Command and Control going into the West Woods, September 17, 1862

About a year ago I posted about the nature of generalship and how that trait is, properly, assessed.  For the military professional, generalship means exercising command and control of a military unit.  Under my personal definition, I throw in a third skill to exercise – management.  But for today let’s just focus on the two “C’s” that most professional sources mention – command and control.   These two are often confused, conflated, and mashed into one when discussing generalship in historical terms. No more so than with the study of the Civil War.

So let’s lean back on the definitions.  First, command:

Command is the authority that a commander in the armed forces lawfully exercises over subordinates by virtue of rank or assignment.

There is, of course, more to it than this one sentence.  Please consult the earlier post for the full context.  In particular consider the three key elements of command – authority, decision making, and leadership.  In brief, command is the commander’s “charge”… that body of military force that he is responsible for… to include the responsibility of appropriate use.  We might say that command is an assignment.

Control, on the other hand:

… control is the regulation of forces and battlefield operating systems to accomplish the mission in accordance with the commander’s intent.

The important elements of control are information, communication, and structure.  Again, the nuances and details of each of these elements is important, so please consult that earlier post as to how each is defined.  Control is more so exercised. The measure of control may be quantified as the amount of the battle a commander can influence.

But these two have a dependent relationship – commanders can only command what they can control.  And commanders can only control what they can command.  Somewhere there is a Venn diagram waiting to be drawn…..

Turning to the battlefield, there is a ready example of the nature of command and control… with an anniversary just around the corner.   Consider Major-General John Sedgwick’s divisional attack into the West Woods at Antietam, on the morning of September 17, 1862.  Sedgwick was in Second Corps, under Major-General Edwin V. Sumner.  Sedgwick commanded three brigades that morning:

  • 1st Brigade, Brigadier-General Willis Gorman with 15th Massachusetts, 1st Minnesota, 34th New York, and 82nd New York (and a couple companies of sharpshooters).
  • 2nd Brigade, Brigadier-General Oliver O. Howard with 69th, 71st, 72nd, and 106th Pennsylvania.
  • 3rd Brigade, Brigadier-General Napoleon J.T. Dana, with 19th and 20th Massachusetts, 42nd and 59th New York, and 7th Michigan.

And… of course Battery A, 1st Rhode Island and Battery I, 1st US Artillery… but they would not be part of the infantry formation going into the West Woods.

Sumner and Sedgwick chose a common attack formation with the division in a column of brigades in line of battle.  Something like this “wire frame”:



Generally, that is, with the line of march to the left of view.  (If any of you Antietam experts find where I’ve put a regiment out of order, let me know.)  Gorman’s brigade up front.  Dana’s brigade, with five regiments, followed.  Then Howard’s with four larger regiments (in terms of men) trailed. Let’s add to graphics to depict the layers of command and the control exercised at each layer.

First, Sumner at the corps level:


The red arrow depicts Sumner’s command, through Sedgwick, of the entire formation.  Yes, Sumner had the authority to go all the way down to an individual private in his command. But he would normally work through his subordinates, in this case Sedgwick.  Plus, you’d have a really messy diagram with red arrows down to each individual regiment.  Keep in mind, Sumner had two other divisions under his command.  So imagine a couple more arrows pointing off the diagram.  Brigadier-General William French and Major-General Israel Richardson were, in many ways, out of the picture.

Sumner’s control was likewise exercised through Sedgwick, depicted here with a green oval. Sumner’s ability to control the situation was limited to what decisions and information he could communicate directly to subordinates, chiefly Sedgwick.  His “reach” extended only to how far Sumner could be heard, or extended by way of messengers.  Sumner, himself, moved forward when the fighting started, in some cases giving direct orders to brigades and regiments.  So his influenced extended very far forward.

But, that brings up French and Richardson again.  Some would argue that Sumner was unable to control those divisions to the extent the situation demanded, because “Bull Head” was not in a place to make his voice heard to them.

Sedgwick’s situation was a bit cleaner:


All of Sedgwick’s subordinates were in front of him.  And we can assume Sedgwick did move about the formation to exercise control.  Indeed, he was severely wounded while doing just that!  But we still have the constraint that his “reach” is the sound of his voice, extended by way of messengers.  However, at the division level, that constraint was manageable.  Orders to a brigade commander might take five or ten minutes to pass.  The time taken for the brigade to execute those orders might take twice as much time off the clock.

