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Archive for April 2008

Military History Phrase of the Day: A Pyrrhic Victory

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I ran across the phrase “A Pyrrhic Victory” this evening in reference to the Battle of Guilford Courthouse (teachers, see great lesson plan on this battle here) where Nathaniel Greene and Lt. General Charles, Earl Cornwallis clashed in one of the most important battles of the American Revolution.

Charles, Earl Cornwallis (pictured below, see bio here)

Cornwallis

Nathaniel Greene (pictured below, see bio here)

Charles Willson Peale painted a portrait of General Greene from life in 1783, which was then copied several times by C.W. Peale and his son, Rembrandt Peale.

“The armies met at Guilford Courthouse in a furious battle in which the British won a Pyrrhic victory. Cornwallis’s losses were so severe that he moved to Wilmington to recuperate and be resupplied by sea.”[i]

According to the good folks at dictionary.com,

Pyrrhic victory\PIR-ik\, noun:
A victory achieved at great or excessive cost; a ruinous victory.

A Pyrrhic victory is so called after the Greek king Pyrrhus, who, after suffering heavy losses in defeating the Romans in 279 B.C., said to those sent to congratulate him, “Another such victory over the Romans and we are undone.” [ii]

Pyrrhus of Epirus.

Pyrrhus of Epirus

I am quite sure that a number of hard fought American Civil War battles had Pyrrhic victories.

[Note that the papers of Nathaniel Greene are available here.]

—–
[i] Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, (New York: The Free Press, 1994), 76.
[ii] Pyrrhus defined. http://dictionary.reference.com/wordoftheday/archive/2003/07/16.html
Photo source for Pyrrhus, Cornwallis, and Nathaniel Greene: Wikicommons, public domain.

Sobering Numbers

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As I was finishing up my reading on the American Revolution this evening, I learned the following regarding the percentage of the American population killed in several of our wars.

1st place:  Civil War  – 1.6 %  of population killed

2nd place: American Revolution – 1.0 % of population killed

By contrast, 0.06 % of Americans met their demise in the Mexican War, 0.12 % in World War I, and 0.28 % in World War II.

Indeed sobering.
——
Source: Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, (New York: The Free Press, 1994), 82.

Fixing an Army – Steuben

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The Continental Army and American Character, 1775-1783 (norton In-house Inst PbI’m still finishing up last week’s reading of A Revolutionary People at War: The Continential Army and American Character, 1775 – 1783 by Charles Royster which has been very interesting albeit a bit redundant at times. It covers in some detail the character of both American (and to some extent British) enlisted men and officers. Also examined are the experiences of “camp,” march, battle, and discipline. Of absolute certainty is that Continental enlisted men had an independent streak and “such a high opinion of their own prowess that an officer had to be exceptionally overweening to outdo them.” [i] This puts in perspective my study of Civil War enlisted soldiers who still swaggered with independence.

Prior to the arrival of Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (right), who became Inspector-General to the Baron Von Steuben Continental Army, American officers made a concerted effort to pattern themselves after their British peers. A rather startling example… Commander-in-Chief George Washington lobbied congress for permission to allow 500 lashes as punishment to maintain discipline among his soldiers! Congress never approved above 100 lashes. The British allowed 1000! Officers were becoming more and more “separate” from the enlisted cadre. The divide was often one of respect.

When Steuben arrived at Valley Forge (see the park site here), he found an army still struggling with many military basics. He introduced “skills of the parade ground, then attention to dress, cleanliness, equipment, health, camp sanitation, orderliness on the march, grievances among the men, and all the other elements of mutual respect and hierarchical obedience. These provided a code by which soldiers could judge officers and expect to be judged by both their officers and their fellow soldiers. ” [ii]

“The survival of American independence entailed not only the preservation of revolutionary ideas and the reluctant use of the coercive powers of government, but also the growth of military discipline that proudly replaced individual freedom with the professionalism of an army.” [iii]

Steuben helped the Continental army become “an internally disciplined group apart, more self-consciously virtuous than the society at large. The professional loyalty and pride of achievement that Steuben encouraged provided a tangible partial expression of the unity in unselfish service to which revolutionaries aspired.” [iv]

[i] Charles Royster, A Revolutionary People at War: The Continential Army and American Character, 1775 – 1783, (The University of North Carolina Press, 1979), 222.
[ii] Ibid., Ibid.
[iii] Ibid., 228.
[iv] Ibid., 223.

 

New Acquisitions – Indian Wars and Military History

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Have acquired several new books this week that relate to the class at hand – Studies in U.S. Military History – (see details here). 

