|Shifting Strategies: Military
Theory in the American Civil War
by Daniel T. Rean, CWO3 USN Ret. Professor of History Franklin Pierce
In four years of civil war stretching from the deserts of New Mexico to the
valleys of Vermont, more than 620,000 Americans died. Many of those soldiers
were victims of violent combat, shot by rifles or pistols, run through by
bayonets, or blown apart by cannon fire. However, many of those soldiers
were also victims of a combat style that combined nineteenth century technology
and weapons with eighteenth century tactics. The devastating effect of rifled
muskets and cannons exacerbated the difficulties of developing a workable
offensive strategy among generals whose West Point Military Academy (USMA)
education emphasized a reliance on defense. The inability to devise an
offensive strategy that could destroy an enemy was particularly troubling to
the majority of Union generals who, at the earliest stages of the Civil War,
seemed reluctant to fight at all. It would not be until Ulysses S. Grant took
command of the Union Army that northern strategy was modified with the goal of
seeking "the utter destruction of the Confederacy's capacity to wage war."
This essay will analyze the military and political factors related to the Civil
War to demonstrate that the evolution of the conflict, from its early emphasis
on winning individual battles to the final application of a total war policy,
was a reflection of the military theories of Baron Antoine Henri de Jomini and
Carl von Clausewitz. While it would be impractical to analyze every skirmish,
the work will focus on battlefield strategy, both militarily and politically
inspired, employed by Union and Confederate commanders where there was a clear
application of Jominian theory to the fighting. Jomini's theories on war were
familiar to most of the generals and statesmen on both sides and taught those
leaders how to fight their battles. Clausewitz's theories were not as familiar
to either side, but their unwitting application taught the Union leadership
something more important than how to fight battles – it taught them how to win
Both Jomini and Clausewitz developed and refined their theories based on their
experiences with European warfare as it related to the conflicts of the Seven
Years' War, and afterwards as war and society were transformed by Revolutionary
France and the Napoleonic Era. Since the United States military would be
measured by the standards of European military powers to test itself in matters
of security, it was only natural that those European practices be taught at the
USMA as a means of building a more professional corps of officers. As such,
the earliest military theory taught at USMA was based on the Napoleonic model
of warfare. That model relied on the prolific expenditure of manpower to impose
significant losses on the enemy in a battle of annihilation. Napoleon's
favorite method for winning decisive victory was to employ several divisions in
support of one another using some units to hold their position and batter the
enemy while he exploited the capabilities of his cavalry to out maneuver and
envelope the enemy. The battle of annihilation became the identifying feature
for this new model of warfare.
To bring the academy a proper European consideration of strategy, the
curriculum included a summary of Jomini's theoretical precepts. The most
important elements in Jomini's work stressed the ideas that war should be
treated as a science where the key to victory was a strategy controlled by
"invariable scientific principles." However, by ignoring the work of
Clausewitz the Unites States Army was relying on only one source of historical
information upon which to base its formulation of military theory. This choice
was problematic for several reasons. As historian Russell F. Weigley notes:
Jomini's intellectual roots were deep in the eighteenth-century
Enlightenment. He was repelled when he found elements of the chaotic and
demonical in Napoleon's character and methods of war. He abhorred
indiscriminate bloodshed. He did not approve of armies' living off the country
through which they marched and spreading devastation and suffering in their
paths. His mind moved in orderly and logical ways which impelled him to define
the principles of war in such a manner that they would form a neat system.
Though he criticized earlier military writers of the Enlightenment for system
building, he was himself both a system-builder and a traditionalist, whose
interpretations emphasized less what was novel in Napoleonic war than its
continuity with the warfare of the eighteenth century.
