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6 Seminole Strategy, 1812–1858 A Prospectus for Further Research Samuel Watson Why study Seminole strategy? Readers may question whether there was a Seminole strategy, a question that must be addressed. But, first, why might one look for Seminole strategy? What purpose can such study serve? What insights can be gained? In the study of warfare and national security, strategy is the level of scale at which objectives are chosen and resources are allocated to forces in the field. Modern military doctrine distinguishes between several levels of strategy , in the following descending order: coalition (sometimes called “grand”) strategy, national strategy, military strategy, and sometimes campaign strategy . National strategy, sometimes confusingly referred to as policy, political strategy, or the political level of war, is normally determined by civilian leaders and includes nonmilitary objectives, but it encompasses a nation’s security strategy, which is usually more holistic than its military strategy. In national security strategy, the most important decision is whether or not to go to war. In this schema, “foreign policy” and international negotiations are part of the national security strategy. Nations do have military strategies when formally at peace. These can include , for example, action against civil unrest, peacekeeping, and deterrence, intimidation, and coercion short of war, in support of the nation’s foreign policy. Historically, most military strategies have fallen into one of the following categories: strategies of annihilation, strategies of attrition, and strategies of exhaustion. A strategy of annihilation focuses on the rapid destruction of enemy combat power, or the means of armed resistance “in the field,” through a series of discrete operations—campaigns, maneuver to and from battles, sieges, or other engagements—and tactical engagements (the employment of fires, or firepower, while maneuvering in the face of or close proximity to the enemy).Inotherwords,destroyingtheenemyarmy,whichispresumedtoopen the enemy’s territory to occupation and his political system to restructuring. 156 / Samuel Watson A strategy of attrition focuses on doing so more gradually, usually because rapid annihilation of the enemy’s military power seems unlikely. A strategy of exhaustion focuses on wearing down the enemy’s resources—some form of economic warfare—or will to resist. Of course, one of the principal means of wearing down an enemy’s will is to cause casualties, so a strategy of exhaustion may be put into practice through attrition, with the desired result being enemy concessions rather than the utter destruction of the enemy’s ability to resist. In practice, there is often significant overlap between these “forms of strategy,” but they do delineate fundamental distinctions in focus—or more bluntly put, targeting—and tempo (the expected pace of operations and timing of victory). “Campaign planning” is variously interpreted by modern scholars and analysts. Since selecting a theater of operations is a strategic decision, usually made by civilian leaders or necessitated by their choice of enemy or national strategic objectives, some students view campaign planning as a matter of strategy, hence the term campaign strategy. I, like many others, view the planning, particularly the sequencing, of objectives, dispositions, and maneuver within a campaign, which is usually done by military commanders with forces allocated to them by civilian leaders, as a matter of operations and the operational level of war. The operational level is the level that connects combat , which is the tactical level—battles and engagements, conducted almost entirely by direct (line of sight) fire prior to the twentieth century—with objectives , which are set at the strategic level. Simply put, the operational level means the movement before and after combat: maneuver against an enemy force, to force it to fight, to attack its resources or supply lines, to attack or besiege population centers, etc., and to exploit success or to reposition one’s forces (retreat) in case of setbacks. The decision to fight a battle, or to launch an offensive within the campaign, is an operational one. My focus here is not Seminole battlefield tactics. It is why the Florida Indians fought: the level of national strategy. But, given substantial agreement on this point, it is even more how they hoped to employ military force to achieve their objectives: military strategy. Passing references to “guerrilla warfare” are far too vague to encompass the Seminole resistance or to assess Seminole military strategy—or any strategy, for that matter. Indeed, for most people, “guerrilla warfare” really means little more than the tactics of raid and ambush. By that criteria, the U.S. Army engaged in guerrilla warfare against the Indians of Florida, particularly...


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