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"Post ACW US army compared to contemporary European armies?" Topic


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1,026 hits since 8 Apr 2018
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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Zookie08 Apr 2018 7:19 p.m. PST

I heard an interesting quote that at the end of the war if you had an army with the Rebel infantry, Union Artillery and backed by a united American industry there was no land army on earth that could match it at the time. Made me wonder how true that was. If you had US/UK conflict in Canada or a purely textbook theoretical Franco-Prussian war where the France was defended by the US army, or some other hypothetical US/European Great Power conflict how would a post Civil War US army stack up to the long standing European armies.

Wackmole9 Supporting Member of TMP08 Apr 2018 7:45 p.m. PST

We had a Huge numbers of Trained Experienced Men and Leaders. We could feed, Supply Vast Armies. We Had a Large trained fleet of Ironclads and Steam frigates.

So I don't think any Nation in the world would want a war with the USA.

AussieAndy Supporting Member of TMP08 Apr 2018 8:29 p.m. PST

Yes, huge numbers of trained and experienced men, but I suspect that, by 1865, a significant proportion of them were suffering from combat stress and keener on staying alive than storming fortifications. My guess is that the high point of fighting capacity probably came in 1863, when most troops were experienced, but not completely jaded. Plus, of course, in 1863, you don't have to worry about Krupp artillery or Chassepot rifles.

HANS GRUBER09 Apr 2018 3:23 a.m. PST

Combat stress may have been a problem for the armies of the Potomac, Northern Virginia and Tennessee (CSA), but I suspect it was less of a problem for the armies of Sherman and Thomas.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP09 Apr 2018 4:14 a.m. PST

Historically, the European armies all looked down at the amateurish Americans. Few felt that they had anything to learn from the Americans in the Civil War--except for our cavalry. The Europeans admitted that American cavalry, in the light cavalry, scouting/raiding category, was superior to most European cavalry.

In reality, I think an America-vs-Europe conflict would come down to home field advantage. Put a European army in North America and my money is on the Americans. An American Army in Europe, just the reverse.

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP09 Apr 2018 5:19 a.m. PST

Scott nailed – in the immediate post ACW period an American army fighting in North America would be hard for a European army to beat; on the other hand, if the American troops had to load up in troopships, a lot of that war-weariness would kick in

Now, if you waited, the post ACW US Army ten years after the ACW would be a different story!

oldjarhead09 Apr 2018 7:13 a.m. PST

I think a major problem would have been getting the American troops to Europe. Most of the ironclads were coastal/riverine warships, while the Royal Navy had at least 6 seagoing ironclads and a large number of steam ships of the line, frigates and smaller warships. Otherwise have to agree with Scott

donlowry09 Apr 2018 8:53 a.m. PST

There's also the question of motivation.

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP09 Apr 2018 9:42 a.m. PST

We Had a Large trained fleet of Ironclads and Steam frigates.

Most of the ironclads are coastal defence vessels, lacking the ability to project power more than a few miles from shore.

The a portion of the wooden navy would be useful from a "Guerre de Course." (Commerce raiding).

Bill N09 Apr 2018 11:46 a.m. PST

Didn't the U.S. armed forces demobilize fairly quickly once the French started to pull out of Mexico? Unlike for example Prussia the U.S. did not preserve the military infrastructure to remobilize competent and large land and naval forces quickly. I suspect the U.S. in 1864-66 would have been a more formidable opponent than the U.S. in 1876.

darthfozzywig Supporting Member of TMP09 Apr 2018 2:08 p.m. PST

No way, Bill N! The US Army of 1876 was an elite, mobile force capable of defeating a much larger, better-equipped force of Sioux, et al, at the Little Big Horn. Or not, as it happens.

79thPA Supporting Member of TMP09 Apr 2018 4:28 p.m. PST

I would say Union infantry, Union artillery, and America's industrial might.

