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  • Tactical Innovation in the ACW

    One of the best new members on these boards, Saphroneth, had an excellent post in the "Grant the butcher" thread:

    Originally posted by Saphroneth View Post
    The general problem in the Civil War is basically that the troops are not able to advance under fire and cannot fire effectively at long range. Without these options, the only two that remain are attempting to bull through the defences (in practice this means attrition) or to mount a turning movement and force the enemy to uproot.

    McClellan engaged in the latter; Grant usually practiced the former. Lee did both at different times. It's no real insult to any of these men (or to Sheridan, Sherman or the like) to say that they engaged in these tactics - their armies didn't give them much choice - though McClellan and Johnston deserve opprobium for not building the armies in such a way that they could avoid it, and the other generals deserve it for not trying to rectify this. (It's one reason Cleburne does deserve accolades - he attempted to get out of the problem by significantly improving the capability of his units.)


    Cold Harbor is basically a mis-assessment of the actual events. It's often presented as if a Union charge took 12,000 casualties in eight minutes (when the 12,000 total is actually for the entire fortnight!) and as if it were a forerunner of the Somme; in actuality this would be impossible as the hit rates of the Civil War are too low. It would take 2.4 million rounds in eight minutes to cause 12,000 hits, and even if half the killing was done by the artillery that would still mean 150,000 rounds a minute with rifle muskets, which is simply not possible for less than 75,000 rifle muskets at maximum rate.

    What happened at Cold Harbor was more or less a standard Civil War assault. The heartbreaking part here is that so often generals and their lesser commanders proved unable to apply the methods which were common in Europe at the time (or indeed in Africa - a Zulu Impi on any Civil War battlefield would probably have won the day quite quickly.) As such, the war was both prolonged and made more bloody.
    The questions for this thread, should anyone care to address them in an even mildly academic manner:

    1. What were (if there were) the significant tactical innovations of the war? In this regard, keep in mind that technological and industrial advancements can lead to a tactical innovation, but they are not the innovations themselves. So don't say "ironclad" or "repeating firearm" but rather describe the tactical changes brought about by the advancement in technology.

    2. What well-known and/or accessible tactical practices were available to either the armies of either side but rejected, and why? In this regard, one can point to tactical methods available in Europe or on another continent that the Northerners and/or Southerners rejected OR ideas that were developed in either the Northern or Southern army but rejected by higher command.

    Caveat 1 - the impact of James Ripley on Northern armament procurement policy is well known, so we don't have to trod that ground here.
    Last edited by The Ibis; 11 Jun 16, 17:38.

  • #2
    Two technical innovations that led to considerable tactical changes at least one of which still causes issues today - the marine mine and the anti personnel mine - both Confederate developments. It past time for me to retire but I'll post more detail tomorrow
    Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
    Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

    Comment


    • #3
      The marine mine

      The marine mine was around before the ACW. Attempts to use them had started in Elizabethan England and abortive efforts to sink British ships using them occurred in the AWI but it was left to an expatriate Swede living in Russia to develop the first ‘modern’ sea mines. Immanuel Nobel (father of the inventor of dynamite and founder of the Nobel Prize) was a self taught inventor. In the 1850s he convinced the Imperial Russian authorities to adopt several of his designs for moored sea mines. These fell into two basic classes, mines that exploded automatically on contact with a ship and those where the explosion was initiated electrically by an observer . In the self detonating variety the impact of a ship against the mine broke a lead-sheathed glass vial (the mine ‘horn’) and this started a chemical reaction that created enough heat to fire the black powder charge. This is very largely the same basic principle used in a vast number of mines right up until the end of the Second World War. Both types were manufactured in some numbers and laid in the Gulf of Finland at Sveaborg (near Helsinki), off the naval base of Kronstadt and at Sevastopol in the Crimea. In the Crimean War the contact mines proved the most successful (but with their sensitive horns the most dangerous to lay). The remotely detonated types had the advantage of being safe to lay and not harmful to friendly shipping (unless the observer made a mistake). They were however useless in fog and at night as the observer could not see the target ships, especially if they did not observe the courtesy of lighting their navigation lights. The contact mines worked in any weather day or night but did not discriminate between friend or foe, neutral or belligerent.

