Was the writing already on the wall? A look at the composition of the Army of Northeastern Virginia at First Bull Run/ Manassas. [Part Two]

Hussar Yeomanry

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This post is continued from Part One https://www.civilwartalk.com/forums/first-bull-run-manassas.98/


Previously we looked at the Cavalry – or lack thereof. (and to a lesser degree the c.31% of the Army that were Ninety Day Men whose enlistments were due to expire.

In this article I wish to compare the Army of Northeastern Virginia to its successor the Army of Potomac. Certainly in the latter standardisation seems to be the order of the day. At the very least it seems to be the goal for McClellan faces many of the same challenges McDowell faces – albeit perhaps not as grave ones.

So, lets look at the ANV – It has no Corps structure. Indeed is probably just small not enough to need one. Instead it has five divisions. Five very uneven divisions.

1st Division – 4 Brigades, each comprising 3-5 Infantry Regiments and 1 or 2 Artillery Batteries.

2nd Division – 2 Brigades.
The 1st of 1 Full strength Infantry Regiment, 3 Regiments with only 8 companies and 1 Regiment with but 4 companies. Additionally it has 1 Artillery Battery and the understrength Cavalry Battalion.
The 2nd with 3 Full strength Infantry Regiments. 1 Regiment of 9 companies (and 2 Artillery Pieces). Additionally it has 1 Artillery Battery.

3rd Division – 3 Brigades of 4 Infantry Regiments. 2 Brigades have an Artillery Battery. 1 Does not. Furthermore at the last minute the 1st Brigade loses the 4th Pennsylvania which decides to go home and therefore fights with only 3 Infantry Regiments.


As only the 2nd and 3rd have a Headquarters Guard of 1 Cavalry Squadron does McDowell only expect these troops to be in the thick of the fighting? Or is there just not enough Cavalry for the 1st Division to get any despite the hefty bulk of the 1st Division which looks like it has been created with combat in mind?


4th (Reserve?) Division – 8 Regiments. Sometimes divided in to 4 Militia and 4 Volunteer Regiments but seemingly never officially formed in to Brigades.

5th Division – 2 Brigades, both with 4 Infantry Regiments. 1 with 1 Artillery Battery. 1 with 2 Artillery Batteries.


1 or 2 unassigned Brigades – Runyon (6 Regiments) and to some degree McCunn (4 Regiments).


There is no Artillery Reserve and the Cavalry, what there is of it, is assigned to an all arms brigade.

This leaves big divisions. Small divisions. Big brigades. Small brigades. In theory there is no problem with this. 'Simply' assign the best division or brigade to each task. Of course in the heat of battle this may not always be possible. Also given the wide variety how is McDowell supposed to remember which is which? Now, my guess and it's only a guess is that McDowell can see the problem but he seems to have done little to even things out.

Of course if one looks even closer it gets worse.


Let us look at Colonel Richardson's 4th Brigade of the 1st Division.

In it we find Brethschneider's Battalion Light Infantry, under a Captain G R Brethschneider this ad hoc formation comprises at a minimum troops drawn from the 3rd Michigan and 12th New York (in the same brigade) and reminds me of the European (and later Confederate) practice of creating Light/Sharpshooter battalions. No other Brigade does this and I have to wonder how much authority McDowell is delegating to his brigade commanders as this seriously looks to be a brigade based decision. Alternatively are we seeing experimentation? Either way it doesn't look that much like a Commander in charge of his army.

Or the 71st New York State Militia Infantry that brings two small artillery pieces with them. Yes this increases their firepower but decreases their mobility. Indeed perhaps it decreases the rest of the brigade for they are the sole regiment to bring artillery with it. It is also something of an antiquated notion.

This doesn't even look at their glorious, glorious uniforms and mismatch of weapons. Yes some are modern. Many are not. Even by Gettysburg there are a few regiments armed with smoothbores in the AoP but they are exceedingly scarce. The Irish Brigade is I believe the only remaining brigade still totally armed with smoothbores and by this point it is the smallest in the army. At Bull Run things are very different. However at least here I do not think we can blame McDowell. He has to make do with what he has and this is the same organisationally.

My real question here is could he have done (an albeit mammoth task) better? Do people think he did as best he could given the circumstances and lack of experience in such tasks that his subordinates had?

Further, should Part Three look at the Artillery? In theory that is the strongest part of McDowell's army. Certainly comparatively that is the case and yet...
 

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Carronade

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#2
Or the 71st New York State Militia Infantry that brings two small artillery pieces with them. Yes this increases their firepower but decreases their mobility. Indeed perhaps it decreases the rest of the brigade for they are the sole regiment to bring artillery with it. It is also something of an antiquated notion.
Napoleon, who began his career in artillery, said "If you want to prevent your troops maneuvering, embarrass them with guns."

