Depois de vinte dias com o site parado (compreendam, meus queridos oito leitores, que a correria tem sido grande nos últimos dias), segue artigo muito interessante, encaminhado pelo meu caríssimo amigo Alexandre A. Rocha, sobre as mudanças nas práticas de guerra no século XIX, com análise a partir de uma batalha da Guerra Civil americana. É muito ilustrativo para quem se interessa pelas mudanças na guerra ao longo do século XIX e pelas diferenças entre os conflitos pré-napoleônicos e aqueles sob a égide da Revolução Industrial e com o envolvimento da sociedade.
Destaco a percepção do autor sobre a pouca efetividade das batalhas campais para a guerra moderna. E lembro, ainda, que este ano a batalha de Gettysburg completa 150 anos… Recomendo leitura!
Winning the Field, but Not the War
One hundred and fifty years ago this week, more than 133,000 Union soldiers squared off against more than 60,000 Confederates in the Battle of Chancellorsville. Though the battle swung back and forth for several days, it ended with a decisive Southern victory. And yet the war ground on, for another two years. The war only ended when the devastation spilled off the battlefield, as Sherman and his army took the conflict to the farmland and cities of the South.
It is important to understand the change this pattern marked in military history. Victory in pitched battle was not enough to end the Civil War — and that was an ominous sign for the wars of the future. Pitched battles like Chancellorsville or Gettysburg are terrifying events for the soldiers who participate in them. But for society at large they are a blessing: they confine the horror of war to a single field, ideally for a single day. Strange though it may sound, a pitched battle functions as a kind of orderly legal procedure. It is a formal trial by combat, and when it works, it puts a quick and tidy end to conflict. The verdict of battle settles a war before it spins out of control.
All through the 18th century, westerners were proud to fight “civilized” wars – contained to single fields of battle, where professional, uniformed soldiers resolved international disputes by staging an orderly trial by combat, without visiting violence on the surrounding population. Victory in 18th-century war came through the verdict of formal encounters like Saratoga and Yorktown, not through campaigns of devastation like Sherman’s. Even in the Napoleonic Wars, victory still came through pitched battles: Waterloo was enough to end Napoleon’s career; there was no need for a March to the Sea. As recently as 1859, the Battle of Solferino had been enough to end the Second Italian War of Independence. In 1866 the Battle of Königgrätz would be enough to end the Seven Weeks War between Prussia and Austria.
But the system of pitched battle broke down in the American Civil War. Five years later it would break down again in the Franco-Prussian War, when Helmuth von Moltke’s Prussian troops mounted their own campaign of devastation, reducing the French cities one by one in bloody sieges, because victory in pitched battle was no longer enough to end the war. Even the enormous Battle of Sedan, which resulted in the capitulation of the French emperor Napoleon III, was not enough to end the fighting, which went on for another eight months.
The collapse of the system of pitched battle was fatal for the South. During the first two years of the war, Southerners pinned their hopes that victory on the battlefield would translate immediately to victory in the war. In their eyes, they were fighting a second American War of Independence, and it was victory in pitched battle that had won the first War of Independence, most especially the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, which earned the Americans rebels the one thing they needed most, French recognition. European diplomatic recognition was still the grail for the South; everybody on both sides understood that the decisive battle was in some sense to be fought in the courts of London and Paris. Observers like Henry Adams watched the progress of the war anxiously in Europe, fearing that some Southern victory would count as its Saratoga. In the summer of 1862, the Second Battle of Bull Run almost did the trick.
But in the end, the Europeans did not think that victory in battle was enough. More important, neither did the Americans themselves. Neither the North nor the South was prepared to accept the verdict of battle — not at the Second Battle of Bull Run, not at Chancellorsville and not at Gettysburg. Instead, both sides breached the limits of the battlefield and lurched together into the uncontained expanses of modern war.
Why did the system of pitched battle break down? Historians give two answers, neither of which can be right. Some argue that military technology drove the transformation. Muskets gave way to rifles. Railroads made it possible to move troops over vast distances. Armies grew in size. Yet these technological changes did not make it impossible to stage pitched battles. Battles like Solferino, Gettysburg, Königgrätz and Sedan were still staged. Rifles were not necessarily more deadly than muskets, and troops still confronted each other as they had done in the 18th century. The trench warfare of World War I still lay generations in the future. There were pitched battles, and many of them. What changed was that the populations of America and France would no longer accept their verdicts.
Other historians argue that the system of pitched battle broke down because aristocratic culture broke down. An 18th-century battle, they maintain, was a kind of duel, fought between men of honor. In the 19th century the culture of dueling honor vanished, and the honor accorded to the results of pitched battle vanished with it. Yet the 18th century did not in fact regard battles as duels. Battles were lawful procedures, by which sovereigns proved their lawful claims. Duels were illegal. Nor did dueling culture die in the 19th century. On the contrary, the 19th century marked the high point of dueling culture in Europe; and it was 19th-century wars, not 18th-century ones, that were often fought over points of honor.
The answer is more troubling than that. The system of pitched battle broke down because wars like the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War were fought over high ideals, and because they were fought by republics, not monarchies. The wars of the 18th century were legal procedures, fought over carefully stated legal royal claims to territory, and were justified by carefully formulated legal briefs. They were staged in orderly ways intended to symbolize the glory and civilization of royal courts. But in the mid-19th century the two Americans republics and the French Republic began to fight more bitter and more horrible wars, in the name of grander ideals. Hard though it is to accept, democratic idealism and widespread death began to march hand in hand.
James Q. Whitman is a law professor at Yale and the author, most recently, of “The Verdict of Battle: The Law of Victory and the Making of Modern War.”