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 Posted: Sun Nov 11th, 2007 05:26 pm
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J
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Just the fact that everyone knows what I mean when I say "The Iron Brigade" suggests just how exceptional fighters the men of the Iron Brigade were.

But, if the Iron Brigade had fought in the Army of the Tennessee instead of in the Army of the Potomac, wouldn't it have been simply known as X Brigade Y Division Z Corps?  Weren't western men just better fighters? 

And, wasn't the average soldier in the Army of Northern Virginia just tougher than the average soldier in the Army of the Potomac?  So, since the two armies faced off against one another the Army of the Potomac made its generals look even worse than they really were and the Army of Northern Virginia made its generals look even better than they really were?

This is one aspect of the civil war that is not talked about.

So Grant, Sherman and Thomas shone out west and McClellan, Burnside and Hooker didn't shine when leading the Army of the Potomac.

So Grant when he came East suddenly started turning in huge casualty lists whereas before (with the exception of Shiloh) he was not involved in similar blood-baths.

So John Bell Hood suddenly looked extremely bad when he attacked the western armies the same way he had so successfully assaulted the Army of the Potomac.  But, against the Armies of the Tennessee, Ohio and Cumberland he failed miserably.

This is something I haven't heard any historians mention.

)(_

+_

Jae



 Posted: Sun Nov 11th, 2007 06:32 pm
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JoanieReb
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Welcome, Jae!)__)__)__

Very good points - I like the way you think.

I hold that, in general, southern and western soldiers were superior soldiers by nature of their upbringing - superior horsemen, superior shots.  Need to qualify that a bit, but it's getting close to time for the pretty cars to start their engines (NASCAR), so I'll have to hold off for now.

Glad to have you aboard,

Joanie

Last edited on Sun Nov 11th, 2007 06:41 pm by JoanieReb



 Posted: Sun Nov 11th, 2007 10:32 pm
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ole
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We're getting awfully close to southern suppositions when we characterize the paper collar soldiers as mudsills, grease monkeys and merchants. They were perhaps more diverse in their prewar occupations than their western counterparts, but they weren't that diverse. Grierson was a music teacher, Quantrill was a teacher. Most of the Iowa boys were farmers but there was a fair tint of boatmen, dockworkers and mechanics in there as well. Many of the Illinois boys came from Chicago, Wisconsin from Milwaukee, Michigan from Detroit. I don't think the boys from Maine, Vermont and New Hampshiire were any less tough than the boys from Ohio, Indiana and Minnesota.

I generally figure that it was the eastern leadership and fixation on reviews that tipped it. Grant had a devil of a time whipping his first regiment into shape. He satisfied himself with getting them to act like a unit and didn't bother with the length of the step on the march. Sherman made much the same decision. He had no use for the casualness of the westerner but, like Grant, he gave up on the regs in favor of simply getting them all to march in the same direction.

In the east, where they were under the eyes of society and government, they were constrained to act like the books said soldiers should act: banners, button that blouse. But I don't think they were actually softer than the westerner. They just didn't have Grant, Sherman and Thomas.

ole



 Posted: Mon Nov 12th, 2007 12:51 am
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Just a quick thought on one of the reason I think westerners were generally a touch tougher. THe distances they were used to were considerably greater than in the East. A 5 mile hike was nothing to those boys, they were so used to itthat when it came time to double quick they didn't even think twice about it... in fact they had a tendency to hohum it.

THis was true of westerners on both sides of the equation.



 Posted: Mon Nov 12th, 2007 01:58 am
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ole
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Excellent point, Shane. Are you saying that western farms were larger and therefore farther apart?

ole



 Posted: Mon Nov 12th, 2007 04:50 am
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Kentucky_Orphan
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Anyone posting on this board can see my opinion on this matter expressed resolutley in my response to the Lee overated question. In that post I expressed my own opinion of the folly of the idea that the members of the PFI were, taken as a whole, superior or inferior in chacterizing them in such broad terms as eastern vs. western. Though I expressed this opinion, or rather the opinion that such an opinion was based on faulty logic, I did not give the reasoning behind it. Therefore I will express it as best I can lest the board have too few arguments posed against the idea.

