The History of American Military - Richard W. Stewart - ebook

The History of American Military ebook

Richard W. Stewart



This eBook has been formatted to the highest digital standards and adjusted for readability on all devices. The story of the United States Army is always growing and changing. Historians constantly seek to reinterpret the past while accumulating new facts as America's Army continues to be challenged on new foreign battlefields. Nor does the Army, as an institution, ever stand still. It necessarily changes its organization, materiel, doctrine, and composition to cope with an ever-changing world of current conflict and potential danger. American Military History provides a comprehensive but brief account of Army's past. The history of an active organization tends to expand rapidly as the organization grows larger and more complex. The first volume covers the Army's history from its birth in 1775 to the eve of World War I. The second volume of this edition takes up that story and extends it into the twenty-first century and the early years of the war on terrorism.

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Richard W. Stewart & U.S. Army Center of Military History

The History of American Military

From the American Revolution to the Global War on Terrorism (Complete Edition)

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2018 OK Publishing No claim to original U.S. Government Works
ISBN 978-80-272-4405-8

Table of Contents

The United States Army and the Forging of a Nation, 1775–1917 (I)
The United States Army in a Global Era, 1917–2008 (II)

The United States Army and the Forging of a Nation, 1775–1917 (I)

Table of Contents
Preface to the 2005 Edition
1 Introduction
What Is Military History?
Theory and Practice of War
The American Military System
2 The Beginnings
The European Heritage
The Military Revolution
Eighteenth Century European Warfare
The Colonial Scene
Colonial Militia
The Colonies in the World Conflict, 1689–1783
The American Rifle
The Colonial Heritage
3 The American Revolution, First Phase
The Outbreak
Formation of the Continental Army
The Invasion of Canada and the Fall of Boston
The New Nation
Evolution of the Continental Army
The British Problem
Of Strategy
The British Offensive in 1776
Trenton and Princeton
4 The Winning of Independence, 1777–1783
The Campaign of 1777
Valley Forge
First Fruits of the French Alliance
The New Conditions of the War
British Successes in the South
Nadir of the American Cause
Greene’s Southern Campaign
Yorktown: The Final Act
Surrender of Cornwallis
The Summing Up: Reasons, Lessons, and Meaning
5 The Formative Years 1783–1812
The Question of a Peacetime Army
Toward a More Perfect Union
The Militia
Military Realities in the Federalist Period
The Indian Expeditions
Battle of Fallen Timbers
The Perils of Neutrality
The Quasi War with France
Defense under Jefferson
The Army and Westward Expansion
American Reaction to the Napoleonic Wars
6 The War of 1812
Origins of the War
The Opposing Forces
The Strategic Pattern
The First Campaigns
The Second Year, 1813
The Last Year of the War, 1814
New Orleans: The Final Battle
7 Toward a Professional Army
Organizing an Army
The War Hatchet Raised in Florida
John C. Calhoun and the War Department
Pioneering in the West
The Second Seminole War, 1835–1842
Westward Expansion and the Texas Issue
The Professional Officer
8 The Mexican War and After
The Period of Watchful Waiting
Battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma
War Is Declared
Monterrey Campaign
Battle of Buena Vista
The Landing at Vera Cruz
Battle of Cerro Gordo
Contreras, Churubusco, Chapultepec
Occupation and Negotiation in Mexico City
The Army on the New Frontier
Increasing the Peacetime Army
Weapons and Tactics on the Eve of the Civil War
9 The Civil War, 1861
Secession, Sumter, and Standing to Arms
The Opponents
First Bull Run (First Manassas)
The Second Uprising in 1861
10 The Civil War, 1862
The War in the East: The Army of the Potomac Moves South
Jackson’s Valley Campaign
Peninsula Campaign
The Seven Days’ Battles
Second Bull Run
Lee Invades Maryland
Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation
Fiasco at Fredericksburg
The War in the West: The Twin Rivers Campaign
Capture of Forts Henry and Donelson
Confederate Counterattack at Shiloh
Perryville to Stones River
The War West of the Mississippi
11 The Civil War, 1863
The East: Hooker Crosses the Rappahannock
Chancellorsville: Lee’s Boldest Risk
Lee’s Second Invasion of the North
The West: Confusion over Clearing the Mississippi
Grant’s Campaign against Vicksburg
Chickamauga Campaign
Grant at Chattanooga
12 The Civil War, 1864–1865
Unity of Command
Lee Cornered at Richmond
Sherman’s Great Wheel to the East
Thomas Protects the Nashville Base
Lee’s Last 100 Days
Dimensions of the War
13 Darkness and Light The Interwar Years 1865–1898
Demobilization, Reorganization, and the French Threat in Mexico
Domestic Disturbances
The National Guard Movement
Isolation and Professional Development
Line and Staff
Technical Development
Civil Accomplishment
14 Winning the West The Army in the Indian Wars 1865–1890
The Setting and the Challenge
Life in the Frontier Army
The Bozeman Trail
The Southern Plains
The Northwest
The Southwest
The Northern Plains
15 Emergence to World Power 1898–1902
A New Manifest Destiny
Trouble in Cuba
Mobilizing for War
Victory at Sea: Naval Operations in the Caribbean and the Pacific
Operations in the Caribbean
Battle of Santiago
The Fall of Manila
The Philippine-American War, 1899–1902
The Boxer Uprising
16 Transition, Change, and the Road to War, 1902–1917
Modernizing the Armed Forces
Reorganization of the Army Establishment of the General Staff
Reorganization of the Army The Regular Army and the Militia
The Creation of Larger Units
Caribbean Problems and Projects
The Army on the Mexican Border
The National Defense Act of 1916
An End to Neutrality
The Army Transformed
Epilogue The American Army 1775–1917


Table of Contents

The story of the United States Army is always growing and changing. Historians constantly seek to reinterpret the past while accumulating new facts as America’s Army continues to be challenged on new foreign battlefields. Nor does the Army, as an institution, ever stand still. It necessarily changes its organization, materiel, doctrine, and composition to cope with an ever-changing world of current conflict and potential danger. Thus, the Center of Military History is committed to preparing new editions of American Military History as we seek to correct past mistakes, reinterpret new facts, and bring the Army’s story up to date. This new edition of that textbook, an important element in soldier and officer education since 1956, seeks to do just that.

