Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Civil War Infantry Tactics: Training, Combat, and Small-Unit Effectiveness

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Civil War Infantry Tactics: Training, Combat, and Small-Unit Effectiveness

Article excerpt

Civil War Infantry Tactics: Training, Combat, and Small-Unit Effectiveness. By Earl J. Hess. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2015. Pp. xxiv, 299. $45.00, ISBN 978-0-8071-5937-8.)

One of the long-standing debates in Civil War military history centers on the war's modernity. A popular interpretation holds that the introduction of the rifle musket, with its improved accuracy and an increased firing range, revolutionized Civil War combat. Intertwined with this argument is a belief that Civil War commanders remained slavishly devoted to obsolete battlefield formations, namely linear tactics, because they failed to recognize and adapt to the advancements in the rifle musket. Within the last two decades, historians, including Paddy Griffith, Brent Nosworthy, and Earl J. Hess himself, have challenged and refuted this interpretation, demonstrating that the rifle's efficacy in combat has been overstated. Such conclusions create new opportunities to examine Civil War tactics, and specifically the effectiveness of the linear system. In Civil War Infantry Tactics: Training, Combat, and Small-Unit Effectiveness, Hess provides the first thorough study of small-unit tactics. Drawing on his conclusions that the rifle did not revolutionize combat, Hess argues that linear tactics were not obsolete but were "the correct system to be used with the rifle musket" (p. xiv). Linear tactics did not contribute to the prolonged, indecisive nature of the war but, in fact, "worked very well" (p. xix).

Hess situates Civil War tactics within a broader context of European and pre-Civil War tactics. He also examines the era's three leading tactical manuals--Winfield Scott's, William J. Hardee's, and Silas Casey's--to understand the instructional process to maneuvering men in combat. The bulk of Hess's book offers a detailed treatment of the complexities of forming and maneuvering small units, namely regiments, in battle. Hess finds that Civil War commanders demonstrated great flexibility and diversity in forming and maneuvering their units. Regiments were capable of implementing a myriad of tactical formations, including multiple lines, echelons, and squares. …

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