The Art of Command in the Civil War

By Steven E. Woodworth | Go to book overview

4 / Engineering and Command: The Case of General William S. Rosecrans 1862-1863

PHILIP L. SHIMAN

Engineering is a crucial feature of military operations and an essential factor in military decision making. This was no less true in the 186os than it is today. At the front, Civil War military engineers assisted the armies in marching and fighting. They conducted surveys and prepared maps to enable the leaders at all levels to formulate and execute their plans. They built, repaired, and maintained roads and bridges to allow the army to maneuver, and when necessary they destroyed or obstructed infrastructure to hinder the enemy's movements. They laid out and constructed fortifications to defend the army and essential posts, and they planned and supervised the construction of works intended to overcome the defenses of the enemy. No less important was their work behind the lines, sometimes far from the scene of the fighting. In the theater of war, the engineers' efforts were focused on securing and supported the armies' lines of communications, especially the railroads. They constructed and repaired tracks, bridges, culverts, and depots. They also built fortifications for the defense of the rail lines, especially the most vulnerable points, such as garrisoned posts, depots, and bridges.1

The maintenance and defense of the armies communications was arguably the most important task of the Federal engineers and, indeed, the most formidable strategic problem faced by the Northern commanders. More than one campaign failed for logistical reasons, especially in the western theater. As the Federal armies penetrated into the Southern interior, their supply lines often stretched hundreds of miles through hostile territory. Communications based on rivers were generally secure enough as long as those rivers remained navigable, but when the armies left the security of the waterways they depended almost exclusively on long, thin rail lines that

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