How effective was Emory Upton's tactic of dealing with Confederate trenches?

Sep 2013
914
Chattanooga, TN
Here is my understanding of what you're saying:
So Upton's tactic really was not so much to defeat the Confederates in detail by incapitating (via killing or wounding them) the Confederates and/or driving the Confederates out of the trenches as it was about achieving a breakthrough that could be exploited by the Union for the main assault after the breakthrough was achieved. After the breakthrough was achieved, the main assault would commence, and it was the main assault that was designed to totally defeat the Confederates, not Upton's tactic. Is my understanding of the purposes of Upton's tactic essentially correct?

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Today I have thought about this more than I ever have before today, and this is extremely interesting. Upton's tactic is brilliant! Let's take this hypothetical situation. This hypothetical situation is not the situation at any exact battle during the ACW. It's just a hypothetical. Say the Confederates were deployed in trenches stretching in a ring about 3 miles long. Upton's troops could charge the CSA trenches and achieve a breakthrough about, say, 200 yards wide. Then the main assaulting lines of Union troops could deploy at the double quick into that 200 yard wide breakthrough. The Main assaulting force of the Union force (distinct from Upton's troops) could form a line formation and have the Confederates flanked. The only way that the Confederates could respond with decent firepower is to get out of the trenches!
 
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M9Powell

Ad Honorem
Oct 2014
4,456
appalacian Mtns
It was plenty effective at generating a breakthrough. The question of how best to exploit that breakthrough was not adequately examined before the tactic was put into practice at Spotsylvania.
Nothing was effective at penetrating a heavily defended trenchwork until the tank was invented about 60 years later.
 

M9Powell

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Oct 2014
4,456
appalacian Mtns
Seems like a dumb desperate tactic too me. More worthy of the Soviets than an American. We generally try too avoid mass casualties of our own men. Pickett's charge was dumb enough.
 
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Viperlord

Ad Honorem
Aug 2010
8,109
VA
Upton's tactic didn't cause mass casualties. An initial breakthrough was achieved and the better part of an entire Confederate division taken prisoner at the Bloody Angle. When he tested the tactic with a few brigades two days prior, he took 1,000 prisoners then too. Even with the breakdown of the attack, the casualties were something like 8,000 Confederate to 9,000 Union, which was a remarkably good ratio for a force attacking trenches in the Civil War.
 

M9Powell

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Oct 2014
4,456
appalacian Mtns
Must be more too it than I'm visualizing then. I'm sure you know more about it than me. A 58 caliber Minie ball is a gruesome destroyer of puny human flesh & bone. I've seen one go through a lot of 1 inch pine planks. 13 or 14 if memory serves.
 
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zincwarrior

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Jun 2012
5,713
Texas
how is that different than a Napoleonic column? sounds like a slaughter for aimed shot, with the front disintegrating and the middle clogging up and then getting completely bogged down.
 

M9Powell

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Oct 2014
4,456
appalacian Mtns
If they got in the trenchs with them, looks like pistols would have been the preferred weapon. I've got a Colt 1851 Navy & a Remington 58. That Colt is a thing of beauty & feels perfect in the hand, but that Remington is just a dead solid reliable killing repeater.
 

Belgarion

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Jul 2011
6,776
Australia
The theory sounds good, however I doubt it worked so well in practice. The forces arranged in a line could all put continuous fire at the head and flanks of the column, however the column could not use its muskets effectively and keep moving. If the distance to cross was fairly short, and the men could run fast it may work but as the French found when using the same tactics against the British it was almost always a failure.
 

M9Powell

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Oct 2014
4,456
appalacian Mtns
It would have helped I suppose in comparison with WW1 that they didn't have Bob-wire yet & the only repeaters the rebs had were pistols which most infantry didn't have. I just can't get over the image that the point man in that maneuver & several others are going to be shot with the same Minnie ball. How many average human bodies does it take too stop 1? 3,4,5? Sounds like devastation too me.
 

Viperlord

Ad Honorem
Aug 2010
8,109
VA
Surprise was a key part of the whole exercise. The May 12 attack was scheduled before dawn proper. The first Confederate division struck did not get much of a chance to fight back. In later war attacks, some Union commanders advanced their men to attack in a much looser, skirmisher-type order.

The forces arranged in a line could all put continuous fire at the head and flanks of the column, however the column could not use its muskets effectively and keep moving.
The attackers charged with unloaded muskets. The whole point was to close the distance as quickly as possible and not waste time with ineffectual return fire against entrenchments. The initial attack would break a hole through which the reserves would pour through and flank the remaining enemy forces out of their entrenchments.