Battlefield or military tactics are the science and art of organising a military force. They are the techniques of using the weaponry or military units to achieve victory in battle. The tactics and technology that were used in the American Civil War were revolutionary in the military world, and greatly influenced future wars, such as the World War I. The previously existing doctrine of military warfare was about to become obsolete; the original tactics had become inefficient and not of choice due to the more modern technology. The tactics of the Civil War were, in turn, very much affected by previous rulers, generals, and battles, such as Napoleon Bonaparte (French: Napoléon Bonaparte), the French military and political leader who allowed France to dominate much of Europe during the later stages of the French Revolution (French: Révolution française).

Use of Infantry

Infantrymen, who are soldiers that fight by foot, each with their own weapon, come face to face with the enemy and took the greatest number of casualties in not only the American Civil War but in also most of the wars fought throughout world history. Of the three types of soldiers used in the Civil War, infantrymen were used the most. A common deployment was the "line of battle", which were two ranks deep of the infantrymen. A more massed tactic was a "column" of men, varying from one to ten or more companies wide and from eight to twenty ranks deep. A less compact maneuver was the "open order", a strung-out, irregular single line, having the men move and shoot together. In the modern military world, it would never be used, but it was still a very basic and well-used tactic in the 19th century.

The two main reasons for this were: Firstly, it allowed soldiers to fire many bullets at the same time, with what was still rather limited weapons. Most Civil War infantrymen used muzzle-loading muskets that loaded and fired at a rate not nearly fast enough (a maximum of three times a minute). It let them fire both offensively and defensively. However, even if spreading the men out made them less vulnerable, they very quickly lost the ability to combine their fire effectively if they did so. The officers also lost the ability to control their men. Secondly, it was almost the only way to move troops effectively while under fire; it was very suited for moving throughforested ar
Typical musket used by infantrymen
Typical musket used by infantrymen

During this time period, the smallest unit of soldiers was called a "regiment", commanded by a colonel. Though they were supposed to be made up of about 1,000 men, during the Civil War most regiments consisted of 300 to 600 men. Either way, each soldier of each regiment had to be able to obey the orders of their colonels and subordinate officers, all delivered with voice command. In the heat and sound of battle, most men had to rely on the immediate movements of his fellow soldiers around him. Also, infantrymen "followed the flag", which meant following the flags of both the nation and unit wherever they needed to go on the battlefield.

In battle, units almost never charged the enemy, which would quickly destroy the formation as faster moving men outran slower moving ones, causing confusion as to where one should be. Instead, armies that followed the textbook would move at a certain number of steps per minute, typically at 110 steps a minute (considered a quick rate). The rate could be increased to a "double-quick time" of 165 steps a minute. A regiment would only begin a charge (at a quick pace but not a sprint) when it was within a dozen yards of the enemy's defending line. The army could take about a ten minutes to charge, during which it would not stop moving until it reached the enemy line. The idea of a charge was to use the momentum of the rapidly moving men to get into a very close range, where the infantrymen would use their bayonets, which were knives, swords, or a spike-shaped weapon fixed onto their muskets, or stand-up fire at the enemy until one side or the other gave way.

While travelling to each of their camps and battlegrounds, infantrymen generally moved in a column formation in their regiments, four men wide. This was so that they could flexibly change from an easily-moving group to a formation that maximized firepower. Another common way of movement for regiments was the "line of battle" formation.

Use of Cavalry

Cavalry, or horsemen, are soldiers that fought, usually with swords, on horseback. During the time of the war, cavalry was a branch of army service that was still in a process of transition. It was infamous for having misguided commanders and very difficult logistics, but it still was an important part of the Civil War and, along with infantry and artillery, played a vital part in the civil war.

There were three main types of mounted forces in the civil war: Cavalry, mounted infantry, and dragoons. Cavalry, which were only a small part of the Civil War armies, were soldiers that fought mainly on horseback, generally with carbines (longarms that were shorter than the muskets infantrymen used), pistols, and chiefly sabres. However, Confederate cavalrymen rarely carried carbines or sabres, and usually used pistols. Mounted infantry were soldiers that moved or traveled on horseback, but dismounted for actual fighting, mostly with rifles. In the second half of the war, there were many tactics that were used involving mounted infantry. For example, Union Col. John T. Wilder of the "Lightning Brigade", used mounted infantry to move quickly into battle, and then dismount to follow the usual infantry formations and strategies for fighting. At the Battle of Gettysburg, Union cavalry officer John Buford, also deployed to fight their enemies, but used traditional cavalry tactics once they were on foot. Dragoons were forces that were a hybrid between infantry and cavalry, being armed as cavalrymen but also expected to fight on the ground as well. Tactics involving dragoons were for the most part employed towards the end of the war.

