Review of the 2005 West Point Summer Seminar in Military History
Tuesday, December 13, 2005, 08:07 AM - Building the Field

The Saratoga staff ride at the 2005 USMA Summer Seminar

A guest post by Donald R. Shaffer, who teaches U.S. History at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado. He attended the 2005 West Point Seminar in Military History, which was held from May 31-June 23, 2005. His book After the Glory: The Struggles of Black Civil War Veterans was published in 2004 by the University Press of Kansas and won 2005 Peter Seaborg Award for Civil War Scholarship.

Reprinted by the author from a review recently posted to H-War:

As the fall semester ends and thoughts turn to the winter holidays, the wise academic should already be making plans for next summer. For persons with an interest in Military History these plans should include consideration of attending the West Point Summer Seminar in Military History. Offered by the History Department at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, the seminar is an intense, but highly rewarding three-week exploration of Western military history (with an emphasis on the United States) from the late Middle Ages to the present day.

The seminar has something to offer just about any serious scholar of Military History, from relatively novice graduate students to professors who teach the subject at their home institutions. Its activities fall into basically five categories: 1) small group seminar sessions led by West Point faculty; 2) lectures by West Point faculty and visiting scholars; 3) staff rides; 4) special events; 5) social events.

The small group sessions are the core of the seminar experience. In 2005, the twenty fellows were divided into two groups of ten persons, with each session presided over by a West Point faculty member. Although session activities varied, they generally involved a review of important literature and classroom materials (maps, videos, etc.) followed by a discussion of the scheduled subject matter. A purpose of these sessions was to give the fellows a sense of how the History Department at West Point taught each subject area in the two-semester History of the Military Art course sequence that each cadet is required to take.

Another main activity of the summer seminar was the lectures by West Point faculty and distinguished visiting scholars. The lecturers seemed free to discuss what they wanted within their topic area. Some gave generalized presentations on the relevant subject area, while others made specialized lectures relating to their own research or a topic of interest. The visiting scholars in 2005 included Mark Clodfelter, Linda and Marsha Frey, Joe Glatthaar, Joe Gulmartin, Brian Linn, Douglas Porch, Harold Selesky, William Skelton, and Gerhard Weinberg. West Point faculty who lectured the fellows in 2005 included Daniel Barnard, Lance Betros, Robert Doughty, Jennie Kiesling, Cliff Rodgers, and Sam Watson.

The highlight of the seminar for this reviewer was the field trips, or as they are known at West Point, "staff rides." There were three staff rides for the 2005 fellows. They included a day trip to the Saratoga battlefield from the Revolutionary War, an afternoon staff ride of the West Point fortifications (also from the American Revolution), and a four-day swing through Civil War battlefield sites in the mid-Atlantic region (the 2005 staff ride included stops at South Mountain, Harper's Ferry, Antietam, and Gettysburg). All the staff rides except Gettysburg were capably led by current or former West Point faculty. The Gettysburg staff ride was conducted by Carol Reardon of Penn State, who gave a masterful tour of this most famous of Civil War battlefields.

The USMA History Department also managed to work a number of special events into the 2005 seminar, as well as finding creative ways of making more routine events "special." The former included a library tour and visit to the West Point museum with a lecture on historic firearms prior to the 19th century (more modern firearms were covered in another lecture to the fellows later in the seminar). The fellows also were able to brush shoulders with the military re-enactors on two occasions. Revolutionary War re-enactors accompanied the fellows on the staff ride of the West Point fortifications, lending their expertise along the way. Another group of re-enactors also led a Civil War tactical exercise in which the fellows learned basic Civil War drill and tactical formations, plus were able repeatedly to load and fire (sans ammunition) replica Civil War muskets-a special treat for this reviewer. The fellows also had a tour of the academy grounds, visiting normally closed areas such the cadets' barracks and dining hall.

The history faculty made sure the fellows did not lack for an active social life. After the first full day of the seminar, the fellows cruised the Hudson River on the USMA Superintendent's boat, an ingenious way to coax normally reserved academics to get to know each other and the West Point history faculty. There were also other planned social events organized by Capt. Daniel Barnard, and numerous more informal gatherings among the fellows themselves. Indeed, if one took full advantage of all the social opportunities at 2005 seminar, there was little time left to complete the assigned readings or sleep.

