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"ACW Assault Columns?" Topic


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mosby65 Inactive Member28 May 2009 1:31 p.m. PST

Did Confederate or Union forces ever use Napoleonic-like assault columns (i.e. "monstrous" columns) to attack fixed enemy positions in any major battle during the Civil War?
I've noted that both Confederate and Union forces were organized into lines-of-battle assaults on enemy positions at Gettysburg, Franklin, Murfreesboro, Fredericksburg, Chattanooga and in the battles around Atlanta. That is, the attacking regiments were in an 8-10 company abreast attack formation with the men in each company in two lines. Isn't that a little too lacking in mass to reasonably hope to force a defended enemy position? Were assault columns completely without merit and discarded except in rare cases by this time as Paddy Griffith seems to say in his Battle Tactics of the Civil War?

Man of Few Words28 May 2009 1:48 p.m. PST

What about Emory's attack on the muleshoe at Spotsyvania?

vtsaogames28 May 2009 3:24 p.m. PST

According to Nosworthy, battalion assault columns were used several times. One time I recall was the Confederates at Corinth. Waud's sketch (he was an eye witness) of 2nd Bull Run shows Union columns.

After Upton's brigade column attack at Spotsylvania, Hancock's corps formed a single column and broke into the muleshoe.

Cold Harbor saw numerous division (possibly corps) columns attack. I think that was the end of giant columns.

Longstreet's formation at Chickamauga wasn't strictly speaking a column, but he did have a lot of units one behind the other, a very deep formation just where the Union line was broken.

Personal logo Dan Cyr Supporting Member of TMP28 May 2009 4:22 p.m. PST

How about the assaults at Vicksburg?

Dan

avidgamer Inactive Member28 May 2009 4:46 p.m. PST

The 'assault' columns weren't like the Napoleonic types. They did not attack in a column of fours, which is the marching column. They did use a column of Companies though. This was called a Column by Company closed in mass, to form divisions. It was two companies formed side by side and the rest of the companies closed the same way, each line having two companies. There were gaps between each line and they weren't bunched together. I'm not sure of the spacing though. This may have been altered as needed though.

This allowed a narrower frontage but dangerous to be shot at by artillery. It also didn't allow much fire power if that was needed. For this reason it wasn't used very often.

Man of Few Words28 May 2009 5:22 p.m. PST

Please insert "Upton" after "Emory" in my earlier posting.

vtsaogames28 May 2009 5:25 p.m. PST

Napoleonic attack columns were not column of fours – that was road column. Napoleonic attack columns were either column of companies or column of divisions – 2 companies wide.

So a French battalion of 6 companies would have 6 companies, each deployed, one behind the other or 3 lines, 2 companies in each.

Spacing varied from full interval (the space needed to deploy into line) to half, quarter, and closed up.

At Waterloo D'Erlon's corps used divisions in columns of deployed battalions, which sounds like what Hancock used at Spotsylvania. But the Rebels didn't have heavy cavalry to spoil it…

Defiant Inactive Member28 May 2009 5:32 p.m. PST

yes, Attack Columns were indeed usually much wider than deep with companies deployed in "Line" of three or two ranks one behind the other or two abreast as explained above.

I remember reading once that the early battles of the ACW war that several battles included attack columns but due to the increase in weapon technology these formations suffered appalling losses and column attacks faded away pretty quickly?

Shane

TKindred Supporting Member of TMP28 May 2009 5:49 p.m. PST

The columns deployed two companies wide are referred to as "Columns of Divisions". The column deployed one company wide is simply a "Column of Companies".

Both of these columns were used extensively for maneuvering when approaching the battle line. These columns were spaced at either full, half, or close distance.

Full distance means that the distance between each company (front to rear) is equal to the frontage of the company in line, half distance being, of course, half the frontage of the company, and close distance being 6 paces.

Full distance allowed for each company or division (two companies) to wheel in one direction or another without impeding the companies to it's rear.

A column marching by the flank (column of fours) could quickly form a column of companies, and then a column of divisions, literally within a few minutes, dressed and ready to go, or could form it while still advancing, the soldiers double-quicking into position while the right guides kept the pace.

Either formation is an excellent way to maneuver large masses of troops about the field, shaking out into line when required.

respects,

vtsaogames28 May 2009 8:11 p.m. PST

"column attacks faded away pretty quickly?"