      During the Crimean War the Russian mines helped thwart an Anglo-French attack on Kronstadt and hampered naval operations supporting the siege of Sevastopol. Whilst they do not appear to have had huge success in sinking ships they did force the British and French to alter their plans to take account of the mine fields.

      In 1860 Major Richard Delafield of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers who had been an official observer attached to the Russians wrote an enthusiastic account of their deployment of mines (or torpedoes as he referred to them). The US government does not seem to have been particularly interested but the Confederates manufactured and deployed large numbers of mines, both contact and controlled.

      Confederate mines (called at the time torpedoes) accounted for the sinking of more Federal ships than all other means put together. However there was a basic problem with all sea mines produced by the South. Being essentially non industrialised the Confederacy did not have the resources to produce large numbers of mine casings by casting processes. Confederate mines were built up from sheet metal; this meant they had many seams that would eventually leak to some extent. Gunpowder is very susceptible to damp when it ceases to be explosive; thus after a while most Confederate mines became inactive.

      The Royal Navy in the Crimean War had developed techniques by which ships could safely negotiate their way through mine fields. These had the penalty of forcing them to travel very slowly which would expose them to fire from shore batteries. Both the Confederacy and the Union were aware of this and former often coordinated the positioning of mines and coastal artillery. Farragut was less worried about the threat posed to his fleet by mines than the damage that heavy guns could inflict. Thus the full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes command, possibly Farragut was counting on many of the Confederate mines in Mobile Bay having been rendered inactive by water seepage, perhaps he actually knew (Federal military intelligence was good at discovering such things). He was certainly correct in his choice of tactics, as nearly all the mines were in fact dud. During the war mines sank 27 Federal ships, including three monitors and some other ironclads. In many cases this seems to have taken place not long after the mines were laid. Confederate minefields were a rapidly wasting asset and needed constant renewal to remain effective. The South did not have the resources to be able to do this and a lot of the effort put into laying them was wasted.

      Nevertheless the lessons of the potential effectiveness of sea mines demonstrated in the ACW were not lost on many watching nations and the use of such weapons began to spread. The next country to adopt their use was Chile engaged, in alliance with Peru, in a war against Spain (the ‘Guano War’ 1866-67). It is an intriguing side light of history that the acquisition and smuggling of mines for Chile was organised by James McNeil Whistler, more usually remembered as a great painter rather than an international arms salesman. There are some indications that the US navy may have connived in this so possibly the mines were captured Confederate stock.

      By 1900 the use of mines had become widespread, in the Russo – Japanese War Russian mines sank two Japanese battleships and two heavy cruiser (about the only naval success that Russia had). In the two world wars millions of mines were sown, mostly moored contact mines but increasingly magnetic, acoustic and pressure mines were employed.
      Last edited by MarkV; 12 Jun 16, 04:30.
      Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe (H G Wells)
      Mit der Dummheit kaempfen Goetter selbst vergebens (Friedrich von Schiller)

      Comment


      • #4
        I can think of two:

        The first successful night assault of the war took place at Rappahannock Station against the Confederate bridgehead which was fortified and defended by Jubal Early's Louisiana Brigade.

        Emory Upton and David Russell conducted the assault which was essentially a penetration with a bayonet attack and once the Confederate position was penetrated, the second 'wave' fanned out to both sides of the penetration and the position, and most of the defending brigade were taken. Jubal Early was furious.

        Unfortunately, David Russell was later killed in action, but Upton conducted the same tactical operation at Spotsylvania and it was initially successful, but his supports, over which he had little or no control, failed and he had to withdraw.

        The second is the use of new fire control equipment by a Union artillery battery at Cemetery Hill at Gettysburg. It was a French set of optics, called the 'French glass' and it allowed the artillery battery using it to register the guns on different targets before it was attacked and allowed the battery commander to shift targets during the later Confederate attack by order, allowing accurate fire on a preplanned target. This was a precursor to the modern method of registration on targets during preplanning.
        We are not now that strength which in old days
        Moved earth and heaven; that which we are we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts
        Made weak by time and fate but strong in will
        To strive to seek to find and not to yield.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by The Ibis View Post
          One of the best new members on these boards, Saphroneth, had an excellent post in the "Grant the butcher" thread:



          The questions for this thread, should anyone care to address them in an even mildly academic manner:

          1. What were (if there were) the significant tactical innovations of the war? In this regard, keep in mind that technological and industrial advancements can lead to a tactical innovation, but they are not the innovations themselves. So don't say "ironclad" or "repeating firearm" but rather describe the tactical changes brought about by the advancement in technology.

