Jomini at the Point

20 07 2010

The other day I posted an observation on Facebook.  It didn’t generate much conversation, so I thought I’d see what it attracts here:

I was watching Dr. Carol Reardon on PCN [Gettysburg College Civil War Institute talks from Summer 2010 Conference] talk about West Point in 1860. Glad to see her confirm what I’ve long suspected – that Jomini was not as respected or preferred at the Academy as we have been led to believe. After I finished his book [The Art of War used as a textbook] all I could think was “What’s the rumpus?”

The faculty at West Point had problems with Jomini. In fact, one of the reasons they used his textbook was that they already had it, and getting a different one was not in the budget.

Another interesting point raised in the 1860 study conducted by Jefferson Davis’ War Dept was that that cadets rarely continued study of military theory after graduation – almost never, actually.  So, were grads – like Lee – who were not students when Jomini was being studied very familiar with him?

 I feel like historians spend way too much time considering the influence of Jomini and far too little considering the writings/teachings of Halleck and Mahan. But what do I know?

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9 responses

20 07 2010
Mark Peters

Harry, is there any primary source evidence, from memoirs of West Pointers, to suggest that Jomini had an influence on their way of thinking?

20 07 2010
Harry Smeltzer

Off the top of my head, I don’t know, Mike. I’m sure some of them must have commented at the time they had to read him, or at least reflected back, because it’s one damn boring book.

20 07 2010
Rick Allen

I’m with ya Harry…….more Mahan…..less Jomini.

20 07 2010
Craig Swain

Jomini – ten years of service, fifty years trying to sell books. I would advance Mahan’s Outpost as far more useful at the time to the American military needs.

I think, however, the point about professional studies is valid. Serving officers have trouble making time for study of theory. They are often wrapped up on the “practice.” The American use of the military was focused on smaller unit actions than in Europe. Nor were American officers expected to dabble in the strategic or political affairs. That would not emerge as a requirement until 1918.

20 07 2010
Harry Smeltzer

Interesting you bring that up. Dr. Reardon also discussed other results of the study. Many suggested that the cadets received too much instruction in theory and “big picture” material. Part of the 5 year program placed more emphasis on day-to-day administrative duties for which a 2d LT would be responsible – stuff like filling out requisition forms and reports.

21 07 2010
Craig Swain

I’ve always felt the “focus” of training in the “modern” Army (that which warped me!) was spot on. Cadet curriculum spread out basic training across four years (three times a week), with added emphasis on small unit tactics. We learned how to lead, maneuver, and fight light infantry platoons (in other words the “basic” component of any force structure). Nobody worried us about company and battalion tactics. For the newly minted LT, the officer basic course built upon that core by adding specifics for the assigned operational specialty. Emphasis there turned to larger unit tactics, administrative duties, and even boring stuff like logistics.

By the time I left the Officer Basic course, I was pretty good at wrecking Soviet Motorized Rifle Companies. Unfortunately that was 1990 and there was a scarcity of Soviet Motorized Rifle Companies! I would say that some “students” took well to the training. Others not so well. Like any training, it goes back to the student’s motivation and abilities.

The intent of “modern” training system is to gradually build upon the officer’s experience with increasingly higher levels of doctrine introduced in follow on service schools. Of course such did not exist in 1860. Then officers would work on their own, be mentored by their seniors, or learn by osmosis while contributing to committees.

The “modern” system does show maturity and refinement one would expect after 235 or so years of evolution. However, the recent complaint is it does not introduce the junior officers to strategic thought at early phases of development. In today’s world, often a lowly 2nd LT is making decisions that end up leading tomorrow’s news. Not quite the “I started a major battle because my troops needed shoes” stuff, but certainly far reaching.

So in some ways I see this going full circle. If in the old days Jomini was seen as too much for LTs, now days we are concerned our LTs are not exposed to Jomini-level thought early on!

28 07 2010
Mark Snell

As far as I know, the first historian to correct the record in regards to Jomini’s (lack of) influence at USMA was Professor James L. Morrison in his book _’Best School in the World': West Point, the Pre-Civil War Years_, which was published in the mid-1980s by Kent State Univ. Press. Morrison was First Captain at VMI, spent a career in the Army, and finished his stint as a professor in the history department at West Point before going on to teach at York College of Pennsylvania.

28 07 2010
Harry Smeltzer

Mark, it’s sitting here in my stack of “to be read” West Point books, which I guess explains why Carol’s talk stood out so starkly to me. I’ve read Ambrose’s book and the collection of essays on the founding of the school edited by McDonald, along with one book on the classes of 1861, but have about 4 others sitting here. So I think I’ll move Morrison to the top, once I get done with Carman.

28 07 2010
William J. Holland

This is a great web-site worthy of great reflection. I recently posted on my own blog an essay titled ‘Sun Tzu vs. Clausewitz’ it having generated much uninformed criticism; I did notice in my own studies that Jomini was used by the Confederates, yet most of what was implemented was blunted by geography? Anyway, I noticed that you’re quite formidable in this field, so when you have time this summer, I invite you to check out my very short essay and see where I’ve gone wrong.

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