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 Posted: Mon Jun 23rd, 2014 06:36 pm
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wondering
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Infantry Charges and the Death of Romanticism

Can rationalists agree the American Civil War fanned an era's end: the efficacy of the great infantry charge? Certainly there were many fabled attempts in later conflicts, yet advents of weaponry led most to disastrous result. That fundamental and ancient maxim of combat reached its epoch during the 19th Century, if too often odious, still odds-on, as in Lafayette's time fixing bayonet en masse, then into the teeth of enemy artillery and musket fire. That is courage, patriotism, a deeply romantic notion.

Charge incoming the pressure on defender to load and fire, impact imminent, ferocity growing by step, must have terrified. The awe-inspiring brass of it, barbarians with broadswords, Suebian knots, smoke awhirl, Rebels yelling, putting steel to regulars. I wonder if young romantics so fervent with book and pen had the makings of front rank, swift to charge, and die. Whitman was old, those with Twain's sense got out, yet pitched battles inevitably took an incalculable toll on a generation of budding American poets. You have only to read their letters.

Is it possible that conflict laid a heavier burden on literate and brilliant farm boys, North and South, reared in faith and dreams? Indeed did shirkers looking to save skin, enrichment or fame to boot, broaching cowardice even at the whistle, survive? Was the price paid by some greater due simply to romantic suggestion, Paine's common sense? Could that founding well-spring of patriotic passion demand they, more than others, bear the banner forward at Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Franklin? I fear such men left few descendants.

Might then the zenith of the odds-on infantry charge hold a lasting legacy? Do offspring of survivors, generations removed, badges of courage but given the chance, propagate still an ill division, the death of poetry, romance? A gauntlet cast for men of letters never given voice, pour le romantique ... and Darwin be damned, sir, advance. There is no shame in glory. War is ignoble, horrible and painful death for many, an uneasy sleep. Yet fix steel and fire away, the vanguard comes still, uphill, ready for maker, though sweet kiss more our nature be.


Last edited on Mon Jun 23rd, 2014 08:21 pm by wondering



 Posted: Mon Jun 23rd, 2014 09:49 pm
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wondering-

  It is true that great infantry charges made during the American Civil War demonstrated that advances in the delivery of firepower had made traditional infantry tactics costly and generally ineffective. By the later stages of the Civil War, tactics had begun to evolve into an early form of trench warfare that was seen fifty years later in Europe during World War I.

   I cannot agree, however, that the zenith of great infantry charges occured in the American Civil War. (I would maintain that most were not: "Odds-on," certainly less were than in the time of Napoleon). I would point out that the infantry charges by both sides during World War I were on a scale that dwarfed those that took place in North America in the 19th Century. (Even less of these were odds-on than in the Civil War).

   I would cite as examples just a few of the great battles that took place half a century after the American Civil War. For example, in 1916, the Battle of Verdun caused almost a million casualties. The Ludendorff Offensive in 1918 caused even more casualties, over 1.5 million. At the Battle of the Somme in 1916, the great British attack cost 60,000 men in a single day out of over a million total casualties on both sides.

   The advent of true machineguns and greatly improved artillery in World War I created killing fields on a scale never before seen in human conflicts. It was as if the military professionals in the early 20th Century had completely ignored what happened in the American Civil War. It seems incredible to me that senior officers in the armies of the major combatants of World War I had failed to learn the lessons that should have been clear to them if they studied what happened in the conflict in North America that took place fifty years earlier.

   As far as the idea of: "Romanticism" in war goes, that did not change very much between the time of the Civil War and that of World War I. In both cases, young men became very excited when wars broke out as they imagined having a great adventure and achieving glory on the battlefield. They flocked to the colors, eager to become engaged before the war was over. They always expected a quick victory, and being: "Home by Christmas." I remember reading words written about events in 1914 by an Austrian named Adolf Hitler. He expressed a sense of: "Euphoria" that he felt when war was declared. Many others had similar feelings, at least in the beginning.

   How disillusioned most new soldiers soon became when what they expected to happen didn't come to pass, and they were exposed to horrors that they had never imagined. Hundreds of thousands perished in the Civil War and millions in World War I, including the good, the bad, and the ugly of their generations. The Fortunes of War did not distinguish between the poetic and the non-poetic. Those who were incompetent might still have been lucky enough to survive. Those who were unlucky did not.


