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Old 10-29-2019, 08:18 PM
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American Civil War: questions from a Canadian


Recently enjoyed the Ken Burns series on the Civil War. I’d read some histories many years ago, but learned a lot from this documentary. Not being that smart, however, I had some questions at the end of it.

1. In an early episode, it is claimed no one really knows the “Rebel Yell” used to intimidate the Union. But they show old men “yelling” in old anniversary reenactments. So how can it be unknown? Where did this come from?

2. The series emphasizes miles of trenches defending Atlanta. The War might be the first time they were extensively used for more than attacking fortresses? How did this come about?

3. The series says millions of pictures were made of the war, but many were destroyed when the glass was used to make greenhouses, etc. Isn’t it odd no pictures seemed to show active battles? Wasn’t it odd the wealthy made sandwiches and drove carriages to watch the first battles?

4. Is it true only 4% of slaves lived to be 60 years old? How did this compare to general life expectancies? Did this and other conditions improve much when slavery was replaced by sharecroppers and hired hands?

5. The series involves several interviews with the late historian Shelby Foote. He thought Lincoln and Nathan Bedford Forrest were brilliant. I can see why Lincoln was?

6. Is the series widely seen as pretty impartial and accurate? They seemed to canvass a wide variety of opinions.

7. Why were casualty rates so high? Was it normal for prisoners of war to be treated so badly?

The series was much enjoyed, and I learned a lot. But any help in filling in some more details would be appreciated by this Canadian.
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Old 10-29-2019, 08:22 PM
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Apologize if many of these things have been covered before, but I did search.

If the mods deem this more of a Cafe subject, I understand.
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Old 10-29-2019, 08:23 PM
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And lastly, apart from Springfield and Reverend Lovejoy, are there other historical Simpsons references?
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Old 10-29-2019, 08:26 PM
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Isn’t it odd no pictures seemed to show active battles?
That one's easy. The photography of the time required long exposures, so anything moving would be blurred. There's lots of photos of dead bodies and people posing, but photographers would try to photograph a scene with much action.

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Wasn’t it odd the wealthy made sandwiches and drove carriages to watch the first battles?
AFAIK that anecdote was mostly about the First Battle of Bull Run, the first major battle of the war, when it was expected that the Union Army would put the rebels to flight immediately. They were expecting a show, not a battle.
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Old 10-29-2019, 08:28 PM
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If the mods deem this more of a Cafe subject, I understand.
They're mostly factual questions about the war, with only a few about the documentary itself. I would say it's fine here.
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Old 10-29-2019, 08:38 PM
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Was it normal for prisoners of war to be treated so badly?
I don't think prisoners were treated so inhumanely at the beginning of the war. Later the North, realizing it was involved in a war of attrition, decided to halt prisoner exchanges since they could replace captured soldiers and the South couldn't. This resulted in severely overcrowded prison camps. Also, as the situation of the South became more dire, they had less food and other resources to spare to care for prisoners. And as the war became more bitter, the North also might have become less concerned with the welfare of prisoners.

I had three ancestors in the Union armies in the Civil War. One, a German immigrant, was captured in 1862, and spent 6 months in a prison camp. He was released in a prisoner exchange, but had contracted tuberculosis in prison and was discharged as an invalid. He never recovered his health. The other, an Irish immigrant, was captured in 1864 as Grant attacked Petersburg. He was sent to the worst of all prison camps, Andersonville. He only lasted a few months before dying of scurvy.
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Old 10-29-2019, 08:39 PM
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And lastly, apart from Springfield and Reverend Lovejoy, are there other historical Simpsons references?
I thought springfield and lovejoy were references to Oregon.

Springfield is a city in oregon, and lovejoy is a street in portland.

https://www.oregonlive.com/movies/20...ortland_w.html

According to this, of people in england born in 1851, only about 40% would live to age 60. However this was too late for slavery, I'm wondering if the people born in the late 18th century had closer to a 20-30% survival rate to age 60. So that would be a lot better than slaves.

https://ourworldindata.org/uploads/2...-Curves-UK.png
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Old 10-29-2019, 09:03 PM
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7. Why were casualty rates so high? Was it normal for prisoners of war to be treated so badly?
IIRC, disease and infection killed more soldiers than actual combat did. This was a time before antibiotics or modern sanitation, and gunshot victims were having limbs sawed off by people who didn't wash their hands.
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Old 10-29-2019, 09:18 PM
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Recently enjoyed the Ken Burns series on the Civil War. I’d read some histories many years ago, but learned a lot from this documentary. Not being that smart, however, I had some questions at the end of it.

1. In an early episode, it is claimed no one really knows the “Rebel Yell” used to intimidate the Union. But they show old men “yelling” in old anniversary reenactments. So how can it be unknown? Where did this come from?
It's known that some rebels did something called a "rebel yell" - but there may have been various different yells from soldiers in different units or different theaters of war. In a reenactment decades later, veterans will yell (everyone knows that they are supposed to), but who knows if those yells were anything like the yells that occurred during the war?
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Old 10-29-2019, 09:22 PM
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Your question #5- Forrest was a brilliant General. Worked up from enlisting as a private. Unheard of. He was a wealthy cotton grower with vast wealth. He could've bought a commission and higher rank. He was also evil. Joining the KuKluxKlan after surviving the war. He was a Grand Wizard. Brilliant men often are evil. I think, like a bunch of southerners, Foote was enamoured of the General and looked over his obvious racism. IMO.

