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Should They Have Known?


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JStudebaker #1 Posted 17 February 2016 - 05:16 PM

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I like history and my prefered area of study is the American Civil War. I’ve always wondered why the lessons learned from it didn’t help Europe avoid the industrial scale butchering that went on in WWI. Did Europe not take much notice? Did they forget in the 60 years between the wars? Or, did they only see the eventual success and buy into the romanticism that came from that war?

 

My perspective is an American one, so of course I was taught anything we were involved in was just the most important thing going on in history at that time. I know many on these boards hail from outside of the Americans. I’m interested in that outside viewpoint. How was the American Civil War mentioned in your history class, if mentioned at all.


For those that study history deeper, do you think the American Civil War should have been a warning for what WWI would bring? Was it just too removed and the European nations just had to learn for themselves? Was the war itself not relevant enough to modern warfare for any lessons to be learned?

SixxGunnz #2 Posted 17 February 2016 - 05:47 PM

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They did learn. Trench warfare used in the siege of Richmond at the end of the war was not the static warfare that it became in WW I. The advent of the crew served machine gun that Maxim said would prevent wars of the future was the single most reason for the stagnation of lines. Also it didn't help that the generals of the time still believed in mass troop formations of the past. It wasn't until after the war that small unit tactics were picked up and employed in WW II. 

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Crazedtiger77 #3 Posted 17 February 2016 - 06:05 PM

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View PostJStudebaker, on 17 February 2016 - 05:16 PM, said:

I like history and my prefered area of study is the American Civil War. I’ve always wondered why the lessons learned from it didn’t help Europe avoid the industrial scale butchering that went on in WWI. Did Europe not take much notice? Did they forget in the 60 years between the wars? Or, did they only see the eventual success and buy into the romanticism that came from that war?

From my point of view, the American Civil War had little political impact upon Europe, even if the weapons (Gatling Gun, ironclads etc) which proved their worth during the war may have impacted upon our equipment. It was just another foreign war which didn't directly impact upon European interests (the British support of the Confederates which was just to antagonise the Union more than anything else) and there were more issues closer to home to worry about. They just ignored it and in the fifty years between the end of the U.S. War and the start of WWI, European powers continued to have their own wars such as the Franco-Prussian War, Boar War, Balkan Wars, Italian Invasion of Abysinnia and more with the same attitude of 'dulce et decorum est' that they always had done.

 

View PostJStudebaker, on 17 February 2016 - 05:16 PM, said:

My perspective is an American one, so of course I was taught anything we were involved in was just the most important thing going on in history at that time. I know many on these boards hail from outside of the Americans. I’m interested in that outside viewpoint. How was the American Civil War mentioned in your history class, if mentioned at all.

As a Brit, the U.S. Civil War wasn't mentioned at all at High School (11-16) level but is studied on some College and University History courses. No offence intended but as we have over 2000 years of British history to try and cover, foreign goings on isn't a priority of the core syllabus which tends to focus on the Romans, Battle of Hastings, Tudors, Great Plagues, Victorians, WWI and the Blitz.

 

View PostJStudebaker, on 17 February 2016 - 05:16 PM, said:

For those that study history deeper, do you think the American Civil War should have been a warning for what WWI would bring? Was it just too removed and the European nations just had to learn for themselves? Was the war itself not relevant enough to modern warfare for any lessons to be learned?

It should have been but seeing as WWI didn't end all wars like it was supposed to, the U.S. Civil War was never going to stop them. Political forces between the European Powers drove them into the World Wars and the reason America hasn't had a similar experience isn't that your leaders learnt from the Civil War, it is the lack of another competing major power on the American landmass.



Uranprojekt #4 Posted 17 February 2016 - 11:11 PM

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There are two countries at most that America really has to worry about, Canada and Mexico. Hardly large and geopolitically dominant empires like the ones we had here in the civilised world during the early 20th century. There were several empires all jostling for control of Europe, setting up treaties and alliances with and against each other. Competing not only for control of Europe but also large swathes of the planet were the British Empire, French Empire, Russian Empire, German Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire and Ottoman Empire.

Six empires, six dominant powers, all in Europe and all working with and against each other to gain more power. Secret and not so secret negotiations led to the youngest kid in the empirical scene, Germany, making nice with the Austro-Hungarians and the Turks who ruled the Ottoman Empire whilst Russia was busy making friends with France. The British weren't interested in all of that and largely tried to stay out of mainland European politicking, instead choosing to oversee the running of her vast overseas empire. Prior to the outbreak of the First World War, it can essentially be boiled down to the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey and the Double Entente of France and Russia.
Of course, once tensions began rising more and more in Eastern Europe, the early 20th century's Middle East, and war became ever more imminent, the British finally decided to join with Russia and France and thus created the Triple Entente.