Indeed, one of the benefits of the 2005 seminar was meeting an interesting variety of people. The seminar organizers, led by the able and efficient Major John Hall, selected a fascinatingly diverse group of fellows. Besides faculty and graduate students from traditional academic institutions, there was faculty from the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, plus a State Department CSO. There also were five foreign fellows respectively representing Australia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, and Great Britain.

It also was beneficial meeting and getting to know people at West Point. The academy history faculty, both uniformed and civilian, invariably proved friendly, approachable, and obliging. Major Hall and Major Pete Knight (who will lead the 2006 seminar) in particular proved extremely helpful in assisting the reviewer with some unanticipated professional needs that developed during the seminar.

Another great benefit of the seminar was the haul of materials the USMA History Department distributed gratis to the fellows. These amounted to hundreds of dollars worth of books, including a set of priceless West Point military history atlases and a DVD with a variety of highly worthwhile electronic resources. (In fact, it would be a good idea for future fellows bring an empty suitcase to carry home the materials they will acquire during the seminar.)

The reviewer has already incorporated all manner of West Point materials into his classes, particularly PowerPoint slides included on the DVD. The materials and knowledge acquired at the seminar have proved helpful not only in his military history courses, but also in more general U.S. history courses, including the American survey. Indeed, it would not be a stretch to say that after attending the West Point Summer Seminar in Military History, the reviewer has been able to add a new dimension of instruction in all of his courses.

Certainly the seminar in 2005 was not without its problems. For example, the presentation by one of the distinguished guest lecturers proved surprisingly sub par. Likewise, there was some grumbling that the library's schedule made it difficult for the fellows to complete their projects (each fellow was required to put together and submit to the other fellows, according to the syllabus for 2005 seminar "a project that will be useful to them in the teaching of military history").

To be honest, the problems that cropped up at 2005 seminar tended to be minor and, for the most part, hard to anticipate. The reviewer also can say from his exchanges with participants of earlier seminars that West Point faculty clearly evaluate each seminar afterwards for problems that occur and adjust their planning accordingly for the following year.

It also should be mentioned that the seminar is free-of-charge, with all expenses, including room, board, and travel covered by a gift from an anonymous benefactor. In addition, the fellows in 2005 received a $1,500 honorarium at the end of the seminar.

Hence, I highly recommend the 2006 West Point Summer Seminar in Military History to the readers of H-War. The 2005 seminar was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

For more information on the 2006 seminar and application forms, please visit its web site.

Readers are invited to examine a series of photographs the reviewer took of events at 2005 seminar.
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The MilBlogosphere
Monday, December 12, 2005, 06:32 PM - The World After September 11

I never considered Blog Them Out of the Stone Age to be a milblog (military blog). Consequently I was surprised this weekend when decided to add me to the comprehensive index it's building of milblogs. (See previous post.) Yet after mulling it over a bit, I figured, why not? Its webmaster probably knew better than I did what constituted a milblog.

Me, I would have thought you'd have to be a soldier--but then again Blackfive, the grand poobah of milblogs, is maintained by a veteran no longer in service. Well, then, a veteran--but come to think of it, I am a veteran, albeit of eight years in the Army National Guard. A veteran who has seen combat? Not in my case, unless you count my pitiless war on the mosquitoes at Camp Grayling, Michigan--but then many milbloggers are not combat veterans.

Hmm. I don't blog that much about combat operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. On the other hand, I do touch upon them from time to time and I have a category called The World After September 11 as a place to comment on the Global War on Terror. Furthermore, nearly all of my posts directly address military affairs, broadly conceived; whereas many (if not most) milblogs dwell heavily on current politics. Most of them are fervently conservative and hawkish on the war. But then again, milbloggers are at pains to tell you that their ranks contain a diversity of opinion. (And every now and then you actually run across an example of that.)

Having decided this might be a milblog after all, I've decided to educate myself more systematically concerning the MilBlogosphere. Here are links to a couple of good introductions to the subject:

Hugh Hewitt, Rise of the Milblog, Weekly Standard, March 12, 2004 - probably one of the most important early attempts to report the milblog phenomenon.

"Greyhawk,"A Brief History of Milblogs, Mudville Gazette, November 11, 2005 - A recent retrospective by one of the major milbloggers.

Part 1 - Part 2 (link not yet active)

The Milbloggies
Sunday, December 11, 2005, 10:53 AM - The World After September 11, a site that aggregates content from close to a thousand military blogs, has a best milblog competition of its own: the 2005 Milbloggies.

