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Capitaine Vengeur

150 years ago...

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On July 21, 1861, the armies of the United States and of the Confederate States of America clashed for the first time on a large scale, near a place named Manassas Junction, Virginia, somewhere in the narrow field between their capital cities of Washington DC and Richmond, where countless other bloody slaughters were to take place. This can be seen as the real overture of the American Civil War, after the failure of all of the diplomatic maneuvers.Many elements that were to be seen again and again in following battles were revealed on this day: unreliability of empiric chains of command, friendly fire and errors in maneuvering due to heavy smoke and to amateurism from non-professional troops and officers inexperienced in large pitched battles, uselessness of cavalry in these same pitched battles, heavy casualties to rifled weapons fired at close range on dense lines of infantry due to the stubborn use of outdated Napoleonic tactics taught at West Point...

 

Symptomatically, the Army of Union was mostly made of volunteers raised for 90 days only, whose enlistments were coming to their ends – which urged the battle in spite of lack of preparation. Both sides expected this first blood to be decisive for their cause, preceding a triumphal march on the opposite capital city and a swift surrender from the enemy: either the end of the rebellion, or the acknowledgement of the secession. Safe for some wise spirits, nobody could imagine that this non-conclusive first battle would lead half a continent to a four year long civil war, and would cost the lives of 200,000 American soldiers of both sides died from battle wounds, 400,000 others died from sickness and exhaustion (60,000 in the PoW camps), and some 300,000 free or slave Southern civilians died from various causes including mostly sub-nutrition. Remember that at that time, the most expensive war the Americans had faced, their War of Independence, had cost but about 25,000 lives. That bloodbath would let a slavery-freed country united in institutions, but divided for about one more century by a barrier of rancor and difference in development.

 

 

 

 

 

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To be honest, it was the bloodiest war in Ameria thats true, but compared with the european wars of this area it was a stupid game of violent children. The prussian/austrian-danish war of 1865, the prussian-austrian war of 1866 or the german-french war of 1870/71 are examples of modern warfare of this periode of time. Fought much more skilled and much more modern than the american bungling between 1861 and -65.

I know, that my words will not be loved by our american friends. But they are the truth.

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from the civil war came the birth of the modern US military way of war. yes it was clumsy and could have been handled better. but we were experimenting with many new technologies and concepts tied together for the first time. yes ballons, telegraph, rail and battlefield medicine might've been used by european armies singularly before the civil war, but when can you observe it all being used together and succesfully? not to say that european armies are outdated or not as good as the american military. but we have a tendency to innovate or drastically improve on innovations that are out there.

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but we have a tendency to innovate or drastically improve on innovations that are out there.

Except for the occasional "D'oh!" like having to borrow planes for WWI :grin: But a least US got Curtiss.

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To be honest, it was the bloodiest war in Ameria thats true, but compared with the european wars of this area it was a stupid game of violent children. The prussian/austrian-danish war of 1865, the prussian-austrian war of 1866 or the german-french war of 1870/71 are examples of modern warfare of this periode of time. Fought much more skilled and much more modern than the american bungling between 1861 and -65.

I know, that my words will not be loved by our american friends. But they are the truth.

In many ways, the Civil War still looked like the Napoleonic Wars. For example, although useless on the battlefields, the cavalry was still a powerful strategic weapon to be used far behind enemy lines, and all of the Stuart, Mosby, Forrest or Grierson, were the deserving heirs to the Lasalle, Fournier, Platov or Lützow from the Napoleonic era. Also, many American old leaders were obstinately against progress, like Robert Lee as a determined enemy to the breech-loading rifles as a waste of cartridges making the men run out of ammo too quickly.

 

On the other hand, the Europeans did not always display the wisdom you describe, Gepard. For instance, I don't know if the Americans actually used in battle their Gatling guns during the Civil War; the French used some machine guns during the German-French War, but in such an absurd and ineffective way that that they proved to be mostly useless. And they kept on launching ancient charges of heavy cavalry which only led to fruitless bloodbaths (the Germans did too on a couple of unfortunate occasions). The vain slaughter of the Prussian Guard at St-Privat also proved that the efficient German command could have some gaps too.

 

It is noticed that in a dinner before the German-French War, Phil Sheridan detailed his own deeds in the South and explained that the goal of war was to make the enemy populations yell in pain up to have their government be overthrown or surrender; it is noticed that von Moltke, the Prussian Chief of Staff who was present, compiled the idea in his notebooks as "interesting, to be studied".