Going back for minute, I mentioned that Eastern Europe was the 20th century's Middle East. With all these empires vying for control, particularly the Austro-Hungarians, the Ottomans and Russians, a lot of people were being displaced and mistreated. Ethnic groups like the Serbs and Armenians were subjected to horrific treatment and were essentially denied what they felt was their right to a home, their own piece of land to call their nation. Eastern Europe was a tinderbox and all it needed was a match.
It got that match with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Once he had been killed at the hands (the Black Hand, as a matter of fact) of Serb nationalists, war could not be avoided. The treaties and alliances were now, for lack of a better term, active and the dominos began to fall. Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, Russia declared war on Austria-Hungary, Germany declared war on Russia, France declared war on Germany and then Britian finally joined in on declaring war with Germany, thus beginning the Great War.

Europe was a grand political stage prior to the First World War, a deeply complex web of alliances and treaties, a large number of people disenchanted and dissatisfied with their rulers. What could Europe have learned from the American Civil War? It was, comparatively speaking, a simple affair between two sides of the same coin, whereas the situation in Europe was more like a six-sided die.

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flynlion #5 Posted 17 February 2016 - 11:41 PM

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Seems to me that we never learn from war. If we did we wouldn't keep having them.

Matthew J35U5 #6 Posted 19 February 2016 - 01:47 AM

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View PostJStudebaker, on 17 February 2016 - 12:16 PM, said:

I like history and my prefered area of study is the American Civil War. I’ve always wondered why the lessons learned from it didn’t help Europe avoid the industrial scale butchering that went on in WWI. Did Europe not take much notice? Did they forget in the 60 years between the wars? Or, did they only see the eventual success and buy into the romanticism that came from that war?

 

My perspective is an American one, so of course I was taught anything we were involved in was just the most important thing going on in history at that time. I know many on these boards hail from outside of the Americans. I’m interested in that outside viewpoint. How was the American Civil War mentioned in your history class, if mentioned at all.


For those that study history deeper, do you think the American Civil War should have been a warning for what WWI would bring? Was it just too removed and the European nations just had to learn for themselves? Was the war itself not relevant enough to modern warfare for any lessons to be learned?

Well... The American civil war lasted from ~1860-1865, and involved a mostly unimportant country to much of Europe. (Because America was fairly insular) The Franco-Prussian war involved two of the leading great powers of the day. It isn't hard to see why people in Europe would take more notice of France's humiliation by Prussia than a protracted civil war in a far-off place. 

 

More to the point I think, is not that Europe should have paid more attention to the American civil war, but that it should have paid more attention to its own history. Wars between coalitions of great powers had always been long protracted affairs. Taking Prussia's defeat of France as an indication that a war between Germany, Austria-Hungary and (supposedly) Italy on the one hand, and France, Russia and Britain on the other would be a brief affair was the mistake. 

 

In my mandatory history classes, the American civil war was not mentioned at all, whatsoever. The mandatory history courses in Canada teach the history of Canada, rather than history, so important details are usually left out. It doesn't even cover the statute of Westminster, which is rather pathetic.

 

In my optional history course I took, the American civil war wasn't mentioned in any great detail. The American revolution was covered only in how it related to France. It was a course on the history of the west, so of course it focused mostly on Europe, because the centre of the western world was Europe, and the extremities, like America (or Canada, South Africa, etc) were unimportant for much of the period we covered. (1200-~1920) It wasn't until America claimed the entirety of the America's as its sphere of influence, and began flexing its diplomatic muscles that it would really become influential. 


KeystoneCops, on 14 June 2015 - 12:51 PM, said:


MrWuvems #7 Posted 19 February 2016 - 04:16 AM

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View PostMatthew J35U5, on 18 February 2016 - 07:47 PM, said:

In my optional history course I took, the American civil war wasn't mentioned in any great detail. The American revolution was covered only in how it related to France. It was a course on the history of the west, so of course it focused mostly on Europe, because the centre of the western world was Europe, and the extremities, like America (or Canada, South Africa, etc) were unimportant for much of the period we covered. (1200-~1920) It wasn't until America claimed the entirety of the America's as its sphere of influence, and began flexing its diplomatic muscles that it would really become influential. 

