New to the forum but not to the study of the CW. There is a question I have always wanted to ask those involved in reenacting. I know that in most descriptions of battles and maneuvers and in paintings of the time they show large bodies of men moving shoulder to shoulder on the battlefield but when I see videos of some reenactments trying to do that it seems very awkward to the point of some tripping etc... My question is, as veteran reenactors, do you feel that units really moved on the battlefield in such a bunched up, tight formation or by necessity did they give a little room to be able to move more effectively? I realize the importance of massed firepower and being able to change directions quickly but I would think that while moving they would have to spread out somewhat and then close up when forming a battle line. I would be very interested to hear from those who have experienced close drill movements on the field, do you naturally give yourself some extra room to be more efficient or do you really try and move shoulder to shoulder?
A lot of that is the re-enactors. Though in truth a lot depends upon the men being represented. The AoT's (US & CS) were masters of the skirmish line when compared to their eastern brethern.
Those men drilled far more than even the most hardkewl today. Battle manuevers, formations and orders were so second nature that there are examples of men doing complex manuevers in absolute silence.
From personal experiance it isn't a big deal to move in close order drill; it just takes practice. I don't mean a weekend a month, I mean hours per day. Any good marching band can do all of the manuevers as done by ACW soldiers simply because they do some real practice. Few re-enacting units do. Those that do are those that do real time consuming and horribly boring practice.
The infantry formations of the Civil War armies were based on European Napoleonic models which are shoulder to shoulder blocks of men. This worked on the plains of Europe but not so well on the rolling and wooded terrain of the United States. This was especially so in areas known as the Western Theater where large battles such as Chickamauga were fought in woods and thickets broken up by small farm lots.
As a reenactor I have fought in battleline in woods and it is not easy or efficient. Battleplans were by strategy and tactic designed to break an enemy force by forcing it to withdraw. Threatening and turning flanks was a primary goal to achieve success and this all plays into the ability to move and manuever large blocks of troops.
As good soldiers will do during a prolonged conflict, they adapted to their environment. Western troops "spread" out more in the woods etc as a natural reaction to the terrain. One example that stands out occurred when Eastern troops were sent West and had to change. The 7th OVI was sent with Hooker from the Army of the Potomac to help Grant break the siege at Chattanooga following the Federal defeat at Chickamauga in Sept of 1863. When the Federals broke thru on Missionary Ridge, the Rebels retreated into northern GA. They set a trap for the pursuing Federals in the woods at Ringgold GA. The 7th OVI was part of the pursuing force and engaged the Rebels by attempting to attack in the woods utilizing the parade ground manuevers they were accustomed to. They were cut to pieces because they hadnt adapted.
Reenactments are not necessarily the best place to learn about real CW combat. Too often the lack of real tactical skill is replaced by theatrical egoism and what one sees is the typical battle represented by opposing forces blazing away at each at ranges of less than 50 yards which is inaccurate.
In the case of Reenactors most units are comprised of a Cross section of America you'll have guys 16 - 20 next to someone 65 - 70 the movement become a V like a Flock of Geese as opposed to the Linear lines particularly at Runs. The best example is in the Movie Gettysburg the lines stayed pretty straight considering the numbers the problem is during Picketts charge in 1863 the Confederates Paused in a Depression to redress the lines so even a solider in 1863 was not perfect (Gettysburg is the end of the Linear movement) For Reenactors we do pretty well considering these factors but once you start Double Quick and Charge that continuity is lost. One thing I hate is when you sit there and Volley for 20 minutes with another unit and lose a grand total of 5 men on either side. If both groups had 50 men you would lose 25 in the 1st volley on both sides, then 12 on the 2nd and so on.