Friday, July 5, 2013

Battles Long Ago: Gettysburg

One hundred fifty years ago this Wednesday the sun set over a stretch of farmland south of the little town of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. As you probably know, by that time on that day more than 7,000 Americans had lost their lives, and another 27,000 had been injured, ranging from gashes and broken limbs to the 4,000 or so who were already slowly dying from sepsis and peritonitis.

I wanted to talk a little about those three days; not in an attempt to provide any more information about the fighting itself - far too many authors, historians, and soldiers far more knowledgeable and literate than myself have already done that - but simply to add some of my own ideas and opinions.

As you can probably imagine, several of them are military in nature.

Perhaps the simplest, but the most central to my concept of Gettysburg the battle, is that I don't truly see it as "decisive"; certainly not the most decisive of the battles fought and lost by the rebellion that July - that would be Vicksburg, by the way.

I see Gettysburg as part of the larger central place of battle in the American Civil War: always extremely unlikely to ever be decisive because of a technical revolution that had not been followed by a tactical one.

I belive that the main reason for this was the critical inability of almost all of the American Civil War leaders, both northern and southern to appreciate that the widespread introduction of rifling and ballistic projectiles (the "Minie' ball") had changed warfare in a way that would remain the rule until the advent of the tank and the aircraft. Simply, that defense was now much stronger than attack - so much that attacking a well-positioned enemy was courting disaster.

In 1840 most infantrymen were armed with almost the same smoothbore musket their grandfathers had carried in 1775.

Twenty years later most infantrymen (along with most cavalry in the form of carbines) carried a muzzleloading rifle with a percussion cap firing mechanism. Slow to load, heavy, not all that accurate...but several orders of magnitude more accurate than the quasi-Brown-Bess it replaced. It lengthened the lethal range of an infantryman literally ten times; from 50 yards to about 500, and could hit large massed targets out to as much as 1,000 yards.

This meant two big changes in battlefield calculus:

First, it meant that unless someone quickly realized that this vastly increased lethality meant that infantrymen would have to operate in vastly less concentrated formations that the result would be carnage for troops in the open. That any time two organized groups of infantrymen in close order collided that they would tear each other apart from far beyond handstroke range. That merely advancing to contact in formation over open terrain would be so prohibitively expensive to the attacker that even if the attacker could stand the butcher's bill by the time he got near enough to pour accurate fire into and break the defender he would be in no condition to exploit his success.

Second, it meant that as a battlefield arm cavalry was deader'n shit. The immense target presented by a man and horse combined with the tremendous distance required to close the range to pistol-shot and saber-stroke and the perforce-smaller number of mounted troops capable of fitting into about the same amount of space as a rank of guys on foot meant that any cavalry charge against formed troops was dead before arrival. I can't recall a single Civil War engagement where the cavalry of either side encountered formed infantry with anything like a decent field of fire and charged them and succeeded. Against rifled firearms it was just suicide.

So, not surprisingly, there are no Civil War equivalents of Marengo, or Ulm, or Waterloo (which is what the mid-Victorian officers on both sides studied and expected to duplicate).

With tactical formations, artillery, and cavalry little different from those used by Napoleon and his enemies but infantry firearms much, much improved the result was to make it almost as bloody and crippling to defeat an enemy as to be defeated. And without a fast-moving pursuit force there was no real way to harry and rout the loser, either. So almost every defeat is recoverable. U.S. forces fight again another day after Bull Run and Chancellorsville and the rebels soldier on after Antietam and Gettysburg.

The key would be not battlefield success but economic devastation. That victory would inevitably go to the side that had more stuff and could use it more effectively - which mean, barring a miracle, that the rebels were doomed from the outset.

This, in turn, leads to my conception of Bobby Lee as perhaps the saddest figure in military history before Isoroku Yamamoto.

Of all the guys responsible for the bloody mess that was battle in the Civil War Lee was perhaps the most responsible. Not in the sense of being "to blame", but in the sense that he really didn't "get it"; he kept banging away on the Napoleonic drum all the way up until the summer of 1863, when the losses from Chancellorsville and Gettysburg forced him to stop throwing his men's lives away on grand charges in the old style. He was fixated on the idea of battlefield victory at a time when those technical and tactical realities meant that the most likely battlefield outcome was a bloody draw against an enemy that had way more blood and treasure than his side could ever assemble.

The odd thing is that he seemed like he was going to be the first to catch on the fact that by 1861 a soldier in a trench with a rifled musket was pure-D murder to the guy walking towards him.

