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Army Riflemen in the Wilderness - 1821 and beyond

This is a seemingly disjointed post that seeks to tie in several threads of my military research interests in the interrelated realms of U.S. Army tactical through strategic doctrinal and organizational development.

The deactivation of the regular Rifle Regiment in 1821, in the words of Colonel Lewis Berkeley, resulted in "a loss of skills and continuity"and led to 30 plus years of tactical stagnation in the light infantry realm.

In postulating his central concern; "What do we know about the use and the training methods used in instructing men armed with them.?"  Berkeley offers, "Precious little and much of it wrong!" then elaborates:
"Soldiers accounts of the Mexican war decade mention the old flintlock rifle very unfavorably.  It was said to give excessive recoil, cutting and throwing patches badly, and shooting relatively inaccurately?"

How did this square with the vaunted "legend" of the rifle and American riflemen in the early 19th century?

The key to the mystery, Berkeley alleged, was in not appreciating the experienced use of measured powder charges by our early riflemen and the problems encountered with the 60% more powerful fixed Service rifle cartridge.  Moreover, he asserts, the "official contemporary instructions and comment on the rifle...[found in the] authentic piece of riflemen doctrine (from Duane's Handbook for Riflemen) lays to rest a lot of the old ghosts concerning the short-barreled flintlock military rifle..."

 “Early U.S. Riflemen: Their Arms and Training,” by Lewis Berkeley, American Rifleman 106, no. 12 (December 1958): 30-33

To set the context, one needs to back-track a bit to understand what transpired organizationally during the regular riflemen's "wilderness period."

For some ten years, from 1822-1832, the reduced Army (7 musket-armed infantry regiments, primarily scattered in company-size detachments, with no dragoons or cavalry, nor even mounted riflemen) found itself increasingly inept at impressing itself upon and closing with its wily foe on the "Great American Desert," along the Santa Fe trail,  or in protecting our early westward bound travelers.  All of which pointed to deficiencies in mobility and (once in contact)  firepower (or should we say, accuracy, at increased distances of range). That the Seminole War(s) back east were seen as an aberration, despite repeated setbacks requiring operational and tactical redress, is beyond this focus of this post (although critical to understanding the Regular Army's lack of institutional maturity and professionalism even given of Congressional parsimony and in many cases outright hostility against "standing armies.").

In 1832 a Mounted Ranger Battalion was formed, which, owing to excessive cost and disappointing results, led to the First Dragoons being raised in 1833 - comprising a field and staff (headquarters), a total 34 officers and 714 men in 10 companies, many of whom were formerly in the Battalion of Mounted Rangers. It was this unit which was sent on ill-fated Dragoon expedition of 1834. 

United States Dragoons, The Military and Naval Magazine of the United States, Volumes 1-2, 1833 pp. 118-122
"Too much praise cannot be bestowed on Congress, for the very handsome and liberal manner in which they have provided for the formation of a regiment of dragoons....My object, in the remarks which follow, will be to show the manifest injustice to the army at large, in perfecting 'the organization of the dragoons, by the selection of such officers of the rangers, as may be deemed qualified for the service. It may be said, and with great truth, that a very few only of the rangers are qualified, and that this discretionary regulation is of such a nature, that not more than two or three can be appointed from the corps. I say, that the appointment of a single one of them to the dragoons, would not only be an injury to the army, but an absolute infringement of their implied rights. This language may appear too strong to those who are not acquainted with all the facts in the case; but if we look a little into the claims of the two classes of candidates, viz: officers of the army, and officers of the rangers; we shall be able to form a more correct opinion on the subject."

ORDER No.15, HEADQUARTERS OF THE ARMY, Adjutant General's Office, Washington, March 11, 1883, p. 126

1....Colonel Henry Dodge, of the United States Dragoons, will continue in command of the Battalion of Mounted Rangers, and will now repair to the frontiers; thence, as soon as circumstances will permit, he will proceed to inspect the several companies of the Battalion, and see that they be prepared and equipped agreeably to law; and that they be held in readiness for any active service which may be required of them, until relieved by companies of the regular cavalry.

II Lieutenant Colonel Stephen W. Kearny will superintend the recruiting for the Regiment; and the several company officers, whose appointments have been announced in general order No. 14, will report to him for orders and recruiting instructions. Lieut. Col. Kearny, until further orders, will be stationed at Jefferson Barracks; he will establish as many recruiting stations as he may judge necessary, and at such places, within the interior, as may be deemed most likely to recruit healthy, active, respectable men of the country, being native citizens of the United States, not under twenty nor over thirty-five years of age ; and whose size, figure, and early pursuits in life, best qualify them for the duties and active service of mounted soldiers.

III....The Lieutenant Colonel, as superintendent, and all officers employed in recruiting for the Regiment of Dragoons, will strictly observe, and be governed by the established recruiting regulations; and the monthly returns, muster and descriptive rolls, reports, &c. will be regularly made, and be transmitted to the Adjutant General of the Army.

IV Jefferson Barracks is the station designated for the concentration of the recruits enlisted for the Dragoons, at which post the Regiment will be organized by the field officers, under such instructions as they may receive from the General-in-Chief.