 

The American Civil War is one of the periods of military history I prefer, especially in studying the psychology of the generals of both sides. Humanly speaking, it's fascinating. Beyond individual bravery and military skill for many (and the complete opposite for some others), you can gather the worst of the human kind. Some alcoholics, others religious fanatics, some timorous at best, others impulsive at will, some completely unpredictable, many self-promoting egocentrics... Sad that Ted Turner won't produce the complete planned Civil War trilogy after "Gettysburg" and "Gods and generals". These movies put the accent on the character of such military leaders in an emphasized way.

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The main difference between europe and america of this timeframe was the quality of the soldier. In america the north fought with 90 days volunteers with no real military training, while the southern army had a strong militia character. The officers corps was in its mass amateurs, also not better then the 90 days volunteers, what does not mean, that there were no some skilled officers, generals and in the mass brave fighting soldiers.

In the contrary had the european greatpowers well trained armies which based on the compulsory military service, what means, that nearly all men of a people (french, german, austrian, russian etc) had had a military training. The officers corps and even more the generals were in the mass profis. The war planning was high professional at all sides, the mobilization system was outstanding for Prussia and acceptable for France and Austria. This was the strong side of the european armies in the mid/late 19th century while it was the weakpoint of the US Aamy in this timeframe. The US american military was more directed to fight rather colonial or indian wars than to fight a modern army. Its a big difference between slauthering an indian village or fight a "big" battle like Little Big Horn in the strength of a regiment and the mass battles between thousands of combatants. This had had the american military leaders to learn.

Captain Vengeur, deciding was the skill of the leadership. The skill of the prussian staff of generals was outstanding. The defeat of Austria in a short campaign, the victory of Königgrätz (Sadova for the French, because they could not speak the word Königgrätz :grin:)and more the great victory at Sedan 1870 over Napoleon III, were masterpieces of military leadership. Up today Sedan is topic of all military academies, beside of Cannae and Stalingrad.

If the american generals north or south would have had only a fraction of the strategic skills of Moltke and Co the civile war would have been not so long and bloody. Thatywhy i call this war a bungling.

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Actually Gepard, not all of the European countries of those days had populations largely used to the military stuff. While the German States used some form of conscription and military service, the French (and British, Russians, Austrians...) still used comparatively small armies of professional troops, either volunteers or pressed into the ranks for a long-term service (a seven-year term with possible re-enlistments for the French, which gave seasoned troops, but too few and sometimes aged – fighting at one to two is another explanation for the defeat in 1870). About the officers, an inquiry in the French army shortly before 1870 revealed that about one quarter of the officers had big problems to read a map (mostly aged junior officers raised from the ranks). Also concerning the mobilisation, the French one was far from “acceptable” in 1870: while the Germans spent one week to gather and then send their troops to the Rhine, the French urged at once everything they had towards the border and then spent two weeks trying to reorganize that mess!

 

 

I'm surprised that Sedan could be considered a battle worth being studied. While Cannae and Stalingrad, sure, both demonstrate the best way to lure a reinforced elite enemy center, and then crush the enemy's feeble wings to double-envelop him, Sedan only shows how to envelop a completely immobile, not even defensive enemy, voluntarily self-locked into a one-way trap, and as stunned as a fish off water – which is no performance and definetely an exceptional, uncommon case. Not surprising that many talked about treason from the staff ...

 

 

Anyway, all of the European conflicts of that crucial decade 1859-71 were indeed really short and one-sided, with too little time for the underdog side to correct his mistakes. And while I enjoy the colorful European uniforms of that era (Zouaves, Bersaglieri, whiteclad Austrians, Prussian Black Hussars...), I have devoted more interest to the continental-scale American Civil War, where non-directly military weapons had time to intervene (blockade, hunger, inflation of the Confederate dollar), where a real move of pendulum happened from one side to the other in the long term, and where a real evolution can be observed from the ridiculous bands of dressed-up re-enactors at Bull Run, to the hardened half-professional troops at Appomatox.

 

 

Besides, I just love the folklore and the Rebel and Yank songs and marches of that period!

 

 

We are a band of brothers and native to the soil

Fighting for our Liberty, With treasure, blood and toil ....

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