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The University of North Carolina’s History Department has long been a leading force in the academic study of military history, conceived broadly as ranging from battlefield to ballot box, from home front to high altitude bombing. Military history is necessarily studied with deep attention to the relevant societies as well as to the specific events of a given conflict. Furthermore, it is often conducted from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. We seek, therefore, to expose students in the field to the full range of the human experience of warfare, from the ancient world to contemporary problems in counterinsurgency.
The graduate program in military history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is part of a collaborative program with Duke. Graduate students in History pursue a normal course of study and receive their graduate degree at one University or the other. Those concentrating in military history, or offering military history as a field of study, work with the military history faculty at both universities and take core courses. Participating faculty further collaborate on qualifying examinations and the supervision of theses and dissertations. Students at UNC admitted in the military history field will offer military history as their primary field, and then typically follow the field requirements related to a geographical field such as U.S. History, European History, Global History, or the like. Other arrangements of the fields are possible upon consultation with their adviser.
The following graduate courses in military history are commonly offered. The first two (717 and 951) are required for those concentrating in the field and are offered every year.
Introduction to Military History (Hist 717)
An examination of major and emerging works in military history, theory, and the study of war and military affairs. Reading ranges across several disciplines and genres, including sociology and political science, biography, and war and battle narratives.
Research Seminar in Military History (Hist 951)
An introduction to research in the field that should result in a major research product. This course is taken in the spring of the first year, and students will alternate reading classic texts in military history (Clausewitz, Thucydides, Mao, etc.) with discussions of project conceptualization and research strategies. Students choose a topic that may serve as all or part of a thesis or dissertation. Papers are researched, written, and critiqued in the first semester, then revised into a completed MA thesis in a general History Department research seminar during the following fall.
Colloquium in World Military History (Hist 718)
The literature on warfare from ancient times to the present, with concentration on the European experience. The course approaches war and military institutions broadly, as social as well as political and economic constructs, which can be understood only in their full cultural context.
Colloquium in American Military History (Hist 860)
The literature on the American military experience, from colonial times to the present, emphasizing different approaches to war, military institutions, leadership, and civil-military relations in the broader context of American history.
The History Departments at both UNC and Duke offer other courses in military history and related fields, such as the history of technology, war and gender, foreign affairs and international relations, and various national histories, which will be of interest to students concentrating in military history. In addition, faculty from other disciplines (e.g. political science, public policy) at the two universities also participate in the program.
For information on the Military History field graduate comprehensive exams, consult the Graduate Student Handbook.
For a current list of graduate students working in the Field of Military History, please go to the Graduate Students page and click “Military History” in the Interests/Concentrations tab.
Military affairs have dramatically shaped the history of Texas. Among the region's Indians, tribal economies and cultures depended heavily upon warfare. Likewise, the army was a significant factor in Spain's exploration and colonization. Only through force did the Republic of Texas secure its independence from Mexico and see its annexation by the United States assured military might also allowed the Union to defeat the Confederacy's attempt to establish a separate nation. By sponsoring exploration and building frontier forts, the army encouraged westward migration of non-Indians and ensured the ouster of virtually all of the tribes. Defense and defense-related industries took an increasingly large role in the Texas economy during World wars I and II. By the latter half of the twentieth century, the nation's larger permanent military establishment had become fundamental to the state's economy.
Before the arrival of Europeans, Indians living in Texas often settled their differences through warfare. The Caddoes established defensive confederacies the scattered tribes of southern Texas and the Rio Grande delta practiced seasonal feuding and small-scale raiding against one another. Fear of inland enemies often kept the Karankawas, tenaciously protective of areas they claimed for their own tribes, near the Gulf coast. Among these and the other groups that came to dominate the plains of Texas, pre-Columbian warfare generally emphasized personal bravery. The introduction of horses and firearms, along with the greater pressures stemming from the European intrusions, often lent a more violent tone to the culture of warfare. The arrival in large numbers of Apaches and Comanches, groups whose cultures were based on warfare, added further pressure. Raids and guerrilla-style harassment usually characterized these clashes, with the latter emerging during the late 1720s after a long struggle with the Apaches as the dominant military force on the Southern Plains.
