A House Divided: Bloody Civil War Tactics II

 

Lead: One hundred and fifty years ago the Republic was facing its greatest crisis. This continuing series examines the American Civil War. It is "A House Divided."

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: In later years, General Daniel Harvey Hill remembered the Confederate dead stacked like cordwood before Yankee lines at Gaines Mill east of Richmond during the Seven Days Battles in 1862. He said, “It was thought to be a great thing to charge a battery of artillery or an earthwork lined with infantry….We were very lavish of blood in those days.” But, in fact, it was the tactics of Hill and his fellow leaders as much as the gallantry of their men that caused such a surfeit of gore. Union and Confederate leaders alike threw men into horrendously fatal charges against breastworks filled with vigilant enemy soldiers armed to the teeth over and over and over again. It was calculated that a charging enemy had to have a 3-1 advantage if it was to overcome troops dug and ready.

 

A House Divided: Bloody Civil War Tactics I

Lead: One hundred and fifty years ago the Republic was facing its greatest crisis. This continuing series examines the American Civil War. It is "A House Divided."

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: In the course of military history it has often been the case that armies prepare for the last war. Unable to see into the future, changes in strategy, tactics and weaponry come only with the experience of the current war. It is one of the great tragedies of the American Civil War that the learning curve among military leaders was so slow that tactics even up until the last year produced a grisly ingathering of causalities on both sides – more than 600,000 dead over a four-year period. Recognizing that disease was one of the most vicious of executioners in both Rebel and Yankee armies, leaders still were painfully slow on the uptake, not realizing that the tactics they were using increased casualty rates.

Lost H-Bomb

Lead: In January 1966, at the height of the Cold War, an armed U.S. Air Force B-52 crashed during a routine refueling over the Mediterranean coast of Spain. In the process, it lost a hydrogen bomb.

Intro: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: The giant B-52 was part of the Strategic Air Command’s regular flights to the edge of Soviet air space. Fully loaded, it held four H-bombs, each 100 times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. To make such a long trip from the continental United States required refueling, and as it approached the KC-135 jet tanker on January 17, 1966, the bomber accidentally rammed the refueling boom, destroying both planes. Aircraft parts and radioactive debris rained down on the Spanish countryside. Three bombs were recovered, but the United States had to endure the embarrassment that a fourth went missing. It had lost a nuclear bomb somewhere over Spain.

 

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George Washington Rains and Confederate Gun Powder II

Lead: During the Civil War, the Confederacy faced serious challenges, not the least of which was having no source of gunpowder. To solve that problem, they turned to George Washington Rains.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: The key ingredient in gunpowder is saltpeter, the general name for three naturally occurring nitrates, the most common in North America being potassium nitrate. Called by some niter, it was combined with sulfur and charcoal, and together they were rolled, pressed, crushed, granulated and dried in a process that was conducted almost nowhere in large quantities in the South prior to 1861. To defend itself the Confederacy would have to solve that problem. Ordinance chief Josiah Gorgas appointed Artillery Major George Washington Rains, third in his West Point class, who had served with distinction in the Mexican War.

 

George Washington Rains and Confederate Gun Powder I

Lead: When it became clear that the Federal government would not permit the South to depart without a fight in 1861, one of the most pressing needs of the newly formed Confederacy was gunpowder.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Despite its wealth of leadership and agricultural resources, the South in the 1860s was ill equipped to fight a war. What ordinance it had was confiscated from Federal arsenals in Confederate territory and was not nearly enough to prosecute the major campaigns that lay ahead. Few foundries could roll the iron that would be required. The South had provided mostly raw agricultural products to the factories of the North and the industrial mills of Europe. That it was able to field numerous armies, a credible naval effort, and a war machine that held the North at bay for the better part of three full years, is a testimony to the raw talent, dedication, and energy of its leaders, the many sacrifices of its white population, and, at least at first, the vigor of its free blacks and slaves. Yet in the end, the South had been bled dry, overwhelmed by the industrial might and superior numbers the North could bring to the conflict.