Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Civil War Infantry Tactics

For far too long, the Civil War literature has lacked a serious book length study of small unit tactics, one that really looks into the nuts and bolts of the march, maneuver, and assault formations of the period from training manual to practice in the field to innovation spawned from the laboratory of battlefield experience. This excerpt from the catalog book description of Earl Hess's Civil War Infantry Tactics: Training, Combat, and Small-Unit Effectiveness (LSU, Spring '15) has many of the key words I'm looking for.
"Drawing on the drill manuals available to officers and through a close reading of battle reports, Civil War Infantry Tactics demonstrates that linear tactics provided the best formations and maneuvers to use with the single-shot musket, whether rifle or smoothbore. The linear system was far from an outdated relic that led to higher casualties and prolonged the war. Indeed, regimental officers on both sides of the conflict found the formations and maneuvers in use since the era of the French Revolution to be indispensable to the survival of their units on the battlefield. The training soldiers received in this system, combined with their extensive experience in combat, allowed small units a high level of articulation and effectiveness. Unlike much military history that focuses on grand strategies, Hess zeroes in on formations and maneuvers (or primary tactics), describing their purpose and usefulness in regimental case studies, and pinpointing which of them were favorites of unit commanders in the field."


  1. Drew: This looks like a mandatory purchase, given the author and the subject matter - especially to the extent to which it focuses on training. Now if only someone would do this for the field artillery. Other than the manuals - the Board's Tactics Gibbon, and Patton - and to some extent Tiidball's compilation, we have nada. Ironically, the single best tactical summary I've ever seen is Hunt's instructional memorandum issued in September, 1862, which never even made its way into the OR.

  2. Well, we know that his fortification trilogy and his Kennesaw Mountain book were diagram-laden, so there's hope.

  3. Will be interesting to see if he sticks with Paddy Griffith's "Napoleonic War" meme, and that the rifle musket had little or no effect on the war or tactics. And repeaters? We'll see.

    Fred Ray

    1. Hi Fred,
      From the first couple paragraphs of the description (not part of the the quote above) it sure appears like he hasn't backed down from it.


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