Monday, February 13, 2006

And in the end, what do I think of Griffith's Battle Tactics? He's clearly an infantry specialist - the vast majority of the book is on infantry tactics, infantry battle, and how the other services or branches affect the infantry. He doesn't even so much as quote a contemporary tactics manual for either the cavalry or the artillery. So, I suppose it's almost predictable that his natural inclination is to blame a third supporting branch for what went wrong with the infantry in the Civil War - the engineers.

And I guess I'm somewhat sympathetic to this inclination - I want to indulge in contempt for the engineers - the Popes and McClellans and Rosecranses and Lees and Hallecks whose elitist misfires ought to be to blame for the slaughter and the stalemates. But the time-lines don't favor his arguments about the usage of entrenchment as much as Griffith'd like you to think - and his rather slap-dash binary division of early-war and late-war only partially hides the basic problem with the analysis which blames the Mahanists for the failure of the offensive in the war.

That problem is that the war isn't properly dividable in a binary fashion between the early war of fluid straight-up battle and the later war of positions and sidle-by-the-flanks. Rather, the timeline lends itself more clearly to a trinary division - an early-war reliance on Mahanist prepatory entrenchment on the Lee and McClellan and Halleck model, followed by a post-Seven-Days devolution into open-field butchery, then a bottom-up reversion to form & the introduction of a mature, integral, truly tactical system of entrenchment, starting in fits and starts among the troops during the Chancellorsville and Tullahoma campaigns, through Culp's Hill and Chickamauga and Mine's Run, and adopted near-universally in the parallel 1864 overland campaigns.

Thus, this new introduction of entrenchment was not a theoretical child of the Mahanist school, but rather an echo of the discredited corpse of Mahanist theory, cobbled together as a battlefield invention of desperation & the survival instinct. Obviously, I'm getting a lot of this from Hess's first volume on field fortifications, and I'm now greatly looking forward to the other two projected volumes, regardless of Hess's over-reliance on extraneous narrative.

Most of my other responses to Griffith are mere echoes of what I thought when I first encountered Nosworthy's re-formulation of Griffith's ideas - that the psychological quality of the bayonet as a shock weapon is a valid and interesting idea, but that to also denigrate the psychological value of entrenchment as a counter-tactic to the weapons of shock is a damned double standard; that an increase in range of half again or even double, is no improvement to be spat upon, and that Griffith's own figures take a great deal away from his would-be anti-rifle-musket revisionism; and that almost nobody is giving as much attention to the Petersburg siege battles as I suspect is necessary to properly develop the role of entrenchment and riflery in tactics.

If anyone has any suggestions for books on the Petersburg siege & the tactics thereof, I would be greatly appreciative. I know that there's that book on the ANV sharpshooters corps, and I'll probably have to read it, even though it seems to give off that "Victorious [Confederate] Arms" odor which is so familiar from WWII petty historiography. I have hopes for the second volume of Hess's work on field fortification, too.

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