UPDATE, Dec. 11, 1:31 p.m. - As it happens, has added Blog Them Out of the Stone Age to its index, which makes it eligible for a Milbloggie in the "Best U.S. Civilian Milblog" category. Voting in this category has been light, so with your support, the blog actually stands a decent chance. All you have to do is register (it's painless and free), then go to this page and click "Add To Favorites."

Alternatively, you can cast your vote for Armchair Generalist, which is a civilian milblog that I recognize and recommend.

Two other civilian milblogs, Arms and Influence and War and Piece (both listed on A Few Good Blogs) do not yet seem to be indexed, so I've submitted them for inclusion.

FURTHER UPDATE, Dec. 12, 6:30 a.m. - Blog Them Out of the Stone Age is now in the lead for "Best U.S. Civilian Milblog;" my thanks to everyone who has cast a ballot thus far. I've tried to earn the distinction by submitting other blogs that merit inclusion as Civilian Milblogs. Arms and Influence and War and Piece now appear on's index; I've just submitted Irregular Analyses and Victor Davis Hanson's Private Papers for inclusion as well.

Incidentally, if you wish to submit your own suggestions regarding milblogs, simply register at and fill out a submission form. It takes only a couple of minutes per blog.

FINAL UPDATE, Dec. 12, 9:37 a.m. - Sometime in the past few minutes, Blog Them Out of the Stone Age received its 30,000th hit. (The sitemeter count reads much higher, but that's because I transferred 6,702 visits from the WarHistorian blogspot site.) The milestone doesn't merit a post of its own, but I wanted to mention it somewhere. Here's as good a place as any.
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Weblog Awards - Best Military Blog
Saturday, December 10, 2005, 04:36 PM - The World After September 11
Voting is underway at Weblog Awards for this year's Best Military Blog. Among the fifteen nominees are Blackfive (which won last year), and Intel Dump, both listed on A Few Good Blogs. For links to the other nominees, click here.

A Culture of War
Saturday, December 10, 2005, 10:02 AM - The World After September 11
From Ali Tabatabaey, a fifth-year medical student who works in Mashhad, Iran:
A few days ago, a 45-year-old relatively handsome but badly dressed and dirty patient came to the clinic with a peculiar accent, complaining of a burning headache. In just a few moments, he would change the way I looked at the world around me.
The patient, who had come to Iran from Afghanistan, presented with "obvious signs of depressed mood and tinnitus." He reported having dreams (he would not call them nightmares) in which he was in the midst of a fire fight and trying to organize a defense. It turned out that the man had been a thirty-year veteran of the Mujahideen. The attending physician assessed him for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a covey of medical students looked on.
Obviously, the inquisitive minds of a group of young med students could not let him leave without asking about his experience as a captive. To no one's surprise, he had been tortured many times. He talked about being beaten unconscious while being interrogated by a Taliban officer and also of the Russians tying him to metal rods connected to an electrical generator (I had only seen such a thing in "Rambo," but this guy was sitting a few meters away and describing the feeling). This was no fun anymore, but the real surprise was yet to come.

I asked him about the war and the current state of his country. "I miss the war," he replied. OK. Let me get this straight. This guy's been wired up to low-voltage electricity by the Russians, been beaten unconscious by the Taliban, has spent 2/3 of his life running around valleys and mountains trying to resist the enemy, and HE MISSES THE WAR!

I can tell you he wasn't joking. He was insulted when we called his dreams "nightmares." He talked so passionately about the feel of a gun in one's hand and its smell that some of my fellow externs were tempted to try it out (thank God that's illegal here). He kept saying, "If someone came to me right now and asked me to go off to war, I would do so without hesitation."

There you have it. That's the problem with war. After a while, it becomes a culture. He is right. When all you've done since the age of 15 is shoot your enemies dead, changing your lifestyle can be difficult. War is one of those cureless diseases, which can only be prevented. Let's just hope his 10 kids don't grow up with the same culture.
Complete post

Run to Failure - Pt 2
Saturday, December 10, 2005, 08:42 AM - Combat as Metaphor
"Run to failure" is a term I learned many years ago in a war and technology course. It's used by engineers when designing something that has lots of moving parts. You design, say, an aircraft engine. You build a prototype and let it run until it fails. Then you root around the prototype until you locate the specific part that failed. You figure out why it failed, design and manufacture an improved version of the part, install it and then run the engine until the next failure. You repeat the process until you have an engine that meets or exceeds the required specifications. That's "run to failure."

