Land Warfare: Attrition and Manoeuvre

Authored by: John Buckley

The Ashgate Research Companion to Modern Warfare

Print publication date:  February  2010
Online publication date:  March  2016

Print ISBN: 9780754674108
eBook ISBN: 9781315613284
Adobe ISBN: 9781317042495


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On 30 July 1864 Union troops of the Army of the Potomac launched a daring attack on the Confederate lines defending Petersburg in an effort to break the growing deadlock. Employing a mine packed with some 8,000lb of powder the plan was intended to break the siege and eliminate the need for a further attritional struggle in an increasingly casualty-intensive campaign, which was draining both Union and Confederate armies. The plan was, however, an ad hoc effort, an attempt to alter the shape that the US Civil War had become in the summer of 1864, a drawn out and bitter struggle founded upon the mobilisation of industry, personnel and national resources. Ulysses Grant may have grasped the nature of the war in 1864 better than his contemporaries and the advantages conferred by the North’s greater wealth in population and output, but it was not a development that sat easily with the approach of military practitioners and the historic flow of strategy and doctrine. The plan to break the siege failed due to poor prosecution, caused some 5,000 casualties, and contributed to the growing stalemate around Petersburg which lasted into 1865.

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