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 Posted: Thu May 15th, 2014 03:07 am
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Hellcat
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Ok, don't remember what I was watching that caused me to think of Sun Tzu's treatise but I did start thinking of it. I do know I wasn't watching the Military Channel (now American Heroes Channel) at the time, think it was some food thing on Travel Channel. At any rate, as I was thinking of the book I got to thinking of it in terms Civil War and thought it might serve as a starting point for discussion. I'm actually going to be using my copy which is a Shambhala Pocket Classics translated by Thomas Cleary. I was figuring we could look at various generals and how they maybe fit or fail at what Sun Tzu said over a thousand years before heir birth, either as a whole or in a particular battle or event.

I'll start this with Chapter 1 which Clearly calls Strategic Assessments:

Military action is important to the nation--it is the ground of death and life, the path of survival and destruction, so it is imperative to examine it.

Ok, so what Cleary says this means the location of the battlefield. The commander who gains the advantage on the battlefield lives (well, at least is more likely to win) and the commander who looses the advantage dies (or at least looses the battle). According to Cleary it is the military action itself that is the ground of life and death, not the battlefield itself. He the explains that the path of survival is a commander's ability to adjust to the unfolding battle and achieve victory.

This bit is just establishing things a little. Something to kinda keep in mind when thinking about talking points I think this next quote is really the discussion point.

Therefore measure in terms of five things, using these assessments to make comparisons, and thus find out hat the conditions are. The five things are the way, the weather, the terrain, the leadership, and discipline.

So basically five talking points there. Cleary says that a commander should assess these at headquarters in terms of both themselves and their opponent to determine who is superior and who will prevail in battle.
  1. The Way is basically explained as the people as having the same goals, the same aim, as the leadership. They share in death and life as the leadership does with no fear of danger. It's also described as humaneness and justice which an ancient political philosopher said means to govern properly. I.E. if a government is properly governed then the people feel close to their leaders and are ready to lay down their lives for them.

    On the Way I'm reminded a lot about the stories of Lee's surrender to Grant and how his soldiers felt they had let him down.

  2. Weather equals seasons. Cleary brings up how in ancient times soldiers, I'm guessing he means Roman soldiers though could mean any soldiers, would loose fingers and toes to frostbite when battling the Huns while soldiers fighting southern tribes were likely to die of plague. Cleary claims this was because of campaigns being carried out in the summer and winter months. Of course weather an also be the weather itself.

    So who really seems to have gotten this? I can' really say. I can think of Butler cleaning up in New Orleans and Norfolk to prevent diseases such as malaria and yellow fever from affecting the troops during the time of year the diseases regularly plagued those cities. And of course the infamous Mud March ultimately cost Burnside his command. But on the battlefield I can't really say I can think of any particular general who was really thinking about the weather or the seasons in general.

  3. Terrain is fairly understandable as the lay of the land. Commander's are supposed to assess terrain in terms of distances, how easy it is to travel over the terrain, dimension, and safety. In terms of distance it allows a commander to decide whether or not to take the direct route or try to find another, perhaps shorter or safer route to take. Ease of travel is used to determine if mounted troops or foot troops have an advantage. Dimension seems to be more about how defendable the terrain is as Cleary says knowing the dimension determines how many troops to use. Seems the more defensible the terrain is, the fewer troops you actually need to employ to repel an assault. And the safety of the terrain determines if you want to do battle there or not.

    On the subject of terrain I'm looking at several places at the moment. First I'm looking at Ball's Bluff. There was absolutely no reason for Federal forces to even attempt to engage Confederate forces at Ball's Bluff, the terrain was in their favor. First Federal troops would have to cross the Potomac by boat to land on a small strip of land at the base of the nearly 100 ft. high Ball's Bluff. Second, the only path up the side of the bluff was barely large enough for one man at a time. And third, at the top of the bluff was a wooded area that would provide a defensible position for Confederate forces. Obviously if you could only get a handful of men to the top of the cliff at a time then it doesn't offer ease of travel, and a narrow path isn't that safe for getting troop into a battle. Now in Clint Johnson's Civil War Blunders Johnson states that General Stone ordered Colonel Baker to cross the Potomac to determine if the men already there should be reinforced (a scouting party had been sent across the night before and had discovered rows of haystacks which they mistook for a Confederate camp without sentries present). Baker, however, merely began to reinforce the men across the river with an entire brigade rather than take the terrain into account and send forward skirmishers to determine exactly what he would face, which was a ring of fire around the small open area at the top of the bluff. Baker led an entire brigade into a trap because he apparently did not send out an advance force to determine exactly hat was faced. The terrain gave the advantage to the Confederates.

