Fieldworks and Operational Art in Civil War Virginia

With the publication of seven books on Civil War military history, Earl J. Hess has established himself as one of the most provocative Civil War historians working today.

Hess's books debunk established myths and challenge conventional wisdom in a number of areas. The Union Soldier in Battle: Enduring the Ordeal of Combat (1997) is considered a landmark work in the discussion of the motivation of Civil War soldiers, and Pickett's Charge: The Final Assault at Gettysburg (2002) is a detailed reconstruction of that myth-enshrouded few hours in July 1863. Much of Hess's recent research has chipped away at the idea, taken almost as gospel for decades, that the rifle musket, in the hands of Union and Confederate soldiers, changed the nature of combat in the nineteenth century and led to the extensive casualty lists of many Civil War battles. In his The Rifle Musket in Civil War Combat (2007), Hess demonstrates through exhaustive research that Civil War armies still fought at ranges more akin to those of eighteenth-century battles, and that Civil War soldiers never fully utilized the longer effective ranges of the rifle musket. Following this argument, then, what factors explain the high casualty rates of Civil War armies?

A major factor, clearly, was the widespread use of field fortifications, hastily constructed trenches and gun emplacements meant to shelter troop formations. Constructed initially by inexperienced units, these "fieldworks" started out very simply, becoming more complex and extensive as the war went on and the armies gained experience building them.

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Author: Charles R. Bowery

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Keywords: Field Fortifications, Virginia, Civil War, USA


Charles R. Bowery

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