Monday, October 26, 2009

CWL--- Street Fighting in Monterrey Mexico and Fredericksburg Virginia, Part Two

The United States Army and Urban Combat in the Nineteenth Century, Jonathan A. Beall, War In History, 16:2 (2009), pp. 157-188.

In December 1862, a different approach yielded different results at Fredericksburg Virginia. Barksdale's Confederate brigade occupied the town late in November with a simple mission: delay the Federals until the Army of Northern Virginia had fully arrived. A major difference between Monterrey and Fredericksburg was that at Monterrey the river was to the rear of the defending army. At Fredericksburg the river was at its front.

The urban river scape lent itself to the defense of the city. The Rebels occupied the city's riverbank as a picket line and dug square holes that completely hid each soldier. Zigzag trenches permitted protected travel between the riverfront to the rear. Formidable barricades of earth and stone filled boxes were erected across streets from corner to corner. First, second, third floors, as well as basements and attics were occupied.

The attempt by the Federals to bridge the river was interdicted. A bombardment ensued. At approximately 3:00pm a Federal regiment assaulted Within 30 minutes of the infantry assault 30 to 40 Mississippians had been captured and a bridgehead established on the Federal right. In two hours four companies had cleared the first full block's intersection at Caroline and Hawke streets. The Federal assault was decentralized and open which gained yards while taking casualties. Unlike Monterrey there were no effort to use light artillery to clear streets with infantry support. As Federal regiments by company entered intersections heavily fire was received. A tactic of 'column by platoons' was used to continue the advance. It took another hour and a half to take another intersection. No similar attack was made from the Federal left but another bridgehead was secured there. Barksdale elected to withdraw after dark and looting by Federals accelerated.

Dissimilarities between the Monterrey and Fredericksburg assaults abound. Beall, the author, notes that American forces were more flexible in the former and less so in the later. Yet in his discussion Beall fails to note the difference in the cities' architecture which contributed to the lack of flexibility in the 1862 assault. Whereas Monterrey homes had shared walls, the buildings filled the block and shared rear courtyards, the Fredericksburg homes were free-standing, sided by alleys and had individual backyards. Monterrey assault tactics employing battering rams, hand deployed artillery shells and six shot revolvers to clear interiors were not applicable to Fredericksburg. Beall does note that Texans who were engaged in the Monterrey assault had previous urban attack experience; the Federals in 1862 had none. Beall believes that command and control was lacking in the Federal infantry assault of Fredericksburg as evidenced by the pillaging of the city after dark. This seems to CWL to be poor evidence. After dark the enemy had left the city and Federal soldiers were somewhat uncontrolled. Being uncontrolled after the enemy leaves the city does not necessary mean the Federal soldiers were uncontrolled in the face of the enemy.

Beall notes the apparent rigidity of Federal street fighting tactics but does not suggest what other tactics were possible or known. With Federal light artillery being across the river with Federal cavalry, the Federal brigade commanders had no access to it. A well planned assault by a Federal corps commander may have brought different tactics and more appropriate weapons to the street assaults. It appears to CWL that Federal regimental and brigade commanders performed adequately under minimal direction of division and corps commanders who failed to creatively respond to an unplanned and hastily arranged assault on an urban center.

Top Image: Don Troiani, Fire on Caroline Street
Bottom Image: 19th Massachusetts on Sophia Street

No comments: