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War of attrition versus might? - General Civil War Talk - Civil War Talk - Civil War Interactive Discussion Board
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 Posted: Thu Oct 2nd, 2008 11:50 pm
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pamc153PA
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I'll admit that until recently I hadn't heard the term "war of attrition versus war of might" in relation to the Civil War. I've been trying to read around and have come to understand what each side of the term means, I think. Whether you feel the Civil War was one or the other seems like it would be a sort of contentious thing of personal conviction, but I can't help feeling--based on the little I have been able to learn so far--that the Civil War was BOTH, at different times in the war, especially the Confederate side. Both the Union and Confederate armies had unquestionable might irregardless of army strength, but it was the Confederates who were affected by the loss of men most, late in the war, both from casualties and prisoners, when Grant stopped the prisoner exchange.  Can I be on both sides of this or am I missing something?

Pam



 Posted: Fri Oct 3rd, 2008 01:00 am
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CleburneFan
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When I saw the title of this thread, my immediate reaction was BOTH even before I read your post.

The debate is starting now. I'll be back!!! 



 Posted: Fri Oct 3rd, 2008 02:03 am
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Johan Steele
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Neither... the least incompetant army wins.



 Posted: Fri Oct 3rd, 2008 02:39 pm
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Albert Sailhorst
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I wouldn't say Lee's army was "the most incompetant"....I'd say they were "the most hungry"....

Last edited on Fri Oct 3rd, 2008 02:39 pm by Albert Sailhorst



 Posted: Fri Oct 3rd, 2008 05:04 pm
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Johan Steele
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Lee's Army itself is only a small part of it. Logistics from crackers to bullets and pay. In every respect the CS failed logisticly. Their Sinews of War were poorly excercised.



 Posted: Fri Oct 3rd, 2008 05:21 pm
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Albert Sailhorst
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Lack of industry killed the South....for example, they could'nt make fuses, ammunition for artillery as effective as it could have been done. Batteries had ammo & fuses, they just didn't explode as they should have.

The north was out-generaled in the east, plain and simple.



 Posted: Fri Oct 3rd, 2008 07:39 pm
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pamc153PA
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Johan, do you feel these "Sinews of War" you speak of were unexercised from the start, or became so over time?

I still see this as an over time thing, at least for the Confederates. Thanks to the blockade and the no-prisoner exchange, among other things, the Confederates became weaker while, conversely speaking, the Union became stronger, because of those two things and the advent of Grant.

Pam



 Posted: Fri Oct 3rd, 2008 08:06 pm
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Johan Steele
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Pam, yes. From the very start the CS made poor work of prepping for war. And as the situation became more serious they only made it worse w/ the incompetantly run tithing sys.

The one industry the CS managed increadible gains in was in the small arms ammunition industry. Pretty much the only industry to actuall;y keep up w/ the war needs.



 Posted: Fri Oct 3rd, 2008 08:07 pm
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Johan Steele
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Albert, as to outgeneralled. Tacticly perhaps. Strategicly not at all. After all who surrendered at Appomotax?



 Posted: Fri Oct 3rd, 2008 09:23 pm
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Old Blu
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It amazes me that lil old Confederate army even lasted 4 years.:cool:



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 Posted: Fri Oct 3rd, 2008 11:29 pm
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pamc153PA
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I think the Northern thought was originally, at the start of the war, that they'd quickly out-power the South--in other words, might makes right. Of course, starting with Manassas and continuing through the Penninsula campaign, there wasn't a lot of might from the North, at least not most efficiently commanded. I'm thinking that it was about then the North started thinking they needed more than just might to win the thing.

At the same time, Lee's "successes" in the Eastern Theater came at a terrible cost in men and materials, starting the slippery slope of attrition for the Confederates.

Though I think I'm detecting a bit of  joking sarcasm in a couple posts, even with the attrition, you can't discount the difference between fighting for your rights and your homes ("For your homes. For your wives. For your sweethearts. For Virginia"), and fighting for a "cause" you may or may not be affected by.  Underdogs, even underdogs from the beginning (though I personally don't see the Confederates that way), still fight tough on defense.

Pam



 Posted: Sat Oct 4th, 2008 02:24 am
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Johan Steele
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Pam I think probably has it.

The CS lasted as long as it did exactly because wars are won by the least incompetant. Not by the most competant but by the least incompetant.



