Thought Experiments

So I’m reading this history of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek since that Civil War battle took place just a mile down the road from here (and participants probably marched on my property), and I’m struck by one thing about the campaigning:

They wore out their shoes a lot.

The book is filled with accounts of the men marching from Boonville or from Rolla to Springfield and wearing out their shoes so that many of the men were marching around barefoot.

By way of comparison, these are my shoes:

I've walked a mile in these shoes.

I bought those shoes three years or so ago at Sam’s Club for $20. Before I moved from Old Trees to the country, I used to walk around my municipality a lot. When I was pushing a stroller in the early stroller days, it was not uncommon for me to spend three or four hours (in several trips) walking around the neighborhoods. Suffice to say, I have walked in these shoes as much or more than any Iowan volunteer would have on his way to battle.

And look at them. Sure, some of the tread on the bottom is worn off, but the sole is still solid and there are no holes topside, although I’m sure I’ve had to replace the laces in that time. In three years.

So I got to thinking, what if I could take a small cartload of those shoes, could I have made myself rich supplying them to soldiers in 1861? Apparently, some of them had money with them to buy food and staples along the road, often at inflated prices. Could I have gotten $10 or $20 in 1860s money enough to be one of those walking-stick-and-top-hat guys in New York?

I wouldn’t want to change the balance of the war or anything. But how much would an army with good 2010 sneakers alter the course of the war? Instead of spending money and effort on acquiring shoes, the soldiers might have eaten better. Their marches would have been easier, allowing for more rested troops over the course of a campaign. Just by shoeing General Lyon’s troops, I might have overcome his dithering last days and shortened the Civil War considerably.

Well, it was a good get-rich-quick scheme while it lasted.

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5 thoughts on “Thought Experiments

  1. BJN – This is an interesting and thoughtful way to illustrate the importance of logistics in warfare. Many battles have been more influenced by supplies or illness than by enemy action. Even enemy action creates a logistical cascade: each casualty diverts several soldiers from direct engagement. An entire 6-man platoon can be effectively neutralized by injuring one person severely. – Jim

  2. Oddly enough, I was sort of going for a comparison of manufacturing techniques and modern materials more than the logistical concerns of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. You’re familiar with the history, then?

  3. Now, I am embarrassed! After a lifetime of ‘familiarity’ with the Battle, and visits to the National Battlefield, and occasional readings in depth – my memory is sparse. With a little review, I can follow along, at least!

    A bit of a review indicates that (warning: another of Jim’s tangents) I should explore Dug Springs for photo subjects (comparable stuff on my blog). I don’t expect to find many old shoes. – Jim

  4. I just read my first book upon it and haven’t been to the battlefield yet, but I did just move here in late September, so that’s my excuse. Hey, at least you have visited the battlefield and read on it. So many people don’t go that far.

    I think my yard abuts what was the Wire Road the armies marched on, so I’ll have to confirm that with the folks at the battlefield and maybe invest in a metal detector.

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