A question for US Civil War Army students

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A question for US Civil War Army students

Joined: May 20th, 2006, 8:29 pm

May 17th, 2018, 12:16 am #1

A question about the Confederate and Union Armies in 1861, at Bull Run. I am not talking about the Regular US Army Officer corps trained senior Officers. I am talking about Company level O's NCOs and privates.


According to an article I read some time ago, Bull run was "a near run thing" and could have gone either way if not for Jackson. Given how early in the war it was, does this mean that Billy Yank and Johnny Reb were equally untrained?

I know every state pre civil war had militia units and they were suppose to drill. I would think, given how small the US Army was pre war, both the Union and Confederacy would rely heavily on boys with nothing better than militia training and I assume that training would be in exactly the same drill.

That seems a bit rambling even to me so here are my specific questions

1. Was the Confederate soldier better trained than the Union at Bull Run?
2. Was the pre war militia training better in the South than in the North?
3. Was the pre war militia training in the South more consistent and universal than in the North?
4. What exactly was the enlisted training like in the South and the North?
5. What was the influence on the war of most of the pre war Army NCOs and privates staying with the Union?
6. Is it true the Union artillery arm was always superior to the Confederate gunners.
7. If 6 is YES why did Union artillery not give the North a decisive edge at Bull run?
8. Was the early war Confederate cavalry materially better than the Union Horse soldiers
9. If 8 is true is it mainly due to the more agrarian nature of the south
10. Why was the vastly superior Union Logistics system not decisive sooner?

Does it really all come down to the fact the South had s far better Officer corps?
Or was the decisive factor the fact mid 19th century warfare heavily favored the defender because of the rifled musket and "modern" Artillery combined with Napoleonic "linear tactics" made attacks near to suicide AND the North had tp go on the offensive to win and the South did not?
"If you think they’re going to give you THEIR country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken.
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Joined: September 3rd, 2006, 12:35 am

May 17th, 2018, 2:37 pm #2

I can't speak for any but #10.  In every war I've studied it always takes logistics a while to kick in.  The initial plans are always inadequate or optimistic and requires a period of adaptation and learning.  
Catapultam habeo. Nisi pecuniam omnem mihi dabis, ad caput tuum saxum immane mittam.
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Joined: January 14th, 2013, 4:04 pm

May 17th, 2018, 2:58 pm #3

I'll take a crack at these Senior, if you don't mind.

1. Was the Confederate soldier better trained than the Union at Bull Run?

No he wasn't.  Most of the troops on either side were trained to militia standards which varied from place to place.

2. Was the pre war militia training better in the South than in the North?

No, its impossible to generalize this way.

3. Was the pre war militia training in the South more consistent and universal than in the North?

No.

4. What exactly was the enlisted training like in the South and the North?

For both sides its mostly about evolutions from one formation to another and learning the manual of arms drills.  Tactics and marksmanship played very little part although there began to be some interest as the war went on in developing skirmishing doctrines and in the north some green jacketed sharpshooter battalions.

5. What was the influence on the war of most of the pre war Army NCOs and privates staying with the Union?

Its hard to say that they had much influence unless they were civilians selected to become officers in the volunteer regiments where they could have influence on green recruits.  Most army regular enlisted stayed in the regular army and formed the basis of Sykes' Division in the Army of the Potomac.

6. Is it true the Union artillery arm was always superior to the Confederate gunners.

Yes because of better equipment and much better ammunition.  The South did produce some superior artillerists though.

7. If 6 is YES why did Union artillery not give the North a decisive edge at Bull run?

Lack of battle experience, failure to mass batteries.

8. Was the early war Confederate cavalry materially better than the Union Horse soldiers

In terms of horseflesh they were but were much worse armed.

9. If 8 is true is it mainly due to the more agrarian nature of the south

Not sure the South had any real advantage in this are although "Lost Cause" mythology promotes the idea of the gallant and robust southern warrior and the dismal and sickly northern factory hand.

10. Why was the vastly superior Union Logistics system not decisive sooner?

I think it had to wait for the right men to be placed in high offices, people like General Montgomery Meigs, and for these men to forge the tools that enabled the productivity of the North to be brought to the battlefield.