 Posted: Sat Oct 4th, 2008 03:01 am
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CleburneFan
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It is presumptuous of me to argue with you because you are far more authoritative on military matters than am I, but I'll recklessly go ahead anyway.  I really don't think Lee was incompetent, for example. What was eating alive the Army of Northern Virginia  was the very definition of attrition. The ANV was out of food, equipment, horses, mules, war material of every description, and there was no way to infuse the army with more men.

I do see the reasoning that would blame the situation on incompetence such as quartermaster and subsistence incompetence and even higher up--the highest command of the CSA government for failing to consistently provide the basic requirements for war making...men and material.

Maybe one could further say that Lee, in fact, was greatly burdened by the failings of the Army of Tennessee and other divisions in the Western Theater. Lee could not win the war all by himself.

To say that the army with the lesser incompetence wins, calls into question the US military in such sites as Viet Nam, Iraq...so far...and Afghanistan. Come to think of it...maybe it comes down to  how one defines a competent military.

 



 Posted: Sat Oct 4th, 2008 04:21 am
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Johan Steele
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I would not call Lee or the ANV incompetant, but professional soldiers of the highest order have and when you listen to their reasoning you have to wonder if they don't have a point.

A man I greatly respected and I think who knew what he was talking about made a point that history has shown very few truly competant armies. Armies that create a cadre of rules and regulations and then actually use them instead of merely paying them lip service. Creating a level of professionalism that is more than just bluster. In other words he believed it far easier to pick out the incompetent military than the competent from history. He said the 20th Century produced just two: Israel and that of Nazi Germany... one of which was utterly destroyed by rank amatuers who took to the trade w/ great enthusiasm. He felt the 19th Century fielded but one: the British.

One of the requirements for a competant army from this man was that the general officer corps was chosen by quality instead of political manuever & favoritism. That alone immedietly disqualifies the CS... and frankly the US as well.

I hope that makes some sort of sense...



 Posted: Sat Oct 4th, 2008 01:32 pm
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pamc153PA
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We've been focusing on the Eastern Theater. I'd be interested in hearing from those of you with the same passion but far more knowledge than I have about the Western Theater--how does it fit in here?

Also, how is the idea of "total war" part of the attrition versus might idea?

Pam



 Posted: Sat Oct 4th, 2008 05:12 pm
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Johan Steele
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The idea that the Civil War was in any way a "total war" is extremely flawed. The very idea can only be presented if the presenter is wholly ignorant of military history prior to the CW. As such conflicts go the ACW was outright gentle.



 Posted: Sat Oct 4th, 2008 06:30 pm
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pamc153PA
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I'll be the first to admit I could use some enlightening. When I asked the question about total war, I was thinking specifically about Sherman's campaign November and December 1864, which, it's true, is one part of the war. It fit the idea of making war not just against the opposing army but against the civilians, specifically civilian property. If compared to, say, the Nazi Army in WWII, yes, the American Civil War was tame.

Pam



 Posted: Sat Oct 4th, 2008 07:56 pm
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Johan Steele
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Or to the French in Spain, Russians... anywhere, Brits in India to name just a few in the 19th century. And if you go further back to say the Mongols or further still to the Romans the evidence that the ACW was comparitivlt tame is literally legion.



 Posted: Sun Oct 5th, 2008 01:24 am
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Sherman had various reasons for his "total war" with Georgia's civilans. One was that he sought to destroy virtually anything the enemy could use for the benefit of the Confederate army: food, clothing, raw materials for war material, etc.  Even by tearing up houses for campfire wood and tearing up railroads so that war material and sustenence for man and livestock could not reach Southern armies, or killing horses and mules so that enemy cavalry couldn't use them --all of that was to contibute to the attrition and demoralization Sherman believed would shorten or eventually end the war.

He also had another reason, perhaps less justifiable, but I understand his logic. He felt the Georgian civilians gave love, moral support  and encouragement to the CSA soldiers. Some civilians could act as scouts, guides and spies, write inspirational or informative newspaper articles, or otherwise provide help to the CSA war effort.

Sherman felt that if civilians had pressured Davis to end the war, pressured their family members not to go to war and refused to contibute food and manufactured goods to the war effort, the war would end or might never have been fought.

Thus he said civilians were responsible for keeping the war going, and doing nothing to stop it. How he included children in this equation, I do not know, Children certainly suffered from the lack of food and shelter and the trauma of having had Sherman's legions pass by.



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