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Great Battles of the Civil War

History - American Civil War

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#1 QuiGon John

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Posted 26 June 2003 - 08:08 AM

Look!  It's a history thread! Posted Image

Okay, it's not a scholarly thread, because whether or not I'd like to be, I'm not a scholar.  I have, however, been reading a book called "Great Battles of the Civil War," by the editors of The Civil War Times, and I highly recommend it.  It's great at giving an overview of these conflicts, mostly from the military side, but not neglecting the political or making the material dry.

I'll have more commentary as I progress through the book (I'm only at Second Manassas now), but what strikes me so far is how much winning a war seems to be a matter of screwing up the least.  Brilliant stratagems have a way of disintegrating in reality-- mistakes last forever.  The battle of Shiloh, for example, seems to be just one blown chance after another, both sides alternating... and not just errors that can be pointed out in hindsight, but largish groundbreaking mistakes that could have been seen at the time.

In my view, one of the clearest things we can learn from these battles, and the war as a whole, is the value of simple endurance, the ability to put one's head down and push through... a quality best embodied by Grant, but seen in Sherman and Stonewall and (to an extent) Lee, as well.

Thoughts?  Comments?  Other book recommendations?  Random Civil War minutiae?  It's not a very focused subject I've left you with, but it's wide open...

As an aside, if anybody knows what the frell was going on with McClellan, I will pay one million dollars for a coherent psychoanalysis... erm, or at least, I'll say "thanks" if you can point me to such. ;)

Edited by Cait, 21 September 2012 - 03:23 PM.


#2 Lover of Purple

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Posted 26 June 2003 - 08:23 AM

A very good friend of mine does Civil War reinactments. They live exactly as they did then, reinact famous battles and generally have fun while learning. I wish I could get him in here, he has a lot of information stored in his head on the Civil War. Maybe some day, but he seldom has time for computers.

I have gone to several of his camps and found it very it educational. As a matter of fact, if anyone has a chance to go see one, I highly recommend it. :)

#3 silverwind

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Posted 26 June 2003 - 09:02 AM

John Burke, on Jun 25 2003, 04:09 PM, said:

As an aside, if anybody knows what the frell was going on with McClellan, I will pay one million dollars for a coherent psychoanalysis... erm, or at least, I'll say "thanks" if you can point me to such. ;)
My great-great grandfather served in the Army of the Potomac under McClellan. . .  The basic summary that has been passed through the generations is this:

McClellan was an idiot and a coward who would get to the point where if he'd push just a *little* harder and a *little* farther, he actually might have been decent. ;)

Not scholarly, but hey, its not a very scholarly family. ;)
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#4 jon3831

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Posted 26 June 2003 - 09:14 AM

McClellan had the problem of loving his men to the point where he was unwilling to risk casualties. That's a laudable and all, but in the long run, if you don't stand and fight for fear of casualties, you prolong the war and cause even more casualties. At least, that's how I see it. YMMV, of course. ;)

Quote

I'll have more commentary as I progress through the book (I'm only at Second Manassas now), but what strikes me so far is how much winning a war seems to be a matter of screwing up the least. Brilliant stratagems have a way of disintegrating in reality-- mistakes last forever.

*Any* war can be looked at that way.

For instance, the Battle of Normandy during World War II was a perfect example. Without delving into too many off-topic things, the whole thing was characterized by who made the least (and less costly) mistakes. But that's another thread. ;)

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#5 Rov Judicata

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Posted 26 June 2003 - 09:15 AM

Thanks for the thread. I don't have as much to contribute, but it'll be a good read.... :D
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#6 Talkie Toaster

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Posted 26 June 2003 - 09:40 AM

John Burke, on Jun 25 2003, 09:09 PM, said:

Thoughts?  Comments?  Other book recommendations?  Random Civil War minutiae?  It's not a very focused subject I've left you with, but it's wide open...
Very much so- many battles between evenly matched forces are determined solely by the will to win. More than one battle in history had been won because the side that was losing didn't like the outcome, and fought until they changed it. Reminds me of what the French Marshal Soult said after the battle of Albuhera 1811.

