How to…Win a Civil War Battle

Hey Y’all,

This year marks the beginning of the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War. It was the bloodiest conflict in our nation’s history pitting the side of the country that believed barbecue is a delicious pork product against the side of the country that considered barbecue to consist of hamburgers and hot dogs. After four years of turmoil, while many issues were settled, that culinary fight continues to rage on (See Southern Blogger, How to Choose a Good BBQ Restaurant).

Over the next four years Millions of Americans (hopefully)will take the time to honor the brave soldiers who fought in the war (yes, even the blue coats), learn some history, and support our National Parks…well the smart ones at least. For Southerners like me, it means trips to Gettysburg whereby they get their hopes up, but then get depressed when they realize the outcome never changesand then go home sulking, (I’ve made 11 trips there and always the same score!). Or they enjoy the early battlefields of the war, like Manassas, whereby the South, like their SEC football descendents “padded their schedule” against easy opponents. (Southern Blogger can’t separate college football and the Civil War, that’s why he ended up at Ole Miss).

In any case fellow Southerners, sympathizers, curious Yankees, and folks who stumbled in from a search engine gone awry, have you ever thought what would happen if you were to find yourself in a Civil War battle? Not just fighting in the battle, but leading it? I know I’ve thought about this day and night since I was three, but I’m a Virginian so it helps to be prepared. In any case, should you find yourself in this position, for whatever reason, you should at least know HOW to win a Civil War battle. So I decided to call on an old friend to guest blog for us this week…a true expert in this field. Please welcome General Robert E. Lee…

–  Southern Blogger

Thank you very kindly Mr. Blogger, sir. I shall as always endeavor to do my duty and to properly lead your readers into the finer points of Napoleonic tactics. We shall blog together and come to an understanding of how to face “those people” (for they are never quite the enemy) on the battlefield should sectional difficulties once again arise, God forbid. I would also humbly ask that by doing you this favor you would, hopefully sir, please stop requesting my audience repeatedly. I am asked to do many blogs, and indeed while I appreciate your hero worship and your bobblehead collection of me, I do regretfully inform you that I cannot write for this site frequently. Doubtless, President Jackson is a finer blogger than me, but of course amongst historical figures, we’ve always considered him to be a “techie geek”.

So without further ado, may I present four points to consider when plotting a Civil War Battle…

Gen. R.E. Lee, ANV

STEP ONE: LEADERSHIP

It is indeed a difficult task to command an army. You must feed, clothe, and provide for the sustenance of your men. You must also be willing to sacrifice that very thing you love, your army, if you are to succeed, (or so I once heard Martin Sheen say). As an army commander there are thousands of orders that must be carried out, one by one by subordinates in order to achieve victory. With Providence, and a little fortitude, and some skill, the day can be carried.

But one key component is to have proper leadership, especially underneath you. That is why whenever possible if you must pick someone to command you should choose a Virginian. Now, it may seem arrogant to thus enshrine my own home state in such praise and glory. But it is not vainglory dear readers. No sir, it is simply a known fact that Virginians are born with a certain blood, a spirit, what in your day you  call “DNA”, for leadership.Virginians are born and raised to command, and I must say it is a heavy burden to bare to always be so right and noble all the time…Didn’t you once say the same thing Southern Blogger?

Indeed General Lee, when I was a mere sophomore in Civil War class at the University of Mississippi, the professor was intrigued that I never took notes. I had to inform him that as a Virginian, the Civil War is not mere history but current events. In any case, after making a paean to my home state’s leadership abilities, and tactical greatness during the late war, the Alabamian professor referred to me as a “typical…arrogant…young Virginian”. I do believe I got a 103 in that class. Later on, my speech about Virginia was quoted by General Armistead in the movie Gettysburg.

Indeed, Southern Blogger…you were correct…but a bit arrogant…a difficult burden being so right so young. In any case, once you have maintained the proper chain of command and good Virginia leadership, you must seek good terrain from which to fight.

(Click on the image to enlarge)

George Washington, knew his role as a Virginian, even as a baby.

STEP TWO: CHOOSING THE BATTLEGROUND

Now it is very important to choose a proper site to engage any enemy combatant. You will need to command the high ground, have rivers and streams for your enemy to have to cross, have large open spaces by which to make grand charges to win the day, without the interferences of traffic, parking lots, shopping centers, and other things that always get in the way of a good Civil War battle, especially in my native northern Virginia.