These are just my impressions from having done a lot of reading about our Civil War which was my first historical area of study and still forms the largest part of my library.  Other may have better answers for you and I look forward to reading them.
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Joined: July 8th, 2007, 8:30 pm

May 17th, 2018, 3:04 pm #4

The militia's from what I understand were not necessarily state sponsored.  They could be anything from social clubs to fairly well drilled formations.  The drills might very as well.  At that point officers and NCO's were often elected by the unit as well. 
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Joined: July 8th, 2007, 8:30 pm

May 17th, 2018, 3:08 pm #5

As for 3. I'm not sure but I wouldn't be surprised to see a greater percentage of Southerners in militia units as compared to the North.  They were also over represented in the Union army (and possibly the navy as well).  I believe and to this day tend to be over represented in the US military
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Joined: January 14th, 2013, 4:04 pm

May 17th, 2018, 3:20 pm #6

Agreed, there were private militias at the time and they varied widely in quality.  Many were company sized outfits that were incorporated into state volunteer regiments where things evened out a bit

I'm not sure your point #3 is on spot with regard to the Civil War.  I agree that Southern born officers were slightly over represented in the pre-war Army but I don't think that held true in the enlisted ranks.  I've seem to recall that as much as half the Army enlisted ranks were foreign born with Irish men being over represented. 

Northern cities generated their share of militia units.  These formations were sources of political patronage at the time and were important everywhere north and south alike as much for that reason as for any military need.
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Joined: July 8th, 2007, 8:30 pm

May 17th, 2018, 3:47 pm #7

You could be right on this.  The above was my impression formed over quite a few years of casual reading so shouldn't be taken as definitive by any means.
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Joined: January 14th, 2013, 4:04 pm

May 17th, 2018, 4:01 pm #8

Its a fascinating subject, the composition of the prewar army, and one that is glossed over by historian eager to get to the main course.  Two books I have that I can recommend highly are 

Five years a Dragoon, by Percival G. Lowe, a memoir of the old army on the great plains ten years before the Civil War

and 

Frontiersmen in Blue, The United States Army and the Indian, 1848-1865 by Robert M. Utley.  Goes into detail about the composition of the old Army.

Anything by Robert Utley is well worth the time.
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Joined: September 27th, 2011, 9:14 pm

May 17th, 2018, 5:12 pm #9

1. Hard to judge. It does seem that Confederate leadership was more consistent, and that would be enough to make the difference.

2 & 3. The pre-war militia movement was significantly more popular in the South than in the North. In fact I think it was mostly a Southern thing. So better and more consistent by default.

4. Pretty much drill and battalion tactics. Only a few live rounds of practice firing, supplemented by blanks in some cases.

5. Hardly any. Enlisted troops that stayed loyal were kept in US regiments, which were way outnumbered by state volunteers.

6. True enough. Confederate artillery drill and discipline were good, but they were always short of men, guns, and horses. Plus there was just a lot more Union artillery.

7. Artillery was much more effective as a defensive weapon. The Union was attacking.

8. Materially? Not really. Better leadership and native horsemanship made the most difference.

9. Different social nature of the South. There was a social elite that rode a lot but whose members were not averse to serving as cavalry privates. In fact, serving mounted in any status was preferred to serving on foot.

10. The Confederacy had a lot of interior to absorb Union logistics.

The South had a more consistent general officer corps due to the large number of distinguished Military Academy graduates that went South. Again, a consequence of social attitudes placing a military career in high regard in the South much more than the North.

But also the defensive was a more effective mode of warfare.
Up and forward on the starboard side, down and aft on the port. 

The question of authority stalks the de-religionist project. (Paul Vander Klay)
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Joined: July 8th, 2007, 8:30 pm

May 17th, 2018, 5:27 pm #10

There was an ACW card game that came out several years ago that had pictures (painted) of various early war units on the cards.  One of things I found interesting was that the mix of blue and grey uniforms was pretty even in both the North and South.  The concept of the Union having blue uniforms and the Confederacy Gray especially early in the war seems to be a bit of a modern invention.  I'm sure there are plenty of other such issues.
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