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Civil War question

Discussion in 'Off Topic' started by Kevatc, Sep 27, 2012.

  1. Kevatc

    Kevatc Oregon Well-Known Member

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    Watched an interesting documentary on the Battle of Sayler's Creek which occurred near the end of the war. I've also seen the Ken Burn's documentary series on the Civil War. One of the things I've never been able to figure out is why the guys would march shoulder to shoulder and make themselves one giant target. Can anyone shed some light on this for me?
     
  2. PDXSparky

    PDXSparky Keizer / Hillsboro Well-Known Member

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    I don't know for sure, but maybe it's similar to why some fish swim in schools?
     
  3. Scrammer

    Scrammer SW Washington Bronze Supporter Bronze Supporter

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    Napoleon was consider the master of tactics, his style of command an control was taught at West Point, years after they had become outdated because of new weapons of war.
    The musket was a short range, inaccurate weapon since it had no rifling. So bunched up volley fire would make sure you hit something or somebody at 150 feet.
    Close grouping of troops allowed for better command, since you could see your unit flag and commanders.
    The new rifles firing Minnie balls and having rifling to stabilize the round fired, could reach out and kill the other guy as far as a 1000 yards.
    Tactics had not kept up with technology.
     
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2012
  4. bmwguru325

    bmwguru325 Vancouver Active Member

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    This form of warfare had been pacticed during any major offensive all the way back through recorded history. So that is what the generals of the time were taught to do. But straingly enough, during the revolutionary war, guerrilla warfare was practiced by the our forces against the Britsh very affectively. But the lesson from that was lost until WW2 and has been practiced ever since.
    Also up to that time in history, the most that a rifle could shot, that is if you were a great shot, was 3 rounds a minute. The idea was that the line would fired a volley in hopes of devastating the opposing force's line. Thats is why they fought in such a manner. Unfortunitly by the end of the war the ball and powder guns were replaced with cartridge fireing ones increassing the rate of fire. Finally to aid in the devastation, the union forces at the end of the war were being armed with repeating rifles, holding seven rounds and easily reloaded.
     
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  5. trainsktg

    trainsktg Portland OR Well-Known Member

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    Also, ever tried firing 3 rounds per minute from a muzzleloader while prone? A soldier might as well stand up and get more shots off.

    Keith
     
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  6. One-Eyed Ross

    One-Eyed Ross Winlock, WA Well-Known Member

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    Yep, the old adage of fighting the last war ... Same thing happened to the French during WWII, they refought WWI and lost.

    Read about the fighting at Fredricksburg and Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg (although Pickett was only one of the commander's involved, it carries his name).... During the assault on Marye's Heights by Hooker and Sumner's divisions, Longstreet held the line and decimated the Union forces...then two years later, Longstreet was ordered by Lee to assault the Union line under similar circumstances and Pickett's division was destroyed.

    Tactics never keep up with technology...
     
  7. kibs45

    kibs45 Portland Active Member

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    Following up on the previous points, I forget the statistic, but individual marksmanship was believed to be terrible. It was believed that most soldiers were not competent riflemen (in a war setting, or due to equipment). So you group people to let as much lead fly as possible. Troop movement was also much easier in close proximity and organized lines. I used to do some Civil War Re-enacting and with as little drilling as I did, even complicated marching and troop movement was very easy. If you were doing it full time because your life depended on it, I can only imagine how second nature it would become. Also, as has already been stated, tactics had not caught up with technology, leading to beliefs like the one mentioned above.

    As a side note, there was great resistance to switching to cartridge style weapons for fear that the soldier would waste ammo. Having a slow controlled rate of fire was believed to help the soldier "make every shot count" so to speak. It is incredible to visit the battlefields. Take some time to research and go see. You will never forget it.
     
  8. Mark W.

    Mark W. Silverton, OR Bronze Supporter Bronze Supporter

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    You mean like riding a cavalary charge against Maxim Machine guns in WWI Or charging in mass from a set point against a field of interlocking machine guns field of fire?
     
  9. Blitzkrieg

    Blitzkrieg WA Well-Known Member

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    There were accurate rifles such as the Spencer and others, and there were snipers, but most troops were issued the easy to make and fast loading muskets, short range as already mentioned. This was one way the colonists/militia defeated "superior" Redcoats in 1775, firing from behind cover using Indian tactics
     
  10. MarkAd

    MarkAd Port Orchard Well-Known Member

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    The concepts of then still exist today. We do not fight indian style and for the most part not even during the revolution did not.
    "guerrilla warfare was practiced by the our forces against the Britsh very effectively." for the short term because we did not have the training needed or the manpower to fight using conventional tactis. We had all that together we fought using British tactics. It was not until Vietnam we begun to use guerrilla tactics more in our service and even then it was a small percentage of missions.
    I was just having this discussion with a fellow vet a few weeks ago and many points were covered. One issue of logistics being it is easier to create supply routes for large groups using less resources.

    i say we meet at a local watering hole with no smoking and beat this thing to death.
     