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Old 10-29-2019, 09:31 PM
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7. Why were casualty rates so high?
In part it was because tactics had not yet caught up with technology. Cone shaped bullets instead of musket balls, rifles instead of smoothbores, breechloaders instead of muzzle loaders, and repeating rifles made weapons much more rapid, accurate at a greater distance, and lethal than before. Shrapnel and land mines were also introduced. It took a while before commanders realized that they had to change tactics. Charges into entrenched positions caused immense carnage.

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Old 10-29-2019, 09:35 PM
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Why were casualty rates so high?
The American Civil War came at a really bad time in terms of the industrialization. You essentially had 20th century military technology and 18th century medical technology.
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Old 10-29-2019, 09:36 PM
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Your question #5- Forrest was a brilliant General. Worked up from enlisting as a private. Unheard of. He was a wealthy cotton grower with vast wealth. He could've bought a commission and higher rank.
Ehhh, reading over his wiki page, it seems like he took the standard trajectory for a wealthy but inexperienced wannabe soldier. Yes, he enlisted as a private, but then swiftly offered to buy and equip a regiment. His offer was promptly accepted, and he was made a Lieutenant Colonel.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure it was no coincidence he was both wealthy and swiftly promoted to higher rank. I doubt it because he overawed them with his brilliance in training as a private.
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Old 10-29-2019, 09:43 PM
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It took a while before commanders realized that they had to change tactics. Charges into entrenched positions caused immense carnage.
To be fair to commanders of the time, it wasn’t just that killing technology became more efficient at longer ranges and they were just too dumb to notice, it was that the ability to move troops across a vast battlefields while still maintaining some level of control and cohesion needed a level of synchronization and communication/signaling technology that just didn’t exist yet. I’m sure they would have loved to have the ability to, say, conduct aerial surveillance and night time patrols to pick out weak spots, then exploit those weak spots with shock troops armed with man-portable machine guns and explosives under cover of smoke and a well-coordinated, rolling artillery barrage as the Germans did during their spring 1918 offensive in WWI, but those things just weren’t within the capability of mid-19th century technology.
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Old 10-29-2019, 09:52 PM
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Missed the edit window, adding reply to:


To be fair to commanders of the time, it wasn’t just that killing technology became more efficient at longer ranges and they were just too dumb to notice, it was that the ability to move troops across a vast battlefields while still maintaining some level of control and cohesion needed a level of synchronization and communication/signaling technology that just didn’t exist yet. I’m sure they would have loved to have the ability to, say, conduct aerial surveillance and night time patrols to pick out weak spots, then exploit those weak spots with shock troops armed with man-portable machine guns and explosives under cover of smoke and a well-coordinated, rolling artillery barrage as the Germans did during their spring 1918 offensive in WWI, but those things just weren’t within the capability of mid-19th century technology.
Some of it was. Balloons were used for aerial surveillance.
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Old 10-29-2019, 10:07 PM
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In the same sense that they already had artillery and gattling guns during the Civil War, yes. But nothing like what they would have fifty years later.
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Old 10-29-2019, 10:14 PM
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I don't think prisoners were treated so inhumanely at the beginning of the war. Later the North, realizing it was involved in a war of attrition, decided to halt prisoner exchanges since they could replace captured soldiers and the South couldn't. This resulted in severely overcrowded prison camps. Also, as the situation of the South became more dire, they had less food and other resources to spare to care for prisoners. And as the war became more bitter, the North also might have become less concerned with the welfare of prisoners.

I had three ancestors in the Union armies in the Civil War. One, a German immigrant, was captured in 1862, and spent 6 months in a prison camp. He was released in a prisoner exchange, but had contracted tuberculosis in prison and was discharged as an invalid. He never recovered his health. The other, an Irish immigrant, was captured in 1864 as Grant attacked Petersburg. He was sent to the worst of all prison camps, Andersonville. He only lasted a few months before dying of scurvy.
The original reason that the North halted prisoner exchanges was that the South refused to exchange black soldiers (which were 10% of Union armies). They stated that these blacks were 'slaves in insurrection' and must be tried in court (which had a mandatory death penalty for this), but often they were not tried at all but simply massacred after surrender by Confederate soldiers. Later, General Grant noted the Southern shortage of soldiers and continued to disallow prisoner exchanges until the last year of the war.

The treatment of prisoners was much worse for Union prisoners held by the South-- about 25% more deaths -- but both were pretty high (12% mortality for Confederates held prisoner, 15-16% for Union soldiers held prisoner). This was partly due to poor conditions (food shortages, etc.) in general in the South as the war went on. Also, there were claims that the South was purposefully ensuring that Union soldiers would be undernourished & sick when exchanged, leading to public demands that Northern prisoner-of-war camps limit rations & medicines to the same amounts given in the Confederate camps (even though there were no serious shortages in the North). This led to poorer conditions for Confederate prisoners later in the war.