This edition of American Military History builds on the previous edition, published in 2005, and expands its coverage to include an analysis of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq up to January 2009. This expanded section is necessarily only an initial survey of the first eight years of the war on terrorism; it is far from the final word on the subject. It may take an additional decade or more to collect sufficient documents, interviews, memoirs, and other sources to know the details of military and political planning, the implementation of those plans on the global battlefield, and the impact on the Army as an institution and on the nation. The events of the past eight years are more like current events than they are history. History—the detailed telling of a story over time based upon all the extant evidence—requires more time to find and analyze the documents and facts and bring to bear on that evidence the insight that comes only from perspective. However, today’s soldiers need their story told. The events in which they participate and in which they are such important elements need to be given some form and order, no matter how tentative. The Army continues to be the nation’s servant, and the soldiers that make up that Army deserve their recognition. They continue to protect our freedom at great personal risk to themselves and incalculable cost to their loved ones. This is their continuing story.


Washington, D.C. 24 September 2009 

Preface to the 2005 Edition

Table of Contents

Despite the popular image of the solitary historian immured in the stacks of a library or archives, history is very much a collective enterprise. This is true not only in philosophical terms (all historians stand on the shoulders of previous generations of scholars) but also in the practical sense that historians rely heavily on the work of many others when they attempt to weave a narrative that covers centuries of history. American Military History is truly such a collaborative work.

Over the years numerous military historians have contributed to the earlier versions of this textbook published in 1956, 1969, and 1989. In this latest telling of the story of the U.S. Army, additional scholars inside and outside the Center of Military History have conducted research, written or revised chapters and inserts, or reviewed the texts of others. Other experts have edited text, proofed bibliographies, prepared maps, and located photographs to bring this book together.

It is important to highlight those historians and other professionals who have helped make this book a reality. Indeed, there were so many contributors that I hasten to beg forgiveness in advance if I have inadvertently left someone off this list. First, I wish to thank those many scholars outside the Center of Military History who voluntarily gave of their time to review chapters of this book and provide their expertise to ensure that the latest scholarship and sources were included. These scholars include: John Shy, Don Higginbotham, Robert Wright, John Mahon, William Skelton, Joseph Dawson, Joseph Glathaar, Gary Gallagher, Carol Reardon, Mark Grimsley, Perry Jamieson, Robert Wooster, Brian Linn, Timothy Nenninger, Edward Coffman, David Johnson, Stanley Falk, Mark Stoler, Gerhard Weinberg, Edward Drea, Steve Reardon, Allan R. Millett, Charles Kirkpatrick, and Eric Bergerud. Their careful reviews and suggested additions to the manuscript enriched the story immeasurably and saved me from numerous errors in interpretation and fact. Within the Center of Military History, of course, we have a number of outstanding historians of our own to draw upon. The Center is, I believe, as rich in talent in military history as anywhere else in the country; and I was able to take advantage of that fact. In particular, I would like to thank the following historians from the Histories Division for their writing and reviewing skills: Andrew J. Birtle, Jeffrey A. Charlston, David W. Hogan, Edgar F. Raines, Stephen A. Carney, William M. Donnelly, William M. Hammond, and Joel D. Meyerson. Within the division, every member participated in writing the short inserts that appear throughout the text. In addition to the names previously listed, I would be remiss if I did not also thank Stephen J. Lofgren, William J. Webb, Dale Andrade, Gary A. Trogdon, James L. Yarrison, William A. Dobak, Mark D. Sherry, Bianka J. Adams, W. Blair Haworth, Terrence J. Gough, William A. Stivers, Erik B. Villard, Charles E. White, Shane Story, and Mark J. Reardon. Whether they have been in the division for one year or twenty, their contributions to this work and to the history of the U.S. Army are deeply appreciated.

I particularly wish to thank the Chief of Military History, Brig. Gen. John Sloan Brown, for his patience and encouragement as he reviewed all of the text to provide his own insightful comments. He also found time, despite his busy schedule, to write the final two chapters of the second volume to bring the story of the U.S. Army nearly up to the present day. Also, I wish to thank Michael Bigelow, the Center’s Executive Officer, for his contribution. In addition, I would like to note the support and guidance that I received from the Chief Historian of the Army, Jeffrey J. Clarke, and the Editor in Chief, John W. Elsberg. Their experience and wisdom is always valued. I wish to thank the outstanding editor of American Military History, Diane M. Donovan, who corrected my ramblings, tightened my prose, and brought consistency to the grammar and style. Her patience and skilled work made this a much finer book. I also wish to thank those who worked on the graphics, photographs, and maps that helped make this book so interesting and attractive. This book would not have been possible without the diligence and hard work of the Army Museum System Staff, as well as Beth MacKenzie, Keith Tidman, Sherry Dowdy, Teresa Jameson, Julia Simon, and Dennis McGrath. Their eye for detail and persistence in tracking down just the right piece of artwork or artifact or providing the highest quality map was of tremendous value.

Although countless historians have added to this text over the years, I know that any attempt to write a survey text on the history of the U.S. Army will undoubtedly make many errors of commission and omission. I take full responsibility for them and will endeavor, when informed, to correct them as best I can in future editions. In conclusion, I wish to dedicate this book to the finest soldiers in the world, to the men and women who have fought and died in service to the United States over two centuries and those who continue to serve to protect our freedom. They have built America into what it is today, and they continue to defend the principles upon which our great country was founded. This is their story.