During the Seven Days a year earlier Marse Robert had been all over the guys to dig in and defend. It earned him the nickname "King of Spades" which he reportedly hated. He'd seen the gawdawful carnage at Fredricksburg in December of that same year, less than eight months earlier. He had no reason to have any sort of confidence in the sort of Napoleonic charges he ordered at Gettysburg.

But the message didn't seem to sink in.

Some of his subordinates "got it"; Longstreet, in particular, wanted to 86 the ridiculous Nappie battering against the hills southeast of town, keep the Yanks pinned and slip around them towards D.C. and force them to attack. Lee refused to consider it.

So instead we get three days of rebels beating themselves up against prepared positions, losing troops they couldn't afford to lose and couldn't replace in what would have been a futile attempt to destroy the Army of the Potomac, anyway.

What I see as Lee's problem was that as a generalissimo he was on par with the German General Staff of WW2; hell on wheels in the field, unable to see past the end of a musket off it.

The rebellion depended on a whole slew of things all going right that were unlikely to ever all go right. Even Yamamoto realized that he and the Imperial Navy could win all the tactical successes they wanted to in the first six months or a year but that the immense economic strength of the United States meant death and disaster in a long war.

Lee - as far as I know - never did, or if he did never even got to the von Rundstedt "Make peace, you fools!" moment with Jeff Davis & Co.. He was fixated on the Eastern Theatre when the real damage was being done in the West; it was Grant's perverse genius to realize that all that was needed in the East was bloody stalemate.

Throughout the last half of 1863 all the way to the spring of '65 Grant held Lee by the nose while Sherman in the south and west and Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley kicked him in the ass. By the time the lines around Petersburg fell there simply was no "Confederacy" in any sort of military sense; what little industry and much of the agriculture had been burned out or wrecked.

Lee's perverse genius, if you will, was to have been a competent enough battlefield commander to have kept his force together and fighting long enough to ensure that his enemies had the time and the impetus to utterly wreck the rebellious region he was supposed to be fighting for. The damage wrought to Georgia, the Valley and Tidewater and northeastern portions of Virginia, much of the Carolinas and Tennessee was ruinous; the South took generations to recover and in some ways still retains the scars of that harrowing.

A worse commander might have spared his people more by succeeding less.

I also think that it is often hard, given the kind of (to me, at least) almost insane courage needed to attack those U.S. positions those long summer days 150 years ago, to keep in mind that these men were fighting for one of the worst causes men have ever fought for. Regardless of what they themselves might have believed they were fighting for; "states right's" or "independence from tyranny" the hard bottom is that the single most fundamental "right" they were defending was the right to own another human being like a box of Cap'n Crunch, and the "tyranny" they were opposing was the tyranny of their government to deny them that "right".

They were, in simple fact if not in their own minds, betraying their country in the cause of Slavery.

And if that's not a hell of a bad cause I can't think of another worse outside of plain murder.

So while I have a certain respect for their individual bravery I can't but regret that it was put to such vile service, and I have a hard time understanding the need for a certain breed of Southern man to make an icon of the flags and symbols of that time. The southern part of the United States has produced many good and some great men and women, and has for many years given much of credit to the United States. To make the five years when she stood for a brutally unjust "peculiar institution" the centerpiece of what it means to be "southern" seems to me to dishonor the South more than it does her credit.

And, finally, Gettysburg reminds me of what a crude, brutal, and stupid thing war is as a means for settling human disputes.

The United States was created from a portion of the British Empire, and that empire included the enslavement of humans (originally any human - in the form of indentured servitude - but eventually only the darker-colored ones) by other humans. The peculiar institution was not engineered here, but inherited from Great Britain as Britain inherited it from still earlier human societies. Slavery was deeply entrenched in British colonial agriculture not only here but in her West Indian and Indian possessions.

But slavery was made illegal in Britain in 1833, and in all British possessions ten years later.

That's right. Seventeen years before the United States dissolved into a bloody welter of war over slavery that tore us up in ways we still feel today the damn redcoats simply passed a law and went about hucking the damn thing into history's trash bin where most living people agree it belonged long before.

Did that make, does that make, Britain some sort of racial paradise where dark and light-skinned people live in wonderful harmonious equality?

Hell, no.

But it does mean that the British succeeded in finding a way to settle their differences over slavery in a way that didn't involve killing millions, and the fact we couldn't makes us look pretty brutal and stupid, now, doesn't it?