There were also positive aspects to using Jomini's interpretation of Napoleon's
methods of warfare as a basis for American military theory. Jomini had served
with Napoleon's armies and later with their Russian opponents and had
first-hand experience of Napoleonic tactics. :
The USMA overcame several other problems in establishing a curriculum based on
strategic thought. Complicating matters of justifying the requirement for
educating professional officers was the fact that because of its geographic
isolation, America had historically been afforded ample time to raise an army
before battle. In turn, the armies were filled with volunteers who came
directly from the workplace or state militias with officers who were chosen by
their social status – not for their leadership skills. As a result, many
officers went into combat without any real training. Popular literature
romanticizing the "citizen soldier" made it even more difficult for ordinary
Americans to see a need for a professional military officer.
To justify its usefulness in an era when the United States had no apparent
enemies, the USMA had largely become a school of civil engineering where its
students could demonstrate their abilities to do work in times of peace. The
study of engineering concepts was not without military value. A portion of the
course was dedicated to the building of proper field fortifications in siege
warfare. This practice was readily applied by Civil War commanders when they
halted their marches, even for short periods. Experience had shown that field
fortifications were the preferred method of defense when protecting troops from
the destructive firepower of modern weaponry.
Mahan's star pupil at West Point, and the foremost American expert on Jomini,
was Henry Wager Halleck. "Old Brains," as Halleck came to be known, had
translated Jomini's Life of Napoleon and was intimately familiar with
Jomini's master work, The Art of War.  The new emphasis on
professional soldiering inspired him to write the first American treatise on
the systematic exploration of the principles of strategy. It was Halleck's work
on strategy and tactics that was taught to the West Point Class of 1846 – a
class whose students included "Stonewall" Jackson, George B. McClellan, Ambrose
Powell "A.P." Hill, and George Pickett. Through the leadership of those
future field commanders and the training of their subordinate officers, the
tactics that were employed for many of the battles in the Civil War were
clearly the products of Jominian theory. However, it is important to remember
that West Point did not graduate Jackson, McClellan, Hill, and Pickett at the
ranks of general. Their understanding of Jominian theory, as interpreted by
Halleck, was also reinforced through their own experiences in the field while
fighting in the Mexican War and later in America's Indian wars.
Halleck's manual contained a dichotomy that would ultimately affect the
tactical thinking of his students. On one hand, his manual advanced the idea of
the strength of offensive operations in warfare using examples of Napoleon's
European campaigns. Yet even as it appeared to advocate bold and ruthless
strategies in combat, it qualified those statements with numerous cautions
against overaggressive behavior. He suggested that much of Napoleon's success
was due to the product of luck. In general, Halleck downplayed the role of
the invader. He continually pointed out the dangers that awaited an invading
army deep in enemy territory, and his work suggested that the speed at which an
army moved was less important than keeping that army together to guard against
a surprise attack from the enemy.
Halleck's text ultimately tried to apply Jominian principles of defensive
strategies to the military situation of the United States. Several of its
chapters were dedicated to the practice of building defensive fortifications
while assembling a force of superior strength capable of being brought to bear
on the decisive points of an enemy's position. His concern for the use of
fortresses reflected his vision of war based on the possession of territory –
not the Napoleonic or Clausewitzian principle of destroying an enemy's
Halleck was a firm believer in the geometry of warfare and his work emphasized
the Jominian idea of "lines of operation." Natural lines of operation used
the advantages of terrain, such as mountains and rivers, to provide protection
against the enemy. This was a factor that was overlooked to some extent when
Halleck adapted Jominian principles to America without considering the
differences in the terrain. The natural lines of operation in America, and
those that would determine the battlefields of the Civil War, were clearly
defined in the west by the area between the Mississippi River and the
Appalachian Mountains. In the east, the fighting would take place between the
Atlantic Seaboard and those same mountains. There were few broad plains in
America that allowed for Jominian-style combat that favored precision movements
of soldiers organized in columns designed to "dominate three sides of a
rectangular zone of operation." Because of the geometrical approach to
warfare, some Civil War generals actually tried to transpose the theoretical
mathematical lines of operation written on their maps to actual lines of combat
on the battlefield.