Washington, D.C. 14 June 2004

Richard W. Stewart Chief, Histories Division

1 Introduction

Table of Contents

The history of the United States Army lies firmly in the mainstream of modern Western military development. Heir to European traditions, the American Army has both borrowed from and contributed to that main current. Molded by the New World environment, a product of democratic and industrial revolutions, it has at the same time evolved, along with the nation it serves, uniquely. To the present generation of Americans faced by continuing challenges to their national security, the role that force and military institutions have played in American history becomes of increasing interest and importance. This volume is an introduction to the story of the U.S. Army and the American military history of which the Army’s story is an integral part.

What Is Military History?

Table of Contents

Military history today has a much wider scope than previous generations of scholars granted it. More than simply the story of armed conflict, of campaigns and battles, it is the story of how societies form their institutions for their collective security and how those institutions operate in peace and war. It is the story of soldiers and the subculture of which they are a part. It includes the entire range of economic, social, legal, political, technological, and cultural issues that arise from the state’s need to organize violence to preserve its existence and accomplish its national goals. Military history cannot be viewed as a separate, quaint, subset of the wider history of a society. It is an integral part of a society; and the essence of a military, the armed citizen, is a reflection of that society.

War is only one aspect of military history, though it remains the critical test for any military establishment and thus an essential aspect. The changes in warfare over time are thus a legitimate focus for the student of military history. The American Army has been both a recipient of and a contributor to the fruits of the changes in warfare pioneered by the Western world. The United States was born in the eighteenth century, during the great age of European dynastic wars involving, generally, armies of professional, uniformed soldiers whose maneuvers and battles left the civilian masses of a nation-state largely unaffected. Until the latter part of that century, wars were relatively simple and restricted in area, forces, and objectives. This changed with the advent of the “nation in arms” during the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars. Warfare became conflicts of mass armies of conscripts, motivated by revolutionary ideology. With the spread of the industrial revolution in the following century, warfare grew even more complex and exerted an ever-increasing influence on more elements of society. This new era in warfare coincided with the evolution of the United States as an independent nation. In the first half of the twentieth century the effects of large-scale wars became so pervasive that they were felt not only by the combatant nations but throughout the entire world, now seemingly grown more compact due to the advent of faster transportation and communications means. The outcome in those wars was no longer measured in terms of the preservation of national honor or the conquest of territory, familiar in eighteenth century warfare, but in terms of national survival. Thus, as warfare in the past two centuries broadened to involve more and more people and more and more of the energies and resources of society to fight it—or during the Cold War, to deter it—the definition was extended to encompass more activities.

Broadly defined, military history lies on the frontier between general history and military art and science. It deals with the confluence and interaction of military affairs with diplomatic, political, social, economic, and intellectual trends in society. To understand it therefore requires some knowledge of both general history and military art. In its American context it represents many interrelated facets. Certainly it involves wars—all kinds of wars. It may surprise Americans, who traditionally have regarded themselves as a peaceable and unmilitary people, to learn that the range of warfare in their national experience has been quite wide, and the incidence quite frequent.

Born in a revolution, a violent struggle often considered a prelude to modern ideological struggles, the United States has since endured a bitter Civil War, participated in numerous international wars, and has recently been thrust into a global war on terrorism. In American national experience, war itself has undergone considerable change and oscillation from one mode to another. The American Revolution was a limited war of the eighteenth century variety, although one fought on the backdrop of a “people’s war” between Tories and Patriots over the loyalty of each small village and town. The War of 1812, the Korean conflict of 1950–1953, and the Gulf War in 1991 were later models of limited conflict fought for specific, limited objectives short of the total destruction and occupation of the foes’ homelands. The American Civil War introduced the age of total war to which World Wars I and II added their bloody chapters. The Cold War involved mobilizing and militarizing huge segments of society never before affected by warfare. The current war on terrorism, with its potential for direct attacks on the American homeland and the pervasive (and invasive) security requirements for defending against such attacks, affects all aspects of American society. Over the centuries, war has cut deeper and deeper into the life of the nation.

After World War II, under the shadow of nuclear weapons that threaten all civilization with annihilation, warfare returned to earlier forms. Guerrilla wars, foreshadowed in American experience by the long-continuing Indian Wars and the Philippine Insurrection of 1899– 1902, returned as American forces became engaged in counter-insurgency warfare during the Vietnam War (1964–1973) and in support to various Central American nations, notably El Salvador, in the 1980s. Today, modern conflicts include operations that could be classified as “small wars” such as Operation Just Cause in Panama in 1989 and humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in Haiti, Somalia, and the former Yugoslavia. The line between war and peace, already blurred by nation-building operations and “police actions,” grew even more difficult to discern as the twentieth century drew to a close with the U.S. Army involved in dozens of small-scale operations around the world. The direct attack on America on September 11, 2001, featuring the use of terrorism to kill over 3,000 Americans at the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, further changed the equation in ways still not fully known.

Wars used to be regarded as clearly definable exercises in violence when diplomacy failed and statesmen handed over to soldiers the burden of achieving victory. They were usually marked by formal ceremonies: a declaration at the beginning and a surrender and peace treaty at the end. Since World War II these formalities are no longer the fashion. War and peace have become blurred. Neither in Korea nor in Vietnam was war officially declared. The debate in Congress before the initiation of hostilities in the Gulf War led only to a congressional resolution of support, not a declaration of war.

Endings of military operations also are not clearly marked. No peace treaty followed the surrender of Germany in World War II or the truce in Korea in 1953. The Vietnam War ended with a treaty, but one the North Vietnamese promptly violated. Despite a decisive tactical victory for the United States, the confused political and diplomatic situation after the Gulf War continued to simmer, with United Nations resolutions and arms inspection programs in shambles and economic embargoes rapidly disappearing. The renewal of the war with Iraq in March 2003 resolved many of the problems of a still-dangerous regime at the cost of creating a host of others. While changes in the nature of warfare have affected the conduct of war and the role of the military and society in it, participation in organized violence in all its forms is still a vital component of military history that must be studied. Not only must the causes, conduct, and consequences of a war be analyzed, but as the line between war and peace becomes more indistinct, the periods between the wars require renewed interest from students of military history.

