Monday, May 9, 2011

Jomini, Clauswitz and the Tactics of the Civil War


In discussing the development of an effective strategy for the prosecution of the war, the leadership from both sides drew from the same core philosophy—that of Jomini, and the teachings of the early nineteenth century.  As Archer Jones wrote in his article about Jomini and the Strategy of the Civil War, most Civil War commanders used Jomini’s strategies whether familiar with them or not.

On the Union side, this was especially prevalent with the early leaders of the war like McClellan, and others who attempted to fight this first modern war by the book.  The origins of strategic thinking began at the professional military institutions and evolved further in the war with Mexico where many of the Civil War leaders fought. This same type of strategy, although effective in Mexico, was no longer effective in the CW.  As Archer Jones explains, these Jominian tactics in fact led to the indecisiveness of CW commanders. John Shy gives several reasons why these Jominian tactics were no longer effective: First, all forces are not the same as Jomini espoused. Second, politics and war are not separate, although leaders like McClellan attempted to prosecute the war with as little Lincoln intervention as possible. Finally according to Shy, the experience of each leader did not conform to the modern war that the CW was becoming, and Jominian tactics did not address these new elements of total war.

In Civil War Command and Strategy, Archer Jones describes the Union strategy as leaning towards concentrations in time. This favored the larger Northern army according to the author. The North would make simultaneous advances against many different parts of the Confederate cordon defense, Because of the smaller Confederate force, the Southerners would be weak at one point and this would be the planned point of Northern breakthrough. This strategy eventually worked for the North as Grant prosecuted the war to a successful close.

As T. Harry Williams explained in his article “The Return of Jomini…” Jomini, and Clauswitz were on different ends of the scale. Union fighters started the war purely Jominian, (while losing battles) but evolved more towards Clauswitz’s concepts of total war to prosecute the war to a successful end. As this shift was made on the Northern side Lincoln shifted towards those commanders that embraced these concepts of total war.

When considering the evolution of the Union command system, one must consider the teachings of T. Harry Williams in “Lincoln and his Generals. Lincoln, began the war trusting the abilities of his early military leaders but quickly shifted to a more hands on approach as he learned of their ineptitude. Lincoln, according to Williams was forced to take a more hands on approach. Lincoln learned early on that the focus of the Union effort had to be on the Confederate army, not cities—like Richmond. Lincoln also understood the importance of public opinion and morale and he worked hard to develop a positive big picture to keep the entire North motivated for the fight.  Lincoln was very hands on according to Williams, until he found his general—in Grant. This hands on process led towards a more modern command system with Lincoln as Commander in Chief, Grant as General in Chief, and Halleck as Chief of Staff.

On the Confederate side, Southern leaders may have been more closely tied to Jominian philosophy then Northern generals since it took them longer to make the shift mentioned by Williams in “The Return of Jomini…” When considering the origins of Confederate strategic thinking, it is important to realize that these roots were exactly the same as the North, since the leaders had been taught in the same schools and fought in the same Mexican War. Although as stated by Williams in his article from “Why the North Won…” there were differences at the top. Davis acted more as General in Chief then Commander in Chief while Lincoln, when he finally found his General, was better able to manage the big picture. As Williams describes in the same article, under Grant the shift was made from Jomini to Clauswitz enabling the North to emerge victorious. Where as with the South, the best overall General—Lee was never given overall command and Jefferson Davis, was unable to prosecute the war to a successful end for the South.

The South according to Archer Jones in “CW Command and Strategy” focused on concentrations in Space in an attempt to establish a cordon defense and best use their interior lines. Davis knew the importance of holding as much territory as possible because any loss of territory would result in a loss of potential soldiers. The turning movement was at the heart of CW doctrine according to Jones—lessons learned again in the Mexican War. The Confederates used these turning movements extremely well. The South also used raids very effectively early according to Jones, but the North implemented this raid strategy as they prosecuted the war to a successful close.

Overall, the North did a better job of adjusting to modern warfare and developing a modern command structure according to the teachings of this course. While both sides seemed to start the war fighting the way they knew based on the teachings and experiences they received, the North caught on early. Under the leadership of Lincoln the North made the transition from Jomini to Clauswitz in their successful attempt to reunite the nation.