AbstractNapoleon revolutionized the way wars were fought in Europe. For nearly two decades the army of the French Emperor was scourge of the European powers. Victory after Victory fell upon his lap as if success was a forgone conclusion. Much of his success had to do with the new tactics and doctrines he employed.Some fifty years later, across the Atlantic another revolution, albeit stillborn, would be launched. Many of the tactics, initially, employed by the Union and the Confederacy were based on the methods Napoleon pioneered. Technologically advancements had made Napoleonic warfare obsolete if not suicidal.
Yet the Confederate leader R.E. Lee succeeded, in the beginning, because both sides adhered to it. Only when Union General U.S. Grant broke away from the Napoleonic mould did success and final victory visit itself upon the Federals.
This paper compares the tactics employed by Napoleon and those used during the civil war. To illustrate this it will pass upon several major battles of the Civil War. The paper will also analyze R.E. Lee’s tactics and how his brilliant victories staved off defeat for the Confederacy for more than four years despite the odds.A. Napoleonic Warfare vs.
US Civil War-fareNapoleon came to power as during the French Revolution, he and his officers were not the high born aristocracy the formerly dominated the French Military. Many of them were lowly people for whom military careers were the only route to advancement. Being men of different roots they also different ways of dealing with warfare. Napoleon’s tactics were so revolutionary and ahead of their time for most of the Civil War in the U.S. the generals there fought in lock step with the doctrines Napoleon pioneered.I.
Military strategyNapoleon was a master of Shock warfare his troops, organized into Independent Corps with subordinate divisions, moved quickly and unexpected often to the consternation of his enemies. He used rapid movements to concentrate his forces and have a decisive advantage when and where he chose to meet his enemies. Compare this to General R.
E. Lee’s concentration of forces during the Chancellorsville campaign. Ultimately, Lee was heavily outnumbered but by massing his forces at the focal point of battle he was able to gain local superiority. Also notable is General “Stonewall” Jackson and his famed ‘foot cavalry’ his infantry moved quickly and often surprised his opponent by appearing in unexpectedly.Napoleon was also expert at forcing decisive battles upon his enemies. By fighting and winning a major battle or two he could usually force his enemies to capitulate.
In fact, it was Russia’s refusal to face his army in a pitched battle, instead they retreated into the Russian interior, that spelled the beginning of the end for Napoleon. The same was true for Lee and the early Army of the Potomac commanders, they would fight a major battle and then suspend operations for months. Not so for U.S. Grant who launched his Wilderness Campaign and continued relentlessly forward until Lee finally surrendered.
II. Military tacticsNapoleon made creative use of artillery. He was the first one to implement a system by which regiments of infantry had artillery pieces interspaced between the ranks. This proved devastating to Napoleon’s enemies. Only the most disciplined soldiers would advance in the face of combined musket and canon fire. On the offensive, Napoleon’s soldiers would march shoulder to shoulder towards the enemy firing their muskets concentrating their mass at the critical point and allowing superior numbers. Eventually, the attacker would settle the issue with a bayonet charge.
As on the defense, the infantry was supported by artillery pieces.Tragically, tactics during the Civil War were largely the same. Infantry still marched towards the enemy in close formation trading volleys while closing in on each other. The battlefield had changed in the time since Napoleon, the rifled musket or simply rifle was becoming common place. Infantry could fire at much longer distances with better accuracy, the attacker would be shot at many, many times before they could close with their target and because the attack is usually exposed he will suffer heavy losses.
Together with the fact, the artillery was also deadlier and more accurate; the idea of a massed infantry charge was a massacre waiting to happen. Just ask the survivors of Pickett’s charge.III.
Military logisticsNapoleon believed in rapid mobility and quick lightning strikes. In a way his tactics were the precursor to the Blitzkrieg. His tactics strained his logistics and at times his soldiers were forced to live off the land.
For example, during his Austria campaign his soldier seized the potato harvest because they had gone far ahead of their supply lines.Civil War generals generally, stayed with established doctrine. Most Army of the Potomac Generals prepared elaborate supply networks prior to embarking on their campaigns. In fact, only General Grant during his Vicksburg campaign was so willing to cut his supply lines in favor of gaining greater mobility. Like Napoleon’s solider Grant’s men also lived on the bounty of VicksburgIV. Military relation between infantry versus cavalryNapoleons cavalry consisted of many types of mounted soldiers.