V The General-in-Chief hopes that it is unnecessary to remind the officers appointed to the Regiment now ordered to be raised, of the necessity of devoting their undivided attention to the important service in which they are about to enter—but he would remark, that the President expects every officer will repair to his post without delay, and that all will immediately assume their respective duties, and proceed with alacrity in the discharge of them; and that the Regiment will be recruited, organized, instructed and equipped for service in the field, by the earliest day practicable.

VI The Head Quarters of the United States Regiment Of Dragoons, are established at Jefferson Barracks.

Major Richard B. Mason will report for orders and instructions to Lt. Col. Kearny.

By Order Of Major General MACOMB,
R. JONES, Adjutant General.  

United States Regiment of Dragoons - [Appointments]

Capt. Lemuel Ford of Mounted Rangers, to be Captain, 15th Aug. 1833.
Capt. Jesse B. Browne of Mounted Rangers, to be Captain, loth Aug. 1833. 

Capt. Jesse Bean of Mounted Rangers, to be Captain, 15th Aug. 1833.
Capt. Nathan Booue of Mounted Hangers, to be Captain, 15th Aug. 1833.
1st Lieut. Charles F. M. Noland of Mounted Rangers, to be 1st Lieut.
1st Lieut. T. B. Wheelock of Mounted Rangers, to be 1st Lieut
2d Lieut. John L. Watson of Mounted Rangers, to be 2d Lieut.
2d Lieut. James W. Shauinburg of Mounted Rangers, to be 2d Lieut. 

The 2nd Dragoons were formed three years later in 1836 Thus we see the next expedient made when the Army's force planning fails - conversion of roles - e.g. artillery to fight as infantry against the Seminoles..(sound familiar?). 

During this period we also see the continued strain in civil-military relations; aptly revisited by Susan Parker in that rarity of combined professions to be found today - historical journalism.
Her pithy article "General turmoil in the Florida War,'" in the St. Augustine Record on June 27 2010, recounts:
"... The brouhaha over the dismissal of Gen. Stanley McChrystal brings to mind the revolving door of commanders who headed the U.S. Army's campaign in Florida against the Seminoles between 1835 and 1842. At the time of the fighting, the conflict was known as "the Florida War." Today it is referred to as "the Second Seminole War." Lack of success against the Seminoles and political wrangles brought each commander to the end of his appointment. Historian John Mahon wrote that there were two battlefronts during the war -- one in Florida and one in Washington, D.C. Some of the members of Congress used the frustrations of the Florida War to try to eliminate the U.S. Military Academy because the school was not turning out officers who knew how to fight Indians, yet USMA graduates held all the commissions.
Gen. Winfield Scott's appointment in early 1836 to head the Army in Florida offended other generals who felt Scott was trespassing into their own areas. Gen. Duncan L. Clinch and Gen. Edmund P. Gaines were particularly irate. All wanted to subdue the Seminoles, but with no interference into their own areas. Florida's Congressional Delegate Joseph M. White came out against Gen. Scott. White requested that Secretary of War Lewis Cass remove Scott from command.
Meanwhile, Scott and Gaines hurled charges and countercharges at each other. In November 1836, a court of inquiry met to investigate the mutual accusations of Scott and Gaines. A sharp tongue was Gaines' strength and enemy at the same time. And Gaines didn't hold back when it came to Scott. Gaines called Scott's strategy "folly," "malice" and "evil genius." Then Gaines, in the words of Prof. Mahon, "soared to his highest invective." Gaines charged that Scott was "the second United States general officer who has ever dared to aid and assist the open enemy...."The first great offender was Major General Benedict Arnold; the second as your finding must show, is Major General Winfield Scott."
The court of inquiry provided the forum for everyone to make public complaints and grudges: Secretary of War Cass, Gen. Clinch in addition to Gaines and Scott. The court censured Gaines for his comments but did little else. Scott was replaced by Florida Gov. Richard K. Call to command the Army as well as the militia and volunteers. Scott went on to become a national hero in the Mexican-American War.  But, as with almost every commander in the Seminole War, Scott was not held in esteem by Florida's residents. He was just the first of many."
Proceedings of the military court of inquiry, in the case of Major General Scott and Major General Gaines

Looking farther afield in 1837-1838, we see at least some Congressmen seeking expert advise in finding solutions to the "Western" problem - of course they represented frontier states:

Riley, Major Bennet, relative to the establishment of military posts and defence of the western frontier.--Letter of ... 957

Buttressed by testimony such as Riley's [and also that of Gaines, Kearney and Atkinson's] , in 1838, President Tyler received authority from Congress to convert two or more infantry regiments into rifles if he thought it expedient. This testimony led to several acts of legislation:

TWENTY FIFTH CONGRESS Second Session 4 Dec, 1837 - 9 July, 1838
"1838 July 5 Chap 162
- An act to increase the present military establishment of the United States and for other purposes... ..."Sec 22 Regiments of riflemen and light infantry...That the President shall be and he is hereby authorized whenever he may deem the same expedient to cause not exceeding two of the regiments of infantry to be armed and equipped and to serve as regiments of riflemen and one other of the regiments of infantry to be armed and equipped and to serve as a regiment of light infantry..."p. 347

TWENTY FIFTH CONGRESS Third Session 3 Dec, 1838 - 3 March, 1839
"March 3 Chap 89
- An act giving to the President of the United States additional powers for the defence of the United States in certain oases against invasion and for other purposes.."upon hereby the same expedient to accept the services of any number of volunteers not exceeding fifty thousand in the manner provided for by an act entitled An net authorizing the President of the United States to accept the service of volunteers and to raise an additional regiment of dragoons or mounted riflemen approved May 23d 1836..."p.353


However, President Tyler never exercised his authority!