Over the last two decades, I've used "run to failure" numerous times to improve the system I've evolved to protect myself from the sort of acute manic episode that evidently killed Rigoberto Alpizar. An analogous concept would be the "lesson learns" analysis commonly employed by the armed forces: you create a doctrine, then revise it in light of practical experience--war games or actual battle.

I described the core of the system in a previous post. Briefly, it's to marshal as many resources to combat the illness as I can: medications, therapy, good sleep hygiene, regular exercise, and so on. Equally important is to have in place a strong network of friends and colleagues who know that I have the disorder and have been briefed about its symptoms. This network has proven itself so thoroughly that the question of whether to be private or "out of the closet" about the disorder is a settled issue with me. It is better to have as many people know about the condition as possible.

True, there are downsides. I've no doubt that my openness makes some people uncomfortable and that they rationalize their discomfort by telling themselves--and perhaps others--that it is "inappropriate" or that I have "boundary issues." It is even possible that I could never get a job in another university. Tough. One of the things I learned in the Army is that you do what is necessary to accomplish the mission. My first mission is survival. Other considerations take a back seat.

The network protects me in two basic respects. First, I have around me a number of people who have received a memo detailing the symptoms of bipolar disorder and explaining what to do in the event they develop concerns about my behavior. The first step is to approach me and inquire. If they're not satisfied with my response, the memo has the name and phone number of my therapist and psychiatrist. The next step is to contact them and relay their concerns. As a last resort, they are authorized to direct me to go to a hospital emergency room, in which I event I am to go there, period. I get no say, since in the nature of the case, my ability to make wise judgments is in question.

Second, on very rare occasions, when I know that I have "decompensated" to a fairly serious degree but when my psychiatrist and I are on the case, so to speak, and working through a treatment plan to get me "recompensated," I will employ a regimen borrowed from one of my hospital stays but which I conceptualize in military terms. At the heart of it are the three general orders I learned in basic training and which are so ingrained in me I can recite them from memory even in the midst of a complete psychotic break:
1. I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved.

2. I will obey my special orders and perform all my duties in a military manner.

3. I will report violations of my special orders, emergencies, or anything not covered by my instructions, to the commander of the relief.
The idea of adapting these general orders to cope with the bipolar disorder occurred to me when I was first hospitalized for mania in 1986. I felt that I could not fully trust the medical professionals around me--they gave me meds that back-fired, for instance--and at the same time I understood that something was definitely very wrong with my own capacity to judge. It seemed a no-win situation.

Trying to think while acutely manic is like trying to read a newspaper in a high wind. I remember saying to myself, "A no-win situation. A no-win situation. I've been in a no-win situation before. When was it?" Finally it came to me: Phase I--the indoctrination phase--of basic combat training. During that phase, recruits are constantly placed in situations or asked questions to which there is no correct response: you'll get bitched out for anything you do or say. The purpose is to break down a recruit's resistance and to make them more receptive to training. It also reproduces, in very modest fashion, some of the stress one is apt to experience in combat.

One of the first things we had to do in that environment was to memorize those three general orders. In many respects they were the key to getting out of Phase I and into more advanced phases (there were four in all) in which we were treated more and more as real soldiers. As soon as my manic mind was able to grasp Phase I as the no-win situation I had previously experienced, the next step was obvious. I would use the three general orders as the template to regulate my conduct in the hospital.

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 (link not yet active)
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Run to Failure - Pt 1
Friday, December 9, 2005, 07:25 PM - Combat as Metaphor

Anne Buechner and her husband, Rigoberto Alpizar

Two days ago the couple in the photo were returning to Florida after a brief missionary trip to South America. The international leg of the flight was behind them. They had cleared customs, boarded a second aircraft, and faced only the final, brief trip from Miami International Airport to Orlando. Suddenly the man, 44-year old Rigoberto Alpizar, began acting in a way that attracted the attention of the flight crew and an air marshal on board the craft. The marshal became convinced that Alpizar had a bomb and, when he bolted from the plane rather than heed the marshal's command to halt and lie down, the marshal shot him dead.

The story has been international news for a couple of days now. The dominant theme has been that it was a "good shoot"--that is, the air marshal behaved properly in the circumstances--and serves as evidence that security measures entrenched since 9/11 are working as they should. But it soon transpired that Alpizar was not, in fact, carrying a bomb. His behavior owed not to lethal intent but rather to his medical condition: He suffered from bipolar disorder and, in medical terms, had "decompensated," apparently because he was off his medication.

