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Professional Military Education–A Perspective

higbeeLast night C-Span broadcast a program in which Joan Johnson-Freese of the Naval War College discussed her book Educating America’s Military. I don’t agree with everything Johnson-Freese says, but there are a lot of important issues in professional military education (PME) that she touches on that merit serious discussion. A few years ago, a fellow by the name of Daniel J. Hughes–who is perhaps best known for compiling a volume of writings by Helmuth von Moltke (the elder)–raised many more in a highly provocative and controversial essay, entitled “Professors in the Colonels’ World”, that appeared in a book entitled Military Culture and Education. (My CGSC colleague Bradley J. Carter is also a contributor to this book.)

The relationship of those of us who work in PME with the rest of the academic history profession, and how we are perceived by it are, of course, matters about which I have expressed concern recently, though these are not matters that Johnson-Freese addresses. Still, she is someone who has raised a lot of compelling questions (both in her book and here) about the state of PME. Thus, this program well rewards watching even for–indeed, especially for–those who are not in PME and might be interested in the issues it faces.

Johnson Freese

The program can be found here.

The Future of Civil War History–Some Questions

On 14-15 March, I will be in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, participating in a three-day conference on “The Future of Civil War History: Looking Beyond the 150th”. (The program can be found here.) My former comrade in Chancellorsville staff riding Christian Keller and I will be leading a few dozen participants around the Gettysburg Battlefield for about two-and-a-half hours in what is billed as “Rethinking the Staff Ride Model” before I high-tail it down to DC to catch a flight to New Orleans so I can participate in the Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History.

A look through the program for the Gettysburg conference, though, has raised a couple of questions in my mind. The session of the program on the evening of 14 March is billed as “Popular Misconceptions about Civil War Military History”. Other sessions are dedicated to such questions/issues as How Can Civil War Sites Offer a Usable Past during a Time of War? Strategies in Educational Programming, Exploring Violence in the Classroom and in a Museum Setting, and Building a Dialogue among Museum Professionals, Academics, and Civil War Re-enactors. These matters and others addressed at the conference are naturally of interest to those of us who work in the professional military education system, teaching today’s makers of military history–who also happen to be perhaps the Civil War’s most committed audiences of scholars and students. Thus, one would think that our perspectives would as a matter of course be considered of value and interest to anyone else wrestling with these issues.

And yet, of all the participants in the program, only Chris (who teaches at the Army War College in Carlisle) and myself, are members of the professional military education system, which invariably raises the following questions:

1. What place do those of us who work in professional military education, our perspectives, and our real and potential contributions as educators and scholars have in the “future of Civil War history”?

2. Why, if this program is any indication of where the thinking of those who presume to be determining the “future of Civil War history” rests, does the answer to the first question appear to be “rather marginal”?

The floor is open. If you do not have answers to these questions now, perhaps someone at the opening session on Thursday afternoon (which I expect to attend) will.

Society for Military History Annual Meeting

The program for the 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History, which is being held on 14-16 March 2013, in New Orleans, LA, and sponsored by the Center for the Study of War and Society at The University of Southern Mississippi, with the National World War II Museum and Southeastern Louisiana University, has recently been posted.

Not much this year, unfortunately, to interest the Civil War enthusiast. I saw only one session dedicated to the subject, which is definitely odd considering this is the 150th anniversary of not a few events of note in the military history of the Civil War. No doubt this is in large part due to a program on the 150th at Gettysburg College that is running the same weekend. Still, there will once again be a decent contingent of Civil War historians in attendance, including George Rable, Susannah Ural, and Carol Reardon. As for me, I will be chairing a panel on “Alcohol and Drugs in Three Wars: The Great War, Korea , and Vietnam”.

Further information about the meeting, including the program and logistics, can be found here.

Maybe someday my name will be in lights

And maybe not . . . But it was pretty cool to see this the other day at the Naval War College:

Going Joint with General Grant!