Andersonville was indeed the worst, seemingly deliberately so.
Captain Henry Wirz, the commandant, was tried & executed afterwards for this. (Other prison camp commandants weren't.) He limited the space used for the camp to only about 1/4th of the available space, causing severe overcrowding. He didn't allow sufficient wood for prisoners to cook their food properly (though the camp was in the middle of a wooded area), so dysentery became deadly in the camp. IMO, his execution was well deserved.
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Old 10-29-2019, 10:21 PM
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To be fair to commanders of the time, it wasn’t just that killing technology became more efficient at longer ranges and they were just too dumb to notice, it was that the ability to move troops across a vast battlefields while still maintaining some level of control and cohesion needed a level of synchronization and communication/signaling technology that just didn’t exist yet. I’m sure they would have loved to have the ability to, say, conduct aerial surveillance and night time patrols to pick out weak spots, then exploit those weak spots with shock troops armed with man-portable machine guns and explosives under cover of smoke and a well-coordinated, rolling artillery barrage as the Germans did during their spring 1918 offensive in WWI, but those things just weren’t within the capability of mid-19th century technology.
But there were things they should have figured out. The diminished role of artillery for example. In Napoleon's time, you could set up a cannon and fire away at a group of infantrymen with relative impunity; the range and accuracy of muskets was low enough to make it relatively safe. So cannons were a decisive factor in the outcome of battles.

By the Civil War era, a lot of infantrymen were equipped with rifles. If a group of artillerymen tried to set up a cannon for shooting at the infantry, the infantrymen would start shooting at them with effective fire. So cannons became less effective on the battlefield. (Until longer range and indirect fire techniques restored their importance a generation later.)

But long into the war, a lot of officers were still thinking of artillery as vital. Because that's what it said in the old manuals they had learned their craft from. They just couldn't shake loose from what they had been taught and begin applying what they were experiencing.

Last edited by Little Nemo; 10-29-2019 at 10:22 PM.
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Old 10-29-2019, 10:22 PM
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3. The series says millions of pictures were made of the war, but many were destroyed when the glass was used to make greenhouses, etc. Isn’t it odd no pictures seemed to show active battles? Wasn’t it odd the wealthy made sandwiches and drove carriages to watch the first battles?
I don't think the wealthy coming out to observe a battle was unique to the US Civil War. I seem to remember reading about such happening in various European wars previously. Just needs to be close enough to a major city for people to get there easily, in time for the battle.
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Old 10-29-2019, 10:53 PM
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1. In an early episode, it is claimed no one really knows the “Rebel Yell” used to intimidate the Union. But they show old men “yelling” in old anniversary reenactments. So how can it be unknown? Where did this come from?

I haven't seen the show, but this youtube clip is from Smithsonian Magazine and shows Civil War veterans doing the rebel yell. Since the ones doing the yell are actual Civil War veterans, I think it's fair to assume that this is what the rebel yell really sounded like.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6jSqt39vFM

If this is the clip that they used in the show, it comes from the Library of Congress. The collection in the Library of Congress has pictures and film dating from the 1900s to 1940s or so, taken of surviving Civil War veterans. There is more information in the Smithsonian Magazine article linked to in the video description.

I'm not sure how well known this collection is. I only stumbled across it a few years ago through the youtube video. Those who say the actual rebel yell is unknown may not have been aware of these attempts to document Civil War survivors in the early 1900s.
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Old 10-29-2019, 11:47 PM
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Knowledge doesn't mean a thing if you can't take advantage of it. There were no radios or other modern means of communication.

Several years ago, I was at a "living history" site for July Fourth. They had a group of Civil War re-enactors with a cannon. The leader of the group said something that made a deep impression on me.

In his research, he came across a letter from an artilleryman to his family. He wrote that the only way he could tell when his cannon fired was by watching for the recoil.

Let that sink in--
The battlefield was so noisy that the firing of an individual cannon just a few feet away could not be heard over the general uproar.

How do you exercise command, control, and communication in such an environment?
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Old 10-30-2019, 12:21 AM
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No surprise by the 1700's the era of fortifications was long gone. Cannon could destroy a wall with repeated hits no matter how thick. Castles and walled cities were obsolete. You see in 1700's and 1800's forts that the walls were behind a ramp of dirt to absorb cannon ball shots. No surprise if the same applied to quick temporary defenses - dig in. If you have time, dig a ditch or moat in front to impede frontal assault. As mentioned above, rifle fire was becoming far more accurate and longer range, so these were defenses against snipers as well as cannon.

Fun fact - Venice survived for centuries (a millennium) as an island city without a wall, by being in a lagoon too shallow -mostly - for big ships to attack. Any small craft trying to approach would be sitting ducks. Approach channel markers would be removed during war. It fell without a shot when Napoleon arrived, trailing new-fangled cannons with a three mile range. The city fathers realized he could pound the city into submission from shore with impunity, so they wisely surrendered without a fight.