They had a brief resurgence in 1864, in huge scale.

nsolomon9929 May 2009 3:30 a.m. PST

My understanding, and ACW is not my specialty, is that the Rebs at Shiloh formed up into Napoleonic formations to attack way out in the woods and then tried to advance through the thick woods and became completely disordered – part of what slowed them down.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP29 May 2009 3:32 a.m. PST

At First Kernstown (March 1862) one Union brigade (Tyler's, I think) attacked with its five regiments in columns of divisions. It didn't work too well, although the Union ultimately won.

mosby65 Inactive Member29 May 2009 5:16 a.m. PST

I can understand the column of companies and column of divisions. My copy of Hardee's Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics c shows regimental maneuvers – "battalion evolutions" – in either one or two company components and no other.
Were there any other? That is, did American Civil War battlefield experience cause any variations to this basic column of companies and column of divisions? In ACW regimental scale miniature wargames I've found that organizing an attacking volunteer infantry regiment into two parallel lines of 5 companies each gives me both decent mass and decent fire power when assaulting an enemy position. Is such a formation completely un-historical?
And I still don't understand why the Confederate regiments in Pickett's charge and the Union regiments attacking Marye's Heights at Fredericksburg, for example, attacked fixed enemy positions with single companies in line and abreast; an 8-10 companywide regimental attack front. No depth, and therefore no assault power, at all to carry the enemy position. Did they expect to halt at 100 yards and shoot it out with an enemy under cover? It seems a formation ill-suited to the purpose. My Napoleonic playing friends explain it simply; "American Civil War commanders were amateurs and idiots. Now with a real commander [Davout, Wellington]…and so on. But with all due respect to my Napoleonic playing friends I find this explanation somewhat, ah, partisan.

TheGoldyGopher29 May 2009 6:06 a.m. PST

During the American Civil War the "Attack Column" formation was used a handful of times; however typically it was the terrain that forced the formation rather than Tactical Decision made by an on the field officer.

One of the primary reasons was the improvement of musketry fire and artillery fire between the Napoleonic Period and the American Civil War.
During the Napoleonic Period Napoleon wanted 6 artillery pieces per thousand men (he was closer to 5 in reality at the height of Artillery) and typically artillery piece had to expend 4 to 5 rounds to cause 1 casualty. (I am pulling from memory so my numbers might be slightly off)
During the American Civil War there was about 3 artillery pieces per thousand men and typically an artillery piece had to expend 1 to 2 rounds to cause a casualty.
Which of course brings up the question why wasn't there more canons in the ACW, the answer is lack of horses, both sides had storehouses of unused canons but lacked the horses to move the guns, caissons, supply wagons, field forges, and other needed equipment/wagons.
Had the American Civil War used the Attack Column more frequently one or both sides would have found the horses to pull the artillery batteries because of the huge firepower that could have been brought upon the columns. As the attacks by these columns that did occur during the war took staggering number of casualties, between 33 and 50 percent compared to 10 to 20 percent that the attacks in line took.

My commentary on the subject when brought up by some local gamers, if you want to use formations not "typically" used during the period I am going to adjust my tactics and army composition to meet those tactics, IE I am doubling the number of artillery pieces in my army and reducing the number of battalions.

docdennis1968 Inactive Member29 May 2009 6:34 a.m. PST

Columns were very handy to move units faster and without as much disorder, through woods and rough terrain. They were generally obsolete as "fighting formations" by the time of the ACW, except for a few exceptions (Upton at the Muleshoe, and later Hancock). However, were not a lot of CSA arty removed from the point of attack just prior? This might have led to some advantage to the attacking columns!

avidgamer Inactive Member29 May 2009 7:13 a.m. PST

"American Civil War commanders were amateurs and idiots. Now with a real commander [Davout, Wellington]…and so on. But with all due respect to my Napoleonic playing friends I find this explanation somewhat, ah, partisan."

It is not so much partisan as lack of knowledge of the Civil War. You could add a touch of stupidity as well. :)

Civil War artillery was a real killer at close range. Cannister firing at short range was so effective at knocking down men that 1 or 2 batteries of 12 or 24 pounders backed up by supporting infantry would make any attack across open ground suicidal. It wouldn't matter what formation the attackers were in. Even the typical shell fired by CW artillery was Much better than the Nappy period. The artillery branch of service during the CW was FAR superior their Nappy counterparts.

