Question of the Week: 10/15-10/21/18

In your opinion, which battle did the weather most decisively became a particular enemy or ally for the Union or Confederates?

32 Responses to Question of the Week: 10/15-10/21/18

  1. Not just the Battle of Perryville, the entire Braxton Bragg/Kirby Smith invasion of Kentucky was affected by the El Niño Current. Because he could not forrrage food for his men or fodder for his horses, Bragg only had a few days rations on hand at the time of the battle. A critical part of the battle itself was a fight over a pitiful trickle of water. Much of Bragg’s stock of horses & mule were broken down or dead for lack of forage. In Bluegrass Kentucky, corn & pastures were dry, brown , devoid of nutrition. Behind Bragg lay the torturous roads through the mountains, devoid of supplies.
    Even if Bragg had eked out something that could have been called a victory at Perryville, he would have had three alternatives. Advance westward & starve. Stay put & starve there. Retreat back into Tennessee before the passes closed. He chose retreat, just in time as it turned out. A bitterly cold typical El Niño early winter storm turned his army’s passage through the Smokies into a frozen hell. Bragg candidly reported to Richmond that he did not know the location, numbers or condition of his army.
    The drought, extreme heat & arctic cold of El Niño driven weather foredoomed Bragg & Kirby Smith’s invasion of Kentucky. It made the tactical outcome of the Battle of Perryville moot, Bragg was going to have to retreat or starve in place. The weather negatively effected every single element of the Battle of Perryville, before, during & after.

    1. I love your analysis of the Bluegrass Campaign, although Bragg never needed even the reasonable excuse of bad weather to screw things up. This campaign has always been of great interest to me, having attended nearby Centre College, and tramped over the Perryville battlefield when most was still in private hands. I always felt that Bragg’s failure to pull in Kirby Smith was a big factor, but as the food supplies were meagre, perhaps he was at a distance for simple logistical supply reasons.

      My choice for the post would be Seven Pines, where the division of the AOP by the flooded Chickahominy should have led to disaster. In a way it did, because Lee stepped in.

      1. I appreciate your comment on my post. Please don’t misunderstand me I am not wasting time taking pot shots. But the fact of the matter is that AoP centric folk think in terms of two or three day battles. Army of the Cumberland/Army of the Tennessee folk think in terms of campaigns.

        I think that conceptual division can be explained by looking at a map. On an 11X14” map of the operating theater of the AoC/AoT, the entire o.a. of the AoP & AoNV is literally the size of a postage stamp. The Virginia theater was essentially Napoleonic, i.e., fight one great battle & the war is won. The Western Theater, on the other hand, involved supply lines hundreds of miles long, fleets of riverboats & gunboats, thousands of miles of square of territory won & lost that the confederacy could not live without. Individual battles were just nodes in an interconnected web of continental proportions.

        The essentially Napoleonic mind set of Eastern Theater folks makes a creek overflowing it’s banks a big deal. A Western Theater person thinks in terms of a continent wide weather phenomenon that dealt a death blow to any hope of the Confederacy taking Kentucky or holding Middle Tennessee.

        That does not mean that one Theater was superior. It is just that one was intimate (how many times did some Virginia towns change hands?) & the other theater was vast.

  2. If you believe McClellan, the wet spring of 1862 on the Peninsula affected the ehtire campaign..

    1. I do not mean to be flippant, but heavy dew, bog trolls, herds of bull frogs… any excuse would do for McClellen to explain away his failures as a general.

      1. Pinkerton reliably reported hordes of heavily armed, superbly led and securely entrenched bull frogs marching out of Richmond….

      2. You obviously don’t appreciate the fact that an army could only move (ponderously and slowly, of course) on roads that have been bone-dry for at least a week and capable of supporting massive siege mortars. The weather gods on multiple occasions repeatedly disrupted Mac’s plans for a devastating offensive. Just read his letters to Ellen after Seven Pines, lamenting how the rain was forcing a delay in that final crushing blow against the ANV. It’s too bad that McClellan’s West Point education apparently did not cover such events as Washington’s successful two-pronged attack on Trenton following a night march in a sleet storm.

