By Colin Woodward
Another half-season of the Walking Dead is over. And again, I shout at the screen: “Why aren’t y’all entrenching!?”
Yes, it’s time someone lectured the small army of zombie killers on the advantages of low-tech, highly effective Civil War military tactics.
I’m talking about trenches, abatis, and moats. Whenever men stopped for a few days, or even hours, during the Civil War, they dug in. By the end of the war, the fields of Virginia looked like the trench-scarred hellscapes of World War I.
And yet, Rick and his plucky band continue to rely on flimsy walls and shaky fences. Had the gang adopted some of the tactics of the Army of Northern Virginia or Army of Tennessee, they might never have had to leave Alexandria, let alone Hershel’s farm, or the prison that was eventually overrun by the evil Governor.
A good system of entrenchments can stop a tank, nevermind a bunch of slow, stumble-bum zombies.
The most recent season of The Walking Dead took place in a gated community in Alexandria, Virginia, where residents there had thrived on the safety of a tall (but not good enough) surrounding wall. Despite the community having many strong backed young-uns, and a reasonably intelligent mayor, no one thought to strengthen the existing defenses by going Old School.
That’s where I would come in.
The second I would have arrived, people would have started digging. Trenches outside the walls the keep the zombies from approaching the town. A moat. Booby traps. And abatis/abattis, a French word for sharpened stake emplacements, will keep people and the undead from getting to your front lines.
I’m sure Darryl could track down some barbed wire somewhere and use that, too.
Not everyone on The Walking Dead is a great fighter. Dr. Eugene Porter, who looks like a cross between Johnny Cash and Frankenstein, might not be good with a gun or knife. But surely he could lift a shovel, right? Put that guy on ditch detail! It would also be a good fitness program.
But, no. The Walking Dead people rely instead on their firepower and ability to flee the weekly hordes of flesh eating monsters so that they can fight another day. I for one, would grow tired of it.
Digging ditches is hard work. But so too is shooting close-quarter zombies and/or the ghoulish humans who want to kill your people and take your stuff. How many times will we have to see the gang jumping into a house at the last minute and barricading the doors with some worn-out couches?
Some snarky southerns called Robert E. Lee the “King of Spades” when he took command in Virginia in 1862. But Lee was an engineer, who knew how to build fortifications. Back in the 19th century, that’s what you learned at West Point: engineering.
After much Civil War slaughter, people North and South realized that it was better to stop a bullet with earth than with your chest. Eventually, all Civil War armies saw entrenching as an essential feature of warfare. Keeping men in trenches also preserved them long enough to make their next suicidal assault on the other army’s entrenchments.
The folks on The Walking Dead are great fighters, but poor soldiers. They take far too many casualties given their resources.
So, zombie warriors, it’s time for Dr. Woodward to visit for a guest lecture on nineteenth century military tactics. And help put an end to the zombie menace.
Colin Woodward is the author of Marching Masters: Slavery, Race, and the Confederate Army during the Civil War (UVA Press, 2014). He is working on a book on Johnny Cash. When not killing zombies, he is Editor of the Lee Family Digital Archive at Stratford Hall.