The Army of Northern Virginia: Lee's Army in the American Civil War, 1861-1865

By Philip Katcher | Go to book overview

Nature of the War

The Civil War marked a turning point in the way battles were fought. Deadly new firearms-when they could be obtained-forced the development of new combat tactics among infantry and artillery, while the traditional cavalry charge was consigned to history.

In 1775 Americans went to war with smoothbore flintlock muskets and 6pounder smoothbore cannon. They fought with linear tactics-that is, infantry regiments stood in line and fired in volleys like a gigantic shotgun until their enemies' regiments faltered, and then charged with a fixed bayonet, or were driven from the field themselves. Artillery lined up between the regiments on the frontline to support the infantry. Cavalry guarded the flanks and then charged a fleeing foe. Essentially these tactics lasted through to the Mexican War of 1846, though there were minor changes. The artillery in that war featured one battery of horse artillery per regiment, providing maneuverable frontline fire support. There were other advances as well. In 1842, only four years before the Mexican War, the U.S. Army adopted a smoothbore musket that used a copper percussion cap instead of a flintlock. This made the weapon usable in rain, something that dampened the powder in the flintlock pan of muskets and made them unusable.

British weapons expert George Hanger wrote of British smoothbore flintlock muskets in the 18th century, “A soldier's musket, if it was not exceedingly ill-bored (as many of them are), will strike the figure of a man at 80 yards [73 m]; it may even at 100 [91 m]; but a soldier must be very unfortunate indeed who shall be wounded by a common musket at 150 yards [137 m], provided his antagonist aims at him; and as to firing at a man at 200 yards [182 m] with a common musket, you may just as well fire at the moon and have the same hopes of hitting your object. I do maintain and will prove, whenever called on, that no man was ever killed at 200 yards by a common soldier's musket, by the person who aimed at him.” The weapon Hanger described was essentially the smoothbore musket used by the U.S. Army in the Mexican War, be it percussion cap or flintlock.

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The Army of Northern Virginia: Lee's Army in the American Civil War, 1861-1865
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Key to Maps 6
  • Foreword 7
  • Introduction 8
  • Part I - Creating the Machine 9
  • Background to War 11
  • Recruitment and Training 27
  • Nature of the War 43
  • Logistics 63
  • Part II - The Years of Attack 81
  • The First Manassas Campaign 83
  • Jackson's Valley Campaign 101
  • The Peninsula Campaign 119
  • The Second Manassas Campaign 139
  • The 1862 Maryland Campaign 155
  • Fredericksburg 173
  • Chancellorsville 191
  • Gettysburg 209
  • Part III - The Nature of the Army 229
  • Robert E. Lee 231
  • The Senior Command Structure 245
  • The Rank and File 259
  • The Army and the State Authorities 273
  • Part IV - The Years of Defense 285
  • The Winter of 1863-64 287
  • The Wilderness to Cold Harbor 301
  • Cold Harbor to Petersburg 315
  • The Final Campaign 329
  • Bibliography 345
  • Index 348
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