As far as the CW Generals were concerned… well that's a REALLY stupid statement.

mosby65 Inactive Member29 May 2009 8:28 a.m. PST

I believe my Napoleonic playing friends were being facetious and engaging in some friendly wargamer provocation.
On the other hand they are by and large disagreeable fellows loud, obnoxious, poor personal hygiene and my wife throws rocks at them whenever they come over to the house. Fortunately for my wargaming, they are not easily discouraged.
I just finished a computer sweep of my Official Records (OR) copy and found thousands of references to both sides assaulting enemy positions in column of division formation from First Bull Run to Five Forks. So it seems to me that ACW regiments routinely used the close column formation throughout the war. On the other hand, references to close column attacks do grow less as the war progresses which support the view in this thread that such a battlefield tactic was viewed with growing disfavor.
In the course of this research I did find an interesting topic-relevant reference in General (then Colonel) Sherman's report on First Bull Run:
"Here I learned that Colonel Hunter was disabled by a severe wound, and that General McDowell was on the field. I sought him out, and received his orders to join in the pursuit of the enemy, who was falling back to the left of the road by which the Army had approached from Sudley Springs. Placing Colonel Quinby's regiment of rifles in front, in column by divisions, I directed the other regiments to follow in line of battle, in the order of the Wisconsin Second, New York Seventy-ninth, and New York Sixty-ninth."
Napoleonic "mixed order" attack? Interesting.

TheGoldyGopher29 May 2009 9:06 a.m. PST

One of the problems with the term "Column of Division(s)" is that during the ACW (and other periods) it has multiple meanings depending on the context in which it is used.

In the official Records you will find dozens if not hundreds of reference to "Column of Division" because it is the standard formation (ie reference) to the formation of Corps. Example "The V Corps attacked in Column of Divisions" or "Attacking formation of Corps with Column of Divisions." That meaning is obviousily different than the one the OP is asking about.

Brigades also attacked in Column, which meant one regiment behind another with the battalions in line.

mosby65 Inactive Member29 May 2009 9:44 a.m. PST

GoldyGopher
Good Point. However, reading the entire OR reference in context it is fairly easy to discern whether the writer was speaking of regimental "column by division" or some other meaning. And I found the regimental "column by division" references in virtually all major engagements from 1862 through 165.
However, I also ran across regimental attacks by "column by battalion" , "double line of companies" , "massed companies", "close companies", "companies en masse", "heavy battalion formation", and the particularly intriguing "triple lines en masse", "parallel lines of companies", "massed skirmishers", and "massed ranks by close files". I'd especially give worlds to know what was meant by the last four. Since the OR articles were written by veteran officers, I question if these non-standard references were equivalents of the drill book "column by companies" and "column by divisions". Fully aware of the military terminology of the period, if they meant "column by division" I believe they would have written "column by division". Could these terms indicate some sort of ad hoc attack formations not found in the drill books but rather developed by battlefield experience? In attempts to tie ACW attack formations to the drill books, are we missing the realty of ACW combat?

TKindred Supporting Member of TMP29 May 2009 10:26 a.m. PST

mosby65,

In almost all cases, the "en masse" "close companies/company", etc, means that the companies were closed to within 6 paces distance between their lines.

The big thing with columns during the war is that they can still be effective, IF the terrain will allow for it. If there are sufficient undulations in the ground to provide cover for most of the advance, or a short distance from where the assault begins, then the column is ideal, as it can cover the ground quickly, relatively well protected, and strike with strength.

However, as at Picket's Charge, two considerations led to the assault in line. The first was that the ground was relatively open, with a long distance to cross under fire and only one section where the infantry would be covered for any distance.

Second, it was assumed (incorrectly, as it turned out) that the Federal batteries were driven off and/or disabled by CS artillery fire. In actuality, the Federal batteries simply withdrew behind the crest into cover, and after the infantry appeared, redeployed in support of their own infantry.

Massed skirmishers simply meant that the men would not exceed the allotted interval of 10 paces, often grouping closer. That, at least, has been my understanding from reading contemporary accounts.

respects,

rmcaras Supporting Member of TMP29 May 2009 10:30 a.m. PST

keep in mind the terminology of the day, attacks by the enemy were referred to as "columns of…" Meaning there were waves [usually in line of battle].

