Friday, October 9, 2015

New Thinking

I just couldn’t resist taking a photo of this trashcan in part because it’s the basic message of a book that I recently read.

Although it does not focus on the trans-Mississippi, Earl J. Hess’ Civil War Infantry Tactics: Training, Combat, and Small-Unit Effectiveness (LSU Press, 2015) is a must read for anyone interested in how units maneuvered and fought. Some historians, most notably Paddy Griffith and Brent Nosworthy, have argued that the rifle musket did not revolutionize Civil War fighting. Hess agrees and contends that the linear tactics used by infantry units were well suited for the challenges of Civil War combat.

For the first time, I feel like I have a good understanding of how officers actually maneuvered their units and why some formations were more successful than others. Some of the chapter titles are “Tactical Manuals and the Management of Men,” “Moving Forward and the Art of Skirmishing,” “Changing Front,” “Columns,” “Multiple Maneuvers,” and “Large Formations.” For each, Hess gives multiple examples drawn from the Official Records and other primary sources; diagrams and a glossary aid in understanding the formations and maneuvers. After reading this book you will never again wonder what a soldier meant when he wrote about marching by the flank, wheeling, attacking in echelon, or any other puzzling terminology about maneuvering. This is an excellent and fascinating book!

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