  3. I think it was more than evident that the weather terminated Burnside’s second campaign that became known as the “Mud March.”

  4. Gosh, there are so many to choose from. I’ll go with Chancellorsville and how the rain had prevented dust from rising on the raids Stonewall’s troops were taking to get into position for their devastating flank attack.

    And who can forget the ‘Great Snowball Fight’ among Confederate units of the Army of Tennessee? That could be a movie!

    1. Correction: that should read “the ROADS Stonewall’s troops were taking…”. My bad. But I do wish there was an ‘edit’ function on here. I hate when I misspell or mess up grammar-wise!

  5. Burnside’s “Mud March” in January 1863. Had he not been delayed by politicians…it would’ve been interesting to see how far he would’ve got in Lee’s left & rear. The AOP was poised for revenge after the debacle at Fredericksburg. We’d never know, but Joe Hooker used a similar plan later that spring which came close to working.

  6. Forts Henry and Donelson – U.S. Grant, Adm. A. Foote – February 1862. Rain had swollen the Tennessee River so high that Fort Henry was indefensible. Foote’s navy easily pounded Fort Henry into submission and the rebel forces that could – withdrew. Grant then marched his troops on poor roads toward Fort Donelson – first in a rain storm that eventually turned into sleet and snow.
    At Fort Donelson, the Cumberland River was also at high water stage which permitted the Confederate gunners manning the river batteries pieces on the bluffs north of Fort Donelson to allow Adm. Foote’s to draw closer. The Rebel gunners then pummeled the iron clads and damaged/disabled four of the Union gunboats – fortunately for Foote the Cumberland flows north or else the Confederates would have had a small river navy.
    The balance of the battle for Fort Donelson was also affected by weather (freezing temperatures, swollen creeks and muddy roads). Grant’s victory at Fort Donelson was also greatly aided by the incompetence of Confederate leadership. However, Grant’s energy in pressing forward when an opportunity was presented resulted in a major victory that forced the Confederates to abandon the state capitol of Nashville.

    1. The high water also allowed the timber clad flotilla to rampage up the Tennessee River. The alarm & consternation the black painted monsters caused cannot be exaggerated. It was not unlike an attack by Martian spacecraft. Towns emptied, a military camp was abandoned in a stampede of panicked soldiers. Serious, lasting doubt about the Confederacy’s ability to protect slaveholders caused by that raid was a heavy blow to civilian morale. It is also one of the funniest military campaigns ever. The contemporary news paper accounts of the mass panic, generated by what looked like floating barns, is very amusing.

      1. This was also the first time that Nathan Bedford Forrest shone. He first refused to participate in the white flag waving at Donelson. He then organized the orderly evacuation of a great deal of the industrial plant and supplies of Nashville before the fleet came up the Cumberland. I so agree that the loss of western and central Tennessee put a permanent strategic crimp in the Confederacy.

      2. My favorite event during Forrest’s attempt to salvage a small fraction of the supplies abandoned by Johnston’s retreat to Murfreesboro was turning fire hoses on the mobs looting the warehouses. The president of the Nashville & Chattanooga R.R., who was in charge of the supplies in Nashville, had boarded his personal car & steamed southward. At the end of a very tenuous supply line, the abandoned supplies were most welcome by the Union Army.

    2. Gary Joiner has a theory that the still-swollen Tennessee River (10 feet above flood stage) allowed the two gunboats to play a role at Dill Branch late on April 6, 1862.

  7. The battle of Cedar Creek in October, 1864. The dense morning fog that day was a critical factor in the way the battle’s initial phase played out, proving to be both a blessing and a curse for the Confederates. The fog masked their approach to the Federal position, allowing the Confederates to achieve a near complete surprise. The dense fog (compounded with battle smoke) prevented effective coordination by Federal commanders, allowing the outnumbered Confederates to concentrate against individual Union units rather than a cohesive front.