Same with your query as to the "mass" of a line of battle.

Like Pickett's charge, not all of the brigades were in line abreast. There was a second line of brigades, and other forces, like Anderson's division were to "come up" after the initial wave penetrated and disrupted the Union center. They did not, though some of the units, did advance and were repulsed on the southern shoulder of the attack.

rmcaras Supporting Member of TMP29 May 2009 10:48 a.m. PST

ps – I would be careful of counting all those OR references as actual attacks in regimental columns/columns of division.

Regiments did form in columns/col of divisions on the battlefield; but I would be surprised if they intentionally attacked in those formations [short of terrain restrictions/attacking prepared works/late war] reason; already stated by many. They did not train to engage in those formations, just maneuver. Why? As already stated, the need to maximize your ability to project force through musket fire, and maximizing the ability to withstand same by spreading your force out. Imagine a compact mass of men; a .577 musket ball at close range could easily strike and pass through arms, legs, shoulders, etc to strike a second, a third or more? Same with case or canister….you'd start multiplying your unit casualties. Second, if you have a compact formation, how many casualties in the front 3-4 ranks does it take to bring the column to a halt as men in the back ranks now must step on/over writhing bodies without spreading out and losing cohesion/momentum? If a regiment of 400 men -10 companies of 40 men each; form in a column of division – thus each company has 20 men each in 2 ranks; So 40 men wide by 10 ranks deep. If 15 men in the first rank, 10 in the second in each of the two lead companies went down; you have virtually covered the entire front of the column. 60 men out of 400; but difficult to move through. I've read a lot of first hand accounts and have always been struck by how the accounts characterize how destructive their experience was; then to read their casualty rate of 5-15% killed; maybe total casualties of 20-25%. Of course there are units that suffered much more; but like in the case of the 1st Minnesota at Gettysburg; their loss was almost instantaneous or in a very short period of time that they really could not take action to minimize their loss.

donlowry29 May 2009 12:28 p.m. PST

Second, it was assumed (incorrectly, as it turned out) that the Federal batteries were driven off and/or disabled by CS artillery fire. In actuality, the Federal batteries simply withdrew behind the crest into cover, and after the infantry appeared, redeployed in support of their own infantry.

I don't believe this is strictly true. Some batteries were withdrawn during the Rebel bombardment and replaced by fresh ones from the Artillery Reserve. One battery did withdraw into Zeigler's Grove during the bombardment and then return to the open when the infantry appeared.

On Gen. Hunt's orders, other batteries just ceased firing during the Rebel bombardment and waited for the Rebel infantry to appear. But Hancock countermanded this order within his 2nd Corps, as he wanted to encourage his infantry by having his artillerymen return fire (at considerable cost to said artillerymen).

donlowry29 May 2009 12:35 p.m. PST

Re "Pickett's Charge": Pettigrew's brigades are said to have formed with each regiment in two lines, with 100 yards between the two lines. Pickett's own division charged with 2 brigades in the front line and a third (Armistead's) in a second line. Also, Union accounts indicate that at least some of Pickett's regiments (probably Armistead's) formed a column of battalions on the left regiment for their final push. That would be just the reverse of Napoleonic practice: instead of approaching in column and then forming line, they approached in line and then formed column!

mosby65 Inactive Member29 May 2009 1:00 p.m. PST

donlowry

Re Pickett's charge. Very interesting especially when seen with Colonel Sherman's First Bull Run report mentioned previously. Evidence seems to be growing that ACW regiments could display considerable flexablity – mixing column and line formations – when deploying formations of its assaulting regiments and were appearently doing this since the start of the war.

