Stewards of Civil War Railroads – Part III


This post completes the series, Stewards of Civil War Railroads. Read Part I here and Part II here.

Group of the Construction Corps U.S. Military Railroads with working tools, etc., Chattanooga, Tennessee

Above: Group of the Construction Corps U.S. Mil. R. Rds., with working tools, etc., Chattanooga, Tennessee
Courtesy of Library of Congress: LC-USZ62-62364

Millett and Maslowski posit that President Abraham Lincoln did not have Jefferson Davis’ sensitivity about government interference with railroads. The evidence supports the point and also suggests that Davis’ hands-off approach expanded to other areas under his purview including signals and communications. Whether he was afflicted with chronic indecisiveness or was bowing to the perceived whims of a public unreceptive to “big government” is open for discussion but as in many things, the truth probably lies somewhere in between. Regardless, it is clear that rational military considerations were not the sole concern in shaping the South’s military policies and programs. Had they been so, military needs would have received higher priority and the events of the war may have flowed differently.

Above: Lincoln and McClellan

The impact of the decision making processes in the Lincoln and Davis administrations and the respective Congresses as regards those issues impacting the military is indeed a fascinating one and worthy of continued analysis and review. Clearly the social, economic, and political nuances of the North versus the South had much to do with the directions taken within each section. But one is left to wonder whether the leadership qualities of Lincoln and Davis, including the ability to be decisive, allowed the North to more frequently follow a path guided by rational military reason.

The engine

Above: The engine “Firefly” on a trestle of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.


Jomini on the Nature of War – Part IV – The Basics


This post continues from Jomini on the Nature of War: Part I Introduction here, Part II The Burgeoning Military Theorist here, and Part III The Founder of Modern Strategy here. Please note links in blue lead to additional information on those topics.

Battle Map

JominiJomini was a list maker and a categorizer which influenced the form of his thoughts on the nature of war. His work, The Art of War, begins with a definition of the art of war in terms of five military branches: Strategy, Grand Tactics, Logistics, Engineering and Minor Tactics.

Strategy – “the art of properly directing masses upon the theater of war either for defense or for invasion; the art of making war upon the map.”

Grand Tactics – “the art of posting troops upon the battle-field according to the accidents of the ground, of bringing them into actions, and the art of fighting upon the ground, in contradistinction to planning upon a map.” It is “the maneuvering of an army upon the battle-field, and the different formations of troops for attack.”

Logistics - “the art of moving armies and the execution of strategical and tactical enterprises” and “comprises the means and arrangements which work out the plans of strategy and tactics.”

Engineering - “the attack and defense of fortifications.

Minor Tactics

Jomini adds a sixth branch which he calls, “Diplomacy in its relation to War.” This he envisions as the role of the statesman in war and particularly in those activities which lead up to it. He provides the criteria from which a statesman can conclude whether a war is “proper, opportune, or indispensable.” He lists succinctly and thoroughly his perspective on the reasons why a government would choose to enter into war:  

  • “To reclaim certain rights or to defend them;
  • to protect and maintain the great interests of the state, as commerce, manufactures, or agriculture;
  • to uphold neighboring states whose existence is necessary either for the safety of the government or the balance of power;
  • to fulfill the obligations of offensive and defensive alliances;
  • to propagate political or religious theories, to crush them out, or to defend them;
  • to increase the influence and power of the state by acquisitions of territory;
  • to defend the threatened independence of the state;
  • to avenge insulted honor; or
  • from a mania for conquest.”

Each reason becomes a “type” of war on which Jomini elaborates with examples from history. The type of war, The Art of War by Baron De Jomini - Special Editionhe suggests, “influences in some degree the nature and extent of the efforts and operations necessary for the proposed end.”

Should you have interest in reading de Jomini’s The Art of War, it is available both on Google Books here and at Project Gutenberg here.
Jomini, Antoine Henri de. The Art of War, trans. by G. H. Mendell and W. P. Craighill., Special Edition, (El Paso: EL Paso Norte Press. 2005), 9.
A map for the w:en:Battle of the Gebora, in 19 February 1811. Source can be found here. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document (refers to map) under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation license, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled “GNU Free Documentation license“.


History as Science


Should the study of history be scientific? The debate between historians, philosophers, and sociologist around whether history should be based on science has been a topic in my historiography class (see courses here). The biggest brouhaha took place in the late 1800′s when the world was still feeling the effects of the Industrial Revolution and scientific method was becoming all the rage.


