Sesquicentennial’s final stretch run … to Appomattox in 2015!

Civil War Trust is playing the “Long Game,” as they have all through the Sesquicentennial, as they look to 2015.  On Friday, October 31, the Trust and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe will hold a press conference to announce new preservation efforts at Sailor’s Creek and High Bridge.   Efforts to preserve more of those battlefields happens right at the time our 150th-focused attention looks towards the Virginia Southside.  (And, oh by the way, the Trust has now passed the 40,000 acres preserved mark… just four years after passing the 30,000 mark.)

April 2015 is not far off.  For those of us who’ve taken the time to be “in the moment” for the 150ths, it’s time for some long range planning of our own.  Not to overlook the actions at Petersburg and Richmond between now and March …  but if I may offer a critique, those events need to get posted on the respective park websites!  I know many will look at that first couple of weeks in April as an “anchor” in sesquicentennial plans.

And the trail is blazed well, thanks to long efforts to provide interpretation along the route of Lee’s Retreat.  And there are plenty of resources to follow this campaign.   So no excuses for this one!

Appomattox Court House NHP already has posted a list of events from April 8 to April 12, 2015.  Links there also mention events in the county and the Museum of the Confederacy – Appomattox.  I’m glad to see a number of real time events, to include printing paroles, listed.  Such will be a bit less “battle” than at other 150th NPS events.  But that’s the nuts and bolts history that I like. Walk us through the history, as it happened!

Still there’s a lot of space between Five Forks and Appomattox.  I’m sure more events are planned for those opening days of April next year.  Certainly a bus tour or two.  If nothing else, just a drive through the Southside over those days, with Chris Calkins guide in hand, is attractive.  Regardless, I plan to be out there every day I can.  Maybe using a hashtag like #apmtx150?

Who’s with me?


“Maneuver warfare is not a doctrinal choice, it is an earned benefit” applied to the Civil War?

XBradTC, posted a very powerful quote yesterday:

Further the tension between firepower and maneuver-based doctrines often appears as more of a false dichotomy than self-styled maneuver theorists might allow. As DePuy stated in partial response to critics who accused him of being an attritionist, “maneuver warfare is not a doctrinal choice, it is an earned benefit.”

The citation is from a paper examining the nuances of mechanized infantry doctrine as evolved in the US Army.  For someone like me, who cut teeth on the late-1980s to early-1990s doctrine (AirLand Battle ™), this is a good read.  But I suspect for most the audience, such is a deep end subject.

But background is in order, as the quote drops a name.  In 1973, General William E. DePuy was the commander of Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).  This was a “new” organization, having been formed as part of the Army’s reorganization after the Vietnam War.  It was a difficult time for the Army as an institution, the particulars of which would take a full post to unwind and would detract from Civil War studies.  The important bit for this discussion is DePuy was the man charged with reforming Army training and doctrine as it recovered from Vietnam, digested lessons of the Arab-Israeli Wars, and transitioned into a legitimate bulwark against the Soviets.

And what DePuy did during his tenure in command was remarkable.  The short line here is that DePuy transformed the way the Army thought about “doctrine” and its relation to training, procurement, and even recruitment (it was an all-volunteer army for the first time in several decades).  The product was the 1976 version of FM 100-5, named “The Operations of Army Forces in the Field.” The new manual was not some esoteric work, but stood up equally the officers’ club, motor pool and gunnery range.  FM 100-5 gave the Army’s doctrine a vocabulary which it had not before.

However, the main complaint about DuPuy’s FM 100-5 was with the concept of “Active Defense” which emphasized firepower to reduce the enemy forces.  Some detractors felt this emphasis took away from maneuver. As XBradTC alludes to in his post, such brought on the classic discussions of firepower vs. maneuver.  But in DePuy’s defense, the 1976 FM 100-5 was ground in reality – what could the Army do with what it had, given the political and military constraints at the time.  At that time any war in Central Europe offered no space to trade for time, outnumbered by several multiples, in a war which would be decided within a few weeks. (See Sir John Hackett’s novels on the Third World War to get a feel for this “scenario.”)

