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The principles of war were not established in a training regulation until 1921. However, many of the concepts of present-day army warfare were developed during the Civil War. Most senior Union and Confederate commanders were graduates of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. They were well versed in the art of war, as then practiced.

Technological innovations, such as the rifled-musket, required changes in tactics to meet the new situations. Dogmatic commanders tended to be replaced by those able to adapt to field conditions during the latter years of the war. Those present during the final stages of the Civil War had learned their lessons well, but tired, saddle-weary, rain-soaked, combat-hardened veterans did make mistakes during battle. These mistakes were paid for by their soldiers. The lessons of the final engagements of the conflict, relative to the principles of war, require a careful assessment of the movements of the commands, deployment of troops, offensive action, defensive action, unit cohesion, and unit disintegration. By studying the Civil War, the U.S. Army has learned invaluable lessons.

Civil War Strategy Map
Civil War Strategy Map.jpg
American Civil War


Whenever Army forces are called to fight, they fight to win. Army forces in combat seek to impose their will on the enemy. Victory is the objective, no matter what the mission. Nothing short of victory is acceptable. The fundamental tenets of Army operations doctrine describe the characteristics of successful operations. In and of themselves they do not guarantee victory, but their absence makes winning difficult and costly to achieve.

The tenets are:

The ability to set or to change the terms of battle. In the attack, initiative implies never allowing the enemy to recover from the initial shock of the attack. In the defense, initiative implies quickly turning the tables on the attacker. In battle, initiative requires the decentralization of decision authority to the lowest practical level.

The ability of friendly forces to react faster than the enemy. A mental and physical quality, it is a prerequisite for seizing and holding the initiative. The accumulation of chance errors, unexpected difficulties, and confusion of battle creates friction that impedes both sides.

The extension of operations in time, space, resources, and purpose. Operations are conducted throughout the depth of the battlefield with the aim of defeating the enemy more rapidly by denying freedom of action and disrupting or destroying the coherence and tempo of its operations.

The ability to focus resources and activities in time and space to provide maximum relative combat power at the decisive point.

The ability of units to meet diverse challenges, shift focus, tailor forces, and move from one role or mission to another rapidly and efficiently.


Four primary elements combine to create combat power - the ability to fight.

The elements are:

The movement of combat forces to gain positional advantage, usually in order to deliver either direct or indirect fire upon the enemy. Maneuver is the means of positioning forces at decisive points to achieve surprise, psychological shock, physical momentum, massed effects, and moral dominance.

The destructive force essential to defeating the enemy's ability and will to fight. It is the amount of fire that may be delivered by a position, unit, or weapon system.

Conserving the fighting potential of a force so that commanders can apply it at the decisive time and place. Protection has four components: operational security, conservation of soldiers' health, morale, and equipment readiness, safety, and avoidance of fratricide.

The most essential dynamic of combat power is competent and confident leadership of officers and noncommissioned officers.


Direct every military operation toward a clearly defined, decisive, attainable objective. The ultimate military purpose of war is the destruction of the enemy armed forces and the enemy's will to fight.

Seize, retain, and exploit the initiative. Offensive action is the most effective and decisive way to attain a clearly defined common objective. Offensive operations are the means by which a military force seizes and holds the initiative while maintaining freedom of action and achieving decisive results.

Mass the effects of overwhelming combat power at the decisive place and time. To mass is to hit the enemy with a closed fist, not poke at him with the fingers of an open hand. Mass seeks to smash the enemy, not sting him.

Economy of Force:
Economy of force is the judicious employment and distribution of forces. No part of the force should ever be left without purpose.

Place the enemy in a position of disadvantage through flexible application of combat power.

Unity of Command:
For every objective, seek unity of command and unity of effort. Unity of command means that all forces are under one responsible commander.

Never permit the enemy to acquire unexpected advantage. Security enhances freedom of action by reducing vulnerability to hostile acts, influence, or surprise. Security results from the measures taken by a commander to protect his forces.

Strike the enemy at a time or place or in a manner for which he is unprepared. Surprise can decisively shift the balance of combat power.

Prepare clear, uncomplicated plans and concise orders to ensure thorough understanding. Everything in war is very simple, but the simple thing is difficult.

(See also related reading below.)


References: Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington, D.C.; Field Manual (FM) 100–5. 1993 Operations, U.S. Army, June 1993.