First, the idea that westerners, because they were used to walking greater distances in pre-war life, were inherently better marchers than those in the east. Freemantle expressed in his writings the fact that no Texans wanted to become infantry. This was because, as he put it, Texans never walked anywhere-they rode a horse. While a generalization, there is some truth to it. As a result, men were mustered into "cavalry" regiments, that were post-haste "converted"into infantry. Basically they "duped" the men into believing they were to be cavalry when they went off to fight when there was no intention of them being used as anything other than infantry. (this is also true of some members of the Orphan Brigade). I don't think I need say what a hard marching group Hood's Texans turned into being.

Further, though perhaps used to longer distances, those westerners most likely weren't carrying the amount of weight they would end up having in military life. Westerners had to adjust to it the same as easterners. The westerners might then be said to have some small initial advantage over the short term, but over the long term this advantage would dwindle into nothingness.

As to the hardiness of troops, remember that the eastern theater was bloodier than the western theater. Exceptions occurr of course, as some of the bloodiest battles were indeed in the west, however taken as a whole the east was the greater slaughterhouse for the PFI to enter. Also, the rural men were more succeptible to disease than their urban counterparts, never having been exposed to as many diseases prior to service.

Much is made of shooting ability as well related to rural vs. urban men. Indeed, given the lack of formalized target training given recruits, on the surface it would seem to be the most valid of the arguments. Rural men, with prior experience with firearms would make the better shots, obviously. Alas, as Clausewitz so elegantly terms it, for friction. Yes, friction, the element of war that makes the simple things-for war is simple as Clausewitz states-difficult. Men with prior shooting experience did not have COMBAT experience. When they were hunting or target practicing, they lacked the elements of friction that would in many cases render their experience negligible. That is, instead of being in quiet surrounds, with no mortal danger, they were being shot at.

Friction, as stated above, would manifest itself in the smoke obscuring visibility, the splattering of blood from a friends head as it is smashed open by a minie, the terrible crying and screeching of horribly mutalated men, the buzzing and humming as bullets pass by, cursing and orders being passed down the line, and men jostling and bumping into one another on the volley line. Some small advantage may still exist, but it would be relatively small I think.  

Could the westerners of the federal armies have triumphed in the confusion of the Wilderness, the carnage of the muleshoe, or carried the confederate works at Cold Harbor? I think not. The men that worked the docks, that taught school, that worked factories in civilian life died just as bravely and horribly as a whole than the yeoman farmer. At least, that is my opinion, and others may disagree. I am, as always, open and waiting for disagreement by other posters...

Last edited on Mon Nov 12th, 2007 04:56 am by Kentucky_Orphan



 Posted: Mon Nov 12th, 2007 11:12 am
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Johan Steele
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Ole, not so much that farms were farther apart but towns were, a I said a 5 mile cross country hike was nothing to those boys. Kentucky Orphan has struck on some very valid points... not much I think I would disagree on... least not now. :)



 Posted: Mon Nov 12th, 2007 05:14 pm
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William Manchester, the historian, who was in the Marine Corps claims that the Marines deliberately recruited in the south because southerners just made better fighters.  This was true at least up until World War II.

Let's get back to my original example of the Iron Brigade.  Why did a brigade made up of Westerners make such a name for themselves as tough fighters?  Did they receive special training?  Were they hand picked?  Or were they just western?

I myself work in an office, and I'll freely admit that a cowboy or farmer who has had a much tougher time of it physically could kick my citified butt.

And what of the Spartans?  Why were they such great fighters?  Was it coincidence that Spartan ideology stressed physical hardship?

Lee was a great general.  So was Stonewall Jackson.  But why was every single general assigned to the Army of the Potomac a disappointment?  Why did Beauregard, Longstreet and Hood fare so much worse in the west than they did in the east?

I believe greater physical hardship made better foot soldiers out of southerners and westerners.  Yes there were farmers and miners from the Eastern states, but a greater percentage of the easterners were "citified". 

+_

Jae



 Posted: Tue Nov 13th, 2007 01:02 am
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PvtClewell
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I love the Iron Brigade. It's my favorite brigade to follow in all my civil war studies. The story of its initiation to battle at Brawner Farm against the Stonewall Brigade is truly inspirational and heroic.

Jae, I know what you are saying when you mention Iron Brigade and you get instant name recognition.

However, the men of the Irish Brigade, the Pennsylvania Bucktails, Berdan's Sharpshooters, even the Excelsior Brigade, to name a few, were excellent fighters. You'll have a hard time convincing me that a lumberjack from the 150th Pa. is less of a man, or a fighter, than a cheesehead from the 2nd Wisconsin, just because the cheesehead came from the west.

