Author Topic: But, but.... why?!  (Read 3403 times)

bayonetbrant

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on: June 24, 2019, 09:37:32 AM
We spent an episode of Mentioned in Dispatches on "why do we care about the Napoleonic Wars?" and madcap fun was had by all


However, I wonder just as much why the fascination with the American Civil War* not only in the US, but overseas, too.
I get the WW2 fascination - major shooting war that's reasonably recognizable as today's military, global political ramifications still very much with us today, and it helps that we have living WW2 veterans still around to talk about, and most wargamers can rattle off a half-dozen or more WW2 veterans that were around for a non-trivial part of our lifespans.

But none of those circumstances (recognizable military, current global political ramifications, living veterans) applies to the ACW.
Is it just that it's so easy to visit the battlefields?  That doesn't seem to apply if you're overseas.  There are still political ramifications in the US but again, not relevant in the UK, or Japan, or Italy.  The veterans have been gone for decades.

So perhaps even more than Napoleon, you gotta look at the ACW and wonder, "why?"

What do you guys think?




* let's also take a moment to ponder why, even overseas, "The Civil War" is always understood to be the ACW, and not the ECW, or the Greek Civil War of 1940s, or the disintegration of Yugoslavia, or Mao's China, or any other

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bbmike

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Reply #1 on: June 24, 2019, 10:31:02 AM
Wait, who cares about the Napoleonic Wars?  :whistle:

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Barthheart

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Reply #2 on: June 24, 2019, 10:45:07 AM
Who cares about the ACW?  :dunno:

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bbmike

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Reply #3 on: June 24, 2019, 11:07:08 AM
Who cares about the ACW?  :dunno:

The companies who sell crap to all the ACW reenactors!  :bigthumb:

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bayonetbrant

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Reply #4 on: June 24, 2019, 11:31:33 AM
Who cares about the ACW?  :dunno:


I absolutely do not, but GMT has, and is selling, about 29834750239487503 different ACW games, so someone is buying them


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JasonPratt

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Reply #5 on: June 25, 2019, 10:19:56 AM
The ACW is absolutely a paradigm for the transitional period from early gunpowder warfare into industrial war; combined with some excellent terrain dynamics (both strategically and tactically, ranging from coastal to the opening of the American west), lots of colorful personalities on both sides some of whom are internationally famous, gallantry on both sides, a uniquely American look (for variety from the standard European look of the time), the drama of brother-vs-brother at a national level, and the massively huge stakes which are relevant to world history: can a nation devoted to institutional slavery survive into the modern world?

To which can be added the color, and even the spectacle, of a nation with the soul of a church (as GK Chesterton later put it in 1922 during his visit, echoing the French historian who toured America shortly before the ACW whose name I ought to remember but the relevant neurons are laughing at my efforts right now ::) ) bringing that spiritual and political emphasis into the contradictions of a total civil war. Clearly good men, fighting for clearly good reasons on each side, are tearing each other apart -- but then one side is threatening centralized tyranny with a federal imposition, and the other side is protecting actual tyranny over enslaving their fellow man! It would be a miracle if anything good came out of the victory of either side; and yet, it did.

Also there are gatling guns.  >:D

On the other hand, the Americans have no idea how to use cavalry (by European standards), and yet they're out there being awesome anyway. Such as by pulling around and deploying small cannons and (this must be emphasized) gatling guns.  :biggrin:


For a brief look at what Europeans sometimes see in the ACW, I can very much recommend this contemporary account by the British Lt. Col. Freemantle and his tour of the southern states up to and including arriving in time for Gettysburg: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0995074712

(Edited to add: opps, that book is out of print now. Too bad; that was a great print edition. There may be free electronic editions available somewhere tho, or physicals for sale on ebay etc.)
« Last Edit: June 25, 2019, 11:54:59 AM by JasonPratt »



bayonetbrant

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Reply #6 on: June 25, 2019, 11:31:13 AM
echoing the French historian who toured America shortly before the ACW whose name I ought to remember but the relevant neurons are laughing at my efforts right now ::) 


Alexis de Tocqueville?  he was a little while before the ACW

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JasonPratt

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Reply #7 on: June 25, 2019, 12:00:49 PM
That's him! I tend to think of the generation before the ACW as "shortly before". ;) Mainly because many of the principle leaders were professionally active at that time, and then became elder professional commanders or statesmen during the ACW.

He didn't coin the phrase, but Chesterton clearly had him in mind when talking about what he (Chesterton) meant: that America alone of all nations had been founded on a what amounted to a religious ideal.
« Last Edit: June 25, 2019, 08:49:23 PM by JasonPratt »



besilarius

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Reply #8 on: June 25, 2019, 08:12:21 PM
Jason, if you're interested in how good the cavalry could be, you should try Eric Wittenburg's Holding the Line on the River of Death

How Union Mounted Troops Opened the Ball at Chickamauga

Among the most prolific of Civil War historians, Wittenberg, author of One Continuous Fight, Like a Meteor Blazing Brightly, The Battle of Brandy Station, and many other works, has the knack of getting readers right into the front lines, while at the same time familiarizing them with the “Big Picture” and the conduct of war. This is well displayed in this look at the remarkable holding action by two rather weak Union mounted brigades on the eve of the Battle of Chickamauga that certainly saved the Army of the Cumberland from a disaster far worse than that which befell it over the following two days.

