Throughout history there have been few military theorists who have influenced military thinking. The military revolution that occurred during the American Civil War changed the face of warfare. The theories of both Antione-Henri Jomini and Carl von Clausewitz, the two most prominent military theorists of the 19th Century, can be seen in many aspects of the conflict. While Jomini’s tactics played a large role on the battlefield, the strategic concepts of Carl Von Clausewitz best characterize the nature of the Civil War. The writings of Clausewitz proved prophetic in three distinct areas: the strength of the defense over the offense, the concept of “Total War” used by General Grant, and the theory of war as an extension of policy.
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These heavy losses encouraged the increased use of earthworks and trenches that only made attacking a well-defended position more costly. With the extended range and accuracy of the rifles with Minie ball projectiles the Soldiers had no other option but to dig for protection. General Grant’s initial frontal assault on Cold Harbor on 3 June 1864 against the well-fortified position of General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia led to nearly 7,000 casualties in the first 10 minutes. The battle for Petersburg, Virginia in 1864 also culminated in trench warfare, resulting in trenches that ran for 53 miles. Attacking an enemy over open ground led to heavy losses on both sides and would be a problem through the end of World War 1. The casualty figures and tactics of the middle to late Civil War have proven Clausewitz’s theory that the defense was the stronger form of war.
There was a dramatic shift of strategy in the late Civil War. This highlighted another theory of Clausewitz that shows his ideas better characterized the Civil War. In 1864 General U.S. Grant was placed in charge of the entire Union Army. By this time, General Grant had witnessed the dedication and resolve of the Southern Army. To defeat them, he knew that it would take a strategy that went beyond just defeating their Army on the field of battle. General Grant’s campaign plan that ultimately won the war is best explained by Clausewitz’s theory of “Total War.”
In “On War,” Clausewitz states the