Posts Tagged ‘military strategy’
T. HARRY WILLIAMS. Lincoln and His Generals. New York: Random House, 1952. Pp. viii, 363, $2.40.
Over half a century ago, T. Harry Williams wrote an exceptional work with as major theme that the performance of President Abraham Lincoln as commander in chief during the American Civil War positioning him as the true director of the war efforts of Northern armies and the progenitor of the country’s first modern command system. He shows Lincoln to be an able student of military strategy who ramped up quickly, grasped the end game and generally how to reach it, but struggled to find the right executioner of those plans. That he was even more skilled as a politician meant that he functioned superbly as leader in both political and military spheres throughout the conflict.
This is a work about the challenges of leadership set against what Williams calls the first of the “modern total wars.” (3) Williams chronicles the war from Lincoln’s perspective presenting the strengths and, more notably, the many foibles of the men who served the North in senior military positions. Their relative caliber appears to have been directly correlated to the attention Lincoln had to give them. More attention from and scrutiny by Lincoln was thus not a mark of achievement. Williams’ work reflects that relative attention. For example, he begins his discussion of McClellan in Chapter 2 and does not finish with him until Chapter 8 at which point Lincoln finally dismisses McClellan in disgust. (179) Williams takes his readers through the agonizing months Lincoln spent attempting to manage McClellan and his paranoia regarding enemy troop strength and inability to execute when it would put his men in harm’s way or there was the potential to fail. Grant, by contrast to McClellan, received some but not extensive coverage by Williams reflecting Lincoln’s own confidence that Grant could carry forward Lincoln’s strategic aims effectively. Williams concludes that in the waning months of 1864, Lincoln had sufficient trust in Grant to intervene little in the war’s management. That is not to say that Lincoln shrugged off any responsibility in setting strategic direction or in monitoring closely “and sometimes anxiously” the conduct of the war. (336) He was quick to reset direction when required.
Williams’ organization of the book is driven largely by the order of his encounters with senior military leaders. He begins with the infamous but corpulent and declining General Winfield Scott. We are given images of Lincoln chatting by the fire in Scott’s drawing room about daily reports and strategic options. Lincoln begins to reveal his own nascent military strategies and to measure those proposed by the militarist Scott against civilian and political realities. Lincoln also demonstrates an important resolve to make and stand by decisions even if they go against those of senior military advisors. Williams provides illustration of this by pointing to Lincoln’s grasping of the strategic golden nugget within Scott’s Anaconda Plan of control of the Mississippi but Lincoln’s rejection of its execution because it risked a drawn out and uncertain resolution.
Regular army man Irvin McDowell is then tagged by Lincoln to take command of the swelling number of troops in and around Washington, a number that by the summer of 1861 exceeded 30,000 men. Lincoln pushes McDowell, of course, into an offensive movement at Manassas to disastrous results. While the mark against McDowell’s mediocre reputation is severe, Williams allows us to see that Lincoln is willing to bear some of the blame.
The scene is thus set for the summoning of McClellan to Washington. This begins Lincoln’s relationship with “the problem child of the Civil War.” (25) Williams chronicles the early months of McClellan’s experiences in the East, his messianic complex, disrespect for Lincoln and others with whom he had to deal, and the efforts that Lincoln had to make to manage a man who held such promise but failed to deliver. It is clear that Lincoln, to this credit, attempted many different techniques in his efforts to supervise McClellan.
John C. Fremont, McClellan’s peer in the Western Department and a political appointment made by Lincoln himself, proves disastrous in his mismanagement of Missouri and a bitter disappointment. Williams captures well the odd quirks of both Fremont and the Blair family, his patrons, and the lengths to which Lincoln had to go to remove him.
Halleck is portrayed as only marginally effective and jealous enough of Grant’s successes in the field to take credit for them. (61) His self-directed shift to subordinate role as coordinator and communicator between Lincoln and his staff is fascinating.
Other commanders are mentioned primarily for their lack-luster performances including Rosecrans, Buell, Thomas, Banks, and Butler to name a few. Williams’ provides an excellent summary of each man including physical characteristics, approach to command, reputation, and personality traits. He often reveals the quirks or failings that made them less than acceptable as senior command candidates. For example, he describes Benjamin F. Butler as “ingenious, resourceful, and colorful, but …no field general.” (188) Williams’ description of Rosecrans reveals a well researched sum of the man from his “intensified Roman nose” to his “good strategic sense and aggressive instincts.” (186-187) But he is thorough enough to point to Rosecrans weaknesses including a lack of “balance and poise that a great commander should have” which revealed a man unable to “control himself and the situation.” (187)
Clearly apparent in this history is that Lincoln, while climbing a steep learning curve, became an astute war strategist. In fact, Williams contends that the notion of “total war” as a means of destroying the Confederate Army was identified earliest and most enthusiastically as a strategic plank by Lincoln who “saw the big picture” better than most of his commanders and staff. (7) He further asserts that no one in the military leadership of either side had the experience to wage war at the scale that would be America’s Civil War. Both sides shared an equal innocence of the knowledge war making. (4) That said, Lincoln’s performance when viewed against that of Davis is all the more impressive.