Wittenberg begins by introducing us to Col. H.G. Minty’s ”Saber Brigade”, cavalrymen armed mostly with breech loaders, and Col. John T. Wilder’s “Lightening Brigade”, most mounted infantrymen armed with Spencer repeating rifles. He explains the circumstances that brought them to spend September 18, 1863, covering the front of the Army of the Cumberland as Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans desperately juggled his army corps to cope with an unanticipated Confederate offensive, and then plunges into a detailed account of their actions that day.

With a thorough knowledge of tactics, and excellent use of terrain, the two brigades, numbering hardly 2,000 men with a few pieces of artillery, held off far larger forces, in an action easily matching the more famous holding one by Brig. Gen. John Buford’s cavalry on the first day at Gettysburg. At times Wittenberg gives us almost a minute by minute account of the events, drawing upon a large volume of personal accounts by men from both sides, while offering us a basic course in tactics; his description of vidette and outpost duty is the best summary this reviewer has seen.

Wittenberg covers the events of the 18th, and the role of the brigades during the Battle of Chickamauga through the Union retirement into Chattanooga, arguing that the battle, usually dated September 19-20 actually extended over a longer period. He follows with an overview of the careers of the two colonels and their troops through and beyond the end of the war, and then adds a mini-guidebook for anyone who wants to visit the scene.

This is an outstanding account of one of the most impressive, and very overlooked, feats of arms during the Civil War, and worth a read by anyone with an interested in the war or in mounted operations..

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JasonPratt

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Reply #9 on: June 25, 2019, 08:45:42 PM
Oooooo! That is very squee!

Incidentally, Fremantle passed through the area earlier that summer on his tour, during the light skirmishing (this was some time before Gettysburg of course, but not long before due to a train ride afterward). He recorded a firsthand account of Confederate dismounted cav skirmishing as they withdrew through his position after launching their sneak attack. (I'm pretty sure that was at Chickamunga; but I don't have his book handy for reference at the moment.)

This was also the area of my favorite anecdote from the book. One of the Confederate brigadiers during this period, before Fremantle arrived later (because he heard the story from several sources afterward), was doing a forward recon for placing some arriving regiments in cover in the area toward dusk, and as the most recently placed regiment arrived he was rather aggravated to see another regiment already in cover ahead of him open up on them. Riding over to stop the friendly fire before the new arrivals took any serious casualties, he quickly discovered that this was a Union company! At the time their uniforms weren't too different, so he brazened it out and demanded they stop shooting at their fellow troops. (It was when they answered that they were sure those were rebs, that he himself realized his mistake.) After bluffing the federals sufficiently, he casually rode away expecting to feel a minie ball in the back at any moment. But he made it back to his brigade alive; whereupon he mustered some available regiments to go clear out that thicket promptly -- saying afterward he never saw a union force destroyed so utterly as that one!



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Reply #10 on: June 29, 2019, 04:52:09 PM
Wait, who cares about the Napoleonic Wars?  :whistle:

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Reply #11 on: December 22, 2019, 07:55:47 AM
As we just passed the bicentennial of the Peninsular War and the rest of the Napoleonic conflicts, interest in this period in Europe reached a sort of peak. Spain made quite a big thing of it (it was, after all, their War of Independence) with many re-enactments in which British contingents took part. In the UK, the Napoleonic re-enactment groups are fairly popular and the period has always been a favourite of miniatures gamers (funnily enough, less so of recent years). Maybe it's because it was the first European war that was close to global and that used firearms in huge numbers but still boasted "pretty" uniforms.

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bayonetbrant

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Reply #12 on: December 22, 2019, 02:13:35 PM
Was the ACW the last 'old' war or the first 'modern' war?


https://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/CivilWar/CivilWarModern


Quote
After the Second World War, many American Civil War historians came to argue that the Civil War was the first modern/total war. As summarized by Mark Grimsley, in The American Civil War: a Handbook of Literature and Research this theme includes a number of contentions. Troops armed with breech-loading infantry arms and artillery, primitive machine guns, and ironclad ships, early balloons, and trench warfare in the Civil War are cited as evidence. The use of railroads, steam ships and riverboats, and telegraph are said to have affected strategy. New mass armies of volunteers and emphasis on industrial capacity influenced battles and campaigns. The status of civilians as legitimate targets of armies and strategy may be the most significant aspect making the American Civil War the first modern and total of the new period of war, so the argument goes.[1]

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Reply #13 on: December 22, 2019, 02:32:12 PM
You could say the the Franco-Prussian War, 1870-71 was a transition between the 'Old'and the 'New' - maybe even go to the Russo-Japanese War 1904-05. You still had massed infantry and cavalry, but also machine guns and more lethal breech loading rifles and artillery.

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ojsdad

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Reply #14 on: December 22, 2019, 04:06:59 PM
Perhaps the ACW was the first of the transitional wars.  New technology and industrialization with old style tactics.  The two things that seemed to be missing were non-muzzle loading rifles and the heavy artillery seen in WWI.

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