Next week, I will be briefly leaving the nice little Army schoolhouse William T. Sherman established here on the banks of the Missouri River and traveling to Newport, Rhode Island, to get immersed in what Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson once referred to as “a dim religious world in which Neptune was God, Mahan his prophet, and the United States Navy the only true Church.” There I will be teaching a two-hour seminar that is part of a course a former West Point colleague, Jon Scott Logel, who is now now on the staff of the Naval War College, is in charge of. The subject of the seminar is “Grant in Command”, which is described thusly:

After Vicksburg and Chattanooga, Grant took command of the entire Union Army. Lincoln depended on Grant to develop and execute a strategy that could defeat the Confederacy in 1864. This lesson examines how Grant fought his strategy in Virginia and leveraged Sherman’s forces to end the rebellion in the spring of 1865. Students will assess the merits of Grant as strategist and as a leader of the U.S. Army in war.

The assigned reading consists of about 160 pages from Grant’s memoirs that cover the last two years of the war. Since this will naturally involve covering Grant’s strategy for 1864, I have asked that the students also read the following January 1864 letter Grant wrote to Halleck.

Hdqrs. Military Division of the Mississippi
Nashville, Tenn., January 19, 1864.

Major General H. W. HALLECK,
General-in-Chief of the Army, Washington, D. C.:

GENERAL: I would respectfully suggest whether an abandonment of all previously attempted lines to Richmond is not advisable, and in lieu of these one be taken farther south. I would suggest Raleigh, N. C., as the objective point and Suffolk as the starting point. Raleigh once secured, I would make New Berne the base of supplies until Wilmington is secured.

A moving force of 60,000 men would probably be required to start on such an expedition. This force would not have to be increased unless Lee should withdraw from his present position. In that case the necessity for so large a force on the Potomac would not exist. A force moving from Suffolk would destroy first all the roads about Weldon, or even as far north as Hicksford. From Weldon to Raleigh they would scarcely meet with serious opposition. Once there, the most interior line of railway still left to the enemy, in fact the only one they would then have, would be so threatened as to force him to use a large portion of his army in guarding it. This would virtually force an evacuation of Virginia and indirectly of East Tennessee. It would throw our armies into new fields, where they could partially live upon the country and would reduce the stores of the enemy. It would cause thousands of the North Carolina troops to desert and return to their homes. It would give us possession of many negroes who are now indirectly aiding the rebellion. It would draw the enemy from campaigns of their own choosing, and for which they are prepared, to new lines of operations never expected to become necessary. It would effectually blockade Wilmington, the port now of more value to the enemy than all the balance of their sea-coast. It would enable operations to commence at once by removing the war to a more southern climate, instead of months of inactivity in winter quarters.

Other advantages might be cited which would be likely to grow out of this plan, but these are enough. From your better opportunities of studying the country and the armies that would be involved in this plan, you will be better able to judge of the practicability of it than I possibly can. I have written this in accordance with what I understand to be an invitation from you to express my views about military operations, and not to insist that any plan of mine should be carried out. Whatever course is agreed upon, I shall always believe is at least intended for the best, and until fully tested will hope to have it prove so.

I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


U.S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. 70 volumes in 128 parts. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), series 1, vol.33: 394-95.

This document—as is the letter from Halleck laying out the Lincoln administration’s objections to the ideas contained in it—must figure prominently in any effort to understand or explain Grant’s thinking as he ascended to the office of general-in-chief and assumed responsibility for formulating Union strategy. Indeed, to revisit an argument I made over five years ago in an essay on Grant scholarship, it is astounding to me that so many works published since 1983 on Grant and his generalship neglect the subject. “Undoubtedly,” I argued, “the main explanation for the neglect of this document is the fact that Grant did not mention it in his memoirs. . . . Still, this is no excuse for ignoring a document that is readily accessible in both the Papers of Ulysses S. Grant and Official Records.”