Besides war in the broad sense, there is another major facet that military history must address and that military historians of this generation have found more and more integral to their subject. That is the study of the military as an institution and a manifestation of state power. The way in which a state organizes for violence and the multifaceted effects of that effort are critical to understanding war and its impact on the society of which the military is often but a reflection. To apply force, societies organize armies. Reflecting the national culture and varying in their impact on it, armies are institutions, social entities in themselves. Some armies have close relations with the societies from which they are drawn; others are a class apart. For example, during much of U.S. history the Army was scattered in frontier posts and physically isolated from the rest of society. But in the period since World War II, civil-military relations have been close. As institutions, armies take form and character. Their institutional outlines are manifested in a number of ways, some overt, some subtle: organization and administration, system of training, mode of supply, planning for mobilization and the conduct of war, methods of fighting on the battlefield, weaponry and utilization of technology, system of command and control, selection of manpower and leaders, and relations with the civilian population and authorities. The whole host of policies, doctrines, customs, traditions, values, and practices that have grown up about armies is an important part of the institutional story. The impact of the selective service system (the draft) on many aspects of American life in this century is in itself a significant story. Its ending, for all intents and purposes, in 1973 and the creation of the all-volunteer Army has equal and far-reaching significance. Many elements of that significance are still not yet fully revealed.

The Army Seal

The Army Seal was used originally during the American Revolution to authenticate documents. It displayed the designation “War Office,” which was synonymous with Headquarters of the Army, and the Roman date MDCCLXXVIII (1778) the first time it was used. It remained unchanged until 1974, when the War Office banner was replaced with “Department of the Army” and the date was changed to 1775, the year in which the Army was established. The seal embodies the Army’s ideals of loyalty, vigilance, perseverance, truth, courage, zeal, fortitude, remembrance, determination, constancy, achievement, dignity, and honor.

All the facets of change in the military as an institution thus represent histories in themselves and reflect other changes in the nature of warfare, technology, and a country’s internal development and external responsibilities. A shift in one component will inevitably have an impact on the institutional structure. For example, a fundamental change in weaponry, equipment, or technology, be it the adoption of gunpowder, the rifled musket, the airplane, the tank, the atomic bomb, night-vision devices, or precision-guided munitions, will inevitably affect the traditional modes of fighting and reverberate throughout the institutional framework. The phenomenon of cultural lag evident in other human institutions also applies to military organizations, and some armies have been slower to adopt changes than others, often with fatal results in the test of battle. 

While the U.S. Army as a social entity has evolved to meet its primary mission—to fight—in its American institutional context military history must also treat the Army as a social force in peace. From the beginning the Army has played a role in developing the country: in exploring, guarding the frontier, and constructing roads; in engineering, transportation, communication, sanitation, and medicine; and in flood control. At the same time the Army has served as a vehicle for social mobility of certain disadvantaged groups, for example, European immigrants in the nineteenth century, African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s, and Hispanic Americans today. The mixture of the European legacy, native environment, democratic ideals and values, and national experience in war and peace have combined to mold the Army into a distinct institution in American life, a unique blend of professional and civilian elements. Indeed, as Russell F. Weigley, a student of the Army’s institutional history, has well expressed it, the story of the American Army is really a history of “two armies”: “a Regular Army of professional soldiers and a citizen army of various components variously known as militia, National Guards, Organized Reserves, selectees.”

It has been said that every generation rewrites its history. Its own needs and problems inevitably make it take fresh looks at its own past for light, understanding, guidance, and alternative courses of action. Nowhere is this necessity more evident than in the field of American military history today—broadly conceived. During most of the national existence of the United States the liberal democratic tradition and geographic isolation combined to subordinate in the public mind the role of force and military institutions in its history. Blessed by relatively weak neighbors on the north and south and safe behind its ocean barriers, the United States could define its security in terms of its own boundaries and frontiers. The military factor in its heritage, birth, and development tended to be discounted. But when scientists began to conquer space and time in the twentieth century and the European system that had maintained order in the nineteenth century began to crumble under the impact of two world wars, Americans began to find their security bound up with the fates of other countries. The nation that began the twentieth century with a strong sense of security by mid-century began to feel insecure. George F. Kennan, former director of the Policy Planning Staff of the Department of State, elaborates, “A country which in 1900 had no thought that its prosperity and way of life could in any way be threatened by the outside world had arrived by 1950 at a point where it seemed to be able to think of little else but this danger.” The Cold War and then our involvement in the Global War on Terrorism put an end to America’s lingering beliefs in isolation and safety. Not since the era of the founding fathers has survival in a dangerous world become such an urgent issue and the foundations of national security of such concern. An essential element of maintaining that national security must be the study of war in theory and practice. Both the theory and the practice of war must be analyzed together to gain the fullest perspective.

Theory and Practice of War

Table of Contents

One question that has long interested students of the theory and practice of military affairs is whether war is an art or a science. This is no small question in an age when the lure of technology seeks to reduce so much of human behavior to scientific principles or mechanistic templates. In the eighteenth century, the age of enlightenment, when the systematic study of war began, military theory regarded warfare as mathematical and scientific. A general who knew mathematics and topography, the theorists optimistically maintained, could conduct campaigns with geometrical precision and win wars without bloody battles. In Europe, the violent shock of Napoleonic warfare brought a rude end to the notion of war as a purely scientific or mathematical game. But insofar as the application of physical pressure upon the enemy involves the use of mechanical tools under certain predictable or calculable conditions, it is possible to speak in terms of military science. The systematic application of science to the development of weapons and to technology in general is a comparatively recent development. Since World War II, techniques of research and analysis have been enlisted from scientific fields to make calculations and choices among complex weapon systems and in the management of huge defense programs more exact. Over and above the techniques, the successful conduct of war at all levels of command requires assessing unpredictable variables and taking calculated risks under circumstances for which no precise precedent exists. Since the “fog of war” still holds and wars involve men as well as machines, warfare remains in many ways what it has always been essentially—an art.

