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

Hussar Yeomanry

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#1
Part One:


As the circus that was The Army of Northeastern Virginia saunters south towards Manassas, that relatively unimportant place that few had previously heard of, General McDowell must have been despairing. This proud career army man with twenty five long years service finally gets his own command.

And what a command it was.

Impressive to behold... or at least colorful to look at... its commander must have known its brittleness. Perhaps comprising 35,000 men (the standard number quoted but almost certainly a guestimate) or thereabouts it was an army in flux. Units arriving and units leaving (the 4th Pennsylvania Volunteers deciding that they would go home now their 90 days were up) it was also an army in a hurry for approximately 31% of the infantry appear to be ninety day men whose service would similarly soon be up.

That means use them or lose them.

Lincoln knew that. McDowell knew that and only severe prodding from the President seems to have spurred McDowell into action and yet the army still isn't ready. The fourth Division of the five has no brigade structure and seems almost an afterthought... and yet the parlous state of the infantry isn't what I wish to focus on here.

No. Let us look at the Cavalry. A branch of the army that seems almost invisible at Bull Run and as it turns out there is a reason for that. Its size. At Gettysburg the Union AoP will have three Cavalry Divisions in an army maybe three times the size so the ANV at Bull Run should have a Division or thereabouts. By Gettysburg that is two (or in one case three) brigades comprising maybe 1,500 men in each. So, does the ANV have 3,000 cavalrymen?

Including the company guarding McDowell it has but seven companies [Query is a Cavalry Company larger than an Infantry Company. The latter is 100 men and it looks like a Cavalry Company is the same but I have found no conclusive proof on this. But at the moment it looks like instead of 3,000 men it has c.700]. Comprised of two US Regular Companies, One US Dragoon and Four more from the United States Battalion Cavalry only the latter seem to have been deployed together.

As to the United States Battalion Cavalry I can find little on them. They don't seem to be Regulars but seem to be pretty much the only Cavalry available to McDowell.

By contrast the Confederate AoP alone has a minimum of 17 Companies (and probably quite a lot more, there another 12 with the Army of the Shenandoah). That is a 7 to 29 or worse deficit and while it is often claimed (with some justification) that it takes more time to train cavalry than it does infantry the Confederates have managed it. So why has the ANV and McDowell failed so abysmally?

Any thoughts?

How much of this did McDowell know? What could he have done about it? Should he have used what little he had better?

Over to you folks.
 

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Carronade

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#2
The Union cavalry comprised:
1st Cavalry (regiment): Companies A and E
2nd Cavalry: Companies B, E, G, and I
2nd Dragoons: Company K
These were all prewar Regular Army units. Since they were from different regiments, they were apparently grouped into a battalion for the campaign.

The prewar army included dragoons, mounted rifles, and cavalry. After Bull Run but not too long into the war, these were all redesignated simply cavalry, numbered in the order the regiments had been created, so they became:

1st and 2nd Dragoons - 1st and 2nd Cavalry
Mounted Rifles - 3rd Cavalry
1st and 2nd Cavalry - 4th and 5th Cavalry
 

Hussar Yeomanry

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#3
Aha. That solves that. [I rootled around on the web for a while but could find precisely nothing on the US Cavalry Battalion].

So, thank you.

Therefore edit to above - Effectively McDowell has one battalion of Regular Cavalry available to him. Probable strength c.400 men in an army of c.35,000. That is way, way too few for the Cavalry is supposed to protect the flanks of the army and to scout/ probe the opposing army. At Gettysburg nearlyr ten per cent of the army are cavalry. Here its closer to two per cent (when including the 3 separated companies)...

A serious failing?
 

67th Tigers

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#4
The tactical unit of the cavalry was the squadron of 2 coys. The US Cavalry org was this:

Cavalry Bn (Major I N Palmer)
1st Cavalry Sqn (Lt T H McCormick) - Coys A & E, 1st Cavalry
2nd Cavalry Sqn (Capt J E Harrison) - Coys B & G, 2nd Cavalry

Escort to McDowell - Coy I, 2nd Cavalry
Escort to Col Heintzelmen - Coy E, 2nd Cavalry
Escort to Col Hunter - Coy K, 2nd Dragoons
 

Carronade

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#5
Aha. That solves that. [I rootled around on the web for a while but could find precisely nothing on the US Cavalry Battalion].

So, thank you.