TKindred Supporting Member of TMP29 May 2009 2:03 p.m. PST

mosby65,

It's amazing what you can do when you spend 36+ hours a week on the drill field :)

Alabama Inactive Member29 May 2009 6:41 p.m. PST

There is nothing scholarly about this, but my good friend and Chickamauga afficiado Michael Farrar has used the formation in our Fire and Fury matchups and column attacks do work, especially and obviously if flanks are protected.

avidgamer Inactive Member30 May 2009 4:52 p.m. PST

"has used the formation in our Fire and Fury matchups and column attacks do work"

Hang on… you are talking about a game, right? What does this have to do with real life?

mosby65 Inactive Member31 May 2009 8:34 a.m. PST

avidgamer

In defense of Alabama, I rather hope that an ACW miniature wargame would use a set of playing rules written by someone who based them on some decent research into that conflict- which I understand Fire and Fury was – so that they would reflect in some measure the historical realties of that period. Otherwise, wouldn't we all be playing Warhammer 40,000 or Bunnies and Burrows?

avidgamer Inactive Member31 May 2009 10:16 a.m. PST

mosby65,

Yes true. If a rule set makes a certain tactic (any tactic in any period) that was not used very often very successful wouldn't you wonder what the heck is going on with the rules? Perhaps the writers have made it too good? It happens with many rule sets actually. The writers never expect gamers to abuse the tactic and over-apply its use and then suddenly it becomes too common in the games. That's my point.

avidgamer Inactive Member31 May 2009 10:18 a.m. PST

Gamers often find seemingly minor loop holes in rules and then run a truck through it.

mosby65 Inactive Member31 May 2009 11:47 a.m. PST

avidgamer

I think I see your point. One can certainly dispute a set of ACW miniature wargaming rules which allow an admittedly historical maneuver, deployment, or disposition to be used all out of proportion to the limited number of times or special circumstances it was actually used in battle. i.e."This deployment was used once at the Battle of Obscure Junction so I'm going to use it for Pickett's Charge. After all, it's historical".
However, I just spent a good part of this weekend more thoroughly investigating the OR in response to the comments in this thread on ACW assault columns and don't find this argument to be relevant here. Even setting aside all the OR references to columns which are open to interpretation, I find that there are more than enough unambiguous references that show assaults by regiments in column formation to support the use of that formation in any ACW miniature wargame by either side throughout the war. I'm not saying it was always appropriately or wisely used. The spectacular positive results of Emory Upton's initial column attack on the Muleshoe at Spotsylvania Courthouse are matched later by the equally spectacular failure of the same commander using a similar column attack at Cold Harbor. What I am saying is that an ACW wargamer playing a Gettysburg scenario who wants to deploy Pickett's forces in column by devisions, or maybe even in a mixed column and line formation, can do so with some confidence that such a deployment is historically justified. Whether it works better than the historical line of battle deployment? Well, answering that westion is pretty much why a lot of us got into and continue to wargame.

avidgamer Inactive Member31 May 2009 4:13 p.m. PST

mosby65,

No doubt the tactic was used. Barlow's II corps (Upton's plan) charge worked NOT because they were in a column attack but because:

they caught the Rebs half asleep

they didn't fire a shot during the charge

the Reb pickets were captured before a general alarm was
sounded enough in advance to wake everyone up

the Reb guns were removed just before the charge

they attacked at the apex of the earth works (always better than a side)

approached while dark and through woods thereby using surprise

All these factors made the charge work vs. the Mule Shoe. Upton's ideas from the smaller charge worked on a grand scale. My point is that the rules should allow fire (artillery and rifle) from an open ground to rip ANY attack apart so players would see the folly of over-using it. This would eliminate a Pickett's Charge doing it. The rules should be written so players will get smacked around unless the perfect situation is present.

WAB has skirmishers way too potent because they allow it and players make them out to be supermen and better than formed troops. That's wrong and the rules allow no downside.

In the old days we played a lot of Terrible Swift Sword from SPI. The 1st edition rules allowed dismounted cav to make some hasty field works. What the writer wanted was for some kinda way that the cav could help defend themselves. Well it soon became a case where cav's only job was to ride around the battlefield digging rifle pits and then moving to another area to do the same while infantry were able to fall back to these prepared positions. The battlefield became like Verdun! It was silly but legal.

mosby65 Inactive Member31 May 2009 6:58 p.m. PST

Wow, the TSS gopher gambit. Now that takes me back. Puts me in mind of the even older "pagoda ploy" in AH's old Midway boardgame; every Japanese ship in one square. A three inch high stack of counters moving majestically and inexorably to Midway impervious to any attack.
But I certainly appreciate your point. ACW rules that allow the historical use of assault columns must also include the special vulnerability of such a formation to ACW artillery.

avidgamer Inactive Member01 Jun 2009 6:31 a.m. PST

"Wow, the TSS gopher gambit. Now that takes me back. Puts me in mind of the even older "pagoda ploy" in AH's old Midway boardgame; every Japanese ship in one square. A three inch high stack of counters moving majestically and inexorably to Midway impervious to any attack."


mosby65,

Oh wow… never tried that one. Never even had it used on me. I once put all my eggs in one huge wave as the US and blew the hell out of the Japanese in one easy go. That's easy!


