The Civil War- Modern or Napoleonic War?

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Was the Civil War the first modern war or the last Napoleonic War? This question has plagued historians for years. Joseph Dawson, author of the article “The First of the Modern Wars?” argues that the Civil War was the first Modern War. His view is the commonly accepted one. Alternatively, in his book Battle Tactics of the Civil War, Paddy Griffith compares the tactics used in the Civil War to those used during Napoleon’s time. He counters the common belief and argues that even though the Civil War had new weapons and techniques, it was still a Napoleonic war. He draws the conclusion that even though Civil War soldiers used weapons that were more advanced; they were still using Napoleonic tactics. By examining the rifles used during the Civil War, the way Commanders chose to control their mass armies and the drill books the soldiers trained from, it is evident that the Civil War was indeed the last Napoleonic War.
Dawson states that one aspect of modern war is having advanced artillery. During the Civil War, Americans did have the modern technology needed for a modern war. Their artillery was improved; they started using single-shot muzzle loading rifles, which were a major advance over the smooth bore muskets. Dawson claims this led to battlefields that were bigger than before since the new muskets had a longer range. Griffith argues that statement saying, “Even with these wonderful new weapons, in fact, it remains doubtful that a genuine revolution in firepower had actually occurred.” The new rifles did not make as much an impact as Dawson claimed. The new musket could fire accurately and at three times the distance but it was not until late in the war that all soldiers had the improved musket. Furthermore, the rifle tended t...

... middle of paper ... it out on the battlefield or try to use old tactics with their new weapons, both failed miserably. The Civil War did have mass armies like a modern war but the commanders did not know how to control them properly so they were not used effectively. The commanders did have good communication thanks to telegraphs but with unsophisticated staff work, it did not matter. Finally, the soldiers were given the newest drill books but since the commanders were unable to train the new tactics successfully, consequently the soldiers used Napoleonic tactics. While the Civil War did have aspects of modern war, the features were not used effectively and therefore were still Napoleonic, resulting in the last Napoleonic war.

Works Cited

Dawson, Joseph. “The First of the Modern Wars?”
Griffith, Paddy. Battle Tactics of the Civil War. United Kingdom: The Crowood Press, 2001.

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