The army played a fundamental role in Spain's occupation of what later became the Lone Star State. Armed columns escorted most sixteenth-century explorers, and military detachments guarded the early mission establishments along the Rio Grande. The French colony at Fort St. Louis challenged Spain to step up its activities in Texas. The first missions in East Texas, with but a tiny garrison, failed during the 1690s, but subsequent efforts during the next century included larger armed contingents. Even so, the failure to enlist strong Indian support caused Spain's temporary evacuation of East Texas, in the face of an armed French force of fewer than ten men, during the Chicken War (1719). Determined to restore Spain's honor, the Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo reestablished the missions of East Texas, leaving two presidios behind as well. To forestall potential French threats to the coast, he also set up a presidio and mission at La Bahía, and reinforced the burgeoning complex at Bexar. But the costs of such efforts seemed to outweigh the benefits, particularly as the French threat waned. Pressured from the north by the Comanches, the Apaches challenged Spanish expansion into Central Texas and even Bexar itself. As the tribes secured more guns (often from French traders) and grew more accustomed to European military methods, it became increasingly difficult to deliver the punishing retribution upon which Spain's policy depended. In 1758&ndash59, for example, warriors from several tribes destroyed the San Saba de la Santa Cruz Mission, and a subsequent punitive column led by Col. Diego Ortiz Parrilla limped back to San Antonio after an unsuccessful assault on a stockaded Taovaya village.
Defeat in the Seven Years' War (1756&ndash63) led to an overhaul of Spanish defenses. Following the reports of the Marqués de Rubí and José Bernardo de Gálvez Gallardo, the Royal Regulation of 1772 relocated presidios all along the frontiers. The East Texas outposts were abandoned and the northern provinces eventually separated from the viceroyalty of New Spain under a commandant-general, who was given civil, judicial, and military powers. Still, the scattered garrisons were too poorly trained, equipped, or supplied to be truly effective against the more mobile Plains Indians. Spanish attempts to pit either the Apaches or the Comanches against one another failed to duplicate the success generated by Indian alliances in neighboring New Mexico. Though never able to achieve military supremacy in Texas, the army remained a bastion of Spanish settlement. In the 1792 census the 720 soldiers and their families at Bexar and La Bahía made up nearly 20 percent of the entire population of Spanish Texas. And military force delayed unwanted American intrusions. Philip Nolan and about two score Americans were defeated in 1801. Although in 1813 several hundred revolutionaries and adventurers under the loose leadership of José Bernardo Maximiliano Gutiérrez de Lara, Augustus W. Magee, and Samuel Kemper briefly drove Spanish authorities from San Antonio, they were in turn crushed at the battle of Medina by Joaquín de Arredondo's royalists. Arredondo swept organized opposition to Spanish rule from Texas, but the empire's continued decline boded ill for the future. In the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819, the United States recognized the Spanish claims to Texas, only to induce James Long and some 300 American filibusters and Mexican revolutionaries to capture Nacogdoches in protest. Spanish troops crushed Long's movement, but the American threat had not dissipated. Fearful that American infiltrators would eventually seize Texas, crown officials approved the request of Moses Austin to bring in several hundred new colonists in a desperate hope that a larger population base might help meet defense needs.