Wackmole9 Supporting Member of TMP09 Apr 2018 5:51 p.m. PST

Yes but several could get to the UK

It was Friday afternoon, 29 June 1866 at Spithead, outside the naval base and arsenal of Portsmouth—the strategic heart of British sea power. The double-turreted U.S. ironclad monitor Miantonomoh , en route to Russia on a goodwill mission, had just fired a demonstration shot from one of her four tremendous 15-inch guns for members of the press and Parliament and the Lords of the Admiralty, who were on board, as well as interested observers crowded along the shore.

link

link

Stephen Miller09 Apr 2018 5:58 p.m. PST

By 1867 all of the US Volunteer regiments had been mustered out and the U.S. Army (Regulars all) was at a strength of about 55,000. Within 5 years, it was decreased to about 25,000 enlisted and about 2000 officers. Infantry regiments decreased from 45 to 25 with the remaining decrease absorbed by reducing the strength of companies from about 80 to the 50-60 range.

Lucius09 Apr 2018 6:28 p.m. PST

Motivation is important. After losing 620,000 out of a population of 31,000,000, no American army was going to take the field – unless North America was invaded.

In which case the invader would be quickly crushed by a nation already on a war footing, intimately familiar with exact knowledge of how to win in North America.

Lion in the Stars09 Apr 2018 7:12 p.m. PST

Yeah, war weariness/PTSD was a major thing. My grandma's grandpa fought with the 4th Maine (I have his discharge paperwork to prove it), and the only thing he ever said to her about The War was that "it was too terrible to talk about." Reading the action history of the 4th Maine, I can't say I blame him. From 1440 at the start, they were down to 287 at Gettysburg.

But God have mercy on any European starting a fight on US soil for the next 20-30 years, for the Americans would have absolutely none. Maybe longer, since there's also the Indian Wars experience.

The Trapdoor Springfield is broadly comparable to the Chassepot, too, so until the deployment of the Mausers/Krags/etc the US was comparably armed to any Europeans.

donlowry15 Apr 2018 12:54 p.m. PST

IIRC, the Prussian ambassador to the U.S., witnessing the end-of-the-war parade through Washington, said of Sherman's troops, "an army like that could whip all of Europe," or words to that effect.

AICUSV16 Apr 2018 9:10 p.m. PST

By post ACW do you mean 1898? "Remember the Maine"

Lion in the Stars17 Apr 2018 6:50 a.m. PST

That's two generations after the war. You're getting the stories of what happened there from Grandpa.

Worse, that's a LOT of military generations after the war, and all the US military experience was against the Tribes. It's a completely different fight against Tribes than against an organized Army.

donlowry17 Apr 2018 8:59 a.m. PST

A suggestion for you what-if-ers out there: Phil Sheridan vs. the French in Mexico, 1865.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP17 Apr 2018 8:52 p.m. PST

At the end of the war, the Union army was nearly 6 times as big as any European army. AND had four continuous years of war… the best any European army could do in 1865/66 was half that period of time with armies 1/5 the size…

There are many comparisons, but those have to count for a lot.

Daniel S18 Apr 2018 3:31 a.m. PST

So what are the actual numbers you are comparing rather than size rations which are notoriously difficult to fact check? At first glance the information a quick search gathered online suggests a peak strenght of about 700.000 for the Union which is quite significant hardly 6 times larger than European armies such as the Prussians or Austro-Hungarians who both fielded 400.000+ in the War of 1866. You only get to that ratio by comparing the total number of men who served in the Union ranks i.e a question of comparing apples to oranges.

And the European wars of the period were mostly limited wars ended with negotiations rather than all-out struggles for survival, hence the short duration of for example the wars in the 1860's. Just a few years later the FPW would see a struggle on a diffrent scale with both sides mobilising a total of some 3.4 million men.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP18 Apr 2018 4:24 a.m. PST

Yes, there were 425,000 men engaged at Koniggratz in 1866. That's about twice the size of any ACW battle. With the American's lack of a real staff system, I doubt they could even control field armies that big.