          2. What well-known and/or accessible tactical practices were available to either the armies of either side but rejected, and why? In this regard, one can point to tactical methods available in Europe or on another continent that the Northerners and/or Southerners rejected OR ideas that were developed in either the Northern or Southern army but rejected by higher command.

          Caveat 1 - the impact of James Ripley on Northern armament procurement policy is well known, so we don't have to trod that ground here.

          My thanks for describing me as one of the best new members!

          I'd actually like to discuss Ripley because his impact is not well understood - he's often presented as someone who kept the Union from getting enough breechloaders, but the fact is that the orders he placed in 1861 were not fulfilled in anything like a timely fashion.


          The US government ordered 700 Spencers for the Navy in July 1861 and 10,000 for the Army in December 1861. Here are the deliveries that Spencer actually makes on that December 1861 order, after he has to ask them to drop it to 7500 because he can't make enough guns:

          31 December 1862: 500
          17 January 1863: 500
          23 February 1863: 1200
          13 April 1863: 1500
          22 April 1863: 500
          29 April 1863: 500
          9 May 1863: 500
          19 May 1863: 500
          30 May 1863: 500
          9 June 1863: 500
          16 June 1863: 500
          20 June 1863: 302

          The next delivery he makes is in October 1863, so it's a fair bet they were running at full capacity just to get those 7,500 weapons out of the door.




          In December 1861, the government had ordered 73,000 breech-loading weapons but received only 9,000 of those. On February 4th 1862, Ripley telegraphed all contractors producing breech-loaders for the army asking how many weapons per week they could expect. Six of the seven firms (Burnsides', Gallagher's, Smith's, Starr's, Gibbs' and Merrill's) could deliver between 120 and 250 weapons per week. Sharps could deliver 500 per week, but were building none for the government because Hiram Berdan had used political influence to have their production directed to his sharpshooter regiment.



          Ripley's achievement is that he got the Union armed with rifle muskets. This was no mean feat.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Massena View Post
            I can think of two:
            Upton simply launched a wave attack, and night attacks are hardly new an innovative.

            The "French Ordnance Glass" was carried by one officer of the 5th Maine Battery and no-one knows what it was. There is some speculation it might have been some form of primitive rangefinder but it was probably simply a telescope. This is based upon the Whittier's 1891 MOLLUS paper, and these tend to be incredibly exaggerated:

            "A French ordnance glass, the nearest approach to a range-finder for light artillery at that time in use, had that afternoon given me the distance of all prominent landmarks in our front. The clump of buildings on the Culp farm was one of the most marked, and as quickly as the enemy appeared, even while his lines were forming, the battery opened with case-shot, each one bursting as if on measured ground, at the right time and in the right place in front of the advancing lines. This was the first intimation given by artillery of the rebel advance."

            The Culp Farm has about 800 m from the battery position, and Wainwright (the arty bde comd) says Stevens opened fire at 800 yds, which is about right.

            Incidently, I googled US stadia and found one on youtube:

            "[T]he worst that could be said of the Peninsula campaign was that thus far it had not been successful. To make it a failure was reserved for the agency of General Halleck." -Emory Upton

            Comment


            • #7
              Anyway.

              Some of the developments which were - or should have been - obvious to those in the Americas, but which were for whatever reason not.