Another fun fact about photography - apparently there is also no movie footage of actual WWI dogfights. Anything that appears to be footage is actually taken from Hollywood movie re-enactments of the 1920's. (Wings?) Camera tech was not the greatest way back when. Glass sheets had to be prepared wet and exposed. It's amazing we have any old photos at all from anywhere outside of studios.

If you have some spare time sometime, do look up what you can about Andersonville. The conditions were beyond horrific.

Slaves in the Caribbean from what I've read were lucky to live beyond two years until it became difficult to transport more with the British ban on the slave trade. Conditions on southern plantations were not good either - one explanation I read for the slave trade was that the cotton harvest was a burst of work, followed by 10 or 11 months of doing nothing. Also, someone on this board mentioned about cotton-pickin' hands; picking cotton pricked the fingers so often, so badly, that they became very rough and heavily calloused. It was not a job that would appeal to hired labour, especially for only less than 2 months of the year - there'd be nobody still around the next year. I'm sure the plantation owners were not that generous with food for slaves when not much else was being done for 10 months. Minimal food, bouts of back-breaking labour, no medical care that cost money - no surprise most slaves wore out before 60.
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Old 10-30-2019, 12:32 AM
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Knowledge doesn't mean a thing if you can't take advantage of it. There were no radios or other modern means of communication.
they had the telegraph. I recall reading of a tethered balloon over a battlefield with a telegraph cable running down the tether, so that an observer overhead could send telegraph messages to a messenger at the bottom of the tether (assuming the battle didn't move, but they didn't much in those days). I think it was in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, which was only 5 years after the US Civil War.


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Several years ago, I was at a "living history" site for July Fourth. They had a group of Civil War re-enactors with a cannon. The leader of the group said something that made a deep impression on me.

In his research, he came across a letter from an artilleryman to his family. He wrote that the only way he could tell when his cannon fired was by watching for the recoil.

Let that sink in--
The battlefield was so noisy that the firing of an individual cannon just a few feet away could not be heard over the general uproar.

How do you exercise command, control, and communication in such an environment?
You did what you could with trumpets & military bands, which were big back then. Also each commander & unit had their own flag & flagbearer* that they followed. Enemy snipers often concentrated on hitting the flagbearer, not just for morale reasons, but it actually could cause confusion in the opponents battlefield command & control. Of course, with the black powder they used, battlefields quickly became so smoky that soldiers sight might be as obscured as their hearing.

* I believe the original reason for the British "Trooping the Color" ceremony was so that all the soldiers could learn to recognize the flags of their own unit & the fellow units, so they would know them on the battlefield. (Now it's more for Pomp & Circumstance, and to impress & attract the tourists.)
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Old 10-30-2019, 01:08 AM
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Elderly Confederate veterans perform the rebel yell, 1930's

See from 1m20s
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Old 10-30-2019, 09:32 AM
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I don't think prisoners were treated so inhumanely at the beginning of the war. Later the North, realizing it was involved in a war of attrition, decided to halt prisoner exchanges since they could replace captured soldiers and the South couldn't. This resulted in severely overcrowded prison camps. Also, as the situation of the South became more dire, they had less food and other resources to spare to care for prisoners. And as the war became more bitter, the North also might have become less concerned with the welfare of prisoners.

I had three ancestors in the Union armies in the Civil War. One, a German immigrant, was captured in 1862, and spent 6 months in a prison camp. He was released in a prisoner exchange, but had contracted tuberculosis in prison and was discharged as an invalid. He never recovered his health. The other, an Irish immigrant, was captured in 1864 as Grant attacked Petersburg. He was sent to the worst of all prison camps, Andersonville. He only lasted a few months before dying of scurvy.
Interesting that your German ancestor was imprisoned. My great grandfather was also captured in 1862 at 2nd Bull Run. But he was released, pointed north, and told that he had to stay out of the war for six months or be shot on sight (this info from a letter he wrote to his comrades). The person assigned to guard him turned out to be an acquaintance from before the war, so perhaps that was what kept him out of the prison camps.
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Old 10-30-2019, 09:38 AM
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Interesting that your German ancestor was imprisoned. My great grandfather was also captured in 1862 at 2nd Bull Run. But he was released, pointed north, and told that he had to stay out of the war for six months or be shot on sight (this info from a letter he wrote to his comrades).
This was not uncommon, especially for officers but also for enlisted.

There are several memoirs of the period describing the release of prisoners on parole if they gave up their arms (officers were commonly allowed to keep their sidearm and their horse) and swore not to engage in hostilities for a period of time ranging from 6 months to a year or more. This practice was often easier and faster than imprisonment, and considering they were fellow countrymen at one point, there was less personal animosity between the sides than one might think nowadays.

ETA: usually, though, a paroled soldier would get a piece of paper listing the stipulations to prove to their own side they couldn't go back into the fight until/unless they were given a release via prisoner exchange.