I'm a believer in regular organization, as you appear to be, but again I think McDowell's reflects an army thrown together as units hastened to the capital more than anyone's idea of proper organization. There seems also to have been some desire to keep regiments from particular states together.

Smoothbore vs. rifle is not as clear-cut as we might expect. Some Union regiments, offered a chance to upgrade to rifles, chose to stick with their .69s firing buck and ball.

On artillery, we might note that it was mainly US regulars.
 

Hussar Yeomanry

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Napoleon, who began his career in artillery, said "If you want to prevent your troops maneuvering, embarrass them with guns."

I'm a believer in regular organization, as you appear to be, but again I think McDowell's reflects an army thrown together as units hastened to the capital more than anyone's idea of proper organization. There seems also to have been some desire to keep regiments from particular states together.

Smoothbore vs. rifle is not as clear-cut as we might expect. Some Union regiments, offered a chance to upgrade to rifles, chose to stick with their .69s firing buck and ball.

On artillery, we might note that it was mainly US regulars.
As to the point in bold this both appears to be the case... and not. Some brigades are definitely done by state. Some aren't. The four Michigan regiments for example are split between two different brigades while the Pennsylvania troops are divided seemingly at random.

On the issue of smoothbores I am pretty much in agreement with you for while rifled muskets are inherently superior in theory when they are only really going to be used at close range (as nearly always occurred in the Civil War) then their superiority becomes far more questionable.

Finally on the matter of the artillery as I was going to say, it is entirely drawn from the Regulars. (Other than the 2 small guns accompanying the 71st New York.) Admittedly there should have been Varian's Light Artillery (Company I of the 8th New York State Militia) but like the 4th Pennsylvania on the very eve of combat their term of service expires and so they also go home [Which in my mind says much about McDowell's army]. I do have some other things to say about the artillery but I think in Part Three I am going to look at the Regular/ Militia/ Volunteer composition/ percentages of the army and fold those comments in to that.
 

Hussar Yeomanry

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Mea Culpe

While doing further research I discover I have previously made two erroneous (wrong!) statements. I stated - for I was under the belief that this was so - that the 2 guns accompanying the 71st New York were small. They were it appears actually 12pdr Howitzers. There is also some (very mild) confusion about whether they had 2 or 3. Nearly every account (and certainly the official ones has them having 2). One newspaper account from The Belmont Chronicle (Ohio) suggests 3. I suggest the account is wrong (given the distance from which it is written and there only being the one account) but include it for completeness.

In addition I stated that the only militia battery of artillery went home on the eve of battle. I am however doing a disservice to the 2nd Rhode Island Light Artillery whose battery stayed and fought.
 
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Johnston's and Bereagaurd's Army of Northern Virginia sent McDowell and his Union force scurrying back to Washington, DC, in defeat.

This is the place where "Stonewall" Jackson was born.

Do we really need a thread on what Confederates did wrong here? I think not, but again, you all have fun with it.
 

Hussar Yeomanry

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Johnston's and Bereagaurd's Army of Northern Virginia sent McDowell and his Union force scurrying back to Washington, DC, in defeat.

This is the place where "Stonewall" Jackson was born.

Do we really need a thread on what Confederates did wrong here? I think not, but again, you all have fun with it.
I am confused for that isn't what we are doing here. We are looking at the composition of the Union Army of Northeastern Virginia and why Johnston et al. and their combined Army of the Potomac/Shenandoah were able to achieve the magnificent feat that they did.

Certainly I am not arguing that the Confederates had nothing to do with it... of course they did... but exactly like Gettysburg it was a darned close run thing. Therefore this thread is about trying to see if McDowell could have used what he had better.

If this annoys you I sincerely apologise [this may sound sarcastic but it isnt] and hope you will return and give us your thoughts when in the future I attempt to look at how the South attempts to (eventually successfully) overcome its possibly larger organisational problems.
 

Hussar Yeomanry

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@cash - I feel I need to clarify my previous statement. It was written late at night and while I stand by it I wonder if it could be better written. I have also had the time to wonder if it is the title of the thread rather than its content you are objecting to. If so as Forum Host I thought that a catchy title might generate some interest in this seldom used Forum. There was no other intent than that. Certainly there was no intent to suggest that the Confederates had no involvement in what was to transpire.

EDIT - Obviously what I meant and didnt say was this should be politely directed to @Drew
 
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cash

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@cash - I feel I need to clarify my previous statement. It was written late at night and while I stand by it I wonder if it could be better written. I have also had the time to wonder if it is the title of the thread rather than its content you are objecting to. If so as Forum Host I thought that a catchy title might generate some interest in this seldom used Forum. There was no other intent than that. Certainly there was no intent to suggest that the Confederates had no involvement in what was to transpire.
It wasn't me.
 



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