That's really all I have. Next March I may write up the Battle of Glorieta Pass; it's just such a goofy oddity that in my current stage or writing up goofy oddities I can't resist it. But beyond that I don't really have anything more to say about the American Civil War; it simply seems a tragic and senseless business to me, and always will.


  1. OK, can someone please explain this obsession with the American Civil War and Gettysburg in particular to me?

    Recorded history knows gazillions of (more) interesting battles from five continents spanning up to 5,000 years back. Still, Americans keep talking and writing about Gettysburg and ACV like flies seek the lamp.

    The only remotely comparable thing in Germany is Stalingrad, and that special status fades away the older the "Stalingrad" movie becomes.

  2. When you have an internal rebellion that kills more than half a million men - not to mention the dead civilians and wrecked cities - and takes five years to fight out and pretty much wrecks a large part of your country for the next half-century you tend to spend a lot of time and effort thinking about it. If you can't figure that out by yourself, Sven, I'm sorry, but there's no way I can help you "get it".

    1. Virtually every country in Europe has had civil wars, many of them much more violent (in terms of population death etc as a percentage of the population) than the American Civil War. In fact, most of Europe was one big war zone in the last century so we know all about wars, which might explain why we find the obsession with the American Civil War so odd.

  3. Sven –

    I thought it was a good question, at least the part about Gettysburg, not your comment on the Civil War itself! I am thinking there are several reasons why Gettysburg holds the American attention so much. Number one is that it was our bloodiest single battle in number of casualties (there were more at the Siege of Petersburg but that was a series of battles taking nine months). And it remained our bloodiest until when - Bataan or the Bulge? Small potatoes compared to your Euro wars, but our worst.

    Another reason maybe was the calendar. Most of the north heard the news of the victory one day later on the 4th of July, our national holiday. Yes I know that the surrender at Vicksburg came on the 4th but that was in a distant place about which your average northerner knew nothing about (and by the way was not a battle but a major campaign lasting six months).

    A third reason is that it turned back Lee’s invasion of northern territory. The south never again mounted a strategic offensive, everything the Confederates did after Gettysburg was a reaction. Even though there were probably other reasons for that than Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg.

    I agree with FDChief that Vicksburg was more decisive. And probably several other battles or campaigns. Some say Antietam was the turnaround for the north. I and more than a few others believe that General Scott’s Anaconda Plan was the strategic key that strangled the south and cut it in half – it was not glamorous but it was effective

  4. FDChief; such thinking is very, very inefficient because the topic has been analysed to death already. Studying foreign wars would be much more promising if insights were what it was about.

  5. Chief,
    I wish you'd use another word than injured to describe the wounded of Gettysburg.
    Just nit picking.
    As for the Cav.
    -ANV- Stuart contributed in a negative way to this fight. Lee was blind w/o Cav doing their mission.
    -A of Patomac. They utilized Cav well for the remainder of the war.
    Remember that Buford blunted them with his carbines. I've read so many conflicting reports that his troops used Burnsides/Spencers/Sharps. But whatever he used his men fought well and influenced the battle.I've often wondered why he didn't get the CMOH. If Chamberlain deserved it then surely so did Buford who used initiative as well as stubborn defense.
    Note to Sven. I equate G to Kursk and the Bulge.
    Both expended combat power needlessly for no strategic benefit.

  6. Jim, Lee managed to maul three Union corps—Doubleday’s I, Sickles’ III, and Howard’s XI—and cripple a number of other regiments before Stuart even arrived. Things were going remarkably well for Lee.

    IMO the failure of Pickett's charge, and, hence the battle, from a confederate perspective, was due to the failure to properly position artillery so as to soften up, if not totally smash, the union batteries. Had confederate arty been deployed properly and fire coordinated, the battle - and perhaps the war - would have had a different outcome.

  7. Jim, also I do think there was much strategic benefit to Gettysburg. For one thing the Army of Northern Virginia needed to supply itself off union territory (i.e Pennsylvania) as opposed to depleting its own land. So it was necessary to be in PA. Second, a victory at G, with a confererate army roaming about the north looking for the next major town to occupy, was thought to be sufficient to bring the north to the bargaining table to establish a favorable peace.

    So G was a gamble, but certainly not one without strategic value.

  8. oh...I should add, I think Chief has a very good point re; rifling and Minnie rounds. Confederate infy advancing in formation were cut down easily from several hundred yards away from union positions. It does seem bizarre that Lee would not have recognized how technology had rendered this approach obsolete.