In 1839, the Army and Navy Chronicle saw fit to publish one of many,  "..schemes that have been proposed for finishing this harassing war..." which proposed a hy-brid mobile regiment fitted to fight the Florida terrain. Deploring the use of militia and lack of mobility he proposed:

"...all these causes of failure might be obviated; and I firmly believe that, with a single regiment, I could close the war in one winter. I would propose to raise a regiment to consist of two battalions of 400 men each. Each battalion should consist of
Mounted men, armed with double-barreled fowling pieces, for buckshot, 50 men.
Riflemen, armed with yagers, 100 " [men]
Infantry, armed with muskets and bayonets, 150 " [men]
Infantry, armed with double-barreled guns, 100 " [men]
[total] 400
The mounted men would be useful in the flank and would take in a wider range of country in searching for trails; and the riflemen, where long ranges and accuracy of aim would be required in skirmishing. I have great
confidence in the double barreled gun and buckshot...All the southern deer-hunters use the double-barreled gun, on horseback. We want some bayonets for a charge. Belts and cartridge boxes should be thrown away; they are very cumbrous in the bushes. Instead, I would have tne old fashioned pouch and horn or flask, and the buck-shot made up into blocks with cotton cloth, so as not to wear out or spoil with wet.
For the dress, I would have two flannel shirts, trowsers as at present, a buck-skin hunting shirt, leggins, and moccasins. The track of a moccasin would not be readily known by the Indians from their own; the hunting shirt would last, be warm enough, and not so easily distinguished as the blue jackets. The leggins would be great for going through the palmettos, saw-grass, &c. Under the arms of the hunting-shirt, I would have something like a life-preserver sewed in, which could be inflated in coming to a stream, and carry one over like a duck. A single blanket and one flannel shirt are all that I would carry in the knapsack.
For provisions: I would grind or pound finely the hard bread now in use for the troops; and packing it tightly, have it sealed up in small tin canisters. In this way, it would not occupy one half the space it does now, and would be preserved from all effects of the weather. Loaf sugar, packed up in the same way, and a little bacon, would be the only kind of subsistence I would take into the field. In this way, a small number of well
broken pack mules would be the only train required to enable us to keep the field for thirty days, in a close pursuit, and the mules would subsist themselves on the grass of the country.
To make a regiment, organized as above, effective, it ought to be created at once, the officers should spend this winter in enlisting the men; and they ought to be brought together early in the spring, so as to have until next October to bring them into line. By taking them into the pine barrens of New Jersey, and training them, like race horses, from the walk to the run, I would engage to make them march forty miles a day, and laugh at it. They could be made hardy as the Indians themselves; would go as light, and would have no women and children to bother them. In looking at the number of Indians now in Florida, I think 400 men amply sufficient to take care of themselves any where; a larger body would be unwieldy. One battalion should therefore operate on the east side of the peninsula, and the other on the west. They would, of course, have to receive orders from the Commanding General; but it would be ruinous to have them interfered with by any one else...There is no fatness of the earth in this God-forsaken Territory, to invite poor men to industry and enterprise. The portion not absolutely barren, is made up of swamps and hammocks, requiring large capital to drain and clear themIn the foregoing sketch, I have doubtless left out many details."

Communications: FLORIDA WAR, Army and Navy Chronicle, Volumes 8-9, By Benjamin Homans, Jan - Jun 1839, pp. 394-395

In 1841 we find this interesting proposal - an increase in the Army - including within a proposal for two rifle regiments!
"Our Army:" Army and Navy Chronicle, Volumes 12-13, By Benjamin Homans
Washington City - October 14, 1841, pp. 324-325



"As quickly as the war in Florida was over in 1842, although all were retained, regiments and companies were reduced to minimum size. However, by a fluke, the Regular infantry actually increased. This came about because in the spring of 1843, to save money, the 2d Dragoons were converted into a rifle regiment. They thus became the first rifle corps included in the establishment for two decades, that is, since the Rifle Regiment had been disbanded in 1821. The erstwhile horsemen, who felt degraded on foot, clung hard to their dragoon organization, but they received rifles and, as far as is known, trained as riflemen. Agitation to remount them was continuous, and by April 1844 they became the 2d Dragoons again." (RG-legislation passed in in August 1842)

"Effective 4 March 1843, the 2d Dragoons were dismounted and reorganized as the Regiment of Riflemen. To turn dragoons into riflemen, only three major changes in the regimental organization actually took place: horses were eliminated, rifles replaced carbines, and the farriers and blacksmiths were discharged.
No sooner were the dragoons dismounted (RG - US Grant in his memoirs referred to them as the “Dismounted Rifles”) than agitation for remounting them began. It was argued that at least two mounted regiments should be stationed on the western frontier and maintained there in readiness for swift offensive action. If action were not needed, the mounted force should make a show of strength at least once a year by marching into the Indian country. In 1844, as a result of these arguments and pressure from the frontier states for a greater number of mounted Regulars in that area, Congress passed legislation to remount the riflemen and to restore to the regiment its original designation. Instead of moving to the western frontier, however, the 2d Dragoons joined Brig. Gen. Zachary Taylor in Texas in 1845." 

