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Don Carlos Buell: Military Philosophy and Command Problems in the West Stephen D. Engle The fundamental component in understanding command problems in the Civil War is understanding the commanders. They alone had the potential to make the difference between success and failure, and military commanders had to know themselves—their own talents and liabilities. Those who failed to evolve with the changing circumstances of the war found themselves with an incomplete idea of the war. The ability, or rather inability, to achieve consistency in combining science and common sense with art ultimately came to define commanders. The ideological framework produced by such a blend was illustrative of commanders who ranged from those who were effective but careless, brash, and bloody to those who emphasized the science of war and were masters of preparation but ineffectual in defeating the enemy. These two military philosophies reflected the works of two prominent eighteenth-century European theorists, Henri Jomini and Marshal Maurice comte de Saxe.1 T. Harry Williams was perhaps the first historian to offer a scholarly explanation ofthe application ofthese philosophical views to the Union command structure during the Civil War. He examined a group of generals who, like Jomini, favored a maneuver rather than fighting to achieve victory. Among the most prominent members of this class was George B. McClellan, who considered the capture of Manassas and Yorktown his greatest military achievements ofthe war because he seized them by '"pure military skill'" and "without 1 Baron Henri Jomini, The Art ofWar, trans. G. H. Mendall and W. P. Craighill (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1862); Maurice comte de Saxe, Reveries orMemoirs upon theArt ofWar (London, 1757; reprint, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1971); Karl von Clausewitz, The Principles of War, trans. L. J. Matthijs Jolies (New York: Random House, 1943); Henry W. Halleck, Elements of MilitaryArtandScience, 3d ed. (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1863); Joseph T. Glatthaar, Partners in Command: The Relationships between Leaders in the Civil War (New York: The Free Press, 1994), 236. Civil War History, Vol. XLI, No. 2 © 1995 by The Kent State University Press 90CIVIL war history loss of life."2 Another was Don Carlos Buell, whom Lew Wallace considered an example of what Jomini called "Logistico, or the Practical Art of Moving Armies." Buell appeared to adhere to scientific warfare and had difficulty adapting to a more modern and complex war, which for Williams reflected the "spirit of Marshal Saxe."3 Conversely Williams also examined the so-called "modern" Union commanders , "who were able to grow and who could employ new ways of war." Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and Philip Sheridan, for example, reflected this new model, for they displayed an improvisational quality that reflected war as an art, entailing risk and unpredictability. Grant's recognition of the political nature of the Civil War, for example, marked him an instrument by which to define the "modern general." Thus "character of will" and "common sense" rose above the "dogmas of traditional warfare."4 In fact, Jomini and Saxe were much more complex than Williams characterized them. Their interpretation of war included a critical degree of flexibility and reason that naturally resided in and varied with the personality ofthe commander . Jominian ideas, as taught at West Point prior to the Civil War, failed to acknowledge inherent qualities of commanders. Much ofJominian theory was common-sense logic and did not teach or inspire leadership or genius. West Pointers studied little strategy but much engineering. This technical approach to war strongly reinforced their minimal exposure to concepts of Jomini and suffocated originality. According to Stephen E. Ambrose, "West Pointers could not become great or even good generals because the curriculum at the Academy was designed to stifle all imagination."5 But West Point was never designed or 1 T. Harry Williams, "The Military Leadership of North and South," in David Donald, ed., Why the North Won the Civil War (i960; reprint. New York: Collier Books, 1969), 42-44. Analysis of Civil War generalship has been the subject of much scholarly work. See for example, David Donald, Lincoln Reconsidered (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1956), esp. chap. 5; J. C. F. Fuller, "The Place of the American Civil War...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 89-115
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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