              1) The actual ability of the rifle.
              Most Americans simply did not do target practice. McClellan deserves the most blame for this out of anyone on either side, since he was in the Crimea when the British were casually defeating enemy infantry at 400+ yards, but very few people seem to have actually put the effort in to try it. Some of this may be the expense (100 rounds a year to do British quality practice, at least 40 for French style) but it seems to be deeper than that. Of note is that this change (accuracy training) is what made the Prussians a fearsome opponent in the Austro-Prussian War, they could skirmish and hit targets an order of magnitude better.
              2) The value of a bayonet charge.
              You don't need a night assault or anything of the sort when facing ACW-era infantry, a simple bayonet charge will do it. The enemy are not armed with machine guns (very few Gatlings even existed), often they're not even armed with rifles, and if they are armed with rifles they're not trained to use them (see 1) and the beaten zone is simply not wide. The only thing able to cause casualties past a hundred yards tends to be a few sharpshooters and artillery. Which leads into...
              3) Counter battery fire.
              I'm not sure if this is a failing of the weapons or a failing of the skill, but you simply don't see good counterbattery fire in the ACW to the same extent you do with contemporary European rifles. Krupp guns, Armstrong rifles, and rifled muzzle loader French guns were all capable of hitting accurately targets at long to extreme range, easily good enough to counterbattery the enemy - this is from the trials of the Armstrong 12-lber gun:

              At seven degrees of elevation in five rounds, the range being from 2,465 to 2,495 yards, the difference in the range was 65 yards, and the greatest difference in width three yards. Then at eight degrees of elevation, the range reaching 2,797 yards, with 60 yards of difference between the five shots, and only one yard of difference in the width. Again, at nine degrees of elevation the range comes up to 3,000 yards and upwards, with 85 yards difference between the five shots, and three yards as the greatest difference in the width. In point of fact, almost all of these shots but three or four would have struck within a 9-feet target.
              This kind of weapon is quite capable of counterbattery fire, with over 60% of shots hitting close enough at about 2,500-3,000 yards to kill or injure gun crew, hit ammunition or damage the gun. So either the American rifles weren't accurate enough at range, or they didn't manage to achieve the kind of counterbattery fire Napoleon's troops would do - just at a longer range to fit the longer range of the guns.


              All this points to why it was sometimes said a European division would have turned the trick at almost any ACW battle - the artillery shoots out the enemy guns, the infantry closes to ~300 yards in skirmish order, suppresses the enemy infantry and then pushes home a bayonet assault successfully.
              Basically it's the problem that the Europeans have either had recent wars or been preparing for them for a long time, so they've taken each new development and modified an existing tactical system - the Americans have more or less been trying to make things up as they go along, which sometimes produces useful results but usually results in a lot of "frills without the dress", or whizzbang devices and tactics without a good fundamental base.

              Comment


              • #8
                The introduction of working breech loading rifles was one. This allowed troops to kneel or sit while shooting and loading, rather than having to stand. This in turn made units having these weapons a bit less vulnerable to enemy fire as the troops could make use of available cover more easily.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by T. A. Gardner View Post
                  The introduction of working breech loading rifles was one. This allowed troops to kneel or sit while shooting and loading, rather than having to stand. This in turn made units having these weapons a bit less vulnerable to enemy fire as the troops could make use of available cover more easily.
                  That would be an ACW innovation if it was either anything like a dominant feature of the ACW (it wasn't) or invented there (it wasn't). As I posted above, the Union got very few breechloaders even halfway through the war (at Gettysburg something like four times as many Union troops had smoothbores as had breechloaders) while the Dreyse had been in full use in the Prussian army for some years (first major use the Dresden uprising 1849).

                  Indeed, the British used the Terry in India, another breechloader, and were also experimenting with the Leetch, Sharps, Greene and Westley-Richards.

                  By almost any standard of breechloader use (first deployment, first full scale deployment, first regimental deployment) the ACW was not the first - either it didn't meet the standard or another earlier war did first.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Saphroneth View Post
                    That would be an ACW innovation if it was either anything like a dominant feature of the ACW (it wasn't) or invented there (it wasn't). As I posted above, the Union got very few breechloaders even halfway through the war (at Gettysburg something like four times as many Union troops had smoothbores as had breechloaders) while the Dreyse had been in full use in the Prussian army for some years (first major use the Dresden uprising 1849).

                    Indeed, the British used the Terry in India, another breechloader, and were also experimenting with the Leetch, Sharps, Greene and Westley-Richards.