Military theorists have long searched for the principles underlying the art of war. They have sought to distill from the great mass of military experience over the centuries simple but fundamental truths to guide commanders through the fog of war. They have evolved lists of principles from an analysis of the campaigns and the writings of the great captains of war, such as Julius Caesar, Frederick the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Helmuth von Moltke. Occasionally the masters have provided their own set of precepts. Foremost among the analysts have been Henri de Jomini, Carl von Clausewitz, Ardant du Picq, Alfred Thayer Mahan, Ferdinand Foch, Giulio Douhet, Basil H. Liddell Hart, J. F. C. Fuller, and Sun Tzu. The axioms range from the Confederate Lt. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest’s oft-misquoted advice, “Git thar fustest with the mostest men,” to Napoleon’s 115 maxims. The lists differ in emphasis as well as in number. Some theorists have stressed that the battle is all and the defeat of the enemy’s armed forces the correct objective, others that the best path to victory is by indirect methods and approaches that avoid confrontations and rely upon maneuver and psychological pressure.

Today, all great nations recognize principles of war and incorporate them in one manner or another into military doctrine. The lists vary from nation to nation. In the modern dress of the Western world, the accepted principles are essentially a post-Napoleonic conception, advanced by Clausewitz, the great Prussian philosopher of war of the early nineteenth century, and his contemporary, Jomini, the wellknown French general and theorist. Since the United States shares a common military heritage and a common body of military thought with Europe, American students of war have also sought to reduce the conduct of war to certain essential premises. The U.S. Army recognizes nine such principles: objective, offensive, maneuver, mass, economy of force, unity of command, security, surprise, and simplicity. The proper application of these principles is still essential to the exercise of effective military operations. First, let us define them.

Objective. Direct every military operation toward a clearly defined, decisive, and attainable objective. The ultimate military objective may be the complete destruction of an enemy’s armed forces and his will to fight. The wider political objective may be the complete defeat and reconstruction of an enemy nation that will involve regime change and political, economic, and social reshaping. Each intermediate objective must have the precise mix of force applied to it to attain decisive results. Every commander must understand the overall military and political objectives of the application of force and how his element will contribute to attain those goals. The principle of objective, with a series of intermediate objectives, helps all elements of an operation focus on what must be done and by whom.

Offensive. Seize, retain, and exploit the initiative. In order to achieve victory, a commander must undertake offensive operations. Offensive operations make the enemy react to your moves and keep him on the defensive and off balance. Offensive permits the commander to retain the initiative. This does not mean that defensive operations have no place on the battlefield. Going onto the defensive can conserve forces, allow for a logistical pause, or force an enemy to attack to his distinct disadvantage. However, a defensive mindset ultimately surrenders the initiative to the enemy. Only offensive operations can, in the end, force your will on the enemy.

Maneuver. Place the enemy in a disadvantageous position through the flexible application of combat power. Maneuver is an essential ingredient of combat power. It contributes materially to exploiting successes and in preserving freedom of action and reducing vulnerability. The object of maneuver is to dispose a force in such a manner as to place the enemy at a relative disadvantage and thus achieve results that would otherwise be more costly in men and materiel. Successful maneuver requires flexibility in organization, administrative support, and especially command and control. It is the antithesis of permanence of location and implies avoidance of stereotyped patterns of operation.

Mass. Concentrate the effects of combat power at the decisive place and time. Mass is much more than mere numbers. Many armies through the years have had a greater number of soldiers on any given battlefield but still have failed to win. Mass is thus the concentration of military assets against a specific target. Mass focuses the right mix of combined arms (infantry, armor, artillery) and airpower to overcome even an otherwise superior enemy force. Proper application of mass can permit numerically inferior forces to achieve decisive combat results.

Economy of Force. Allocate minimum essential combat power to secondary efforts. Skillful and prudent use of combat power will enable the commander to accomplish the mission with minimum expenditure of resources. Combat power on the battlefield is a limited resource. If you use it in one place, it is not available in another. Commanders must choose carefully how to use the exact amount of necessary force in the primary and secondary attacks to ensure sufficient combat power at the right place and time. This will allow other assets to focus on other targets. At times, a commander may use his forces in one area to defend, deceive, or delay the enemy or even to conduct retrograde operations to free up the necessary forces for decisive operations in another area..

The Army Flag and Campaign Streamers

Prior to 1956 the Army was the only armed service without a flag to represent the entire service. Prompted by the need for a flag to represent the Army in joint service ceremonies, in 1955 Secretary of the Army Wilber M. Brucker requested the creation of the Army Flag. The design was a simplified version of the Army Seal placed on a white background that included a scroll designation United States Army with the numerals 1775 displayed below and the Army’s campaign streamers attached to the spearhead of the flagstaff. 

The Army has defined an official campaign as a particular combat action or series of actions that has historical significance or military importance to the Army and the nation. The concept of campaign streamers began during the Civil War, when the War Department instructed regiments to inscribe the names of their meritorious battles on their national colors. In 1890 the War Department directed that regimental honors be engraved on silver rings placed on the staffs of regimental flags. In 1920 the War Department ordered that each regimental color would bear streamers, in the colors of the campaign medal ribbon, for each campaign in which the regiment had fought. The creation of the Army Flag provided a means to display all the Army’s campaigns (175 in 2003).

Battle Streamers Richard Hasenauer, 1976

Unity of Command. For every objective, ensure unity of effort under one responsible commander. The decisive application of full combat power requires unity of command, which obtains unity of effort by the coordinated action of all forces toward a common goal. While coordination may be attained by cooperation, it is best achieved by vesting a single commander with the requisite authority to get the job done. 

Security. Never permit the enemy to acquire an unexpected advantage. Security is essential to the preservation of combat power and is achieved by measures taken to prevent surprise, preserve freedom of action, and deny the enemy information of friendly forces. Since risk is inherent in war, application of the principle of security does not imply undue caution and the avoidance of all risk. Security frequently is enhanced by bold seizure and retention of the initiative, which denies the enemy the opportunity to interfere. The principle of security does require, however, that risks be calculated carefully and that no unnecessary chances are taken.

