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Theo3
Hightstown NJ USA
Posts: 2
Joined: 2020
What was the first "modern" war?
10/20/2020 10:14:40 AM
Some say steam and iron and telegraph made the American Civil War the first; Paddy Griffith ("Battle Tactics of the Civil War" 1989) looks at the continuing predominance of line and column infantry with single-shot weaponry and instead calls it the last Napoleonic war.

Similar arguments could probably be made for Charles VIII (Italy 1494), the global wars of the eighteenth century, the national wars of the French Revolution, or any of the later nineteenth century's emerging age of industrial technology. Or that the full elements of modern war don't 'really' come together until World War I...

Lots of candidates, likely dependent on how "modern" is defined.

What say you?
Lightning
Glasgow  UK
Posts: 692
Joined: 2005
What was the first "modern" war?
10/20/2020 12:44:54 PM
I would say the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, given the use of weapons and tactics that would come to define combat during the First World War. There's also a case for some battles fought in the Second Anglo-Boer War, the Franco-Prussian War and the American Civil War. The way these battles were fought was closer to 20th century warfare than the style fought by Napoleon et al.

For me, 'modern' could mean the mass and frequent use of railways/steam/motor vehicles, widespread use of heavy armaments/repeating small arms, a move away from 'line warfare' and use of wired/wireless telecoms to co-ordinate affairs.

Cheers,

Colin
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"There is no course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight to the end."
Michigan Dave
Muskegon MI USA
Posts: 6206
Joined: 2006
What was the first "modern" war?
10/20/2020 8:51:22 PM
Hi T3,

I tend to agree that the Civil War has factors that point to it quite possibly being the 1st modern war! Certainly it’s weapons were modern deadly, for example, repeating rifles, submarines, mines, Ironclads, air balloons, rifled artillary, Gatling Guns just to name some of them! Tactics that did not keep up with the new and deadly weapons, the use of trench warfare, archeaic medical & health practices which caused more deaths than these weapons!?

Yeah I’d say there is a case for the Civil War being the 1st modern war!?

Regards,
MD
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"The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."
Theo3
Hightstown NJ USA
Posts: 2
Joined: 2020
What was the first "modern" war?
10/21/2020 1:24:01 PM
Greetings Colin and MD! Both good choices.

Not that there are any real "break-points" in a historical process but if you had to choose one weapon system that said 'modern' more than any other, what would it be? I vacillate between the (gas or recoil operated) machine gun and indirect heavy-caliber artillery fire (land or sea)...
morris crumley
Dunwoody GA USA
Posts: 2929
Joined: 2007
What was the first "modern" war?
10/21/2020 3:45:51 PM
I would agree that the American Civil War was the first modern war. From the use of artillery, rifled guns, the first enemy combatant ship sunk by submarine, mines, ...use of balloons is the per-cursor of an air-force, ironclad ships that made wooden fleets obsolete.....improvements to entrenchments...not for the purpose of siege proximity placement of artillery, but to protect the infantry.....telegraph, the first use of railroads to transport soldiers and artillery...the first rail-mounted artillery....

That war had it all.

Respects, Morris
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"You are a $70, red-wool, pure quill military genius, or the biggest damn fool in northern Mexico."
Brian Grafton
Victoria BC Canada
Posts: 3577
Joined: 2004
What was the first "modern" war?
10/21/2020 11:34:45 PM
Welcome, Theo3.

Never thought I’d write this on MHO, but I might be more conservative than other posters on this topic.

I understand Morris’s arguments for the ACW – they were mine for some time – but increasingly tend to agree with folks like Paddy Griffith, who view the ACW as the last Napoleonic war. I’ve not read Griffith, but your depiction of his assessment rings true to my current thinking.

I like Colin’s comment: Quote:
For me, 'modern' could mean the mass and frequent use of railways/steam/motor vehicles, widespread use of heavy armaments/repeating small arms, a move away from 'line warfare' and use of wired/wireless telecoms to co-ordinate affairs.

I might take it further, and argue that ‘modern’ should include war which continues beyond the physical limitations of human fighters and includes new means of warfare based on new technology.

In theory, at least, that would leave Colin’s Russo-Japanese war on the wrong side of the old/new divide I’m suggesting. I haven’t spent enough time on the Battle of Tsushima Straits to be assertive about it, but my sense is that Tsushima was more similar to the Battle of the Nile or even the rejection of the (1588) Spanish Armada than – e.g. – the Battle of Midway.

For me, then, I guess I’d have to look to the WW1, or maybe even just the last half of WW1. True, most troops still moved by foot (except getting to the front in FR cattle cars). But artillery played a different role than ever before, and aircraft appeared for the first time, at first in a role similar to ACW balloons but somewhat quickly as offensive weapons.

