Sunday Night Discussion
The topic we will be discussing is an alternative defensive strategy that the Confederacy could have employed. The strategy would be implemented in the Eastern Theater at the onset of the war. I will take no credit for this as the strategy as it is that of French General Baron Antoine-Henri Jomini, with a few twists of my own. Jomini would write on tactics and strategy and become one of the most respected military theorists of the 19th Century. Although known mostly for the offense, Jomini believed along with fellow military theorist Carl von Clausewitz that offense emanated from sound defense.
Sometime ago Professor Irish contacted me to see if I would be interested in a project. He challenged me to apply what I call Jomini's space and time defense strategy to the Eastern Theater at the start of hostilities. What I showing now are details from the resultant essay. Remember that the strategy would be employed before that battles of 1862 so we must treat this mostly as a what if. This is a strategy, to quote Carl von Clausewitz, "tactics is the art of using troops in battle; strategy is the art of using battles to win the war".
For a sectional or national strategy to be successful it must consider the political, the economic, the home fronts, armaments and the capabilities of their forces. Not only must the military leaders take into consideration these factors pertaining to their own situation but also must consider the same factors in their enemies camp. At times strategies are designed and implemented because of what the military leaders see in the enemy camp not their own.
Military theorists say that strategy is an extension of politics. The Union's political goal was the preservation of the Union. This goal requires the total defeat of Confederate military forces and the occupation of large areas of Confederate territory. The political goal of the Confederacy was independence. This goal does not require the same military necessity as the Unions. It also does not require the occupation of Union territory. The difference in the nations political goals sees the Confederacy meeting the political requirements of the space and time defense.
Before continuing I want to clarify something that may lead to confusion. The space and time strategy is not trading space for time. The ultimate goal of the strategy is the destruction of the attackers forces. Space pertains to area. The strategy requires a large theater of operations. The CW took place in the largest theater of operations to date save for Napoleon's invasion of Russia. Time does not refer to days or weeks but to simultaneous attacks upon different locations within the theater of operations.
Economics also is considered in the formulation of this strategy. The South's economy was based primarily on export. The Union moved quickly to blockade the Southern coastline and strangle the Southern economy. The strategy is designed to attain its goal prior to the blockade having any chance to become effective. The defensive posture of the strategy also allows for the least expenditures by the Confederate treasury.
The home front of both sides play a large part in the strategies design. The loss of home territory whether through battle or by design can wreck the morale of the home front. It is critical the morale of the Southern home front be kept at a high level. The politicians, the media of the day and the clergy will be enlisted in this task. The fervent dedication of the Southern home front made up for many military deficiencies. I have every confidence their indomitable spirit was be a firm foundation for the strategy. The Northern home front was no less dedicated to their cause but the strategy is designed to use the fervor against them. As the Union moves deeper into Southern territory, the Northern politicians and media will question why the decisive battle has yet to be fought and won. They will question the competence of the military, as they did, and home front morale will begin to wane. The fires of anti-war sentiment were there and by design the strategy will fan those fires.
We have now met the political, the economic and the home front requirements essential to the implementation of the strategy. Armaments will be equal at the beginning but the Union will have the advantage of arming there forces with rifled weapons more quickly. The defensive nature of the strategy will help negate this advantage. We have a large enough theater of operations and soon will fulfill the time part of the equation. I have bored you long enough, so let's have a little fun.
The main defense force will consist of three infantry corps. Once corps could be more correctly called a legion, as it will have its own cavalry detachment and artillery. I will refer to this particular corps as the legion from this point forward. There will be three independent cavalry detachments. Two of the three will have "flying artillery". The main defense force artillery will be organized into one corps under one commander. This will help facilitate the coordination of the batteries during the retrograde movements.
We will use the Battle of 1st. Manassas as the initial site of the strategy. The legion will meet the initial Union thrust. Not looking for a decisive victory, the legion will fall back through the position of the second corps which is deployed at the next natural defense position. The legion will continue to fall back through the third corps defense line and then deploy at the next natural defense position. The cavalry that is attached to the main defense force will protect the flanks of the corps as they fall back. In these delaying actions the commanders of both the infantry corps and the artillery must be careful not to be drawn into a decisive battle. As the corps fall back they will draw the Union deeper and deeper into Confederate territory.
The object of the retrograde movements is to induce the Union forces to follow them and follow they will. The Northern politicians and media will allow no other options. The homefront will interpret the advances of their forces as proof positive of their winning quickly over an enemy that does not have the courage to stand and fight. The morale of the Union's forces will reach a point of bravado and that is exactly what the space and time strategy wants.
At a defense position approximately 25 miles south of Manassas the three cavalry detachments will be waiting. Once an infantry corps from the defense force deploys on this line, the cavalry detachments will begin their critical mission. Their mission is to disrupt and if possible sever the Union's lines of communication. They will fulfill their mission using raiding tactics. They will burn bridges, tear up railroads, cut telegraph lines, and attack supply columns and depots. There are three results from their attacks on the Union lines of communications, all positive for the strategy. First, it will force the Union to expend man power from their main force to protect their supply lines. Secondly, as the strategy allows for the ceding of towns and cities to the Union, who will have to garrison them, the cavalry raids will keep these garrisons at home. This deprives the main Union force of reinforcements. The third benefit is that the Union Cavalry, such as it was, will be drawn away from the main Union force in an attempt to stop the raids. This will deprive the Union force of most of their best eyes. One cavalry detachment will be assigned to the west of the Union lines another to the east of those lines. The third detachment will be free to raid the union lines at any point unless their support is needed by one or the other cavalry detachments. The cavalry raids must not be to frequent at first, as the strategy provides for a deeper penetration of Confederate territory.
As the cavalry perform their mission the three infantry corps will continue their rotation from one natural defense position to another. In essence they will leap frog each other in their retrograde movements. As the corps fall back they are to strip the land of forage and supplies increasing the dependency of the Union on their supply lines.
The strategy calls for ground that is defensible and the area upon which the tactics of the strategy will be effected is indeed defensible. The ground in question offers rivers, streams, marshes, heavy woods and high ground as defense positions. The ground also offers areas conducive to the ambush.
When the third rotation by the infantry corps is completed the legion will fall back to a position I will call the trap line. There the legion will rest and refit for offensive operations. The other two corps will continue delaying tactics as they leap frog south towards this line. The farther south the Union moves the more frequent the cavalry raids on their lines of communication will be. The location of these raids will move closer to the actual rear area of the Union main force the farther south the Union moves.
The destination of the defense force is a line that is centered at Wylliesburg on the Richmond-Danville Railroad. The left flank will rest on the Stauton River and the right flank will extend to the town of Lawrenceville. The ground is of rolling hills and heavy woods giving excellent defensive positions. The ridge on the left is slightly higher and the woods are a bit heavier but the hills and the woods on the right are more than sufficient to mask the movement of a large body of troops. The legion will be waiting at this line for the arrival of the other two infantry corps. When the first corps arrives it will deploy on the right of this line and when the second corps arrives it will deploy on the line to the left of the first corps. The legion will be positioned off the right flank and to the rear of the first corps. The legion will then execute a turning movement to the north positioning itself to the east of the Union force. As the Union approaches the Wylliesburg line resistance will stiffen compelling them to deploy into battle lines. With this maneuver the Union will expose their left flank to the legion. Then the trap will be sprung.
I will not delve into the tactical portion of the impending battle. I have posted much information about the strategy but I assure you it is in no way to the extent of detail of the project Irish and I completed. I submit this as an alternative strategy the Confederacy was fully capable of employing. I will not say if this strategy could or could not have changed the fortunes of the Confederacy but I will say it does create interesting possibilities.
This Page last updated 12/19/99
RETURN TO WAR STRATEGY, THE EARLY YEARS