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"Was the Civil War Modern? – No" Topic

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American Civil War

1,024 hits since 23 Feb 2018
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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP23 Feb 2018 9:21 p.m. PST

"After the Second World War, many American Civil War historians came to argue that the Civil War was the first modern/total war. As summarized by Mark Grimsley, in The American Civil War: a Handbook of Literature and Research this theme includes a number of contentions. Troops armed with breech-loading infantry arms and artillery, primitive machine guns, and ironclad ships, early balloons, and trench warfare in the Civil War are cited as evidence. The use of railroads, steam ships and riverboats, and telegraph are said to have affected strategy. New mass armies of volunteers and emphasis on industrial capacity influenced battles and campaigns. The status of civilians as legitimate targets of armies and strategy may be the most significant aspect making the American Civil War the first modern and total of the new period of war, so the argument goes.[1]

Although a common theme in American Civil War historiography, recent scholarship has begun to question this interpretation. The idea of modern war is an imprecise term. Any war is modern for its own time. The reference to "modern war" is more reasonably meant to distinguish twentieth-century industrial-age war from previous periods. The question should be at what point was truly "modern" industrial war achieved as opposed to simply partial development. The term "Total War" is properly and clearly a twentieth-century term and phenomena that is not applicable to campaign conditions prior to 1900…."
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Personal logo Bobgnar Supporting Member of TMP23 Feb 2018 9:32 p.m. PST

Does this have implications for gaming with miniatures or is it just a topic for people to discuss?

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP23 Feb 2018 9:36 p.m. PST

What do you think?…

If you follow the rules… there would be no problems…


mildbill24 Feb 2018 6:11 a.m. PST

The point that war changed was the use of barbed wire.

Wackmole9 Supporting Member of TMP24 Feb 2018 7:18 a.m. PST

And Railroads, Massed uses of field fortifications,
Mines, Armored warships, Repeating Weapons, Telegraph,
anaesthetic, and War on a Industrial scale.

Shagnasty Supporting Member of TMP24 Feb 2018 7:30 a.m. PST

Telegraph war was used at Knoxville as tripping wires and don't forget both land and sea mines.

donlowry24 Feb 2018 9:01 a.m. PST

Like most wars, it was more modern than those that went before, and less modern than those that came after.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP24 Feb 2018 9:40 a.m. PST



catavar24 Feb 2018 10:12 a.m. PST


ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP24 Feb 2018 12:10 p.m. PST

For years I've been arguing that the Civil War was the last of the old style wars rather than the first modern war.

jdginaz24 Feb 2018 12:34 p.m. PST

People have been arguing both side of this since at least the 1920s and probably continue doing so for many years to come.

In my opinion it was the bridge between the old and the new with aspects of both.

Bill N24 Feb 2018 2:26 p.m. PST

What Don said.

I would argue modern warfare requires high explosives, combat aircraft and self propelled machinery that does not require railroad tracks, which makes WW1 or one of the small wars immediately preceding it the first modern war.

corzin25 Feb 2018 9:40 a.m. PST

i think when people say modern, it could mean the end of solid lines of troops just lining up across a field and that style of war of the few hundred years before it.
as others have pointed out, warfare has always brought out new technologies or improved use of technology.

Rallynow Supporting Member of TMP25 Feb 2018 10:45 p.m. PST

As with most wars strategy and tactics lagged behind technology. Was the Crimea the first modern war?

The ACW saw the use of trains to move Corps size units across country. There was the telegraph, ironclad ships, repeating rifles, early machine guns, trenches. Despite all of that both sides held on to linear formations.

I have always maintained that 1914 just after the Marne was when modern warfare started. It was finally the end of the linear formation. Trenches and open order for the rest of the war. Then armor showed up.

Good point about barbed wire. It affected Infantry and it was hard to do cavalry charges with barbed wire around.

Blutarski26 Feb 2018 7:21 a.m. PST

"Modern" is an impossible concept to establish, as it a relative term that constantly evolves over time … especially when seeking to address it in technological terms alone. Perhaps the most honest thing to say is that the first "modern" war to be fought is the most recent one.

I offer this personal opinion as to why the ACW should be considered a landmark in nation-state warfare. Grant's Overland Campaign marks the first time (please correct me if I'm wrong) that war was actively waged on a full year-round basis, without regard to season.


donlowry26 Feb 2018 9:02 a.m. PST

Well, Grant's Henry/Donelson campaign took place in February of 1862.

daler240D Supporting Member of TMP Inactive Member26 Feb 2018 3:44 p.m. PST

telegraph and railroads changed everything. It was not an incremental effect but a quantum change.

RudyNelson26 Feb 2018 4:29 p.m. PST

I would support the notion of a transitional war. Elements of both old style and as with any war new innovations whenever possible.

The Armies Generals were still trained to use Napoleonic tactics.
Torpedoes were mounted on sticks as they were in earlier wars.
The lack of use of barbwire, since using barbwire would have been a transition to the 1900s.
Weapons adapted but mussle-loading guns and cannon were still in use.
More examples but I am tired.

