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Under the Shadow of Napoleon

Under the Shadow of Napoleon: French Influence on the American Way of Warfare from Independence to the Eve of World War II

Michael A. Bonura
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 318
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  • Book Info
    Under the Shadow of Napoleon
    Book Description:

    The way an army thinks about and understands warfare has a tremendous impact on its organization, training, and operations. The central ideas of that understanding form a nation's way of warfare that influences decisions on and off the battlefield. From the disasters of the War of 1812, Winfield Scott ensured that America adopted a series of ideas formed in the crucible of the Wars of the French Revolution and epitomized by Napoleon. Reflecting American cultural changes, these French ideas dominated American warfare on the battlefields of the Mexican-American War, the American Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I. America remained committed to these ideas until cultural pressures and the successes of German Blitzkrieg from 1939 - 1940 led George C. Marshall to orchestrate the adoption of a different understanding of warfare. Michael A. Bonura examines concrete battlefield tactics, army regulations, and theoretical works on war as they were presented in American army education manuals, professional journals, and the popular press, to demonstrate that as a cultural construction, warfare and ways of warfare can be transnational and influence other nations.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2317-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Since the 1960s, Americans’ attitudes toward France have involved a wide array of emotions, from suspicion to anger and even, at times, betrayal. France’s withdrawal from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s integrated military command in 1966 and its refusal to allow American military aircraft to enter its airspace during the 1986 bombing of Libya deteriorated the congenial American attitudes toward the French, which had been prevalent prior to World War II. The current global war on terror has not changed this opinion, and at times there has been a great deal of hatred of all things French. The “Freedom Fries”...

  6. 1 A French Way of Warfare
    (pp. 11-40)

    It was only right that Goethe, one of the most brilliant minds of the eighteenth century, declared the French Revolution a watershed moment in European history on the battlefield that saved the new republic from international intervention. The French Revolution unleashed new ideas that fundamentally altered French culture, while at the same time realizing Enlightenment military reforms deemed anathema by the armies of the ancien régime. The result was a way of warfare that matched the unique capabilities of the citizen-soldier with a new system of tactics. This new system disregarded the limitations of eighteenth-century warfare and proved superior to...

  7. 2 Bringing French Warfare to America, 1814–1848
    (pp. 41-92)

    The American Revolution left the military tradition of the fledgling republic with a variety of European influences. The colonial wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries made Americans intimately familiar with British warfare, including tactics, discipline, administration, and organization. Additionally, the frontier warfare of the colonial period provided Americans with a less conventional military tradition.² However, George Washington spent the entirety of the War of Independence attempting to make his Continental Army an eighteenth-century European army, capable of the evolutions of Frederick the Great. He brought European tactics to the American armies through encampments such as Valley Forge and by...

  8. 3 American Adaptation of French Warfare, 1848–1865
    (pp. 93-132)

    With a string of successes for the U.S. Army in Mexico, the fundamental elements of the French combat method remained at the center of the army’s intellectual framework of the battlefield. However, changes in technology led to a reevaluation of the American system of tactics and general regulations in the 1850s. The War Department updated its tactical regulations to include the rifled musket in Hardee’sRifle and Light Infantry Tactics. It also authorized new general regulations that reintroduced sections concerning combat and battle. At West Point, Dennis Hart Mahan produced the first truly American work on the military art through...

  9. 4 German Professionalism and American Warfare, 1865–1899
    (pp. 133-172)

    If continuity characterized the period from 1814 to 1865, the rest of the nineteenth century was a period of change for American warfare and was inspired not by French culture but by German culture and institutions. German innovation in industry, science, and education made a great impression on American society, which adopted several German reforms and ideas. This impression combined with German military success of the 1860s and 1870s to create a powerful influence on the American army. Like the rest of American society of the period, the army followed a German model of professionalization as it sought to reform...

  10. 5 American Warfare in the Progressive Era, 1899–1918
    (pp. 173-212)

    If German cultural and military influence transformed the army and its institutions leading up to the Spanish-American War, the Progressive Era completed the transition to a professional army. Progressives believed in the importance of education, and this encouraged the continued improvement of West Point and the Fort Leavenworth postgraduate schools. It also led to the creation of the Army War College to encourage a more deliberate study of current strategic issues facing the nation. Progressives looked to professional communities of technical experts to lead the bureaucracies of the twentieth century. These professionals provided better administration and efficiency than did the...

  11. 6 The End of French Influence on American Warfare, 1918–1941
    (pp. 213-256)

    Although the officer corps as a whole considered the army’s intellectual framework of the battlefield based on the fundamental elements of the French combat method validated in WWI, the experiences of the war led to a period of experimentation. WWI was in effect an anomaly, and while the French combat method provided a solution to the problems of modern combat, other solutions began to seem more effective. During the 1920s and 1930s, several different theories of war competed with the French combat method in the army through professional debates, journals, tests, and the drafting of new regulations. In conjunction with...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 257-262)

    The intellectual development of the American army from the War of 1812 through the beginning of WWII followed the general outline of Kuhn’s scientific revolution. In the period from the American Revolution through the War of 1812, no clear consensus existed among the armies of the United States concerning tactics and doctrine. The state of American military art resembled preparadigmatic science in that officers subscribed to a number of popular theories of war and systems of tactics. This resulted in years of American losses at the hands of a much smaller British army, which was indoctrinated into a single intellectual...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 263-296)
  14. Index
    (pp. 297-306)
  15. About the Author
    (pp. 307-307)