In response to the criticism, after DePuy’s retirement in 1977, the Army began to evolve FM 100-5.  Such refinement brought forward revised versions of the manual so that by the mid-1980s a young Army cadet was studying “AirLand Battle Doctrine” which stressed agility, initiative, depth, and synchronization.  Some have cited that as a counter-turn back to “maneuver warfare.”  But the deep thinkers will recognize, as tipped in the quote above, the discussion was really back to the old “war of attrition vs. war of annihilation” debate.

So what does DePuy, FM 100-5, and this maneuver-firepower and attrition-annihilation thing have to do with the Civil War?

Well DePuy’s quote touched upon something I’ve long weighed in regard to Civil War operations.  While the Civil War generals didn’t name it “operations” as we do today, they still practiced operations at the same level (just called it “strategy” or “grand strategy”).  So mull over this notion:

Maneuver warfare is an earned benefit.

Robert E. Lee earned the benefit of maneuver after fighting seven days of hard battles in June 1862, and that benefit paid out with an advance into Maryland.  Lee again earned the benefit of maneuver in the spring of 1863, which he used to advantage during the first half of that summer.

But those are easy point to select.  Let’s get a bit more complex.  On November 7, 1863, Meade threw the Army of the Potomac at some of Lee’s advanced posts along the Rappahannock River.  It lead to the Mine Run campaign.  A longer reaching effect was the Army of Northern Virgina left Culpeper county for the last time.  In that light, can we say that that Meade earned the maneuver benefit, spending it in part for Mine Run… BUT… more importantly, because this allowed Meade to “winter” the Army of the Potomac in Culpeper County, the maneuver benefit carried forward to the spring of 1864.  You see, “maneuver” is not just “movement” but also involves manipulation of the situation or resources to achieve the ends (to the point that some of us would like to strike “maneuver” in the manuals and replace it with “manipulation”).   Meade’s position in Culpeper ensured that when Grant opened the Overland Campaign, the Federals had the initiative, didn’t have an extra set of fords to cross (as had happened a year before), and could force Lee to react at the tactical level.

And beyond that, let us go into those “deep thinking” discussions.  Many will recall the excellent NPS interpretation last spring highlighting the different strategies employed by Grant and Lee for the Overland Campaign.  These boiled down to attrition vs. annihilation.  But is either approach predisposed to firepower over maneuver, or vice versa? Of course not!  These are two different layers to the complex subject of operations, in the military context.

As we consider tactical actions that seem unsound to us today – say like the assaults at Cold Harbor on June 3, or better yet, the Crater on July 30, 1864 – I think we see commanders using firepower (in the form of muskets and bayonets) in an effort to earn that maneuver benefit.  Those attacks went forward NOT to simply grind away the adversary. Rather the intent was to manipulate the situation to allow a follow up with maneuver.

Great quote.  One to keep in the pocket.

October 28, 1864: “I was engaging all the avalible force of Price’s Army”: Blunt at Newtonia

After stunning losses at Westport and during the retreat through Kansas, Major-General Sterling Price’s Army of Missouri was defeated and broken.  But it was not yet beaten.  An army with arms is at least an army in being.  Though delivering telling blows, the Federal pursuit failed to seal the deal and complete the defeat with capture of Price and his men.  Following the disasters of October 25, 1864, Price continued his retreat through southwest Missouri. The column moved through Carthage, Granby, and went into camp about four miles south of Newtonia on October 28.


But Major-General Alfred Pleasonton’s cavalry did not press the pursuit after the victories on the 25th, but instead pulled off the pursuit to resupply. The next pursuit force in line, the division of Major-General James Blunt.  Keep in mind that Pleasonton reported to Major-General William Rosecrans in the Department of Missouri while Blunt reported to Major-General Samuel Curtis in the Department of Kansas.  No single authority exercised operational control of all the pieces in blue.  Bunt did not catch up with Price until 2 p.m. on October 28.  Finding the Confederates in camp south of Newtonia, Blunt first sent word to nearby units, calling on reinforcements.  But he did not hesitate to bring on an engagement, at a point two miles south of Newtonia:

Being convinced of their intention to avoid a fight, if possible, I determined to attack them at once. The First and Fourth Brigades were with me in the advance. I had directed the Second Brigade to halt early in the day to procure forage for their horses to enable me to put them in the advance to press the pursuit at night; consequently I did not rely upon them to participate in the early part of the engagement. I had supposed that General McNeil’s brigade, of General Pleasonton’s division, was close up in my rear, and sent back to hurry it forward, while the First and Fourth Brigades of the First Division were quickly deployed in line, and under the cover of the fire of the First Colorado Battery, posted upon the bluff, they swept across the plain at a gallop until within musket range of the enemy’s line. Skirmishers were rapidly deployed, and but a few moments elapsed until the engagement became general. I now ordered forward the First Colorado Battery, which, with a section of howitzers attached to the Fifteenth Kansas Cavalry, and under command of Sergeant Patterson, of the Fourteenth Kansas Cavalry, poured a destructive fire into the enemy’s ranks.

On the Confederate side, Brigadier-General M. Jeff Thompson, commanding the “Iron Brigade” of Brigadier-General Joseph Shelby’s division, was part of the Confederate force thrown out against Blunt. His men had gone into camp around mid-day, but shortly after rushed north due to a false alarm.  The brigade had just returned to camp when Blunt arrived in force:

We had scarcely commenced the ordinary duties of camp when we were again ordered out, and proceeding to the same place found the enemy drawn up before us on the opposite side of the small field. The firing commenced immediately, and in a few minutes our line bravely crossed the fence and advanced upon the enemy, crossing the field under a hot fire of artillery and small-arms, and drove the enemy into the open prairie. Not stopping at this second fence an instant, we advanced into the prairie and continued to drive the enemy, never letting them form to charge, which they endeavored to do. There was some mounted men on our right, but no supports near our rear, and I halted the line after we had advanced so far that we were exposed to flanking. We remained in this position until the enemy had retired their line, when we fell back toward our camp, receiving several shots from the enemy’s artillery as we retired.

Even depleted from five days of defeat and retreat, the Confederate force outnumbered Blunt’s brigades – a fact that Blunt was quickly aware:

It soon became evident that I was engaging all the available force of Price’s army, which outnumbered me more than eight to one. Their superiority of numbers enabling them to press upon my flanks with a large force compelled me to fall back about 500 yards from my first line, which was done in good order, and the line reformed in the face of a terrific fire. The enemy pressed forward their center, but were promptly checked by the canister from the First Colorado Battery. It was now near sundown, and my command had been engaged near two hours and their ammunition nearly exhausted, while a large force of the enemy were passing under cover of a corn-field around my left flank, and my force being too small to extend my line in that direction, I was about to direct my line to fall back and take position on the bluff, when very unexpectedly the brigade of General Sanborn, of General Pleasonton’s command, came up. I immediately placed them in position on my left, directing General Sanborn to dismount his men and advance through the corn-field, which was promptly executed, repulsing the flanking column of the enemy, who now abandoned the field and retreated rapidly under cover of the night in the direction of Pineville, leaving their dead and wounded in our hands.


Blunt had about 400 casualties in the afternoon fighting – he estimated one-eighth of the force committed.  Confederate casualties were just over half that number. The short, sharp action at Newtonia was the last important action between Price and his pursuers in Missouri.   The battle, though small, allowed Price more maneuver room to continue retreat.  The next day, the Confederates passed through Pineville and then camped five miles to the south that evening.  Price retreated out of Missouri, but his pursers had failed to destroy his army.  Due to a split command, the Federals had allowed Price to slip through to Arkansas.

The campaign was far from over, but the results were already clear for all to see.   Missouri was a “battleground state” in the 1864 campaign season.  And battles had secured the state for the union – both on the map and for the electoral process.  The Confederates, while still a force in being, were never again in position to threaten the state.  But with a “Army in being,” Price was still a chess piece on the board.  The pursuit, though not with an intensity of the late days of October, would continue to dog Price through Arkansas.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 41, Part I, Serial 83, pages 577 and 669.)