In the end, internal turmoil rather than external invasion doomed Spanish Texas. Royal soldiers north of the Rio Grande, though unable to defeat the Indians or prevent armed incursions from the east, retained a precarious foothold. But Spanish authority in Texas collapsed upon the establishment of an independent Mexico. Under the leadership of Stephen F. Austin, the American colony in Texas began the military activities that eventually led to Texas independence. The Karankawas were annihilated and the short-lived Fredonian Republic of 1826&ndash27 suppressed. Mexican officials, fearing the growing Anglo influence, attempted to halt further American immigration and reinforce the Mexican garrisons in Texas with the Law of April 6, 1830. Still, the population resisted the army in minor clashes at Anahuac and Nacogdoches. Antonio López de Santa Anna's turn to Centralism and reliance upon the army to enforce policy antagonized Texans and led directly to the Texas movement for independence. In fall 1835, following skirmishes with Mexican regulars at Gonzales and Goliad, several hundred Texans laid siege to San Antonio. In late November, Edward Burleson took command of the "Army of the People" (see REVOLUTIONARY ARMY) after Austin left to solicit aid from the United States. Engagements at Concepcion and at the Grass Fight highlighted the siege until December 5, when Benjamin R. Milam and Frank (Francis W.) Johnson led several hundred volunteers in a successful assault against the Mexican troops. Overconfident Texans dreamed of further conquests. Although Sam Houston, the Consultation's choice to command Texas forces, opposed the move, several groups gathered in South Texas for a proposed march on Matamoros. Meanwhile, Santa Anna, having routed a rebellion in the Yucatán, turned his attentions toward Texas. Still the Texans dallied, assuming that Mexican troops would wait until spring before moving northward. On February 23, Santa Anna arrived at San Antonio, where about 150 rebels holed up in the old Alamo mission. Disputes still plagued the Texas military only the failing health of James Bowie allowed William B. Travis to assume effective command of troops there. Travis's pleas for reinforcements brought only a thirty-two-man delegation from Gonzales. On March 6, Santa Anna attacked although his army suffered heavy casualties, the defenders were killed. Protecting Santa Anna's coastal flank, Gen. José de Urrea routed scattered Texas forces under Johnson at San Patricio, Dr. James Grant at Agua Dulce, Amon B. King at Refugio, and William Ward near Victoria. James W. Fannin, who held Goliad with some 300 men, seemed paralyzed throughout the campaign. At first insistent upon defending the site, then convinced that he must go to the aid of the Alamo, and finally attempting to retreat, Fannin allowed his command to be caught on March 19 at Coleto Prairie. Low on water and outnumbered by Urrea's 800 troops, Fannin surrendered the following day. On the 27th, most of those captured in the South Texas campaigns were executed in the Goliad Massacre.
Overconfidence, carelessness, and indecision had heretofore characterized the Texans' military operations. Now only Sam Houston and fewer than 400 men at Gonzales stood between Mexican troops and the Sabine River. Having no other viable options, Houston retreated across the Colorado and Brazos Rivers. Santa Anna pushed ahead, hoping to complete the rout, and caused most of the colonists to join a panicky retreat. Some, including ad interim President David G. Burnet, accused Houston of having no plan, charges fostered by the general's determination to keep his own counsel. As Houston retreated, his army, fired by desire for revenge and having benefited from training exercises conducted during the retreat, developed into a more cohesive military force. Reinforcements from the United States as well as from the older Texas settlements further bolstered his army. And Santa Anna grew progressively weaker. Although several thousand Mexican troops were now in Texas, the president's zeal to catch either Houston or Texas leaders had led him to the banks of the San Jacinto River with only a small part of his total force. Houston turned and attacked on the afternoon of April 21. Taking the exhausted Mexicans by surprise, the Texans fell upon the enemy camp. At the cost of 9 men killed and 30 wounded, Houston listed 630 Mexicans killed and 730 taken prisoner. Among the latter was the Mexican chieftain, Santa Anna. Texas independence was thus assured.
Although San Jacinto had been a decisive battlefield victory, military problems still faced the newly declared republic. About 2,000 Mexican troops remained north of the Nueces River, and the composition of the Texas army was changing. Texas residents had dominated the force at San Jacinto. But by summer 1836, the army had swollen to over 2,500, three-quarters of whom had come to Texas after the battle of San Jacinto. To make matters worse, a painful ankle wound had forced Sam Houston, the only Texan who had been able to control large numbers of troops up to this point, to seek medical treatment in New Orleans. The Treaties of Velasco failed to resolve the military crisis. In Mexico, the government annulled them and threatened to continue the war. Although Mexican troops withdrew, the Texas army refused to allow Santa Anna's release. Led by Felix Huston, many within the army called for an offensive campaign against Matamoros. In a flagrant challenge to the shaky ad interim government, the troops refused to accept Mirabeau B. Lamar as its commander. In May 1837, fearful of military insurrection and anxious to reduce government spending, President Houston furloughed most of the army. Defense now rested upon a small detachment of mounted rangers, a disorganized militia consisting in theory of all able-bodied males between the ages of seventeen and fifty, and volunteers called up to meet emergencies. Violent encounters with Indians and rumors of Mexican invasions continued, but the president's determination to delay military action in hopes of securing annexation by the United States was consistent with his reduced defense budget.