    Then there's Frederiksberg. Burnside wasted any advantages he had in his initial march south by then sitting and waiting for his precious pontoons in order to cross the Rappahannock. There's evidence that he could have crossed sooner if he had either backed up to the same crossings Hooker would use the following spring or if he had used a little known ford closer to where the Army of the Potomac eventually crossed. But by waiting he did effectively decide where the battle would take place and gave terrain advantages to Lee. Lee had the heights, and he had the distance in his favor as the Federal guns couldn't really reach his position to support the advancing infantry where as Lee's own artillery could fire down on the Federal troops.

    My next thought is Chancellorsville. Hooker took the heights, expecting Lee to come at him as Burnside had gone at Lee. But Hooker believed the Wilderness was impenetrable and thus his right flank had nothing to fear. We all know Jackson was able to find a way through the Wilderness and roll up Hooker's flank in a devastating flank attack that ultimately cost Jackson his life. So Jackson was looking at the distance Confederate troops would have to take under the Federal guns and he looked for an alternate route that allowed his troops a measure of safety. In this case both Hooker and Jackson seem to have been thinking about the effect of the terrain, but Hooker did not expect the Wilderness could be passed through and largely dismissed it.

  4. Leadership is described as intelligence, trustworthiness, humanenss, courage, and sternness. Intelligence is a mark of being able to develop a plan and to change it effectively. The old saying no plan survives initial contact with the enemy seems to me to be a rewording of that last part concerning intelligence. Cleary claims that trustworthiness means you make the people under you sure of either punishment or reward. Humaneness is love and compassion for the people under you. Courage is supposedly the ability to seize the opportunity for certain victory, although to me that would also seem a mark of intelligence. And sternness is the establishment of discipline within the ranks through the use of strict punishment.

    On the subject of humaneness I'm again drawn to Lee as the men did love him as he seemed as concerned for them as he was with defeating the Federal generals he faced. And they did come t love and respect him, although this wasn't always the case. Lee also seemed an intelligent man capable of listening to those around him and then either developing a plan based on what he was giving or use a plan purposed by a subordinate.

    I'm not sure if his men loved him or not, but I have very little doubt that Jackson's men respected him because of his abilities as a leader. Jackson's own reasons for hi success seem to be a mark that he was able to seize the opportunity for victory, which does fit the courage aspect of leadership laid out here. He also obviously was intelligent to put together a plan. An he also was strict when it came to discipline

    Again I'm drawn to the Battle of Fredericksburg and Burnside's failure there. He began the Fredericksburg campaign with a plan that relied on crossing the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg via a pontoon bridge. Ok, fine, there really was nothing wrong with the plan itself. We can of course argue that what was wrong with the plan was it's reliance on the pontoon bridge. But let's face it, if the pontoons had been with the first units as the reached Falmouth then Burnside could have begun crossing sooner than he did. However, the pontoons weren't there in time and Burnside stuck to his plan rather than proving he could adapt. His plan didn't fail to survive initial contact with the enemy, it had already failed before contact with the enemy because he failed to adapt and change it when a key component wasn't initially there. The plan to get across the river before Lee had enough forces in place to offer significant opposition could still have been used if Burnside had just changed his plans to cross further up stream. He did change to a new plan which did fail to survive initial contact with the enemy and sill Burnside didn't really change plans because it almost seems like he was thinking if he jut threw enough troops at Lee h could over power his entrenched position.

    On the subject of courage being the opportunity to seize certain victory I have to bring up McClellan at Antietam (Sharpsburg) and Lee at Gettysburg. McClellan was supposed to have had Lee's plans for the Maryland campaign which helped him stop Lee's Maryland campaign at Sharpsburg along Antietam Creek. But it is believed that McClellan could have used hose orders to secure a total victory over Lee, not just a strategic victory. In typical McClellan fashion he saw more to the orders than was really there, namely that they had been left as a trap, and moved too slowly to make full use o what he had. With Lee at Gettysburg it's the question of what his plans had been originally. Had the plan indeed been to draw the Army of the Potomac north away from Washington and then swing back south as to get between it and DC, choosing the ground and threatening the capital at the same time, then Lee himself missed an opportunity to potentially claim victory in the war by remaining to fight at Gettysburg. Lee really didn't have a choice of whether to fight at Gettysburg or not. But the idea of luring the AoP north and then swinging around means that he did have the choice to retreat from Gettysburg and pursue this plan. This plan is largely put forth by Longstreet and was denied by Lee in 1868 as having "never made any such promise, and had never thought of doing such a thing." Yet Lee's own post battle report he does state he had no intention of engaging the AoP so far away from home unless the AoP attacked first. So doe that mean that Lee did indeed plan to swing south and threaten DC? If so, then Lee did fail to obtain what might have been certain victory in favor of an unsure victory at Gettysburg.

