Fortification Friday: Wheeler and the evolution of interior arrangements during and post-war

I’ve mentioned on several occasions how the lessons on fortifications, used to teach cadets, demonstrate the evolution of doctrine from pre-war thinking into the post-war era.  We see some of this evolution when comparing pre-war and post-war versions of Mahan’s treatise.  But where the changes really come into play is when comparing Wheeler’s  1880 textbook.

An example of these changes is how Wheeler chose to relate details of interior arrangements.  Even when classifying these arrangements, Wheeler offered a shift, sometimes subtle, change of focus.  Recall Mahan’s pre-war text described the classes of interior arrangements as such:

The class of constructions required for the above purposes, are batteries; powder magazines; traverses; shelters; enclosures for gorges and outlets; interior safety-redoubt, or keep; and bridges of communication.

Somewhat brief, and from there Mahan proceeded to detail how batteries were placed on the parapet… with emphasis on the employment of artillery.

Wheeler offered a similar set of classifications, but abstracted those a bit with a mind to functional requirements:

Classes. – The earth work for the parapet being completed, and the revetments of the interior slope constructed, attention is then paid to the interior of the work.  Certain arrangements have to be made in the interior, to add to the efficiency of the defense, and to provide for the comfort of the troops who have to occupy the work.  These interior arrangements are divided into classes, according to the object to be attained by them.

The divisions may be classified as follows:

  1. The arrangements of, and along a parapet, intended to add to the efficiency of the defense;

  2. The arrangements within the area enclosed by the parapet, to shelter the men and matèriel from the fire of the enemy;

  3. The arrangements made to allow egress and ingress of the troops; including those made to guard the outlets against surprise; and

  4. The arrangements which may be made to provide for the comfort and welfare of the garrison when occupying the interior of the work for some time.

While Mahan named specific structures that would be constructed within the interior, Wheeler’s classifications come across is more so proper doctrine.  In other words, Wheeler put the reason before the task.  Such is a more formal approach to doctrine, as opposed to simply providing a list of structures, and  their specifications, to be used.

And with that approach, abstracted from naming particular types of structures, Wheeler was able to identify some of the needs, beyond the basics, of a garrison occupying a fortification.  You know… like those “comfort and welfare” things he mentions.  But not to be overlooked, shelter from enemy fire and ease of entry or exit.  These were all things Mahan addressed, but gave limited treatment. Did Mahan simply not care about the troops?  No.  But Mahan’s text was rooted in some pre-war concepts which, though we have discussed before, should be repeated for clarity.

Mahan’s instruction about fortification borrowed heavily from the European experience.  It was a textbook on field fortifications which would complement other instruction relying heavily, as is often the case with military science, on the “last war.”  Many scholars have debated the influence of Antoine-Henri Jomini on Civil War generalship.  But I don’t think we can dispute a “what would Napoleon do?” approach prevailed.

That in mind, the military minds came to make several operational assumptions.  With respect to fortifications, the assumption was two types would be employed.  Fixed, permanent fortifications were constructed to defend vital areas.  For the Americans, these were most often seacoast fortifications, as most potential adversaries would need to gain lodgement at some port (the exception, prior to the 1840s, being the northern border, but even there the great lakes presented a seacoast-like need).

The other form of defense assumed was temporary or field fortifications for use by an army on campaign.  And those were intended to work within the tactical framework handed down by the European experience on the Napoleonic battlefield.  These fortifications were employed to protect important areas related to the army’s campaign objectives.  And those objectives were subject to change.  The design of the works was more so to deter direct attack.  In that way the temporary works would deter direct attack, requiring a deliberate effort (i.e. a siege or other significant commitment of resources).  The temporary fortification was not designed for prolonged occupation or lengthy defense.  Above all, the temporary fortification was always a function of the campaign being undertaken at that moment in time.

The American experience, even before the war, offered a slight twist to the paradigm.  With a significant commitment to the frontier, structures such as blockhouses became important.  Yet the US Army did not give much instruction to that part.  In my opinion there were two significant reasons for this.  First, perhaps foremost, the methods for establishing frontier garrisons were judged as intuitive.  Mahan’s “Outpost” manual covered some of this.  Secondly, much of the responsibility for these frontier garrisons was given to territorial, state, or local authorities.  In short, it was not a major mission in the broader sense.  Rather, the US Army was supposed to give Congress detailed plans for defending the coast.  Those commitments out west were not the “big show”.

Civil War experience demonstrated the “two types of forts” assumption to be incorrect, to say the least.  Operational requirements demonstrated there was a third type which fell directly between the chairs.  That being a semi-permanent fortifications which were not directly tied to ongoing campaigns.  The best example of that would be the Washington defenses.  Lesser so the Richmond defenses, but of course those became the focus of a campaign later in the war.  Other examples, which we’ve mentioned in relation to blockhouses, were those works constructed to protect communications and supply lines. All of which supported the army in the field, but were not a direct function of that army’s operation… i.e. the campaign.   And as a function of those requirements, the engineers had to address other needs within the fortifications, to include “comfort and welfare.”