Houston's successor, Lamar, favored an aggressive Indian policy. To protect the frontiers and to provide bases for offensive action, in 1838 Congress provided for a line of military posts along the republic's northern and western frontiers, to be manned by a regiment of 840 men and supported by a military road stretching from the Red River to the Nueces. To the east, the Cherokees, suspected of having allied themselves with Mexico, were driven into what is now Oklahoma after the battle of the Neches. Campaigns against the Comanches proved less decisive, but did cause the withdrawal of most of that tribe farther west and north. Lamar also hoped to force concessions from Mexico. After brief attempts to purchase some sort of settlement on recognition or the boundary, the president encouraged domestic revolt against the Mexican government, going so far as to rent the Texas Navy to rebels in Yucutan. To stake the republic's western claims in summer 1841, he also sent a military force, led by Col. Hugh McLeod, to seize Santa Fe. Dogged by misfortune and poor leadership, the exhausted Texans surrendered upon reaching that city (see TEXAN SANTA FE EXPEDITION).
After being reelected president in 1841, Houston found himself immersed in the problems resulting from Lamar's policies. Operations against the Indians alone had cost $2.5 million during a three-year period in which government receipts totaled just over $1 million. Houston cut the army to a few companies of rangers, attempted to sell the navy, and signed treaties with several Indian tribes. But Mexico, with Santa Anna again at the helm, retaliated against the recent threats. Gen. Rafael Vásquez and about 500 troops briefly occupied San Antonio in March 1842. Congress declared war, but Houston, still cautious, vetoed this measure. Enraged by the continuing disputes along its northern frontier and by the attempted Texas blockade of its ports, Mexico mounted another offensive. Leading 1,400 men, in mid-September Gen. Adrián Woll seized San Antonio. He withdrew under pressure from Texas militiamen, and Houston dispatched Alexander Somervell with 750 men to show the Lone Star flag along the Rio Grande. Somervell withdrew that December, but about 300 men, led by William S. Fisher, defied orders and crossed the Rio Grande. At Mier, however, the invaders surrendered to a much larger Mexican force.
The Texas military situation changed dramatically upon annexation. Although the United States maintained but a small regular army and navy, its growing population and industrial base gave it a formidable military potential. Such resources were tapped in the Mexican War, which had been triggered by the recent annexation of Texas. About 6,000 Texans saw military service during the conflict the most visible of the Lone Star units fought with Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott in northern and central Mexico, respectively. These troops, who called themselves the Texas Rangers, proved superb scouts and hard fighters, but their violent methods and vengeance against the civil population of Mexico left behind a bitter legacy. After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the state, with some assistance from the federal government, continued to employ varying numbers of ranging companies to patrol its western frontiers. But United States regulars assumed the bulk of the defensive duties as well as furthering exploration of the Trans-Pecos and Panhandle regions. Several military posts lined the Rio Grande from Brownsville to Eagle Pass in response to potential Mexican and Indian incursions. Others composed a huge semicircle extending from Fort Worth to Fredericksburg to Corpus Christi the forts were pushed farther west as non-Indian settlement expanded. To offer protection and succor for the thousands of California-bound migrants and travelers, the army also occupied several positions along the roads from San Antonio to El Paso.