Blutarski28 Feb 2018 12:17 p.m. PST

WW1 was not a modern war. No nuclear bomb or jet aircraft.


Bill N28 Feb 2018 4:58 p.m. PST

One reason campaigning in winter was unusual was because of problems feeding horses. During the winter of 1864-5 certain Confederate units in Virginia supposedly sent their horses south because there wasn't sufficient fodder in the areas they were operating. U.S. forces could rely on water and rail transport to bring in fodder, something the Confederates could not match. It also helped that a large portion of Grant's mounted arm was operating with Sheridan in the Valley during that winter.

TNE230002 Mar 2018 6:18 p.m. PST

It was the first war where 'Industrial Capacity' became a significant factor?

Rallynow Supporting Member of TMP02 Mar 2018 6:52 p.m. PST

Key Factors that made the Civil War the "first modern war"

•The telegraph allowed for swift communication between commanders and forces in the field.
•A broad railroad network allowed rapid transportation of supplies and troops.
•Ironclad warships —featuring heavy naval guns and sophisticated steam engines—also emerged during this period.
•The introduction of rifling to muskets dramatically changed the nature of warfare, allowing soldiers to aim at a target from a much greater distance than was previously possible.
•The United States Military Academy at West Point and the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis provided professional military education for officers.
•The first field hospitals and rudimentary ambulance systems also appeared during this conflict.


donlowry03 Mar 2018 8:53 a.m. PST

Those were the things -- well, some of them were -- that made the ACW somewhat more modern that previous American wars. (Can't speak for what was happening in Europe.)

However, rifled muskets don't seem to have changed tactics much. Maybe soldiers "could" aim at targets over a longer distance, but most of them didn't (aim).

Surely other countries had military and naval academies before the U.S. did. I believe Napoleon attended one in France, didn't he?

Despite (or because of) the hospitals, more soldiers in the ACW died of diseases than from wounds.

Rallynow Supporting Member of TMP06 Mar 2018 3:19 p.m. PST

Nope rifled muskets didn't change tactics until late. It takes time for tactics to catch up to technology.

ScottS06 Mar 2018 6:43 p.m. PST

•The first field hospitals and rudimentary ambulance systems also appeared during this conflict.

I'm pretty sure that was Napoleonic France's "ambulance volante" system.

kabrank08 Mar 2018 6:03 a.m. PST

One key point in the evolution of Modern warfare would be the introduction of smokeless "synthetic" propellants.

This affects tactics and weapon design.

Personal logo capncarp Supporting Member of TMP04 Apr 2018 6:06 p.m. PST

+1 Bill N and TNE2300--The concept of a nation's industry being rallied and applied to the _logistics_ of its entire army. Previous wars had a loose concept, but the meshing of the self-propelled land and sea transport, the relatively instantaneous communications, and the broad inclusion of higher technologies (ironclads, mass production of interchangeable parts, rapid-fire small arms (revolvers, breechloaders, repeating rifles) push the Civil War into the Modern realm.

Quaama05 Apr 2018 10:38 a.m. PST

I agree with ScottWashburn and generally align myself with the Paddy Griffith view that it was the last Napoleonic-style war: see link for a brief overview on his book. His book also details why outcomes were different, for example the role of cavalry.

I accept that factors such as railroads, ironclads, telegraphs and trenches were important differences but argue that those who fought it viewed it in Napoleonic terms and largely fought the battles in same manner. Such is evident from numerous autobiographies and contemporary accounts from that time that often refer to Napoleonic tactics.

Bill N06 Apr 2018 8:28 a.m. PST

Why do you consider the ACW to be a Napoleonic style war, but not the Franco-Prussian War?

Quaama06 Apr 2018 11:38 a.m. PST

I don't have enough knowledge about the Franco-Prussian War to comment. Perhaps the FPW was the last Napoleonic-style war and the ACW was the second-last.

dantheman Supporting Member of TMP06 Apr 2018 5:53 p.m. PST

The Impact of the rifled musket is overated. Especially as the minie bullet had a strange trajectory you had to compensate for to be accurate. Loading was still slow by modern standards.

However, I think one clear modern concept came from the repeater weapons. Far greater impact than rifled muskets. Federal cavalry in the later years practiced the concept of area fire to support comrades ‘going in'. A precursor to modern tactics. Why this is not brought up more than talk of ranges is beyond me.

donlowry07 Apr 2018 8:44 a.m. PST

Probably because repeaters were still pretty rare, and the vast majority of infantrymen on both sides still used muzzleloaders. Also, cavalry, as such, is not considered "modern."

donlowry07 Apr 2018 9:00 a.m. PST

Maybe we could agree that tactically it was Napoleonic, but in terms of strategy and (especially) logistics it was modern.

GROSSMAN09 Apr 2018 10:06 a.m. PST

Also first to use barbed wire balloons and submarines.

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