Surprise. Strike the enemy at a time or place or in a manner for which he is unprepared. Surprise can decisively shift the balance of combat power. Surprise may allow for success out of proportion to the effort expended. It is not essential that the enemy be taken completely unaware, but only that he becomes aware too late to react effectively. Factors contributing to surprise include speed, deception, application of unexpected combat power, effective intelligence and counterintelligence (including communications and electronic intelligence and security), and variations in tactics and methods of operation.

Simplicity. Prepare clear, uncomplicated plans and clear, concise orders to ensure thorough understanding and minimize confusion. Simplicity contributes to successful operations. If other factors are equal, the simplest plan is preferred. In multinational operations, differences in language, culture, and doctrine complicate the situation; simple plans and orders can help minimize the confusion inherent in such environments.

Many examples of the successful employment or violation of these principles can be cited in American military history, and illustrations will be given in appropriate places in subsequent chapters. Each case requires careful study in its own context. For example, we may note briefly that the proper objective has often eluded commanders in war. The British in the American Revolution, for example, were never clear as to their prime objective: whether to capture strategic positions, to destroy the Continental Army, or simply to try by an appropriate show of force to woo the Americans back to their allegiance to the Crown. As a result, their victories over Washington’s army in the field seldom had much meaning. In another case, not until after many years of fighting the elusive Seminoles in the Florida swamps did Col. William J. Worth realize that the destruction of their villages and sources of supply would end the conflict. In the limited wars and expeditions since 1945, however, the United States has sought to achieve objectives short of the total destruction of the enemy or of his productive capacity. What was the objective in Vietnam? It was not the conquest of the North, but the establishment of a viable political entity in South Vietnam. That did not require so much military force as political. The objective is often even more elusive, and can change over time, in peacekeeping or humanitarian relief operations. In Somalia, the original mission in 1992 of providing food to a starving people changed over time into the objective of remaking a country and achieving political stability. A violent reaction by a number of factions resulted in an American retreat from that country. The traditional concept of “victory” and “winning” has taken on a different meaning in the new political context of warfare in the post–Cold War age. Overwhelming force has often been replaced with the necessity for restraint and only carefully applied military force. Fresh support has been given to Clausewitz’s reminder that a successful war is one in which the political objectives for which it is waged are achieved by suitable means and at appropriate cost. Wars are fought to achieve political aims.

No principle has been more ingrained in American military thinking than the belief that only offensive action can achieve decisive results. Offensive action seizes and retains the initiative. One of many examples is Washington’s brilliant attack at Trenton in 1776, when his small, tattered, and nearly starving force turned on their pursuers with a lightning attack against a Hessian outpost to revitalize the Revolution. There are some instances, however, when the defense has in certain cases more advantages than the offensive. Some of the most notable actions in American military history, such as Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson’s stand at New Orleans at the end of the War of 1812, have involved the defense. Yet it is offensive action that achieves the most decisive results and wins wars.

No one would deny the necessity of maneuver to success in military operations. Brilliant examples have occurred throughout American military history. During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the forces of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf ’s army moved hundreds of miles through the Saudi Arabian desert in a “great wheel” to attack the Iraqi flank. Attempts at direct assault, rather than maneuver, have often led to bloody and indecisive actions. In the Civil War, Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside of the Army of the Potomac conducted one of the bloodiest and most useless attacks of the war when he launched his army in a massive frontal assault against Confederate positions on Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg in 1862. Even a successful maneuver can be subject to criticism—witness the controversy over General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower’s decision to advance across Europe along a continuous broad front rather than permit one of his major forces to thrust deep into Germany during World War II. Nevertheless, a well-organized and controlled force can often maneuver successfully to achieve victory over a larger, but more ponderous, enemy force.

The principle of mass, often called concentration, probably offers more examples of successful and unsuccessful application than any other. Eisenhower’s invasion of the Normandy beaches in 1944 is a brilliant example of the massing of all elements of combat power at the decisive time and place. Conversely, those commanders who fail to mass enough forces or combat power often suffer defeat. On the second day at Gettysburg in 1863, General Robert E. Lee attacked the supposedly “undefended” high ground on the Union left at Little Round Top, but late in the day and with insufficient strength. However, earlier in 1863, Lee’s division of his army at Chancellorsville into three separate elements is a classic success. He left one portion to engage the enemy in a holding battle at Fredericksburg while striking with the rest against the advancing Union Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker. After halting Hooker in his tracks, Lee divided his army again and sent Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson around the Union right to launch a surprise attack on the enemy flank. The risk involved in this violation of the principle of mass was carefully calculated and brilliantly executed.

The successful application of economy of force has usually resulted in brilliant gains. MacArthur’s “island hopping” strategy in World War II is an excellent example of economizing force by bypassing Japanese island strongholds and isolating them with air and naval power, while using the freed-up forces to strike elsewhere and keep the enemy off balance. No principle of war is probably more important today, in this era of limited war, than restraint in the use of force and the precise calculation of only the exact amount of force needed.

Unity of command was successfully achieved for the Union under Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, but only in 1864 after three years of confused leadership and divided objectives. In World War II, the interservice conflicts between General Douglas S. MacArthur and Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, each engaged in major offensive operations against Japan along two disparate axes of advance, indicate that this principle can in some respects be violated and military victory gained. But often lack of unity of command leads to misunderstandings, wasted resources, and confused objectives.

Security and surprise are obvious necessities and closely related. In the Civil War at Antietam, there were security violations on both sides. General Lee’s orders for the concentrations of his forces were wrapped in some cigars and found by a Union soldier. Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, the Union commander, failed to reconnoiter the approaches to the battlefield before the action took place. The success of the Chinese Communist intervention in Korea in November 1950 resulted both from a United Nations security failure and from a carefully planned surprise movement into Korea by massive Communist forces. Surprise can achieve startling results; security lapses can also achieve startling results—for the other side.