    As the battle progressed however, the fog was a major factor (among others) that prevented Early and his commanders from maintaining the attack’s tempo. Early was unable to effectively see the battlefield, forcing him to fight the battle “by sound” rather than maneuver his units to advantage. Multiple Confederate brigades and divisions stagnated from lack of orders later in the morning, while others launched costly frontal assaults against Federal positions that potentially could have been turned via maneuver. While the fog ultimately burned off, it no doubt saved larger elements of the Federal army from capture and contributed to the much discussed “Fatal Delay” that halted the Confederate attack and allowed Sheridan’s army to regroup.

  8. Darkness is a weather condition which opens up tons of possibilities. Culp’s Hill, Chantilly, Petersburg day one, Jackson’s wounding. My wife doesn’t think darkness is a weather condition but google is not completely silent on the subject.

    1. Chantilly/Ox Hil is a good entry. Looming darkness accompanied by a violent thunder storm in the midst of the battle clearly had an effect.

  9. The weather condition that I think may have had the most telling effect on the outcome of a battle or even perhaps the entire outcome of the war itself was: fog. I am referring to the task assigned to Capt. Samuel Johnston by Lee himself, of pinpointing where the flank of the Union line was located at Gettysburg on 2 July, 1863.. Johnston claims that he was able to climb onto Little Round Top (or as it was called at the time Sugar Loaf Mountain) and from there, peer into the shallow valley below to determine where the Federal line ended. But it seems that this weather phenomenon was so impenetrable, that it prevented the good Captain from not being able to see, but also not being able to hear, elements of the Third Corps that spent the night in bivouac in that very same shallow valley. So as a result, with this report in hand, that Captain Johnston did not see any enemy activity, Lee created the plans and then set in motion the eventual attack by Longstreet on the Federal left later that afternoon. And as they say, the rest is history.

      1. I always think this too. Why no better scouting before the Battle of Mechanicsville? And in Beauregard’s case, why no better scouting of the way forward before Shiloh? Beauregard did have an engineer out on the right scouting the day of the battle, but that was too late to help.

        Similar mistakes by men learning as they went and with a lack of identified talent to lean on.

    1. Weather affecting Capt. Johnston’s failed July 2, 1863 reconnaissance is not supported by meteorological information – other than the presence of ground fog. Johnston, who made his search in the early morning hours, claimed he had a ‘clear view’ of the Union lines, thus one can surmise the ground fog was not excessive.
      One of the mysteries of Gettysburg is just where did Capt. Johnston’s party go? There are many theories but none are definitive. The bottom line is Johnston claims he was on LRT but it
      Thus the mystery: The AOP had a Signal Station set up on LRT on the evening of July 1; John Geary;s Division was in the vicinity of LRT and its slopes until relieved by Sickles 3rd Corps between 5-7 AM – which would have covered the time of Johnston’s alleged presence on LRT – thus making it unlikely that he was ever actually there.
      In addition, regarding the ‘acoustic shadow’, the 2nd Corps at that time was moving on Taneytown Road and there are accounts of morning bugle calls and drums being heard rousing Union troops near dawn on July 2.
      Capt. Johnston maintained he got to the top of LRT (and asserted the same directly to an R.E.Lee inquiry). He believed he was there but it appears as though the information he provided Lee does not hold up under scrutiny. Johnston likely made his alleged observations from somewhere other than LRT.

      1. You have certainly described the ‘fog of war.’ The AoNV had operated on home ground throughout the war. Civilians had come to Lee’s HQ to report the position of Union troops & act as guides. Stewart, who should have been scouting for Lee was off on another example of the failed cavalry raid doctrine. Like all the Confederate army commanders, Lee did not exploit the revolutionary potential of signal posts of observation & the real time intelligence they could provide.

  10. I’m no Civil War scholar, but I’m surprised to see no mention here of Lookout Mountain. The fog was not only a significant feature of the engagement, but gave the battle it’s “Battle above the Clouds” nickname.

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