The fate of Rigoberto Alpizar has begun attracting comment within the mental health segment of the blogosphere. Shrinkette, a psychiatrist in Eugene, Oregon, poignantly juxtaposed a news excerpt with a passage from Kay Redfield Jamison's famous memoir of her struggles with bipolar disorder:
Witnesses aboard an American Airlines jetliner say that Rigoberto Alpizar's wife pursued him, saying he was mentally ill, just before federal marshals shot and killed him. Air marshals said Alpizar had announced he was carrying a bomb.

Later, no explosives were found. The incident remains under investigation.

"She was chasing after him," said fellow passenger Alan Tirpak. "She was just saying her husband was sick, her husband was sick." When the woman returned, "she just kept saying the same thing over and over, and that's when we heard the shots."

"Manic-depression distorts moods and thoughts, incites dreadful behaviors, destroys the basis of rational thought, and too often erodes the desire and will to live. It is an illness that is biological in its origins, yet one that feels psychological in the experience of it; an illness that is unique in conferring advantage and pleasure, yet one that brings in its wake almost unendurable suffering..."

-Kay Redfield Jamison, Ph.D., An Unquiet Mind, 1995, p. 6.
One of Shrinkette's readers left this comment:
I understand 100% why the air marshall did what he did. I really do. But I can seriously imagine the turmoil and pain the man was in. I'm bipolar. I've been in a psychotic state, I've heard things, seen things, nearly cut off my own hand because something in my head was telling me it would be a good experiment. Being bipolar we have a responsibility to take our medication, but even then it can be difficult, a daily struggle. I am not saying that the air marshall was wrong: he discerned a threat to the larger group and was doing as he was trained. But I have an incredible amount of compassion for the man and his wife. NO ONE knows, nor will they ever, what that couple went through, both at that moment, and the days leading up to it.
But Becky, a 22-year old Indiana woman who blogs about her struggles with bipolar disorder at Tidal Moods, was less sympathetic--in fact, not sympathetic at all:
Some people are suggesting that the air marshals behaved inappropriately. Those people are wrong. A clearly insane person can still have a bomb and just because someone is behaving bizarrely does not mean they aren't dangerous. This man said he had a bomb and authorities have no choice but to take him seriously.

As a person with bipolar, I'm outraged by the media's obsession with the fact that the man's family claimed that he suffered from bipolar disorder. It's irrelevant. It doesn't factor into the air marshalls' deliberations about whether or not the man is a threat and the only reason the media even mentions it is because it makes the air marshalls look like assholes when they aren't.

At the risk of sounding like a heinous bitch, I have little sympathy for this man and his family. By the time you're 44 years old, you know what it's like to live with bipolar disorder and you know whether or not you're one of those people who requires medication to maintain sanity. Clearly, this man could not behave normally without his medication and there is absolutely no reason for him not to take it. It's not like a bipolar person is going to fly off the handle if they miss one dose of their meds. For his wife to be aware of his failure to take his meds, he had to have missed more than a dose and at that point, my sympathy dies. Even if he lost his bag and his medication was gone, he could still go to a hospital or contact a pharmacy and his psychiatrist to get more. There is no excuse for not taking your meds if you know that you pose a danger to others without them. None at all.
Becky's post has so far attracted 21 comments, though most of them are off-topic--early in the thread someone criticized her for being foolish and "narcissistic" to write publicly about her bipolar disorder. (That little gem of idiocy generated a spate of coments and counter-comments from Becky, the idiot, and several of Becky's readers which is worth reading for its own sake.) But of the responses that addressed her post directly, opinion was about evenly split between those who thought Becky was being harsh on Alpizar and those who thought she had a point.

My personal view is that Becky has a point and also that her stridency on the subject stems from fear. Anybody with bipolar disorder--me, for instance--can't help but reflect that in the right circumstances, we ourselves could suffer Rigoberto's Alpizar's fate. One way to deal with this fear is to blame Alpizar for what happened: Alpizar had bipolar disorder. Alpizar did not take his meds. Alpizar got in a situation where he was killed. I myself will take my meds and therefore I will never get in such a situation.

Actually, you can take your meds and still get in precisely that situation. Six years ago I was hospitalized for acute mania exactly one day after a blood test showed that the correct level of lithium was present in my body.

No: meds alone aren't a guarantee. The strategic problem of survival is more complex than that.