Of all the principles of war, none is now probably harder to follow above the battalion level than the principle of simplicity. Modern warfare, involving mechanization, electronic equipment, airborne and amphibious operations, joint or even combined operations with foreign forces, is inherently not simple. Even the ostensibly easy movement of a small tank-infantry-artillery team cannot be termed simple. In counterinsurgency operations or nation-building missions the integration of military with political, economic, sociological, and psychological factors often leads to an even higher degree of complexity. But a commander has to do all he can to make elements of the overall plan clear, concise, and direct. Even tactical operations can sometimes become too complex for the commanders to execute. Washington, fresh from a series of brilliant maneuvers at Trenton and Princeton, planned to use a complex attack against a British outpost at Germantown in 1777. His plan involved coordinating the movement and convergence of four columns of inexperienced troops moving over different roads at night. Columns got lost, delayed, and confused. Washington thus lost the advantage of surprise and failed to mass his forces; he was forced to retreat in defeat. The plan proved too complicated for successful execution.

The growing complexity and variety of modern warfare has led students of military affairs to take a fresh look at these principles. Since World War II a debate has been raging in military literature over the precise meaning and application of the principles, a debate fed by the new circumstances of nuclear and counterinsurgency warfare. The discussion revolves around four major questions: Are the present principles too exclusive? Are they too inclusive? Does modern insurgent and nuclear warfare make them obsolete? To what degree does technology change any of the principles? To some extent this is a debate over semantics. The defenders point out that the principles are as valid in modern as in ancient warfare; that each age must make its own applications of the “fundamental truths.” Critics argue that they are not immutable scientific laws of universal applicability; that they require constant reexamination; that no two military situations are ever completely alike; that the principles are merely methods and common-sense procedures adopted by great captains in the past; and that changes in the conditions of war alter their relative importance. Moreover, some claim that new technology, computers and weapon systems, have destroyed whatever validity remained in the principles. The principles, these critics conclude, are no substitute for imaginative thinking, logical analysis, broad professional knowledge, and highly developed qualities of leadership.

Perhaps the key point to remember, whatever the outcome of the ongoing debate among the theorists, is that war remains fundamentally an art. Dennis Hart Mahan, famed West Point professor and teacher of the Civil War generals, put it well: “In war as in every other art based upon settled principles there are exceptions to all general rules. It is in discovering these cases that the talent of the general is shown.” Even the defenders of the principles stress that the art of war lies in their interpretation and application. Within limits, the principles of war nevertheless remain a useful tool for analysis, a general frame of reference, and a checklist for examining past campaigns. Themselves an inheritance from the past, these adages offer no substitute for real historical inquiry or for thinking and action on the part of the officer. They represent generalizations and premises rather than fixed immutable rules. They provide general guides that on the whole have in the past led to military success. As in the past, the victorious captain will have to adapt concepts or improvise others most suitable to the particular circumstances facing him.

All theorists agree that in the final analysis the art of war is what men make it. To quote Mahan again, “No soldier who has made himself conversant with the resources of his art, will allow himself to be trammeled by an exclusive system.” He must be flexible. He must learn to deal with men. Moreover, Napoleon stated that in war, “The moral is to the physical as three to one.” The ability to penetrate the fog of war and make the correct decision is the heart of leadership, and leadership is at the heart of war. Indeed, flexibility and leadership might well be added as tenth and eleventh principles, basic concepts inherent to all the others. It is not surprising, therefore, that the qualities that make for good leadership have long interested the Army and that a whole body of literature has grown up about the theoretical and practical foundations of this phase of the military art.

The military like other professions has developed its own language to allow easy communication. Aside from the principles of war, it is useful for the student of military history to become familiar with other terms commonly encountered in the literature. In the theory of warfare, strategy and tactics have usually been put into separate categories. Strategy deals with both the preparation for and the waging of war and has often been defined as the art of projecting and directing campaigns. To tactics, its close partner, military jargon has reserved the art of executing plans and handling troops in battle. Strategy is usually regarded as the prelude to the battlefield, tactics as the action on the battlefield. As society and warfare have grown more complex, the term strategy has been gradually broadened from its eighteenth century connotation as the “art of the general,” far beyond its original, narrow military meaning. In the nineteenth century, and even more in the twentieth, distinctions began to be blurred between strategy as a purely military phenomenon and national strategy of a broader variety involving a combination of political, economic, technological, and psychological factors, along with the military elements, in the management of national policy. As a result, the term grand strategy (or higher strategy) has come to connote the art of employing all the resources of a nation or coalition of nations to achieve the objects of war (and peace). The broad policy decisions governing the overall conduct of war or its deterrence are the prerogative of the chief of state and his principal advisers. The strategist, whether in the narrower or broader sense, deals in many uncertainties and his art is the calculated risk. At the opposite end of the scale are minor tactics, the term used to describe the maneuver of small units. Falling in between is the concept of operational art that involves the maneuver of large-scale units (divisions and corps) to achieve victory that often has strategic results.

Despite distinctions in theory, strategy, operational art, and tactics cannot always be easily separated in practice. The language of operational maneuver—putting one’s army into the most favorable position to engage the enemy and depriving the enemy of freedom of movement— is also largely the language of tactics. Thus, envelopment is an attack on an enemy’s flank and toward his rear, usually accompanied by an attack on his front. A turning movement is a wide enveloping maneuver, passing around the side of the enemy’s main forces and attacking him from the rear. Double envelopment involves an attack on both flanks of the enemy while his center is held in check. A penetration is an attack on the enemy’s front by driving a wedge into it or piercing it completely. It may be followed by an enveloping attack on one or both flanks. In connection with these four basic forms of attack, two terms are often used: main effort, concentrating on the critical point in the enemy’s position, and secondary effort, pinning down the remainder of the enemy or moving against a secondary objective to obtain an important but less critical result.

Linking strategy, operational art, and tactics and attracting more and more attention is logistics, defined simply as the art of planning and carrying out the movement and maintenance of forces. This field also has been greatly broadened as warfare has expanded and grown more technological and complex. Logistics deals with the deployment of military forces and their equipment to the theater of operations, along with innumerable services, to feed, clothe, supply, transport, and house the troops. The connecting links—the network of railways, waterways, roads, and air routes by which an armed force in the field is reinforced and supplied from its base of operations in the home or friendly area—are the lines of communications. The theater of operations comprises the combat zone as well as the supply and administration area directly connected with military operations.

