War is Our Judge: Contrasting the Anti-Partisan Policies in the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War

Prussia and the United States both struggled with the problem of guerrilla warfare.

Partisans attacked Prussian and American armies throughout their wars of unification hampering the war effort as well as presenting a massive increase to an old problem. The inauguration of large-scale conscription and the general abandonment of purely professional militaries led to an enormous change in the way nations considered civilians during wartime. The similar situations that confronted Lincoln in North America and Moltke in Europe brought about very different results.

Lincoln and his generals changed their tactics after their major victories in 1863; they targeted civilians in order to finish the war. Lincoln reacted to the real possibility of large-scale partisan warfare by the C.S.A. As Lee began to lose momentum in the Eastern Theater; Lincoln faced the clear and present danger of a southern implementation of George Washington’s strategy from the American Revolution. He believed that he needed to break the southern morale in order to prevent this possibility that would add years and theoretically decades to the war.

The Prussian actions in the Franco-Prussian War contrasted with the policies of the United States in the Civil War. The Prussians treated civilian population of their opponent and their own citizens in a gentler fashion. Helmuth von Moltke consistently demanded that the coalition’s forces fight a campaign aimed at securing the hearts and minds of the French people. The Prussians were faced with a hostile population that continued the war far beyond the logical conclusion and needed to hold together a fragile coalition of very different German states.