Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Reardon: "WITH A SWORD IN ONE HAND AND JOMINI IN THE OTHER: The Problem of Military Thought in the Civil War North"

[ With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini in the Other: The Problem of Military Thought in the Civil War North by Carol Reardon (University of North Carolina Press, 2012). Hardcover, notes, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:138/177. ISBN:978-0-8078-3560-9 $30 ]

Current scholarship has pretty much accepted that antebellum West Point trained officers, and the Civil War generation as a whole, demonstrated no systematic application of the military principles of Swiss theorist Baron Antoine Henri Jomini outlined in his famous work Summary of the Art of War.   Historian Carol Reardon's With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini in the Other: The Problem of Military Thought in the Civil War North confirms this, yet the outbreak of war in 1861 sparked in both civilian and military spheres a hunger for up to date military intellectual thought.  No one is claiming regular army officers were not exposed to Jomini, just that there's little evidence his ideas were ingrained in the military culture and institutions of the time.

Reardon's short study is organized into three discrete chapters, perhaps best thought of as a trio of fascinating mini-monographs than a continuous narrative. The first chapter introduces the reader to the wider body of military literature available to the Civil War North, of which Jomini comprised only a small part. Austrian Archduke Charles, of Napoleonic Wars fame, wrote an influential work that many considered superior to Jomini. According to Reardon, the 1854 English translation of Jomini was so disliked that it was suggested that it be replaced by Prussian General Carl von Decker's Tactics of the Three Arms. Frenchmen M.A. Thiers, Paul Thiebault, and the famous Marshal Marmont also contributed notable works, the latter for its concentration on soldier morale. American military science offerings included works by Henry Halleck and Dennis Hart Mahan, but it is telling that each published without the support (professional or financial) of their institution. One of the chapter's most interesting revelations was the influence of well read civilians on the war's intellectual discourse. Recent immigrant Emil Schalk published a strategy treatise in 1862 titled The Art of War that Reardon posits as "the most widely discussed book on military strategy to appear in print that year" (pg. 32).   A second book in 1863 sparked even more military and civilian critics and adherents. Reardon notes that Schalk's very public expression of his ideas on concentration and the targeting of armies instead of fixed points predated Lincoln's. The latter's legion of cheering biographers continue to ascribe these principles to intuitive genius, but perhaps the explanation that Lincoln simply kept up with the popular literature should be given more credence. The thoughts of other civilian writers, such as John W. de Peyster, are also discussed in the book. Another important point raised by Reardon was just how widespread the informed and serious discussion of military strategy was, highlighted by the emergence of a pair of journals (the Army and Navy Journal and the United States Service Magazine), both offering open discussion of military matters between soldiers and civilians, with the goal of critiquing current and future strategy in an arena free of politics and institutional interference.

The second chapter takes on the long standing debate over whether the war would best be waged by officers of natural 'genius' or formal military education. Reardon uses George McClellan and Henry Halleck as case studies of the arguments of both sides, but there really isn't too much said in this section that would surprise readers of other works examining the subject. The author does subscribe to the traditional critiques of both generals, apparently immune to the charms and persuasions of recent books by Ethan Rafuse and Donald Stoker on the McClellan front. In Halleck's case, it strikes one as a bit unfair to allow the general to be hammered on the 'dispersal of resources' front for 1864's Red River and Olustee campaigns when both were primarily Lincoln administration pet political projects.

The last section is an excellent discourse on the facet of warfare most shortchanged by the technical military theorists of the day (including Jomini) -- the morale and welfare of the individual soldier and how they affected the ability of armies to fulfill commander directives.   Here, Reardon chooses an excellent vehicle for her discussion, the Army of the Potomac during the Overland Campaign of 1864. She thoughtfully traces the campaign's near destruction of the army's horizontal (within a given unit) and vertical (up the order of battle) cohesion. Grant's maintenance of initiative and forward momentum on the part of the Army of the Potomac through continual operations is often praised, but his policy of constant movement, digging, and fighting (often accompanied by night marches) drove entire brigades and divisions into virtual collapse. Luckily for Grant and the rest of the country, enough soldiers maintained a degree of internal motivation sufficient to finish the job.

The book ends with a look at whether the lessons of waging war without an institutionalized intellectual foundation were addressed in the post-Civil War period. Apparently, it would be 1914 before the army applied a set of principles to officer education in the areas of theory and planning. Better late than never. Coming in at less than 140 pages of main text, With a Sword in One Hand and Jomini in the Other packs a lot of information and insight into a small amount of space.  Carol Reardon deserves a great deal of praise for her depth with economy.  All students of the Civil War need to read this scholarly examination of the theoretical underpinnings, challenges, and debates surrounding who should command the Union armies and what principles of strategy should be applied. In line with America's unique culture of individualism, the recognition that no strategy could succeed without attention to soldier morale and welfare is also appreciated. This book is highly recommended to specialist and general military history readers alike.


More CWBA reviews of UNC Press titles:
* The Civil War in the West: Victory and Defeat from the Appalachians to the Mississippi
* Shifting Loyalties: The Union Occupation of Eastern North Carolina
* West Pointers and the Civil War: The Old Army in War and Peace
* Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign (link to author interview)
* A Savage Conflict: The Decisive Role of Guerrillas in the American Civil War (link to author interview)
* In the Trenches at Petersburg: Field Fortifications and Confederate Defeat
* The Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864
* Shenandoah 1862: Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign
* Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession
* Trench Warfare under Grant & Lee: Field Fortifications in the Overland Campaign
* Plain Folk’s Fight: The Civil War & Reconstruction in Piney Woods Georgia
* Retreat from Gettysburg: Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign
* Field Armies and Fortifications in the Civil War: The Eastern Campaigns, 1861-1864

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