Highly Recommended Reading: THE ART OF WAR, Sun Tzu (Author). Description: Twenty-Five Hundred years ago, Sun Tzu wrote this classic book of military strategy based on Chinese warfare and military thought. The Art of War is the Swiss army knife of military theory--pop out a different tool for any situation. Folded into this package are compact views on resourcefulness, momentum, cunning, the profit motive, flexibility, integrity, secrecy, speed, positioning, surprise, deception, manipulation, responsibility, and practicality. Continued below...
This translation keeps the package tight, with crisp language and short sections. Commentaries from the Chinese tradition trail Sun Tzu's words, elaborating and picking up on puzzling lines. Take the solitary passage: "Do not eat food for their soldiers." Elsewhere, Sun Tzu has told us to plunder the enemy's stores, but now we're not supposed to eat the food? The Tang dynasty commentator Du Mu solves the puzzle nicely, "If the enemy suddenly abandons their food supplies, they should be tested first before eating, lest they be poisoned." Most passages, however, are the pinnacle of succinct clarity: "Lure them in with the prospect of gain, take them by confusion" or "Invincibility is in oneself, vulnerability is in the opponent." Sun Tzu's maxims are widely applicable beyond the military because they speak directly to the exigencies of survival. Your new tools will serve you well, but don't flaunt them. Remember Sun Tzu's advice: "Though effective, appear to be ineffective." The Art of War is a book which should be used to gain advantage of opponents in the boardroom and battlefield alike.

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Recommended Reading: Battle Tactics of the Civil War (Yale Nota Bene) (Yale University Press). Description: Was the Civil War really the birthplace of modern battlefield tactics? Paddy Griffith argues that despite the use of new weapons and of trench warfare techniques, the Civil War was in reality the last Napoleonic-style war. Rich in description and analysis, this is a book of interest both to military historians and to Civil War buffs. "Belongs on the shelf of every historian, Civil War buff, and military tactician." -- Maj. James T. Currie, Army. "Provides a fresh and provocative appraisal of the [Civil] War. . . . An essential read for anyone interested in the subject." -- Military History Illustrated. Continued below...

About the Author: Paddy Griffith, formerly a senior lecturer in war studies at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, England, is the author of several other books on military subjects, including Battle Tactics of the Western Front: The British Army's Art of Attack, published by Yale University Press.

Recommended Reading: The Bloody Crucible of Courage: Fighting Methods and Combat Experience of the Civil War. Description: In this groundbreaking achievement in Civil War scholarship, acclaimed military historian Brent Nosworthy leads an all-out attack on the many myths and misunderstandings about how the North and South fought, and covers for the first time in any book the variety of Civil War combat methods in their entirety. Now everything from grand tactics to hand-to-hand combat during our nation’s costliest war is given its proper due in the development of warfare. Continued below...
Nosworthy weaves together the story of newly emerging weapons, the resulting changes in military doctrine, and the combatants’ experiences as these innovations were applied to the battlefield. Detailing methods of warfare from General Irvin McDowell’s first tentative efforts at Bull Run to Lee’s and Grant’s final exertions at Petersburg and Appomattox, the author examines tactical variations due to regional differences and the distinctive circumstances of each campaign. Along with maps, diagrams, and illustrations throughout, The Bloody Crucible of Courage recognizes the primacy of the war’s most compelling voices, and contains hundreds of firsthand accounts from the front lines. "This massive study of Civil War weaponry, tactics and combat practices covers so much so well that it's indispensable." Publishers Weekly

Recommended Reading: Hardtack & Coffee or The Unwritten Story of Army Life. Description: Most histories of the Civil War focus on battles and top brass. Hardtack and Coffee is one of the few to give a vivid, detailed picture of what ordinary soldiers endured every day—in camp, on the march, at the edge of a booming, smoking hell. John D. Billings of Massachusetts enlisted in the Army of the Potomac and survived the hellish conditions as a “common foot soldier” of the American Civil War. "Billings describes an insightful account of the conflict – the experiences of every day life as a common foot-soldier – and a view of the war that is sure to score with every buff." The authenticity of his book is heightened by the many drawings that a comrade, Charles W. Reed, made while in the field. This is the story of how the Civil War soldier was recruited, provisioned, and disciplined. Continued below...

Described here are the types of men found in any outfit; their not very uniform uniforms; crowded tents and makeshift shelters; difficulties in keeping clean, warm, and dry; their pleasure in a cup of coffee; food rations, dominated by salt pork and the versatile cracker or hardtack; their brave pastimes in the face of death; punishments for various offenses; treatment in sick bay; firearms and signals and modes of transportation. Comprehensive and anecdotal, Hardtack and Coffee is striking for the pulse of life that runs through it.


