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The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare

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Edward Hagerman. The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare: Ideas, Organization, and Field Command. Reprint. Indiana University Press, 1992.

In this important work on tactical and strategic military history, Edward Hagerman posits that the American Civil War marshaled in a new era in land warfare colored by the impacts of the Industrial Revolution. He argues that the complete command and control systems of armies was impacted by factors both occurring across the globe (i.e. technological developments in weaponry and transportation) and unique to America: its culture, geography, and history.

Hagerman is clear in setting two broad aims for the book. The first is to provide a new analysis of the “theory, doctrine, and practice of field fortification in the tactical evolution of trench warfare.” The second is to analyze the development of field transportation and supply and its impact of the movement and maneuvering of Civil War armies

Petersburg, Virginia. Dead Confederate soldiers in trenches of Fort Mahone

Hagerman organizes his study around several themes. The first addresses the ideas and education that informed the American military including the influence of theorists such as Jomini, Clausewitz, and at West Point, Dennis Hart Mahan. Secondly he looks at the organizational change, or lack thereof, in the Army of the Potomac including an explanation of the educational orientation of its leaders. Thirdly he explores the Army of Northern Virginia and the culture and traditions which informed men of the south who entered the military. Next he dives into the emergence of trench warfare and the strategic and tactical evolution that resulted from it. And importantly, he finishes with the evolution of total war and the strategy of exhaustion. 

Dennis Mahan

Dennis H. Mahan

This work should be of particular interest to military historians and even more so to those interested in the American Civil War and its impact on military logistics, the use of technology, weaponology, military tactical and strategic thought, and the concepts of modern warfare and its history.

There is an extensive notes section valuable to the serious student of military history. This is augmented by a “Works Cited” section including listings of primary sources. The introduction to the book provides an exceptional summary of many of the key factors that impacted the war.

Edward Hagerman brings to this study the credentials of academician. He was Associate Professor of History at York University in Toronto, Canada at the time of the book’s publication. He is also the recipient of the Moncado Prize of the Society of Military History.

Stewards of Civil War Railroads – Part I Lincoln

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The decisions made by leaders of the North and South regarding the dispensations of their respective railroads, could arguably be some of the most impactful of the war. Armies on both sides considered railroads critical. But Lincoln and Davis approached the control and stewardship of these vital resources differently. The resulting policies did not equally reflect rational military consideration.

United States Military Railroad 4-4-0 locomotive W.H. Whiton (built by William Mason in 1862) in January 1865 with Abraham Lincoln's presidential car, which later was used as his funeral car.

Above: United States Military Railroad 4-4-0 locomotive W.H. Whiton (built by William Mason in 1862) in January 1865 with Abraham Lincoln’s presidential car, which later was used as his funeral car.
Source: WikicommonsAbraham Lincoln

The need for oversight of the rails came early in the war. Edward Hagerman highlights Federal Quartermaster General Meigs’ complaints in the opening months of the war over the problems of coordination that arose “from civilian control of the railroads.” [i]  In January of 1862, Congress gave Lincoln the authority he needed “to take control whenever public safety warranted it.” [ii]  Lincoln moved decisively, appointing within thirty days Daniel C. McCallum (below) as director of the United States Military Railroads (USMRR).

Daniel C. McCallum (1815 – 1878)’
Photo Source: Wikicommons, Public Domain

Daniel Craig McCallum

In May of 1862, Abraham Lincoln “took formal possession of all railroads.” General McCallum recruited Herman Haupt (below), a “brilliant railroad engineer,” to assume duties as Military Director and Superintendent of the United States Military Railroad. Haupt was given the rank of Colonel and Lincoln gave him broad, albeit frequently challenged, powers.

Henry Haupt (1817 – 1905)
Military Director and Superintendent of the united States Military Railroad

Henry Haupt

In the next post, the action of the South.

You may also be interested in two of my previous posts on Civil War Railroads:

  • Were the North and South Evenly Matched on the Rails?
  • Railroad Generalship (Profiles Herman Haupt)
  • [i] Edward Hagerman, The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare: Ideas, Organization, and Field Command (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 63.
    [ii] Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, (New York: The Free Press, 1994), 165.

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    Lee's Failure to Entrench

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    “Lee took longer to learn from his experience that the frontal assault contributed only to attrition without victory than any other field commander in the Civil War.”[i]

    Lee

    Edward Hagerman covers in detail the practices of the Federal and Confederate armies as it relates to entrenchment. McClellan and his successors employed it masterfully. Lee and his generals came to the practice slowly. Hagerman suggests that the reason may have been that, unlike McClellan, Lee lacked a peer group from the Corps of Engineers in the Army of Northern Virginia. [ii] Lee also graduated from West Point before Dennis Mahan (see post here) arrived to instruct cadets on the benefits and “how to” of entrenchment.

