about the universe forum commander Shop Now Commanders Circle
Product List FAQs home Links Contact Us

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

What If

This is Steven Petrick Writing.

One of the most frequently asked questions of history is "what if".

An example of these can be found all through the American Civil War.

Most of you are probably aware of the clash between the C.S.S Virginia (former U.S.S. Merrimac) and the U.S.S. Monitor, the first clash of iron clad ships. What if the Monitor had not shown up on the second day? (It could have happened, the ship was almost lost in a storm on its way to Hampton Roads, just as she would be lost in another storm off Cape Hatteras. She was not designed as an ocean-going vessel.)

The Union tried several early machineguns (like the coffee grinder gun being one of the failures), and actually had access to Mr. Gattling's gun and could have mass produced it. What effect might it have had if every Union Brigade had been equipped with a six-gun gattling battery?

There were also early and effective repeating rifles. Some Union units actually paid to equip themselves with these. But other than the late war issue of Spencer Carbines to Union Cavalry units, the Union did not equip its infantry with repeating rifles. Why? Because the officer in charge of procurement for the Union Army felt that it would result in the men using up their ammunition too rapidly.

Those are simple technological questions.

What if Hood's Army had not gotten confused at Spring Hill? This was the crux of what destroyed what seemed to have been a brilliant operational plan. Hood left part of his Army and his artillery to feint at Columbia while he marched the majority of his troops around the Left of Schofield's Army to cut his line of retreat. At the last possible moment Schofield sent a division to cover Spring Hill, and the lead brigade of that division clashed with Hood's main body. In the confusion that resulted, Hood failed to cover the road from Columbia through Spring Hill to Franklin. That night, Schofield marched his 23,000 (or thereabouts) man Army right by Hood's Army. So close that Schofield's marching men could actually hear the Confederate soldiers talking to each other around their campfires. If the road had been closed, Schofield's Army might have been lost. Hood might then have accomplished the goal of taking Nashville. (At the very least, he would not in fit of pique, committed his troops to a bloody frontal attack on Union positions at Franklin that bled his Army white before he advanced on Nashville.)

What if, on any of the first six days of "The Seven Days", Stonewall Jackson had performed at the level he had previously demonstrated in the Valley? At the very least several of the Army of the Potomac's corps would have been wrecked, and perhaps on the Seventh day Lee might have been able to take Malvern Hill and totally wreck the Army of the Potomac. (Most people are not aware of Jackson's performance during the Seven Days where he consistently failed to deliver the flank attacks that Lee had ordered. Most just put it down to exhaustion, and there is some truth to that. But that only provides an excuse for the first and second days at most.)

What if?

History is full of them, and not just in the American Civil War.