  5. Discipline is organization, chain of command, and logistics. Organization means troops are grouped in a regulated manner. Chain of command means officers and NCOs to lead the troops. And logistics means overseeing supplies.

    Looking it up on Wikipedia the fifth condition is listed as management rather than Cleary's discipline. I think I prefer that term to discipline in terms of how Cleary explains discipline.

    Now as for the organization element I think I kinda have to go with McClellan. We all know that after First Bull Run (Manassas) he was put in charge of this rag tag army and whipped it into fighting shape. Effectively McClellan organized the troops into a significant fighting force which would prove the major Federal Army in the Eastern Theater for the duration of the war.

Last edited on Thu May 15th, 2014 03:08 am by Hellcat



 Posted: Thu May 15th, 2014 05:32 pm
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wondering
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Isn't it peculiar a treatise two millennia old still rides the storm? Thought provoking post, Hellcat; regards as always.



 Posted: Fri May 16th, 2014 12:25 am
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Johan Steele
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A friend of mine at University noted that Sun Tzu was required reading at his Soviet Military Academy. It does indeed pass the test of time. As a note, one of the Emperors of Byzantium was gifted a translation of it...



 Posted: Fri May 16th, 2014 02:08 am
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Hellcat
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I could swear I was taught that some of the generals such as Lee and McClellan had read the book even though it wouldn't officially be translated into English until well after the war. Of course the person who taught me that might have mistaken Antoine-Henri Jomini's 1838 Précis de l'Art de la Guerre: Des Principales Combinaisons de la Stratégie, de la Grande Tactique et de la Politique Militaire which was translated in 1854 into English by Major O.F. Winship and Lieut. E.E. McLean as The Art of War (and again in 1862 by Capt. G.H. Mendell and Lieut. W.P. Craighill underthe same name) with Sun Tzu treatise. Jomini's book was a part of the curriculum at West Point according to The 1865 Customs of Service for Non-commissioned Officers and Soldiers by August V. Kautz and was probably a part of the curriculum prior to the war. But it would not have been read by men like Lee and McClellan in English when they were cadets but could have been read by them in such after they graduate. However, at he same time French was also part of the curriculum according to the Kautz's handbook and was likely a part of the curriculum when they were cadets. Indeed McClellan was interested in Jomini's theoretic strategic principles while he was a cadet.

However, of further interest is that Sun Tzu's book was first translate into French in 1772, almost a hundred years before the war, by Jean Joseph Marie Amiot. So as it was already in French, they might have read it anyway. Maybe Jomini even read it.



 Posted: Fri May 16th, 2014 06:30 am
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Hellcat
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Ok, I got to thinking about that first talking point, The Way, and I remembered the Haunting's thread I started back in 2010, in particular the 12th post and the claim of Washington's ghost supposedly "leading" the 20th Maine down the right path to Gettysburg. Now the story makes the claim that the men initially were excited because they believed the figure was McClellan resuming command of the Army of the Potomac. Just how true this is is naturally questionable as it is a ghost story. But for this thread I'm not bringing it up as a ghost story but more akin to Lee at Appomattox Court House. The men of the 20th Maine, and apparently other regiments, were excited by the thought of having McClellan back in command. And the story does touch on something, how at least many of the men of the Army of the Potomac felt about McClellan. He was affectionately their "Little Mac." So if the Way is ultimately about having the people feel close to their leaders, then wouldn't any general whose men felt enough affection for them that they give them such nicknames or take the blame onto themselves for a surrender fit this condition?



 Posted: Sun May 18th, 2014 06:56 am
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Hellcat
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Ok, this part from chapter 2, which Cleary calls Doing Battle caught my attention.

When you do battle, even if you are winning, if you continue for a long time it will dull your forces and bunt your edge; if you besiege a citadel, your strength will be exhausted. If you keep your armies out in the field for a long time, your supplies will be insufficient.

It was that last sentence that really caught my attention. It reminded me of RebelRouser's recent What made Grant great thread which got me to also thinking about various other threads where we've discussed Grant and Lee. And one of the things mentioned is that Grant was willing to fight a war of attrition. Grant was basically wearing down Lee's supply of troops, his ammunition supplies, and especially his food supplies by keeping both armies in the field.

For Grant it's almost the exact opposite of what Sun Tzu was warning against, but for Lee, it's almost exactly what he was warning against. By the end of the Appomattox Campaign I don't think that Grant's troops were any fresher than Lee's, but he did have the ability to replenish his troops and supplies where as Lee really couldn't afford to loose his. And as I recall, his army starving was on of the reasons Lee was willing to surrender to Grant.

There's a quote by a Confederate soldier I really like referring to Federal soldiers and loosing the war. "We coulda licked 'em with corn stalk, but dang they wouldn't fight with 'em." It does seem to hint at the North being able to offer its troops more supplies than the South was.



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