In modern warfare the major divisions of the military art (strategy, logistics, operational art, and tactics) are closely interdependent. One field merges into the others, and changes in one inevitably lead to changes in the others. Sometimes weapons have appeared on the battlefield before military theory and planning have fully absorbed them, and adjustments throughout the art have been slow to follow. In the Civil War, for example, the widespread use of the rifled musket upset the relation among the combat arms; the range and accuracy of these weapons in the hands of defending infantry shattered the effectiveness of the concentrated attack in which Napoleonic strategy culminated. But, as often has been observed in the history of warfare, armaments and weapons are more readily changed than ideas. Napoleon’s principles continued to be upheld, sometimes with disastrous consequences on the battlefield. An oft-cited case of the appalling repercussions of holding concepts too long or rigidly is the French offensive spirit in World War I that led to massed infantry attacks against entrenched German troops with machine guns.

It is clear that in modern warfare theory and practice have not always been the same. Wars, particularly in the great coalition conflicts of the twentieth century, are not run by rules or theories. Once joined, modern war has had a way of breeding its own strategy, tactics, and weapons. More than ever, for successful commanders, flexibility has become the only sure guide. World War I, beginning as a war of mass offensives, was a classic case of arrested strategy that required new tactics and weapons to dig the war out of the trenches. The Anglo- American strategy against Germany in World War II proved a compromise of the theory of mass and concentration upheld by the U.S. Army and Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s attack on the periphery. Despite attention to principles, Allied strategy in World War II was a hybrid product hammered out largely on the “anvil of necessity.” In war, moreover, military strategy varies with political direction and goals. In this vein, Clausewitz had argued that military strategy must respond to national policy and political aims. Perhaps he best summed up the political context of modern war in his assertion, “War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of policy carried out by other means.” “War,” he concluded, “admittedly has its own grammar, but not its own logic.”

The American Military System

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To organize for national security, each nation adopts the military system most suited to its culture, needs, and policies. Some nations have traditionally tended to concentrate significant segments of their economy on the maintenance of huge military forces and to determine national policies largely in terms of their military implications. While the United States shares with Europe a legacy of military thought and practice whose roots lie deep in the past, its military system has grown out of its own national experience.

The form of government, the traditions of the people, the nature of the country, and its geographical position in relation to other powers have had a profound influence upon American military institutions. In turn, those institutions reflect the American culture and way of life. Indeed, the Army is essentially an institutional form adapted by American society to meet military requirements. The American military system has been developed to place a minimum burden on the people and give the nation a reasonable defense without sacrificing its fundamental values. From the beginning, the United States has sought to reconcile individual liberty with national security without becoming a nation in arms. The balance is often difficult to achieve.

Chief characteristics of American culture that have a bearing on its military system include the value placed upon human beings as individuals; life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and peace; the desire to achieve decisive results quickly; a talent for the design and use of machinery; highly developed productive capacity and managerial skills; and great material wealth. These characteristics underline the American penchant for absolutes: the sharp distinction between war and peace; the insistence on complete victory; an abhorrence of casualties; and the desire for short, decisive, offensive action in warfare. They help account for the traditional American attitude toward war as an aberration in which the bully who disturbed the peace must be soundly and quickly thrashed so American society can return to normalcy. They also point to the importance of public opinion in a democracy in raising and supporting armed forces and to the reason why wars against disturbers of the peace are apt to take on the character of moral crusades. They help explain the traditional rhythm of sharp expansion of the armed forces in wartime and precipitate contraction after the end of hostilities.

In turn, these characteristics and attitudes have shaped the Army in its organizational relationships and in its philosophy of operations. They account also for such distinctive Army features as the development of great mechanical power, the stress on firepower rather than sheer manpower, and the concentration on quick victory by offensive operations.

Throughout its existence the United States has been compelled to provide for military security. The degree to which the provisions were made has varied with the nature and magnitude of the particular threat. Until technology reduced the distance separating the United States from the Old World, the forces in being could be, and were, small. At the same time the deep-seated American reluctance to devote a large proportion of the national wealth to the support of a standing military force played an important part in the development of a system based upon a small professional nucleus that could be expanded in time of need by the induction of citizen-soldiers. This initial system took advantage of the ocean barriers favoring the United States and the balance of power existing in Europe. In accord with Washington’s injunction, it held forth the possibility of acquiring greater strength by temporary alliances during extraordinary emergencies but the avoidance of permanent, “entangling” alliances. Since World War II the rise of new foes and the destruction of the balance of power in Europe and the Far East caused a drastic change in the American military system. During the Cold War, the United States maintained relatively large standing air, land, and sea forces around the world, ready for immediate action and for cooperation with the forces of its many allies. Even with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the end of the Cold War, American standing forces remained comparatively larger and more powerful than at any other time in our history. The challenge of worldwide terrorism will doubtless see new changes in our military system.

The American Army as it exists today has evolved through a historical process that parallels the social, economic, and political development of the United States. Its evolution may in general be divided into three periods: colonial, continental expansion, and global operations. During the colonial period (1607–1775), the militia of the various colonies defended the settlers while they were establishing themselves in America and helped England eliminate the French from North America. This was the period of roots and origins, of the transplanting of military institutions from abroad, particularly from England, and of their modification in the New World. During the era of continental expansion (1775–1898), the militia and volunteers and the Continental Army and its successor, the Regular Army, played a significant role in bringing the United States into being, in winning important extensions of national territory, in saving the nation from internal destruction, and in exploring, policing, and governing the vast regions of the West. This was the period of national independence and consolidation. In the wars of this era, the Army’s activities were concentrated on problems vital to the establishment, maintenance, and expansion of a nation based on new concepts of individual freedom and representative government. Only once in this period, during the Revolutionary War, did the Army fight with the help of allies and then only on a temporary basis.