Williams points out that Lincoln exhibited many good qualities as a leader. By example, he was not quick to claim credit for the successes of Sherman, even though he would have been justified to do so given the strategic direction he provided. Rather, Lincoln showered praise on men whose efforts were successful. He seemed to simply want vigilance and self-reliance from his commanders, both qualities he saw in Grant. (315)
Williams’ use of primary sources is impressive and adds credibility to his conclusions. Many citations were from actual correspondence or official records of exchanges between Lincoln and his team or Halleck and the field commanders. This depth of research adds much to the work.
At the time of publication, this book was the only one to fully examine Lincoln’s performance as commander in chief and stood as such for many years. Interestingly, in 2009, historian James McPherson visited the same topic and drew much from Williams’ foundation in his work, Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief. While good, I find it no better and in many ways a rehashing of Williams’ work, one that continues to stand on strong scholarship and goes far toward explaining Lincoln’s brilliance as both politician and military strategist.
I’ve added some titles to my Kindle 2. I own print versions of most of these but want to use the text-to-speech capabilities of the Kindle 2 to review them again while mobile.
- Title: The Art of War
- Author: Antoine de Jomini, Capt. G.H. Mendell, Lieut. W.P. Craighill
- Format: Kindle Edition
- File Size: 1387 KB
- Publisher: MyEclectica.com (March 14, 2008)
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00162BZDW
- Title: On War
- Author: Carl con Clausewitz
- Format: Kindle Edition
- File Size: 1088 KB
- Publisher: MyEclectica.com (February 22, 2008)
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00156DW1C
- Title: The Art of Commanding An Army
- Author: Frederick the Great
- Format: Kindle Edition
- File Size: 107 KB
- Publisher: MacMay (November 26, 2008)
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
- Language: English
- ASIN: B001M5U5O8
- Title: With Frederick the Great: A Story of the Seven Years’ War
- Author: G. A. Henty
- Format: Kindle Edition
- File Size: 586 KB
- Publisher: LeClue (February 7, 2008)
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
- Language: English
- ASIN: B0013L9678
Edward Hagerman. The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare: Ideas, Organization, and Field Command. Reprint. Indiana University Press, 1992.
In this important work on tactical and strategic military history, Edward Hagerman posits that the American Civil War marshaled in a new era in land warfare colored by the impacts of the Industrial Revolution. He argues that the complete command and control systems of armies was impacted by factors both occurring across the globe (i.e. technological developments in weaponry and transportation) and unique to America: its culture, geography, and history.
Hagerman is clear in setting two broad aims for the book. The first is to provide a new analysis of the “theory, doctrine, and practice of field fortification in the tactical evolution of trench warfare.” The second is to analyze the development of field transportation and supply and its impact of the movement and maneuvering of Civil War armies
Hagerman organizes his study around several themes. The first addresses the ideas and education that informed the American military including the influence of theorists such as Jomini, Clausewitz, and at West Point, Dennis Hart Mahan. Secondly he looks at the organizational change, or lack thereof, in the Army of the Potomac including an explanation of the educational orientation of its leaders. Thirdly he explores the Army of Northern Virginia and the culture and traditions which informed men of the south who entered the military. Next he dives into the emergence of trench warfare and the strategic and tactical evolution that resulted from it. And importantly, he finishes with the evolution of total war and the strategy of exhaustion.
This work should be of particular interest to military historians and even more so to those interested in the American Civil War and its impact on military logistics, the use of technology, weaponology, military tactical and strategic thought, and the concepts of modern warfare and its history.
There is an extensive notes section valuable to the serious student of military history. This is augmented by a “Works Cited” section including listings of primary sources. The introduction to the book provides an exceptional summary of many of the key factors that impacted the war.
Edward Hagerman brings to this study the credentials of academician. He was Associate Professor of History at York University in Toronto, Canada at the time of the book’s publication. He is also the recipient of the Moncado Prize of the Society of Military History.
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.
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.
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.
Bonaparte, Napoleon. Napoleon on the Art of War. trans. and ed by Jay Luvaas. New York: Touchstone, 1999.