"There is no beating these troops in spite of their generals. I always thought them bad soldiers, now I am sure of it. I turned their right, pierced their centre, broke them everywhere; the day was mine, and yet they did not know it and would not run".
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#7 Talkie Toaster

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Posted 26 June 2003 - 09:44 AM

jon3831, on Jun 25 2003, 10:15 PM, said:

For instance, the Battle of Normandy during World War II was a perfect example. Without delving into too many off-topic things, the whole thing was characterized by who made the least (and less costly) mistakes. But that's another thread. ;)
Well, I'm certainly interested into delving into off topic thigns!

The Battle of Normandy was a bloody and hard fought battle but, at least on the Allied side, I would say it went, on the whole largely to plan. It was hardly perfect, and despite Montgomery's post justifications, the battle of Normandy was planned with enough flexibility to take advantage of what happened.

The German forces were ground to dust on the front of First US Army and Second British Army; with the majority of German armour being concentrated against the latter. When Patton's Third Army was deployed the Germans simply didn't have enough to plug the gap; and the subsequent Allied advance swept all before it.
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#8 Rhea

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Posted 26 June 2003 - 10:37 AM

John Burke, on Jun 25 2003, 02:09 PM, said:

I'll have more commentary as I progress through the book (I'm only at Second Manassas now), but what strikes me so far is how much winning a war seems to be a matter of screwing up the least.  Brilliant stratagems have a way of disintegrating in reality-- mistakes last forever.  The battle of Shiloh, for example, seems to be just one blown chance after another, both sides alternating... and not just errors that can be pointed out in hindsight, but largish groundbreaking mistakes that could have been seen at the time.

In my view, one of the clearest things we can learn from these battles, and the war as a whole, is the value of simple endurance, the ability to put one's head down and push through... a quality best embodied by Grant, but seen in Sherman and Stonewall and (to an extent) Lee, as well.

Thoughts?  Comments?  Other book recommendations?  Random Civil War minutiae?  It's not a very focused subject I've left you with, but it's wide open...

As an aside, if anybody knows what the frell was going on with McClellan, I will pay one million dollars for a coherent psychoanalysis... erm, or at least, I'll say "thanks" if you can point me to such. ;)
You'd better believe it, baby! Not only who screws up the least, but a lot of random factors like the weather and sheer dumb luck (and I NEVER underestimate the power of dumb luck - the wrong person being in the right place at the right time, the right person being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and endless variations thereof).

I'm always amused when guys sit around endlessly discussing tactics, because it seems to me that you take your best shot, hope your intelligence is correct, and then wait to see what you forgot. :p :p

And what about McClellan? IIRC, McClellan was a terrible procrastinator. Didn't Lincoln actually have to issue a general order at one point to make him begin a battle? If memory serves, he was an able engineer and administrator, but a lousy warrior anyway. He managed to piss Lincoln off so much when he let Lee get away after Antietem that Lincoln removed him from command (and IIRC, it wasn't the first time).
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#9 CJ AEGIS

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Posted 26 June 2003 - 02:03 PM

Just a few points to get into before even dealing with leadership.  

The South decided to fight the war without two critical inventions that came along a few years late.  The first would have been barbed wire and allowed the Confederacy to build more effective fortifications that would have been much harder for the North to cross to engage them effectively.  Your average Civil War artillery just lacked the oomph or capability to blast through fortified positions protected by barbed wire.  The second lacking invention was automatic weaponry.  Again the South missed the invention of the Gatling gun by a few years. With this type of automatic firepower they might have been able to lay down enough firepower to stop Union attacks on their defensive lines.  Secondly it would have allowed them to further their ultimate goal of inflicting enough causalities to break the will of the North.    

The next problem for the South is their entire war plan would have put Sun Tzu into a conniption fit.  Sun Tzu says “skillful warriors are able to be invincible, but they cannon cause opponents to be vulnerable”.  The South’s initial plan called on fighting a defensive war until the North took sufficient causalities to lose their resolve to fight.  The problem is that the South had no reliable way to tell when the North would finally give in and accept their sovereignty.  This left them in a rather dicey situation where the ball was in the North’s court.  