    Always fighting the last war.

  9. Lee was under a lot of pressure. As no-one alludes he was not fiddling around in PA on his own. He was sent there by Davis to give the anti-war Republicans and Copperheads some political cover to demand a truce. And maybe also to try to cut off Washington and the east from Union troops in the west if he could cut the railroad, kind of similar to what Grant and Porter were doing on the Mississip. While he was fighting Gettysburg, A.H. Stephens, VP of the Confederacy, assuming Lee would be successful, was running down the James River under a flag of truce to try to go to Washington to negotiate.

    Lee also took a lot of grief early in the war He was called the King of Spades by his troops and the Southern press because of all the fortification building he did in Georgia and South Carolina. Some have claimed Jackson was his brains for anything other than defense.

    He had seen Union lines break many times before, so why not this time? But then in earlier engagements the Springfield 1861 had not been issued to many northern regiments. He had also made a previous mistake about the effectiveness of the north's rifled cannons. He had advised the officers of Fort Pulaski guarding Savannah that they should have no worry of Union artillery. General Gillmore and his rifled cannons proved him wrong. I don't think he quite understood these new technologies.

  10. Chief - Good post! And the Glorieta Pass battle would be a great follow up. Lancers! - or am I thinking Valverde??

    Cannot agree with you though that the average 'secesh' private was fighting for slavery. But we have had that argument before. I remain unconvinced.

  11. Chief -

    PS - I meant to add I am in the middle of a great nonfiction book on an Oregonian who fought in the Union Navy during the Civil War titled "Lamson of the Gettysburg". The Gettysburg in the title refers to the USS Gettysburg, converted from the former Confederate blockade runner Margaret and Jessie that Lamson captured and later commanded after her conversion. He was from Willamina out in Yamhill County. As a young man he had met Sheridan who was stationed in Oregon as a 2nd Lieutenant. And interestingly during the Battle of Port Royal he met General Stevens of Oregons Fort Stevens fame. There was a tiny bit of background into rare glimpses of Oregon during the war. Not much, but just enough to make me want to know more about the politics of the time, both there and in the Washington Territory.

  12. The belief in massed infantry attacks against defended positions persisted well into WW 1 as well. And this civvie would argue that the famed "Surges" in Iraq and Afghanistan are the modern equivalents.

    After all, the More the Merrier.

    ISTM, Human Nature being what it generally is, when faced with set-backs or major disappointments, the trend is to go back to the tried and true basics. Which generally is, the same old plan that failed, only we train better, dig in harder and put more cannon fodder, or should I say, more patriotic defenders of freedom up on the front lines to batter away at the enemy.

    Hovering about in the back of my mind is the title of a book about the South feeling exploited by Northern financial and manufacturing interests. They felt that way politically, as new states were being added to the Union, that their way of life was was being starved out of existence.

    Which it was, and thus the religious and intellectual arguments of the time promoted the concept that the darker races were not really fully human, but a subspecies so to speak.

    Ideas which still live to this very day.

    My dad is from Georgia, so I do have positive feelings about the glory of fighting for lost causes. mike has a good point, that G. was in large part a political move to stir up anti-war sentiment in the North, especially the big eastern cities where the war was very unpopular. If the South had some visionaries who truly understood all the pieces of this conflict ( and where's seydlitz when we need him? ), one might make a case that the South could have pulled something positive for their culture. The Copperheads in the north were very good at what they did. A defensive military effort coupled with effective propaganda in the north . . . who knows?

    I cannot believe that possible result would last, however. Forced human labor never has worked out in support of civilization.

    The trick is to be smart enough to convince your labor that working for substandard pay and health care are godly virtues and wealth is a Blessing from God.

    Only Socialist Swine and Godless Communists believe differently.

    I also might add, from my Southern bias, that aside from the North's huge advantage in transport and manufacturing ability, the North had a never-ending supply of fresh immigrants from Europe to supply Grant's troop surge efforts in the meat-grinder style of warfare in the Wilderness and Virginia.

    Slaves right of the boat, employed to free the slaves.



  13. BB, keep in mind that while the industrialized north did not have slaves, they did have abysmal working conditions in their factories, child labor, subsistence wages and working hours that left no time for anything else but a little sleep. To work in the northern factories was de facto slavery. It is arguable that slaves on the better plantations had a more enjoyable life than many northern factory workers. So there was ample exploitation of human beings for economic gain in both north and south.