The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000
By William H McNeill
ISBN 0-226-56158-5
The University of Chicago Press, 1982
405 pages
$17.10
Technology, Armed Force, and Society since A.D. 1000

King Philip’s War: The History and Legacy of America’s Forgotten Conflict
By Eric B Schultz and Michael J. Tougias
ISBN 978-0-22150-483-5
The Countryman Press, 1999
416 pages
$18.95
The History and Legacy of America's Forgotten Conflict

The Skulking Way of War: Technology and Tactics Among the New England Indians
By Patrick M. Malone
Copyright by Plimoth Plantation
ISBN 1-56833-165-7
Madison Books, 1991
133 pages

Technology and Tactics Among the New England Indians

The following two books were mentioned as excellent resources / predecessors of For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America. I picked up both…

Arms and Men: A Study of American Military History
By Walter Millis
Rutgers University Press, 1956
384 pages
$22.00 (although I got a copy for less than $6.00)
A Study in America Military History

The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy
By Russel F. Weigley
ISBN 0-253-28029-X
Indiana University Press, 1973
584 pages

A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy

Howe Wins 2008 Pulitizer Prize for History

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Daniel Walker Howe’s (right) 2007 book, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1818-1848, has won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for History. It is a part of the Oxford History of the United States series. The citation can be read here. I have not read the book yet but plan to. Appreciate any feedback from those of you who may have already read it.

The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (Oxford History of the United States)

What Hath God Wrought
The Transformation of America, 1815-1848

Daniel Walker Howe
ISBN13: 9780195078947
Hardback, Sep 2007
Price: $35.00

 

 

photo credit: Julie Franken

A People’s Army

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I am heavily into reading A People’s Army: Massachusetts Soldiers & Society in the Seven Years’ War by Fred Anderson (pictured right) this week. Professor Anderson (Ph.D., Harvard University) teaches history at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The book won the following distinctions according to the publisher, University of North Carolina Press: Winner of the 1982 Jamestown Prize in Early American History, Institute of Early American History and Culture
Winner of the 1987 Distinguished Book Award, Society of Colonial Wars

Massachusetts Soldiers and Society in the Seven Years' War

A People’s Army
Massachusetts Soldiers and Society in the Seven Years’ War

by Fred Anderson
292 pp., 6 x 9, 31 tables, 3 maps, 2 figs., appends., notes, index
$19.95 paper
ISBN 978-0-8078-4576-9
Published September 1996

It is part of a series published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia, a very fine organization affiliated with The College William and Mary and Colonial Williamsburg

Interestingly, I found a study guide for the book for one of Mark Grimsley’s United States Military History courses at Ohio State University (Autumn 2003) here. If you follow the links to the syllabus, there is a nicely done reading list for topics around American Military History as well. Professor Grimsley blogs, of course, over at Blog Them Out for the Stone Age and Civil Warriors.

OK I’m obviously procrastinating from my reading…. back to the books and my coffee…

Ahem.

Thoreau, Whitman and Emerson Added to My Library

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One of the things I’ve been a bit surprised by along the way of my military history studies is my growing interest in all aspects of the times I’m studying. During my first course on the American Civil War, it became obvious that the artists of the time played an important role. I was very pleased that PBS aired a profile of Walt Whitman tonight on The American Experience. Good stuff.

To that end, I’ve added the following three books to my library this week. You’ll find them on my virtual bookshelves here.

Poetry and Prose (Library of America College Editions)

Whitman: Poetry and Prose (Library of America College Editions)
By Walt Whitman

A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers / Walden; Or, Life in the Woods / The Maine Woods / Cape Cod (Library of America)

Henry David Thoreau : A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers / Walden; Or, Life in the Woods / The Maine Woods / Cape Cod (Library of America)

First and Second Series / Representative Men / English Traits / The Conduct of Life (Library of America)

Essays and Lectures: Nature: Addresses and Lectures / Essays: First and Second Series / Representative Men / English Traits / The Conduct of Life (Library of America)
By Ralph Waldo Emerson

Written by Rene Tyree

April 14, 2008 at 9:22 pm

Posted in Books

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Citizen-Soldiers versus Professional Military

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Lion Gardiner in Pequot War by Charles Stanley Reinhart (from watercolor previously at the Manor House in Gardiner Island from a July 2007 exhibit by the East Hampton Historical Society on Gardiners Island. Photo by poster in July 2007. Public Domain. Wiki Commons

We’ve been discussing an interesting question in class this week. Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, in their book For The Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, suggest that “six major themes place United States military history within the broad context of American history.” [i] One of these is that “American defense policy has traditionally been built upon pluralistic military institutions, most noticeably a mixed force of professionals and citizen-soldiers.”[ii] Our challenge this week was to make an argument for whether there was evidence of this pluralism in our readings this week about military engagements between American colonists and native Americans.