For the brigade commanders, consider Howard:



Then Gorman:



The red arrows are almost always within the green oval.  While not every single private in the brigade could hear the general, control was manageable by voice and messenger.  …. Well at least in the formation as it stepped out.  This will change.  Consider the actual “on the field” arrangements and how much space this division took up on the battlefield.  A visual, from the field, if I may:

Antietam 154 003

This is a panoramic photo taken at the 154th anniversary of the battle.  The rangers arranged the visitors to represent different regiments. Then aligned everyone in the brigade formations.  You’ll see some flags for the center of selected regiments.  I was standing in front of Dana’s brigade to take this photo.  The main point to stress was just how much distance those orders had to travel.  And yes, the brigade commanders would be mounted and move around the formation to best exercise control. Still, the time required to relate an order, be that in person or by messenger, was minutes.  And that must be balanced against the time needed to move a regiment, or battalion, or company.  At the brigade level, some changes – say a refuse to meet an enemy thrust, or a well timed charge – required quick responses.

Keep in mind, control is not just exercised simply by riding around barking orders.  Control also involves gathering and assimilating information.  And at that day and age, most of the intelligence presented to the commander came from his own eyes…. And, yes, you will need to use the zoom features on that pano photo to see the flags… get that inference?

And once the firing started, those formations would not remain so well dressed and orderly.  Turning to the Antietam map sets, consider the command and control problem facing Gorman with his brigade engaged:


A color switch to adapt to the map here – the commander’s name in “neon blue” so it stands out.  Green is the range of control, give or take, for our consideration.  And the light blue lines depict the command arrangements.  Gorman had three regiments close at hand, but the 34th New York was off on it’s own.  Days later, Colonel James Suiter, commanding the 34th, could only report, “For some cause to me unknown, I had become detached from my brigade….”  Thus we have to consider the area of influence exercised by Gorman as well as Suiter.  And in this case, we also have to consider what Gorman and Suiter could see, assimilate as information, and thus use when making decisions.

Dana’s brigade appears more intact on the map:


But this is deceptive.  As his brigade moved up, Dana noticed Confederate movements and called an “audible” in response.

There was no time to wait for orders; the flanking force, whatever it was, was advancing its fire too rapidly on my left.  I permitted the three right regiments to move on, but broke off the Forty-second New York Volunteers, with orders to change front to the left and meet the attack….

I’d highlight two points from this passage. First, the situation called for immediate decisions, orders, and movements.  Dana could not wait for Sumner’s command and control to reach down through Sedgwick.  It was hard enough just to get his own command and control through to the 42nd New York!

Second, writing that passage two weeks after the battle in his after-action report, Dana still had no idea what hit him from the woods.  Only decades later, did the likes of Ezra Carmen piece the situation together.  (And one might argue even more study is still needed!)  Part of control, by way of handling information, is forming a common operating picture.  Where that common operating picture is ill defined, the commander has trouble making sound decisions.  Such makes those green ovals a little smaller, or perhaps a shade dimmer.

Howard, however, had it really bad:


By the map, there is no brigade formation.  Of course, the reports speak of “good order” and such.  As with Dana’s description, the full story would begin to unfold decades later as the veterans re-told their stories.  Add to that another twist – shuffling command under fire.  When Sedgwick was taken from the field, Howard assumed command of the division.  In Howard’s place, Colonel Joshua T. Owen, 69th Pennsylvania, assumed command of the brigade.

Sumner was in this fight and taking personal command.  But how much could Sumner control?   Howard added an interesting remark in his after action report:

Nearly the whole of the first line in good order stood and fired some 30 or 40 rounds per man, when word came that the left of our division had been completely turned by the enemy, and  the order was given by General Sumner in person to change the position of the third line.  He afterward indicated to me the point where the stand was to be made, where he wished to repel a force of the enemy already in our rear.  The noise of musketry and artillery was so great that I judged more by the gestures of the general as to the disposition he wished me to make than by the orders that reached my ears.

Emphasis mine.

