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. Benét, 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.)

1 comment:

Leon Grandy said...

Actually Hardee's works, and many others were used. The vast majority of CW commanders were not West Pointer's, and the Volunteer's of both sides, relied on whatever printed material they could get to drill their troops.

Hardee's being widely published just prior to the CW was widely used as was Winfield Scott's work.


Leon Grandy, Capt. RNZA Rtd