Therefore edit to above - Effectively McDowell has one battalion of Regular Cavalry available to him. Probable strength c.400 men in an army of c.35,000. That is way, way too few for the Cavalry is supposed to protect the flanks of the army and to scout/ probe the opposing army. At Gettysburg nearlyr ten per cent of the army are cavalry. Here its closer to two per cent (when including the 3 separated companies)...

A serious failing?
Certainly a shortcoming, but I'll leave it to the experts to suggest how much it impacted the battle.

The outcome of Bull Run makes it easy to overlook what a close-run thing it was. McDowell got off to a good start and threatened to roll up Beauregard's position along Bull Run creek; the Confederates were fortunate that Johnston's army had arrived in time to form a reserve that could respond and ultimately turn the tide.
 

Saphroneth

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#6
Lincoln knew that. McDowell knew that and only severe prodding from the President seems to have spurred McDowell into action and yet the army still isn't ready.
I know this is a bit of a digression from what you were talking about, but frankly a general can certainly have good reason to say "no, this army isn't ready" even if enlistments are about to expire - training is very important.

The system the US had adopted for its military was one which functionally relied on voluntary training by the militiamen - the concept being that there would be a moderately large pool of men who were trained well enough to either serve locally as militia, be called up by the government, or enlist as temporary volunteers. If you're fighting a campaign with troops who are already reasonably trained, then three months is enough time for a summer campaign - you have a few weeks for them to move to the point of concentration (by sea or by rail, depending) and a month or so to train together, then you have another month's campaigning. For an offensive campaign that can be time enough, especially with the Regulars to do the bulk of the hard work and the Volunteers being there basically to fill out the army.

The problem with this is that there wasn't that base of trained men. The prewar US militia was very badly neglected in general, and it could be argued that the Southern militia (and their side duty as slave-catchers) were better experienced than the Northern militia (who often didn't train at all) but neither was at all good. This combined with the massive expansion of the Regulars meant that there simply was no "trained" base to build the army around.


So to bring this back to McDowell's army.
It's pretty clear that McDowell's army was not in anything that a regular officer would consider fit condition to fight a battle. We know this with hindsight, because we can look at accounts of some units downing their weapons promptly when the working day ended and other units pointing their guns at a forty-five degree angle to the horizontal because of some half-remembered idea about needing to aim in an arc; there are other examples.
But what's McDowell to do? Remember, you don't have to fight a battle simply because you're going to lose access to some units fairly soon; going out to fight offers the possibility of a defeat as well as a victory, and a fresh-trained army is much more formidable on the defensive; worse, the sudden rout that can result from a green army fighting the enemy will do damage that will take months to repair to their morale; look at the British 8th Army for an example.
Thus to not go out to fight until the army is ready can be argued as the correct choice - and if the army's never ready, well, nor will the enemy army be. (Though the Regulars were improving as they assimilated the new recruits.)

Arguably the best choice would have been to concentrate just about all the Regulars in the field army outside Washington, augmented them with called-up militia and volunteers on a cohesive plan (e.g. aim for the call-up to take place in May, brigade training in June and fight the campaign to Richmond in July) on the grounds that the Regulars are a key Federal asset. But that's an arguably, and it might not have worked anyway.




Back to the cavalry concept. It's interesting to note that there was a kind of inherent Federal belief in Southern cavalry superiority.
From Michael Adams' Our Masters the Rebels:

On June 7 1861, for example, Union troops bolted from rebel cavalry scouts. The Confederate commander reported that at the head of some 24 Virginia cavalry he had collided with about 31 men of a Massachusetts infantry regiment. The Yankees had thrown down their arms and fled, yelling "Look out, look out for the d-d Virginia horsemen; they are down upon us." The rebels, in hot pursuit, met two further companies of Federals who also rushed away shouting "Virginia horsemen". Southern cavalry had not done anything yet in the war to justify this fear but it was real nonetheless.
 

Hussar Yeomanry

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Back to the cavalry concept. It's interesting to note that there was a kind of inherent Federal belief in Southern cavalry superiority.
From Michael Adams' Our Masters the Rebels:

On June 7 1861, for example, Union troops bolted from rebel cavalry scouts. The Confederate commander reported that at the head of some 24 Virginia cavalry he had collided with about 31 men of a Massachusetts infantry regiment. The Yankees had thrown down their arms and fled, yelling "Look out, look out for the d-d Virginia horsemen; they are down upon us." The rebels, in hot pursuit, met two further companies of Federals who also rushed away shouting "Virginia horsemen". Southern cavalry had not done anything yet in the war to justify this fear but it was real nonetheless.
While the rest of your post is spot on (though I would argue that McDowell was under extreme pressure to fight/ do something before the 90 day men went home from pretty much everyone) I will concentrate on the quoted segment.