 

 

Last edited on Tue Jun 24th, 2014 12:36 am by Texas Defender



 Posted: Tue Jun 24th, 2014 04:02 am
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I think if you look at it you can really see the items that really spelled the end of the infantry charge appearing in the war, Wondering. For me that's longer ranged rifles/muskets, rapid firing weapons, "automatic" weaponry, trenches, and the use of hand grenades. Some of these, if any, weren't new by the end of the Crimean War just five years before the Civil War began, and even in the civil war some of them weren't used against infantry charges, or didn't see much use at all (if any).

Consider one of the things that has been said about the war, certainly one I ran into in junior high. It was fought with modern weaponry (well modern for the day) using Napoleonic tactics. You were talking muskets having an effective range of 50 to 75 yards (at least in later models the famed Brown Bess had an effective range of up to 100 yards when fired en masse, though it was common to use it at distances of 50 yards en masse to get the most devastating effect) with accuracy dropping at anything above that unless you used them en masse. Then you could only get off one, maybe two shots before I was time to fix bayonets and either repel an incoming charge or mount your own charge.

But by the Civil War the rifled musket was the dominant long arm on the battlefield. You're now talking a effective range for a single weapon of 100 to 400 yards or even more. Especially more if it were the rifles used by sharpshooters. Also the weapons were more accurate than what had been used in the Napoleonic wars and before. Then you have the number of shots that According to William H. Price's Civil War Handbook on page 12:

To fire a Civil War musket, eleven separate motions had to be made. The regulation in the 1860's specified that a soldier should fire three aimed shots per minute, allowing 20 seconds per shot and less than two seconds per motion.

Re-enactors can discuss how many shots they actually get off in a minute, but according to the regulations, a company of a hundred men should be able to get off three hundred shots in a minute. Even if their not that well aimed, think about the effect that will have on a massed enemy charging that position. It took more time to reload and fire a musket during the Revolution and later the Napoleonic era than it did during the Civil War so such mass charges were becoming more suicidal in the face of this kind of fire power. But of course three rounds a minute would be nothing compared to what the British would be capable of with the mad minute prior to WWI. A minimum of 15 hits at 300 yards in a single minute, most soldiers could get off close to thirty rounds in that time. German soldiers in WWI were supposed to have believed that the British prowess with their Lee-Enfields was in actuality their troops running into machine gun fire. Yet that was in the decades to come.

And during the Civil War while three rounds a minute could be devastating on an en masse charge, there were other weapons that really were to more mark the years to come. The war would see breeloaders, bolt-action, and of course repeating rifles, though muzzle-loaders were to remain the predominant long. The Henry repeating rifle, a breech-loading rifle with a tubular magazine that held 15 (according to Civil War Weapons by Graham Smith, Webb Garrison's Civil War Dictionary by Webb Garrison Sr. with Cheryl Garrison, and The Complete Civil War by Philip Katcher) to 16 rounds (according to The Library of Congress Civil War edited by Margaret E. Wagner, Gary W. Gallagher, and Paul Finkelman and the Civil War Generals 2 history supplemental), was called "that damned Yankee rifle that they load on Sunday and shoot all week!" by Confederates. Whether it was 15 or 16 shots doesn't matter, the fact is that the Henry offered soldiers more rounds. The history web page from the Henry company claims that the weapon was a highly accurate, rapid fire rifle. But the Garrison book makes the claim that the War Department initially turn down the weapon as being too light for combat. The Encyclopedia of the American Civil War, edited by David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler, does say that the Henry was more prone to breakage than the Spencer repeating rifle/carbine was. The Spencer was a seven shot repeater. According to The Library of Congress Civil War Desk Reference, a quick loading cartridge box, which held seven tubes of seven cartridges each, was introduced during the war that allowed soldiers armed with the Spencer to fire seventy rounds in rapid succession. But Garrison's book says that the War Department found this weapon to also be too light (it weighed a mere 10lbs when loaded). The irony of these claims is that Chief of Ordnance for the US Army, General James Ripley opposed the adoption of magazine fed rifles, claiming they were too heavy and required special ammunition. It's also been stated that the Ordnance Department opposed the purchase of repeating rifles as they claimed the weapons just wasted ammo. The federal government would order some 12,471 Spencers and would issue some 1,731 Henrys according to Katcher. According to Smith 12,450 Spencers were produced during the war while some 14,000 Henrys were produced from 1861 to 1866. The Library of Congress Civil War Desk Reference states that the federal government ordered 10,000 Spencers in December 1861 and estimates that 10,000 Henrys were used during the war. Ultimately it was the soldiers themselves who were the real deciders of both as Garrison says that many soldiers privately ordered Spencers or Henrys. Yet we're left to wonder how things might have been had the federal government more readily embraced repeating weapons. Or how different they might have been if the Confederacy could more readily have gotten a hold of repeaters and the ammunition to go with it. Had either side been widely using repeating rifles during the war, that might have terminated infantry charges right there.