Jay Luvaas has pulled together in a single work what Napoleon never set to paper – a cohesive, single treatise on his philosophy of war. Luvaas, a respected military historian, accomplished this by reviewing, organizing, translating and editing Napoleon’s writings over the course of his life including much of his correspondence. He has organized the book into a series of essays so that it is structured not unlike the work of other military theorists. It begins with Napoleon’s views on creating a fighting force and preparations for war. This is followed by his thoughts on military education – an area about which Napoleon was passionate – particularly as related to the study of “great captains” of history: Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus Adolphus, Turenne and Frederick the Great.. A section on “combat in arms” reveals Napoleon’s brilliance in changing up formations utilizing the men, animals and weaponry at hand. “Generalship and the art of command,” army organization, strategy, fortification, the army in the field, and the operational art are also examined through Napoleon’s writings with additional historical references as well as reference to correspondence written about major Napoleonic campaigns. This book is instructive to the study of military philosophers and military thought in that it provides insight into one of the most influential militarists in history. Military thought leaders such as Clausewitz and Jomini were contemporaries of Napoleon and highly influenced themselves by strategizing to fight with or against him. The book fills a rather noticeable gap and would be an excellent addition to any examination of military philosophers and strategists.
This 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 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.
Mary Powell, Queen of the HudsonPhoto Credit: Hudson River Maritime Museum
[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.
This 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, and Part V: Lines of Operation here.
Jomini cautions that there are a number of other circumstances that can affect the “nature and conduct of war” including that…
- “a state may simply make war against another state
- a state may make war against several states in alliance with each other
- a state in alliance with another may make war upon a single enemy
- a state may be either the principal party or an auxiliary
- in the latter case a state may join in the struggle at its beginning or after it has commenced.
- the theater of war may be upon the soil of the enemy, upon that of an ally, or upon its own.
- if the war be one of invasions, it may be upon adjacent or distant territory: it may be prudent and cautious, or it may be bold and adventurous
- it may be a national war, either against ourselves or against the enemy
- the war may be a civil or a religious war.”[i]
He insists that war should always “be conducted according to the great principles of the art; but [that] great discretion must be exercised in the nature of the operations to be undertaken, which should depend upon the circumstances of the case.”[ii] “A regiment should always fight in nearly the same way; but commanding generals must be guided by circumstances and events.”[iii]
So the “principles of strategy are always the same,” but differences occur with the “political part of war, which is modified by the tone of communities, by localities, and by the characters of men at the head of states and armies.”[iv]
Jomini outlines these specific circumstances in a description of each type of war and the principles and rules to follow (or not follow) in every one. For example, in “Offensive Wars to Reclaim Rights,” he indicates that no rules can be laid down but to watch and to profit by every circumstance.[v] This leads to his conclusion that “war knows no rules.”[vi]
“Military science rests upon principle which can never be safely violated in the presence of an active and skillful enemy, while the moral and political part of war presents these variations. Plans of operations are made as circumstances may demand: to execute these plans, the great principles of war must be observed.”[vii]
[i] Jomini, Antoine Henri de. The Art of War, trans. by G. H. Mendell and W. P. Craighill., Special Edition, (El Paso: EL Paso Norte Press. 2005), 10-11.
[iv] Ibid., 13.
[v] Ibid., 12.
This 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, and Part IV: The Basics here.
“Principles were guides to action, not infallible mathematical calculations. The specific application of principles would vary with the thousand changing physical and psychological factors that made war ‘a great drama.’ Genius would defeat the military pendant, just as talent and experience would outdo the bumbling novice. But the principles themselves, whose truth is demonstrated by all military experience, could not be ignored without peril and, when followed, had ‘almost invariably’ (Presque en tout temps) brought victory.”[i]
Jomini’s arguments for “immutable ‘principle’ of war” rested on the concept of “lines of operation” by which he meant…
- “where an armed force fights,
- for what objective, and
- in what force relative to the total available military power of the state.”[ii]
He identified two types of lines of operation, those that are:
- deserts, and
- sheer distance through, over, and around which military operations must be conducted.”[iii]
- Also included in this category are man-made, permanent structures that constrict the conduct of warfare including: fortifications, military bases, political boundaries and road networks.[iv]
- Concerned exclusively with strategic choice about:
- where to fight,
- to what purpose,
- in what force, etc.[v]
[i - v] John Shy, “Jomini,” in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, ed. Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), 154, 166.
Photo: Union entrenchments near Kenesaw Mountain, Ga., 1864. 111-B-531. The National Archives.
Map: First Manasas
This post continues from Jomini on the Nature of War: Part I Introduction here, Part II The Burgeoning Military Theorist here, and Part III The Founder of Modern Strategy here. Please note links in blue lead to additional information on those topics.