In this short paragraph we have a glimpse of how command and control played out in combat during the Civil War.  “Word came down” about a threat.  Orders were given “in person.”  And those exact orders were not audible even to someone in close proximity! Gestures.  That’s how command and control was accomplished that day!

When examining the fighting in the West Woods – especially after the problems of command and control are laid out – the natural question arises:  Did the division take a bad formation into battle?

Perhaps.  And this question takes us into the “management” component that I alluded to in the opening.  As we have seen from the “wire frames,” maps, and some after action reports, when the division was under fire there were limitations on control.  An “armchair general” case might be made for having the brigades formed with regiments, in battle formation, stacked in column, with a three brigade front.  That would have allowed each commander to “fight” a narrow brigade sector.

But…. that also means the commanders would be working in a “stove pipe” without much influence on what happened outside of a regimental front.  And how much combat power would then be stacked up waiting for the order to commit?

A similar situation faced the Marines who assaulted Tarawa on November 20, 1943.  There, the 2nd Marine Division attacked, with an initial force of three regiments, landing abreast.


Inside those regiments were battalion landings, essentially in successive lines. If I “wire framed” the formation, it would look a lot like the opposite of Sedgwick’s.  Command and control faced serious problems that day too.  Though I would point out Major Generals Holland M. Smith and Julian C. Smith selected the formation for good reasons, based on an incomplete assessment of Japanese defenses and other factors.  The same qualifier can be used with respect to Sumner and Sedgwick selecting a formation on September 17, 1862.

Bottom line, there is no “one way” to assault into woods or across a hostile beach held by an unknown force.  The textbooks and manuals are not written that way.  Instead, the military professional has to study the situations and events of the past, looking for lessons that might apply to future scenarios.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 19, Part I, Serial 27, pages 306, 316, and 320.)

Chambersburg CW Seminars add $6.5K for preservation

From the Herald-Mail of Hagerstown, Maryland:

PA. Civil War organization donates $6,500 for battlefield preservation


Chambersburg Civil War Seminars and Tours donated $6,500 for battlefield preservation on Oct. 2, presenting $5,000 to Antietam National Battlefield and $1,500 to the Save Historic Antietam Foundation.

The Greater Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce offers the seminars with co-founder Ted Alexander. The money was raised through the auction of Civil War books and other memorabilia at a July seminar about the Battle of Antietam, as well as other fundraising efforts, according to a news release.

Brian Baracz, park ranger at Antietam National Battlefield, said the money will be used for projects such as the restoration of the Miller House and wood lots in the East Woods, and re-establishing historic fence lines.

The seminars have raised more than $150,000 for battlefield preservation since their inception in 1989, and have attracted thousands of tourists from throughout the United States, Canada and other nations, the news release stated.

In the past decade, other recipients of preservation funds include Friends of the Monterey Pass Battlefield Inc., Gettysburg (Pa.) Foundation/Museum and Visitor Center, Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association, Adams County Historical Society, Civil War Preservation Trust, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Shenandoah Battlefield Association, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Museum of the Confederacy, Brandy Station Foundation, Falling Waters Battlefield Association, National Firearms Museum and National Museum of Civil War Medicine.

In addition, two scholarships are offered each year in July so a teacher and student can attend the largest Civil War seminar of the year tuition-free… (Full Story here)

Impressive totals – $150,00 in just over two decades of work.

The projects this money is earmarked for, according to the article, are not the staple grass and dirt targets typically seen for preservation efforts. Instead the intent is to use funds to enhance the existing battlefield. Such projects re increasingly popular as we “sesquicentennialists” look for “fourth-dimensional” connections.

The article goes on to provide information about next year’s seminars:

  • “Chancellorsville,” May 17 to 19, with tours led by historians Ed Bearss, Robert Krick and others
  • “Gettysburg and Beyond,” July 23 to 28, with historians Ed Bearss, Jeffry Wert, Lance Herdegen, Richard Sommers, J.D. Petruzzi, Dennis Frye and others. Tours include Pickett’s Charge, the Iron Brigade at Gettysburg, the Texas Brigade, Civilian Gettysburg, off-the-beaten-path sites, Early’s advance to the Susquehanna, the retreat and the Battle of Monterey Pass.
  • “The Cavalry at Gettysburg,” Oct. 4 to 6, with historians Ed Bearss, Eric Wittenberg, Jeffry Wert and others. Tours include the east cavalry field, Farnsworth’s attack and Buford’s cavalry.