However, cavalrymen were not usually used in battle, and suffered little casualties. At the Battle of Antietam, the single bloodiest day in the United States of America, cavalry casualties were counted to a total of just five men killed and 23 wounded. Instead, they served mostly for scouting and providing for crucial tactical information. As proved again by the Battle of Gettysburg, the possession or absence of enemy intelligence could either mean victory or defeat. When Confederate General Robert E. Lee lost the information he needed from cavalry general Jeb Stuart, it became a major disadvantage, as it did not let him have knowledge of the Union position.

The reason for the scarcity of cavalry in the Civil War, however, could be explained simply through economical issues. A single horse could cost far more than the salary of a Civil War private, and with paying for supplies and the such, armies simply could not afford the special equipment, animals, uniforms, and higher pay for cavalrymen. Horses also required around 26 pounds of food per day.

Use of Artillery

Artillery, generally consisting of large caliber guns, played a very important defensive role in the Civil War, and also helped with the morale of the troops. It could fire at both long and short range, like shells and canisters. Also, its presence alone could reassure the soldiers on its own side, and therefore helped with their enthusiasm during battle.

The fundamental unit was the battery, which earlier on the the war needed to be attached to infantry brigades. However, later on, batteries began to work in groups, realising that it was more efficient and effective if they worked massed together. Later on, it grew even more extensive and less rare for there to have 20-30 guns on a single target. As for handling each battery, there would be 4-6 men attending it with a captain to command.
A pretty commonly used cannon, the Limber-Caisson
A pretty commonly used cannon, the Limber-Caisson

Almost all fieldpieces used in the Civil War were muzzle-loaded and though there did not appear to be much change from what they used to be in the 17th or 18th century, they were advanced in a couple aspects: in metallurgy, which allowed it to be light but carry powerful shots, and in development of range and accuracy, which, as one would imagine, greatly increased the death toll as those manning the cannons could be more precise in hitting their targets.

The Anaconda Plan

Vicksburg, MS, was a large and strongly reinforced city in the Confederacy that was essential to their control of the Mississipi River, which carried supplies from one end of the South to the other. Because of this, General Ulysses S. Grant, Commanding General of the Union army and also a widely celebrated war hero, decided to concentrate on toppling the great city. It would become one of Grant's prominent achievements in the war.

Earlier in the war, almost right after war officially began on April 12, Union General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, proposed to President of the Union Abraham Lincoln a the very first military strategy devised to crush the rebellion. On May 3, he told his protégé (who would later become the Union General-in-Chief himself) Maj. General George B. McClelan, about a blockade he believed would isolate the disorganised Confederate states and make their job much easier. He would do this with a large force of 60,000 men, thrusting down the Mississipi Valley, and establishing a line of soldiers down the river. There would be gunboats moving down the river until they had secured the river to the Gulf of Mexico, which would seal off the South from itself. General McClelan himself named it the "boa constrictor" plan, according to its purpose of "squeezing" the South's military to death. Later on, the press, after McClelan's alleged remark, named it the "Anaconda Plan".

The plan was not adopted until very later on in the war, when Grant began its procession down the Mississipi to successfully take down much of the Southern states bordering the river, near the end of which Grant started the Siege of Vicksburg, a campaign that would last for months but also gain the Union an enormous advantage in the war.

The Battle of Gettysburg

Perhaps one of the most famous battles fought in the Civil War was the Battle of Gettysburg, and it was often described as the war's turning point and resulted in more casualties than any other in the Civil War. It was fought from July 1-3, near the town of Gettysburg, PA, where Union Maj. General George Gordon Meade lead the North to victory against Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Southern troops.