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  11. Blitzkrieg

    Blitzkrieg WA Well-Known Member

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    The militia could have won the entire war with those tactics IF they had a supply train planned. As you correctly surmise supply is critical. The reason they did not is they were civilians bent on harvest, family and critters that sustained them, not long term battle. Their primary and original purpose was to defend against Indian raids, hence "minutemen". One minute and you were expected at the rally point armed and ready, the Special Forces of that day

    They literally reamed the vaunted British Redcoats right through the amazing battle of Bunker Hill. Personal initiative of quality men can overcome "mighty" armies
     
  12. Sun195

    Sun195 Pugetropolis, WA Well-Known Member

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    Massing all of your guys and having them fire against another mass of soldiers is sort of like two human battleships - fire as much as you can at them and hope their ship sinks before yours does.
     
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  13. jordanvraptor

    jordanvraptor Oregon City, Oregon Well-Known Member

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    Its all chivalry and honor until someone lets loose with canister fire... :(
     
  14. Kevatc

    Kevatc Oregon Well-Known Member

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    So my question still stands ... With the greater use of rifling and the subsequent increase in accuracy plus the devestating effects of a Minnie ball why were tactics not changed? To the notion of poor individual marksmanship I would assume that there were battles in which the killing was done at relatively close distance (thinking the hill battle during Gettysburg) negating the need for great discipline with trigger pulling.

    For the life of me I can't figure out why, after some of the early battles in the Civil War where there were some hellacious casualties, the tactics of shoulder-to-shoulder weren't abandoned. And certainly by wars end I would think preservation of forces would've served as a big motivator to end a tactic that common sense says is getting your guys killed in great numbers.
     
  15. dmancornell

    dmancornell Portland, OR New Member

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    Because the state doesn't give a damn about dead people. Duh.
     
  16. jordanvraptor

    jordanvraptor Oregon City, Oregon Well-Known Member

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    Its very hard to change tactics or "doctrine" even today. There is constant bickering over "its in the Ranger Handbook" followed by "that's not doctrine" or "its not in the 7-8"...

    Usually doctrine is only changed after a lot of blood is spilled. Look how long it took to get MRAPS into theater wide use. South Africans were using basically the same thing 30-40 years ago against insurgents armed with mines, explosives etc... :(

    Why would it have been any different back in the Civil War/War against Northern Aggression? Both sides had been trained in the same doctrine and it is what they knew how to do. The tactics of massed fire is still in use today, albeit on a much grander deadlier scale. "Shock and Awe" ring a bell? The concept is a good one, employment of said concept is what distinguishes a great leader like Lee versus McClellan who never seemed to want to use the great Army he had built up. Game changing tactics will be called brilliant and innovative if it is successful and further reinforce adherence to doctrine if said tactics are not successful. Roll the dice. I think the first large scale use of fire and maneuver tactics was the Nazi Blitzrieg across Europe but I could be wrong on that as I never studied WWI in depth. Interesting discussion and I could talk for hours on it as military history is my hobby/obsession.. :)
     
  17. Kevatc

    Kevatc Oregon Well-Known Member

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    So what was the point of shoulder-to-shoulder to begin with?
     
  18. Kevatc

    Kevatc Oregon Well-Known Member

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    I am so happy you chimmed in and added some serious substance to this conversation. :rolleyes:
     
  19. dmancornell

    dmancornell Portland, OR New Member

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    If you actually thought about the origins of innovative tactical thought, you'd realize the vast majority of it came from desperation of defeat or stalemate, as opposed to concern over casualties. That is to be expected from stubborn bureaucracies more concerned over their "honor" than the lives of the citizenry.

    In the case of the civil war, go watch Ken Burns' documentary where he mentioned the reluctance of officers to formulate new tactics because they considered individual or small unit fighting to be "ungentlemanly". The same attitude persisted all the way through to WW1 in Europe, even as the Americans themselves figured out the basics of trench warfare late in the civil war.

    I am amused by the story of Lincoln writing a letter of condolence to the mother of five dead soldiers (and quoted in the movie Saving Private Ryan), even as he orders Grant to fight battles of attrition that result in massive casualties. The lesson here: the state cynically pays lip service to the people it murders.
     
  20. One-Eyed Ross

    One-Eyed Ross Winlock, WA Well-Known Member

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    Remember that Lee, Grant, Hooker, Burnsides, Longstreet....these guys all studied war at the same places, learning the same tactics...Napoleonic set piece battles. It takes a long time to become a general, and these guys had years of marching and fighting under their belts by doing it "the old way."

    Claude Minie didn't come up with the minie ball round until about 1848 or so...Lee was commissioned in 1829.

    The US army's last war before the Civil War was the Mexican war, which used Napoleonic tactics to good effect....

    (As an aside, Longstreet was a believer in entrenched positions for defense, and Lee was to some extent. One of his first nicknames during the Civil war was "The King of Spades.")