Interior lines of operation referred to the simple idea that one side may have
a position between – "inside" – separated enemy forces. With such an interior
position, it was possible to keep one's army concentrated and strike at first
one part of an enemy force, then the other, defeating each in turn, even though
the enemy's total force size might be superior. Jomini's theory constantly
stressed the value of interior lines of operation in combat while pointing out
the disadvantages of an army forced to fight using exterior lines of
operation. In the attempt to introduce rationality and rules into war,
Jomini's work served to downplay the violent nature of the conflict and made it
seem like a game or geometric exercise in which the maneuvering of troops on a
board became more important than the combat. The Jominian influence in
strategy was so strong that General J. D. Hittle, joked, "Many a Civil War
general went into battle with a sword in one hand and Jomini's ‘Summary of the
Art of War' in the other." It was this basic knowledge of strategy – one
that stressed defense and a calculated methodical approach to offensive actions
– that prepared West Point graduates to begin their careers as army
When the Civil War began, politicians and generals on both sides were convinced
that the other side would give up quickly. One foolish senator offered his
services to "mop up all the blood that would be spilled with his
handkerchief." One of the few generals who thought differently was the
Union Army's Commander in Chief, General Winfield Scott. In March of 1861,
Scott advised President Lincoln that it would require two or three years and a
force of at least 300,000 men (expecting 100,000 casualties) to reconquer the
Confederate States and restore the Union. There was no predetermined
strategy on either side and no generally agreed upon coordinated plan by which
either the Federals or the Confederacy could achieve its war objectives. From
the perspective of the South, it needed only to repel any Northern invasions
and maintain its territorial integrity to be victorious. The North had to
invade the South and force them to agree to terms that would end the rebellion
in order to be successful. The Confederacy could afford to lose all the
battles, if only to persuade the Union that the price of victory was too high.
The Jominian principle that applied to such situations was that of a
politically defensive war, one that required only frustrating the aims of the
enemy. As Jomini explained:
A defensive war is not without its advantages, when wisely conducted. It may
be passive or active, taking the offensive at times. The passive defense is
always pernicious; the active may accomplish great successes. The object of a
defensive war being to protect, as long as possible, the countryside threatened
by the enemy, all operations should be designed to retard his progress, to
annoy him in his enterprises by multiplying obstacles and difficulties, without
however, compromising one's own army. He who invades does so by reason of some
superiority; he will then seek to make the issue as promptly as possible: the
defense, on the contrary, desires delay till his adversary is weakened by
sending off detachments, by marches, and by the privations and fatigues
incident to his progress.
The war should have followed a logical strategy that made the Union army the
attackers and the Confederate army the defenders. In actuality, the strategic
plans of the North and South were just the opposite of what logic suggested.
Before the first major battle of the war, Confederate President Jefferson Davis
declared that the Government was waging a war solely for self-defense, but
defensive tactics were not what the Confederates elected to use. Their
Secretary of State, Robert Toombs, announced that the South was taking the
initiative and carrying the war into the enemy's country. He strongly opposed
any delay and vociferously spread the idea that, "We must invade or be
invaded." By taking the offensive, the Confederates hoped to crush or
capture a number of large Union armies, but they were never able to accomplish
that goal. Instead of conserving their resources and remaining in a defensive
position, they attacked the Union forces in eight of the first twelve major
battles of the war. Over the course of the first three years of the war, the
Confederate army almost bled itself to death by taking the offensive.
Jefferson Davis saw the Confederacy's early victories as great morale boosters
for the South and clear indications that Northern strategic goals could be
defeated. If the Confederates could extend the war, without losing a
majority of their soldiers, they could make the conflict costly enough to the
Union where a political settlement might be reached. In his Summary of the
Art of War Jomini devoted chapters to the best means of applying
military strategy to achieve the political objectives of a nation at war.
The champion of the Confederate strategy was General Robert E. Lee. Determining
exactly where Lee learned his exceptional operational skills in battle would be
purely speculative. What is known is that he graduated from West Point before
the Jominian Revolution in tactical thought took place. According to historian
Jay Luvaas, "Lee developed a special interest in Napoleon's campaigns, and the
books he is known to have checked out from the West Point library probably
contributed more to his military education than any other experience."
