The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

History Instruction at CGSC circa 1908

In 1908 there were two military schools in operation at Fort Leavenworth, both under the general organization called the Army Service Schools. The first school was the School of the Line. It was attended by officers, generally lieutenants and captains with six to ten years service, selected from their regiments. There were approximately fifty officers in the course. The other course was a second year follow-on to the School of the Line. It was called the General Staff School. Attending this course were the top twenty-four graduates of the previous year from the School of the Line.

Below is an excerpt from the 1908 Commandant’s report. It is taken from the report of the General Staff School, Department of Tactics. It describes the history instruction provided to the General Staff School officers. Note that the total hours of history instruction was approximately 156 (in addition to the the school of the Line’s total of 76). Consider that in today’s CGSC course the total hours of history instruction is 60. Also note that Lieutenant George C. Marshall was the honor graduate of this class and then stayed on additional two years as a member of the faculty. The author of this report was Major J.F. Morrison, head of the Tactics Department.

Click here to see the full original report.



Fort Leavenworth, Kansas,

The Secretary,

August 31, 1908.

The Army Service Schools.


The course in Military History was another innovation and was a success. One campaign (The Peninsular,

1862) was taken. The course was preceded by ‘two lectures on Historical Research. A large

scale map was prepared for us by the Engineering Department covering the theatre of operations. All

movements of the armies were followed day by day to the conclusion of the campaign. The method of

historical study now adopted in all great universities was adapted to military research. Every move and

the reasons therefore were sought and credibility of testimony weighed. The class did not accept secondhand accounts but sought corroborative testimony or information from original sources. One campaign so studied is more valuable to a military student than ‘many more superficially studied. The College Library is well supplied with necessary books. Captain A. L. Conger, 29th Infantry, was the instructor in charge and developed the course; it was fully planned and carried out by him. The class did splendid work and spent many extra hours in the library looking up information.


So successful do I believe it to have been that in the next year thirty-nine half days will be given to this work and three preliminary lectures instead of two. This can not replace the course in the Line School but naturally follows it. The Line School course is a necessary preparation for it.



Our profession is largely empiric and a careful and correct study of Military History is most important. Not a memory stored with names and dates, but a knowledge of important campaigns.


More History:


The class was taken this year for a Staff or Historical Ride from Manassas to Gettysburg. The ride was announced to the class at the beginning of the school year and each member assigned the part he must discuss and the requirements made that careful study of all the campaigns involved was required of those to go. While five half days were allowed for preparation, it was but a small fraction of the time expended on it by the class. During the spring the Staff Class has, in other departments, much work that does not require preparation to be made at home. These evenings were what was counted on for preparation for this ride, and not amiss. The work of the class on this ride, its extent and thoroughness, the complete grasp they got of this part of our Military History, was one of the most satisfactory things to me in the year’s work. The ride was profitable to all concerned and I earnestly recommend that they be continued as long as such satisfactory results are obtained.

Before leaving Fort Leavenworth, Lieutenant Fitch gave a lecture on the Military Geography of Virginia.


July 3d.

Wagons at train for baggage; horses, with lunch.

Class to Bull Run field at the Henry house.

Papers on:

First Bull Run-Captain Baltzell.

Gainsville-Lieutenant Cox.

Groveton-Lieutenan t Fisher.

Second Bull Rur-Captain Raymond.

Camp at Gainsville, ten miles.

July 4th.

Move to Delaplane, twenty-one miles.

July 5th.

Move from Delaplane to Front Royal. eighteen


Papers on :

Front Royal and retreat to Winchester-Lieutenant Morey.

July 6th.

Wagons to Middletown, nine miles. Cla’ss to Tom’s

Brook via Strasburg, and return via Strasburg to Middletown:

twenty-seven miles.

Papers on :

Tom’s Brook-Captain Herron.

Fisher’s Hill–Lieutenant Collins.

July 7th.

Move from Middletown to Winchester, thirteen


Papers on :

Cedar Creek, before leaving for Winchester- Lieutenant Beebe.

Kernstown, en route-Captain Kerth and Lieutenant Currie.

July 8th.

Remain all day at Winchester.

Papers on :

Winchester-Captain Hickok.

Opequon-Captain Stodter.

Sketch of Jackson’s campaign in the valley-Captain Major.

Sketch of Early’s campaign in the valley—Captain Conger.

July 9th.

Move to Harper’s Ferry, via Charleston, twenty-eight miles.

Papers on :

The Capture of Harper’s Ferry-Lieutenant Landa.

