Tucker Moulton


Military tactics are strategies used to achieve victory in a battle, and eventually a war. There are two positions in a battle, the offensive whose goal is to advance by force, or the Defensive which is achieved by holding a position and thereby forcing your opponent to attack. In the Civil war era the most common formation was a long "line of Battle". This was when there was a line of marching men varying between one to two companies wide and two ranks deep, stemming from Napoleon Bonaparte's
Napoleon Bonaparte
techniques. Napoleon was the considered the greatest military leader in the world before the Civil War, and so his techniques were mimicked by all the commanders. However in the mid 1800's new rifles and cannons were being created with greater accuracy, firepower and rapid action. With Napoleonic strategy all the soldiers were bunched up and were easy targets to fire upon. These tactics against modern weapons were not as effective as they were against older weaponry. Many men were killed because of this and tactics played a significant role in why the Civil War was the deadliest war this country has ever experienced, with over 620,000 casualties.


Most of the firepower created came from the battle lines, offensive and defensive. However Generals could not just simply line up their men and march into bullets, they had to come up with new ideas on how to attack the Enemy. On a battlefield, the most common formation used was the "Column" technique. All this was was basically a much wider and more dense battle line. it consisted of about one to ten companies wide, and eight to twenty ranks deep. The reason for this was so that commanders could make an initial attack, and then rally up men from the back of their regiments.
May 2nd, 1863 - 30,000 confederates under the command of "Stonewall Jackson" charge through the woods at Hookers army
They would attempt to proceed around the back of the enemy with these men, and then attack from the back as well as the front. The defensive side would counter these flanks by using a tactic called "Refusing" where they would make barriers so that the enemy could not pass.
The most important strategy in the war was "open-order" formation. The reason this was so important to the war was that there is a lot of forestation in America, especially in the Civil War era. This technique was where an open order was used. In open order the soldiers would spread out into an irregular single file line, and charge. This technique was also used for flanking, as seen in the picture to the left. The commanders who controlled all of these tactical maneuvers were called corps commanders, and they were instructed by the higher up army commanders.
Another aspect that played into how the war was fought was artillery. The reason for this was the difficult terrain that was encountered during the war. Instead of having soldiers make their way through woods, or some other obstacle, they would have the artillery come in. These were the cannons, and long range rifles that could kill from a distance of about 4 miles, although they were not accurate.
The last main point of the tactics used in this war, and the most effective one was cavalry. Cavalry was essentially soldiers riding by horseback, with pistols and rifles, sometimes even sabers. Cavalry was so effective because they used their quickness by horse to get to key spots and then would dismount and hold their position. Barely ever did the cavalry fight while still mounted, this would only happen if they were on the offensive, and were charging or flanking into battle.


The Union had complete control of their entire army, and they had a goal to blockade the South. By doing this they could cut of the less technologically advanced South from importing and exporting goods. This limited their supply of food, weapons, and support from other countries. Also the confederacy couldn't export anything over seas, and so made no profit. One of the Unions generals, McClellan
General Mcclellan, who was eventually fired by Lincoln and then later ran for president against him in 1864
had a goal to take over major cities. He tried to take his army into Richmond (Confederate Capital) to force the surrender of the South but he failed.

Another Union goal was to control the Mississippi. They wanted this because again, they could take control over the commerce that happened in the South. Not only did this limit the South from transporting goods to each other, but it completely cut Texas off from the Confederacy. The Northerners had an intelligent tactic of dividing the South in Half. They split the heart of the Confederacy into two, by splitting the state of Tennesee. With the poor communication and transportation of the South, when it split in half, the Confederacy was less than half the strength it was before.


General Beauregard
General Beauregard was a Southern commander who was a hero at Fort Sumter, and led the fight at Manassas. Beauregard was Napoleonic minded, and was always on the offensive. In the Shenandoah however was General Johnston, who also led the rebel forces, but was cautious in battle. These two contrasting generals represented the strategic tactics that the Confederacy used in the war. The original goal of both sides was to defend their new nation, but the South was different. The rebels could be the victor in this war simply by not losing, when the Union could only win the war by winning control of the territory. Lincoln's job of winning this war was made much harder by the large terrain that the South had, stretching over 750,000 square miles.
General Johnston

In the Beginning of the war Jefferson Davis realized what he had. The Confederacy planned to use a strategy of attrition, which was winning by not losing. With the larger land that the rebels had, they could always retreat if needed. They were much smaller in numbers, so the generals would have to avoid annihilation by not having full scale battles face to face with the enemy. In the end the Southern goal was to make the war as long as possible and making it too costly for the opponent.
However there were two main problems with this plan. First, the Southern governors insisted that the border between the Confederacy and Union had to be protected. This forced the rebels to spread out and cover most border states. This spread out the already wide spread confederates even more. The 2nd problem was that the Southerners did not want the Union to delivery the blow. The citizens wanted to attack.
Davis had to find some way to combine all these tactics, and eventually he did. The South ended up with the perfectly balanced "offensive-defensive" tactic strategy. Compared to the Unions army which was just large, and supposed to be overpowering, but not to the intelligent rebel Generals such as Robert E. Lee.


In conclusion, The South had a smaller, but smarter army. Also they could win the Civil war by not losing, and defending their homeland. The Union was a large, but in the beginning not strategically smart army. Their generals were too cautious and did not pursue the enemy enough to defeat them. The North had to win the war by actually winning, and attacking. Eventually with Ulysses S. Grant and Sherman this was accomplished, but the South put up a very good fight for the odds that they were against.



"Tactics." Strategy and Tactics in the American Civil War. 25 Mar. 2005. 18 May 2009 <>.

"Influence of Napoleon on Strategy and Tactics of the Civil War." Strategy and Tactics in the American Civil War. 26 Mar. 2005. 18 May 2009 <>.