During the war with Mexico, he served on the headquarters staff of General
Winfield Scott, whom he accompanied for the remainder of the campaign.
According to Lee's biographer, those were probably the twenty most useful
months of his training as a soldier, contributing to his knowledge of strategy
and tactics, and where he sat in council when the most difficult operational
problems were being discussed. Lee's knowledge of Napoleonic warfare served
him well after he assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia in May of
His first action upon assuming command was to establish an army corps system
modeled after Napoleon's. He found capable corps commanders in generals
Stonewall Jackson, James Longstreet and A. P. Hill, and created a cavalry corps
under the direction of Major General J.E.B "Jeb" Stuart. Like Napoleon, Lee
relied on subordinate officers to fight the battles while he remained in charge
of the overall strategic plan. The action that seemed most to represent his
understanding of Napoleonic warfare was in his decision to reassign the
Confederate troops defending distant borders to field units that could
strengthen his forces in fighting his offensive-defensive campaigns. As Lee
explained, "It is only by concentration of our troops that we can hope to win
any decisive advantage. We must decide between the positive loss of inactivity
and the risk of action."
President Lincoln realized that he needed a general who could lead the army to
the decisive victory needed to calm the civil and political unrest gripping the
North. The longer the war went on, the more bitterness and division it would
cause among the civilian population. The man he chose to lead the Army of the
Potomac seemed to be the perfect candidate, the general known as "Little
Napoleon," George McClellan.
Lincoln expected great things from his "Little Napoleon" and extended him free
reign to shape the army in preparation for the decisive victory the president
coveted so badly. As the winter of 1861-1862 melted into spring, McClellan had
amassed an army of over 100,000 soldiers. Lincoln, Washington politicians and
the civilian population demanded that the general take his great army, which he
had trained for nine months, and soundly defeat the Confederates. McClellan
refused to make a move, even after Lincoln implored him to make "even a
diversionary maneuver so as to gain the confidence of the public." The
president needed a show of military strength to demonstrate to the northern
population that the Union Army was capable of defeating the Confederates and
reuniting the nation. McClellan's unwillingness to assume the offensive was the
result of Jominian thinking. He, like many other of Lincoln's field commanders,
blindly accepted the Jominian doctrine of concentration of force in a defensive
posture – not the concentration of forces for offense favored by Lee. McClellan
had not planned to invade the South until he had an even greater army.
McClellan was a genius when it came to organization and logistics, but his
strategy was anything but Napoleonic in conception or application.
The differences in operational style between Lee and McClellan – the Union
Napoleon pitted against the Confederate Napoleon – were never more evident than
in the Peninsula Campaign, a massive amphibious assault designed by McClellan
to conquer Richmond and end the war. When he finally headed south, with a
manpower advantage estimated to be more than 30,000 soldiers, the battle was
his to lose – and he did so in spectacular fashion. Lee's corps commanders
functioned exactly as Napoleon had intended – they located the enemy army,
selected the terrain, made battle on their own terms and coordinated infantry,
cavalry and artillery to route the Union forces. When Lee's aggressive
tactics forced McClellan into action before he was fully prepared, he could not
cope with the Confederate Napoleon. Lee understood McClellan's methods, saying
of him, "He is an able general, but a cautious one." After several days of
fighting, McClellan was forced to withdraw his troops after repeated frontal
assaults proved ineffective in capturing Richmond.
The only field commander who seemed to learn from his mistakes and aggressively
pursued the enemy in the Napoleonic style was Ulysses Grant – a soldier who
accepted the strategy of annihilation espoused by Clausewitz as the
prescription for victory in a war of popular nationalism. Grant's actions
as head of the army are seen as non-Jominian because they ran counter to the
strategies that had been enacted by General Halleck. Halleck's orders to his
field commanders were, "Wherever the enemy concentrates we must concentrate to
oppose him. We must act with caution and keep our troops well in hand, so as to
prevent him from catching us by surprise." However, Grant favored the
Jominian idea of concentration of forces to be used in mass attacks – not as a
defensive tactic. In fact, his strategic plan was a simple one calling for the
concentration of all available forces to be thrown against the Confederate Army
in the field. Grant's plan designed to prevent the Confederate Army from
concentrating its forces in a strong defense was the same type of plan Jomini
proposed to defeat Frederick the Great during the Seven Years' War – one that
combined the strategies of attrition and exhaustion.