Initially Lee, after having won what was known as his greatest victory at the Battle of Chancellorsville, had been given permission to lead his army North, but the siege of Vicksburg called for his forces. However, Lee refused and said that by advancing North, to Pennsylvania and then towards the Union capital of Washington D.C., the Union would have no choice but to transfer some of their troops back North to defend their nation's capital. Lee also hoped that by invading, it would help the northern peace movement progress, and therefore disturb the Union war effort. On the Union side, Maj. General Joseph Hooker, after some urging from Lincoln, moved his troops back north to face Lee; however, three days before the famous battle, he was replaced by Meade.
Map of Battle of Gettysburg

On the day the battle officially begun, July 1, Lee received knowledge from scouts that Cavalry Brigadier General John Buford was occupying Gettysburg. He sent Major General Henry Heth and Major General William Pender (of Hill's Corps) to go ahead and drive Buford out, taking control of Gettysburg. The following battle began at 5:30 AM, where tentative shots were being exchanged. Heth advanced until he reached two miles west of Gettysburg, where he released two brigades in line. It was around 10:00 AM when Union General John F. Reynolds, coming to the battleground, commanded both I Corps and XI Corps to march forward and meet Heth. By 11:00 AM, Heth had been defeated and forced to retreat, though Reynolds was killed early on, leaving Maj General Oliver O. Howard to lead both Corps. I Corps left westward to defend that front while XI Corps held the north; Buford's cavalry protected their flanks. Their only strategy at the time was to keep the Confederates at bay long enough for Union reinforcements to arrive. Lee, who had hoped to avoid general engagement as he did not have confirmed information on the enemies' strength nor experience on Gettysburg's unfamiliar land, arrived on the field at noon. However, by 3:00 PM Confederate Ewell's Corps had arrived and both Ewell and Heth had attacked both I and XI Corps. In the end, the Federals were in retreat, losses numbering a little over 9000 plus 3000 captured. Confederate casualties totaled to 6500. Though the Confederacy declared victory the first day, the Union forces had managed to hold most of their ground until additional troops arrived.

Encouraged by the previous day's victory, Lee advanced first again the next day, commanding his right-hand, General James Longstreet, to march south until they had reached the Union flank, where they would, with more troops and a total of twenty thousand men, attack from that point while Ewell progressed to the right side of the Federals. However, the Northern army was very well prepared for the attack, as Meade predicted Lee's movement well. Almost all of his army (six of seven corps) had been put into play in a fish-hook position around Culp's Hill, Cemetery Hill, Cemetery Ridge, and Little Round Top. Left of the line was lead by Maj. General Daniel Sickles, who was unhappy with his position and decided to advance half a mile west without orders to take the high ground. Longstreet attacked not long after this, and after while, during which was filled with fiery battle, the Confederates broke through Sickles' Corps and destroyed its line completely. They continued on to Little Round Top, but Col. Joshua L. Chamberlain and his brigade of about 300 men held their ground, using the element of surprise and well-thought-out plans as their main strategies, held their ground. At the end of the day, each side's losses totaled to approximately 9000, and though each of the Corps in the Confederacy gained some ground, the Union forces had managed to hold its higher ground and still gain advantage.

The third day was Lee's downfall, when he became over-confident in his offensive abilities. The night before, Longstreet was ordered to continue attacking the Federal's left flank, as Ewell again assaulted Culp's Hill. James E. B. (Jeb) Stuart's cavalry were to route around the back (leading them closer to D.C.) and then strike the Union army from the rear, to distract Meade and have him have no choice but to face them, or lose their capital. When Longstreet misunderstood Lee's orders about attacking the right flank for moving the Union to the right, Lee had to change his plans and attack Cemetery Ridge with 12,000 men and 140 cannons. Longstreet was set to command the attack, though he disagreed with the tactic proposed. Meanwhile, Ewell had been defeated on Culp's Hill and was forced to retreat. Maj. General George Pickett was ordered to charge the Union. This was what would eventually be known as Pickett's Charge. It ended, unfortunately for the South, in disaster as the Federal artillery pounded down on them from the higher ground and Pickett's lines were practically demolished, with 5600. Stuart's cavalry was also countered east of Gettysburg.

By the end of the three days, Union casualties were 23,000 and Confederate casualties were from 20,000 to 28,000.


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