Next, the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen was authorized by an Act of Congress on May 19, 1846, as a "new" organization in the United States Army: a regiment of riflemen, mounted to provide greater mobility than the Infantry and equipped with percussion rifles to provide greater range and more accurate firepower than the Infantry's muskets or the Dragoon's carbines.

Returning now to Berkeley, to answer why rifle expertise was not evident in our Mexican War Army (save perhaps for the Mississippi Rifles):

“Early U.S. Riflemen: Their Arms and Training,” by Lewis Berkeley, American Rifleman 106, no. 12 (December 1958): p. 33

Here, it is important to note the difference between "rifled-muskets" and the "rifle" as explained at:
The rifled-musket, "...about a 40-inch barrel and an overall length of about 55 to 60 inches...," was the dominant infantry weapon but was NOT the dominating  factor of war as alleged by many influential historians (Fuller, Hart). 
To consider why the rifled-musket (not to mention the limited number of short-barreled rifles fielded), WAS NOT, but other factors WERE the main contributor to the excessive losses on the battlefield and the indecisiveness and thus prolonged nature of our Civil War combat, see the insights available at Civil War Tactics in Perspective:

Of related note to "rifle" and "light infantry" tactics. John Hamill offers this further observation:
"...Skirmishers weren't consistently well used.  In the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars, skirmishers could all but decide a battle, but we don't see that in the Civil War.  The Confederate army improved in this respect through the war, forming elite sharpshooter battalions in each brigade, but the Union army allowed its light infantry to decline over time.  Why couldn't the Union army have formed units similar to the Confederate brigades' sharpshooter battalions and one-upped them by giving their skirmishers repeating rifles to [them] instead of to the cavalry?  Union skirmishers with repeaters firing rapidly from a prone position could have easily dominated Southern light infantrymen - and possibly even repulse full scale attacks."  [RG - why no specific mention of the 2 regular US Sharpshooter Regiments?- explore later]

This leads us to the authoritative assessment by Fred L. Ray found in his "Shock Troops of the Confederacy: The Sharpshooter Battalions of the Army of Northern Virginia,"

[Ray's excerpt from his Sharpshooter book on the US Rifle Regiment - "Sharpshooting in the the War of 1812, by Fred Ray, July 18, 2011" - can be found here   
 - in his opinion, "one of the few first-class US units" of its time and war and leader "prototypes" for sharpshooters of the Civil War:]

Here's a  review I posted:
Goes Beyond CSA Sharpshooters April 11, 2006
"Shock Troops of the Confederacy" is a somewhat misleading title as what is on offer is actually two books in one! The treatment of the Sharpshooter record and legacy (both sides) is certainly well covered, it is in fact a broad ranging and compelling testimony of the efficacy of shock and open order tactics in the midst of a war in which often the blind led the blind; especially when they had the means to do otherwise. The battle narratives are tightly-written and coincides nicely with the maps provided. However, the unaware reader who merely thinks of this book as a focused "Confederate Army" unit or battle study is in for so much more; one is unexpectedly offered an historical and international study of the rifle...Open order..evolution and impact on modern warfare. Therefore, I would have titled it something like - "The Rise of Modern Infantry - the Evolution of Rifle, Sharpshooter, and Shock Troops from the Civil War to the First World War."

Miles Krisman, in his April 23, 2006, review of Ray's book provides this supportive summary:
"During the winter of 1862, Rodes and Blackford formulated a new military unit to serve the Confederacy that would change the course of the war and in doing so, change warfare itself. Invaluable lessons were learned by both men at the Battle of Boonsboro, also known as the Battle of South Mountain, where Rodes' Brigade successfully fought a delaying action against an entire Division of the Union army, thereby allowing General Lee to consolidate his army and fight the Battle Of Sharpsburg, or Antietam, three days later. These Confederate troops on South Mountain, primarily dispersed as a line of skirmishers, held off the advance of the Army of the Potomac by fighting from behind the rocky outcrops and the heavily wooded slopes as they slowly fell back. This single Brigade accomplished their objective and arguably saved the Army of Northern Virginia, however, they were mauled badly by the superior skirmish tactics of the Union forces. This became the impetus for change. Over the next few months, with the support of Robert E. Lee, General Rodes successfully organized and trained a Sharpshooter Battalion within his Brigade that would serve as a model for other units in the Confederacy."

In a war of countless debatable "turning point" claims, here's another one, by Timothy J. Orr, to consider:

"Civil War military history has paid substantial attention to the importance of generalship and tactics to explain the outcome of battles, but scholars have only recently begun to explore the ways that soldiers themselves shaped the course of victory and defeat. No better example presents itself than that of the 2nd U. S. Sharpshooters and their defense of the Union left flank on July 2, 1863, at the Battle of Gettysburg. The Sharpshooters’ training and squad-level tactics greatly enhanced their individual killing power. Additionally, their rapid firing, breech-loading weapons and their effective use of terrain added to their tactical advantage. At the John Slyder farm at the foot of Big Round Top, circumstances placed 169 men of the 2nd U. S. Sharpshooters on the advanced left flank of the Union Army of the Potomac on July 2, directly in front of an attacking Confederate division under the command of Major General John Bell Hood, 7,375 officers and men strong. The 2nd U. S. Sharpshooters’ defense of the Slyder farmyard and their withdrawal over Big Round Top have been long overlooked and under-appreciated in the greater history of the Battle of Gettysburg. The Sharpshooters’ cunning tactics and incredible marksmanship substantially delayed and disorganized Hood’s attack on July 2, buying much-needed time for Union officers to reinforce the Army of the Potomac’s weakened left flank....Their performance at the Slyder farm, on Big Round Top, and on Little Round Top was a marvelous display of military talent for several reasons. First, elements of the 2nd U. S. Sharpshooters may have fought a longer continuous battle than any other regiment, Union or Confederate, on the southern end of field on July 2. Second, the men of the 2nd U. S. Sharpshooters fought within inhospitable terrain. The ground that they traversed contained marsh, steep hills, thick woods, and enormous boulders. Yet, the Sharpshooters fought within this terrain with relative ease. Third, and most astonishing, the Sharpshooters coolly engaged and delayed a force that outnumbered them by more than forty-two to one. The damage the Sharpshooters caused in terms of casualties inflicted on the enemy may never be known, but the damage they caused to the cohesion and control of the Confederate attack proved considerable. The Sharpshooters broke up an enormous division-level attack, drawing Hood’s division’s constituent elements in various directions, dissipating the combat power of the assault. They also drew elements of the Confederate assault into the steep, rocky terrain of Big Round Top. This not only broke up the Confederate infantry lines, but it also exhausted the Confederate infantrymen who were forced to follow them.
Perhaps more than any other participant, Colonel William C. Oates of the 15th Alabama recognized the 2nd U. S. Sharpshooters’ contribution to Union victory on July 2. Until his dying day, he believed that the green-coated riflemen had prevented him from capturing the key position at Little Round Top. Writing to Joshua Chamberlain in 1897, Oates maintained, “If Stoughton had not been where he was to lead me off up that mountain and had not gone right up the southern rugged face and right up over top of it, I would have found the Union left an hour earlier than I did and I would have taken Little Round Top which would have terminated the battle of Gettysburg. . . . They ought to erect the tallest monument on the field to Stoughton and his Sharpshooters for happening to be where they were....At the end of his letter, Oates offered a whimsical literary analysis of the fight. He closed his letter to Stoughton with a cleverly appropriate quote by Victor Hugo, characterizing the relationship of the fighting at the Slyder farm and Big Round Top to the Battle of Gettysburg as a whole: “Two great armies in battle are like two giants in a wrestle; a stump, a projecting root, or a tuft of grass may serve to brace one or trip the other; on such slender threads does the fate of nations depend.
The officers and men of the 2nd U. S. Sharpshooters would have agreed. As skirmishers and marksmen who regularly trained and held high esteem for professionalism and tactics, they understood the incredible importance held by the common infantry soldier. To the Sharpshooters, skirmishing and long-range sniping were not supplemental to the Army of the Potomac’s greater battle. Instead, they believed that skirmishing and sharp-shooting tactics showcased the real killing power of an army by proving what a well-trained soldier could do. Dedicated to this breed of comradeship and professionalism, the U. S. Sharpshooters willingly placed themselves in the difficult positions as they did on July 2 time and time again until their disbanding in 1865.”
On Such Slender Threads does the Fate of Nations Depend: The Second United States Sharpshooters defend the Union left,  by Timothy J. Orr, 2008

Nevertheless, it was in the Battle of The Wilderness, in May of 1864, that the US Sharpshooter Regiments would find themselves used more and more as common infantry, sustaining additional losses to their veteran marksmen but moreso to their new recruits - as Grant's relentless campaign of hammer blows took their effect on friend and foe alike.

Civil War riflemen, dismounted like the deadly Sharpshooters in the Antietam and Gettysburg campaigns of 1862-1863, or the Union cavalry in the 1864-1865 campaigns, reequipped with repeating rifles capable of laying down a high-rate of fire, had proven themselves on the battlefield in both the infantry and cavalry fight.
Nevertheless, as Charles Francis Adam's Jr. (great-grandson of United States President John Adams, and the grandson of president John Quincy Adams), a Union Cavalry Colonel and historian, acerbically remembered in 1910:

"Even as late as our own War of Secession the West Point martinets and ordnance officers were wholly opposed to the adoption of the breech-loading weapons for use by infantry. [Although] Breech-loading cavalry carbines were in use."

So, riflemen would not really find themselves "out of the wilderness" of American tactical doctrine for decades to come.  Why?  Internal Army post-war fears of poor fire discipline, wasted ammunition, excessive logistical re-supply strains and costs, combined with domestic distaste for "increased military spending" and disdain for a "standing army" of regulars - are all given as reasons which led to institutional and doctrinal retrenchment and backsliding. 

The tactical firepower enhancements and maneuver employment lessons the Union Army had forged and learned out of defeat and victory were disowned and, within a few years, they would confront adversaries on the plains often as well, or better, armed and always decidedly more mobile and elusive than the average Cavalry troop....

Robert Utley once famously charged that, "the Army as an institution never evolved a doctrine of Indian warfare...[and] lacking a formal doctrine of unconventional war, the Army waged conventional war."
Robert M. Utley, The Indian Frontier of the American West 1846-1890, 1984, pp. 166-167.