Thanks for a good question, Theo3. I can’t wait to see what Phil Andrade has to say.

Cheers. And stay safe.
Brian G


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"We have met the enemy, and he is us." Walt Kelly. "The Best Things in Life Aren't Things" Bumper sticker.
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 4933
Joined: 2004
What was the first "modern" war?
12/20/2020 3:36:27 AM
There are different aspects to modernity.

From a battlefield technology point of view, it would, in my opinion, be defined by the replacement of black powder muzzle loading weapons with automatic firepower from repeating rifles and , more importantly, artillery. This also entailed the “ smokeless” battlefield. As firepower became more rapidly delivered and more lethal, so dispersal of manpower became an attribute of the battlefield. It was no longer necessary to mass men in order to deliver that firepower. Men could also fire more easily whilst lying down or from behind cover, as they were no longer required to muzzle load. The ACW was - on the battlefield - from first to last, preponderantly an affair of black powder and muzzle loading - notwithstanding the occasional use of repeating rifles - and was characterised by the massing of men. The last of the old, rather than the first of the new. More modern, certainly, in the naval dimension, but even here still the old black powder prevailed.



There are other attributes of modernity : the impact of the industrial revolution and mass production and transport ; the ability to raise citizen armies, either by consent or coercion, with propaganda being used by the developing press ; the power of the state rather than feudal lords being the agent of raising and equipping the armed hosts. This was discernible in the French experience of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, and developed through the following hundred years, with the ACW certainly fulfilling some of those criteria of modernity and pushing them to new limits. It was to reach a crescendo in WW1 and then further still in WW2.

If we cite the socio political aspect, rather than weapons, as the criterion for modernity, the ACW has a lot more to recommend it as the first modern war.

Regards, Phil

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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
mikecmaps
CAMARILLO CA USA
Posts: 79
Joined: 2020
What was the first "modern" war?
1/2/2021 5:44:20 PM
Group,
What was first modern war?
Sorry for commercial but see my article here at Militaryhistoryonline “Was The Civil War Modern?”
And sorry to be again late to the party.
I like Phil’s comment and also Colin’s and Brian G’s.
In some ways Russo-Japanese War 1905 comes close but I’d say last half WW1 fits best.
But big issue with defining “modern war” I like what phil said about black powder vs smokless as one marker. And magazine rifles and machine guns (real ones not first models) And Railroads became much more integral in WW1. So it is tough to come up with a clear cut demarcation – because it was more of an evolution. last half WW1 best shows many of the markers - IMHO.
Also social-economic development are critical. Most major countries were just entering “modern industrial” era by about 1900. More than half of USA population was rural not urban until 1920.
Mike_C.
mikecmaps
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 4933
Joined: 2004
What was the first "modern" war?
1/2/2021 8:01:54 PM
One criterion of modernity is " teeth to tail ratio". The more modern, the bigger the tail. Of course, I allude here to armed forces. The impact on the civilian population is something else. It's too easy to forget that the wars of Antiquity entailed truly ghastly massacre of civilians. The warfare between Rome and Carthage was about as " total" as it gets. We mustn't ascribe such horrors to the more recent warfare alone.

Medical attributes need to be considered : WW1 was remarkable in so far as the great majority of military deaths were combat fatalities : the warfare a century earlier had entailed five sixths of all the dead being victims of disease. The American Civil War was a kind of half way house in this respect, with squalour and hardship still causing more deaths than battle, but to a lesser extent than in Napoleonic times.

Battle in the older wars was often unspeakably bloody, but tended to be spasmodic. The more modern wars entailed more relentlessness combat, as, ironically, the smaller " teeth" contingents were constantly being fed, cared for and armed by the ever growing " tail".

We need to countenance that we're now in an era of warfare that makes WW2 seem old fashioned. Cyber space and insurgency have replaced the formal demarcations.

These are thoughts that I'm pitching rather randomly, and I fear that my ideas won't bear scrutiny, but sometimes it's better to risk that approach and then repent later !

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
Michigan Dave
Muskegon MI USA
Posts: 6206
Joined: 2006
What was the first "modern" war?
1/3/2021 11:13:19 AM
Phil,

Your right about medical treatment in the Civil War, A soldier gets hit in his leg, grazing a bone, & that hurts some! But then this guy comes along with a filthy serrated saw, gives you a shot of booze, then basically takes off your leg, making hamburger in the process?!

