Wednesday, February 01, 2006

"Rookie" Regiments

I got my information package in the mail today for the UVA’s Civil War Conference: Cold Harbor to the Crater: Grant vs Lee. I have never attended one of UVA’s programs before but this one caught my eye because one of the topics has to do with “rookie” regiments and their experience at both Cold Harbor and Petersburg. A lot of these “rookie” regiments were Heavy Artillery units that were taken from the defenses of Washington and sent to the front in the closing days of the Spotsylvania Campaign. The level of casualties suffered by these regiments during Grant’s overland Campaign and the opening days of the Petersburg Campaign has always struck me as more than just coincidence.

A major theme in my work on the First Maine is that having spent almost two years in Washington this regiment although very well drilled in marching and infantry formations was encumbered with the same reliance on traditional battlefield tactics that the armies had 1861. Commanders and even the soldiers themselves came to realize that many of the close order formations taught by Hardee’s and others had to be adapted on account of rifled muskets, artillery improvements and the development battlefield entrenchments.

While soldiers and commander in the field learned and developed their tactics to account for the changing battlefield environment regiments like the First Maine and other heavy artillery regiments did not have the benefit of this battlefield experience. When these regiments faced their first engagements they were using outdated tactics that were of little use on the battlefields of 1864. Their lack of practical battlefield experience coupled with the desire of field commanders to leverage their large size in difficult situations (like charging entrenched Confederate positions) earned for these Heavy Artillery Regiments a record in blood that many veteran units could not match in 3 full years of war.

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