Mostly I think this may come from both Virginia and Maryland having a 'horse culture' - apparently the state sport of Maryland is jousting of all things (albeit adopted a lot later but indicative of its relative popularity in the state) - supplemented by the actions of people like 'Light Horse' Harry Lee (whose son the north would see a lot more of than they wanted) in previous wars.

Then there is the infantryman's understandable propensity to panic when surprised by cavalry (horses are big, horses are darned intimidating)

Those are my thoughts anyway and then there is the compositional problem. 4/7 companies of cavalry - no matter that they are regulars - are not going to be able to screen the ANV against two to three times its number of enemy cavalry. Hence the infantry encountering Confederate cavalry scouts.
 

Carronade

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#8
The basic question seems to be still on the table - how did the relative cavalry strength of the armies impact the battle? Or did it? Did it affect the approach to battle or the commanders' ability to understand their opponents' deployment?

The "fear factor" did contribute to turning the Union retreat into a rout.
 

Hussar Yeomanry

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Good question @Carronade

At a minimum the attack of the Confederate Black Horse Cavalry seems to have hastened the retreat into a rout. Certainly it has entered the 'mythology' as having done so. Did it? Maybe it is a touch over played but certainly the Confederate Cavalry was used. [I am not saying the Confederates were particularly adept at using their Cavalry at this battle but at least there is some evidence of its actions]

My problem is that as far as I can tell the Union Cavalry seems to be utterly invisible. Is this due to its size (or lack thereof) or more systemic problems (McDowell is/was an artillery officer. Is this also an issue?) Obviously if others have information I don't have I will happily revise this.

I will also shortly be doing a Part Two to this. Currently I was thinking at Differences between McClellan's Army of the Potomac and its predecessor the Army of Northeastern Virginia (Obviously focusing on the latter) for 'Little Mac' seems to have worshipped at the altar to standardisation. McDowell does not (or perhaps did not have time to). Do people think this is the correct direction for Part Two of this thread?
 

Carronade

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McDowell does not (or perhaps did not have time to).
I think you've hit the nail on the head there. We simply don't know what sort of army McDowell would have organized if he had had the time - and the authority - McClellan did.

Little Mac is often criticized for having "the slows", but when he first took command he was right to insist on taking time to properly prepare and train the army.

As has been noted, cavalry took longer to train to combat readiness than other branches, so it wasn't just a question of a general's preference. The AofP's cavalry component increased gradually through 1862 and reached what we might consider full strength in mid-1863, when Hooker established the cavalry corps with three divisions, each of two or three brigades.

Interestingly, the ANV cavalry adopted a similar organization in late 1863, after the Pennsylvania campaign.

Artillery of course also required technical training, but not for every man in a gun crew or battery. Cavalry on the other hand required each man to be a capable rider and fighter.
 
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#12
Keep in mind since this was in the very early stages of the Civil War so neither McDowell nor Johnston/Beauregard's armies are well organized.
Was just about to say the same didn't Lincoln say "Yes its true you are green but they are green also , You are all green together" when a few senior army staff complained the army wasn't ready?.
 

Hussar Yeomanry

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Was just about to say the same didn't Lincoln say "Yes its true you are green but they are green also , You are all green together" when a few senior army staff complained the army wasn't ready?.
He did.

And its true (I intend to look at how the AoP/AoS dealt with its own challenges at a later point.)

It does not however stop the army from being utterly unready for battle. Certainly utterly unready for offensive actions which are inherently more difficult than defensive ones.
 

Hussar Yeomanry

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The basic question seems to be still on the table - how did the relative cavalry strength of the armies impact the battle? Or did it? Did it affect the approach to battle or the commanders' ability to understand their opponents' deployment?
While looking at the OR's and Official Correspondance for my research into part five of this article I came across a very plaintive request from Orlando Wilcox to his Divisional Commander Heintzelman in the immediate days before the battle. In it he wants cavalrymen to act as messengers. There is no evidence that Heintzelman who does have a single compant of cavalry responds favorably.

There are also significant references to infantry being used to scout which is at best inefficient.
 