Last edited by Great Antibob; 10-30-2019 at 09:42 AM.
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Old 10-30-2019, 10:34 AM
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Knowledge doesn't mean a thing if you can't take advantage of it. There were no radios or other modern means of communication.
From my cite:

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How did Civil War balloonists transmit their observations to their high commands?

By telegraph or signal flags. Lowe had developed his own signal system which was not implemented. The larger Union balloons could carry telegraphers and their gear in the basket, thus speeding along information derived from aerial observations.
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Old 10-30-2019, 10:51 AM
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Exapno Mapcase is it your position that the ability conduct aerial reconnaissance and surveillance during the Civil War matched or exceeded the ability to do the same during WWI?

Because we can sit here and talk about how the technologies available fifty years later had some sort of analog in the Civil War, but the point is the technology was more primitive, and not sufficient to allow the sort of maneuver warfare that eventually allowed military commanders to overcome static trench warfare. And for that matter, the technology still wasn’t there on the killing side to make maneuver warfare completely impractical (and so it wasn’t).

The implication is typically that military commanders pre- and early-WWI lacked the intellectual capacity to grasp that warfare had changed and their tactics needed to change too. My point is that technology, and by extension warfare, changed unevenly, so that it wasn’t just a matter of failures of intellect or imagination, but very real problems relating to the technology (or lack of technology) available to control a vast array of forces operating across a large area using a combined arms approach to overcome killing technology that especially favored the defender (ie: rifled weapons with greater range and accuracy, but needing a lot of time and a steady hand to reload, and later fixed machine guns).

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Old 10-30-2019, 11:05 AM
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2. The series emphasizes miles of trenches defending Atlanta. The War might be the first time they were extensively used for more than attacking fortresses? How did this come about?
Ditches have been used for defensive purposes since at least the Bronze Age, but they were given renewed emphasis during the Civil War. Given the accuracy of rifles, a relatively small number of dug-in soldiers could hold off an attacking force. Ditches were also used in the defense of Vicksburg and in Virginia.

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6. Is the series widely seen as pretty impartial and accurate? They seemed to canvass a wide variety of opinions.
I've never heard a criticism of the show. It seems to be universally well regarded.
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Old 10-30-2019, 12:21 PM
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Thanks for your replies.

1. The show itself says the “Rebel Yell” is unknown but later shows veterans who were there reenacting it on the 50th and 75th anniversaries. One person yelling is not the same effect as ten thousand. It is conceivable different yells were used in different times, places or by people. The linked yelling is similar to what was in the last episode.

2. Trench warfare goes back to the Bronze Age? I can see its use for riflemen. For protecting catapults and trebuchets. Less so for archers or tripping up horses and chariots. What was it used for so long ago?

3. I guess pictures did take a long time to develop. It surprises me people thought there would just be a one day skirmish.

4. Reverend Lovejoy was an early abolitionist. Perhaps some streets are named for him. I’m curious to know if the stated facts were accurate, but 40m have rated the series and I haven’t heard of them being questioned.

5. Foote seems like a character. Many of the generals seemed very bad or pretty good. But even the best ones made significant errors and many men seemed to have been wasted by attrition; obviously this lesson was not learned in WW1. Lee’s division of forces seems cleverer to me than anything Forrest did. However, Foote was talking to the Forrest family when he made the compliment which may have affected it. I think not, though, and Foote was clearly N expert.

6. Professional historians tend to be jealous of very successful popular projects. I read a few criticisms on line. Some say he took a soft line on some tough and divisive issues.

7. I have trouble balancing views like “there wasn’t much personal animosity” (as expressed in the series in an excellent Thomas Hardy poem, you could search for “nipperkin” to find it) with the camps. I can see food was short so people in Andersonville got 3 tbsps. of beans and little else. But the series says they were not allowed to build shelters and had to live in holes in the ground. No doubt there was overcrowding, but the conditions seem surprisingly harsh. Were other camps even comparable to the worst ones?

Again, many thanks.
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Old 10-30-2019, 12:46 PM
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1. The show itself says the “Rebel Yell” is unknown but later shows veterans who were there reenacting it on the 50th and 75th anniversaries. One person yelling is not the same effect as ten thousand. It is conceivable different yells were used in different times, places or by people. The linked yelling is similar to what was in the last episode.
Not a comment on the authenticity of the filmed yelling, but from general reading, the Northerners frequently commented on the high, shrill, unearthly sound of the Rebel Yell, compared to the deeper sound Northern troops made (which they often characterized as "manly").

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2. Trench warfare goes back to the Bronze Age? I can see its use for riflemen. For protecting catapults and trebuchets. Less so for archers or tripping up horses and chariots. What was it used for so long ago?
Ancient trenches were usually for a different purpose. By the Renaissance, trenches began to be inhabited and used to shield soldiers from projectiles (massed musketry). But in earlier periods, troops would typically be behind a trench, not in it. The trench was intended to break up formations of foot soldiers and deter horsemen from charging home.