By suggesting that men from the west were better fighters because of their environment, you might could draw a logical parallel that men from the east were smarter fighters because they were closer to Harvard and Yale. It really doesn't wash.

This is where I totally agree with Ole and Kentucky.
You might have a stronger argument trying to convince me the general leadership of the AofP failed those very same men miserably in the early years of the war.

Don't forget that one of those leaders, John Pope, came from success in the west and turned into mush in the east.

The Union men who threw themselves against Marye's Heights in wave after fruitless wave doesn't suggest a lack of soldierly bearing to me in any way, shape or form, but rather uncommon valor — and less than brilliant leadership.

You probably don't want to compare Grant's casualty list with anybody's, and especially with Lee's, whose casualty lists were, by percentage, higher than Grant's. Grant never had a day like Antietam, or the second day of Gettysburg. Lee, by contrast, was there for both.

The Union army also became strong marchers, particularly when Meade took command. We discussed briefly this summer Sedgwick's 6th Corps, which marched 35 miles in 19 hours on its way to join the fight at Gettysburg. Not bad for 'citified' softies.

Pound for pound, sinew for sinew, tear for tear, I think the men from the east were no better and no worse than men from the west or the south. That is verified by any Civil War cemetery you care to visit.



 Posted: Tue Nov 13th, 2007 02:25 pm
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PvtClewell wrote:

By suggesting that men from the west were better fighters because of their environment, you might could draw a logical parallel that men from the east were smarter fighters because they were closer to Harvard and Yale. It really doesn't wash.




An environment is something one is in, not near or close to.   I would say the Privates and officers that actually attended college would have been better educated and bettere practiced in thinking.

More aptly, saying that westerners and southerners made tougher fighters is like saying Canadians make better Hockey Players or that Dominicans make better baseball players.  An environment has a lot to do with how a man turns out.

+_

Jae



 Posted: Thu Nov 15th, 2007 03:34 pm
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j harold 587
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I hope I am able to state this in a way thatis not perceived as offensive to any one .

The more rural areas of Civil War era America as well as tody have a more spiritual based culture. As in a man is as good as his word, a hand shake is sufficient a contract is not needed. So in this case the westerners and the sotherners were more likely to be less educated and shared a more close ideoligy as far as dedication to cause, and comrads.  IMHO this is reflected in the interpetaion of an order to hold to the last.  The less urbanized commander or soldier may be more prone to interpet that to mean untill all hope to hold is lost, amore rural commander or soldier may interpet it to mean untill all personel are lost.

I still feel as stated in the Lee over rated thread that good leaders with good subordinates, leading good properly trained and equipped troops will win the day. I have rambled long enough.

Once again my opinions and no offense intended. I can talk about rural people 'cause I r one.  



 Posted: Thu Nov 15th, 2007 07:15 pm
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The success that the Confederate forces achieved had more to do with the leadership at so many levels of their ranks. Another important factor was the fact that in the first year(s) 61 - 62 the North was not as resolute in their conviction for prosecuting the war as compared to the Southern troops.... they knew their purpose in being there. Many of the leaders starting with the top guy (McClellan) was not at all enthused about  pursing the fight. He, resolute as a northern Democrat had hopes that the conflict would be resolved politically. This lack of commitment was felt throughout his command and it trickeled down through the ranks. Just as in so many wars since, where the fighters with an intense purpose and conviction for their cause, were able to overcome the odds in manpower, resources and wealth, prevailed over their adversaries. ie Vietnam



 Posted: Thu Aug 14th, 2008 03:52 pm
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The Iron Duke
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Examine how the western Federals reacted at Bald Hill and Bentonville when they learned the rebels were in their rear. Can any of the eastern Federals make the same claim?



____________________
"Cleburne is here!" meant that all was well. -Daniel Harvey Hill


 Posted: Thu Aug 14th, 2008 04:51 pm
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J, I am a huge fan, of the Iron Brigade.  I have recently read the following two books, both of which I would recommend to anyone who is interested in this fighting unit.  I am sure most of you know, that the Iron Brigade, was originally christened the Black Hat Brigade, as they wore the same hats as the U.S. Army Regulars.  They earned the moniker, Iron Brigade, at South Mountain.
  • The Iron Brigade by: Alan T. Nolan
  • Brave Men's Tears by: Alan Gaff
I do not believe the western fighters were better/harder fighters than men of the east.  I believe in the case of the Iron Brigade, they were an all western brigade (Wisconsin, Indiana and later Michigan) and were united by their western heritage.  These men became strong fighters because they had a long line of strong leaders, starting with John Gibbon.  Once his regiments got to know Gibbon, they would fight for him.  This was true with Solomon "Long Sol" Meredith as well.  He was one of them, and they fought hard for him.  When Lysander Cutler commanded the brigade, he was not as well liked, but by then these men fought as a single fighting unit.