I contend that there was evidence of a mixed force of professionals and citizen-soldiers early in the history of the North American colonies assuming that the definition of professional soldier is considered to be some what literal, that is militarists who were paid for their services. While a professional army is no doubt intended to mean a paid standing army (with benefit of better training and supply), it is possible to see the impact of those recruited and, in some way, paid for their military expertise before the nation of the United States was formed.

Photo courtesy of The WEYANOKE Association: telling our own story

 

Millett and Maslowski refer in some detail to the existence of militia in the English colonies. Not only do they label it “the colonists’ most revered military institution,” but they also posit that militias were the “most important response to the dangerous military realities.”[iii] Colonists knew prior to leaving for the new continent that they were “on their own” for defense against dangers they might encounter, whether from indigenous people or rival Europeans. They also had some forewarning of what those dangers would be (I’ll leave that for a later post) from previous encounters between Europeans and Indians. So they came prepared to defend themselves both with recruited military experts and a resolve to fight as citizen-soldiers.

The precepts of militias?

  • All able-bodied men within a certain age range were, by obligation, members.
  • Training took place during regularly scheduled musters.
  • Men brought their own weapons (pikes, muskets, swords).
  • Rank was typically determined by class.
  • Most men served close to home, etc. When larger engagements were afoot, men would be recruited (effectively by draft) from the local militias to participate in expeditions.
  • A tie was evident between soldiering and the Christian traditions of most of the colonists. Sermons were given during musters and before major engagements.[iv]

On the topic of professional soldiers, Millett and Maslowski allude to the colonists’ recruitment of experienced men to provide military leadership and training to the colonists. [v] I would argue that it was these men who formed the beginnings of a “professional military cadre” in the New World. Granted, they were not professionals hired and maintained by a single cohesive American nation, but they were, non-the-less, the “go to” people for colonial military leadership, especially when novice leaders proved ineffective.

Dr. Guy ChetGuy Chet (see his vitae here) in his book Conquering the American Wilderness: The Triumph of European Warfare in the Colonial Northeast,” indicates that not only were professional leaders hired but some rank and file soldiers were as well. Chet tells of a small army led by John Underhill. “This ‘army’ —130 men in all— included forty burgher guards (professional Dutch soldiers), thirty-five Englishmen (under Lieutenant George Baxter), and Sergeant-Major Underhill’s company.”[vi] It is the forty burgher guards I find most interesting for this discussion. [Note: The English settlers of Greenwich had been under Dutch jurisdiction since 1642.]

The Triumph of European Warfare in the Colonial Northeast

All of that said, Chet also suggests that close examination of colonial commanders (after the 1650s) taken in aggregate, “indicates that this was a society of military novices, plagued by astonishing carelessness and neglect in military matters and undermined by its own ad hoc approach to military affairs.” [vii] He attributes the winning of King Phillip’s War to a campaign of attrition rather than through a succession of tactical victories. Prior to 1650, the better trained professional militarists recruited by the colonists to aid them, were still in place.

Among the lessons learned during the colonial Indian Wars was that a combination of a professional army and a militia had its merits. According to Chet, the tactical ineffectiveness of colonial forces in the King Philip’s War led colonial officials to seek a closer military cooperation with imperial administrators and professional British troops. [viii] This love-hate relationship with the idea of a professional, standing military no doubt helped to shape the pluralistic military tradition in America.

© 2008 L. Rene Tyree
——————
[i] Allan R. Millett, Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America (New York: The Free Press, 1994), xii.
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Ibid., 1-2.
[vi] Ibid., 1-19.
[v] Guy Chet, Conquering the American Wilderness: The Triumph of European Warfare in the Colonial Northeast [book on-line], Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003, accessed 13 April 2008, available from Questia, http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=105219966; Internet.
[vii] Ibid, 28.
[viii] Ibid., 144.

Military History Word of the Day – Trainbands

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Reading For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America about military activity in America between 1607 – 1689, I ran across the word “trainbands.” Authors Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski suggest that colonists brought with them “religious attitudes, economic views, political thoughts, and military ideals and institutions grounded in English history.”[i] This included all things military and “the colonists’ most revered military institution (the militia) and their most cherished military tradtion (fear of a standing army) both came from England.” [ii]

The adoption of the Elizabethan militia concept in the colonies was crucial to their survival. The basic tactical unit in all the colonies was the company or “trainband.” American Heritage Dictionary defines trainband as follows:

train·band (trān’bānd’)
n. A company of trained militia in England or America from the 16th to the 18th century.
[Contraction of trained band]

I have added as a new word to “the terms” page here.

