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

Saphroneth

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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.
It's interesting in this context to note that McClellan too ended up under pressure to act soon. The Union government was very, very bad at assessing impartially whether it was time to act "now" instead of "later", and that resulted in Lincoln commanding an offensive across the continent in February 1862 (Washington's birthday, in fact).
In any year that would have been a bad idea; in 1863 and 1864 the campaign season in the East was considered to open properly in May, for example. In 1862 it was even worse as the weather in 1862 was some of the worst in recent history (California was basically underwater, there were horrible storms in the Atlantic, and so on). This pretty much came to nothing from logistic problems, but the "as early as possible" remained, and while McClellan's army was trained well enough (mostly) by the first quarter of 1862 he ended up effectively forced to take the offensive at least a month before the weather should have allowed; the result was that the Peninsular Campaign was repeatedly delayed by intense rainstorms.
 

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rpkennedy

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Even with all of the problems, McDowell still had a reasonable chance of success. Another major issue was that individual regiments were thrown into combat willy-nilly with little organization. McDowell squandered his numbers with a series of small attacks rather than a potentially overpowering assault. Part of this was McDowell, part of it was the inexperience of the troops and their officers.

Ryan
 

Saphroneth

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Part of this was McDowell, part of it was the inexperience of the troops and their officers.
Almost certainly it's an institutional issue. Consider the army that McDowell was commanding at First Manassas.



He's got five divisions.
One of them has four brigades, one has two, one has three, one has no brigade organization at all and the last has two. This army comprises over 35,000 men PFD.

This is an army of moderate size... by European standards. By the standards of the US Army, it's the largest force assembled to date. It's several times larger than the largest force in the War of 1812, and almost nobody from that war is still alive let alone in the army; the Mexican-American War is both more recent and involved somewhat larger battles, but that was with a large fraction of the force consisting of regulars.

Daniel Tyler is in command of over 13,000 men PFD and has functionally no previous command experience.
Heintzelman's division is the second largest, about 9,000 men PFD, and fought as a Captain in the Mexican-American War commanding six companies in one fairly typical engagement.

This is an army whose commanders are completely out of their depth; McDowell himself was a logistician and had no particular command experience. The inability to manoeuvre a large army shouldn't be surprising because the officers had had no chance to train to do so; you can't just throw together an army of 35,000 men (which I'll note would mean it was one of the top thirty population centres in the United States at the time!) and expect it to operate with proper articulation, because operating an army unit is a learned skill. (You can sort of get by with any of a skilled staff, a skilled officer or an army with institutional experience, but the Army of Northeastern Virginia had none of these things.)

Of course, neither did the Confederate army...
 

thomas aagaard

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Iam usually highly critical of the skill level of the union and CSA armies... for the exact reason mentioned above.
Most formations never did get beyond rather simple tactics or learn basic skills like marksmanship properly.

But you got to respect the learning curve for everyone involved., They did learn quickly when it come to the day to day running of an army in wartime.
Something that is obviously easier to learn than the actual fighting.. If you are a businessman in civilian life running the supply side of a division should be rather familiar territory. But I still find it impressive.
 

Saphroneth

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But you got to respect the learning curve for everyone involved., They did learn quickly when it come to the day to day running of an army in wartime.
Oh, very much so. Building an army from nowhere is very impressive; just to get rifle-muskets in the arms of the troops was a three-year project, for example.
 

Saphroneth

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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.
This is a perception thing, and unsurprising - they're used to regulars and have no real experience with how volunteers will act. It's actually another argument in favour of longer training times - enough training and McDowell's men will act like he expects.

Clausewitz said that all war is friction; regular or well-trained troops reduce the amount of avoidable friction involved in basic manoeuvres.
 

Hussar Yeomanry

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Thank you all for your thoughts on things.

I think we all have our own thoughts about the army of The Department of Northeastern Virginia and I have enjoyed reading them. In general I think we are agreed that this was not an army that should have fought. Infantry heavy and pretty much devoid of cavalry it is plagued by poor staff work, reconnaissance and undertrained troops, officers and NCO's.

It is however all that the north has and Lincoln is under pressure to do something. Anything. Therefore political pressures and the possible loss of maybe 30% of the army (over 10,000 men) means that it will be forced to fight and given all that has been said and all the criticisms that we have leveled at it I think it is impressive that it achieves as much as it did.

No it isn't a success... but it could have been and nearly was. If Patterson had done a better job (or any job) of fixing Johnston (with his admittedly even worse army) then the outcome may well have been very different for the Confederates have issues of their own (as we will see in the companion article I am working on).
 


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