And imagine both sides having repeating rifles in wide spread use beginning in March 1862. The Western Front might not have waited until 1915 to stalemate, it might have hit a stalemate in 1862. Of course I'm looking at trench warfare. WWI is known, and rightly so, as a war of trench warfare. But we did see trench warfare take place during the Civil war. Pages 340 and 341 of The Library of Congress Civil War Desk Reference states:

This was an era of change in battle strategy and tactics--due primarily to the introduction of rifled weaponry, though other technological innovations played their part as well (see "Toward Modern War: Logistics and Communication, on page 349). The increased range and accuracy of rifled weapons meant that the advantage in battle now typically rested with the defender armed with these longer-range weapons; artillery, its crews now more vulnerable to being shot by rifled muskets, became more a defensive than an offensive weapon (see Chapter 6, "Weaponry"); and the cavalry charges and massed frontal assaults common at the beginning of the century were employed much less frequently, for they were far too costly (as demonstrated in the Union disaster at the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862, "Pickett's Charge" on the third day of Gettysburg, and by Confederates against entrenched Federals at the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, in 1864). The widespread, routine use of breastworks and trenches--advocated by West Point instructor Mahan, but employed by many Civil War troops informally before many Civil War officers embraced their use officially--became a natural response to the improvements in weaponry. This, in turn, made traditional frontal assaults all the more deadly to attacking forces. Still, in this conflict where turning movements (moving beyond an enemy's flank and threatening some vital point in his rear) were used extensively to avoid head-on clashes, armies or elements of armies did often advance on one another across fields of battle. Not only did officers sometimes order frontal assaults, as at Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Cold Harbor, and Kennesaw Mountain; but turning movements did not always succeed. Defenders might shift their lines to face the force attempting to turn them, or they might withdraw and regroup at a more advantageous position.

Whew, long quoting there. But what it does suggest is that trenches were becoming a more natural element of warfare. And while trenches were not as widespread as they would be on the Western Front during WWI, the idea behind them was. Sunken roads and stone walls might offer defenders the same effect as a trench while leaving the attackers in a more vulnerable position. We do see actual trenches in use at Vicksburg, Petersburg, and Yorktown, among other places. Of course the Civil War was not the first to see trenches used, despite claims otherwise. Trenches were used in the Siege of Yorktown during the Revolution, the Siege of For William Henry during the French and Indian War, and had even been used as recently as the Crimean War. William Price claims that the Civil War was the first war to see extensive use of trenches. And if you look at sieges such as Vicksburg and Petersburg you can see the stalemate that would come decades later on the Western Front.

What about automatic weapons? Actually they didn't exist, but you do have the argument that the Gatling gun was the grandfather of the modern machine gun. We've discussed the Gatling here. A hand cranked gun capable of firing two hundred rounds a minute. But again it was considered a waste of ammunition and really wasn't embraced by the war department until after the war. Of course they could have also chosen to not embrace it due to the number of men it used, it required four men to operate what probably should have been an infantry support weapon. Again, look at the mad minute and what the Germans in WWI thought of British expertise with a rifle. They thought the losses they were taking were because of machine guns. Here we have a hand cranked machine gun capable of 200 rounds a minute, we can only just imagine an infantry charge into just twelve carefully placed Gatling guns. That would be turning out the equivalent of the number of rounds just 800 men could produce in a minute being turned out by slightly less than 1/6th their number. And the Gatling gun wasn't the only predecessor of the modern machine gun to exist at that time. There was also the Ager gun, the Vandenberg Volley gun, and the Williams Machine Gun, among others (for more on machine guns, see http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/ref/MG/I/index.html#contents).