Another major problem has to do with terrain, reconnaissance, and movement.  The Confederacy put simply was far too large to fight the type of defensive war that the South was aiming for.  They had far too men to effectively be dug in and ready to engage the Union Army whenever it popped up on the field of battle.  The primary means of reconnaissance in that day was the cavalry and it was slight less than wholly effective.  Often armies only became aware of the other after they crashed into each other and were engaged in battle.  So the Confederacy rarely had time to dig in to the best terrain and fight a defensive battle as they envisioned.  In this era the advantage was largely with the defender despite the lack of the above mentioned inventions.  

So often the Confederacy found itself on the offensive as much as they were on the defensive.  So the causalities tend to be balanced out and in the long run the Union was capable of winning any battle of attrition.  General Lee in my opinion came to understand this and pressed for a more aggressive strategy of looking for decisive battles for the war rather than letting the North come to them.  Here is where the problem of mobility comes into play.  In this era an army was reliant on their feet for transportation and after a day of battle most armies were not in the condition for an extended march.  So even when Lee found himself in a winning battle he could never attain a decisive victory because that Union Army could march away to fight another day.  Lee’s men tired from a day of battle were often left in no position for a marching pursuit.

As a note being unable to pursue after a battle similarly hampered the Union Army.  This was a point that caused contintuual angst to Licoln and seems to be one of the few things that he couldn’t grasp why on.
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#10 G1223

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Posted 26 June 2003 - 03:30 PM

Shiloh has it's moments as it sets the for the time and place the reconquest of Central and Western Tenn.  

The battels that set the legend of Grant were the battles that lead to the seige of Vicksburg.  He fought the battles with limited supplies but better troops.

For the legend of  Lee was made at the Battle of Seven Days  and Sharpsburg.

Stonewall's legend would be Shenadoha(sp) where against superior numbers Jackson moved against Union Armies.

Nathan Bedford Forrest would be another legend for his use of tactics. He had been in a number of battles and came up with tactics that confounded larger armies.

Sherman I think was made with the Atlanta Campain of 1864. Prior to that he was in Grants Shadow.

George Thomas made his reputation for holding the line at Chickamuga against the best of both eastern and western troops. He also was in charge of the Army of the Cumberland at the time of the Battle of Chatanooga and while with Grant saw his troops take Missionary Ridge.
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#11 Uncle Sid

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Posted 26 June 2003 - 03:39 PM

Funny thing is that I live in Centreville, VA, which is basically as close to the Bull Run battlefield as Manassas itself is.  I've yet to go see it, though.  I'll probably get around to it at some point.  

Of course, despite the fact that the Confederacy did miss some big inventions, the Civil War was still a significantly different war than anything seen before and definitely the first war that I would say had the right mix of mobility, economic aims and technology that would mark every war right up until today.  Only the invention of the airplane, and tp a lesser extent the automobile, would be necessary for the picture to be complete.  Even the computer, IMHO, hasn't really made it's mark on the battlefield quite yet, although I'd say that it's just about there now.
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#12 G1223

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Posted 27 June 2003 - 02:08 AM

Bull Run was the first of the great battles of the war. It was to quote Shelby Foote the battle that proved hat this was not going to be 60 day war. It Also showed that the Union Army was not going to let the south just go unmolested.

Battle of Seven Days. Was the battle where the Union Army was out manuvered and tricked by actions taken by Lee and his Lieutenants.

Shiloh. Was the sign that the Western campain was not goingto have  a easy time of it with a death toll nearly that of Waterloo.

Sharpsburg. The Bloodest day in the history of the United States. Where Lee just seemed to have the devils own luck in the return of part of his armyat just the right moment to save the day. The Union showed that it's troops were equal to the task just not it's leadership.

Edited by G1223, 27 June 2003 - 05:25 AM.

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#13 Chrys

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Posted 27 June 2003 - 04:38 AM

I don't have anything to add to the discussion at this point, but wanted to say that the Heritage Preservation Society has a state-by-state summary of battles that has helped me keep them straight.
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