Grant is credited with fighting in the Clausewitzian style based on his
appreciation for the annihilation of the enemy as the means to victory. To
defeat Lee, Grant realized that he had to think like Lee. Grant also did not
ignore the Jominian idea of territorial gains in war. He realized that it was
the threats against the political and logistic centers in Richmond and Atlanta
that had forced Lee and his other generals to fight in the past. With a
Napoleonic decisive victory in battle no longer possible to end the war, Grant
embarked on his strategy of annihilation. His plan followed the dictum of
Clausewitz who wrote, "If you want to overcome your enemy, you must match your
effort against his power of resistance." To accomplish his plan, he
appointed two Union Corps Commanders, Generals William Sherman in charge of the
Union Army in the Carolinas, and Phillip Sheridan in charge of the army in the
Shenandoah Valley. He ordered both generals, "To strike against [the enemy] and
break it up, get into the interior of the enemy's country as far as you can,
inflicting all the damage you can upon their war resources." Declaring war
on the civilian private property was not a new idea. It had been practiced in
counter-insurgency warfare in Europe earlier in the century, but Americans were
not used to it. The technique also allowed Sherman and Sheridan's troops to
live off the land.
It was Grant who added the new dimension of destroying the South's economic and
social capacity to wage war in his strategy of annihilation, but it is General
Sherman who was credited for developing the policy of "Total War" during his
"March to the Sea." Sherman's marches were not aimed only against the resources
of the enemy – he developed a deliberate strategy of psychological terror aimed
against the civilian population. Sherman wrote to the Army's Chief of Staff,
"We are not only fighting hostile armies, but hostile people [who] must be made
to feel the hard hand of war."
Shortly after Sherman's forces occupied Atlanta in 1864, he wrote a letter to
President Lincoln and outlined his plan for the "March to the Sea" suggesting
to the president that adopting a policy of total war might be a means of ending
the fighting by applying political pressure and arousing the people's
underlying resentment toward Jefferson Davis and the Confederate government.
General Sherman showed little moral concern for the civilian population in his
plan to employ the tactics of total war when he remarked:
War is cruelty, and you can not qualify it, and those who brought war in our
country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour on. War is
the remedy our enemy's have chosen. They dared us to war, and you remember how
tauntingly they defied us to the contest. We have accepted the issue and it
must be fought out. You might as well reason with a thunderstorm. I say let us
give them all they want; not a word of argument, not a sign of let up, no cave
in till we are whipped or they are.
That policy parallels a similar idea of Clausewitz's in describing the
treatment of civilians during wartime, where he noted that it would be a
"fallacy to disarm or defeat an enemy by moderating the violence. If the enemy
was to be coerced, he had to be put into a situation of hardship that he could
not endure or simply ignore and wait until things got better."
Sherman's tactics in the American Civil War were carefully planned to degrade
the infrastructure and supply system that supported the Southern army, thus
limiting its ability to carry out any sustained offensive campaign. Having
ordered his troops to forage liberally, they targeted railroads, cotton gins,
warehouses and the food and grain stores of every plantation they passed on the
march across Georgia. Sherman later claimed that of the $100 million dollars in
property damage inflicted during his March to the Sea, only $20 million had
real military purpose and the remaining $80 million was "simple waste and
Grant's unyielding pursuit of Lee on the battlefield coupled with Sheridan's
and Sherman's strategies of exhaustion, exemplified the policy of total war
that led to the defeat of the Confederacy – a strategy that appears to be
inspired by Clausewitzian theory. However, Sherman's policy of exhaustion also
reflected Jominian strategy. It was only the element of psychological warfare
where Sherman differed from Jomini's insistence that military means must be in
harmony with political goals, and that a belligerent force should treat the
enemy in a way that "calms their popular passion." It is easy to question
Sherman's motives in implementing his total war strategy. It may have been born
out of a desire for punitive measures, but experience also taught Sherman that
it was the most effective means of winning the war.
