Sunday, December 7, 2014

Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S. C. Gwynne


As I was enjoying my morning coffee, I read an interview by Sharon Grigsby of the author of Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson.   My reading came to abrupt halt when I read the response to Ms. Grigsby's first question.

Grigsby: Stonewall Jackson's war making strategies have merited generations of study, even though he attended West Point at a time when little warfare was taught.  How did he compensate for that, and what in his strategies and leadership is significant today?
Gwynne: West Point was almost shockingly deficient when it came to teaching actual military tactics. One professor taught the course to fourth-year students. Period. Grant wrote later that he really had no use for what he learned there.
There are several problems with the statements by the author and interviewer. Both have confused tactics with strategy.  The words don't mean the same thing. Strategy is "the science and art of military command as applied to the overall planning and conduct of large-scale combat operations." While tactics is "the study of the most effective ways of securing objectives set by strategy, as in deploying and directing troops, ships, and aircraft against an enemy." The words are not synonymous!

Tactics was taught at West Point from the moment a candidate enrolled at the Military Academy.  Even before they were admitted as a plebe, they were drilled in tactics using Winfield Scott's Tactics or Rules for the Exercises and Maneuvers of the Infantry of the U. S. Army and later W. G. Hardee's Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics. Drill was an integral part of the daily program at the Academy.

The First Class (Fourth Year) course on Tactics was taught by the Commandant of Cadets who was a Regular Army officer. The Commandant supervised the Corps of Cadets during the academic year drills and intensive summer programs. Each class was tutored in the School of the Soldier. More than any other individual, the Commandant exercised an "important influence on the military character and opinions of the junior officers of the Army."

I doubt that Grant said that "he really had no use for what he learned there" words because he held his Commandant of Cadets, Major General Charles F. Smith, is very high regard.What Grant probably noted was the lack of training in strategy. Strategy and divisional operation were considered the province of general officers in the military. The concept was introduced in a brief, perhaps half-day lecture, at the Academy.  If you replace "tactics" with "strategy," the comments make much more sense.

1 comment:

Allen Mesch said...

I wrote to Mr. Gwynne and he has graciously allowed me to reprint his comments here.
Thanks for your good letter. I think our disagreement may be more semantic than substantive. To me “strategy” involves the larger concept of conducting a large-scale military campaign. It suggests taking a longer, larger view. My use of the word “tactical” here and in my book is intended to suggest the art and science of moving troops around an actual field of battle—generally in regimental units—in order to achieve victory.
I do not disagree that drilling went on at West Point from day one, or that William J. Hardee’s famous textbook on “tactical drilling” was followed religiously at the academy. (Though Ulysses S. Grant did find it ultimately useless: "While I was at West Point the tactics used in the army had been Scott's and the musket and flint lock," wrote Grant on p. 166 of his memoirs. "I had never looked at a copy of the tactics from the time of my graduation." Cited on page 343 of my book "Rebel Yell.") But I would put that sort of pure drilling in a different bucket from, say, Jackson’s tactical movement of troops around the battlefields at Antietam or Kernstown. Drilling allowed the brigade and regimental commanders to make troops go where they wanted them to go, but Jackson’s decisions on where, when, and how to move them constituted the “tactics” behind the movement.
I do think West Point offered remarkably little in the way of instruction of military science, whether tactical or strategic. The academy was far more devoted to training engineers than to training warriors. That is not to say that Dennis Hart Mahan’s fourth-year course, devoted to fortifications and the science of war among other subjects, wasn’t a good one. But as John C. Waugh noted in his 1994 book “The Class of 1846,” only a single week in that course was devoted to tactics, which seemed “all too short considering that this was a military academy. In only nine hours of class time they would learn all that West Point intended to teach them about army organization, order of battle, laying out a military camp, reconnaissance, outpost duties, attack and defense, and the principles of strategy.”