Saturday, September 25, 2010

Book Review: The Killing Ground

Jaynes, Gregory. The Killing Ground: Wilderness to Cold Harbor. The Civil War. Alexandria, VA; Time-Life, Inc., 1986.

So in a month and a half, Grant took as many casualties as McClellan took in his entire career. You can imagine why the troops were less than pleased with him. Of course, all of those soldiers were lost retaking ground that McClellan had taken, and then retreated from.

What I don't understand, however, is why no one thought that issuing machetes and axes would be a reasonable objective. After having fought in the Wilderness before, and discovering just how hard it is to fight when you can't cut a clear path to bring up reinforcements or remove the wounded, someone had to have thought of this. In Spotsylvania, they did issue axes to the first wave, that they could cut their way through the abatis, and it worked, but that lesson was lost on subsequent assaults. It seems nothing is more short-lived than a military innovation.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

General McClellan is judged too harshly by historians. He realized too many men were getting killed due to Open Frontal Tactics, and later in the Civil War trench warfare was found to be the answer. He's judged because he had the smarts not to feed men to weapons for the sake of a few square miles of farm land like the French and English generals fed men to German machine guns in WWI for the sake of incremental advancement:

The decline of the open frontal assault the the emergence of warfare characterized by tactical entrenchment on the field of battle was the most dramatic tactical transition of the American Civil War.

9:13 PM  
Blogger Octavo Dia said...

That would explain his reticence to attack, but it doesn't explain his unwillingness to maneuver, or his supreme willingness to retreat rather than hold a defensive position. McClellan's risk aversion goes far beyond strategy.

2:58 PM  

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