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Andy Cardinal

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#15
I'm not very knowledgeable about Bull Run, but it seems to me that the biggest weakness McDowell's army experienced due to lack of cavalry was reconnaissance on July 19 & 20.
 

Hussar Yeomanry

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I'm not very knowledgeable about Bull Run, but it seems to me that the biggest weakness McDowell's army experienced due to lack of cavalry was reconnaissance on July 19 & 20.
I thought I knew a reasonable amount about it and have at least been there. However the more I research it the more I learn how little I knew and that some of what I thought I knew was not entirely correct.

As to lack of reconnaissance reading the OR's that seems obvious, infantry frequently used to do so in the absence of cavalry. As you can imagine this does not entirely go well...
 

67th Tigers

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#17
I'm not very knowledgeable about Bull Run, but it seems to me that the biggest weakness McDowell's army experienced due to lack of cavalry was reconnaissance on July 19 & 20.
It's very much an infantry battle, as it's all about getting across rivers. McDowell intended to get across the Bull Run, and to achieve this he demonstrated against Blackburn's Ford with Richardson's brigade (this being against the main defensive position at Manassas), and devised a really good (on paper) plan to fall on Beauregard's exposed left flank with 3 divisions (8 bdes).

The Federal dispositions were:

Runyon's 4th division were left a days march behind to guard communications.

Miles' 5th division was left in reserve at Centreville, and ultimately formed the rearguard that stopped the rebels pursuing

Ricardson's bde (from 1st div) was the diversion

The attacking column was Tyler's 1st div (- Richardson), Hunter's 2 div and Heintzelman's 3rd division. Tyler would directly attack Evans' bde, the left flank of the rebel army, directly over the Stone Bridge, pinning him. Meanwhile Hunter and Heintzelman would march over the unprotected ford at Sudley and sweep down behind Evans.

What went wrong was everyone was late. Evans worked out what was happening and withdrew to Henry Hill behind Young's branch, effectively refusing the rebel army's flank. Johnston's army from the Shenandoah reinforced Evans, along with elements of Beauregard's army. The Federals broke assaulting the hill, and were pursued back to Centreville, where Miles' Division stopped the pursuit.

What did in McDowell's plan, which was a good plan, was that the volunteers weren't regulars and couldn't move like regulars. He didn't need more cavalry; what he needed was a large contingent of regular infantry.
 

Hussar Yeomanry

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@67th Tigers Almost entirely I agree with you. Yes its a good plan. In theory. However better reconnaissance - which McDowell can't do - would have determined that the roads down which he intended to channel most of 3 divisions (and some brigades seem to have had individual regiments pulled from them to reinforce Miles' 5th Division) were inadequate. I also think that something that is oft over looked becomes critical. Better staff work. These staffs are new to their jobs and coordinating thousands of men on the march. Therefore massive traffic jams occur. Just look at Franklin's OR (quoted in part 5) for but one example (they're in pretty much every one I have so far looked at!)

As an aside McDowell won't be alone in assuming his volunteers will act like regulars. Lee in his first fight does exactly the same. It does not go well.
 

Andy Cardinal

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#19
@67th Tigers Almost entirely I agree with you. Yes its a good plan. In theory. However better reconnaissance - which McDowell can't do - would have determined that the roads down which he intended to channel most of 3 divisions (and some brigades seem to have had individual regiments pulled from them to reinforce Miles' 5th Division) were inadequate. I also think that something that is oft over looked becomes critical. Better staff work.
Yes, that's my thought too. If I remember correctly Barnard conducted such reconnaissance as there was but the information he brought back to McDowell was inadequate. I also thought I read somewhere that with better reconnaissance work McDowell may have been able to launch his attack a day sooner, which would have made a critical difference.
 

Hussar Yeomanry

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Yes, that's my thought too. If I remember correctly Barnard conducted such reconnaissance as there was but the information he brought back to McDowell was inadequate. I also thought I read somewhere that with better reconnaissance work McDowell may have been able to launch his attack a day sooner, which would have made a critical difference.
Barnard in his OR states that his reconnaissance was interrupted by the enemy. Therefore much of what he was going on was hearsay/ information a supposedly friendly local told him/ what the fairly poor map he had with him said. Admittedly he claims an attempt was made during the night immediately prior to the attack to gain more information about the lay of the land. What happened to it I have not been able to determine...

Never seen the possibility of a previous day's attack (though obviously it would have made a tremendous difference)
 



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