He had lancers and dragoons but his most famous mounted arm was his Cuirassiers these men had breastplates which could deflect bullets. In those days, the cavalry was a decisive arm. Not only was cavalry used for discovering the enemy deployments. It could also be used to devastating effect against infantry.
Only the most disciplined footmen could be expected to properly form and hold the infantry squares need to repel a determined cavalry charge. In fact at Waterloo Napoleon used his Cuirassiers prematurely and the British held while Duke Wellington waited for his infantry to be spent and then charged their cavalry. In which case the French infantry failed to hold.During the Civil War cavalry played a more toned down role. The rifle and new types of artillery made cavalry charges a dangerous proposition. The cavalryman could be knocked off his horse long before he could even return fire with his carbine.
There were also fewer cavalry units because horses were hard to come by. Initially the South boasted a strong cavalry arm because its agricultural nature meant that it had lots of experienced riders. A cavalry charge was still daunting to face but new technologies made infantry far less vulnerable to one. B.
Major battles of the Civil WarI. Antietam,The Battle of Antietam was fought on September 17, 1862 between Confederate General R.E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and Gen. McClellan’s Army of the Potomac. It was the bloodiest single day in of the war, more than 23,000 casualties were incurred by both sides (McPherson 3).
Lee’s first attempt at invading the North ended with this battle. Far from home and outnumbered two to one the Army of Northern Virginia fought the much larger Army of the Potomac to a standstill. The battle is considered a draw but it proved the deathblow to McClellan’s career because he was relieved of command shortly after the battle.
Thanks to his customary cautiousness, McClellan failed to take advantage of his numerical superiority. Instead of attacking right away on the 15th when the first elements of his army arrived he waited. By the 17th when the battle began in earnest Lee’s army was good and ready with all but three divisions on the field behind prepared positions. All throughout the day McClellan threw his Corps piecemeal into the thin Confederate lines.
His Corps were also often confused and uncoordinated. Overly cautious, he lost many opportunities to finally hand Lee his first major defeat.For his part, Lee had to move his forces around often to reinforce his increasingly thin lines. For example, at noon his center was almost broken then later that day his southern flank would have broken had A.P. Hill and his division not arrived in the nick of time.
Despite having less than half the number of men McClellan had and at times his troops were just as confused and lost as McClellan’s his army held its ground. II. ChancellorsvilleKnown as R.E.
Lee’s perfect battle (Dupuy 261) the battle of Chancellorsville reaffirmed the impression that Army of Northern Virginia was invincible. Outnumbered five to two, and having spent the winter hungry and freezing the Confederate Army defeated the vastly better equipped Army of the Potomac led by Gen. Hooker. It would be Lee’s most celebrated victory and would provide the impetus for his second invasion of the North. For once, all of Lee’s complex planning actually came together. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, next to Lee the South’s greatest general was killed during the battle marring the victory.Unwilling fall prey to Lee’s expert defensive tactics, Hooker’s massive army was deployed on the defensive. He wanted Lee to attack his prepared positions along the Rapidan River at Chancellorsville.
With his superior number and positions he expected his army to be victorious, he also had a supporting force under Gen Sedgwick holding down a rebel force under Gen Early at Fredericksburg.Unfortunately for Hooker, luck and skill were on the side of Lee during the battle. Lee sent the famed Gen “Stonewall” Jackson on a flanking move with the bulk of the troops available to him while Lee himself led a much smaller force that appeared to confront the much larger army of Hooker. Thanks to his cavalry and the skill of Jackson the flanking move was not discovered until it was too late. Union General O.O. Howard’s corps was destroyed with more than 4,000 taken prisoner as Jackson’s men burst upon them.Confusion between the two halves of his Army, Sedgwick’s command was in Fredericksburg while Hooker himself was at Chancellorsville and uncharacteristic timidity by Hooker contributed to his defeat.
Also by allowing Lee the initiative to dictate where to attack he was also not able to mass his forces until it was too late. As a result some 40,000 Union soldiers did not even fire a shot during the whole battle. Upon learning that Sedgwick had misunderstood his orders and withdrew across the river Hooker also abandoned his crossing leaving Lee victorious yet again.III. GettysburgGettysburg is commonly known as the turning point of the Civil War.
A movie was even based upon the epic battle that took place from July 1 – 3 1863. The battle culminated with the epic Pickett’s Charge by the end of which the Confederacy’s last hope for victory was finally lost. It was the high water mark of the Confederacy,Gettysburg had a shoe factory, shoes were in short supply in the Confederate army. There were no plans for either army to engage there, one of the most decisive battles of the war started out as no more than a minor skirmish for shoes.
