Tuesday, January 17, 2017

News: National Park Service Faces Challenge of Instituting a History Park for Reconstruction

Obama names five new national monuments, including Southern civil rights sites, Juliet Eilperin and Brady Davis, Washington Post, January 12, 2017  EXCERPTS

President Obama declared five new national monuments Thursday, ranging from a Birmingham, Ala., church bombed by segregationists to the coniferous forests of Oregon. He has now used his executive authority more than any other president to protect iconic historic, cultural and ecological sites across the country.

Three new monuments in the South, all of which have bipartisan support, exemplify Obama’s push to expand America’s shared national identity through the narrative it tells with its public lands. Two of them, in Birmingham and Anniston, Ala., were sites of violent acts perpetrated against African American children and an interracial group of civil rights activists. The third, in Beaufort, S.C., commemorates the period between the Civil War and the push for segregation in the 1890s when freed slaves worked to establish schools and communities of their own.

In a statement, Obama noted that the monuments “preserve critical chapters of our country’s history” and reflect his long-standing effort to “ensure that our national parks, monuments and public lands are fully reflective of our nation’s diverse history and culture.”

Northwestern University history professor Kate Masur, who pushed for designation along with University of California at Davis history professor Gregory Downs, said in an email that the site will illuminate “one of the most important and most misunderstood eras of our past.”

“The Reconstruction era was the nation’s first effort to grapple with slavery’s lasting impact, when millions of former slaves began forging lives in freedom, and when the nation remade the Constitution to better protect citizenship and individual rights,” she said.

Top Image:  brick church stands in the Penn Center historic site on South Carolina’s St. Helena Island. The center, the site of one of the nation's first schools for freed slaves, on Thursday was designated as a new national monument. (Bruce Smith/AP)
Bottom Image: Map of Beaufort, SC designated sites. 

Full Text located at Washington Post, January 12 , 2012

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

New and Noteworthy: The Science of War at West Point Before the Civil War

Excerpts with edits from Michigan War Studies Review, December 26, 2016

In A Scientific Way of War, Ian Hope, a Canadian military officer, combat commander (Afghanistan), and teacher discusses the source and the influence of a particular mentality that emerged in the US Army in the nineteenth century.

"I attempt here to demonstrate that the doctrine inculcated at West Point in the antebellum period, called military science, containing an enduring and coherent military theory, was the foundation for broader American military thought … applied in the Civil War. The doctrine came not from any particular strategy or ideas of policy choices but from a prevailing—perhaps obsessive—intellectual movement that sought mathematical and scientific explanation for the phenomenon of war…. [Dennis Hart Mahan and others taught a] "system of tactics" … at West Point, based on a theory of war as a science…. [It] was maintained deliberately as the dominant antebellum military doctrine, which, by the end of the Civil War, became foundational in American thought. This paradigm maintained faith not in natural individual genius but in collective acceptance of an educated, and therefore scientific way of war."(10–11, 16)
Hope's book combines intellectual and institutional history in a perceptive, well documented study of the sociology of evolving military professions. Its structure is forecast in the elements listed in its subtitle. The author outlines a formal theory of war that differs sharply from the familiar Clausewitzian vocabulary:  the manipulation of topography, the "arithmetic" functions of artillery, fortification, and practical engineering; and the organization, supply, and encampment of armies, and logistics.

Hope's masterful survey of the relevant French primary sources and their American interpreters is notable for his contention that the thought of Antoine-Henri Jomini did not shape the USMA curriculum as much a many have claimed. He admits that Gen. Henry Halleck, for a time Abraham Lincoln's General-in-Chief, was a strict Jominian, but downplays his influence on the Academy and Army compared to Dennis Hart Mahan's.

Hope argues that critics of antebellum theory are guilty of anachronism, ignoring the circumstances and policies the Academy and the theory were intended to support. He quotes Matthew Moten to the effect that historians have concluded that "When the profession needed men to concentrate on high-level problems of military policy and strategy, few were equal to the task."
Hope responds that:
What is meant by this is that America missed the opportunity to create a Prussian-style general staff, a larger standing army, elite military colleges, conscripted reserves, and elaborate war plans for la grande guerre that could re-create Cannae against any foe. The West Point academy is here judged against the "high-level problems of military policy and strategy" of Europe, not the United States. (142)
The heart of the book concerns the evolution of key concepts and their diffusion within the Army by West Point graduates, specifically in the context of post-War of 1812 defense policies; Hope highlights President James Madison and Secretary of War James Monroe's "Third System of defense" and succeeding Secretary of War John C. Calhoun's notion of an "expansible army" (51–59).

The author astutely explores the paradox that a small army in a relatively isolated, hence secure, nation, preoccupied with internal expansion, fortress construction, and constabulary operations against indigenes, nonetheless studied and planned intensively for a most unlikely continental war. He shows that this, on the face of it, counterintuitive focus paid off during the Mexican War (1846–46) and, ironically, after the Union descended into a long civil war.

Tracing "military science" to the Enlightenment and particularly French precedents explains much about the history of instruction at the USMA that historians often gloss over. Older Academy graduates like myself will appreciate Hope's meticulous explication of the "Thayer system," much of which survived into the 1960s.

 Cadets had to master the basic principles and operations of all service branches, and graduates were regularly seconded to arms other than their own, notably the engineering corps and several bureaus. Hope's statistical analysis of the careers of West Point graduates shows that, at the outbreak of the Civil War, they already had considerable experience in higher administration and large-scale operations. The expertise of topographical engineers in operational planning is a case in point (136–38).

A Scientific Way of War will appeal to both professionals and lay persons with a serious interest in the US Army, its premier professional Academy, nineteenth-century American defense policy, the nature of a particular national approach to military theory and doctrine, and the professionalization of the American armed forces. Ian Hope makes the case for the importance of the study of the calculable part of war in pre-Civil War officer education and, implicitly, for its continued significance in professional education.

Full Text of Book Review is at Michigan War Studies Review, December 26, 2016