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.

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Technology in U.S. Military History – 4

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This post completes this series on Technology in U.S. Military History. See post 1 here, 2 here, and 3 here.

P. Balaram in his editorial for Current Science titled “Science, Technology and War,” describes the widespread use of incendiaries and chemical defoliants which, he suggests, “reached its peak during the Vietnam War, with the United States resorting to napalm bombs and the spraying of herbicides like Agent Orange (dioxins),” with, unfortunately, “little regard for human toxicity.”

Alex Roland describes the predictable phenomena that “armed services in the United States found themselves competing with each other to claim precedence in fielding the same technology.” Krepinevich confirms this in his description of the competition between the Army and the Air Force in the formation of the “airmobile concept.”

Interestingly, Roland claims that “the drive toward ever more sophisticated weaponry reached a climax of sorts in the American decade (1965-1975) of the Vietnam struggle for independence (1945-1975).” As Krepinevich also clearly argues, “prompted in part by the superiority of its weaponry, the United States military undertook the Vietnam mission of fighting a guerrilla insurgency with conventional arms developed for war on the plains of Europe.

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Sensing devices were introduced to locate the enemy. The helicopter gunship evolved in the course of the war, a combat expedient to give Americans superior mobility and firepower in the face of an elusive and potent enemy. Strategic bombing targeted the enemy’s infrastructure as if North Vietnam was an industrialized state with the same vulnerabilities as the United States.”

But the fact remains that the advanced technological prowess brought to bear by the United States in the Vietnam conflict did not result in a victory. Rather, as Roland so aptly puts it, while exacting a horrific toll, the side with “superior technology lost to superior strategy.” So while the United States continues to lead the world in the technologies of war, a support of Millet and Maslowski’s premise, equal prowess in other facets of war are required to ensure success, a notion that remains true today.

 

Sources:
P. Balaram, “Science, Technology and War,” Current Science, Vol. 84, Number 7, 10 April 2003. http://www.ias.ac.in/currsci/apr102003/859.pdf Accessed 13 July 2008.

Alex Roland, “Technology and War,” http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/AD_Issues/amdipl_4/roland2.html
Accessed 13 July 2008.

Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr.  The Army and Vietnam. Reprint. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988.

 Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, xiii.

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Technology in U.S. Military History – 2

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This post continues on the theme introduced in post 1 here.

The growth in technological firepower was certainly evident in the Korean War. Roy Appleton in his fascinating work, East of Chosin (see previous post here) brings to life the murderous effect of mobile artillery including the M19 full-track (dual-40) below as used by trained American soldiers in their desperate defense of positions east of the Chosin Reservoir in 1950.

M-19 full-track (dual 40)

M-19 full-track (dual 40)

The two 40-mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns which were mounted on revolving turret wreaked havoc among attacking Chinese soldiers as long as ammunition held out as did quad-50s.

Chinese Soldiers - Korean War Casualites

Chinese soldiers in Korea.

 

That said, the effects of the extreme cold and lack of fuel also showed the weapon’s vulnerability as a mobile gun platform. Tanks were used by the American’s as well although Appleman covers well their limitations on icy terrain in Korea. The American’s use of 75-mm recoilless rifle (below) was also deadly, especially when in the hands of trained gunners. Likewise, the use by Chinese soldiers of American-made Thompson submachine guns showed the destructive power of automatic small arms against U.S. forces.

75-mm. Recoilless Rifle in Action

75-mm. Recoilless Rifle in Action

More in part 3.

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Technology in U.S. Military History – 1

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My current course on Studies in U. S. Military History (see courses page here) is drawing to a close. We have been examining the last of Millett and Maslowski’s major themes which is that “the United States has used increasingly sophisticated technology to overcome logistical limitations and to match enemy numbers with firepower.” [i] I find this supportable in the sense that it has been possible to see a steady progression of technological prowess over time. Nowhere, arguably, have technological advancements been felt more than in the arena of weaponry.

Patent drawing for R.J. Gatling's Battery Gun, 9 May 1865. (Source: Wikicommons, Public Domain)

Professor of history Alex Roland (Duke University) posits that “before the twentieth century, most soldiers and sailors ended their careers armed as they were at the beginning. New weapons were introduced slowly, if at all, and most professionals resisted the uncertainties new arms introduced.” But, Roland asserts, “by the second half of the twentieth century, this traditional suspicion of new weapons had changed to a reckless enthusiasm.”  The phenomena of obsolescence on introduction entered the national psyche in that, by the time many “weapons entered service, their successors were being planned. This was especially true in large-scale weapons systems such as ships and aircraft. It even found its way into thinking about less complex military technologies, such as radios and computers.” [ii]

More in Part 2. Note I provide a link below to Professor Roland’s excellent article titled “Technology and War” which can be read online.

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——-For the Common Defense

[i]   Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, xiii.

[ii] Alex Roland, “Technology and War,” http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/AD_Issues/amdipl_4/roland2.html Accessed 13 July 2008.

"…Technology had assumed the role of a god of war…"

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“How could the army of the most powerful nation on Earth, materially supported on a scale unprecedented in history, equipped with the most sophisticated technology in an age when technology had assumed the role of a god of war, fail to emerge victorious against a numerically inferior force of lightly armed irregulars?”

The above a fascinating question posed in the opening pages of this week’s text in Studies in U.S. Military History, The Army and Vietnam, by Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr. (see bio here).

Dr. Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr.

Dr. Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr.

The Army and Vietnam

  • Published on: 1988-03-01
  • The Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Binding: Paperback
  • 344 pages
  • ISBN: 0-8018-3657-3
  • research
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