                    By almost any standard of breechloader use (first deployment, first full scale deployment, first regimental deployment) the ACW was not the first - either it didn't meet the standard or another earlier war did first.
                    The biggest use was with US Cavalry. Most Union cavalry had some sort of breechloader by mid to late war, even if only single shot. That gave a cavalry unit considerably more firepower than their European counterparts at the time.
                    ACW cavalry on both sides preferred firepower to swords or lances and shock action. Carrying one or more revolvers for close action was preferred to a sword for the same reason... and revolvers are close range repeaters for all intents...
                    European cavalry didn't usually act like dragoons / mounted infantry like their American counterparts often did.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Regarding Upton and Russell at Rappahannock's Station, 7 November 1863, from Upton and the Army by Stephen Ambrose, 24-25:

                      'On November 7, the VI Corps, leading the Army of the Potomac, arrived at the river and found that Lee had a bridgehead on the north bank at Rappahannock Station...The Confederates had a redoubt on a bluff near an old Orange and Alexandria Railroad bridge and a line of rifle pits extending up the river to give protection to a newly laid pontoon bridge. General David A Russell, commanding the 3d Brigade of the 1st Division, attacked and carried the redoubt, but had trouble holding it because of enfilading fire from the rifle pits. At dusk he asked Upton to bring up the 2d Brigade. Upton led the men at double time to the redoubt; the soldiers loaded muskets as they moved forward. When Upton arrived, Russell asked him to dislodge the Confederates from the rifle pits.'

                      'Darkness now covered the field. Upton left one regiment in reserve, then had the remainder of his men unsling their knapsacks and fix bayonets, gave them strict orders not to fire and to creep forward. When within thirty yards of the pits, Upton whispered orders to his men to charge silently. At the point of the bayonet, without firing a shot, the brigade drove the surprised Confederates from their works.'

                      'The enemy was routed and confused. Most of the Confederate troops were wandering around in the darkness between their old works and the bridge. Upton saw that he had an opportunity not only to cut off the Confederates on the north side of the river but also to capture the pontoon bridge intact. He ordered one of his two regiments to move down to the river and take up a position at the foot of the bridge. With the other regiment Upton made ready to attack...The enemy, fearful of Upton's 'superior force,' tried to escape across the bridge, discovered that Upton already held it, and threw down their arms. The Confederates on the south bank then tried to burn the bridge, but heavy musketry from Upton's men stopped them. The bridgehead was gone.'

                      The innovation here was the manner in which Upton carried out his assault on the Confederate position and it was the first successful night assault of the war. And executing a successful night assault is much more difficult that a daylight assault.

                      From The Guns at Gettysburg by Fairfax Downey, 104-105:

                      'Captain Stevens 5th Maine Battery['s]...position on the second day was a knoll on the saddle between Cemetery and Culp's Hills, with a fine field of fire. One of the 5th's lieutenants, Edward N Whittier, filled the time before action manipulating a French-made instrument called an 'ordnance glass,' the nearest approach to a range-finder for light artillery then known.'

                      'That instrument, rarely used in the Civil War, was a precursor of modern artillery fire-direction equipment. Whittier, sighting through it that afternoon, measured ranges to all prominent objects on his battery's front. Granted that measurements were correct, the usual guesswork would be eliminated. Elevation of the pieces could be set, and shell fuses cut so as to explode the projectile on target. Here was the technique of the barrages of World War I, fired from predetermined data, and of the pinpoint shooting and concentrations of WW II and Korea. Whittier, given permission to test the accuracy of his estimates, fired a single round. It landed squarely on his target, a clump of trees on the Culp farm.'

                      'His 'registration' as future artillerymen would term it, paid off handsomely. When Early's Confederate division formed to deliver its assault that evening, the 5th Maine opened with shrapnel. Each shell burst 'as if on measured ground at the right time and the right place in front of their formation.' Volleys blasting from the six 12-pounders, other batteries chiming in, sounded to supporting infantry 'as if a volcano had been let loose.'

