Civil War Battle Tactics Essay, Research Paper
A Bloody War Over 600,000 Americans died in the Civil War, and many more were left wounded. Although a large portion of these deaths is credited to diseases, such as dysentery, diarrhea, measles, malaria, and typhoid, the tactics of the Civil War were also a great influence to the number of casualties. New warfare was being introduced to the battlefield and new weapons were being implemented. These modern tactics and weapons resulted in the accumulation of considerable losses on both sides. The Civil War was a major turning point in the way of battle tactics. During the Civil War, both sides relied on three main units to succeed in battle: infantry, artillery, and calvary. There were three main battles which show us how these units were utilized to create such enormous amounts of casualties. These battles are Gettysburg, the most stereotypical Civil War battle, Antietam, the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, and Chancellorsville, the battle which is said to have the most tactical value. The infantry, calvary, and artillery were incorporated into each of these battles, and because of the application of their tactics, many people were killed.To understand how and why the tactics of the Civil War caused so many deaths, one must first understand the units which fought on the battlefield. There are three specific combat troops which were utilized in the Civil War: infantry, artillery, and calvary. Each type of unit fought in its own separate way, and had a specific function on the battlefield. Infantry were by far the most numerous of all combat units. Their main function was to capture and maintain ground. Weapons back in the mid-19th century were not very accurate and took time to reload after each shot. (Cayton 327) Most basic muskets could be loaded at a rate of three times per minute. Because of this fact, different tactics had to be applied to defeat the enemy. By lining the soldiers up shoulder-to-shoulder, and having them march in a straight line towards the enemy, the infantry was able to focus their fire on a select area. This tactic was very dangerous and resulted in many deaths, but it was also proved to be the easiest way to seize an area. This type of marching was also the most feasible way to effectively move troops under fire. (Grimsley 1) The loudness and confusion of most battlefields was great enough to discombobulate even the most disciplined army. The infantry were guided and kept in order by two things as they marched: their colonel, who would yell commands to the troops, and the flag, which would be a visible guidance for the soldiers. If the soldiers could not hear their colonel or commanding officer s orders, the flag bearer was responsible for leading the troops in the right direction. One might ask why infantry did not directly sprint towards the enemy in order to take them over faster. The whole idea of the infantry formation was to have concentrated fire on the focus point or destination. If the infantry were to charge the enemy, the slower men would lag behind, dismantling the line. If the infantry were to spread out, the inaccuracy of the weapons would eventually force the soldiers to flee because of the overpowering fire of the enemy. Although the infantry did stay together, there were different speeds they were required to keep up with. After march , the base speed, quick time followed. At this rate, one covered 110 steps per minute. Under serious fire, infantry members were commanded to quicken to double-quick time , a rate of around 165 steps per minute. Once the infantry was a few dozen yards from the enemy, the infantry was told to simply run . This tactic relied solely on overpowering the enemy with shear numbers, and usually ensued with many deaths. A powerful and devastating weapon if used correctly, artillery was also an important part of Civil War combat. A group of artillery, called a battery, consisted of four to six cannons commanded by a captain. (Grimsley 2) Artillery had one of the most important functions. Generals would pick out weak spots or potential ground for a strong attack, such as a hill or a knob, in the enemy lines. Once the generals identified one of these spots, the artillery would go to work, lobbing shells and solid shot at that area, making the defense weak. The infantry would then assault that spot and seize it. Because of upgrades since the Revolutionary War, cannons were more effective than ever. (Cayton 327)Cannon barrels were made lighter and stronger for more powerful charges. (Grimsley 2) On top of that, cannons were also more accurate and had greater range because of new practical rifled fieldpieces . (Grimsley 2) Cannons also fired many types of shots at the enemy. Shells, which exploded on a time fuse, were effective for attacking infantry behind fortifications. Solid shot was used to batter down structures. Canisters exploded above troops, scattering musket shot in all directions. Canisters proved themselves to be the most deadly type of shot when used against masses of soldiers. Many men died as a result of them. Calvary units were quite sparse during the Civil War battles for two main reasons. Calvary members utilized horses as a means of transportation. Horses, at the time, were quite expensive, requiring ten times the monthly pay of a private . On top of the charge for the horse, there were additional costs for saddles, bridals, stirrups, and food for the horses. It was also very hard to find men who could ride a horse with skill. For these reasons, Calvarymen were scarce in Civil War armies, around 8% to 10%. (Grimsley 2) However, the calvary unit was not ineffective. They were, in fact, a valuable asset. Calvary were mainly used for raiding and scouting, however, they were also used to cover the flanks of the infantry or artillery.