Brief attempts to establish reservations in Texas having failed, the army launched a series of offensives against hostile Indians. In the most significant of these campaigns, Bvt. Maj. Earl Van Dorn led Texas-based detachments, stiffened by allied Indian scouts and auxiliaries, to victory against Comanche encampments across the Red River at Rush Spring (October 1, 1858) and Crooked Creek (May 13, 1859). But Texans wanted even more action, and a ranger force led by John S. "Rip" Ford defeated a sizable Comanche encampment on May 12, 1859, near the Antelope Hills in the Indian territory. In February 1861, the secession convention of Texas listed the federal government's inability to protect its citizens from Indian attack as one of the reasons for the state to leave the Union. This must have seemed ironic to War Department officials, for as much as one-quarter of the entire army had been stationed in Texas during the 1850s. In a controversial move, David E. Twiggs, commanding the Department of Texas, surrendered all federal property and forts in Texas in exchange for the safe passage of his troops. Before all the soldiers could embark, however, the outbreak of war led state officials to scrap the agreement. Garrisons from several Trans-Pecos forts, led by Bvt. Lt. Col. Isaac V. D. Reeve, surrendered to Earl Van Dorn, who had joined the Confederacy, just west of San Antonio.
Relations with the new Confederate government proved a thorny problem for state officials. Although states'-rights doctrine suggested that Texas should retain control over its men and war material, Confederate leaders demanded that resources be pooled under a more centralized authority. And while an initial surge of volunteers flocked to the colors, in early 1862 the Confederacy enacted a conscription law that was eventually extended to most non-Black males between the ages of seventeen and fifty. Of the 100,000 to 110,000 eligible, between 60,000 and 90,000 probably served in the military. Most Texans displayed a strong desire for mounted duty and a fierce independence that limited efforts to enforce discipline. Early in the Civil War, state regiments penetrated into Indian territory and patrolled the western and Rio Grande frontiers. In late 1861 and early 1862, Brig. Gen. Henry H. Sibley and three regiments of Texans marched west into New Mexico, but fell back into Texas after the battle of Glorieta. In October 1862, Union naval forces occupied Galveston Island. John B. Magruder, commander of Confederate forces in Texas, retook Galveston on New Year's Day 1863. Another federal invasion force, including twenty-six ships and 4,000 troops commanded by Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin, was checked at Sabine Pass in September 1863 by Lt. Richard W. Dowling and a single artillery battery. In late 1863, the federals captured Brownsville, thus cutting off the lucrative trade between Texas and Matamoros. Northern troops advanced up the Rio Grande as far as Rio Grande City, and another column pushed north along the coast past Corpus Christi. But the South Texas offensive was then halted troops were shifted from South Texas to join Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks in Louisiana. Before Banks could reach Texas, however, Richard Taylor defeated his army in the Red River campaign. Although the final major Union threat to Texas had been blunted, the war was not over in the Lone Star State. In July 1864, Rip Ford's Texans recaptured Brownsville, and in the final encounter of the Civil War routed another federal force at Palmito. But Confederate Texans were less successful in protecting frontier settlers from Indian attack. With the withdrawal of federal troops from western posts, several tribes, anxious to retaliate against the White intruders, struck back. The state's inability to defend its frontiers was exemplified in the battle of Dove Creek (January 1865), in which 140 Kickapoos migrating to Mexico from Indian Territory defeated 370 state troops. The war itself was resolved east of the Mississippi River. In the Army of Northern Virginia, thousands of Texans formed the bulk of Hood's Texas Brigade, named for its first commander, Texan John Bell Hood. Other Texas units, such as the Eighth Texas Cavalry (Terry's Texas Rangers) and Ross's Brigade, also fought in Arkansas, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, and the Carolinas. Albert Sidney Johnston, former secretary of war for the Republic of Texas, was commander of the Confederate Army of the Mississippi until killed at the battle of Shiloh. In 1864, President Jefferson Davis transferred Hood from Virginia to Georgia, where he commanded Confederate armies in the closing stages of the Atlanta campaign and in the disastrous defeats at Franklin and Nashville. In July 1863, Ulysses S. Grant's capture of Vicksburg made direct communications between Texas and Richmond precarious at best. To resolve the administrative impasse, the Confederacy instituted the Trans-Mississippi Department, which encompassed Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, and much of Louisiana, under the command of Edmund Kirby Smith. The department was virtually isolated from the rest of the Confederacy for the remainder of the war. After Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox, Smith attempted to continue the war, but, with support waning, capitulated on June 2.