Why 1983? Aside from the dismissive treatment of it in works by Bruce Catton and T. Harry Williams, it was not really until the appearance of Herman Hattaway and Archer Jones’s How the North Won that Grant’s letter seems to have received the attention and degree of sophisticated analysis it deserved. Since then, Brooks Simpson has followed in Hattaway and Jones’s footsteps to make serious consideration of this document a critical part of his analysis of Grant’s generalship. Yet, it seems that even though nearly thirty years have passed since the publication of How the North Won, Simpson remains rare in this respect among students of Grant’s generalship—though I like to think I have also given the letter appropriate attention in my own work on Grant and his relationship with Meade.

Of course, this is just further evidence of How the North Won’s status as one of the great books in the field people say they recognize, but have not taken the time to read with the care it requires and deserves.

On the banks of the Chickamauga, October 2012

Oh, man . . .

Yesterday I learned that one of the cadets I taught the History of the Military Art to when I was on the faculty at West Point is now a major and been assigned to one of the staff groups I teach here at Fort Leavenworth.

My immediate response was:

1. Poor guy. (At USMA, at least, he only had to put up with me for a semester. Here he is stuck with me the entire academic year.)

2. How and when the heck did I get old enough for this to happen?

“Chicken” Generalship

Needless to say, when one finds something with this headline, it does not inspire optimism that you will find something that is to be taken very seriously.

The Civil War’s Most Chicken General
A new history tells the story of George McClellan, the Union Army leader who almost undid Lincoln.
By John Swansburg
Posted Friday, Aug. 3, 2012, at 11:54 PM ET

Imagine, for a moment, that it is 1862 and you are Gen. George B. McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac, the Union’s premier fighting force. The Confederate Army, led by Robert E. Lee, has just invaded Maryland. As you’re preparing your strategy for checking Lee’s advance, a message arrives at headquarters: A corporal from Indiana has found an envelope lying in a field near enemy lines. Inside are three cigars. Oh, and a copy of Lee’s Special Order No. 191, detailing his invasion plan and revealing that the Confederate general has split his force in two, a daring move that has left his army dangerously exposed to attack. You’re George McClellan—beloved by your soldiers, tasked by your commander-in-chief with destroying Lee’s army. What do you do?

Smoke the cigars, obviously. But after that? If you answered, Attack with all possible speed, by god!, you have a lot to learn from Richard Slotkin’s The Long Road to Antietam: How the Civil War Became a Revolution. As its title suggests, the book sets out to show how the nature of the war changed during Lee’s Maryland campaign, which culminated in the famously bloody Battle of Antietam. Up until that point in the war, powerful men on both sides of the conflict believed that a negotiated peace might be hammered out. But after 3,600 Americans died fighting outside a farming village on the banks of Antietam Creek, Lincoln would issue the Emancipation Proclamation, a radical document that ended any hope of reconciliation. In the wake of Antietam, the Union would fight an all-out war of subjugation, with the goal of crushing the rebellion beneath its Yankee boot and ending the institution of slavery by force.

The full story is here.

There is much, of course, that I could say in response, but with the new academic year scheduled to begin next week, I have neither the time nor energy to do so right now. Nor do I think it would do much good.

So all I will do here is offer an excerpt from the chapter of Erich Ludendorff’s memoirs in which he discusses the August 1914 Battle of Tannenberg that, for some reason, came to my mind after reading the sort of commentary that the comments section at the bottom of Swansberg’s piece indicates the subjects of Civil War generalship in general and George McClellan in particular still attract like flies.

The civilian is too inclined to think that war is only like the working out of an arithmetical problem with given numbers. It is anything but that. On both sides it is a case of wrestling with powerful, unknown physical and psychological forces. . . . Only the head of the Government, or the statesman who decides on war, shoulders the same or a bigger burden or responsibility than that of the commander-in-chief. In his case it is a question of one great decision only, but the commander of an army is faced with decisions daily and hourly. He is continuously responsible for the welfare of many hundred thousands of persons, even of nations. For a soldier there is nothing greater, but at the same time more awesome and responsible, than to find himself at the head of an army or the entire armed forces of his country. . . .