To summarize, Historian David Donald suggests that the Jominian strategies
approved by Jefferson Davis – a man who had studied Jomini's work at West Point
– and carried out by General Lee, greatly contributed to the Confederate
defeat. He argues that under Davis's leadership Southerners were stiff and
inflexible and incapable of experimenting in any strategy other than one
inspired by Jomini, whereas on the other hand, Northerners innovated, adapted
and won. Those ideas are hard to accept in the face of historical evidence.
It was Lee who developed a Corps system where none had existed before in the
American military structure, making it difficult to blame the Confederate
defeat on the inflexibility of their Jominian strategy. What is determined to
be historically reliable information is that the Confederate Army initially had
better generals in command. They learned military theory at West Point at a
time when the available text was heavily based on Jominian theory. They
practiced that theory in the war with Mexico, and used it in the
offensive-defensive strategy demanded by President Davis. The South should have
engaged in what Jomini described as a defensive war to accomplish their
political and military goals. Lee's invasion of the north and defeat at
Gettysburg, and the deaths of a significant number of his troops, contributed
to the Confederate defeat because he failed on the battlefield, not because his
Jominian strategy was flawed.
The Union generals were influenced by an early Jominian strategy that
emphasized winning battles, controlling territory and exhausting the
Confederate's capacity to wage war. President Lincoln planned to reunite the
nation through a policy of war guided by the fundamental idea that decisive
victory was more important than anything else. To achieve that victory, Union
generals could afford to make mistakes, they could afford to sustain casualties
and waste, they could afford almost anything except the failure to make
constant use of the power that was available to them. A strict Jominian
reliance on territorial conquest to achieve victory limited that available
Only with the emergence of Grant and Sherman did Union military leadership
break away from traditional Jominian concepts of warfare. Grant clearly favored
experience over theory when it came to fighting. In Grant, like Napoleon, the
full political and military powers of their respective nations were brought
together in one person.
The adaptation of a total war policy to fit the military and political
situations of the Union was based on necessity – not driven by the sudden
discovery of Clausewitz's writings. It is a historical coincidence that the
total war policy practiced by the Union Army was a reflection of the Prussian
theorist's work. The South did not lose the war as a result of an intellectual
duel between Jomini and Clausewitz. The Confederate forces were defeated
because they were worn down by the relentless military offensives of Grant,
Sherman and Sheridan in the Clausewitzian mold of destroying the enemy's
capacity to cause harm without regard to limiting violence. Sherman said it
best, "War is simply power unrestrained by constitution or compact. War is
cruelty, and you cannot refine it." However, it is ironic, that Grant, the
one general who had little knowledge of Jomini, and none of Clausewitz,
should have broken the stalemate of the American Civil War by applying elements
of their theories in accomplishing the task.
Show Footnotes and
. Clint Johnson, Civil War Blunders, (Winston Salem, NC: John F.
Blair, 1997), 10. The Library of Congress documents the "official" number of
casualties as 360,000 for the Union Army and 260,000 for the Confederacy. Soldiers
in the Civil War. United States Library of Congress, [accessed on-line
27 Oct 2006] available from
. Harry, T. Williams, The Military Leadership of the North and South,
The Harmon Memorial Lectures in Military History, No. 2, (Colorado Springs, CO:
United States Air Force Academy, 1960). See also H. Wager Halleck, Elements of
Military Art and Science; or Course of Instruction in Strategy, Fortification,
Tactics of Battles, &c; Embracing The Duties of Staff, Infantry, Cavalry,
Artillery and Engineers, 1971 reprint of 1846 Appleton edition, N.Y.
(Westport: CT, Greenwood Press, 1971), 59.
. Russell F. Weigley. "American Strategy from its Beginnings through the
First World War," Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear
Age, Peter Paret, ed., Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University
Press, 1986, 419 and 431.
