The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

Economic Warfare: The American Way of War

The American Civil War vividly demonstrated how the products of the industrial revolution, the rifled musket, steam powered trains and ships, the telegraph, banking, and mass production manufacturing techniques changed tactical and operational warfare. Less noticable was the way in which the economic base of a country became an important aspect of its war making capability. Limited economic base meant limited war making capability while a large robust economic base meant a large war making capability. General Grant consiously developed his attritition strategy followed in the last eighteen months of the war based on his understanding of the economic advantages of the Union. Simply put, the Union could sustain losses of manpower and material and the South could not. Thus, tactical and operational victory, though desired, was not necessary to winning the war. Continuous fighting was necessary to make this happen –not continuous tactical victory. Thus Grant’s guidance to his subordinate :


Though focused tactically on battle, the purpose of battle was not to achieve tactical victory, but rather to deplete Southern resources, regardless of tactical victory. Thus, there was no direct link between military tactical victory and strategic victory. Military operations were necessary to enable the leveraging of the Union’s economic advantage, but the economic advantage was what was decisive not the supporting military campaign.

Grant focused on destroying the Southern Army, and then Southern governance.  Nothing done in the Civil War or after addressed the third aspect of Clausewitz’s trinity –the passion of the people.  Some argue that this was the reason for the failure of Reconstruction and domination of former Confederates of the South after the war.

Historian Russel Weigley sees the Civil War as a template for an “American Way of War:” “The Civil War tended to fix the American image of war from the 1860s into America’s rise to world power at the turn of the century, and it also suggested that the complete overthrow of the enemy, the destruction of his military power, is the object of war.”

Does Weigley’s template for the American Way of War still apply today?  Are we pursuing a Grant model strategy in Afghanistan focused on insurgents and insurgent leadership, and ignoring the “passion” that supports the insurgency?

How does a strategy address the “passion” aspect of war?  Is it part of the military strategy or should it be part of the national strategy?  Who in government is the lead for attacking the enemy’s passion?


October 12, 2012 - Posted by | COIN, Current Events, H100, military history | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I do not believe that Weigley’s assessment still applies. One of the underlying goals of stability operations is to create the conditions to influence the population to accept and support U.S. operations. This is why influence is listed as one of the four stability mechanisms. While the stability operations tend to be ignored by media and other outlets in favor of kinetic operations, the work of building schools and roads, providing medical care and supporting development goes on. Frequently, the military carries out or supports these activities in conjunction with unified action partners, such as the Department of State or USAID. The strategy for Afghanistan thus recognizes the importance of attrition (a la Grant), but also addresses the need to build the capacity of the Afghan government and people.

    It seems that “passion” should be a part of both the military and the national strategy that is ultimately led by the Chief of Mission or senior unified action partner. However, the military should address the passion by appropriately considering the effects of the operation on civilian society. This ranges from strategic activities to the “Strategic Corporal” described by Gen. Krulak. Grant and Sherman failed to do this as they conducted operations that directly hindered the livelihood of the southern populace. While these actions secured strategic victory through economic attrition, they set the stage for long-term disaffection among southerns. Unified action partners such as the Interagency or non-governmental organizations help achieve the goals of the national strategy with respect to stability by helping mitigate the effects of conflict, influencing the perceptions of citizens and building capacity for the future. Thus, confronting the enemy’s passion is not the responsibility of a single actor, but a part of the larger picture of military and interagency operations in a theater.

    Comment by Kenneth Mortimer, 11A | October 30, 2012

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