Events Leading to Antietam-Captain King.

July 10th.

Wagons to Sharpsburg, twelve miles. Class to Crampton’s Gap, via, Pleasant Valley, nine miles; then

to Turner’s Gap, seven miles; then to Sharpsburg for camp. Total for class, twenty-four miles.

Papers on:

Crarnptolz’s Gap-Lieutenant Locke.

Turner’s Gap-Captain Rhodes.

July 11th.

Remain at Sharpsburg.

P a p e r s o n :

Federal Right-Lieutenant Fuqua.

Federal Left-Lieutenant Monter.

July 12th. Wagons direct to Hagerstown. Class via Williamsport.

July 13th.

Move to Fairfield, twenty miles.

Papers on :

The Retreat from Gettysburg-Captain Sharp.

Event8 Leading to Gettysburg-Captain Sayre.

July 14th.

Move to Gettysburg, seven and a half miles.

Papers on :

The First Day’s Fight-Lieutenant Jackson.

July 2d-Culp’s Hill-Captain Birnie.

July 15th.

At Gettysburg.

Papers on :

The Battle of July 2d-The Federal Left-Lieutenant Palmer.

The Battle of July 3d-Left and Center-Lieutenant Hodges.

July 3d-Culp’s Hill-Captain Chiles.

Review of the Battle of Gettysburg-Lieutenant Marshall.

July 16th.

Allowance of a day for delays en route, or for seeing Gettysburg more thoroughly. In the latter case,

the two last named papers to be read on this date.

The above program was carried out. The following problems were given out and the solutions submitted were discussed by instructors and class.

In most cases the discussions were very complete:

I. As Chief of Staff for General McClellan, draw up the order that should have been issued after obtaining the “lost order” September 13th.

2. ‘As Chief of Staff for General Lee, issue the order that should have been issued the night of September 14th, at termination of Battle of South Mountain.

3. As Chief of Staff for General McClellan., write the order that should have been issued the evening of September 16th.

4, Write the order for General Lee% withdrawal after the Battle of Antietam.

5. Take the situation of the troops as it existed the evening of June 30, 1863-As Chief of Staff for General Lee, submit a plan of action.

6. Same as above except as Chief of Staff for General Meade. Submit a plan of action for him.

7a.. Was the position taken by General Sickles with his Corps July 2d, faulty? In other words, is his claim as to the position correct?

7b. With modern arms would the advanced position be better than the one ordered by General Meade?

The above problems were solved by class on the ground after a study of the same and hearing the

papers and discussions relating to the battles in question, but without other preparation or warning.

October 25, 2011 - Posted by | H100, military history, Professional Military Education | , , , , , , , ,


  1. After reading the above passage, it seems that the military of 1908 placed more value on developing leaders’ understanding of significant historical events and persons. The emphasis placed on understanding and not memorizing history in 1908’s education system is apparent. Too many of times I have witnessed the reversal, not only in our military but also in our nation’s education system.

    Memorization of names and dates does nothing to broaden the minds of our leaders. To truly learn from history, learning institutions (military or civilian) need to challenge their students to answer the why, not when, significant historical events occurred. By doing this students are forced to use their grey matter to analyze the material before them, perhaps visualize the environment, and begin to understand the causes and effects that compose many of history’s events.

    By developing an understanding, in depth, of why certain events unfolded the way they did can assist our leaders during their own decision process. In addition to historical models, historical studies provide leaders an appreciation of cultures and nations across the globe. This appreciation coupled with a firm grasp of historical examples has been accredited for the success of many if not all of “history’s” notable leaders, often by their own self-admittance.

    So, if the true study of history has repeatedly proved its worth why doesn’t our current military and civilian education systems devote more time to it?

    Comment by MAJ Chris Moore, 17A | October 26, 2011

  2. I echo the previous comment with regard to the importance of reading history and the lack of emphasis placed on it during formal education. It is interesting that the new ADP 3-0 specifically mentions self study and the study of history to become familiar with the full range of operational concepts. As a result of the changing operational environment and doctrine I wonder if more time will be devoted to the study of history in future CGSC classes.

    Comment by Matthew Wilder, 17D | October 28, 2011

  3. I agree with both comments posted. Although I’ve never been a fan of military history. As a field grade officer, I have gained a greater appreciation. Having a knowledge of how wars were fought in the past, helps leaders become familiar with the different types of operational environments instead of historical dates. In addition the different key historical figures and why they are key figures. During early childhood, any type of history that was taught only focused on memorizing dates, which is not important. Currently, the requirement is limited; prior to commissioning and at CGSC. Military history should be implemented into professional development throughout one’s career. This can be accomplished through mandatory Officer Professional Developments (OPD) one a quarter or a certain number of self-study lessons over a period of time. Not sure how something like this would be managed and who would be the proponent for reporting and tracking.