While a formal, manual-codified, doctrine never emerged, whether or not they waged "conventional war" [if Utley's own definition merely means not unconventional] is debatable and the subject of continued ongoing interpretation and relevancy given our decade plus War on Terrorism and operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Robert Wooster's, 2007, article - Military-Indian Conflict: A Survey of the Historical Literature - available via the National Park Service website,  provides a  good starting point for tracing the outlines of this historical debate in current scholarship:

"...historians have examined the impact of the wars against the Indians upon U. S. military policy. Russell F. Weigley, “The Long Death of the Indian-Fighting Army,” in Soldiers and Civilians: The U. S. Army and the American People, ed. Gerry P. Ryan and Timothy K. Nenninger (Washington: National Archives and Records Administration, 1987): 27-39, argues that the twentieth-century army’s emphasis on mobility, rather than power, stemmed in large part from its wars against the Indians. In another important study, John M. Gates, “Indians and Insurrectos: The U. S. Army’s Experience with Insurgency,” Parameters 13 (March 1983): 59-68, points out that the army—whether it recognizes it or not—has long been in the business of counterinsurgency. Building upon these themes, Brian Linn, The U. S. Army and Counterinsurgency in the Philippine War, 1899-1902 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), emphasizes the many links, in personnel as well as methods, between the Indian-fighting army and the military force that occupied the Philippines. Historians have also debated whether or not the contemporary army had any Indian-fighting policy. During the 1790s, Anthony Wayne’s “legion” was organized specifically to defeat Indians who dominated the Ohio River valley, but regulars more typically planned for wars against conventional rivals. Most writers have suggested that the army eventually adopted elements of what is now known as “total warfare”— especially as practiced during the Civil War—to fight Indians. Andrew J. Birtle, U. S. Army Counterinsurgency and Contingency Operations Doctrine, 1860-1941 (Washington: Center of Military History, United States Army, 2001), finds numerous examples where officers wrote about irregular warfare in professional journals. In a revisionist work, however, Robert Wooster, The Military and United States Indian Policy, 1865-1903 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), contends that a divided regular army, pushed and pulled by multiple demands and expectations and content to prepare itself for a more conventional enemy, never developed any strategic doctrine for its wars against Indians....pp. 6-7....
Two recent examinations of colonial and early Republic period warfare stress distinctly different themes. Emphasizing the basic continuities in European-Indian conflict, Armstrong Starkey, European and Native American Warfare, 1675-1815 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998), highlights the Indians’ tactical superiority. The United States and most European powers, conclude Starkey, relied upon conventional styles of warmaking rather than adapting frontier methods; as a result, they weren’t very good at the latter. By contrast, John Grenier, The First Way of War: American War Making on the Frontier, 1607-1814 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), argues that frontier experiences inspired Americans to develop a “way of war” which systematically directed violence against noncombatants through irregular means. In so doing, Grenier places frontier warfare squarely within the American military tradition..."p. 13

Wayne Lee  provides a “Can,” “Must,” and “Should” variable construct - considering the intersection of three different variables:  [as to]..."what it was possible to do; what it was necessary to do; and what the participants believed they should do" -  for assessing the strategic choices in war waging" and applies this to  Indian warfare strategy. p. 6
In specific regard to the Sullivan Campaign against the Iroquois in 1779; but characterizing Indian campaigns for a century and more to come, Lee avers:
"...the real underlying assumption behind this calculation of necessity was an expected inability to surprise Indians and catch them in battle. This was a “strategic” decision made at the outset, based on much past precedent. By the eighteenth century the “feed fight,” the deliberate destruction of crops and villages, was the Americans’ assumed strategy against Indians, not merely an expedient alternative borne of frustration.41" p.13
From Gentility to Atrocity: The Continental Army’s Ways of War, by Wayne E. Lee, Army History 62, Winter 2006, pp. 4-19
41. J. Frederick Fausz, “Patterns of Anglo-Indian Aggression and Accommodation along the Mid-Atlantic Coast, 1584–1634,” in Cultures in Contact: The Impact of European Contacts on Native American Cultural Institutions, A.D. 1000–1800, ed., William W. Fitzhugh (Washington, D.C., 1985), p. 246;
Lee, Crowds and Soldiers, p. 121;
Colin G. Calloway, New Worlds for All: Indians, Europeans, and the Remaking of Early America (Baltimore, 1997), p.109.
The First Way of War: American War Making on the Frontier, 1607–1814, by John Grenier, (New York, 2005).

Sullivan Campaign 1779 - by Elmo Scott Watson

The Duchesne Courier, 1929-09-06, Recalling a Tragedy of the Revolution

Iron County Record 1929-08-31 Recalling a Tragedy of the Revolution

Kane County Standard 1929-09-06 Recalling a Tragedy of the Revolution

So, scorched-earth campaigning, the old reliable inheritance descended from the "feed-fights" of 1607, proved the default operational strategy of choice. Nothing fundamentally changed, nor could it, with a Regular Army hierarchy, which perceived itself as a European-styled conventional-force, dating from its Continental Army beginnings when it was organized and trained under Washington's command vision.  That the development of the light, rifle, and ranger component of the infantry arm,  as with specialized and elite forces in general, and the tactical doctrine the adopted and adapted*, should have risen in wartime and fallen in peace - is in keeping with the American military tradition of general unpreparedness and economy at the expense of our land forces - well underway again. Now, with a twist, special forces are to come to the fore; albeit, advocates for social experimentation with the most demanding of combat disciplines pose a new aspect that bears watching.