All those who criticize the dispositions of a general ought first to study military history, unless they have themselves taken part in a war in a position of command.

I should like to see such people compelled to conduct a battle themselves. They would be overwhelmed by the greatness of their task, and when they realized the obscurity of the situation, and the exacting nature of the enormous demands made up on them, they would doubtless be more modest.

Erich Ludendorff, Ludendorff’s Own Story, August 1914-November 1918: The Great War from the Siege of Liege to the Signing of the Armistice as viewed from the Grand Headquarters of the German Army, 2 vols. (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1920), vol. 1: 63.

History according to Abe

Going to Kansas City

If you are in the next few months, here are some things to do:


All programs begin at 6:30 p.m.
Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.
Kansas City, Missouri
RSVP: 816.701.3407

Presented by Dr. Ethan S. Rafuse
Thursday, June 7, 2012

A West Point graduate and Mexican War veteran, Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson left his job as an educator to serve the Confederacy and became one of its most successful military leaders. Jackson’s performances as a commander at places such as Manassas, Fredericksburg, and Harpers Ferry were critical to the ability of Confederate arms to achieve victories during the first two years of the Civil War.

Featuring a roundtable of historians
Tuesday, September 18, 2012

September 17, 1862, is the bloodiest day in American military history. Hoping to break the will of the Federals, Confederate commander Robert E. Lee pushed north of the Potomac River. But the Union Army under George B. McClellan fought Lee to a draw, resulting in a “victory” that led to President Abraham Lincoln’s issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Presented by Dr. Terry Beckenbaugh
Thursday, November 8, 2012

The American Civil War was the product of the failure of the nation’s political leadership to resolve fundabmental debates between the North and South over the nature of the American republic and the meaning of constitutional liberty. As the conflict wore on, it became clear that divisions existed not only between the North and South, but also within each section. This presentation looks at the leaders of both North and South, the issues and ideologies that drove debate, and the effect politics had on the course and conduct of the war.

And coming up in 2013:

The Challenges of Command and Generalship: Good, Bad, and Ugly

The Battle of Vicksburg

African American Troops in the Civil War

Quantrill, Lawrence, and the Guerilla War in the West

Gettysburg and the Meaning of the War

For more information:, 816.701.3407

Three years ago, the library sponsored a roundtable on Gettysburg, which can be viewed here.

2012 Mid-America Conference on History

Call for Papers

The Thirty-Fourth Annual Mid-America Conference on History will be held September 20-22, 2012 in Springfield, Missouri. Paper and session proposals on all fields and phases of history, including overview sessions and graduate student papers, will be considered. Proposals should include a paragraph about the content of each paper. The deadline for proposals is May 15, 2012. Contact: Worth Robert Miller, Department of History, Missouri State University, Springfield, MO 65897 or For more information visit the History Department website.

In 1977, the department of history at Missouri State University established the Mid-America Conference on History. Professor James N. Giglio was its originator and its first coordinator. The intent of the conference was to accommodate historians who could not afford the expense of national meetings while providing opportunities for social interaction rarely found at national meetings.

Features of the conference

From the beginning, the Mid-America Conference has drawn attention nationally even though the bulk of the attendees are from the Midwest. The conference has drawn historians in all stages of their careers. Doctoral students, university faculty, and independent scholars have all shared their scholarship with colleagues from other institutions and the public at the conference. Indeed, many close friendships have been made at the Mid-America, which has contributed to the large number of returnees.

The Mid-America Conference is also one of the few regional conferences accepting papers and sessions in all areas. Recent conferences, for example, have included presentations on topics as diverse as the justification of polygamy in Anabaptist Munster, the industrial espionage activities of the Pinkerton Detective Agency in the early 20th century, and a panel on academic publishing designed to help graduate students and junior faculty refine their papers into publishable manuscripts.

