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Journal of a graduate student in military history and the American Civil War

Posts Tagged ‘For the Common Defense

Technology in U.S. Military History – 4

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This post completes this series on Technology in U.S. Military History. See post 1 here, 2 here, and 3 here.

P. Balaram in his editorial for Current Science titled “Science, Technology and War,” describes the widespread use of incendiaries and chemical defoliants which, he suggests, “reached its peak during the Vietnam War, with the United States resorting to napalm bombs and the spraying of herbicides like Agent Orange (dioxins),” with, unfortunately, “little regard for human toxicity.”

Alex Roland describes the predictable phenomena that “armed services in the United States found themselves competing with each other to claim precedence in fielding the same technology.” Krepinevich confirms this in his description of the competition between the Army and the Air Force in the formation of the “airmobile concept.”

Interestingly, Roland claims that “the drive toward ever more sophisticated weaponry reached a climax of sorts in the American decade (1965-1975) of the Vietnam struggle for independence (1945-1975).” As Krepinevich also clearly argues, “prompted in part by the superiority of its weaponry, the United States military undertook the Vietnam mission of fighting a guerrilla insurgency with conventional arms developed for war on the plains of Europe.

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Sensing devices were introduced to locate the enemy. The helicopter gunship evolved in the course of the war, a combat expedient to give Americans superior mobility and firepower in the face of an elusive and potent enemy. Strategic bombing targeted the enemy’s infrastructure as if North Vietnam was an industrialized state with the same vulnerabilities as the United States.”

But the fact remains that the advanced technological prowess brought to bear by the United States in the Vietnam conflict did not result in a victory. Rather, as Roland so aptly puts it, while exacting a horrific toll, the side with “superior technology lost to superior strategy.” So while the United States continues to lead the world in the technologies of war, a support of Millet and Maslowski’s premise, equal prowess in other facets of war are required to ensure success, a notion that remains true today.

 

Sources:
P. Balaram, “Science, Technology and War,” Current Science, Vol. 84, Number 7, 10 April 2003. http://www.ias.ac.in/currsci/apr102003/859.pdf Accessed 13 July 2008.

Alex Roland, “Technology and War,” http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/AD_Issues/amdipl_4/roland2.html
Accessed 13 July 2008.

Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jr.  The Army and Vietnam. Reprint. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988.

 Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, xiii.

Technology in U.S. Military History – 1

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My current course on Studies in U. S. Military History (see courses page here) is drawing to a close. We have been examining the last of Millett and Maslowski’s major themes which is that “the United States has used increasingly sophisticated technology to overcome logistical limitations and to match enemy numbers with firepower.” [i] I find this supportable in the sense that it has been possible to see a steady progression of technological prowess over time. Nowhere, arguably, have technological advancements been felt more than in the arena of weaponry.

Patent drawing for R.J. Gatling's Battery Gun, 9 May 1865. (Source: Wikicommons, Public Domain)

Professor of history Alex Roland (Duke University) posits that “before the twentieth century, most soldiers and sailors ended their careers armed as they were at the beginning. New weapons were introduced slowly, if at all, and most professionals resisted the uncertainties new arms introduced.” But, Roland asserts, “by the second half of the twentieth century, this traditional suspicion of new weapons had changed to a reckless enthusiasm.”  The phenomena of obsolescence on introduction entered the national psyche in that, by the time many “weapons entered service, their successors were being planned. This was especially true in large-scale weapons systems such as ships and aircraft. It even found its way into thinking about less complex military technologies, such as radios and computers.” [ii]

More in Part 2. Note I provide a link below to Professor Roland’s excellent article titled “Technology and War” which can be read online.

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——-For the Common Defense

[i]   Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, xiii.

[ii] Alex Roland, “Technology and War,” http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/AD_Issues/amdipl_4/roland2.html Accessed 13 July 2008.

And so…The American Civil War

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We haFor the Common Defenseve arrived in “Studies in U.S. Military History” (see course information here) at the American Civil War. We’ll spend two weeks on this war, more than any other. Millett and Maslowski’s For the Common Defense splits the war into two periods: chapter six, 1861 – 1862 and chapter seIdeas, Organization, and Field Command (Midland Book)ven, 1863-1865. It is chock full of interesting statistics, enough to begin to fill a “page” on the blog where I can keep them handy. And so, yet another new page: the statistics.

Next, a book I’ve already done a little reading in but am very much looking forward to, Edward Hagerman’s The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare: Ideas, Organization, and Field Command. This does not strike me as a fast read which is fine. I’m glad we can give it a solid two weeks.

And so a few statistics from Millett and Maslowski – always fascinating for this student of mathematics and engineering.

  • 1861 White Male Population: North – 20 million; South – 6 million
  • 800,000 immigrants arrived in the North, betwee 1861 adn 1865, including a high proportion of males liable for military service
  • 20 – 25 percent of the Union Army was foreign-born
  • 2 million men served in the Union Army
  • 750,000 men fought in the Confederate Army which was a maximum strenght in late 1863 with 464,500
  • Not all of these men on either side were “present for duty.” Out of the 464,500 Confederates, only 233,500 were “present for duty.”
  • Taxation produced less than 5% of the Confederacy’s income. It produced 21% of Union government income.
  • The Confederacy printed $1.5 billion in paper money, the Union $450 million in “greenbacks.”
  • In 1860, the nothern states had 110,000 manufacturing establishments, the southern states, 18,000.
  • During the year ending June 1, 1860, the states forming the Confederacy produced 36,790 tons of pig iron. The state of Pennsylvania alone produced 580,049 tons.
  • The South contained 9,000 miles of railroad track to the North’s 30,000 miles.
  • 100,000 Southern Unionists fought for the North with every Confederate state except South Carolina providing at least a battalion of white soldiers for the Union Army. Millett and Maslowski call these the “missing” Southern Army and “a crucial element in the ultimate Confederate defeat.

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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), 163-167.

Fabian Strategy and the American Civil War

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One of the concepts Millett and Maslowski mention in their book, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, is the Fabian Strategy. It refers to an approach by one side in a military conflict who avoids big decisive battles in favor of small engagements designed to wear the opposition down, reducing their will to fight and their numbers by attrition.

The term is attributed to Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus (ca. 280 BC-203 BC), a Roman commander who used the technique in fighting Hannibal during the Punic Wars. He harassed Hannibal’s army through small engagements and cut off their supply lines but avoided getting pulled into a decisive battle. Needless to say, the strategy requires time to succeed. Because of this, it also requires the support of the governing powers on the side that adopts it because there is no decisive showdown event. In Fabius Maximus’ case, the Romans politicians listened to his detractors (peer commanders) and replaced him with men who would confront Hannibal head on. They were resoundingly defeated at the Battle of Cannae (pictured right). The Romans eventually went back to the method of battle avoidance and harassment as designed by Fabius and eventually succeeded in driving Hannibal back to Africa.

The Fabian Strategy was used during the American Revolution by Continental forces against the British. While politically unpopular, Washington agreed to adopt it. Interestingly, the idea for its use NathanBedfordForrest.jpgcame from Nathaniel Greene.

I’d be interested in thoughts from my readers on use of the Fabian Strategy during the American Civil War. While I have yet to study in depth the exploits of Nathan Bedford Forrest (pictured right), my sense is that this kind of harassment of the enemy was a forte of his Tennessee Cavalry. I’ve also heard the phrase  “removing the Fabian” associated with Sherman’s march through the south. No doubt this refers to the ferreting out of harassing guerrilla-type forces.

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
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[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.

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.

 

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