It is no coincidence that in the last decade, a significant amount of my research as a military historian has focused on situations in which people have tried to frame workable strategies for resistance in an intractable environment, when the odds are stacked heavily against them. I live that situation every day of my life. And over time I've brought my military training as well as my historical training repeatedly to bear on the problem.

Let me tell you some of the tactics I've evolved to address it.

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 (link not yet active)

The West Point Summer Seminar
Thursday, December 8, 2005, 08:14 AM - Building the Field

Each year the history department of the US Military Academy conducts a three-week program designed to help historians increase their understanding of the study of war and military history. Applications are being accepted through February 1, 2006. If you're a faculty member or an advanced graduate student (ABD status), you're eligible for the program. West Point pays your expenses as well as a stipend ($1,500 the last I heard).

In the 1990s I was involved with the seminar as a guest lecturer and staff ride leader, and I can attest that it's a very impressive program. The military history department at West Point puts a tremendous amount of effort into it and those who attend can't help but learn a great deal. It's also a superb networking opportunity. Participants get to meet a number of well established military historians (see the list of guest lecturers, below), but more importantly they get to meet each other: the seminar functions as a way by which each cohort of rising military historians can forge the sort of working relationships that will pay off repeatedly in future years. On top of that, there's a lot of beer involved.

Here's a FAQ, reprinted from the 2004 program:

What Is the Background of the Program?

The Department of History has conducted a summer program in military history since the 1960s. It originally took the form of a fellowship for instructors who taught military history courses for Army ROTC programs around the country. After the summer of 1996, however, reductions in the Army's budget made it impossible for the Army to continue funding the program. Now, through the generosity of a private donor and with a shift in focus and target audience, the Department offers the West Point Summer Seminar in Military History to a broader academic community.

What is the Mission of the Program?

The West Point Summer Seminar in Military History advances the field of academic military history by educating and training educators in the field of Western military history. Upon completion of the seminar, fellows are prepared to return to their home institutions and develop or enhance a program in the study of military history.

Who Can Participate?

The West Point Summer Seminar in Military History is open to faculty and advanced graduate students in the field of history who wish to enhance their ability to study and to teach military history. We welcome applications from American citizens, as well as foreign students and faculty. Experience has shown that the Seminar benefits greatly from the wide range of foreigners in each group. Last year's foreign contingent included participants from Canada, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Uzbekistan and the Netherlands.

How Are Participants Selected?

We select applicants based upon their potential contributions to the field of military history and upon the contribution the program can make to their future study and teaching. Junior faculty (including those who have recently completed their doctorate), as well as graduate students who expect to teach or study military history and who have completed all requirements for the doctorate other than submission of the dissertation (ABD) will receive preference.

What Is The Program Focus?

The Summer Seminar focuses primarily on the Western (European and American) military experience and the Asian military experience during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

What Is The Program Format?

The program is built around a series of seminars, a variety of guest lecturers, and staff rides of Civil War and American Revolution battlefields. Daily classes consist of groups of fourteen to sixteen fellows who meet for three hours each morning. Each daily session begins with a USMA faculty member introducing the topic and then continues with a detailed discussion of the subject and historiography. Each class also includes suggestions for approaches to teaching the topic.

Who Are the Guest Lecturers?

The guest lecture program brings a variety of noted military historians to speak to the Fellows. These lectures usually occur in the afternoon and are followed by a discussion period. Lecturers may also include Army officers from the USMA History Department and other military schools or institutions who give presentations on topics in which they have special or personal expertise. Lecturers over the past several years have included John Shy, George Gawrych, Brian Linn, Mark Grimsley, Gary Gallagher, Ira Gruber, Holger Herwig, Don Higginbotham, Gerhard Weinberg, George Herring, William Skelton, Ron Spector, Donald Horward, David Chandler, and Generals (Retired) Frederick Franks and William Westmoreland. Evening lectures or colloquia focus on a variety of interesting subjects and are used to cover topics that do not fit easily within the standard sequence of lessons.

What Does The Staff Ride Entail?

During the 2004 Summer Seminar, fellows spent four days visiting Manassas, Antietam, and Gettysburg. Dr. Carol Reardon of Penn State University, a renowned expert on Civil War battlefields and staff rides, led all three of the Civil War Battlefield Staff Rides. A member of the USMA Department of History also led a one-day staff ride of the Saratoga battlefield in upstate New York. The participants learned how to conduct a staff ride and gained an appreciation for a staff ride's value in teaching military history.