Aaaaaaah old AH games. I know them well. Here's another one pulled on me in a game… You are the Russians and you are trying to halt the German advance in Stalingrad game. You shift your forces to meet a new threat and suddenly Germans zoom straight through your lines via an open RR line and get way behind you. What? How can they do that? It was silly but consider 50,000 Germans waiting at a train station all with tickets in hand and the Russian train pulls up… all have valid tickets to Stalingrad. The Russian conductor looks at the tickets and sees they are good. "Okay, I suppose I'll have to let you take the ride. You paid for the tickets so…. what am I supposed to do? Seems legal." We argued about that for a week or two. :)

"But I certainly appreciate your point. ACW rules that allow the historical use of assault columns must also include the special vulnerability of such a formation to ACW artillery."

Yeah I am always on the look out for things like that… if I can spot them. Stuff like allowing columns and/or limbered artillery within enemy rifle shot to march past and unlimber etc without some sort of negative impact. They usually changed formation well out of range whenever they could to avoid needless casualties in a vulnerable state.

mosby65 Inactive Member01 Jun 2009 7:54 a.m. PST

Yep. Fill all the squares on the Midway combat board with Japanese ships leaving no space for the US to deploy its air counters. Result: no US air attack can be launched.
But, enjoyable as this is we are drifting off topic. If you are going to Historicon 2009 maybe we can get together . We seem to be from the same wargaming generation

avidgamer Inactive Member01 Jun 2009 4:19 p.m. PST

"We seem to be from the same wargaming generation"

What? You mean the nearly dead, half deranged, lunatic fringe gamer? *Blah* :)

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP28 Dec 2018 5:56 a.m. PST

Any time that you talk about an attack taking place with successive lines NOT at full interval….. please think of what the best way would be to keep control of the men. In, napoleonics a battalion in line was 150 yards wide (3 ranks)- in the ACW a 2 rank regiment might be about the same……………………. Now if you are going to have (nap) 6 ranks fairly close to one another, what would be the best way to keep them under control? Have the first 3 ranks belong to one colonel (who might be 75 to 150 yards away) AND the next 3 ranks belong to a different colonel (who might be 75 to 150 yards away)????? OR ??????? Have both the first and the second set of 3 ranks belong to the same colonel and he would be no more than 37 to 75 yards away?…………….. This is not exactly rocket science.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP28 Dec 2018 8:55 a.m. PST

Now if you are going to have (nap) 6 ranks fairly close to one another, what would be the best way to keep them under control? Have the first 3 ranks belong to one colonel (who might be 75 to 150 yards away) AND the next 3 ranks belong to a different colonel (who might be 75 to 150 yards away)????? OR ??????? Have both the first and the second set of 3 ranks belong to the same colonel and he would be no more than 37 to 75 yards away?…………….. This is not exactly rocket science.

Perhaps, but you see both [command] configurations during the Napoleonic wars and ACW.

MDavout28 Dec 2018 9:53 a.m. PST

At the battle of Vicksburg the 7th Missouri attacked the Great Redoubt (black fort) in column of divisions. They were preceded by a regiment that was deployed in skirmish to provide cover as the column advanced. The 7th was given specific orders not to load their muskets, the intent being to storm the fortification and seize it at the point of the bayonet. They had ladders that were intended to bridge the moat that surrounded the fort on one side. Unfortunately, the ladders were not long enough. So, they had to jump into the moat cross it and come up the other side. The almost made it to the top of the parapet but the Confederate fire was too much for them. They were an Irish Regiment from St. Louis and carried a green flag. 5 or 6 men carrying the colors were lost that day.

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP29 Dec 2018 12:50 p.m. PST
Major Bloodnok29 Dec 2018 1:23 p.m. PST

Er weren't the Prussians using column attacks in 1866, 1870 and supposedly in 1914?