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It surprises me people thought there would just be a one day skirmish.
Part of the reason was each side's inability to see things from the other's perspective. Northerners assumed Secession was provoked by a few instigators and was not widely supported, thus the Confederate armies would have trouble recruiting. Southerners assumed Northern troops were all unhappy conscripted shopkeepers who lacked fighting qualities. Neither side was expecting serious opposition.
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Old 10-30-2019, 12:47 PM
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1. The show itself says the “Rebel Yell” is unknown but later shows veterans who were there reenacting it on the 50th and 75th anniversaries. One person yelling is not the same effect as ten thousand. It is conceivable different yells were used in different times, places or by people. The linked yelling is similar to what was in the last episode.
There's still no reason to think there was just one yell shared by all the soldiers. They came from all over the southern states, territories, and the rest of the country too, I don't believe any time was spent on teaching soldiers an official yell. I don't think the accounts of surviving veterans 50 year or more later are going to be very enlightening.
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Old 10-30-2019, 12:50 PM
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I've never heard a criticism of the show. It seems to be universally well regarded.
The major criticism that I have heard is, basically, "too much Shelby Foote". Apparently some people found his descriptions of Southern generals too positive.
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Old 10-30-2019, 01:03 PM
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Interesting that your German ancestor was imprisoned.
He was a 45-year-old tailor who joined an outfit called the "Fifth German Rifles," aka the 45th NY Volunteer Infantry. Actually, he was captured in his units first encounter with the enemy, while on picket duty at Annadale VA, just south of Washington, in December 1861 (not 1862). The commanding officer of the next regiment over complained in his report that a raiding party of Confederate Cavalry rode through the 45th's lines without drawing a shot, captured some of his men, and then rode back out, again without the 45th shooting at them. He concluded: "Colonel Pinto reports a very free use of liquor in the pickets of the Forty-fifth New York Volunteers." So my ancestor and 12 of his comrades were evidently captured while overdoing the schnapps while on guard duty.

He was first confined in Richmond, then moved to Salisbury Prison Camp in South Carolina near the end of December. He was released in a prisoner exchange in June, 1862. He was honorably discharged in April 1863 due to not being fit for duty since his release due to tuberculosis.

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My great grandfather was also captured in 1862 at 2nd Bull Run.
My Irish great great grandfather was in an advance party that accidentally ran into the whole Confederate Army as they raided Manassas Junction a day or two before the battle. They pretty much ran all the way back to Washington.
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Old 10-30-2019, 01:31 PM
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Knowledge doesn't mean a thing if you can't take advantage of it. There were no radios or other modern means of communication.
It would seem to be great for artillery spotting. Flags could signal right, left, over, under and fire for effect.
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Old 10-30-2019, 01:39 PM
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Knowledge doesn't mean a thing if you can't take advantage of it. There were no radios or other modern means of communication.
They did have telegraphs. Sometimes there was a telegraph operator in the balloon.

ETA: I see Exapno provided that second link already.

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Old 10-30-2019, 02:00 PM
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1. The show itself says the “Rebel Yell” is unknown but later shows veterans who were there reenacting it on the 50th and 75th anniversaries. One person yelling is not the same effect as ten thousand. It is conceivable different yells were used in different times, places or by people. The linked yelling is similar to what was in the last episode.
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Not a comment on the authenticity of the filmed yelling, but from general reading, the Northerners frequently commented on the high, shrill, unearthly sound of the Rebel Yell, compared to the deeper sound Northern troops made (which they often characterized as "manly").
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There's still no reason to think there was just one yell shared by all the soldiers. They came from all over the southern states, territories, and the rest of the country too, I don't believe any time was spent on teaching soldiers an official yell. I don't think the accounts of surviving veterans 50 year or more later are going to be very enlightening.
In the video, most of the examples were similar, a high shrill yell as typically described, but a few of the men gave some different lower yells. Based on this and the historical descriptions, I think it's reasonable to think that the men were giving what was commonly referred to as the "rebel yell," although I agree it may have differed from place to place and time to time.

A Confederate veteran, evidently inclined to colorful writing, described the attack on the Union troops at Jerusalem Plank Road outside of Petersburg in which my great great grandfather was captured like this:

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"with a wild yell which rang out shrill and fierce through the gloomy pines, Mahone's men burst upon the flank - a pealing volley, which roared along the whole front - a stream of wasting fire, under which the adverse left [flank] fell as one man - and the bronzed veterans swept forward, shriveling up Barlow's division as lightning shrivels the dead leaves of autumn."
So my g-g-grandfather probably experienced the "rebel yell" at first hand.
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Old 10-30-2019, 02:24 PM
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... I think it's reasonable to think that the men were giving what was commonly referred to as the "rebel yell," although I agree it may have differed from place to place and time to time.
Well, I could see the soldiers in battle picking up a common pitch and tempo in their yelling.

As a matter of fact, yelling and shouting were much more common in those days. You'll notice that all the telegraph messages were sent in all caps
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Old 10-30-2019, 02:41 PM
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7. Why were casualty rates so high?
They weren't. the Battle of Shiloh, at that time the bloodiest battle in American history, killed perhaps 3,500 men. The Battle of Waterloo, contested between about the same number of men half a century earlier, killed more. Gettysburg didn't kill any more men than most similarly sized Napoleonic battles. Antietam didn't kill any more men than Fontenoy. Battles in the ancient world were often far bloodier; Cannae may have killed seventy thousand men.