. Clausewitz was not translated into English until 1873. See Russell F.
Weigley, The American Way of War. A History of United States Military Strategy
and Policy. (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1973), 82.
There is little reason to question that the foreign military writer best known
in the United States in the decades before the Civil War was Antoine-Henri
Jomini. Jomini himself, however, occasionally mentioned Clausewitz. Although
these references were usually critical, Clausewitz and Archduke Charles of
Austria are virtually the only other theorists mentioned in the text of his
Summary of the Art of War. Christopher Bassford, Clausewitz in English.
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), Chapter 4. [Accessed on-line 29 Oct
2006] available from
. Russell F. Weigley. The American Way of War. A History of United States
Military Strategy and Policy. (Indiana: Indiana University Press,
. Ibid. 79-80.
. John Shy, "Jomini", Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the
Nuclear Age, Peter Paret, ed., (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 1986), 148.
. Weigley, The American Way of War, 82.
. Weigley, "American Strategy," 413.
. Halleck later became Abraham Lincoln's chief of staff during the Civil
War. Halleck's work at USMA followed that of Dennis Hart Mahan who interpreted
Napoleon's tactics based on the writings of Jomini and taught tactics and
strategy at West Point in 1846. See John C. Waugh, The Class of 1846, (New
York: Warner Books, 1994), 63-65.
. Halleck's work at USMA followed that of Dennis Hart Mahan who interpreted
Napoleon's tactics based on the writings of Jomini and taught tactics and
strategy at West Point in 1846. See John C. Waugh, The Class of 1846, (New
York: Warner Books, 1994), 63-65.
. A similar quote by U.S. Grant III expressed his idea that West Point,
"Was no more responsible to turn out fully trained commanders of great armies
than for Harvard Law School to graduate full-fledged Justices of the Supreme
Court." U.S. Grant III, "Military Strategy of the Civil War." Military Affairs,
(Spring, 1958), 13-25.
. James M. McPherson. The Class of 1846. (New York: Warner Books,
. The idea of luck associated to Napoleon's victories may be the first
unwitting application of Clausewitzian theory introduced to the cadets at West
Point. Clausewitz's "Trinity" broke down warfare to three primary elements –
violence, politics and chance – the third principle of the trinity mentioned
luck as a product of chance. Carl Von Clausewitz, On War, Michael Howard and
Peter Paret, eds. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976), 89.
. Weigley, The American Way of War, 83 and 84.
. Baron Henri de Jomini. The Art of War. Trans. G.H. Mendell and
W.P. Craighill. (Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott 1879. Westport, CT: Greenwood
Press, Unknown), Article XIX. See also, Archer Jones. "Jomini and the Strategy
of the American Civil War, A Reinterpretation." Military Affairs, (December,
. Grant, 20.
. Donald, 22-25.
. Donald, 22-25.
. Jones, 127.
. Shy, 169. Also see, Williams, Harry, T. "The Return of Jomini—Some
Thoughts on Recent Civil War Writing." Military Affairs. (December,
. Donald, 43
. Johnson, 23.
. Grant, 13-15.
. Jomini, Article XVI.
. Grady McWhiney and Perry D. Jamieson. Attack and Die. Civil War Military
Tactics and the Southern Heritage. (Tuscaloosa, Alabama: The
University of Alabama Press, 1982), 6.
. McWhiney and Jamieson, 7.
. Jones, 128. See also, Boritt, 52.
. Weigley, The American Way of War, 95-97.
. Ibid. 7. See also, Robert M. Epstein. "The Creation and Evolution of the
Army Corps in the American Civil War." The Journal of Military History.
(January, 1991), 22.
. Jay Luvaas. "Lee and the Operational Art: The Right Place, The Right
Time." Parameters. (Autumn, 1992), 2-12.
. Weigley, The American Way of War, 102. See also, Luvaas, 2-12.
. Thomas J. Rowland. George B. McClellan and Civil War History. In the
Shadow of Grant and Sherman. (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press,
1998), 159-171. See also, Johnson, 179.
. Donald, 51.