That is why I always tried to fight my battles on National Park Service land. National Parks have plenty of open space that makes them perfect for battlefields. Some of them are even labeled “battlefields” which makes them easy for both opponents to find. I also chose them because the many stone monuments provide excellent cover for the men, and the rangers are often very knowledgeable should any of your men become lost. Even the orientation films provide an excellent introduction for new recruits. Yes, I highly recommend them!

Now, once you’ve established your leadership and have seized the ground you must then endeavor to gain the psychological advantage.

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If only the NPS map was easier to read, Gettysburg would have been ours

STEP THREE: INTIMIDATE THE ENEMY

Although we always strived to be an honorable foe in the Army of Northern Virginia, we certainly made use of the tactics of fear. Ours was a small, lesser equipped army, and as such often had to resort to dare I say, “chicanery” in order to carry the day.  Most famously my men used what is now known as the “Rebel Yell”. Dear readers, many of the people of your era have tried but have failed to capture the essence of that call. It was not really a yell so much as a fox call, or “whoop”. But a simple whoop could be done a million ways. In order to make our battle cry effective we had to sound as one voice.

The real secret to our success, besides Divine Providence, was our excellent use of choreography. Indeed, Jefferson Davis used his intricate spy rings and European agents early in the war to secure us an excellent song and dance instructor. I am referring to one of the true unsung heroes of our Southern cause, the French legend of 19th century musical theatre Pierre Gustav Tutant Beau-Ree-Peep. Monsieur Beau-Ree-Peep actually coined the phrase “Rebel Yell” as it was the name of a successful off-Broad Street musical production of his. Although my men did not naturally take to the theatre the way the French Army had, with Monsieur’s good help and excellent training we turned our men into a magnificent choreographed force of military intimidation.

Remember, with good leadership, command of the field, and intimidation, you are well on your way to victory. As for the final piece to a successful engagement, you need…audacity.

(Click on the image to enlarge)

In some things the French really are the best army in the world.

STEP FOUR: AUDACITY, AUDACITY, AUDACITY

Dear gentle readers, you are now ready to hear the real secret to the success of the Army of Northern Virginia. The key to our  great victories in Second Manassas, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville, as well as the Seven Days campaign, was a secret cadre of handpicked men known only to a few. I am of course, speaking of the F.A.R.B.s.

It gives me great pains when I examine your modern day celebration of our great war that these brave men are so easily mocked and belittled. There are indeed many in your time that choose to reenact the epic struggle of the War Between the States by dressing up as the combatants, fighting with period replica weapons, using nineteenth century tactics, and living as people did long ago. It is indeed a great educational tool for your time.

Sadly many of the men who portray those brave FARBS are mocked by elite bands of “living historians” who refer to these men as “phonies”, “fakes”, “anachronistic”, and “uneducated”. They even say “FARB” means “FAR BE it for me to criticize your uniform, outfit, gun etc.” My friends, I cannot sit back any longer and allow this injustice to continue. The truth is that FARBS were the key to our great victories and I shall honor these secret warriors whose recognition was long overdue.

“FARB” actually stood for “Feint Assault Reenactor Battalions”. We deliberately recruited overweight men, old men, stupid men, nutcases, nerds, and bad armchair historians, and outfitted them with the worst weapons and uniforms. We trained them in two left feet marching tactics, war woops, three syllable pronunciations of “war”, and other nonsense. The key was to use these men in a feint frontal assault. The Yankees would therefore be lulled into a false sense of security, while our REAL soldiers then flanked them. My friends, THAT’S how I won Chancellorsville. I thank the dear Lord for those brave Farbs.

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Dedicated to the 40,000 men who gave up their dignity that weekend so the real army could win.

Thank you Southern Blogger for your kind support and the chance to write to your 21st century readers, but I must now return to my own time. I bid you good day sir!

–  Gen. R.E. Lee, ANV, Commanding

Thank you very much General. I do indeed have a tear in my eye from that Farby story. Indeed this whole blog post is quite Farby. Well, I’ve enjoyed bringing y’all two weeks of history, but for the next few weeks we get more topical as I guide y’all and any upcoming college students in my GUIDE TO SEC LIFE : BACK TO SCHOOL EDITION.

Thanks again for blogging with me,

–   Southern Blogger

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