What I like about the passage from Wheeler enumerating the classes of interior arrangements is that he removed a lot of the Napoleonic baggage from the discussion.  Sure, forts were still built in the manner employed in the first quarter of the 19th century.  Men used shovels to dig, then pile the earth.  Fortifications still required parapets and ditches to be effective means of resistance.  The “physics” of the matter did not change, other perhaps than the need for additional thickness to resist rifled projectiles.  But it was the requirement those fortifications were filling that shifted over time.   That’s what I see reflected in the approach Wheeler gave to these particulars.

(Citations from Dennis Hart Mahan, A Treatise on Field Fortifications, New York: John Wiley, 1852, pages 51-2; Junius B. Wheeler, The Elements of Field Fortifications, New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1882, page 114. )

Fortification Friday: Interior Arrangements, starting with armaments

The next aspect of field fortifications to consider are the interior arrangements.  Thus far most of our focus has been towards the exterior, with the exception of the traverses, and what could be done to block or stop the attacker.  With the interior arrangements, the engineer would consider what could make the defenders’ job easier and, shall we say, more comfortable.  Mahan prefaced his lesson on interior arrangements by calling attention to such factors:

Under the [heading] of interior arrangements is comprised all the means resorted to within the work to procure an efficient defense; to preserve the troops and the material from the destructive effects of the enemy’s fire; and to prevent a surprise.

You are probably thinking, “protect the troops?  Isn’t that what the parapet does?  Doesn’t the ditch prevent surprise?”  Well… yes… you might look at it from that standpoint.  But what Mahan was calling attention to here were the structures and features which were internal to the works and designed to improve the nature of the defense.  As such “within the work” is the important phrase to consider.  But, keep your questions in mind as we work through this topic, as we will revisit shortly.

Mahan continued to offer a list of classes of these interior arrangements:

The class of constructions required for the above purposes, are batteries; powder magazines; traverses; shelters; enclosures for gorges and outlets; interior safety-redoubt, or keep; and bridges of communication.

From that we have a subdivision:

All arrangements made for the defense, with musketry and artillery, belong to what is termed the armament.

So we have a name for structures to support things that shoot.  Armaments.  Just for the context of these field fortification discussions, OK?

The armament with musketry is complete when the banquette and the interior and superior slopes are properly arranged, to enable the soldier to deliver his fire with effect; and to mount on the parapet to meet the enemy with the bayonet.  For this last purpose stout pickets may be driven into the interior slope, about midway from the bottom and three feet apart. The armament with artillery is, in a like manner, complete, when suitable means are taken to allow the guns to fire over the parapet, or through openings made in it; and when all the required accessories are provided for the service of the guns.

So… yes the parapet’s design can be considered part of the interior arrangements.

Mahan continues with this profound statement:

The armament with artillery is a subject of great importance….

You got me at “great importance.”

Oh, wait, I cut the professor off.  He has more on this ….

The armament with artillery is a subject of great importance, because it is not equally adapted to all classes of works.  Experience has demonstrated that the most efficient way of employing artillery, is in protecting the collateral salients by a well directed flank and cross fire, which shall not leave untouched a single foot of ground within its range, over which the enemy must approach.  It has moreover shown, that a work with a weak profile affords but little security to artillery within it; for artillery cannot defend itself, and such a work can be too easily carried by assault to offer any hope of keeping the enemy at a distance long enough to allow the artillery to produce its full effect.

The logic here is “form should follow function.”  If the intent is to have artillery fire on the enemy in order to break up the attack, then a flank fire is recommended.  And that artillery should blanket the approaches with fire… “shall not leave untouched a single foot….”  Artillery sits at the top of the list when making decisions about weapon placement.  It is the most effective, man per man, weapon for influencing the battlefield Not necessarily saying “killing” or producing causalities, but influencing the other side’s actions.  Yet, artillery’s influence is best gained over longer ranges.  Thus the need to form works that not only provide the artillery a measure of protection but also keep the enemy at greater than small arms length (range).

The best position for artillery is on the flanks and salients of a work; because from these points the salients are best protected, and the approaches best swept; and the guns should be collected at these points in batteries of several pieces; for experience has likewise shown, that it is only by opening a heavy, well-sustained fire on the enemy’s columns, that an efficient check can be [given] to them.  If only a few files are taken off, or the shot passes over the men, it rather inspires the enemy with confidence in his safety, and with contempt for the defenses.

Sun Tzu should have said it!  Don’t let the enemy become contemptuous of your defenses!

Consider the “best practice” offered by Mahan.  By placing artillery on the salients, the guns were out of the direct line of the attacker’s fires while being placed behind the various, and likely complex, defensive works on the “horns” of the bastion.  And artillery shouldn’t be parceled out as singles, but rather massed and inter-operated to multiply the effect.

All this is great theoretical talk.  Everyone would agree massing artillery is best.  But now we have a practical problem on the parapet.  With infantry, the parapet works fine to protect most of the body, provide cover to crouch behind when reloading, and, if the fight is close, an orientation for the bayonets.  But artillerymen cannot “crouch” an artillery piece.  And when servicing the weapon, they are exposed. Furthermore, there are all sorts of problems bringing 12 pound or 24 pound or larger projectiles up to the gun.  So to make the big guns work best, one must make arrangements.. in the interior…. And those arrangements Mahan identified under the classification of “batteries.” We’ll look at those next.

(Citations from Dennis Hart Mahan, A Treatise on Field Fortifications, New York: John Wiley, 1852, pages 51-2.)