Federal troops, some of whom were Black, poured into the Lone Star state. To help force the Emperor Maximilian and the French out of Mexico, some 50,000 United States soldiers were assembled near the Rio Grande in 1865&ndash66. With the death of Maximilian, the French quiescent, and Congress having declared military rule over most of the former Confederate states in the Reconstruction Acts of 1867, the army turned to domestic matters. Texas and Louisiana were combined to form the Fifth Military District, commanded by Gen. Philip H. Sheridan. Determined to establish federal authority, Sheridan ousted newly elected Governor James W. Throckmorton and several other officials. District military commanders generals Charles Griffin and Joseph J. Reynolds used their troops to intervene in state and local elections in support of the nascent Republican party. The army also backed the Freedmen's Bureau, which helped former slaves secure labor contracts, established separate courts, and set up a rudimentary education system. Governor Edmund J. Davis's declaration of martial law in several counties and use of a State Police force (that was 40 percent Black) further infuriated Whites, as did the corruption that plagued efforts to reorganize a state militia. In such towns as Brenham, soldiers openly clashed with civilians. But an uneasy peace characterized most of the state. Conservatives tried to convince army and federal officials that the troops were needed to protect against Indian attacks rather than openly challenging the men in blue. By summer 1867 several companies had returned to the Indian frontiers. Forts Richardson, Griffin, Concho, Stockton, Davis, and Clark soon held substantial garrisons of regulars, who soon proved invaluable to travelers and local non-Indian economies.
With the election of Governor Davis, President Ulysses S. Grant declared Reconstruction in Texas to be at an end. The army's emphasis thus shifted to Indian service. In late 1868, columns from New Mexico, Indian Territory, and Kansas moved against several Southern Plains tribes. The resulting campaign brought a temporary peace, but as railroads and White settlers pushed west and the slaughter of the buffalo herds began in earnest, violence continued. Texans claimed that many tribes conducted raids into the state, then retreated to the safety of their reservations. To help patrol the frontiers, in 1874 the state legislature mustered two ranger forces: the Frontier Battalion, designed to control Indians and the Special Force, organized to guard the Mexican border. During the early 1870s, the army stepped up its campaigns on the Llano Estacado. Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie, the most effective regular commander, routed a large Comanche village near McClellan Creek in September 1872. The Red River War, which involved troops from Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, and Indian Territory, began in summer 1874. From Fort Concho, Mackenzie delivered the most telling blow at Palo Duro Canyon on September 28, 1874. Human casualties were minimal, but Mackenzie's decision to kill nearly 1,500 captured Indian ponies helped force several tribes to surrender the following year. Farther west, several Apache groups had also resisted encroachment. After witnessing several futile pursuits of Victorio and the Apaches, Col. Benjamin H. Grierson seized upon an effective tactic in summer 1880. Rather than attempt to overtake the Indians, Grierson stationed his men at strategic waterholes throughout the Trans-Pecos. After several sharp skirmishes, Victorio withdrew across the Rio Grande, where he was killed by Mexican soldiers. Throughout the period, regulars clashed with their rivals, the Texas Rangers, over methods and effectiveness. In their efforts to punish Indian and Mexican raiders, several state and federal officers crossed over the Rio Grande. In 1873, Mackenzie destroyed several Indian villages near Remolino, about forty miles inside of Mexico. Texas Rangers splashed across the river two years later near Las Cuevas, seeking to stamp out cattle rustlers. Lt. Col. William R. Shafter led several army sorties in 1877, even as Mexican protests increased. The following year, Mackenzie and a large United States column twice engaged in long-range skirmishing with Mexican troops. The actions of Texas, United States, and Mexican military forces, the slaughter of the buffalo, the expansion of the railroads, and the westward migration of non-Indian settlers combined to destroy the military power of the Plains Indians in Texas. But the armed forces' influence was far greater than simply that of its military campaigns. Frontier posts stimulated civilian settlement, and army contracts proved a tremendous boon to local businesses and job-seekers. The state militia, organized as the Volunteer Guards upon passage of the Militia Law of 1879, provided supplemental income to another 2,000 to 3,000 guardsmen as well as a lucrative, if sometimes sporadic, source of appropriations.