Recommended Viewing: America at War Megaset (History Channel) (Number of discs: 14) (Run Time: 1948 minutes). Description: From the first musket shots at Lexington and Concord to the precision-guided munitions in modern-day Baghdad. America's history has been forged in the heat of battle. AMERICA AT WAR presents twenty-five documentaries from THE HISTORY CHANNEL charting U.S. military conflict over two centuries. This "fourteen disc set" explores key moments of the American Revolution, the Alamo, Mexican American War, the Civil War, Spanish American War, World Wars I and II as well as the conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, and Iraq. Continued below...

The chronological collection draws upon the expertise of noted historians, military authorities, engineers, and war correspondents to convey the personal side of conflict not often found in history books. A trove of archival footage and documents brings viewers closer than ever to the heated heart of combat. This is truly a one-of-a-kind collector's set!


Recommended Reading: The 1863 U.S. Infantry Tactics: Infantry of the Line, Light Infantry, and Riflemen (Hardcover: 608 pages). Description: Written in 1861 at the direction of the War Department and copiously illustrated, this was the book used to train, lead, and maneuver U.S. Infantry units on Civil War battlefields. It contains the school of the soldier, the company, and battalion or fielded regiment, along with all-important instructions for skirmishers. More than 15 pages of field music, the articles of war in use at the time, and a dictionary of Civil War military terminology complete this extensive work. The work was authorized and adopted by the Secretary of War on May 1, 1861. This is the second edition issued in 1863.


Recommended Reading: Arms and Equipment of the Civil War. Description: Enhanced with marvelous illustrations, the text describes what materiel was available to the armies and navies of both sides — from iron-clad gunboats, submarine torpedoes, and military balloons to pontoon bridges, percussion grenades, and siege artillery — with on-the-scene comments by Union and Confederate soldiers about equipment and camp life. Includes more than 500 black-and-white illustrations. RATED 5 STARS. Continued...


Recommended Viewing: The Civil War on DVD, A Film by Ken Burns. The Civil War, by Ken Burns, is an 11 hour mini-series and the most successful documentary in American history. Massive in scope and scale--including numerous scholars and Civil War historians--The Civil War has set a new standard for Civil War documentaries...


Recommended Reading: Robert E. Lee on Leadership : Executive Lessons in Character, Courage, and Vision. Description: Robert E. Lee was a leader for the ages. The man heralded by Winston Churchill as "one of the noblest Americans who ever lived" inspired an out-manned, out-gunned army to achieve greatness on the battlefield. He was a brilliant strategist and a man of unyielding courage who, in the face of insurmountable odds, nearly changed forever the course of history. "A masterpiece—the best work of its kind I have ever read. Crocker's Lee is a Lee for all leaders to study; and to work, quite deliberately, to emulate." — Major General Josiah Bunting III, Superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute. Continued below...

In this remarkable book, you'll learn the keys to Lee's greatness as a man and a leader. You'll find a general whose standards for personal excellence was second to none, whose leadership was founded on the highest moral principles, and whose character was made of steel. You'll see how he remade a rag-tag bunch of men into one of the most impressive fighting forces history has ever known. You'll also discover other sides of Lee—the businessman who inherited the debt-ridden Arlington plantation and streamlined its operations, the teacher who took a backwater college and made it into a prestigious university, and the motivator who inspired those he led to achieve more than they ever dreamed possible. Each chapter concludes with the extraordinary lessons learned, which can be applied not only to your professional life, but also to your private life as well.


Today's business world requires leaders of uncommon excellence who can overcome the cold brutality of constant change. Robert E. Lee was such a leader. He triumphed over challenges people in business face every day. Guided by his magnificent example, so can you.




"A splendid and inspiring book, Robert E. Lee on Leadership offers enormously valuable lessons for all of us today, and should be required reading in the White House, the State Department, and the Pentagon, at least."

— Caspar Weinberger, former Secretary of Defense, chairman of Forbes magazine


"As Harry Crocker reminds us, the principles that guided Robert e. Lee were grounded in the finest traditions of American values. Robert E. Lee on Leadership is a timely and valuable reflection on character, and on the personal and spiritual convictions that make for great leaders."

— S. Patrick Presley, director of Federal Government Affairs, British Petroleum


"A moving and illuminating look at Lee the man, so that thoughtful people can learn from him how to succeed in the business of life."

— Dinesh D'Souza, author of Ronald Reagan: How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader


"Harry Crocker has provided a great service by reminding us through this moving and tightly written biography that winning isn't the only thing: faithfulness and honor live in our memories after the guns are silent."

— Marvin Olasky, author of the bestselling Renewing American Compassion and The American Leadership Tradition

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