Over the years, some of the nation’s leading historians have been featured at the Mid-America Conference on History, including Stephen Ambrose, John Blassingame, James MacGregor Burns, Eugene Genovese, Susan Hartmann, William Leuchtenburg, James McPherson, and Ann Firor Scott.

Sponsoring universities

The first institution to join Missouri State University in hosting the Mid-America Conference on History was the University of Kansas in 1980. Soon afterward, Oklahoma State University and the University of Arkansas also joined the consortium. The University of Memphis, University of Arkansas-Little Rock, and Washburn University/Kansas State Historical Society/Kansas Wesleyian University have also hosted the conference. Today, Missouri State University, Oklahoma State University, University of Arkansas, and University of Oklahoma are permanent hosts, and the conference rotates between these institutions annually.

Get Thee to the George Tyler Moore Center Seminar!

The folks at Shepherd University’s incomparable George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War have finished putting together the program for their annual seminar. It will run 28 June–1 July 2012, and be based out of Petersburg, Virginia. The theme is “McClellan’s War: The Peninsula Campaign of 1862.”

As always, the highlight of the program is the tours the GTM Center puts together. This year A. Wilson Greene, Executive Director of Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the Civil War Soldier will be leading a half-day tour that will cover the campaign on the Peninsula prior to the Seven Days, followed by an all-day tour of the Richmond Battlefields of 1862, including Beaver Dam Creek and Malvern Hill, photos of which appear below. If you have an interest in the Civil War and have yet to have the great pleasure of walking a battlefield with Will, here is your chance!

The tours are complemented by a full schedule of lectures, with the scholar-in-residence this year being . . . yours truly! In addition to helping keep Will on the straight and narrow in regards to the virtues of George B. McClellan, I will also be giving a lecture on “Little Mac’s Grand Campaign: The Struggle on the Peninsula and Its Enduring Significance.” Mark Snell, who in addition to being the director of the GTM Center is also the author of an outstanding biography of William B. Franklin, will then complement my presentation on the broader contexts that shaped and were shaped by the campaign by providing an overview of its course and conduct. Following us on the stage will be Susannah J. Ural of the University of Southern Mississippi. If you are an enthusiast of the Texas Brigade, this is one lecture you are not going to want to miss, as it will draw on the extensive research that has gone into her forthcoming Hood’s Texans: A History of the Texas Brigade and Southern Society in the American Civil War to offer fresh information and insights on that unit’s history. Then (as if this were not enough) Joseph Stahl, a former member of the staff at the Institute for Defense Analyses, will also be offering what is sure to be a fascinating examination of the progress of the Peninsula Campaign through the ID discs that were recovered from various camps and battle sites.

Mark and his staff have been doing this seminar for several years and have refined their skills as hosts and logisticians to a fine point. More information on the GTM Center and the seminar are available here.

The [A] Review is In!

Civil War Historian Kicks Off Pentagon Speaker Series
By John Valceanu
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 12, 2012 – Lessons of U.S. Civil War history were brought to life in the Pentagon yesterday during the first of a series of historical presentations to be delivered to interested audiences in the U.S. military’s headquarters.

Ethan Rafuse, professor of military history at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College on Fort Leavenworth, Kan., delivered a lecture in the Pentagon auditorium in which he focused on the first months of the Civil War. Rafuse is a recognized expert on the Civil War who has authored several books on various aspects of the conflict. The lecture was open to anyone in the Pentagon who wished to attend, and it was webcast live on the Pentagon Channel.

During his talk, Rafuse explored the ideas that drove strategy and tactics on both sides of the war. He showed how the war was part of a larger “sectional conflict,” and he explained that it was interpreted by leaders on both sides as a “people’s contest.” He also discussed the “tripolarity of the struggle,” in which he showed how combatants and supporters on both sides strove to sway unaligned populace to their cause.

The rest of the story can be found here.

Congrats, Dr. Poland!