    An example, despite having the time and equipment to entrench at Antietam (see photo below), Lee did not. According to Hagerman, “his failure to do so suggests that he may have identified with an extreme tendency in American tactical thought opposing all fortifications on the open field of battle, on the grounds that they made green volunteer troops overcautious and destroyed discipline and the will to fight.” [iii]

    Burnside Bridge (below) taken from the Confederate viewpoint on the
    west side of Antietam Creek looking east.

    Burnside

    Likewise at the Battle of Fredericksburg, where Lee assumed “a tactical defense where doctrine called for fortification of his front,” Lee again failed to entrench. “He had his troops construct only a few minor earthworks at scattered positions. This despite Antietam and despite the fact that the rifled musket, with its greatly increased range and accuracy, was now in general use in the eastern theater.” [iv]

     

    Longstreet (above) finally broke the tactical pattern, not Lee.

    “Although he occupied one of the strongest natural positions in the Confederate line, Longstreet ordered ditches, stone walls, and railroad cuts occupied and strengthened with rifle tranches and abatis. The Federal assaults against his positions on Marye’s Heights never got within a hundred yards of the stone wall. Behind the wall were four lines of infantry armed with rifled muskets, supported by sharpshooters in rifle trench, and entrenched artillery that directly covered and enfiladed the wall from the two terraces that rose behind it. Their fire cost the Union troops 3,500 dead to their own loses of 800 men.” [v]

    Watching the battle with Longstreet, Lee (finally) ordered fatigue parties to entrench the heights as soon as the fighting stopped. [vi]

    ————
    [i, ii] Edward Hagerman, The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare: Ideas, Organization, and Field Command (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 123.
    [iii] Ibid., 116.
    [iv, v, vi] Ibid., 122

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    Mahan's Elementary Treatise

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    Dennis MahanWOW! I am absolutely engrossed in Edward Hagerman’s The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare: Ideas, Organization, and Field Command. So much to say about Dennis Mahan (right) who I wrote about briefly here in my series on Jomini on the Nature of War (Part VII – Jomini’s Impact on Civil War Leadership). The National Park Service has a good bio on Mahan here.

    I was very pleased to find online Mahan’s Elementary Treatise on Advance-Guard, Out-Post, and Detachment Service of Troops (1847) which Hagerman references in detail. This text was developed by Mahan for West Point and is considered the first tactics and strategy text created for the United States. I’ll add this to my primary sources links on Wig-Wags.

    I can tell already that I’ll have many terms to add to the terms  page. More to come of the French connection.
     

    Dennis Mahan Treastise

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    And so…The American Civil War

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    We haFor the Common Defenseve arrived in “Studies in U.S. Military History” (see course information here) at the American Civil War. We’ll spend two weeks on this war, more than any other. Millett and Maslowski’s For the Common Defense splits the war into two periods: chapter six, 1861 – 1862 and chapter seIdeas, Organization, and Field Command (Midland Book)ven, 1863-1865. It is chock full of interesting statistics, enough to begin to fill a “page” on the blog where I can keep them handy. And so, yet another new page: the statistics.

    Next, a book I’ve already done a little reading in but am very much looking forward to, Edward Hagerman’s The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare: Ideas, Organization, and Field Command. This does not strike me as a fast read which is fine. I’m glad we can give it a solid two weeks.

    And so a few statistics from Millett and Maslowski – always fascinating for this student of mathematics and engineering.

    • 1861 White Male Population: North – 20 million; South – 6 million
    • 800,000 immigrants arrived in the North, betwee 1861 adn 1865, including a high proportion of males liable for military service
    • 20 – 25 percent of the Union Army was foreign-born
    • 2 million men served in the Union Army
    • 750,000 men fought in the Confederate Army which was a maximum strenght in late 1863 with 464,500
    • Not all of these men on either side were “present for duty.” Out of the 464,500 Confederates, only 233,500 were “present for duty.”
    • Taxation produced less than 5% of the Confederacy’s income. It produced 21% of Union government income.
    • The Confederacy printed $1.5 billion in paper money, the Union $450 million in “greenbacks.”
    • In 1860, the nothern states had 110,000 manufacturing establishments, the southern states, 18,000.
    • During the year ending June 1, 1860, the states forming the Confederacy produced 36,790 tons of pig iron. The state of Pennsylvania alone produced 580,049 tons.
    • The South contained 9,000 miles of railroad track to the North’s 30,000 miles.
    • 100,000 Southern Unionists fought for the North with every Confederate state except South Carolina providing at least a battalion of white soldiers for the Union Army. Millett and Maslowski call these the “missing” Southern Army and “a crucial element in the ultimate Confederate defeat.

    —–
    Source: Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, (New York: The Free Press, 1994), 163-167.