  14. No 1,
    This fight was exactly like those of the pwot.
    It was a movement to contact or a meeting engagement, and sure the confederates had able leaders and exploited. But to me it all seemed fragmented and disjointed. There was no way Lee could have exploited even if he had carried the day.
    An Army that scrounges to survive doesn't do well exploiting.
    As for rifled muskets there are no reliable sources for my contention, but i think the south used a lot of these critters. Yes i know they bought Enfields as did the north.
    The French and English seemed to sell to anyone with cash or trade goods.The Belgians also sold arms. Ultimately they had to admit that morally the south was behind the 8 ball.
    To be mauled is different than being defeated.
    In parlance of the day it's arguable that Lee wasn't defeated because he voluntarily left the field after the 4th. He offered battle albeit defensive. This is just a small point but it's relevant.
    One of Lee's deficiencies was his proclivity to issue orders that were not exact and definitely stating his commands. This worked well until he lost Jackson. It didn't get it at Gettysburg.He left too much room to slide to his Corps cdrs.
    Some folks claim he had intestinal problems at this fight. We also know that he had a weakening heart.

  15. No 1,
    Sorry , i made a mistake in typing.
    I think the south used a lot of out dated smooth bores, but they still provided mass fire.
    At Gettysburg i doubt that there was much aimed fire as all reports indicate the restricted vision from all the smoke of the black powder weapons.
    Remember this is why every unit had a flag to rally on b/c the battles were smoky.

  16. I’ve often wondered why thousands of northern factory workers migrated South and enlisted themselves into slavery. Thanks, no one, for clearing up the mystery with your brilliant observation that “slaves on the better plantations had a more enjoyable life than many northern factory workers.”

  17. P.P, Check this out:

    65,000 blacks fought for the South and they enjoyed equal pay with white enlisted troops - whereas blacks fighting for the North were paid less than whites.

    Men will fight for their country, right or wrong.

    Northern factory workers mostly didn't fight for either side. They were too worn out by their short brutish lives in economic slavery;-) Ohio contributed the most to Northern enlistments; followed by other less industrialized areas (Maine, Michigan, rural NY and those border states where the issue of slavery was hotly contended even before the war).

  18. @no-one - "They were too worn out by their short brutish lives in economic slavery;-)"

    So I guess that means that the south was (and is) in favor of labor unions right? ;-)

    BTW those northern factory workers you mention were the ones that beat Lee at Gettysburg and Pemberton at Vicksburg, Meade and Grant were just the benficiaries.

  19. mike, the typical union enlisted man was a farm boy. True, some of the officers were industrialists, but they didn't actually work in the factories. They owned them.

    We are pretty far off topic here. I'm just saying that the cause wasn't as morally clear cut as we sometimes like to think it was.

  20. no-one -

    Pardon, I should have been more specific. My comment regarding the northern factory workers winning the war was not that they fought but that they manufactured the war materials for Grant and his Union farmboys. They made the Springfields and its minie balls and percussion caps. They made the rifled cannons with shot and shell. They made locomotives and rolling stock. Additionally they also manufactured ships boilers, shafts, propellors, steel plate, and countless items of ship chandlery that allowed the Union Navy to cut the Confederate LOCs to the factories of Britain and France.

    Kind of like the WW2 factoid that nobody seems to admit: Rosie the Riveter, Wanda the Welder, old men, and some 4Fs had maybe more impact on the outcome of that conflict than Marshall, King, Arnold, Ike, Patton, and MacArthur.

    But I think your timing is off on the dire working conditions you describe in northern factories. Most of that did not happen until after the war. During the war factory laborers, shipyard workers, miners, and lumbermen could and did demand good wages and working conditions (comparatively speaking for the times of course).

  21. mike, agreed on all points.

    Still, what was the point of the North's moralizing if they, themselves, were going to go about instituting something like slave conditions in a generation?

  22. no-one -

    The north did not institute those sweatshops. They were built by a few 'captains of capitolism'. Just like in the south where only a few rich plantation owners (many of them British) owned slaves.

  23. mike, the sweat shops persisted for many years and even against worker uprisings because northern politicians, many of them former carpetbaggers backed the captains of industry.

    So given your recognition that most of the southerners fighting the war were not slave holders the root cause is politicians as opportunistic hyenas; nothing new there, but, again, I have to ask, why buy into the moralizing over slavery as a causus belli?