The Iron Brigade, like so many of the Confederate Brigades, were from one geographic area.  It was common with the Union Army to assign regiments to brigades, not by geography, but somewhat randomly, as they arrived in Washington, Cairo, or any other mustering in point.  The Iron Brigade, being from a small geographic area, wanted their parents, friends and neighbors to be proud of their service.  They did not want to ever be known for running from their enemy.  Rebel brigades were assembled much the same way - most brigades, especially in the ANV, were from a single state.  This gave the men the same desires to make their home folks proud.  Assembling brigades, in this manner would often compensate for a weak brigade commander.  The soldiers would take the initiative to fight to the last.

Besides having a lot of political generals, the eastern Union armies being assembled, such as they were, often did not have common roots, at the brigade level.  This combined with weak leadership often failed the brigade when they need to perform under fire.

Lastly, a common ethnic heritage would also act to bond a brigade.  Case in point, was the Irish Brigade (66th NY, 69th NY, 88th NY and 116th PA).  While Thomas Meager was a great recruiter, speaker and advocate for his brigade, he was not the best tactician when it came to fighting.  However, even with their smoothbore muskets, this was one heck of a fighting brigade.  They added a boxwood sprig to their hats, and charged, nearly to the sunken road, at Fredericksburg - further than any other brigade.  The last thing any of these soldiers wanted to do is turn and run.  They did not want to jeopardize their reputation an home, or in the Army of the Potomac.

Thanks for the bandwidth!

Mike Noirot



 Posted: Fri Aug 15th, 2008 01:20 am
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Wrap10
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I've long been a Western Theater advocate, and I think the soldiers on both sides in the West were an impressive lot when it came to fighting. Better than their Eastern cousins? Well, consider a point that I think James McPherson has made, where he outlines how most of the war's bloodiest battles were fought in the East, and compares the casualty figures between the two theaters. In short, the eastern soldiers endured death and bloodshed on a scale unmatched by most of their western counterparts. And by and large, kept coming back and shouldering the musket. Even long after the innocence of 1861 had vanished. So I think we sell short the ability and resolution of the eastern soldier at our peril.

I agree with the idea that we should look mainly to the leadership. The soldiers, North and South, East and West, were about on par with each other when given the proper leadership. I like what Ole said early in this thread along that line:

In the east, where they were under the eyes of society and government, they were constrained to act like the books said soldiers should act: banners, button that blouse. But I don't think they were actually softer than the westerner. They just didn't have Grant, Sherman and Thomas.
That's an excellent point. In general, the Union solider in the West, and the Confederate soldier in the East, both had the experience and habit of victory instilled early on. I think this probably had an impact as the war went on. In the East, you get the sense that soldiers in the Army of the Potomac had their hopes dashed so many times that they began to expect it. Through no fault of their own, they had the habit of failure instilled early on. Then when, after the Wilderness, Grant makes a point to ride ahead of the marching column and show them that they were heading forward instead of backward, as they had so often done after battle, they cheered him to the echo. They were willing to fight. All they wanted was the leader who would actually lead.

It's very similar for the Confederates in the West. A superb group of men who, by and large, had the recurring bad luck of serving under commanders who proved less than equal to the task.

Perry



 Posted: Tue Sep 2nd, 2008 08:14 pm
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Julie
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Oone of the best Civil War books I've read is "The Men Stood Like Iron: How the Iron Brigade won its name" by Lance Herdegen. It quotes from primary sources (Rufus Dawes' letters, et.al.) that allow a reader inside the soldier's mind at the time. Has anyone else read it?



 Posted: Tue Sep 2nd, 2008 09:43 pm
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ole
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Read a different Herdegen book, "In the Bloody Railroad Cut." Have another by Nolan but can't recall if I've read it or not. If yours is like mine, it is riveting. (Of course, it doesn't hurt to read about a brigade from the old stomping grounds.

ole



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