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP29 Dec 2018 3:06 p.m. PST

Major Bloodnok 29 Dec 2018 1:23 p.m. PST

Er weren't the Prussians using column attacks in 1866, 1870 and supposedly in 1914?

Yes, I think so, but there are scads of people on these boards who claim that everyone fought in line and the only times columns were used was for untrained revolution war French and when steamrolling enemy troops who were already wavering and starting to run away when the columns approached.

Sparta30 Dec 2018 11:35 a.m. PST

Often we tend to forget the modern corporate leadership maxim "culture eats management for lunch". I think this is often confounding discussions on tactics. All troops from the SYW forward could form columns, and attacked in theese when appropriate. However, the perception of when this was feasible was not always based on the technical evolution but as much on the cultural norm in a given army at a given point.

That battalion columns (not the monstrosities with several lines mashed together) was used a lot in the late Napoleonic wars for attacks with effective skirmish supprt, and it was used in 1859 by the french. Also prussian company colimns was actually 200-250 men bot much smaller than some ACW regiments. Its succes required preparation by skirmishers and artillery to be succesfull against lines.

It seems to me that the relative lack of use of btn columns in the ACW is to some degree cultural more than technical. Several authors – most notably Nosworthy – have argued that the American perception of warfare was heavily influenced by Jomini who favored "grand tactical" linear warfare. As such the linear approach used in the ACW was culturally based for the individual officers – they expected to fight in line with the whole division and corps front line in line – effectively ordre mince rather than ordre mixte.

In wargames culture is always harder to put in the rules than technical issues.

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP30 Dec 2018 3:06 p.m. PST

Sparta,
I agree that in the ACW, assault columns (company or division wide) were not the standard. Defending lines were in loose 2 rank lines, could fire 2-5 times a minute and had an accurate enough range of 200 yards or more against mass formations……………..

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP31 Dec 2018 1:15 a.m. PST

Er weren't the Prussians using column attacks in 1866, 1870 and supposedly in 1914?

Yes, the doctrine involved company columns supporting a heavy skirmish line. There was a controversial exchange of writings between a Captain May [IIRC] and the Prussian high command [Moltke] about the Prussian Tactics used in 1866 campaign, but before 1870. One of the questions was about the use of columns for combat, which the Prussian High Command defended.

donlowry31 Dec 2018 8:57 a.m. PST

Since the US Army inherited most of its military ideas from the British, that's probably where the preference for line over column came from.

they expected to fight in line with the whole division and corps front line in line

Not strictly true. There were almost always supporting units behind the front line. Confederate practice was for each brigade to fight in one line, but usually not all brigades were in the front line. (see Pickett's deployment for his charge at Gettysburg, for example.) At Chancellorsville, Jackson attacked in a column of divisions (not little 2-company divisions, big multi-brigade divisions). At Chickamauga, Longstreet's break-through attack was two brigades wide and IIRC 5 deep.

Union practice was for each brigade to form two lines, roughly equal in length. So, if it had 4 regiments 2 would be in each line. Sometimes this was better than a single line, sometimes worse. Better support, but more easily flanked.

Blutarski01 Jan 2019 7:35 a.m. PST

"Since the US Army inherited most of its military ideas from the British, that's probably where the preference for line over column came from."


Note sure about that. My understanding is that US tactical manuals were largely drawn/translated straight from French post-Napoleonic documents.

B

Cleburne1863 Supporting Member of TMP01 Jan 2019 8:32 a.m. PST

"Union practice was for each brigade to form two lines, roughly equal in length. So, if it had 4 regiments 2 would be in each line. Sometimes this was better than a single line, sometimes worse. Better support, but more easily flanked."

I believe this became more common after 1863 with the introduction and use of Casey's manual. In the woods at Chickamauga, it certainly contributed to the flanking of several Union brigades where visibility was often low and the brigade commanders did not have enough time to react and deploy the second line to meet the threat.

Sparta02 Jan 2019 3:30 a.m. PST

Don Lowry

A brigade/division in double line, is still in line as opposed to reteining a force frappe in column for a coup de grace in the Napoleonic fashion, ACW deployment were foten smilar to the deployment of SYW armies or early allied Napoleonic armies – more ordre mince than profond.

And the american military heritage was almost universally french, where do you get the idea that it was british?????

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