*For an "outside" the box study - based on documented historical precedents illustrating how the conventional regular Army on the frontier and during its overseas "imperial-period", nearly always incorporated indigenous elements as a "...traditional one time so implicitly accepted by the Army at large...", to assist in waging its irregular wars - and thereby a proposal to "...regain the organizational conduct unconventional operations so unexceptionally..." see:
“MAKING RIFLEMEN FROM MUD”: RESTORING THE ARMY’S CULTURE OF IRREGULAR WARFARE, by LTC James D. Campbell, Strategic Studies Institute, October 2007
Abstract "Prior to World War II, the Army had a deeply ingrained facility with and acceptance of what we now term unconventional warfare—raising, training, advising, and cooperating with tribal militias, local paramilitaries, and other nonstate armed groups. This culture of irregular warfare was attributable to nearly 300 years of American military tradition from the colonial period until 1941, including extensive experience in cooperating with Native American tribes and individual scouts during the expansion of the western frontier. These traditions of unconventional war reached maturity in the years of fighting on the western plains after the Civil War, and were given ultimate expression in the creation of the Philippine Scouts at the beginning of the 20th century. Since World War II, the wider military has lost this expertise in and comfortable familiarity with unconventional operations, with the Special Operations community taking on the sole proprietorship of this role. Given the variety of political environments in which today’s conventional soldiers may find themselves and the current nature of conflicts ongoing and likely to occur in the world, the Army culture as a whole can and must readapt itself to the new old realities of irregular war."


Abstract: "America’s dominance on the conventional battlefield compels its adversaries to engage our military in less-governed areas often dominated by tribal and traditional social networks. The U.S. military has historically employed indigenous irregular forces to defeat such enemies. These campaigns have been remarkably effective at countering adversaries, particularly where state security forces have been unwilling or unable to do so. Despite this, U.S. capabilities for employing indigenous irregular forces have been underutilized globally as a component of the U.S. strategy to combat al-Qaeda and its affiliates. This analysis advocates increasing such employment to marginalize al-Qaeda and its affiliates, and recommends developing amplifying doctrine for employing indigenous irregular forces during joint operations. Historical campaigns in the Philippines, Laos, and Afghanistan are reviewed using the PMESII (Political, Military, Economic, Social, Information, Infrastructure) framework to demonstrate where indigenous irregular forces were successfully employed to achieve U.S. strategic objectives."


related time-period reading:

The North American Review, Vol. 185, No. 618 (Jul. 5, 1907), pp. 518-529


Whelen, Townsend, The American Rifle: A Treatise, a Text Book, and a Book of Practical Instruction in the Use of the Rifle. Century Co., 1918
 The American Military on the Frontier: Proceedings of the 7th Military History Symposium, edited by James P. Tate. Office of Air Force History, 1976, pp. 174-175

Pre-Civil War Period
"I was struck-as were Professors Ropp and Coles-with the heavy emphasis on the post-Civil War period, the mere 25 years from 1865 to 1890. It was almost as though the “army on the frontier” were equated with the “Indian fighting army” of the plains and mountains.
Had the symposium speakers, I wondered, been captured by the romantic, popular-I was almost tempted to say Hollywood concept of the west? If we are to look at the truly significant military influence of the army on the frontier, should we not turn our attention instead, as Professor Ropp has suggested, to the earlier decades in American history? Should we not turn to the 75 years between the Revolution and the Civil War, a period when the frontier was proportionately more important in the total national picture, when the Indian nations still exercised large elements of sovereignty and for a considerable time could expect succor from foreign powers, and when the army’s role was not fighting Indians and protecting settlers but vindicating United States authority in the west, a role of paramount importance.
Let me expand just a bit on this last point. The United States was granted the land up to the Mississippi at the end of the Revolutionary War, but it was necessary to exert authority if the territory was indeed to be American-exert authority against British-Indian encroachment in the northwest (with their living dream of an Indian buffer state between the Ohio and the Great Lakes) anp against Spanish pretensions in the south, to say nothing of the vague French schemes for recapturing the Mississippi Valley that so disturbed Alexander Hamilton in the late 1790s. And after 1803 there was the vast Louisiana Purchase, its boundaries unclear and its contents unknown, to be brought effectively under American control. We need to recall that Pike’s explorations and the Lewis and Clark expedition, were army enterprises.
Equally worth remarking were the visionary plans of Secretary of War John C. Calhoun after the War of 1812 to establish American presence in the west. It was the frontier army that was the national instrument in this great task-building a cordon of military posts along the Great Lakes and the western rivers, to make clear to the British and to the Indians that United States sovereignty in fact extended over the land it claimed.
The army was the chief agent in the exuberant nationalism that marked the post-1815 years, a nationalism strikingly exhibited in Calhoun’s directions to [Brevet] General Thomas A. Smith [ Colonel Commanding The Rifle Regiment] in 1818, for establishing a military post at the mouth of the Yellowstone River on the upper reaches of the Missouri. Calhoun admitted that the remoteness of the post would make it unpleasant for the soldiers. But he wrote: “I am persuaded that the American soldier, actuated by the spirit of enterprise, will meet the privations which may be necessary with cheerfulness. Combined with the importance of the service, the glory of planting the American flag at a point so distant, on so noble a river, will not be unfelt. The world will behold in it the mighty growth of our republic, which but a few years since, was limited by the Alleghany; but now is ready to push its civilization and laws to the western confines of the continent.”...."