  24. @no-one - "...why buy into the moralizing over slavery as a causus belli"

    You are thinking of someone else. I do not buy into that and do not believe any of my comments push that kind of moralization. IMHO the causus belli for the north was Fort Sumter. The majority in the north were not necessarily abolitionists. Many Union soldiers from free states were racists and were not fighting to free the slaves - they were fighting against what they held to be traitors and mutineers who had fired on the Union.

    Many other Union soldiers were from Maryland and Kentucky which were slave states plus tens of thousands more from the mountain areas of eastern Tennessee and western NC. Heck, West Virginia seceded from the state of Virginia so they could stay with the Union.

    When General Grant was CG of the Union troops in the west he wrote in his memoirs: "We had many regiments of brave and loyal men who volunteered under great difficulty from the twelve million belonging to the South." These were white troops and later many of them were used for occupation duty. So don't blame just yankee carpetbaggers for reconstruction.

  25. mike, you're right and I confused you with Podunk Paul.

  26. mike: "Cannot agree with you though that the average 'secesh' private was fighting for slavery."

    No, no, I'm not saying that at all. He wasn't fighting "for slavery" any more than the average GI at Monte Cassino was fighting for "the liberation of Italy" or grunt at LZ X-Ray was fighting to "save Vietnam from communism".

    But the EFFECT was that he was fighting in defense of treason over slavery. While the reb private himself would have said something about "state's rights" it would have been just parroting the official Confederate line. That "right" was the right to own darkies, whether you actually owned any or not. The rebel private really WAS fighting a "rich man's war and a poor man's fight"; he was fighting for the planter aristocracy that feared abolition, regardless of whether that abolition was really as imminent as they feared.

    And the U.S. private was in a similar boat. He wasn't fighting - at least, most of him wasn't - for freedom for negroes. Least of all equality for them - hell, his brother and cousin back in New York would lynch the darkie bastards over the draft less than a month after Gettysburg. He was fighting to "restore the Union" or to "suppress rebellion"; as you point out, for 99.5% of U.S. citizens the casus belli was Sumter and the use of armed force against the U.S.

    But - again - the EFFECT of his fight was to begin detoxifying the nation of slavery, a fight we're STILL engaged in, I would add, in our confused and disconnected fashion.

    So I'll stand by what I said: "Regardless of what they themselves might have believed they were fighting for; "states right's" or "independence from tyranny" the hard bottom is that the single most fundamental "right" they were defending was the right to own another human being like a box of Cap'n Crunch, and the "tyranny" they were opposing was the tyranny of their government to deny them that "right"

  27. "Studying foreign wars would be much more promising if insights were what it was about."

    We know what it was about; the insight we typically seek when thinking about our Civil War (and this engagement in particular) is the "why".

    And the central "why" is slavery, which is still one of the most difficult and vexing for the United States. How did we find the notion of owning another human compatible with "liberty and justice for all"? Why did we go to war over that notion? What are the aftereffects of that war, and that notion, and what can we find to enlighten ourselves - if anything - in what the people in those days said, and did.

    Jim makes some good points about how even now we are engaged in wars that seem as far-fetched and as hopeless as the South's fight to preserve their "peculiar institution", and we seem as clueless as they were that running around killing foreigners on the suspicion that they might be wearing an Osama bin Laden t-shirt might be as objectionable to people outside the U.S. as fighting for a system that institutionalized owning people was...

    That, and all of mike's reasons, too; warfare and the "great battles" have always fascinated people, and the big engagements of our Civil War were the great battles of our history. We haven't been fought over as central Europe has; the passage of recent armies hasn't rubbed out the roads of the armies of the Civil War. That time, and those battles, stand athwart U.S. history like the monuments along Cemetery Ridge, inviting interest, comment, speculation, and remembrance.

    And you're absolutely right; such thinking is very, very inefficient.

    Just also very human.

  28. @no-0ne - "mike, you're right and I confused you with Podunk Paul."

    I am honored to be confused with Podunk Paul. I myself live in a place that some nickname 'podunk'. But I do not read any moralizing in Paul's comment. He only responded to your comment that the factory workers in the north were no better off than slaves in the south with a well aimed shot of sarcasm.

  29. "well aimed..."? I only see maggies drawers.

    Any how, I thought Ranger Jim had a really good response to the idea of rifling making a difference, now that I think about it. How it could it? Aimed fire would be near impossible after the first volley due to the amount of smoke generated.

  30. no-one -

    Looked like in the middle of the 10-ring to me. ;-)

    On that other aimed fire, at Gettysburg, you and Jim may be right re the smoke. And Lee and his generals should have been aware of the accuracy of rifle fire as there were many Enfield rifles in Confederate service. In his memoirs Grant marveled at the quality and quantity of the European-made rifles the Confederates carried at Vicksburg.