What Is A Staff Ride?

The staff ride is an extremely important part of high-level military history instruction because it allows the participants to gain an understanding of the effects of terrain on battle and analyze the decision-making of commanders. It also provides an appreciation of the scale of the battles they are studying. The main objective of these exercises is to show the participants that professional military history is intellectually engaging, readily accessible to them, and fun, because the overarching goal of the program is to encourage as many of the participants as possible to continue to study and teach military history.

What is Required of the Participants?

Fellows will have the opportunity to make a direct contribution to the study of military history while at the seminar. During their time at West Point, Fellows will complete an individual seminar project. They may choose between writing a historiographical essay, creating a primary source document packet, developing a series of lesson plans, designing a web site, or developing links to benefit a military history web site. At the conclusion of the seminar, Fellows will leave with a collection of their peers contributions.

What Does it Cost?

The program does not cost the participants anything. Travel, food, and lodging, are provided. Participants will receive a $1,500 stipend.
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Snake Bite - Pt 7
Wednesday, December 7, 2005, 04:59 PM - Counterfactuals and Contingency

The "passive" Gen. Joseph E. Johnston

Although I wrote my last post in this series back in August, through the miracle of hyperlinks I can resume the story without much back-tracking. Basically I'm trying to see what light counterfactual theory can shed on one of the bread-and-butter issues of doing operational military history--namely the assessment of battlefield decision-making. I'm doing this by way of a review of Union and Confederate decision-making during the initial stages of the 1864 Atlanta campaign.

So far I've dealt with the Union side of the hill. Now I want to look at things from the Confederate perspective. The key actor here is Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, commander of the Army of Tennessee.

Johnston had taken charge of the army in December 1863 after its defeat at Chattanooga a month earlier. The beaten and demoralized force was then at Dalton, Georgia, about twenty-five miles southeast of Chattanooga. Johnston's guidance from Confederate president Jefferson Davis called upon him to reorganize the army and then undertake an offensive aimed at recovering middle Tennessee. Johnston thought--and most analysts
agree--that Davis's expectations were unrealistic: the Army of Tennessee was outnumbered more than two-to-one by the enemy forces opposing it. Even so, they had the political effect of obliging Johnston to hold his position at Dalton.

That was unfortunate, because in purely military terms Dalton was not the best place to make a stand. True, it was shielded from direct attack by Rocky Face Ridge immediately to the west. But the ridge terminated just three miles to the north, allowing the Federals easy access to a wide valley where they could deploy their superior numbers and force a decisive battle on terms favorable to themselves. Alternatively, the Federals could use the ridge to shield their movements while they maneuvered around Johnston's left flank.

In his 1874 memoirs, Johnston said that would have preferred to make his initial stand at Calhoun, a small town eighteen miles south of Dalton, and that he remained at Dalton only because of "the earnestness with which the President and Secretary of War, in their letters of instructions, wrote of early assumption of offensive operations and apprehension of the bad effect of a retrograde movement upon the spirit of the Southern people."

Consequently, when the Atlanta campaign began, Johnston had three-and-a-half things to worry about, and I've tried to sketch them on this map. In order of seriousness, they can be listed thus:

Worry No. 1 was the chance that Sherman might seek an immediate fight to the finish on the plain north of Dalton.

Worry No. 1.5, so to speak, was the chance that Sherman might seek to pierce the Rocky Face Ridge gap and lunge directly at Dalton. Sherman was unlikely to choose this option--the excellent defensive ground offered Johnston his best chance to inflict a crippling defeat on the Federals--but it might become attractive to Sherman if Johnston did not hold the ridge in sufficient strength.

Worry No. 2 was the chance that Sherman might seize Rome, Georgia (which is what Sherman initially planned to do). With Rome in Union hands, Johnston could not easily receive reinforcements from Alabama and Mississippi, and from Rome an advance of just thirteen miles would allow the Federals to cut Johnston's supply line at Kingston. The Confederates at Dalton would be over twice that distance from Kingston.

Worry No. 3 was the chance that Sherman might slip through the mountains at some point between Rome and Rocky Face Ridge. This of course is what Sherman wound up doing when he sent Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson through Snake Creek Gap.

