Civil War History Phrase of the Day – The Flying Column

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Supply and logistics were a huge challenge for the Army of the Potomac and this was certainly true as General Joseph Hooker (above, 1814 – 1879) contemplated moving his massive 163,000 man army offensively against Lee near the Rappahannock in the Spring of 1863. Breaking the logistical chain was the challenge.

According to author Edward Hagerman, Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs (below) had circulated a sketch created by Alexis Godillot of the logistical organization of a “flying column” in the French army on January 2, 1862.[i]

digital file from original neg.

It was based on a concept developed in 1840 when “the French, particularly Thomas Robert Bugeaud (below, 1784-1849, Marquis de la Piconnerie, Duc d’Isly), recognized that because the Arab insurgents in North Africa had a tremendous mobility advantage over the French colonial forces, the classic style of logistics would not be effective there. To increase the mobility of his forces, Bugeaud created highly mobile independent detachments called “flying columns” by lightening greatly the logistical structure of his force. Around 1860 a study of Bugeaud’s (painting below) logistical methods was written by Alexis Godillot.”[ii]

Thomas Robert Bugeaud, Marshal of France.

The idea was this. Soldiers in a flying column carried eight days of compressed rations, including desiccated vegetables along with a blanket (no overcoat allowed). “Men were divided into squads of eight, one of whom was to carry a covered cooking kettle, another a large mess tin, another an axe, another a pick, and one a shovel. One man in each company carried the hospital knapsack. Each man carried his share of a shelter tent.” [iii]

“On march 7, 1863, general headquarters of the Army of the Potomac passed down Special Order no. 85, establishing a board to make recommendations on ‘the practicality and means of carrying an increased amount of rations…over the three days usually carried,’ having in view ‘the marching of troops without encumbrance of extra clothing or shelter tents, the use of desiccated vegetables or flour, and the carrying of fresh beef on the hoof, and the omission, in consequence, of beef or pork from the rations.’” [iv]

After some experimentation, the board recommended a workable configuration and these were “immediately implemented in preparation for an eight-day march designed to turn Lee out of his positions on the Rappahannock. Each corps, including the cavalry, was made into a flying column on the French model, with some modifications. In addition to the knapsack and haversack with blanket, the soldier carried his should arms, sixty rounds of ammunition, accouterments, and a piece of shelter tent. An extra pair of socks was allowed.” Unlike the French, entrenchment tools were brought up as required by the reserve train. “The soldier carried an average load of forty-five points.” [v]

According to James J. Schneider, “by 1864 Bugeaud’s method of flying columns formed the core of Federal Army logistical doctrine. This triumph over the old classical system was demonstrated decisively in Grant’s invasions of the South.” [vi]
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[i, iii, iv, v] Edward Hagerman, The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare: Ideas, Organization, and Field Command (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 71-72.
[ii, vi] James J. Schneider, “VULCAN’S ANVIL: The American Civil War and the Foundations of Operational Art,” June 16, 1992, online, http://cgsc.cdmhost.com/cgi-bin/showfile.exe?CISOROOT=/p4013coll11&CISOPTR=9&filename=10.pdf 
, accessed May 13, 2008, 44.
Photo source: Montgomery C. Meigs, Library of Congress, Rep #: LC-DIG-cwpbh-03111.
Painting of Thomas Robert Bugeaud, Wiki Commons.

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Jomini on the Nature of War – Part IV – The Basics

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This post continues from Jomini on the Nature of War: Part I Introduction here, Part II The Burgeoning Military Theorist here, and Part III The Founder of Modern Strategy here. Please note links in blue lead to additional information on those topics.

Battle Map

JominiJomini was a list maker and a categorizer which influenced the form of his thoughts on the nature of war. His work, The Art of War, begins with a definition of the art of war in terms of five military branches: Strategy, Grand Tactics, Logistics, Engineering and Minor Tactics.

Strategy – “the art of properly directing masses upon the theater of war either for defense or for invasion; the art of making war upon the map.”

Grand Tactics – “the art of posting troops upon the battle-field according to the accidents of the ground, of bringing them into actions, and the art of fighting upon the ground, in contradistinction to planning upon a map.” It is “the maneuvering of an army upon the battle-field, and the different formations of troops for attack.”

Logistics - “the art of moving armies and the execution of strategical and tactical enterprises” and “comprises the means and arrangements which work out the plans of strategy and tactics.”

Engineering - “the attack and defense of fortifications.

Minor Tactics

Jomini adds a sixth branch which he calls, “Diplomacy in its relation to War.” This he envisions as the role of the statesman in war and particularly in those activities which lead up to it. He provides the criteria from which a statesman can conclude whether a war is “proper, opportune, or indispensable.” He lists succinctly and thoroughly his perspective on the reasons why a government would choose to enter into war:  

  • “To reclaim certain rights or to defend them;
  • to protect and maintain the great interests of the state, as commerce, manufactures, or agriculture;
  • to uphold neighboring states whose existence is necessary either for the safety of the government or the balance of power;
  • to fulfill the obligations of offensive and defensive alliances;
  • to propagate political or religious theories, to crush them out, or to defend them;
  • to increase the influence and power of the state by acquisitions of territory;
  • to defend the threatened independence of the state;
  • to avenge insulted honor; or
  • from a mania for conquest.”

Each reason becomes a “type” of war on which Jomini elaborates with examples from history. The type of war, The Art of War by Baron De Jomini - Special Editionhe suggests, “influences in some degree the nature and extent of the efforts and operations necessary for the proposed end.”

Should you have interest in reading de Jomini’s The Art of War, it is available both on Google Books here and at Project Gutenberg here.
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Jomini, Antoine Henri de. The Art of War, trans. by G. H. Mendell and W. P. Craighill., Special Edition, (El Paso: EL Paso Norte Press. 2005), 9.
A map for the w:en:Battle of the Gebora, in 19 February 1811. Source can be found here. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document (refers to map) under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation license, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled “GNU Free Documentation license“.