Question of the Week: 8/8-8/14/2016


The theme at Emerging Civil War’s Symposium last weekend was “Great Attacks of the Civil War.” Is there a particular attack that stands out to you in Civil War history? Why?

20 Responses to Question of the Week: 8/8-8/14/2016

  1. The successful frontal assault by the Army of the Cumberland at Missionary Ridge, Chattanooga because it defied heavy odds & the experience & outcomes at Malvern Hill, Frederickburg, Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg, & Franklin.

    1. Dan, I too like the Missionary Ridge attack; primarily for its audacity in the hands of the frontline men. On the one hand history tells us that they were left with little alternative once reaching the rebel rifle pits being open to fire from above. On the other hand, history also records that the men in that charging line saw the flags of the same regiments that had defeated them at Chickamauga and were determined to return the favor. In all respects a unique event in the War in the West!

      1. Arthur MacArthur’s leadership at that moment was the foundation of the MacArthur military tradition.

  2. I find the attack of Longstreet’s Wing on the second day of Chickamauga to be most interesting. Was that column of divisions more of a fluke (too little room to deploy the brigades) or a calculated response to the tactical situation (best way to achieve a breakthrough, permitted by cover and concealment provided by thickets and sloping terrain). I’ve also never worked out whether it was more the work of Old Pete or JB Hood. It seems remarkable that, after arriving so late to the battlefield, Longstreet took the reins of his new command so effectively and quickly. Just launching the column’s sub-units roughly at the same time is a triumph of command and staff work.

    1. Longstreet’s deep column was intended. He didn’t get it arranged completely to his satisfaction, but he did intend to strike in depth.

  3. Along with Longstreet’s attack at Chickamauga, I find his attack against Pope’s flank at 2nd Manassas to be interesting. It was well planned, well coordinated, and well supported.

    At Chickamauga I credit Longstreet with the idea of an attack in column. He knew the Brotherton field was a weak point in the U.S. line because a Confederate attack had briefly taken the position the day before and had then been forced back.

    The terrain at the Brotherton field offers many advantages to an attacker since the military crest of the ridge is very close to the woods which would cover an attack.

  4. Glorieta Pass, N.Mexico. This small engagement had devastating effect on Confederate ambitions in gaining a place on the Pacific Coast. The results of Chivington’s destruction of the Confederate supply train effectively ended Confederate ambitions in the West for their Manifest Destiny.

    1. Thanks for remembering the long-neglected “war in the real West.” One of the things in my sights is more research on the War in California–there is so much antebellum stuff here, for sure. Almost all the bigs were stationed here at some point, there were active Union troops here during the entire war, and it was California that gave more treasure to the Union war effort than any other state–most of it in pure gold! (BTW–“here” refers to CA, where I live!).

  5. The first attacks of the war in a battlefield setting are among my favorite. The morning Bull Run attack at the Stone House on the 2nd Vermont by “Shanks” Evans included the Louisiana Tigers, and ended in the deaths of Major Sullivan Ballou and Col. John Slocum, among others. So tentative, so hopeful, so “planned” without any real experience–what a fight!

  6. Farragut’s attack and capture of New Orleans was called “the most important event” of the war, save for the fall of Richmond. No question it altered the course of the war, and opened the Gulf Coast as an arena of operations. It also inspired Dewey (who was there in 1862) in 1898 at Manila Bay.

  7. It had no lasting effect on the war, but Patrick Cleburne’s attack at Perryville, where he sent his flags forward, thevUnion used a lot of ammunition shooting at them, and then Cleburne’s main force attacked a foe who needed to reload strikes me as a clever idea.

    Granted, I like it largely because of geography and that I have been on that ground and climbed the hill Cleburne’s men climbed, but it does fascinate me every time I visit the field.

  8. What makes a great attack? Size? Impact? well-executed complexity?

    I think that the initial stages of Franz Sigel’s flank march and attack at Wilson’s Creek certainly qualifies for the latter. He led a flanking column on a difficult extended march, on time and on target. His initial assault routed the Confederates, and came within an inch of succeeding. He failed, of course, to manage the battle skilfully once he met with a reverse, which negated that earlier success, but the feat itself was pretty remarkable.

    1. Couldn’t agree more, Dave. Plus, most of Sigel’s march was at night; even tougher. There is a lot of negative that we can say about Sigel, but at a point in the War in which almost every commander was as green as their troops, he pulled off a night march, and arrived at the right place at the right time to execute his attack. Pretty darned impressive, I think.

  9. Jackson at Chancellorsville. (Though that did not end will for Jackson.)

    Robert K. Krick notes the Yankee response upon hearing the Confederate’s other-worldly screams at the Battle of Chancellorsville:

    “A French volunteer at Hooker’s headquarters spotted the Eleventh Corps fugitives in ‘close-packed ranks rushing like legions of the damned ’toward him. The Rebel yell unmanned the foreigner, who reported that ‘all of the [Confederates] roar like beasts. ’”

  10. My favorite is actually a series of attacks by the Army of the Potomac during the 11-day Appomattox campaign. Because many believe the South was on its last legs by late March 1865, these unrelenting attacks against the Army of Northern Virginia don’t get the credit they deserve.

    Remember, Lee at the beginning of the campaign still had an army of around 60,000. Sure, Lee was outnumbered by almost 2-1, but he had overcome great odds many times before. Even in defeat, Lee had proved elusive. The Army of the Potomac had failed to cut him off during Lee’s retreats from Maryland and Pennsylvania. And Lee had successfully parried Grant’s 1864 attempts to box him in throughout the Overland Campaign.

    By late March 1865, the morale of Lee’s army was at least as good as Grant’s. The Army of the Potomac had suffered costly, morale-depleting losses throughout much of the Overland Campaign and the siege of Petersburg.

    These factors make the successful attacks at Five Forks, Sailor’s Creek, Petersburg, etc. some of the most impressive of the CW. Grant and Sheridan were determined to keep the pressure on Lee throughout the 11 days, even if some generals – like Warren – had to be unfairly sacrificed in the process.

    Grant was the only commander of the Army of the Potomac who possessed the iron will to finally surround and capture Lee’s army. McDowell, McClellan, Pope, Burnside, Hooker and Meade had proved they were not up to the task.

  11. How about a small-unit attack reeking of Balaclave-style drama and futility? 2d Massachusetts at Gettysburg on July 3 and the famous words of its young Colonel, Charles Mudge, which epitomize the spirit of the American volunteer. This was a “great attack” purely for reasons of patriotism.

  12. Mine is the amphibious assault by the 7th Michigan at Fredericksburg for purely personal reasons. I had ancestors in the regiment.

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