    Crimean: British rifle infantry are able to shoot out enemy infantry or artillery at several hundred yards.
    Indian Mutiny: British rifle infantry can break up enemy cavalry charges at half a mile.
    Franco-Austrian: French infantry with excellent training defeat Austrian riflemen by charging through their beaten zone, advancing at a run from 400 yards out - this is a tactic adopted specifically to beat enemy rifles.
    Austro-Prussian: Well-trained Prussian marksmen pick off Austrian troops at 300-400 yards, destroying their columns of attack.
    Franco-Prussian: French infantry with breechloader rifles put out such a hail of fire from entrenched positions that Prussian infantry is unable to get within half a mile of unsuppressed French positions; the French are eventually defeated by steel breechloader rifle artillery en masse, blasting them out of their positions.

    Civil War: At Antietam Confederate artillery can drop trail at 150 yards without suffering more than irritation from sharpshooters, if that; at Gettysburg the vast majority of infantry combat takes place at 150-200 yards.


    Would you be able to furnish us with an example you agree with? If it's only US historians claiming the Civil War is the first modern war then that should tell you something about parochialism, of course, but I'm willing to look.
     
  17. jgoodguy

    jgoodguy Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    Good points.

    Short answer is that I am letting you all research for now.
    I will pass out grades on your results this evening.
     
  18. wausaubob

    wausaubob 2nd Lieutenant

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    Just because some of these innovations were employed previously does not mean that when combined in the Civil War, they did not create something new and modern.
    But they did not. Neither side did a very good job in supporting the mass armies they created.
    The US solved the problems, eventually, but the economy of the Confederacy fell apart without these logistics problems having been solved.
     
  19. Bruce Vail

    Bruce Vail 2nd Lieutenant

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    I can remember well that the Civil War was taught as the "first modern war" in my high school and college classes because of the technological innovations in warfighting equipment AND the attempt by both the USA and CSA to mobilize the economy for "total war."

    The concept of total war is perhaps more important than the use of new machines. And total war is linked to the concept of 'hard war,' where the civilian population becomes an important military target.
     
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  20. AUG351

    AUG351 Captain Forum Host

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    I don't think so, at least in a tactical sense. It was much more comparable to former 19th century wars than what is considered modern 20th and 21st century warfare. Yes, there were a few technological advancements but I don't think that's enough to call it the first modern war. There was the extensive use entrenchments outside of a siege in the latter half of the ACW that saw a continuous front line and on going combat, however entrenchments themselves were nothing new in warfare and the length of the front lines was still nothing in comparison to WWI. I agree that it was a gradual process from then until WWI, with warfare becoming less and less linear (in a tactical sense) from the Franco-Prussian War, the Boer Wars, Spanish-American War, Philippine Insurrection, Russo-Japanese War, on to WWI.
     
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  21. wausaubob

    wausaubob 2nd Lieutenant

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    Per Saphroneth: A division that learned to shoot, had a huge advantage. Didn't Pat Cleburne teach European rifle usage?
     

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