 

Well a narrative on the US's advance into global power status would probably begin it 1852 with Perry, which was pre-civil war, but that was mostly incidental to Europe which was more focused on China. The US itself didn't really grow into a global player until the Roosevelt presidency (the peace brokerage between Japan and Russia and/or the white fleet). However, through most of this time and you can say until WW1 the US was cultivating a massive amount of soft power instead of military power, which many European powers just kind of shrugged at.

 

There is an argument that the real ignored lesson is that all the tech being shipped out of the US and expanded upon were battle tested, and... well... excessively disruptive would be a good term?



DStegCat #8 Posted 19 February 2016 - 08:57 PM

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So why didn't they learn from the Crimean War?

nam et ipsa scientia potestas est (for knowledge is itself power)  Francis Bacon - 1597

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Matthew J35U5 #9 Posted 20 February 2016 - 03:22 PM

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The Crimean war was like 15 years before the Franco-Prussian war. 

KeystoneCops, on 14 June 2015 - 12:51 PM, said:


JStudebaker #10 Posted 22 February 2016 - 02:56 PM

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My observation wasn't that studying the US Civil War would have prevented war in Europe. But, looking at the effect industrialization was having on warfare that the carnage would not have been as shocking. Leaders might have better prepared their tactics and combatants would have set out for war more soberly. The US Civil War started with picnicking spectators ready to see a gallant affair and Europe went to war under the same delusion. WWI taught the world what war really was. America's taste of industrialized warfare could have been that educator, but I guess people have to learn things for themselves. The reality may have simply been leaders didn't care and the cannon fodder were not educated enough to know better.

 



Uranprojekt #11 Posted 22 February 2016 - 03:58 PM

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View PostJStudebaker, on 22 February 2016 - 02:56 PM, said:

My observation wasn't that studying the US Civil War would have prevented war in Europe. But, looking at the effect industrialization was having on warfare that the carnage would not have been as shocking. Leaders might have better prepared their tactics and combatants would have set out for war more soberly. The US Civil War started with picnicking spectators ready to see a gallant affair and Europe went to war under the same delusion. WWI taught the world what war really was. America's taste of industrialized warfare could have been that educator, but I guess people have to learn things for themselves. The reality may have simply been leaders didn't care and the cannon fodder were not educated enough to know better.

 

 

The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, the officer's school for the British military, used to teach the American Civil War to officers-in-training. Douglas Haig, the infamous "Butcher of the Somme", learned about tactics used during the ACW when he attended Sandhurst.

However, the ACW tactics taught at Sandhurst weren't the commonplace attritional tactics but the more mobile warfare employed by Stonewall Jackson in the 1862 Shenandoah Valley campaign. We (Europe, that is) didn't look at the total war, industrialised death aspect of the ACW prior to the First World War, we looked at what could be learned from mobile warfare and then employed it for the first three or so months of the First World War. Then we got bogged down in the attritional trench warfare which has become synonymous with WWI and mobile warfare pretty much went out the window.

 

Europe learned some lessons from the American Civil War but not all of them. Regardless of which lessons were or weren't learned, the First World War was an inevitable conflict which dragged the world into the 20th century, the century of arms races and industrialised death on a never before seen scale. No amount of study or learning from lessons of the past could have prevented the Maxim and Vickers machine guns mowing down men by the dozen or stopped thousands of shells from tearing up the Belgian and French landscape. We had all these newfangled weapons and we were going to use them.


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JStudebaker #12 Posted 23 February 2016 - 08:19 PM

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So they learned what worked but didn't pay attention to the increasing body count weapon improvements were causing. The more I think about it the more it appears they could only see themselves using these new weapons and not being on the receiving end of them.

 

In the US Civil War the advancements were not equal on both sides and never resulted in the same stalemate. A stalemate was actually one sides main goal. That and the character and setting of the war was too mobile and far stretching to stagnate in the same manner. At the start the Confederacy was better trained, lead, and motivated. They were actually better equipped with European weapons. But, their agrarian society couldn't support the war effort without those imports. The Union could and did. When the advantage shifted so heavily to the Union, Confederates got desperate and creative. We saw the first glimpses of things like land mines, submarines, and guerrilla tactics which would become common place in wars to come. 

 

The American Civil War showed what modern warfare was heading towards but not what it meant when two equal powers collided. 