Thanks, but no thanks!
D
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"The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract."
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 4933
Joined: 2004
What was the first "modern" war?
1/6/2021 4:52:49 PM
Quote:
Group,
What was first modern war?
Sorry for commercial but see my article here at Militaryhistoryonline “Was The Civil War Modern?”
And sorry to be again late to the party.
I like Phil’s comment and also Colin’s and Brian G’s.
In some ways Russo-Japanese War 1905 comes close but I’d say last half WW1 fits best.
But big issue with defining “modern war” I like what phil said about black powder vs smokless as one marker. And magazine rifles and machine guns (real ones not first models) And Railroads became much more integral in WW1. So it is tough to come up with a clear cut demarcation – because it was more of an evolution. last half WW1 best shows many of the markers - IMHO.
Also social-economic development are critical. Most major countries were just entering “modern industrial” era by about 1900. More than half of USA population was rural not urban until 1920.
Mike_C.
mikecmaps


Mike,

Forgive this being such a belated tribute to your article “ Was the Civil War Modern ? “

Just browsing through it has thoroughly impressed me. A real tour de force.

Highly recommended.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
mikecmaps
CAMARILLO CA USA
Posts: 79
Joined: 2020
What was the first "modern" war?
2/3/2021 7:23:03 PM
2/3/2021
Hi Phil,
And this my very belated thank you so much, very kind words Re: my article.
I hope it is helpful on a topic that often comes up.
You are very kind.
Yours, Mike_C
17thfabn
Ohio OH USA
Posts: 135
Joined: 2008
What was the first "modern" war?
2/5/2021 6:26:47 PM
The U.S. Civil War was definitely NOT the 1st modern war.

The U.S. Civil War had elements of modern war but was missing two huge elements:

1.) Aviation

2. ) Electronics

In addition no real use of submarines. And the high explosives' were primitive compared to those commonly used in the 20th century.

I would go with the First World War as the 1st modern war. It was the first war where aviation use was widespread not just a novelty. It had widespread use of radio.

In the U.S. Civil War most of the troops were still carrying single shot weapons and fighting in linear formations. I agree that the American Civil War looked more like the Napoleonic Wars than a modern war.

Civil War Artillery looked a lot more like Napoleonic weapons than modern weapons. No modern recoil systems. No modern explosive fillers.

Some would argue that subs were used in the U.S. Civil War. The feeble subs used had no effect on the war.

The observation balloons had very minimal effect on the war. So again they were more of a curiosity than a critical element of the war.

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Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy.
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 4933
Joined: 2004
What was the first "modern" war?
2/7/2021 6:54:54 AM
How far do you think that the nature of the soldiers themselves made the American Civil War a modern conflict ?

A citizen army, consisting very largely of volunteers, well informed, mainly literate, and perceived very differently from the armies of old.

This time soldiers were not a breed apart, almost outcasts from decent society, but representatives of a nation in arms, with millions of families having an intimate stake in their welfare.

Not " The scum of the earth, enlisted for drink ", but a large part of everyone's house and hearth.

Regards, Phil
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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes
17thfabn
Ohio OH USA
Posts: 135
Joined: 2008
What was the first "modern" war?
2/7/2021 7:31:56 PM
Quote:
How far do you think that the nature of the soldiers themselves made the American Civil War a modern conflict ?

A citizen army, consisting very largely of volunteers, well informed, mainly literate, and perceived very differently from the armies of old.

This time soldiers were not a breed apart, almost outcasts from decent society, but representatives of a nation in arms, with millions of families having an intimate stake in their welfare.

Not " The scum of the earth, enlisted for drink ", but a large part of everyone's house and hearth.

Regards, Phil


Wouldn't that have been been true of the large armies of the Napoleonic era? What % of the military age population was mobilized in the Napoleonic era vs the American Civil War?
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Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy.
Phil Andrade
London  UK
Posts: 4933
Joined: 2004
What was the first "modern" war?
2/8/2021 4:19:43 AM
Yes....you make a good point, and I must confess that the statistics of the Napoleonic wars make my argument look a bit shaky.

What I’m trying to do is suggest that there was a greater concern for the welfare of the “ordinary man “ in the American Civil War than there had been half a century earlier, which in itself might be an attribute of modernity.

This had made an impact on the British people in the Crimean War, with journalistic dispatches from the front awakening public feelings about the plight of soldiers.

The Civil War was far more potent in this respect .

The welfare of soldiers and the concern it created in Western democracies might be a hallmark of modern war : I’m being circumspect about Russia, obviously !

I think that the American Civil War passes muster here, with one tenth of the entire population under arms at one time or another . Public solicitude was bound to be engaged to a much greater degree than it had been in Napoleonic times, even though the scale of , say , the campaign of 1812 exceeded in scale anything that Americans experienced fifty years later.

The treatment of soldiers in death speaks volumes here : no National Cemetery for the dead of Waterloo: just mass burials in pits, if even that.

Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg said so much about the modernity of the Civil War , even though Pericles had made a kind of template in his funeral oration more then two millennia earlier .

Regards, Phil

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"Egad, sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!" "That will depend, my Lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress." Earl of Sandwich and John Wilkes

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