For more information see the Chambersburg Civil War Seminars website or call 717-264-7101.

The 150th Anniversaries have a way of drawing a crowd

From my files on Antietam, here the group photo from Antietam 147th Anniversary hikes:

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Probably about 80 folks. there in 2009.

Compare to the group photo from the 150th, this year:

Yep. Officially at 585. But several stragglers showed up after we got to the cornfield and pushed that over 600. Give or take a few.

As Robert wrote, there’s quite a number of us actively following the sesquicentennial.

While out at the Antietam 150th hikes, I finally got to meet Scott Manning. Although not a “Civil War blogger”… perhaps more of a general military history blogger… give me some time to work on him. He’s got a great post up covering the day’s activities. If you didn’t attend those hikes… well … you’ll have to work that much harder for your sesquicentennial certification!

The Sesquicentennial and Social Media: The NPS scores a win

I’ve got my sesquicentennial creds by golly!  Been out there on the fields, in the early mornings… and those warm evenings.  And I’ve seen many of you out there too!

And those of you who’ve walked the guided tours and attended the events, have seen a lot of the NPS Social Media team.  The park service explained the role of this team in a press release earlier this year:

Social Media Team Helps Tell Sesquicentennial Stories

Since April of last year, the National Park Service has focused efforts on commemorating significant events of the Civil War on their 150th anniversaries. With dozens of battlefields and historical sites dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of sites relevant to this critical time period, this is an opportune moment to tell compelling stories, connect the public to the past, and show the importance of the NPS as caretakers of our history.

Beyond traditional onsite interpretation and visitor-ranger interactions, the NPS has begun to embrace new technology to improve visitor experiences. Social media, in particular, have proven to be a valuable resource for reaching our goals of increasing visitation, reaching diverse audiences, and providing better pre- and post- visit interactions between visitors and parks.

By dedicating knowledgeable staff and taking advantage of new Servicewide guidelines, the NPS can create and maintain a vast online cadre of “followers,” “fans,” and “virtual visitors.” With less than three man-hours a week, a typical park can proactively post interpretive content, advertise upcoming events, share park project updates, and provide an interested supporter with information about anything the park wants to release. Providing this everyday content will increase the park’s fan base and grow their overall presence online so that when special events are held, more people will be interested and informed about them.

To make the most of these new resources, National Capital Region created an interpretive media team to support parks involved in the Civil War sesquicentennial commemoration. Helping the parks to start and grow Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr pages, the team has dramatically improved the virtual outreach of the region’s Civil War parks.

An especially effective area has been event coverage. With a dedicated team on the ground at large commemorative events, the team can capture and share thousands of images, post interpretive articles and live tweet speeches and presentations, answer online inquiries, and provide a quality experience to people unable to attend events. By making people limited by accessibility issues, geographic distances, or previously uninformed into “virtual visitors,” the team can form a positive connection between people and parks.

The tactics used by the team at the CW150 events at Manassas National Battlefield Park and Shiloh National Military Park have shown great success as far as numbers of people interacting online with NPS sites. By using the momentum gained through the documentation and online presentation of these events, future events can benefit greatly.

The NCR interpretive media team has been working closely with parks inside and outside the region, planning for the 150th anniversary events of the Peninsula Campaign, Second Manassas, and the Maryland Campaign. Building on past successes, the team’s efforts are expected to push visitation and “virtual visitor” numbers even higher. The unique format of social media allows for a great deal of information sharing between parks, helping us to create a seamless experience for our visitors and using interest in one park to increase the online presence of many sister parks….

This has been, in my humble opinion, a major win for the park service, the event, and overall for awareness of the sesquicentennial.  “Tactics” are perhaps the right word to describe the mode of operation.  As my good friend and college buddy Ed Peterson will tell you, social media is not just sticking some tweet on the internet.  You need a plan and a goal in order to “sell” your product. And the folks working with these social media resources have that down to a science.