                      The innovation here was registering the artillery battery for pre-planned fires.
                      We are not now that strength which in old days
                      Moved earth and heaven; that which we are we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts
                      Made weak by time and fate but strong in will
                      To strive to seek to find and not to yield.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Saphroneth View Post
                        I'd actually like to discuss Ripley because his impact is not well understood - he's often presented as someone who kept the Union from getting enough breechloaders, but the fact is that the orders he placed in 1861 were not fulfilled in anything like a timely fashion...Ripley's achievement is that he got the Union armed with rifle muskets. This was no mean feat.
                        My understanding was that Ripley was instrumental in getting rifled artillery to the gun batteries and that he did hinder both rifle musket production and procurement as well as hindering the same with repeaters.

                        Do you have a source on Ripley that would be helpful and that is accurate?
                        We are not now that strength which in old days
                        Moved earth and heaven; that which we are we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts
                        Made weak by time and fate but strong in will
                        To strive to seek to find and not to yield.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by T. A. Gardner View Post
                          The biggest use was with US Cavalry. Most Union cavalry had some sort of breechloader by mid to late war, even if only single shot. That gave a cavalry unit considerably more firepower than their European counterparts at the time.
                          ACW cavalry on both sides preferred firepower to swords or lances and shock action. Carrying one or more revolvers for close action was preferred to a sword for the same reason... and revolvers are close range repeaters for all intents...
                          European cavalry didn't usually act like dragoons / mounted infantry like their American counterparts often did.
                          The Terry I mention was being used by the 18th Hussars in India, and the British were also experimenting with the Sharps (they had more Sharps rifles than the Union until some time in 1862, and had 18,000 Colt revolvers in store or issue by the end of 1858). This is after an 1840s breechloading carbine failed to prove successful, they were trying a second time. So not only were all the Dragoon regiments acting like mounted infantry but so were some of the Hussars and Lancers.
                          Now, the British didn't focus all their attention on switching to guns, but that's for the very good reason that shock action with the arme blanche was not yet obsolete. (The fact it doesn't work in America is more indicative of the lack of ability in the US than anything).

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Massena View Post
                            From The Guns at Gettysburg by Fairfax Downey, 104-105:

                            'Captain Stevens 5th Maine Battery['s]...position on the second day was a knoll on the saddle between Cemetery and Culp's Hills, with a fine field of fire. One of the 5th's lieutenants, Edward N Whittier, filled the time before action manipulating a French-made instrument called an 'ordnance glass,' the nearest approach to a range-finder for light artillery then known.'

                            'That instrument, rarely used in the Civil War, was a precursor of modern artillery fire-direction equipment. Whittier, sighting through it that afternoon, measured ranges to all prominent objects on his battery's front. Granted that measurements were correct, the usual guesswork would be eliminated. Elevation of the pieces could be set, and shell fuses cut so as to explode the projectile on target. Here was the technique of the barrages of World War I, fired from predetermined data, and of the pinpoint shooting and concentrations of WW II and Korea. Whittier, given permission to test the accuracy of his estimates, fired a single round. It landed squarely on his target, a clump of trees on the Culp farm.'

                            'His 'registration' as future artillerymen would term it, paid off handsomely. When Early's Confederate division formed to deliver its assault that evening, the 5th Maine opened with shrapnel. Each shell burst 'as if on measured ground at the right time and the right place in front of their formation.' Volleys blasting from the six 12-pounders, other batteries chiming in, sounded to supporting infantry 'as if a volcano had been let loose.'

                            The innovation here was registering the artillery battery for pre-planned fires.
                            The original source, the MOLLUS papers, makes no such claims. Indeed all it claims was that the BK (sorry, I was a gunner) ranged a number of landmarks. The engagement when it came was at around 800 yds.

                            With direct fire there is essentially no need to set up DFs, you point the guns at the target, elevate to range and (if using spherical case) set the fuse.
                            "[T]he worst that could be said of the Peninsula campaign was that thus far it had not been successful. To make it a failure was reserved for the agency of General Halleck." -Emory Upton

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Was the revolver melee a new thing for the ACW? I'm not sure if it was a major tactic beforehand (e.g. CS cavalry charging home and emptying a revolver or two into the defending infantry, breaking them with a combination of shock and fire).
                              Or is it just basically a Caracole...

                              Comment

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