About 10,000 Texans served in the Spanish-American War. In April 1898, Congress allowed soldiers in existing organized militia units to volunteer for federal service. Under this law, state troops formed the First Texas Volunteer Infantry Regiment, which sailed to Havana in late 1898. Other Texans joined assorted regular and volunteer formations such as the Rough Riders (the First United States Volunteer Cavalry), organized and trained at San Antonio and made famous by their flamboyant lieutenant colonel, Theodore Roosevelt. Texas and the military remained closely linked during the early twentieth century. Although incidents at Brownsville, Houston, Del Rio, El Paso, Waco, San Antonio, and Texarkana between Black garrisons and White and Hispanic residents were symptomatic of the racial tensions that divided American society, this relationship was generally amicable. Early Signal Corps experiments in aviation were conducted at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio. Turmoil within Mexico in 1911 led the War Department to concentrate a "Manuever Division" at San Antonio. Eighteen months later, the Second Division was mobilized at Galveston and Texas City. By 1914 other regular army forces, totaling some 12,000 men, were also stationed along the border. After Pancho (Francisco) Villa's strike into New Mexico in March 1916, President Woodrow Wilson called the national guards of Texas and Oklahoma into federal service. The president soon expanded the call-up, and by late July, 112,000 national guardsmen from fourteen states had massed along the Rio Grande. As the Mexican crisis cooled, the guardsmen were in the process of demobilizing when in April 1917 Congress declared war on Germany. Most Texas and Oklahoma national guard units formed the Thirty-sixth Infantry Division, a process formalized that fall. Texans also composed most of the Ninetieth Division several thousand others were funneled into the Forty-second Division, the so-called "Rainbow Division," a unit that comprised men from twenty-six states. In all, the selective service registered nearly a million Texans for possible duty of these, 197,389 were drafted or volunteered. Engaging in the patriotic fervor that swept much of the United States, Texas became a major military training center during the First World War. More than $20 million was spent constructing camps Bowie (Fort Worth), Logan (Houston), Travis (San Antonio), and MacArthur (Waco) for new recruits. Forts Sam Houston (San Antonio) and Bliss (El Paso) also underwent major expansion. Likewise, military aviation found a warm reception in the state, where Fort Worth, San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Waco, and Wichita Falls housed key flight and service training centers.
Most soldiers from Texas never went abroad. However, the Thirty-sixth Division, supplemented by wartime recruiting and the draft, left for Europe in midsummer 1918. Elements of the Thirty-sixth finally saw combat, as part of the Fourth French Army, at St. Étienne and during the Aisne offensive, for which the units earned substantial accolades from an adoring press. The Forty-second Division was one of the most acclaimed American units of the war, and the Ninetieth Division, composed largely of Oklahomans and the "Texas Brigade" (the 180th Infantry Brigade), also fought in the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne operations. In all, more than 5,000 Texans died overseas.
Numerous bases, availability of land, public support for the military, and an increasingly influential congressional delegation made Texas an important military training center in World War II. The Third and Fourth armies, which oversaw basic and advanced training in several southern and western states, respectively, were headquartered at San Antonio. More than 200,000 airmen trained in Texas, which had more than fifty airfields and air stations, including naval air stations at Corpus Christi, Beeville, and Kingsville. Carswell Field, Fort Worth, was home to Air Force Training Command headquarters. Seventy camps in Texas held 50,000 prisoners of war. About 750,000 Texans (roughly 6 percent of the national total) saw military service during the war. Texas claimed 155 generals and twelve admirals, including the supreme Allied commander in Europe, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Pacific Fleet admiral Chester W. Nimitz. Col. Oveta Culp Hobby directed the Women's Army Corps Walter Krueger commanded the United States Sixth Army. Among units that included large Texas contingents, the Thirty-sixth Infantry, including the famous "Lost Battalion," fought in Java and Italy in some of the war's bloodiest combat. The division suffered heavy casualties in an unsuccessful attempt to cross the Rapido River under enemy fire. This action, ordered by Fifth Army commander Mark Clark to support Allied landings at Anzio, led to an inconclusive congressional investigation in 1946. The First Cavalry, Second Infantry, and Ninetieth Infantry divisions saw extensive duty in the European Theater. In the Pacific campaigns were the 112th Cavalry and 103rd Infantry. In all, some 23,000 Texans lost their lives overseas. The war had a tremendous impact upon the Texas economy, in which federal and private investments brought massive industrial development. Aircraft production blossomed in Dallas-Fort Worth shipbuilding boomed in Orange, Port Arthur, Beaumont, Houston, and Galveston. Sprawling industries along the Gulf Coast also formed the world's largest petrochemical center. Munitions plants, steel mills, and tin smelters were built, and increased demand for food, timber, and oil offered new opportunities throughout the state. With labor at a premium, half a million rural Texans moved to the cities, and women and minorities took jobs once reserved for White males.
