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Mahan’s Elementary Treatise

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Dennis MahanWOW! I am absolutely engrossed in Edward Hagerman’s The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare: Ideas, Organization, and Field Command. So much to say about Dennis Mahan (right) who I wrote about briefly here in my series on Jomini on the Nature of War (Part VII – Jomini’s Impact on Civil War Leadership). The National Park Service has a good bio on Mahan here.

I was very pleased to find online Mahan’s Elementary Treatise on Advance-Guard, Out-Post, and Detachment Service of Troops (1847) which Hagerman references in detail. This text was developed by Mahan for West Point and is considered the first tactics and strategy text created for the United States. I’ll add this to my primary sources links on Wig-Wags.

I can tell already that I’ll have many terms to add to the terms  page. More to come of the French connection.

Dennis Mahan Treastise

The American Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare

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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

Petersburg, Virginia. Dead Confederate soldiers in trenches of Fort Mahone

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. 

Dennis Mahan

Dennis H. Mahan

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.

the military milestones

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This page captures key milestones in military history. Primary emphasis will be on American Military history or items impacting it.

Milestones Impacting American Military History

1804 – Captain Meriwether Lewis and Lieutenant William Clark leave St. Louis for their continental expedition, the first direct federal aid in developing the West.

1811 – John H. Hall patents a breechloading rifle. [FTCD, 130]

1812 – The Army abolishes flogging for punishment. It is reinstated in 1833 for desertion. [FTCD, 141]

1814 – Robert Fulton builds the world’s first steam warship, the Fulton, to defend New York harbor. [FTCD, 130]

1816 – United States establishes, first ever, peace-time long-range naval building program.

Congress votes $1 million annhttps://wigwags.wordpress.com/wp-admin/page.php?action=edit&post=386ually for eight years to build nine 74-gun ships of the line, twelve 44-gun frigates, and three coast defense steam batteries – a larger building program that ever before. [FTCD, 124]

1817 – President James Monroe appoints Captain Sylvanus Thayer superintendent of West Point who revives and models it after French professional standards. He recruits Dennis Hart Mahan as Professor of Civil and Military Engineering and the Art of War. [FTCD, 134]

1819 – John H. Hall signs contract to produce his breechloading rifle at Harpers Ferry Armory. [FTCD, 130]

1820 – Joshua Shaw perfects the copper percussion cap.

The percussion cap is simpler and more reliable than the flintlock so that an infantryman can fire faster than ever. [FTCD, 129]

1823 – French artillery officer Henri-Joseph Paixhans solves the technical difficulties in firing shells from naval guns leading to adoption of shell guns by France and the United States in the late 1830s. [FTCD, 131]

1830 – The daily liquor ration is ended for the American army. [FTCD, 141]

1831 – Karl von Clausewitz’s abstract commentary on the Napoleonic Wars, On War is published postumously, arguably the most important study dealing with the theory and principles of war. It will remain unknown to Americans until translated in 1873. [FTCD, 133]


  • The first official American armed intervention in Asia takes place at Quallah Battoo, Sumatra as sailors and marines from the American frigate Potomac, commanded by John Downes, avenge an attack on a merchant vessel killing at least 100 Sumatrans and destroy a town and several forts. The order came from President andrew Jackson. [FTCD, 140]
  • The Black Hawk War errupts in April and ends in August with the slaughter of Indian men, women, and children by whites at the “Battle of Bad Axe.” [FTCD, 142]

1837 – A new Fulton steam warship is completed as ordered by Sectretary of the Navy Mahlon Dickerson. [FTCD, 131]


  • Congress abolishes Board of Navy Commissioners, creates five Bureaus of Navy: Yards and Docks; Construction, Equipment, and Repair; Medicine and Surgery; Provisions and Clothing; and Ordnance and Hydrography. According to Millett and Maslowski, the bureaus cause problems for decades because they are independently managed and failed to cooperate. [FTCD, 125]
  • Two seagoing paddlewheeler steam warships, the Mississippi and Missouri are completed. [FTCD, 131]


  • The Michigan is launched on the Great Lakes, the first public armed vessel built of iron which negates the threat of incendiary shell guns. [FTCD, 131]
  • The first screw-propeller warship, the Princeton is launched.

“Its design made steamships equal to sailing vessels in fighting power, with the additional advantage of machine propulsion, and in the fifteen years preceding the Civil War the Navy increasingly converted to steam.” [FTCD, 131]

1844 – S.F.B. Morse transmits first telegraphy message transforming military communications.

1845 – Then Secretary of the Navy (and of War), Geroge Bancroft, creates the first professional school for Naval officers at Fort Severn, Annapolis. [FTCD, 135]

1846 – May 13, the United States declares war on Mexico, formally initiating The Mexican War.


  • The naval officer training school begun in 1845 by George Bancroft is named the Naval Academy. [FTCD, 135]
  • The self-contained metallic cartridge is developed making possible effective breechloaders and repeating rifles. [FTCD, 130]


Written by Rene Tyree

May 3, 2008 at 8:02 pm

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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.