The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

H08: 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, 2016 - Posted by | H100, military history, Professional Military Education | ,


  1. When we consider the extreme potency of the “passion of the people” in Afghanistan, it is easy to make the argument that Weigley’s template for the American Way of War no longer applies. The extreme will of the people in Afghanistan is difficult to understand from an American perspective because people fail to remember that not everyone shares our perspective. People in Afghanistan are largely illiterate and speak in terms of generations, so they are much more attune to become passionate about a cause if the person telling them about it shares that same passion. This could be the case even if they do not fully understand what or why they are fighting, but simply because they are united in their passion for the stated “cause.” Our approach in Afghanistan has been effective in some ways and largely ineffective in others. As we head into our 16th year there, we should really take a look at the expenditure of our own resources and how that has affected our economy over time. Whereas it took the Union 4 years to deplete the resources of the Confederacy, who knows how many years it will take for us to exhaust our resources in an ideological fight that becomes increasingly difficult to win.

    Comment by Justin Reddick | October 13, 2016

  2. General Grant shifted his strategy after the battle of Shiloh when he realized what was the only way to achieve the national strategy – retain the union. Afghanstain counts on “others” to fund the fight, so to evaluate the true passion of the Afghanstain people, others must help the people realize the abilities Afghanstain has to fund the conflict in a variety of ways. Grant fully trusted the other two parts of the triangle to fund the military’s requirements. For Afghanstain the government and tribal leaders are essential to communicating to the people a policy/mission the people will believe in. The history of the country’s policy does not lend itself to this possibility, but history iself leaves the door open for the those serving and leading can do so passionately.

    Comment by Amy Noble | October 13, 2016

  3. Our reading was interesting this week but it left unanswered questions. It said that Napoleonic tactics proved incapable of accommodating the technological advances of the day and that Infantry formations just blasted away at each other for the first few years. Thereafter, the defense resorted increasingly to digging trenches, while the attackers confronted the problem of crossing the killing zone — a problem that offered no solution until the end of world war I. What was the solution in WWI?

    Comment by adamjbushey | October 14, 2016

  4. It is difficult to assess whether Weigley’s template for the American way of war applies today because Weigley uses the Civil War (total war) as his template while much of the modern conflicts have been more limited in nature. Regardless, I think there is evidence that Weigley’s template provides a framework illustrating how America prefers to approach warfare. Even in the limited war currently being prosecuted against ISIS, elements of Weigley’s template exist. Namely, the stated national strategy against ISIS is to “degrade, dismantle, and ultimately defeat” the terror group. The comprehensiveness of this “mission statement” illustrates how even in limited warfare, the US has “total destruction of an enemies military power” at the forefront of its strategy. This dedication to not just defeating the armed component of ISIS, but also its infrastructure and ability to govern (i.e. the whole military power) manifests itself when the US targets ISIS’ banks (money), key personalities (people/leaders), while also discrediting its legitimacy by seizing terrain which undermines the people’s belief in ISIS’ ideology (passions) and reduces its ability to fight (seizure of oil fields). While these efforts stop well-short of targeting civilian infrastructure, I think there are comparisons to be made in Sherman’s effort to target the South’s infrastructure and will to fight and our current efforts against ISIS which reflect a similar, broad understanding of military power and capability to fight.

    Comment by Scott | October 18, 2016

  5. To answer Adam’s question- the solution was that WWI, and we could argue WWII as well, was Total War. World War I needs to be viewed as a complete change in how wars were fought, thinking higher than the tactical sense where sending waves upon waves of Soldiers across the battlefield into widely distributed machine gun fire, just wasn’t working. This is clearly articulated in John Keagan’s “Face of Battle” where he shows how projectile weapons changed how we fought, specifically in the last section in Somme. But WWI and WWII showed the solution to winning a long, protracted war was to strangle the enemy, where his resources and economic supports are depleted and his people are under constant threat of losing their lives.

    Tactically, WWII is where the Army began to maneuver, rather than fight in the Napoleonic sense, but we could argue at the time that the German forces were much more adept at that over the fledgling US Army. So the solution was, ultimately, focusing on a different level of war.

    Comment by Pete Farese | October 21, 2016

  6. Thanks Pete. I found our WWI class work interesting. Of particular note was the selective reading many Generals had of Clausewitz. Many Generals of the day simply wanted to ignore evidence that defense has an advantage over offense and instead all they focused on was Clausewitz’s comments about moral and state of mind factors. They should have read On War more carefully.

    Comment by adamjbushey | November 3, 2016

  7. great article that shows us how is the trinity of Clausewitz important to analyze the war.I do not think that Weigley’s template for the American Way of War, and also yes, I think that America army did ignore the “passion” of the Afghan people that supports the insurgency but also it was kind of risk that they accept it. All of that I can say it is true but only in the first stage of the war, but after getting the suitable information the US military begin to deal with the “passion” of the Afghan and as a prove to that the courses that the US military offered to the Afghan people to take weather inside USA or Afghanistan. A strategy should address the “passion” aspect of war within the relation to the end state. The relation between the people and the military force with the link of both to the political and this relation detect how that country strong or weak, wich meant that the passion of the people can not be neglected. From my opinion, the passion of the people Is a part of both the military and national strategy, and it could be the center of gravity of this country that if you break it you achieve the full victory. Finally, I think all of the government should participate by part in attacking the enemy’s passion but the lead should be for the Army with the cooperation with both, media branches and CIA.

    Comment by mohamedmillataryleader | November 4, 2016

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: