War and Logistics, 1861-1918

Success in warfare has come to depend more and more upon elaborate technical planning. Antony Brett-James describes this modern trend through the invention of new weapons and the provision and proper use of transport.

Count von Moltke, for thirty years Chief of Staff in Berlin and the prime architect of three quick Prussian victories over Denmark, Austria and France, disparaged the American Civil War as a conflict between armed mobs from which no useful lessons could be learned—a judgment that had some justification only in the opening stages of that war of attrition. Yet many historians have called it the first of the modern wars.

Besides the technical advances and innovations that will be referred to later, the Civil War gave us the term “unconditional surrender,” perhaps the first fabricated atrocity story—the fictitious bayoneting of wounded Federal soldiers—some conception of what the words “total war” would hold in store, and a clear sense of the power of propaganda used both to gain sympathy and support abroad and to buoy up spirits at home.

This struggle between Union and Confederacy, which in many respects foreshadowed the future pattern of war more truly than did von Moltke’s wars, taught more to the British than to either the French or Germans, thanks in part to the instruction of Colonel Henderson at Camberley for a decade, to his still widely studied book Stonewall Jackson and the American Civil War, and to the advice he gave to former students during the final campaigns of the Boer War, when he was Director of Intelligence.

Although railways had been used strategically in 1859, when France and Piedmont fought the Austrians in northern Italy, and over a very short distance in the Crimea for carrying guns, ammunition, fuel, fodder and timber from Balaclava up to the trenches outside Sebastopol, the American Civil War was the first conflict in which they played a vital role.

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