Military History Word of the Day – "Castrametation"


Prospect Hill, Virginia. Camp of the 13th Regiment New York Cavalry. (”Seymour Light”)

Photo: Prospect Hill, Virginia. Camp of the 13th Regiment New York Cavalry. (“Seymour Light”)
[Library of Congress, CALL NUMBER: LC-B817- 7218]

While researching the influence of Jomini on the conduct of the American Civil War, I ran across an article by James L. Morrison, Jr., (Professor, History, Emeritus, York College of Pennsylvania) titled, “Educating the Civil War Generals: West Point, 1833 – 1861″ which appeared in Military Affairs. He outlines the curriculum for students who would have made up a large part of the war’s leadership. It was heavily skewed toward science and engineering. But the courses on the study of the science of war included the following topics: 

  • “army organization
  • order of battle
  • castrametation [misspelled in the text as castramentation]
  • reconnaissance
  • outpost duties
  • attack and defense, and
  • the principles of strategy.”[i]

Castrametation caught my eye. Webster provides some insight into the origins of the word.

“\Cas`tra*me*ta”tion\, n. [F. castram[‘e]tation, fr. L. castra camp + metari to measure off, fr. meta limit.] (Mil.) The art or act of encamping; the making or laying out of a camp.Read this book” [ii]

A Military Dictionary and Gazetteer (first published in 1881 under title: A military and naval encyclopedia and available on Google Books here), puts a slightly different spin on it with the following definition:

“Castrametation. Is the art of laying out camps, and of placing the troops so that the different arms of the service shall afford support to each other in the best manner.”[iii]

I have added as a new word to “the terms” page here.
[i] James L. Morrison, Jr., “Educating the Civil War Generals: West Point, 1833 – 1861,” Military Affairs, Vol. 38, No. 3. (Oct., 1974), pp. 109.
[ii] Castrametation. Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary. MICRA, Inc. (accessed: March 23, 2008).
[iii] Thomas Wilhelm, Military Art and Science, (L. R. Hamersly & co.: 1881) (accessed online March 21, 2008).