My path as a student of the sectional conflict began in the summer of 1987, when I took Dr. Charles Poland’s class on the Civil War and Reconstruction at Northern Virginia Community College. Thus, it was with great delight that I received this absolutely fantastic news recently:

Charles Poland Receives Outstanding Faculty Award
Longtime history professor at Northern Virginia Community College

Dr. Charles Poland of Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) has received the 2012 Outstanding Faculty Award, administered by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and sponsored by Dominion.

Poland is one of 12 faculty members from Virginia’s public and private colleges and universities who received the award, the highest honor bestowed upon faculty in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The award recognizes excellence in teaching, research, knowledge integration, and public service.

“On behalf of the NOVA community, we would like to express our congratulations to Dr. Poland for being selected as a recipient of this prestigious award,” said NOVA President Robert G. Templin Jr. “Dr. Poland has touched the lives of thousands of students since he began at the College in 1967. Students have embraced and praised his hands-on approach in directly engaging history and its artifacts. This is evidenced by the mobile Civil War museum now installed at NOVA that includes hundreds of historical documents and objects.”

Poland teaches courses in U.S. and local history, Western civilization, and the Civil War at NOVA’s Annandale Campus. His teaching career spans more than five decades. Since 1977, he has conducted celebrated field-trip courses to major and minor battlefields of the Civil War. He has traveled more than 120,000 miles to battlefields from Alexandria to the Ohio River and from Gettysburg to Appomattox, giving hundreds of lectures to students varying in age from teenagers to senior citizens.

More information on the award and Dr. Poland’s accomplishments as a teacher and scholar, his most recent work being The Glories of War: Small Battles and Early Heroes of 1861, can be found here.

The Whipping Man

Last week, I was asked through my department chair here at the staff college if I would be interested and available to participate in a Scholar’s Forum at the Kansas City Repertory Theater. It was to follow a performance of a three-man play called The Whipping Man on Saturday, 31 March.

Here is a description of the play:

The play opens in April 1865 just as Passover begins the day after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrenders at Appomattox. Caleb, a Jewish Confederate soldier, returns to his war-ravaged family home in Richmond, Virginia, from which his parents have fled. Simon and John, his former slaves, are now living in the house. All three men now face the devastation that the war has brought to their lives as well as the challenges and possibilities of their new relationship to each other. Each man must come to a new understanding of their faith and of what freedom means to an individual and a society.

Playwright Matthew Lopez links the historical enslavement of the Jews with the enslavement of African-Americans in the United States in a compelling drama blended with surprising moments of humor as secrets and truths propel these three fascinating protagonists into a new day.

Fresh from its New York debut where the show was so well received it was extended three times, comes a new work rooted in the largely unknown but true history of Jewish slaveholders in the South. This extraordinary new play is a powerful exploration of lives that come unraveled as the ravages of slavery are revealed at the close of the Civil War. The Whipping Man is one of the most original and thrilling new plays on the history of race, religious identity, and what it means to be free. “Emotionally potent” – The New York Times

I accepted the invitation and brought my daughter Corinne with me. First half of the play was a bit intense for an eight-year old. So she spent most of the first act playing in the lobby and conversing with the member of the theater’s staff, Melinda McCrary, who had invited me to see the play and moderated the forum afterward. Corinne was, though, able to handle the second half and ended up enjoying it a lot more than I (and she) thought she would. She especially enjoyed getting to go up on the stage and look around backstage after the forum, see how they did all of the special effects, and afterward remarked she could not wait to tell her friends about it.

The forum was also excellent. About 50-60 members of what was about a 300-500 person audience remained afterward for the panel, which consisted of myself, Ms. McCrary, and a local rabbi. The discussion hit on a wide range of topics, driven mostly by questions from the audience. (As I have documented earlier, the Q & A is always my favorite part of any speaking engagement.) Among the subjects that we discussed were trench warfare in 1864-65, the African-American experience in Reconstruction, and Jewish traditions in the context of 19th-century American religious history.

The play was absolutely fantastic too. If you get an opportunity to see it, I highly recommend taking advantage of it. I have never been what might be considered an “enthusiast of the lively arts”, but this is the sort of thing that could make me one!