Sherman on the advantage of an entrenched defensive position

The following description by Union General William T. Sherman is very insightful into the advantage a defensive army has when it is entrenched.  I could not help but think about how Gen Schofield must have felt similarly at Franklin (30 November 1864). Sherman talks about how mass charges in open fields were rare, how men more often fought in skirmish lines, how knowing the lay of the ground was vital, the advantage of a defensive position, etc.

Very few of the battles . . .  were fought as described in European text books, viz, in great masses, in perfect order, manoevring by corps, divisions, and brigades. We were generally in a wooded country, and though our lines were deployed according to tactics, the men generally fought in strong skirmish lines, taking advantage of the shape of the ground, and of every cover. We were generally the assailants, and in wooded and broken countries the “defensive” had a positive advantage . . . for they were always ready, had cover, and always knew the ground to their immediate front; whereas we . . . had to grope our way over unknown ground, and generally found a cleared field or prepared entanglements that held us for a time under a close and withering fire . . .

When the enemy is entrenched, it becomes absolutely necessary to permit each brigade and division of the troops their own protection in case of a sudden sally. We invariably did this in all our recent campaigns, and it had no ill effect, though sometimes are troops were a little too slow in leaving their well-covered lines to assail the enemy in position . . . . Even our skirmishers were in the habit of rolling logs together, or of making a lunette of rails, with dirt in front, to cover their bodies . . . . On the “defensive” there is no doubt of the propriety of fortifying, but in the assailing army the general must watch closely to see that his men to do not neglect the opportunity to drop his precautionary defenses, and act promptly on the “offensive” at every chance.

William T. Sherman, Memoirs, II, pp. 396-397.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s