Jominian Strategies and Tactics in the American Civil War; Failure of Union and Confederate Forces in the Eastern Theater, 1861-1863

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American Civil War, United States, military history, history


Military History | United States History


To evaluate the military performance of the army commanders who led the Union Army of the Potomac and Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the Eastern Theater during the American Civil War, one must examine the sources from which these commanders were instructed about military tactics while at West Point. Before the Southern secession, the United States fielded a standing army of approximately 16,000 infantry. Almost immediately after secession, both the Union and Confederate military command had to create European-size infantry force from nothing more than civilian volunteers. The officers that would eventually lead the armies into battle were a new generation of West Point graduates, trained in the European-style strategy and tactics of waging war. Specifically in the Eastern Theater, from 1861 to 1863, Union and Confederate army commanders directed and maneuvered their troops according to such doctrines. Unfortunately, the Civil War occurred at a time when weapons technology and political conditions would render the original European teachings obsolete. European military strategies favored offensive operations, which were believed to be far superior to defensive operations. American interpretations of such strategies were also successfully applied in the Mexican-American War, where frontal assaults combined with turning maneuvers always carried the field. By the time of the Civil War, weapons technology had advanced considerably to the point where the defense power of the infantry superceded that of its offensive power. Thus, when the original European strategies were applied, failure resulted because such grand ideas did not consider the impact of changes on the tactical level (i.e. invention of rifled barrel). Victories that could have been accomplished three decades prior to the Civil War by using European strategies, was now inadequate because the offensive power of the infantry was stemmed, on the tactical level, by the defense arms of the infantry.

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