  31. To all,
    In the old theater level Army had a smoke generating company to mask friendlies from enemy fires. The USMC used smoke to obscure beach landings.
    A CW Regt would be a generating unit when engaged. However,I believe Pickett crossed the kill zone in an observed manner and was subjected to cannister. This was much deadlier than massed infy fire.
    A rifled musket has a drop off in accuracy after a few rounds due to rifle fouling, but what difference does it make if the fire is massed?
    The US forces used Enfields also.
    All accounts of the battle describe the smoke over the battlefield.


  32. To southern elites – plantation owners, politicians, clergymen, university professors – the Civil War was a crusade for slavery, upon which everything of value depended. Slavery was the nitch, the special advantage that gave the South a place in the modern world. Free, or almost free, labor combined with large-scale, centrally managed agriculture enabled cotton, tobacco and other commodities to compete in world markets. As I understand it, the plantation system was similar to Soviet collective farms, except that self-replicating human machines substituted for tractors and combines. Owners of five or more slaves were, in the main, exempted from the Confederate draft.

    To defend the system, medical people described the biological inferiority of blacks, clerics went into detail about their sexual proclivities, and the custodians of the social order described blacks as mud men, fated to do the grunt work upon which civilization rests. Thomas Cobb thought slavery was a moral obligation, since left on their own blacks would starve. And, like No One, Edmund Ruffin claimed that slaves were treated better than northern factory workers. The last of these defenses, published in 1964, was a novel called Nellie Norton: or, Southern Slavery and the Bible. Here we learn that “the Bible is a pro-slavery Bible, and God is a pro-slavery God.”

    With all of this scribbling – almost without exception plagiarized from northern and West Indian sources – was the awareness that the system must find room for expansion. Slave populations were increasing, even though the African trade had been effectively ended. Living cheek by jowl with a suppressed people, who, upon occasion, brought out their knives, must not have been much fun. Hence the draconian laws, the insistence that runaway slaves be repatriated as a means of destroying hope, and the despair southerners felt when it became clear that the system would not be permitted in the western territories.

    Superimposed on all this was the southern notion of honor, a warrior’s code with similarities to bushido. An honorable man kept his word, exerted his will over subordinates and, above all, protected his property. Abolitionists were no more than common thieves.

    So one can understand why on March 21, 1861, Alexander Stephens, the vice-president of the Confederacy, declared "Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition."

  33. Here is a quote from Brevet Major General Joshua L. Chamberlain (of Little Round Top fame) when he received the surrender of the Second Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia acting for General Grant 21+ months after Gettysburg:

    "...standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;—was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured?"

    I served in Vietnam with many southerners, good men all.

    And in wars of the 20th century thank God we had some leaders like Matt Ridgeway and Chesty Puller from Virginia, Lightning Joe Collins from Louisiana, Fox Connor from Mississippi, Howlin' Mad Smith from Alabama, Lucius Clay from Georgia, Chet Nimitz from Texas, and many many more.

  34. Very true, Mike. There are decent men on all sides of history.

  35. All societies have built-in injustices, the price of doing business. No One is correct in saying that the Northern labor practices were a form of servitude. He could have added that northern maritime interests had done all that was possible to promote the slave trade.

    As late as 1836 an anti-slavery speech delivered at the University of North Carolina went into five printings. Southerners, some of them anyway, were willing to entertain the idea that slavery should be eliminated. Subsequently the lines hardened and those sorts of sentiments would get one lynched.

    Even if the South had been willing to abolish slavery, the problem remained of what to do with a population that most Americans disliked and distrusted. Sending former slaves back to Africa was impractical, although Lincoln did support Liberian emigration.

    Growing up in South Louisiana during the late 1930s, we had a nanny who had been born in slavery. She did not know how old she was, but the whites agreed that she had in fact been a slave. She would light her little clay pipe and tell us children about “’Mancipation.” The war had been over for several years before the slaves learned of their freedom, and when they did, there was much joy. I can still see the way her face lit up with the memory. The former slaves gathered into groups and walked the roads. And a few days later returned, hungry and dejected. There was no place to go and no one willing to give them shelter.