Antietam was the bloodiest battle in the Civil War, and stands today as the bloodiest one-day battle in American history. Over 22,000 total troops were lost by both sides (Macdonald, 67). As they did at the battle of Gettysburg, the troops moved in a double ranked line shoulder-to-shoulder. This style was quite vulnerable to being flanked. This was proven in the battle of Antietam. At the West Woods Massacre, Jackson’s Confederate troops attacked the front and the flanks of the Union line at the same time. This completely destroyed the Union regiment.The infantry in this battle functioned almost the same way as in Gettysburg, except there was not as many men attacking at once. Antietam was actually the name of a creek that ran through the town of Sharpsburg. There was only one bridge spanning Antietam Creek. This bridge was controlled by the Confederates. A Union force of over 10,000 men continuously attacked the bridge, but the bridge was only defended by 550 Confederate troops. After holding the Union on two attacks, General Toombs realized that he could no longer hold the Union. The Confederates finally ordered a tactical retreat; General Toombs removed his troops so the oncoming Union forces did not kill them. The oncoming horde crossed the bridge, reloaded, regrouped, and then chased the Confederates. When the Union advanced, they were pummeled by barricaded Confederate infantry and artillery, which had remained hidden until the Union s crossing. The Union soldiers were pushed back to the town of Sharpsburg. Part of the reason that the battle was lost is because General Burnside stopped to reload and didn t pursue the Confederates while they were vulnerable. Another reason this battle was lost is because the Union didn t use their calvary to its fullest. The Confederates used their calvary to keep the Union away from their main army so the Union didn t know how many troops that the Confederates had. The Confederate calvary also protected their flanks to make sure the North didn t attack them from behind. Despite the great loss of lives, President Abraham Lincoln was encouraged by the outcome. He (President Lincoln) told me that he was satisfied with all that I had done, that he would stand by me. He parted from me with utmost cordiality. -General George B. McCellan. The battle of Gettysburg was the most stereotypical Civil War battle. It was much like the battle of Fredericksburg, except the tables were turned. The Union troops were barricaded behind a stone wall with a field several hundred yards long. The Confederates, led by General George Pickett, charged the wall. This charge is known as Pickett s Charge and is the culminating event of the battle of Gettysburg. However, Pickett himself knew he had no chance of taking the wall, as stated in the following quote: It is my opinion that no 15,000 men ever arrayed for battle can take that position. Before they attacked, the Confederate artillery, commanded by General Porter Alexander, laid down a cover of shells in order to help the infantry. Talking to General Pickett in a series of conversations, General Alexander was told by Pickett to not allow the charge unless he felt the artillery had done a sufficient job destroying the Union fortifications. Alexander’s response to this was: I will only be able to judge the effect of our fire on the enemy by his return fire, for infantry is but little exposed to view and the smoke will obscure the whole field. If, as I infer from your note, there is any alternative to this attack, it should be carefully considered before opening fire, for it will take all the artillery ammunition we have left to test this one thoroughly and, if the result is unfavorable, we will have none left for another effort. And even if this is entirely successful, it can only be so at a very bloody cost.The most dramatic action of the battle came on the third day, when General George E. Pickett led a gallant but hopeless charge against the Union center, Pickett’s drive tried to charge across an open field at Cemetery Ridge, but Union fire prevented him from doing so. The battle was undoubtedly a Union victory, but both armies suffered very heavy losses. Meade’s casualties numbered 23,000 and Lee’s about 25,000. The Civil War was a gory, brutal war in which thousands of men were killed. There were two main aspects of war which brought about these deaths: disease and battle tactics. The Civil War battle tactics were devastating when applied. Many men died as a result of the shoulder-to-shoulder marching tactic, as it made the line very vulnerable on the flank. It was very dangerous and quite risky to march upright across a field towards barricaded soldiers who, every second are firing upon the oncoming troops. These types of tactics, no matter how senseless and cruel they seem in our modern day, were the most effective and useful at the time, despite the countless numbers of lives lost as a result.