Jomini was a list maker and a categorizer which influenced the form of his thoughts on the nature of war. His work, The Art of War, begins with a definition of the art of war in terms of five military branches: Strategy, Grand Tactics, Logistics, Engineering and Minor Tactics.
Strategy – “the art of properly directing masses upon the theater of war either for defense or for invasion; the art of making war upon the map.”
Grand Tactics – “the art of posting troops upon the battle-field according to the accidents of the ground, of bringing them into actions, and the art of fighting upon the ground, in contradistinction to planning upon a map.” It is “the maneuvering of an army upon the battle-field, and the different formations of troops for attack.”
Logistics - “the art of moving armies and the execution of strategical and tactical enterprises” and “comprises the means and arrangements which work out the plans of strategy and tactics.”
Engineering - “the attack and defense of fortifications.
Jomini adds a sixth branch which he calls, “Diplomacy in its relation to War.” This he envisions as the role of the statesman in war and particularly in those activities which lead up to it. He provides the criteria from which a statesman can conclude whether a war is “proper, opportune, or indispensable.” He lists succinctly and thoroughly his perspective on the reasons why a government would choose to enter into war:
- “To reclaim certain rights or to defend them;
- to protect and maintain the great interests of the state, as commerce, manufactures, or agriculture;
- to uphold neighboring states whose existence is necessary either for the safety of the government or the balance of power;
- to fulfill the obligations of offensive and defensive alliances;
- to propagate political or religious theories, to crush them out, or to defend them;
- to increase the influence and power of the state by acquisitions of territory;
- to defend the threatened independence of the state;
- to avenge insulted honor; or
- from a mania for conquest.”
Each reason becomes a “type” of war on which Jomini elaborates with examples from history. The type of war, he suggests, “influences in some degree the nature and extent of the efforts and operations necessary for the proposed end.”
Should you have interest in reading de Jomini’s The Art of War, it is available both on Google Books here and at Project Gutenberg here.
Jomini, Antoine Henri de. The Art of War, trans. by G. H. Mendell and W. P. Craighill., Special Edition, (El Paso: EL Paso Norte Press. 2005), 9.
A map for the w:en:Battle of the Gebora, in 19 February 1811. Source can be found here. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document (refers to map) under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation license, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled “GNU Free Documentation license“.
This post continues from Jomini on the Nature of War: Part I Introduction here and Part II The Burgeoning Military Theorist here. Please note links in blue lead to additional information on those topics.
Baron Antoine-Henri de Jomini, who was a product of the Napoleonic era, attempted to make warfare “scientific.”[i] According to Shy, this led him to reduce the study of war “…to a preoccupation with ‘strategy’ – a set of prescriptive techniques for military analysis and planning that has continued to dominate thinking on the subject.”[ii]
“…His general approach to the problem of war, abstracting it from its political and social context, emphasizing decision-making rules and operations results, turning warfare into a huge game of chess, has been surprisingly durable. Jomini more than Clausewitz, deserves the dubious title of founder of modern strategy.”[iii]
- “strategy is the key to warfare
- all strategy is controlled by invariable scientific principles
- these principles prescribe offensive action to mass forces against weaker enemy forces at some decisive point in strategy is to lead to victory.”[iv]
What is a decisive point?
One whose attack or capture would imperil or seriously weaken the enemy.[v]
More in next post….
[i, ii, iii, iv, v] John Shy, “Jomini,” in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, ed. Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), 144 – 146.
Baron Antoine-Henri de Jomini
I’d like to begin a series of posts on Baron Antoine-Henri de Jomini. I had the opportunity to study Jomini along with other military strategists in a previous course, Great Military Philosophers which you can read more about on the courses page here, and wanted to come back to that material to dive in a bit deeper in. Why Jomini you might ask and what has he to do with the American Civil War? John Shy, in an excellent essay on Jomini that appears in one of my favorite books, Makers of Modern Strategy from Machieavelli to the Nuclear Age, wrote that ”three names that stand out in the formative period of modern military thought: Napoleon, Clausewitz, and Jomini.”[i]
Everyone has heard of Napoleon. Many familiar with history have heard of the Prussian Carl von Clausevitz. But Jomini remains largely unknown outside of the military. And yet, Shy contends, Jomini’s “influence on both military theory and popular conceptions of warfare has been enormous.” [ii] His theories were known by militarists in many countries and certainly in the United States both before, during and after the American Civil War. More to come…
[i], [ii] John Shy, “Jomini,” in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, ed. Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), 144.
Photos are in the public domain. Source: Wiki commons.