The Army in Transformation, 1790-1860, by James M. McCaffrey
Greenwood Publishing Group, Aug 30, 2006

What was it like to be a heavily burdened U.S. soldier on the march in the first half of the 19th century? How did soldiers survive in leaky, flea-ridden huts in Kansas? How many men were convinced to enlist based on the promise of "easy, pleasing work"? From the early Indian wars in the Ohio Territory in the 1790s, to the Mexican wars in Texas in the 1850s, American Soldiers' Lives: The Army in Transformation, 1790-1860 by James M. McCaffrey describes the soldiers lives, often by letting them speak for themselves through their letters, diaries, and journals. This book describes recruitment, training, the day-to-day routine and living conditions; and some of the most significant battles and campaigns of the period. It also includes a timeline and an extensive, topically arranged bibliography of more than 500 sources. James M. McCaffrey provides a social history of soldiers that goes beyond the publications on warfare that deal with strategy and tactics and the "big picture." Understanding what motivated soldiers to do the things they did-whether it was enlisting in the first place, or getting drunk, or deserting from the army, or any number of other activities-helps to complete the study of how the army was able to succeed as it did and, perhaps, why it failed to accomplish even more. High school and college students, researchers, and those interested in military history will find these features and information included: -A timeline of military-related events from 1790 to 1861. -The early 19th conflicts facing the young United States' security, such as Indian wars and forced resettlements, the War of 1812, the wars against Mexico in Texas, and the Mormon battalions that fought both for and ran afoul against the U.S. government. -Recruitment and training. -The day-to-day routine of most soldiers, in and out of combat. -The experience of being in battle. -Food and clothing. -Medical care. -Military justice, including court martial offenses and executions -An extensive bibliography with more than 500 sources, ranging from historical surveys and illustrated histories to articles, diaries, and primary documents from the U.S. government. -A comprehensive index.


The Significance of the Trans-Appalachian Frontier in Atlantic History, by Fran├žois Furstenberg,
The American Historical Review, Vol. 113, No. 3, June 2008, pp. 647-677
"...the Appalachian Mountains may have been the continent’s single most important feature. Separating the eastern seaboard from the Mississippi Valley, the Iroquois in the uplands from the Algonquian peoples along the coasts and valleys, the British from the French colonies, the ocean-facing coast from the western-oriented backcountry, the Appalachian Mountains were responsible for the great problem of North American, and perhaps even Atlantic, history from 1754 to 1815: the fate of the trans-Appalachian West....if we take a different approach, viewing late-eighteenth-century North America not from the perspective of the East Coast looking out toward the Atlantic, but rather from the multiple perspectives of the Atlantic world looking in toward the trans-Appalachian West....drawing on the arguments and sensibility of an older diplomatic historiography, and connecting that to the methodological and historical insights of a newer ethnological and social history of the frontier and more recent scholarship on empire, we gain new insights on North American history from 1754 to 1815. In particular, certain continuities emerge over more familiar ruptures—including, in the U.S. context, the all-important division between “colonial” and “early national” periods. Taking an Atlantic perspective on the continental interior, it appears that the Seven Years’ War, which ostensibly ended in North America in 1760 and in Europe in 1763, in fact continued with only brief interruptions to 1815—in the form of the American Revolution of the 1770s, the Indian Wars of the 1780s and 1790s, and the War of 1812. Call it a Long War for the West. During this Long War, as the action shifted among various “hot spots” across the trans-Appalachian West, the great issue animating Native, imperial, and settler actors alike revolved around the fate of the region: Would it become a permanent Native American country? Would it fall to some distant European power? Or, perhaps the most unlikely scenario of all, would it join with the United States? Only in the wake of the British defeat in the War of 1812 was the region’s fate as part of the expanding United States settled once and for all.3" pp. 649-650


The American Military Frontiers:The United States Army in the West, 1783-1900, By Robert Wooster, University of New Mexico Press, Oct 1, 2009

As the fledgling nation looked west to the land beyond the Appalachian Mountains, it turned to the army to advance and defend its national interests. Clashing with Spain, Britain, France, Mexico, the Confederacy, and Indians in this pursuit of expansion, the army's failures and successes alternately delayed and hastened western migration. Roads, river improvements, and railroads, often constructed or facilitated by the army, further solidified the nation's presence as it reached the Pacific Ocean and expanded north and south to the borders of Canada and Mexico. Western military experiences thus illustrate the dual role played by the United States Army in insuring national security and fostering national development. Robert Wooster's study examines the fundamental importance of military affairs to social, economic, and political life throughout the borderlands and western frontiers. Integrating the work of other military historians as well as tapping into a broad array of primary materials, Wooster offers a multifaceted narrative that will shape our understanding of the frontier military experience, its relationship with broader concerns of national politics, and its connection to major themes and events in American history.

West Pointers and the Civil War: the old army in war and peace, by Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh,UNC Press Books, 2009

A somewhat misleading title as this book is rich in the assessment of a number of cross currents intersecting in the development of a professional, albeit small, regular military force - "the old army" of the antebellum period 1815-1860. "Light infantry"tactics and method is one case in point.


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