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

aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,813
USA
Moving in column vs line makes sense if speed is more crucial than protection. While the column is much more susceptible to frontal enfilading fire down its long axis, its much faster to move a large infantry force compared to forming in line, especially under less than ideal field conditions (muddy fields) and limited visibility (night attacks). Comparisons to some Napoleonic War use of the column are similar only in that both emphasized the need to move large bodies of troops forward as fast as possible before enemy could reinforce areas of the defensive line that were about to be hit. Attacking in column also masses forces at a single focal point of the enemy defenses, which is in keeping with the principals of modern warfare. Considering all the risks involved, the key to preserving the force tasked with actually assaulting enemy trenches would be speed. Pick a spot thought to be weak, isolate it, then attack using speed, surprise, and violence of action.

Theory separates from reality in that timing and fire support, both of which are necessary to carry out these sorts of attacks, were rarely ever capable of properly being organized in 19th century warfare, for quite a few reasons. Not only is poor coordination a deal breaker, but poor intel, fog of war/confusion and Murphy's Law level of "what can go wrong, will go wrong" can also lead to a major catastrophe. More so, even if anything goes right (which it never does), in a war like the ACW any attacking regiment performing the breach of an enemy entrenched defensive position is likely going to get hurt bad whether they reach and seize trenches or not.

However, the big question needs to be is if the enemy is entrenched, why is it necessary to take them by assault. All operations need to be balanced for risk vs reward, so tossing away high performing regiments to breach an enemy defensive position, there better be a very real necessity for it. Can they be out maneuvered? Starved out through investment? The ACW was characterized by the Union commanders being pressured to quickly end the war, despite casualties, which is a key reason the North suffered worse than the South did in terms of casualties. Had Lincoln and Stanton and others not constantly pressured Union generals, tactical patience could have been exercised and better choices made.

For those calling such tactics suicidal or stupid, modern breaching of wired obstacles and trenches also utilizes columns and files to maximize control and speed to reach enemy positions before assault units peel off right and left to start clearing trenches further down from the breach point.
 

aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,813
USA
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.
There was no "Point Man" in an American Civil War regiment or company. Units performing an attack would start out in line or column, led regimental or company commanders, who themselves were expected to lead from the front and perform their duties in a brave/courageous manner. These commanders would have next to them their regimental standard bearers, or company guidons, who themselves were chosen for their bravery under fire/standfast devotion to duty.

If either got hit (and they often did), then other people pre-designated would assume their duties and carry on the attack, as planned, until such time as either they were successful or it became impossible to carry out the attack based on casualties and fear, in which time either the unit as a whole would retreat without orders, retreat under orders from a surviving subordinate officer, or go to ground under enemy fire in "No Man's Land", in which case it might be hours before they could be extricated or the men returning to their own line on their own.

The point of crossing no-man's land as fast as possible against supposed weaknesses in an enemy line was the reason the attacking force would risk frontal enfilading fire in the first place. Then again, leaving the trench, or even putting on a uniform, is dangerous too.
 
Sep 2013
914
Chattanooga, TN
At the mule shoe, how many troops did Upton have charge the Confederate trenches with unloaded muskets?

At the mule shoe, how wide (how many people wide, not how many feet wide) was the column of Upton's initial attacking force that charged Confederate trenches?