Ernst Breisach

Ernst Breisach (left), who author’s our primary text for the class [Historiography: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern], provides a survey of this quest to find a reason for history and its place alongside other areas of study. He provides a look at the players in those countries most engaged in the debate: France, England, Germany, and America.


Auguste Comte

Auguste Comte, who I mentioned in my post here, was a player. He believed that man was of one collective mind and thus progressed intellectually as one. He proposed a model called “The Three Stages of History” which posited that all thought, emotive forces, and sciences progress through three eras: (1) theological, (2) metaphysical, and (3) positive. Events in the theological era were explained by “God’s will.” In the metaphysical era, they were explained by natural laws. Eventually, he predicted, man would enter an endless “positive” era where events could be explained by positive philosophy and laws. Society, politics, and culture would radically change in this state and man’s collective mind would  reach a pinnacle needing no further development. The sciences would organize human life according to laws governing phenomena. These laws would be based on sensory experience; things which could be observed. Comte felt that mankind was on the cusp of moving into that final stage which he predicted began with the French Revolution and would go on forever.

Comte’s Stages

Comte’s ideas fell flat among many. Contrarians argued that once this utopia in human development was reached, there would be little left to do. Not only that but the very foundations of idealist philosophy would be destabilized. God, ideas, uniqueness, and intuition would be considered irrelevant.

Buckle C

Henry Thomas Buckle

But the idea that science could lead to a higher stage of intellectual development governed by overarching laws stuck and a new school of thought was born that became known as “positivist.” Positivism grew in popularity and historians who embraced it began looking for overarching laws that governed, for example, the nature and destiny of nations. If the principles applied to the natural sciences could be applied to history, surely these laws would exist!

British historian Henry Thomas Buckle (right) jumped on the positivist band wagon and called on other British historians to fall in step with more scientific approaches or be ignored. His direction was to abandon the historiography of description in favor of an approach in line with natural sciences. The British didn’t buy it. With few exceptions, they remained attached to the notion that history required careful interpretation and narration by historians. Moral lessons could be found in history that were necessary for the education of the young. Viewing history as science was nothing less than dangerous.

Americans, on the other hand, took to historical science with enthusiasm. History associations and history journals were formed. University history departments in the model of other scientifically-based disciplines were created. The notion of professional and academic historians emerged and it wasn’t long before amateur historians were pushed aside. Breisach called it “The Great Divorce.” (p. 287) More on that in a later post. Americans never demanded nor sought great laws governing human affairs but embraced the benefits and ambiguities of “scientific history,” incorporated what were arguably the best of the interpretations  from around the world, and put an American stamp on it.


Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

What else changed? Plenty. Documentation of sources became more important. Historical writing became more formal and less accessible or interesting to the reading public. If the style of writing didn’t change, it was criticized. So “literary” and “romantic” history became passe. Thus the work of such notable historians as George Bancroft became discredited. Historians began to specialize. The use of quantitative methods Depiction of the data items found in the perspectives of the Zachman Frameworkas a basis for drawing historical conclusions grew. [Needless to say, a paradigm-shift in quantitative methods occurred as a result of computer technology in the 20th century.] Economic history surged as a field of study in the early 20th century and continues strong today.

Not everyone has approved over the years. Breisach provides a wonderful quote by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.  who said that the really important questions of historical inquiry are important because they can’t be quantified. Teddy Roosevelt, Jr.  protested accusing professional historians of becoming so enamored with detailed research that they “did much real harm in preventing the development of students who might have a large grasp of what history should be.” (p. 288)


Teddy Roosevelt, Jr.

Certainly both the quantitative and the qualitative have a place in the study of history. There is no doubt that methods used in other fields like economics, data analysis and statistics can provide great insight into the study of history (See Cliometrics). This is the stuff that counter-factual analysis was built on. But finding the right balance remains a challenge.

Of interest, positivism had a rebirth in the 1920s but, interestingly, proponents of the narrative form of history surged back in the 1960s as humanists challenged pure scientific historiography. For me, there will always be a place for outstanding narrative in the telling of history. Like the British at the turn of the century, I believe in well told history that occasionally has a brilliant moral in the telling.Ancient, Medieval, and Modern, Third Edition

Ernst Breisach, Historiography: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern, (The University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 2007). Chapter referenced: “History and the Quest for a Uniform Science.”

Copyright Rene Tyree 2008

Image of depiction of the data items found in the perspectives of the Zachman Framework by Stan Locke, January 2008, Wikipedia.
Other photos from Wikipedia Commons, public domain.
Diagram of Comte’s Three Stages of History, self-made, Rene Tyree, Feb. 13, 2008.