What resulted in so many men dying over the course of the war was simply that there were SO MANY battles - an unprecedented number in Western warfare (and so many men in the Army, so disease had its shot for longer and at more targets.) The United States in 1861 was the wealthiest nation that had ever existed in human history, and was technically and economically capable of fielding armies of unprecedented size, and to keep replenishing them, and have them smash into each other again and again. Their armies were consistently well equipped, armed, and provided with fresh men. Their had been bigger single battles before, but not big battles over and over and over, across multiple fronts fought by multiple armies.

Conversely, the area they were fighting over was gigantic and difficult to traverse; it was arguably the largest territory over which a single war between two belligerents had ever been fought, and much of it was wildnerness, so neither side was ever able to win a battle that just totally crushed the other and ended the war. Previously, battles like Hasting or Waterloo could end a war, or bring the end quite close; in the Civil War, even the crushing dual defeats of Gettysburg and Vicksburg didn't stop the war, and it dragged on for two more years, battle after battle after battle.
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Old 10-30-2019, 03:10 PM
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The show states (IIRC) The US had a population of 31m in 1861. The North had 22m and something around 75-90% of factories and production. The South had 9m people including 4m slaves.

The show states American casualty rates were much higher than Vietnam or the World Wars. The old estimates of 350,000 Northern deaths and 280,000 Southern deaths were recently revised upwards by an additional twenty per cent. For example, 13,000 Iowans died - about 5000 in battle and 8000 of disease, including POWs. At some battles, casualty rates were said by the show to be 40% - and several such battles occurred closely together.

Still, no doubt other wars and battles in history had casualty rates approaching 100 per cent. And the absolute numbers, which RickJay uses, might well be higher in many other campaigns.
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  #41  
Old 10-30-2019, 03:18 PM
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Not sure why only 'deaths' are being counted. Casualties include but are not exclusively fatalities.

The casualty rate also includes wounded, captured, and missing. And disease and other causes. There were not ~630,000 fatalities. There were that many casualties.

Combined military casualties of the Civil War exceeded by absolute number those of WWII and WWI. By percentage of population, it was even worse. But again, these are not all fatalities but all casualty sources combined.

Last edited by Great Antibob; 10-30-2019 at 03:21 PM.
  #42  
Old 10-30-2019, 03:31 PM
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Exapno Mapcase is it your position that the ability conduct aerial reconnaissance and surveillance during the Civil War matched or exceeded the ability to do the same during WWI?

Because we can sit here and talk about how the technologies available fifty years later had some sort of analog in the Civil War, but the point is the technology was more primitive, and not sufficient to allow the sort of maneuver warfare that eventually allowed military commanders to overcome static trench warfare. And for that matter, the technology still wasn’t there on the killing side to make maneuver warfare completely impractical (and so it wasn’t).

The implication is typically that military commanders pre- and early-WWI lacked the intellectual capacity to grasp that warfare had changed and their tactics needed to change too. My point is that technology, and by extension warfare, changed unevenly, so that it wasn’t just a matter of failures of intellect or imagination, but very real problems relating to the technology (or lack of technology) available to control a vast array of forces operating across a large area using a combined arms approach to overcome killing technology that especially favored the defender (ie: rifled weapons with greater range and accuracy, but needing a lot of time and a steady hand to reload, and later fixed machine guns).
I generally agree with all of this. However, I find most people aren't aware of the way inventors tried to use new technologies during the war, more or less successfully. Ballooning was in fact far more used than the gatling gun, which most people seem to think was a widely used innovation. Only a handful of private soldiers tried them out. The Army itself did not adopt them until 1866.

The Civil War was a mix of the utterly new and the obsolete. Unfortunately, the Army tended to stick with the obsolete until a few technologies were forced upon them. Even so, the war was won by the advanced technology, manufacturing, shipping, and logistics of the North, none of which the South could hope to match.
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Old 10-30-2019, 03:33 PM
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In fact, in 2012 a historian increased the death estimate to 750,000 from 630,000 offering widely-supported evidence numbers were underestimated. This includes deaths from disease.

Injured, including amputations, were said to number 1.5 million. According to the show, and “confirmed” with a quick Google, but certainly approximate.
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Old 10-30-2019, 03:46 PM
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The American Battlefield Trust reports the figure of 620,000 casualties collected soon after the war. Records were incomplete, but about 1 in 4 soldiers did not return home. About 1 in 13 had a limb amputated. The historian Hacker did an extensive survey of records and came up with a larger number in 2012 supposedly widely regarded by current experts as more accurate. By comparison, 400,000 Americans died in WW2, the second highest total.
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  #45  
Old 10-30-2019, 04:19 PM
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Is it also true, given war amps, that the Covil War was the first to use landmines? The series briefly mentions this. But since it was on a small scale, some websites call them “precursors”. Anyone know more?
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Old 10-30-2019, 04:20 PM
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I generally agree with all of this. However, I find most people aren't aware of the way inventors tried to use new technologies during the war, more or less successfully. Ballooning was in fact far more used than the gatling gun, which most people seem to think was a widely used innovation. Only a handful of private soldiers tried them out. The Army itself did not adopt them until 1866.