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP19 Apr 2018 7:27 a.m. PST

Yes, there were 425,000 men engaged at Koniggratz in 1866. That's about twice the size of any ACW battle. With the American's lack of a real staff system, I doubt they could even control field armies that big.

Quite. The US had problems with staff work on both sides. Never developed a 'general staff' and certainly didn't have a von Moltke the Elder or anyone approaching him.

At the end of the war, the Union army was nearly 6 times as big as any European army. AND had four continuous years of war… the best any European army could do in 1865/66 was half that period of time with armies 1/5 the size…

You say that like it's a good thing. The Prussians beating two major European powers less than 12 months is surely a better indication of military prowess.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP19 Apr 2018 12:40 p.m. PST

gathered online suggests a peak strength of about 700.000 for the Union which is quite significant hardly 6 times larger

Keep in mind that is at one point of the war and doesn't count all the troops that passed through the army as either casualties or mustering out, though I have seen numbers closer to 1 million.

Again, I wasn't talking about the size of battles or staff, just the relative size of an experienced army.

You say that like it's a good thing. The Prussians beating two major European powers less than 12 months is surely a better indication of military prowess.

In far more contained, different terrain with more limited results. i.e. Not the woods and fewer road nets in the middle and Southern States, and not needing to completely eliminate the opposing nation nearly the size of all of Europe.

Then again, I wasn't speaking of relative 'military prowess', just that the US had a very large army with more combat experience [length of time at war] than any European army.

However, Prussians had their learning curve too from 1866 and 1870… and their 'prowess' of the military had a lot to do with the leadership of Austria and France.

The combat traditions of European and American armies were different, particularly in cavalry, but there were a number of European military observers during the ACW and vice versa that thought that the Union army of 1864-5 would have been able to hold there own against a European army. Obviously, there were those who didn't agree and again, the terrain and strategic demands were far different.

donlowry20 Apr 2018 9:06 a.m. PST

It would probably come down to who had the "home court" advantage.

Bill N20 Apr 2018 12:47 p.m. PST

I do not doubt your assessment McLaddie if we are talking about the U.S. Army of 1864-5. Go even a few years later though and you are dealing with a different army.

As I recall the U.S. Army by the end of 1866 was less than one tenth the size of the Army at the beginning of 1865, and the strength continued to drop off after that. Most units were either committed to the western frontier or, until 1877 to garrisoning the defeated south. No mechanism had been put into place to allow the rapid recreation of the volunteer regiments that had won the war, so a rapid mobilization would mean calling up the militia. It would have been a better equipped body with more combat veterans than the units fielded in 1861, but it would still be a drop off from the army of 1865. Plus there were the potential political issues of sending militia overseas if the U.S. was to become involved in a European war.

The navy would probably have been in better shape. They appear to have retained a higher percentage of men than the army, plus they retained a large number of the ships.

Regardless I think Don is correct. It would come down to home court advantage.

Charlie 1220 Apr 2018 6:42 p.m. PST

Don hit it squarely on the head. If the war is one of a US overseas or over border 'Adventure', then I don't see a massive 'rush to the colors' happening. If its an invasion by a European power, that's a totally different matter. And a totally different battlefield, the US being considerably different than Europe.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP20 Apr 2018 9:21 p.m. PST

Well, now we are getting into where the armies would fight. That certainly would have an effect, particularly if it were an 'invasion' scenario of a US invasion or Europe by the US.

While it certainly would make a difference where the armies fought, I am not sure that is part of a 1:1 comparison…

Panfilov30 Apr 2018 2:30 p.m. PST

Sherman was unimpressed with Prussian staff work in the Franco-Prussian war (accredited observer); Similar to WW II, there were MANY men familiar with organizing large enterprises who were able to translate that experience into staff work. Logistics. Building railroads (and canals?) was a complex task requiring good staff work, keeping an army fed and moving is a similar enough task.

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