[Photo credit: http://home.att.net/~Hillgartner/Pages/TillHist.htm
trainband. Dictionary.com. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/trainband (accessed: April 09, 2008).
[i] Allan R. Millett, Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America (New York: The Free Press, 1994), 4.
[ii] Ibid.

And so the reading begins… in earnest

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Historiography is a wrap. The new class, Studies in U.S. Military History, started yesterday. There was a slight change in texts. For the Korean War, Roy E. Appleman’s East of Chosin: Entrapment and Breakout in Korea, 1950  will be used rather than the one I mentioned earlier.

East of Chosin

I also picked up a book on the recommended reading list, One Hundred Years of Sea Power: The U.S. Navy, 1890 – 1990  by George W. Baer. I’ve added both to my virtual bookshelves here.

The U. S. Navy, 1890-1990

The class will be a challenging one. Thirteen books will be required reading as noted in my last post here. The pace will be more than one book per week in addition to writing assignments. Best get to it!

First up – jumping into Millett and Maslowski’s For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America – which will be the primary text for the course. Just a chapter this week dealing with the period between 1607 and 1689.

For the Common Defense

Second – reading in its entirety Jill Lepore’s The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity which was winner of the Bancroft Prize in 1999.

King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity

Next Course – Books!

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Next class starts Monday – Studies in U.S. Military History. I posted earlier a description of the class here.

I stacked up all the the required reading texts today in “historical order.” IMPRESSIVE! All are listed on my bookshelves here.

 

Jomini on the Nature of War – Part VII – Jomini’s Impact on Civil War Leadership

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jomini-cropped.jpgThis post continues the series of “Jomini on the Nature of War.” Part I: Introduction is available here, Part II: The Burgeoning Military Theorist here, Part III: The Founder of Modern Strategy here, Part IV: The Basics here, Part V: Lines of Operation here, and Part VI – The Conduct of War here.

Returning to Baron Antoine de Jomini (right), I wanted to explore the extent to which his strategies influenced those who held leadership positions during the American Civil War. A modest survey of the literature revealed some disagreement. 

Historian James L. Morrison, Jr. in his article “Educating the Civil War Generals: West Point, 1833 - 1861,″ pointed out that exposure to Jomini came during “Professor Dennis H. Mahan’s [pictured below] course, Civil and Military Engineering and the Science of War which all First Classmen studied daily.”[i]

Dennis Mahan

Dennis H. Mahan
Photo Credit: Wiki Commons

But only nine hours were given to the study of the science of war and Morrison contends that this was entirely too brief an exposure to have had any lasting impact. That said, he acknowledges that some alumni of the military academy studied Jomini thoroughly including Beauregard, Lee, Halleck, and McClellan.

“…The same cannot be said for the great majority of their colleagues who had neither the opportunity nor the inclination to continue their strategic studies after graduation. Probably Sherman was more representative of the typical graduate when he denied that Jomini had affected his thoughts or actions in the war.” [ii]

 I’ll discuss some additional viewpoints in the next post.

A word on Dennis H. Mahan. A military theorist in his own right, Mahan was instrumental in developing the engineering-focused curriculum at West Point. Some may recall that he was the father of naval strategist Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan. The elder’s obituary, which appeared on September 17, 1871 in New York Times here, reveals that Professor Mahan committed suicide by jumping in the Hudson River from the deck of the steamboat Mary Powell in such a way that he was hit by the wheel. He was apparently despondant about being forced to retire. A sad end to a remarkable career. Professor Mahan’s memoir is available online here.

Powell Photo
Mary Powell, Queen of the Hudson

[i, ii] James L. Morrison, Jr., “Educating the Civil War Generals: West Point, 1833 – 1861,” Military Affairs, Vol. 38, No. 3. (Oct., 1974), pp. 109.

SNAFU

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Apologies on the mystery post this morning. I had a post all written and when I hit “Publish,” all the content disappeared. Only the title and tags were published. I deleted it but noticed that subscribers still got it.

So I’m rewriting now. Guess I’ve learned to draft in another program and then cut and paste.

Stay tuned.

Written by Rene Tyree

April 2, 2008 at 5:45 pm

Posted in Blogging

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