Question of the Week: 10/10-10/16/16

Question-Header“Victories are not always measured by comparative losses. It is the effect on the enemy’s plans and future strategy which is the ultimate criterion.” (Major General S. W. Kirby, 1960)

Is this theory correct? Are there any Civil War battles this principle applies to?


8 Responses to Question of the Week: 10/10-10/16/16

  1. I can’t help but think of Chickamauga in this case…the only major Confederate victory in the ‘west’; yet, a hollow one given the Union strategy and subsequent success at Missionary Ridge and beyond.

  2. Lee’s second invasion of the north which resulted in the battle of gettysburg validates the general’s statement.

  3. Kirby is correct in his theory.

    As examples of how it applies, I submit the 1864 campaign in Virginia (and Georgia in places) – specifically Wilderness, Spotsylvania, North Anna, Cold Harbor, and Kennesaw. Despite defensive successes that inflicted far more damage on Union armies than Confederate, the Union forces were always able to proceed with this plans of campaign. Perryville on October 1862 was the same way.

  4. A couple of well-expressed opinions, above; I agree. I would select the Wilderness as the quintessential example.

    I also find this statement highly ironic, given how the US Army would be conducting operations under General Westmoreland in just a few short years.

  5. I think the statement itself is a two-edged sword. It’s true, but I think it has also contributed to the “no decisive victory” mindset that plagues us today.

    The Battle of New Market and the Hunter-Early “Bizarre Campaign” are good illustrations of how victories/losses affect overall plans. In this case, laying the ground-work for Sheridan’s “fight to win, fight to destroy” mentality later in 1864.

    1. The idea of a decisive vitory – winning the war in an afternoon – belongs in the realm of a very limted sort of warfare, IMO. For example, Napoleon didn’t crush the entire armed might of Russia and Austria in December 1805 at Austerlitz; he defeated two men, Tsar Alexander and the Emperor Francis, who essentially gave up the fight. As the other European powers embraced the French way of war, the Napoleonic Wars largley failed to produce decisive victories; instead Spain, Russia, Germany and France in 1914 became extended campaigns very similar the late-war campaigns in 1863-5 – full of bloody battles but lacking in immediate, decisive results. Attrition takes over. Hence we get more discussion about battles as “turning points” as opposed to “decisive moments.”

  6. What about Perryville as an example? The Confederates inflicted more casualties on the Federal forces and pushed the Federals back, but then retreated into Tennessee, leaving Kentucky in the Union. In this case, the effect on the Confederate plans and future strategy (hopes?) changed from controlling Kentucky and possibly scaring states like Ohio, Indiana and Illinois back to defending Tennessee and deeper south states again.

    It did influence Union plans, as they changed commanders from Buell to Rosecrans, but the Union then continued to pursue eastern Tennessee, eventually ending up at Chickamauga and Chattanooga..

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