Confederate General Heth’s Division began the morning of July 1st skirmishing with Gen. Buford’s cavalry. The Union cavalry fought hard but were eventually forced to withdraw though not until Union infantry arrived to bolster their lines.
However, Confederate reinforcements were also en route. By the end of the day A.P. Hill’s corps had thrown the Army of the Potomac across the town towards the high ground to the south and east.The second day saw renewed action, Ewell’s Corps battered into the Union Northern flank with little success. Longstreet’s Corps fought murderous battles along southern flank at the Peach Orchard, Devil’s den and Little Round Top. It is worth noting that the Union commander Gen.
Meade never gave orders for the Peach Orchard to be occupied. In fact, the Union Corp’s commander who occupied it Gen. Sickles was being insubordinate in doing so. However it was his insubordination that saved the day for the Union.
By forcing Longstreet to commit his forces to drive Sickles away, Sickles delayed the Confederate advance on Little Round Top until forces could be deployed to hold that critical hill. The defense of the Little Round Top is the subject of a particularly poignant scene in the movie Gettysburg where the Union commander after seeing his men had run out of ammo orders an all out bayonet charge to drive away the Confederates.The third and final day was the decisive day. It was also the death knell for the Confederacy.
Despite their failure to drive the Federals back on the second day, the Confederates still had the initiative and until this point had a superior kill-ratio. On the third day, Lee ordered three of his divisions to storm the Union center. The often misnamed Pickett’s charge was led by Pickett’s division but also included Pettigrew and Trimble’s divisions. The charge was a disaster in the making, Meade predicted the move and had reinforced his center to meet them. Despite their valor the Confederates were mauled, less than half the 12,500 men involved in the charge made it back to their lines unscathed. With the failure of the charged died the Confederacy’s hopes of victory. The South would fight on for another twenty-one months but in the end the North’s superior numbers and industry would doom their cause.C.
Robert Edward LeeLee was famous for his loyalty to his native Virginia. Prior to the Seven Days Battle when he was informed that the Confederacy was going to abandon Richmond he famously said “But, Richmond must be defended” Against all hazards he summoned Jackson from the Shenandoah valley to reinforce his army to drive McClellan away. During the many invasions of Virginia, Lee’s ultimate objective was always the defense of his beloved Virginia, especially its capitol. This was a flaw Grant later exploited.
Even at Gettysburg and Antietam his objective was to relieve pressure from Virginia and force the North to recognize Confederate independence.The Army of Northern Virginia was almost always outnumbered. It was also often outclassed in terms of equipment. It was therefore, imperative to manoeuvre the subordinate Corps and Divisions often just to meet the overwhelming superiority of the Army of the Potomac.
For example, at Antietam Lee was constantly juggling troops to achieve some level of parity to march Union thrusts. At Chancellorsville, the key to Lee’s victory was the quick march of Jackson’s corps and the resulting local superiority it achieved. Economy of Force was another winning aspect of Lee’s command. It was absolutely necessary for its units to move quickly and gain a tactical advantage. Only in Gettysburg did the Army of Northern Virginia fail to use economy of force to its advantage.
Instead its divisions arrived piecemeal and were defeated piecemeal.Lee always enjoyed unity of command and his army benefited well from his leadership. During the early part of the war his Army was always divided into two Corps one under ‘Stonewall’ Jackson and another under Longstreet. Both were competent leaders who responded well to Lee’s loose style of command. After Jackson died competent but less capable Generals A.P. Hill and Ewell took over his former command.
They were also loyal to Lee but did not have Jackson’s tactical brilliance. In fact, Ewell is blamed for the defeat at Gettysburg because he failed to take the high ground on the first day.The Army of Northern Virginia benefited greatly from the inspirational leadership Lee provided.
Lee was a hero to his army and the Nation. In fact, during one battle Siege, it was said that Lee said nothing to his men but they understood his message and held against overwhelming odds. His men had faith in him, and he had faith in them.
At Gettysburg this would be their waterloo. He believed they could do anything and he asked them to achieve the impossible. References Dupuy, R. Ernest, Dupuy, Trevor N., and Braim, Paul F., Military Heritage of America, McGraw-Hill, 1956Maxwell, Ronald.
Gettysburg the Movie produced by Moctesuma Esparza (1993)McPherson, James M., Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam, The Battle That Changed the Course of the Civil War, Oxford University Press, 2002,