Saturday, February 27, 2016

There wasn't much of a U.S. Army at the beginning of the Civil War

As I've read about the U.S. Civil War, one of the things that struck me was how both sides were creating armies out of scratch, essentially.

It is noteworthy just how unprepared America was to fight a war... even one against itself. Sure, Americans had guns and knew how to use them, and had just eighty years before beaten off the British in their War of Independence. But they were nowhere near being any sort of military power. They distrusted standing armies, keeping only the tiniest numbers of soldiers employed - around 16,000, spread out in forts near the Indian territory. They had created the military training academy of West Point, but that produced perhaps a few dozen soldiers a year.... and those men were expected to be engineers building public works during peace time.

When the Civil War broke out that needed to change... but they were almost starting from scratch. Men were excited and wanted to be soldiers and almost immediately the States, North and South, were flooded with volunteers and were creating more regiments than they were asked for. They had to buy guns from Europe since most of the guns in America were fine for hunting but obsolete as far as military use goes. There were no officers so they were often elected from among their peers, or they were appointed by the State's political leaders. Neither of these ways of getting officers are in any way good.

Basically, I marvel that each side was able to raise an army and actually make it fight. Men and guns were two key ingredients, but required an incredible amount of materials and a system of supply to actually make it an army. Both sides raised armies of a little over 100,000 men at first. It took 600 tons of supplies each day for an army that size, plus well over 35,000 draft animals, and apparently the horses and mules had a life expectancy of only a few months. Little known fact: the need to get uniforms for all these men is when standard sizes were born - before clothing would have been homemade or otherwise tailored by hand.

Nowadays it seems ludicrous to imagine America as anything other than an armed-to-the-teeth military power.... but it definitely wasn't back then. That was a more recent development. One that wouldn't take hold until the Second World War. Even then, most soldiers were volunteers. The large, professional U.S. Army would only happen recently during the Cold War. It'll probably be a thing until soldiers get replaced with robots.

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