I’ve seen these folks work (I think Ranger Garrett Radke has a camera permanently affixed to his left hand).  And while most of us out there are enjoying the events, they are out there working on photo angles, filming the interpretation, catching sound bytes for tweets, or uploading content to the social media platforms.

Ranger Sarah Eddy filming a program at Manassas

For those who can’t be there in person, you can see their recent work at Manassas and Antietam hosted on Facebook (here and here), Twitter (here and here), YouTube (here and here), and Flickr.  As they said in the release, you can be a “virtual visitor.”  For those of us who were out on the “campaign” it’s a great way to catch up on what we missed, or recall what we saw.

I do hope the folks up at Gettysburg (not just at the park, mind you) are paying attention here.

150 Years ago today: Antietam

Please take a moment today to remember America’s bloodiest day.

I’m planning to keep an open post today, updating with photos were I can. The first stop of the day- the Cornfield:

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Surreal ….

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The same site, looking at the CWT Antietam Battle App:


Cannon fire from the New York Monument:

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Head count for morning tour is 585. Took 25 minutes for the group to pass single file up to Cornfield Avenue.  Again the battle app view:


Ranger Hoptak, surrounded by visitors, starts the Sunken Lane tour.

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We arrive at the Sunken Lane… with the tour group playing “sides”.

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Afternoon hike got underway around 2:30.

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The last stop was a personal pull off on the way home.  Anyone care to identify this spot?

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Another successful 150th observance.  The folks at Antietam are always on their game for the battle anniversary.  This year, they topped all previous years.  Great job guys!

Antietam Resources and The Guns at Antietam Map

Are you getting ready for another day of sesqucentennial events?  I am.  Heading out to Harpers Ferry and Antietam this morning.  Both parks – their highly professional staffs, I should say – are hosting all day events in observance of the anniversary.  One-hundred and fifty years ago today, the nation fought over those fields and hills.  Today we remember.

For those of you readers who are unable to attend these events, as I’ve done with other 150th anniversaries, allow me to offer some “virtual” resources to at least wet the appetite.

Start out with the Civil War Trust’s Antietam battlefield page, with a wealth of historical facts and resources.  The CWT also offers an animated battle map and a 360 panoramic tour.  That panoramic tour is perfectly suited for those of you who can’t visit the battlefield itself today.  Also, the Trust’s Antietam Battle App rolled out this week.  While it is geared for those “on location”, I’ve found the resources and maps rather useful even off the battlefield.

Here on this blog, one of the first battlefield by markers projects I took on was Antietam.  The page has the markers arranged in sets by the tour routes, by topic, by organization, and by state.  The list also includes Antietam campaign markers (which need to be updated with several new additions of late).   I did the same for Harpers Ferry, and provided links to several blog posts.  Many of those posts were my “trip reports” for walks up Maryland Heights, Loudoun Heights, and Schoolhouse Ridge as I examined the works that defended Harpers Ferry.

Another resource I like to post around the 150th anniversaries is the map showing the location of the cannons displayed on park grounds.  Here’s the map for Antietam:

My apologies here.  This is not the detailed accounting you are used to.  I’m a bit rushed of late and don’t have the registry numbers or photos attached to the map.  I’ll work to clean that up.  And I promise something similar for Harpers Ferry in the near future.

But for now, I hope you will excuse me as I rush out the door and start the short (for me) drive to Sharpsburg!

150 Years Ago Today: Looking down from South Mountain

If you were atop this monument to the nation’s first president 150 years ago today…

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…you’d see parts of two armies preparing for battle…

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… in the valley drained by Antietam Creek.

But, if you were in downtown Washington (as I will be today due to some work commitments), you might have picked up a copy of the Washington Star. Somewhere on the second page of that paper would be an article describing “Rebel Order No. 119” which was found by a soldier from “Colonel Colgrove’s” regiment. The misidentified orders, according to the paper indicated the Confederates planned to attack Harpers Ferry and concentrate at Hagerstown, Maryland.*

Security managers would die a fright at the laxness of operational security, on both sides of the line, on this day in 1862.

* From The Lost Order and the Press, by Scott M. Sherlock, Civil War Regiments, Volume Six, No. 2, pages 174-76.