  36. Podunk - North Carolina was a hotbed of Unionism, especially in the western mountains and the Piedmont, but even some in the tidewater. They revolted against the decision of a few big time plantation owners to secede. Many of them were murdered, whipped, or burned out. Many others had to hide, in the Smokies in the west or in the swamps in the east. Some wore blue in the war. Some wore gray and deserted at the first chance. Pickett himself executed some 20 odd even though they were not deserters from the Confederate army. Many of their descendants have been brainwashed and now flaunt the stars and bars they would be horrified if they knew.

  37. Thank you, Mike. I didn't know that about North Carolina.

  38. Podunk Paul -

    'revolt' was probably not a good choice of words on my part. Only a small portion openly rebelled and went to partisan warfare or joined the Union army. Many like the Quakers and Moravians revolted passively. They tried to stay neutral and refused to swear oaths of allegiance to the confederacy. They refused to serve in the army. They assisted their neighbors who fled north or to eastern Tennessee which was another hotbed of southern Unionists. They helped runaway slaves.

    There were plenty of Union men in the other southern states. Probably in your neck of the woods in south Louisiana also. Farragut found local river pilots willing to take him past Forts Jackson and St Philip on the Mississippi, and then his Union navy squadron captured New Orleans without firing a shot.

  39. Mike --

    Good for them. People in St. Mary Parish never spoke of the Civil War and said little about the war that was then underway. When I teased my uncle about the static chains on his "milk" tanker trucks, he put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Boy, the United States is at war. State of Louisiana not at war." That disconnect with the larger world probably had to do with the history of Cajuns, who were an exiled people.

  40. "However,I believe Pickett crossed the kill zone in an observed manner and was subjected to cannister. This was much deadlier than massed infy fire."

    I think those of us used to rifled weapons grossly underestimate the huge amount of scatter that the pre-rifled, pre-Minie'-bullet muskets produced. My understanding is that at some point in the 18th Century one of the European powers (Prussia, maybe?) did a little experiment where they strung out a big 'ol sheet six feet high by a couple of hundred feet long - about the frontage of a then-standard infantry company - in front of one of their line units and let the boys blaze away for a dozen volleys or so at 50 yards. The results were appalling; something like 10% or less total hits and that was ANY hit.

    The windage in a smoothbore musket barrel was tremendous; the round bullet bounced around in it like a pea in a garden hose, so when it came out who the hell knew where it was going to go. We're not talking about Baker Rifle sorts of accuracy here; even at 50 yards with muskets leveled these guys were as likely to miss as hit.

    The Minie' ball provided a hell of a better seal against the barrel and engaged the rifling way better. Assuming the guys kept their barrels level they could be pretty sure that their round would at least go fairly close to where they aimed it for a much greater distance. And the long range for a Springfield rifle was nearly 1,000 yards, about 2/3rd to half the range of a 12-pound Napoleon firing ball shot (which itself had some pretty significant windage problems...).

    Again, what I see as Lee's big failing was getting his panties all in a twist about the "King of Spades" namecalling. He was no better than the general staffs in 1914; military technology had turned; in '14 with the machinegun and the quickfiring cannon, in '61 with the rifled musket. Both periods meant that defending was the tactic of choice. Seduced by Napoleon's battles the commanders on both sides kept trying for that elusive Waterloo that wasn't going to happen, not under those technical and tactical conditions.

  41. "....did a little experiment where they strung out a big 'ol sheet six feet high by a couple of hundred feet long - about the frontage of a then-standard infantry company - in front of one of their line units and let the boys blaze away for a dozen volleys or so at 50 yards. The results were appalling; something like 10% or less total hits and that was ANY hit."

    I read that somewhere too, once upon a time. I had totally forgotten it until you brought it up here. If it's true, it certainly reinforces your original point.

  42. These tests were performed around 1806-1810 by Scharnhorst et al.

    The important point, however is, that not the smoothbore was the problem but firing salvos was.
    A small number of skirmisher firing at will had the same physical impact as a 5-10 times larger formation firing salvos.

    A skirmisher with a smoothbore musket was quite effective, as long as he was trained to aim.

    The problem of many line formations at the end of the 18th century was that they were drilled for fast shooting, not correct aiming. Many musket had no sights. My bet is that the soldiers in the ACW had the same problem.

    Interestingly, many Jäger ("rifle") outfits in the Napolenonic Wars like the Leichtbattalione of the KGL or the Austrians were often actually equipped with more smothbores than rifles and did really fine. Reason, the enlisted men could determine distances and aimed correctly.

    The improved range and accurcy of a Minie rifle is only observable when the soldiers are trained to use it, otherwise you saw the same problem as with smoothbores.