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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

More on the Civil War

This is Steven Petrick Posting:

I have finished reading "The Quest for Annihilation".

I found it an interesting book all through as it presented a lot of information in forms that I had not really thought of before.

I have always known that the Southern Cavalry was superior to the Northern Cavalry early in the war, but had accepted the conventional wisdom (even though there was always something nagging in the back of my mind about it) that there were just more southerners who were comfortable in the saddle. This book, however, touched on things that I am ashamed I did not recognize (perhaps because too much of my reading is about actions later in the war). The Union Cavalry was at a disadvantage because:

A: The South simply fielded far more cavalry regiments early in the war than the Union did and

B: The South established a centralized command structure for its cavalry from the start, while the North dispersed its cavalry among many different commanders.

This makes a lot of sense as early Union TO&Es frequently included cavalry detachments within individual infantry brigades, whereas (to take an example) Lee's Army of Norther Virginia had virtually all of its cavalry under the command of one man (J.E.B. Stuart, of course).

As far as numbers, the Union suffered from a decision by the Army Commander (Winfield Scott) that "Modern Arms" had made cavalry obsolete, so he had actually REDUCED the existing number of cavalry regiments and blocked the formation of additional regiments.

The result of these decisions left the Union armies will too little cavalry to adequately screen their own movements, or penetrate the screens of Confederate cavalry to learn what their armies were doing.

The idea that southern men were simply better cavalrymen had long nagged at me, like the oft-cited concept that Southern men were better soldiers (and yet you can find isolated incidents where they were committed against Union troops only to be bloodily repelled by inferior numbers). Sure, the great successes are known (and a tribute to the generalship of Robert E. Lee), but the average Union soldier seems to have suffered more from various political decisions that cost him much of his fighting spirit.

Again, I had noted that the Union system of allowing regiments of veterans to gradually dwindle to nothing had to be devastating to the men, whereas the Southern system of constantly feeding in replacements enabled southern regiments to remain combat effective long after a Union regiment's moral authority had declined to nothing. And the large blocks of green troops in the middle of a Union brigade were always skittish in the first actions and prone to run, leaving gaping holes the reduced veteran units could not fill that the Southern troops could then exploit.

So many things in this book that had occurred to me in my readings that I had not seen presented elsewhere.