Thursday, April 8, 2010

Predicting Battle Outcomes

For many years, I have heard of how fewer than 50 Confederate soldiers commanded by Lieutenant Dick Dowling held off a force of several thousand Union sailors and soldiers who were attempting to land near Sabine Pass, Texas, in September 1863. Amazingly the small number of soldiers stationed in Fort Griffin was more than ample to hold off the Union force; Dowling even had the luxury of sending two men off to return some dinner dishes to a local hotel!

How was victory achieved? “…battles are often won or lost before they actually take place. Bravery consists not only of knowing when and how to take a stand, but how to be prepared for conflicts before they occur. Hard work and careful preparation are the essential keys to success in war as in all other aspects of our lives” according to Edward T. Cotham, Jr., in Sabine Pass: The Confederacy’s Thermopylae (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004, p. 196). This comment takes into account decision making far from the battlefield (often involving people who are not directly involved in the battle), defensive preparations, the choice of weapons to employ during the battle, supply issues, and many other factors. The battle of Sabine Pass is a fascinating case study of the factors that play a role in who wins and who loses a battle. Cotham ably details how expert Confederate engineering, defensive preparations by the Confederates, overaggressiveness by the Federal navy, the use of poorly armed Federal gunboats, and the failure to land troops in conjunction with the naval attack led to defeat.

1 comment:

  1. I just finished Gary Joiner's "Mr. Lincoln's Brown Water Navy," and your post reminds me of Confederate responses to the Red River expedition. Their rather ingenious use of a wrecked boat as an artificial dam and diversion of one of the Red's tributaries through miles of swampland stranded Porter's squadron and effectively derailed the Federal effort. Added to that, Porter was guided by a river pilot of dubious loyalty, who also diverted Banks's forces along a much longer route than necessary.

    I think the dearth of resources available to the rebels in the defense of the Trans-Mississippi in general required them to devise various strategems and creative solutions that might not have been required had their been more troops at hand.

    Thanks for the review - I'll be adding this to my list of books to read.