. McClellan's "Urbana Plan" to invade Virginia originally called for
assembling a force size of 273,000 soldiers. Donald, 50 and 51.
. Johnson, 109. See also, Donald, 50.
. Luvaas, 8.
. Ibid. 10.
. According to historian Russell F. Weigley, Grant rejected Napoleon's
ideas of a decisive battle as being the key to winning a war, and instead saw
battles for their totality in producing a desired outcome, not as individual
events. Weigley, The American Way of War, 143.
. Jones, 129.
. Grant, 23.
. Clausewitz, 76.
. Weigley, The American Way of War. 144 and 145.
. Black, 154.
. Joseph T. Glatthaar. The March to the Sea and Beyond. Sherman's Troops in
the Savannah and Carolina Campaigns. (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State
University Press, 1995), 135.
. William T. Sherman. Sherman's Civil War Selected Correspondence of
William T. Sherman, 1860-1865. Brooks D. Simpson and Jean V. Berlin,
eds. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 693. Letter
to the Honorable James Guthrie, Louisville, KY. August 14, 1864.
. James Reston. Sherman's March and Vietnam. (New York: Macmillan,
1984), 50-52. See also, Clausewitz, 75-79.
. Reston, 57-64.
. Clausewitz did not use the term "Total War," but came close in his
description of "Absolute War." Jones, 130.
. McWhiney and Jamieson, 151.
. Harsh, 136.
. Harsh, 133.
. Antulio J. Echevarria. "Fourth Generation Warfare and Other Myths." Strategic
Studies Institute. (November, 2005).
. Wiegley, 152.
. Grant had finished in the middle of his graduating class at West Point
and did not stand out in any particular areas of military sciences. Donald, 56
Addington, Larry, H. The Patterns of War Since the Eighteenth Century,
Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1984.
Black, Jeremy. Western Warfare 1775-1882, Bloomington, Indiana:
Indiana University Press, 2001.
Borritt, Gabor, S. Ed. Why the Confederacy Lost, New York: Oxford
University Press, 1992.
Simpson, Brooks, D. and Jean V. Berlin, Eds. Sherman's Civil War Selected
Correspondence of William T. Sherman, 1860-1865, (Chapel Hill, NC:
University of North Carolina Press, 1999.
Clausewitz, Carl Von. On War, Michael Howard and Peter Paret Eds.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976.
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Glatthaar, Joseph, T. The March to the Sea and Beyond. Sherman's Troops in the
Savannah and Carolina Campaigns, Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State
University Press, 1995.
Johnson, Clint. Civil War Blunders, North Carolina: John F. Blair,
McPherson, James, M. The Class of 1846, New York: Warner Books, 1994.
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Tactics and the Southern Heritage, Tuscaloosa, Alabama: The University
of Alabama Press, 1982.
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(Spring, 1958), 13-25.
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Lost. Gabor S. Boritt, ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992,
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Bassford, Christopher. Clausewitz in English, New York: Oxford
University Press, 1994, Chapter 4.
Copyright © 2008 Daniel T. Rean, CWO3 USN Ret.
Written by Daniel Rean. If you have questions or comments on this article,
please contact Daniel Rean at:
About the author:
Daniel Rean is originally from NY where he enlisted in the
Navy in 1972. He spent 14 years as a submarine sailor and diver. From 1980-84, he
was assigned to the Navy's deepest diving manned submersible the Bathyscaph
TRIESTE II (DSV-1) where he served as Chief of the Boat, Engineer, and Assistant
Officer in Charge. He qualified as a Deep Submergence Pilot in 1983. He was
commissioned as a CWO-2 in 1986 and assigned to the USS PROTEUS (AS-19) at Apra
Harbor, Guam. He completed tours as a technical instructor at Submarine Officer
Basic School and as a division officer at the Naval Submarine Support Facility
in New London, CT. He retired in 1993 and completed his college undergraduate
degrees at Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire and his Master's at
Norwich University in Vermont. He is married to the former Kyle Harrington, and
he has 4 children and live in Portsmouth, NH.
Published online: 03/16/2008.