Sqn Ldr B #13 Posted 23 February 2016 - 08:41 PM

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View PostJStudebaker, on 23 February 2016 - 08:19 PM, said:

So they learned what worked but didn't pay attention to the increasing body count weapon improvements were causing. The more I think about it the more it appears they could only see themselves using these new weapons and not being on the receiving end of them.

 

Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the American Civil War came after Pax Britannica, and thus none of the major European powers foresaw having to fight each other (well not at least Britain, France and Germany), and only really took into account the fact that they'd largely be fighting spear, and at best, musket-wielding native tribes in their colonial conquests.

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Section47ABH #14 Posted 23 February 2016 - 09:26 PM

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View PostSqn Ldr B, on 23 February 2016 - 08:41 PM, said:

 

 only really took into account the fact that they'd largely be fighting spear, and at best, musket-wielding native tribes in their colonial conquests.

 

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Section47ABH #15 Posted 23 February 2016 - 09:34 PM

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The ACW and the First World War aren't really comparable as regards the methods and scale of the slaughter.  If the First World War had happened a little earlier or a little later, if one or more of the Low Countries had aligned themselves differently, it would have been a very different conflict: the Poor Bloody Infantry of the Western Front  - the Eastern Front was far less geographically constrained and saw relatively little trench warfare, and it didn't happen at all in any other theatre of operations - ran in to a perfect storm of economics, politics, technology, and geography.  The trench warfare of the western front couldn't have happened anywhere or any when else than it did,  and a war there, then, between those belligerents, using the weapons available in 1914-15, was inevitably going to turn in to trench warfare of that kind, no matter what lessons were learned from earlier conflicts. 
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Sqn Ldr B #16 Posted 23 February 2016 - 09:52 PM

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View PostSection47ABH, on 23 February 2016 - 09:26 PM, said:

 

Ah, Mboto Gorge.  Glorious!

 

Those sharpened guava halves can be deadly you know.

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JStudebaker #17 Posted 23 February 2016 - 09:58 PM

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View PostSqn Ldr B, on 23 February 2016 - 02:41 PM, said:

 

Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the American Civil War came after Pax Britannica, and thus none of the major European powers foresaw having to fight each other (well not at least Britain, France and Germany), and only really took into account the fact that they'd largely be fighting spear, and at best, musket-wielding native tribes in their colonial conquests.

 

There's a line from Black Adder Goes Forth about not facing anyone armed with much deadlier a weapon than overripe fruit. But, I couldn't find it.

 

edit: Ah, I see someone already mentioned that.

 


Edited by JStudebaker, 23 February 2016 - 10:00 PM.


Section47ABH #18 Posted 23 February 2016 - 10:02 PM

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"My usual reaction to someone in a skirt is to shoot him and nick his country." 

 

 


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Sqn Ldr B #19 Posted 23 February 2016 - 10:17 PM

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View PostJStudebaker, on 23 February 2016 - 09:58 PM, said:

 

There's a line from Black Adder Goes Forth about not facing anyone armed with much deadlier a weapon than overripe fruit. But, I couldn't find it.

 

edit: Ah, I see someone already mentioned that.

 

 

View PostSqn Ldr B, on 23 February 2016 - 09:52 PM, said:

 

Those sharpened guava halves can be deadly you know.

 

Pipped at the post my good man.

View PostSection47ABH, on 23 February 2016 - 10:02 PM, said:

"My usual reaction to someone in a skirt is to shoot him and nick his country." 

 

Touché sir.

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JStudebaker #20 Posted 23 February 2016 - 10:24 PM

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View PostSection47ABH, on 23 February 2016 - 03:34 PM, said:

The ACW and the First World War aren't really comparable as regards the methods and scale of the slaughter.  If the First World War had happened a little earlier or a little later, if one or more of the Low Countries had aligned themselves differently, it would have been a very different conflict: the Poor Bloody Infantry of the Western Front  - the Eastern Front was far less geographically constrained and saw relatively little trench warfare, and it didn't happen at all in any other theatre of operations - ran in to a perfect storm of economics, politics, technology, and geography.  The trench warfare of the western front couldn't have happened anywhere or any when else than it did,  and a war there, then, between those belligerents, using the weapons available in 1914-15, was inevitably going to turn in to trench warfare of that kind, no matter what lessons were learned from earlier conflicts. 

 

If machine guns had been available to the Civil War combatants, trench warfare of similar caliber might have developed along the Virginia boarder. The Union capital of Washington D.C and Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia were only 100 miles apart. The machine gun could have made forming a defensive line possible.




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