The Civil War was a mix of the utterly new and the obsolete. Unfortunately, the Army tended to stick with the obsolete until a few technologies were forced upon them. Even so, the war was won by the advanced technology, manufacturing, shipping, and logistics of the North, none of which the South could hope to match.
Right, and it's worth noting that in one case, that of the Minie ball & rifled musket, they were introduced a mere 6 years (1855) prior to the start of the war. Hardly enough time to develop new doctrine and work out how these new longer-ranged and more accurate rifles might affect future wars, especially considering that the Army was small (~16,000 men), scattered across the West after the Mexican-American war and the subsequent territorial gains, and primarily fighting Indians, not other organized military forces.

And on top of that, the vast majority of regiments on both sides were state raised and equipped militia regiments that were not composed of professional soldiers or officers.

It's not at all surprising that tactics were not ideal for fighting with the new weaponry at least at the beginning of the war.
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Old 10-30-2019, 04:28 PM
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What resulted in so many men dying over the course of the war was simply that there were SO MANY battles

...

in the Civil War, even the crushing dual defeats of Gettysburg and Vicksburg didn't stop the war, and it dragged on for two more years, battle after battle after battle.
Grant's Overland Campaign by itself included four major battles - The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg - each one very costly. The Wilderness had 17,000 casualties, and Spotsylvania 18,000. My g-g-grandfather's regiment, the 2nd NY Heavy Artillery (fighting as infantry), consisting of about 1,500 men, was called to the front to replace the losses. In the 36 days he was at the front before being captured, his regiment lost 733 killed, wounded, or captures - nearly 50% in just over a month.
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Old 10-30-2019, 04:45 PM
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Right, and it's worth noting that in one case, that of the Minie ball & rifled musket, they were introduced a mere 6 years (1855) prior to the start of the war. Hardly enough time to develop new doctrine and work out how these new longer-ranged and more accurate rifles might affect future wars
Minor nitpick:

The Springfield model 1840 Musket was flintlock and smooth bore. The change for the Model 1842 was the conversion from flintlock to caplock. The Minie ball was already under development in the 1840s (similar ideas had been tinkered with throughout the 1820s and 1830s), and most of the Model 1842 Muskets were built with intentionally thicker barrel walls than necessary with the anticipation that the barrels would end up being rifled at some point. Many Model 1842 barrels did end up getting rifled, though many did remain smooth bores. Off the top of my head I don't know the percentages of each.

The Model 1842 was also still .69 caliber, the same as all of the muskets dating back to the French Charleville. With the switch to the Minie ball, .69 was just too much lead, so for the Model 1855, they dropped the caliber down to .58. They also introduced the Maynard Primer system, which worked so well that they never put it on another model of musket ever after that.

So while bump is correct in the sense that the Model 1855 was the first musket produced with a rifled barrel and intended to use the Minie ball, there were many Model 1842's that were rifled before that.

The Model 1842s saw use in the Indian wars and the Mexican American War, but I don't think too many rifled versions ended up making it out to the field by then. The Model 1855s were mostly used in the Indian Wars.

bump's point is still valid. Rifled-muskets did not have much field experience by the start of the Civil War, and what experience commanders did have with it was mostly out west, which was a whole different type of ball game.
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Old 10-30-2019, 06:02 PM
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They weren't. the Battle of Shiloh, at that time the bloodiest battle in American history, killed perhaps 3,500 men. The Battle of Waterloo, contested between about the same number of men half a century earlier, killed more. Gettysburg didn't kill any more men than most similarly sized Napoleonic battles. Antietam didn't kill any more men than Fontenoy. Battles in the ancient world were often far bloodier; Cannae may have killed seventy thousand men.
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Waterloo cost Wellington around 15,000 dead or wounded and Blücher some 7,000 (810 of which were suffered by just one unit: the 18th Regiment. Napoleon's losses were 24,000 to 26,000 killed or wounded and included 6,000 to 7,000 captured with an additional 15,000 deserting subsequent to the battle and over the following days
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Waterloo
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Old 10-30-2019, 06:12 PM
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The American Battlefield Trust reports the figure of 620,000 casualties collected soon after the war. Records were incomplete, but about 1 in 4 soldiers did not return home. About 1 in 13 had a limb amputated. The historian Hacker did an extensive survey of records and came up with a larger number in 2012 supposedly widely regarded by current experts as more accurate. By comparison, 400,000 Americans died in WW2, the second highest total.
I read another interesting statistic this week. About one out of every four soldiers who fought in the American Civil War was involved in a surrender at some point (not counting the actual end of the war). Some surrendered as individuals but many were parts of units that surrendered. This is a much higher percentage that any other war Americans fought in.
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