Johnston has been criticized, legitimately, for leaving the gap unguarded and for persistently interpreting intelligence reports of McPherson's early marches to mean that McPherson was en route to Rome. Nevertheless, except for Worry No. 1.5, Worry No. 3 was the least of Johnston's concerns--the least dangerous thing the enemy could do. And as matters turned out, Johnston evaded the trap Sherman planned to spring on him. He recognized the threat in time, shifted his army to meet it, fought a solid defensive battle at Resaca on May 13-14, and then withdrew safely farther south.

Even so, Johnston's critics consider Snake Creek Gap an irretrievable disaster for the Confederates. A counterfactual analysis of the event asks us to look for the main historical variable used to explain the disaster and then to come up with a "minimum rewrite" that modifies or does away with that variable. In this case, the key variable turns out to be Johnston's character.

Here's Richard M. McMurry on Snake Creek Gap: "In retrospect, we can see that, in all likelihood, [McPherson's] seizure of the gap determined the outcome of the campaign. After May 8 Johnston could not long remain in his Dalton works unless he detached troops to regain Snake Creek Gap. Given the passive way he was determined to conduct his operations, he could not undo the damage." (McMurry, Atlanta 1864 [2000], 63-64; emphasis supplied)

James M. McPherson in Battle Cry of Freedom (1988), 744:
Unlike Lee, whom necessity compelled to adopt a defensive strategy, Johnston by temperament preferred the defensive. He seemed to share with . . . [George B.] McClellan . .. a reluctance to commit troops to all-out combat. . . . This unwillingess to fight until everything was just right may have been rooted in Johnstons character. A wartime story made the rounds about an antebellum visit by Johnston to a plantation for duck hunting. Though he had a reputation as a crack shot, he never pulled the trigger. "The bird flew too high or too lowthe dogs were too far or too nearthings never did suit exactly. He was . . . afraid to miss and risk his fine reputation." (Emphasis supplied)

Stephen Davis in Atlanta Will Fall: Sherman, Joe Johnston, and the Yankee Heavy Battalions (2001), ix:
Throughout the campaign Sherman possessed such numerical strength, such sharp strategic thinking, such confidence, logistical mastery, and aggressive determination, that the combination of these advantages against Johnstons passivity combined to determine the outcome of the campaign. (Emphasis supplied)

Read in this way, it all sounds very plausible. But the virtue of counterfactual analysis is that it puts pressure on causational claims and forces them to work for a living. McMurry, McPherson, and Davis (among others) are in essence claiming that each person has a stable personality, character, or temperament--I'll use character for convenience's sake--and that this thing is such a reliable predictor of a person's decision-making that you needn't look further. Speaking as someone with bipolar disorder, and who therefore has an intimate grasp of how biochemistry can influence moods and how moods can influence decision-making, I wonder about this. Do I not have a stable personality, character, or temperament? I think that most people who know me would affirm that despite my illness I do in fact retain a distinctive character. At the same time, plainly I do make different choices depending on mood. (A different day, a different mood, and I might not be writing this, for instance.)

Beyond question, some historical figures of major consequence have had disorders comparable to my own. A recent book on Abraham Lincoln, for instance, amplifies on the well-known fact that Lincoln throughout his life experienced extensive bouts of depression. But when dealing with war, an historian doesn't need evidence of bioaffective disorder to give heed to the possibility that the moods of a key actor may influence decision-making. Physical and mental stress, illness, fear, and anxiety are fundamental components of the inner world of war. War, indeed, can be seen as an environment is which human beings are constantly and deliberately acted upon to produce extremes of mood. Troops on the attack are whipped up into states of manic excitement; the attacks, in turn, have as their aim the creation of such anxiety in the enemy that the enemy will break, resulting ideally in a state of mass depression and demoralization. Good commanders do their best to shield themselves from the stresses of war, but it is naive to suppose that they always succeed. And because of this, I am intensely skeptical of the "Johnston's innate passivity" explanation of Snake Creek Gap. The basic premise on which the explanation rests is flawed.

In this instance, counterfactual analysis has the effect of causing me not to posit a minimum rewrite of history, but rather to reject existing interpretations as fundamentally misguided.

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 6 - Part 7
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Of Battlefields and Bibliophiles
Monday, December 5, 2005, 03:19 PM - Building the Field
A number of quality blogs have recently cropped up concerning the American Civil War. Dimitri Rotov keeps good track of them at Civil War Bookshelf. I imagine its blogroll will soon include David Woodbury's Of Battlefields and Bibliophiles. Woodbury has extensive experience in the world of Civil War publishing and his maiden post is definitely worth a look.
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