Military History/Antietam Tactics


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What specific tactics were used by the Confederate Army during the Battle of Antietam? Did they follow a specific military doctrine?


Lets distinguish tactics from doctrine.

Doctrine in the civil war did not change much.  Regimental formations, firing en mass the at will.  Bayonet charges in some cases.  Artillery was used to break up unit cohesion before units closed within doctrinal firing range, which as it turned out had not adjusted to the advance of effective range of the rifled musket firing a Minie' ball.  Troops suffered fire for longer periods to close to what was accepted range, which was much closer than the effective range of the weapons both sides used.  So both sides used pretty much the same doctrine since they were using the same training manual: Hardee's Drill manual translated from the French Army manual if I am not mistaken with updates and revisions.  Hardee a graduate from West Point wrote the book in 1855 and then resigned to join the Confederacy as a General at the beginning of the Civil War.  So both sides used the same manual.  

The doctrine of use of artillery was also supplemented by Napoleonic tactics of masking artillery with Infantry, move the artillery up to effective canister range, unmask the guns and pound the opposing formations with close range canister fire.  This was used in the Wheat Field by Union troops.

As far as tactics go, Lee used interior lines of communication as he was forced south towards Sharpsburg.  This afforded him the ability to move his inferior numbers to critical areas such as his center and flanks in order to prevent a catastrophic collapse of his pressured defensive line.  The Union had the handicap of exterior lines, and incompetent command structure and failed to use their superior numbers at critical junctures to ensure a battle of annihilation.  One wonders what Napoleon would have done.  People point to the civil war as the end of the battle of annihilation, but in truth, both Antietam and Gettysburg afforded the opportunity for the A of N. Va. to be destroyed if a more resolute commander such as Grant had been in command at both times. In both cases Lee had his back to the Potomac and if hard pressed would not have been able to extract his army intact.

On his initial deployment, Lee used the topography to bolster his defense, by aligning his forces along Antietam Creek, and on the heights above.  Pretty standard stuff.

Coincidentally the positions of interior lines at Antietam and Gettysburg were reversed.  Lee had them at Antietam, Meade had them at Gettysburg.  In both cases the Confederates lost. Albeit they had fewer numbers in both cases.  Had the Union forces at Antietam had better command and control, and better instructions...a plan A and a Plan B in the event things changed as they always did.  They might have had a better chance to launch a coordinated attack crushing Lee's over matched forces.  Instead they launched a series of uncoordinated attacks several of which came within a whisker of succeeding, but all were successfully repulsed or at least forestalled, by Lee's masterful shuttling of troops from one critical point to another saving his army. McClelland stumbled and dragged his feet one too many times for Lincoln's liking and was sacked clearing the way for ultimate Union victory under grant three years later.

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Keith H. Patton


I can answer questions pertaining to weapons and tactics, personalities, battles, and strategies in european and U.S. history.


I was a history major, and had done extensive research in the subject area. I have designed and tested numerous computer games for various
historical periods.

B.A History M.S. Science
I have had the opportunity to live abroad and walk numerous battlefields both in the United States, Europe, and the Pacific.

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