    Comment by MAJ LaShaunda Jackson 17A | October 30, 2011

  4. I have to fall in line with the above comments. Understanding of the lessons learned from history are the critical take away. It is more important for active military professionals to glean the “take away” and be able to apply that information to situations they may encounter. History can be used as the catalyst to develop the teaching point and put it in to a context that will better enable the active Soldier to apply it. People will develop tastes for different periods of history and as a result will gain more from the eras they find more interesting. The difficulty is that in an academic environment the student is at the mercy of the course designer. If a student does not especially enjoy a specific genre, they will likely not gain as much as they would from a different time. If we spend too much time on one period, or if we spend too much time “in the weeds” we don’t get the results we would if we focused on the big picture ideas from different times and how they apply to modern times. For example, we see similar concepts from Sun Tzu and Clausewitz, so would the lessons be better learned from looking at battles in China versus Europe? I submit the context does not matter that much, as long as the teaching point is clear and relevant.

    Comment by MAJ Chittenden SG17A | October 30, 2011

  5. I agree with the above comments. During my time at CGSC I have learned so much from history and the leaders of the past. History is the baseline that we used to build our military of today. Learning dates is not history but the teaching the lessons learned and walk through how they got to the endstate. I agree with MAJ Jackson that history needs to be a part of our Battalion OPD programs. If we are truly invested in the success of our junior officers and NCOs we need to study the lessons from the past. Our doctrine wants us to develop agile leaders, the start point has to be history. We need to give them a good foundation to start their professional building blocks.

    Comment by MAJ Carl Mason, 17A | November 2, 2011

  6. Learning history is great…experiencing it is better. When was the last time any of us has been on a Staff Ride to “experience” a piece of our military history? We all look to history in some shape or another in just about everything we do in the military. As an O/C at NTC, it never failed that a training unit would utter at some point the phrase “that is how we did it last time…” That doesn’t mean that we learned from “…the last time,” it just means that we were there. I found that you can either learn from your experiences or become a victim of them. Most units don’t take the AAR phase of redeployment seriously and that dooms them to the victim category. CALL has been much more active and capable in collecting those lessons, studying them to gain knowledge that they share with the rest of the force. These products start to shape the educational portion of the histroy that drives doctrine and learning.
    We all read books on Islam, the Soviet experience in Afghansitan, the Iran-Iraq war, the first Gulf War, and counter-insurgency as we prepared for our adventures in OIF/OND or OEF. All of the reading and study was helpful in many ways, but until we experienced it, the lessons from those studies didn’t really sink in and take hold. I agree that there should be a strong grounding in the lessons of histroy in a classroom environment, but when able, we need to resource lessons that take us to the historical battlefields to really learn. For those of you who have experienced Gettysburg know exactly what I mean.

    Comment by MAJ Blue Huber, Staff Group 17B | November 16, 2011

  7. After reading the overview of the 1908 report, the analysis of Gettysburg stuck out to me. I recalled the amount of importance the senior officers I encounter as a cadet in ROTC or as a new LT placed on Gettysburg and the novel Killer Angles. Most had conducted a study of the book and/or battle during their time at the War College. My Professor of Military Science was a major proponent of the novel, and emphasized its importance to me as an officer in the US Army. It seems that there is a connection between, or perhaps a history of our Army analyzing that battle and the leaders who were involved in it. The analysis of Gettysburg is engrained in our Army. In 1908, a staff ride to Gettysburg was conducted by the CGSC class. Today, that staff ride is limited to the IMS students visiting the country. Why IMS? Perhaps it is because at some basic level, the study of that battle reveals something about our Army and the traits that are desired, admired, and wanted in our leaders. Are these traits truly representative of our Army? I think they are desired, but not representative of all of our leaders. But it is important enough for our IMS compadres to be introduced to the idea. From my combat experiences I would agree with some of the other posts that a situation can produce the reactions of those involved and some “heros” are a product of the circumstances they have found themselves placed in. Would Chamberlain been a hero if he had not been at Gettysburg for example? Regardless, I see the value of the class of 1908 and the IMS program’s analysis of what has become a significant demonstration of leadership by commanders on the field of battle.

    Comment by MAJ Tim Hickman, Staff Group 17C | December 12, 2011

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