Friday, October 24, 2008

Dennis Hart Mahan

Dennis Hart Mahan was an engineering professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who taught fortifications and military tactics. In his classes during the fourth year at West Point he taught the science of war.

His classroom was filled with models of fortifications, bridges, canals, steam engines, water wheels and locks.

Mahan was aloof and demanding and hated sloppy thinking, posture and attitude towards duty. Mahan clearly defined who was in charge. He enforced all of the rigid requirements of military subordination. He insisted that all points of etiquette and every demand of the regulations were strictly followed. Mahan demanded that his students learn every manner and habit that defines an officer.

He was a merciless cross-examiner with the ability of finding and exposing unprepared cadets. Although he had never witnessed a battle, he was considered America’s most brilliant military mind. In fact, he wrote nearly all of the textbooks used in his engineering and science of war classes.

He believed that there was nothing new to be discovered beyond Napoleon’s strategy and tactics. His students were well-grounded in this approach. Unfortunately, adherence to Napoleonic tactics did not always mesh with developments in rifling technology.

Mahan wanted his officers to think for themselves on the battlefield. The two most important aspects of his military philosophy were speed of movement and the use of reason.

Although Professor Mahan never led troops in battle, his impact on the conduct of the Civil War is demonstrated in the officers he produced for both sides.

Source: The Class of 1846, John C. Waugh, Warner Books, pp. 64-66.

Please see Dennis Hart Mahan - Wikipedia, Civil War Defenses of Washington - NPS

Check out books written by Professor Mahan.

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