Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Why Gary Gallagher Doesn't Trust Civil War Blogs

Dr. Gary Gallagher
(Courtesy of C-Span)
The June 2012 edition of Civil War Times (CWT) included a commentary on Civil War blogs by Professor Gary Gallagher titled "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp the Bloggers March."  The editorial included a picture of Paris Hilton wearing a Union cap (an all time low for CWT) in reference to a criticism made of Dr. Gallagher.

For Dr. Gallagher's edification blogs are simply electronic versions of published commentaries.  The difference is the speed and timing of the opinion pieces.  Where Gallagher's thoughts appear six times a year, bloggers can at a weekly, daily or hourly pace.  Like books and journal articles, there are good and bad blogs. Blogging by its very nature is more prone to sloppy research and bad writing. 

I am always hesitant to venture too far into articles in which the author admits his lack of knowledge.  Dr. Gallagher  says he doesn't have the expertise to assess individual blogs.  I am also concerned that he confesses to resisting "technological innovation of almost all kinds."  Equipped with these limitations, Gallagher lumps all blogs into a group.  Perhaps he laments the loss of control over the dissemination of historical information.  This seems to be an issue with some academics who think that those without formal credentials lack the ability to perform research or produce scholarly works.  Where would Civil War students be without the efforts of Shelby Foote with only a honorary doctorate from the University of North Carolina. 

As a blogger and academic I try to produce well-written articles that include citations to my information sources.  I use my blog Salient Points to share tidbits from my research, reviews of Civil war books, and comments on journal articles.   I use the web to provide copies of my Microsoft Power Point lectures and additional resources to my students.

I hope that Dr. Gallagher will overcome his resistance to technology and develop his own blog.  I would welcome the opportunity to read his thoughts more often and to discuss his ideas in an open forum.

(Source: "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp the Bloggers March," Dr. Gary Gallagher, Civil War Times, June 2012, pp.18-20)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Hardee's Tactics

William J. Hardee
The development of the rifle-musket and the minie ball created the need to examine and revise infantry tactics.  According to Wang Wei-Siang Hsieh author of West Pointers and the Civil War: The Old Army in War and Peace, "The new rifle musket allowed infantrymen increased accuracy at longer ranges with no degradation in the rate of fire."  

The technical aspects of the new weapon were managed by the Ordinance Department, and the Secretary of War Jefferson Davis assigned Bvt. Lt. Col. William J. Hardee (Cullum number 966 and ranked 26th in the class of 1838) the task of developing a new tactical manual for the weapon.  His work was called Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics for the Exercise and Manoeuvres of Troops When Acting as Light Infantry or Riflemen. The Cullum Register gives Hardee credit for "compiling,1854-55, 'Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics,' being chiefly a translation, by Lieut. BenĂ©t, Ordnance Corps, U. S. Army, from the French, of  'L’Exercice et Maneauvers des Bataillons de Chasseurs a Pied,' which, as modified by a revising board of officers, was adopted, March 29, 1855, for the use of the Army and Militia, of the United States."  He adjusted the instructions to fit American conditions and added instructions for loading and firing while kneeling and prone. 

Rare Copy of
Hardee's Tactics
In late 1854, the Adjutant General of the Army convened a tactical board at West Point to review Hardee's work.  The review board believed that Hardee’s drill was a real improvement over Scott's tactics.  The board commended provisions of the new skirmish drills for rallying in case of a cavalry assault by using four man "comrades in battle," which "prevents that individual isolation, which is to be avoided, when skirmishing with the enemy." The report commented on the increased speed of Hardee's drill, with "all maneuvers performed in at least quick time." However, the report did not mention "that this measure was taken in response to the increased firepower or the rifle-musket."  This issue was not  mentioned in official discussions relative to the development and adoption of Hardee's manual.

The review board's report made the point that "a battalion instructed in this system can take its place in a line of battle composed of heavy Infantry, and perform all the movements required in the evolutions of the line, as prescribed by our present system."  Hardee's manual, like the original French guide, only went as far as the school of the battalion and presented no instruction in larger unit maneuvers.  Instruction in larger unit tactics was still left to General Winfield Scott's 1835 manual.  In a private letter to Davis, Capt. Silas Casey, the president of the board, also called for a separate revision of the heavy infantry tactics.  Even after the War Department finally ordered all foot soldiers to be regularly exercised in Hardee's tactics in 1857, the declared reason was because they were "usually employed as light troops," not because heavy line infantry would be done away with entirely.

The board also believed Hardee's tactics "might be most advantageously employed in the contests which so frequently occur with the Indian tribes on our frontier."  The board also declared that "from the nature of our country and the character of our people, it is peculiarly expedient to substitute for immobility in the ranks and machine like movements, intelligence, rapidity of motion, and accuracy of fire."  Capt. Casey was more critical  in a private letter he wrote to Davis. He questioned whether Hardee's tactics should be exclusively adopted infantry instruction and argued that "should it become necessary in our country to call out large bodies of troops, a very considerable portion of them would not be equal to the effectual performance of it, and not one half of our Army as at present constituted, could do it justice."

The manual was adopted by the Army in 1855.  Hardee introduced his manual while Commandant of Cadets, Instructor of Infantry Tactics, and Instructor of  Artillery and Cavalry Tactics at West Point from July 22, 1856 to September 8, 1860.

The belief that all Civil War officers and soldiers were trained using Hardee's drills is clearly wrong. While Hardee's manual is often considered the bible of Civil War tactics, it was only used at West Point from the 1856-1857 to 1859-1860.  This means that only one or two classes were exposed to it during their entire time as cadets.  Therefore the overwhelming majority of Civil War officers were schooled from Winfield Scott's Infantry Tactics or Rules for the Exercises and Maneuvers of the Infantry of the U. S. Army which was translated from another French handbook.  When the war began, Union officials quickly rejected the handbook written by a Confederate general.

(Source: Wang Wei-Siang Hsieh, West Pointers and the Civil War: The Old Army in War and Peace, The University of North Carolina Press, 2009, pp. 79-81.)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Civil War Generals from West Point

I just finished reading Michael weeks latest blog based on his statistical analysis of data on Civil War generals.  Please check out General Studies - The West Point Brotherhood for more information. 

West Point
Michael indicates that 354 West Pointer's became generals during the Civil War with 140 serving in the Confederacy and 214 in the Union.  The split is a little more than the two-to-one demographic that is common to students of the Civil War.  This split is based on population data for the North and South.

Weeks points out that only 29% of those graduating at the top of their class went on to become generals.  This may not be surprising.   Generals may excel in military matters but not in the other topics taught at West Point.  Remember that West Point was the nation's foremost engineering school and many graduates chose to pursue that profession.  It is also important to remember in the words of Benny Havens' song, "In the Army there's sobriety, promotion very slow."  So many graduates left the military to get married and provide for their growing family. 

Lee at West Point
I did an analysis of the members of the Class of 1829, which was the year that Lee and Joseph Johnston graduated, and discovered the following:

Out of 46 graduates:
  • 14 served in the Mexican War
  • 17 served in the Civil War (13 Union and 4 Confederate)
  • 13 resigned near or before their Active Duty Service Obligation
  • 8 rejoined the military to fight in the Civil War
  • 10 died in service
  • 6 died under 30
  • 9 died over 70