And then there are grenades. Grenades are really quite old, going back at least to the 8th century. During the Civil War you had the Ketchum (spelled Ketcham in the Artillery entry of the Encyclopedia of the American Civil War) grenade, the Adams grenade, the Excelsior grenade, and the Rains/Raines grenade. The two most common, according to The Library of Congress Civil War Desk Reference were the Federal Ketchum and the Confederate Raines. Both were cylindrical in shape with a finned tail similar to that of an arrow. Both designs used a plunger in the nose that when it landed could detonate the grenade. As long as they landed on their nose. According to Garrison, the Adams grenade was developed in 1865, coming along too late in the war to have much of an impact. It used a hook attached to a wrist strap to activate the fuse, I'm assuming this was similar to pulling a pin on a modern hand grenade. Throw the grenade with enough force and the hook triggers a timed fuse. According to The Library of Congress Civil War Desk Reference, the Adams and the similar Confederate Spherical Grenade both had paper fuses. So on the Adams the hook probably lit the fuse. Then there's the Excelsior. The Haynes Excelsior grenade was probably the most complex of designs, it came in three pieces. The first two were an outer shell, the third part was the actual grenade. From the descriptions, I tend to picture naval mines from WWI and WWII. The classic contact mine of a studded sphere. The inner sphere of the Excelsior was studded with nipples upon which percussion caps would be placed. Unlike the Ketchum and Raines, no matter where the Excelsior landed it could detonate as long as it hit hard enough to trigger just one cap. Hand grenades were used at Vicksburg, Petersburg, Atlanta, etc., places under siege or where trench warfare was in place. According to The Library of Congress Civil War Desk Reference they were used to repel assaults on fortified positions. I know I read somewhere years ago that there was one grenade that had a strap attached to the grenade, think it was the Ketchum, that the whole purpose of the strap was to be able to throw the grenade even further. Kinda like those tennis balls for dogs with the straps attached.

Now imagine the effect hand grenades on a battlefield like Gettysburg where you might have an en massed infantry charge. Unlike artillery the grenade isn't going to travel as far. But as those troops who have survived artillery rounds and rifled musket rounds get closer they suddenly have grenades exploding among they, lowering their numbers even further before they can reach the opposing lines. While at the same time their still facing rifle fire.

All that said, there were no chivalrous knights during the Middle Ages. Knights were little more than thugs when they didn't have some war to fight. What's that have to do with this thread? We romanticize the past, and even the present. The concept of chivalry exists more in literature than it truly did in reality. We can claim that the Civil War marked the end of the glorious infantry charge and the death of romanticism. But look at All Quite on the Western Front. The book and movie come out after WWI but Paul hears a romanticized version of what it would be like to fight for Germany, of the honor to fight for the fatherland. But the life in the trenches is far from what he had been led to believe war was like.

In fact we still romanticize warfare even though we want to claim otherwise. We say we want to show war as it is, warts and all, show it as something dreadful. But that's really just changing the depiction of the romanticism. You go in expecting to see some brave soldiers fighting the enemy, whether they win or not. And that's pretty much what we want to see, even if we complain about how soldiers may really act or about war in general. The way we romanticize changes so that we can say we're not doing so.

Last edited on Tue Jun 24th, 2014 06:50 am by Hellcat



 Posted: Thu Jun 26th, 2014 01:26 am
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I believe too often we presume to know what motivated those men to step off. Thank-you very much for your thoughts and reflections, gentlemen.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iD3NsM1wOE

Last edited on Thu Jun 26th, 2014 01:41 pm by wondering



 Posted: Sun Jun 29th, 2014 12:59 am
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Wondering, was that link supposed to be to Gaelic Folk Music from Scotland?

Last edited on Sun Jun 29th, 2014 01:00 am by Hellcat



 Posted: Sun Jun 29th, 2014 01:48 am
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Considering some of what I talked about in my first post, thought maybe I would try sharing some videos

This first one is just an explanation of how a flintlock of the 18th century worked. Quality isn't great. http://youtu.be/ZMXj6Z_HjEg

These next two are demonstrations of a matchlock and a flintlock. Again, quality is poor and you'll probably hve to strain to hear. http://youtu.be/ama-vHQtwxI and http://youtu.be/RFspmkF89Nc

Model 1861 Springfield http://youtu.be/ogide0XMRZA

Enfield http://youtu.be/1iDS9w-i9yU



 Posted: Sun Jun 29th, 2014 03:32 pm
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What wonderful demonstrations -- that little kid and mom are totally engaged. Informed living historians demonstrate a charitable kindness that reminds me of the finest patriots past, best among us.

Hellcat wrote:
Wondering, was that link supposed to be to Gaelic Folk Music from Scotland?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6v1oD_pF-k

Clan warfare raged for centuries in the old world. A lesson learned: divided you will not stand, together even you may fall; rather than throw down many shipped for America. Soldiers of 1861 were linked to forefathers by tradition, warfare, and blood which pales present comparison. Despite tales still o'twisting defeat to victory, North Americans came from somewhere; it wasn't an exceptional fairy god-mother waving her wand.



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