After the war the United States retained a much larger permanent military establishment in Texas. Between the active military, the organized and inactive reserves, the national guard, and the selective service, most male Texans of eligible age experienced the military or its bureaucracy in some direct manner. Thousands of Texans served in the Korean conflict, in which native Texan Walton H. Walker held command of all United Nations ground forces from July to December 1950. During the 1960s and early 1970s, the nation's involvement in Vietnam dominated military affairs. More than 500,000 Texans saw service. In addition, several Texas-based units were transferred to South Vietnam. Fort Hood contributed the United States II Field Force Vietnam, assigned to coordinate operations of the III and IV Corps, and the 198th Infantry Brigade, which joined the Americal (Twenty-third) Division. The Forty-fourth Medical Brigade was dispatched from Fort Sam Houston. More than 2,100 Texans died in Vietnam. Texans and Texas-based forces also remained a major source of the nation's military strength through the 1980s and early 1990s. During the 1980s, Texas was second only to California as home of record for both active-duty and retired military personnel. Sprawling military complexes at San Antonio, El Paso, and Fort Hood, as well as defense manufacturing plants in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, had become essential to national defense as well as the state's economy. During the Desert Shield-Desert Storm operations of 1990&ndash91, for example, the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment and Eleventh Air Defense Artillery Brigade were dispatched to the Persian Gulf from Fort Bliss, while Fort Hood contributed the First Cavalry Division, the First Brigade of the Second Armored Division, and the XIII Corps Support Command. Texas National Guard units, which included more than 20,000 members (many of them part-time) during the early 1990s, supplemented the regular forces and were often called out to assist victims of natural disasters. In 1991 the state militia maintained 138 armories in 117 Texas cities and spent about $250 million in state and federal money.
Post-Second World War trends thus continued to emphasize the historic relationship between the armed forces and the people of Texas. Indian tribes, Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederacy, and the United States all resorted to warfare to resolve their perceived differences with other societies and governments. Their cultures, societies, economies, and demographic compositions were linked to things military. In sum, the influence of military affairs upon Texas history can hardly be overstated. See also INDIAN AFFAIRS , ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC OF TEXAS.
John Francis Bannon, The Spanish Borderlands Frontier, 1513&ndash1821 (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1970). Alwyn Barr, Texans in Revolt: The Battle for San Antonio, 1835 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990). Garna L. Christian, Black Soldiers in Jim Crow Texas, 1899&ndash1917 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1995). Stephen L. Hardin, Texian Iliad: A Military History of the Texas Revolution (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994). Elizabeth A. H. John, Storms Brewed in Other Men's Worlds: The Confrontation of Indians, Spanish, and French in the Southwest, 1540&ndash1795 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1975). Joseph Milton Nance, After San Jacinto: The Texas-Mexican Frontier, 1836&ndash1841 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1963). James W. Pohl, The Battle of San Jacinto (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1989). William L. Richter, The Army in Texas during Reconstruction, 1865&ndash1870 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1987). David Paul Smith, Frontier Defense in Texas, 1861&ndash1865 (Ph.D. dissertation, North Texas State University, 1987). Robert M. Utley, Frontier Regulars: The United States Army and the Indian, 1866&ndash1891 (New York: Macmillan, 1973). Robert L. Wagner, The Texas Army: A History of the 36th Division in the Italian Campaign (Austin, 1972). Richard P. Walker, "The Swastika and the Lone Star: Nazi Activity in Texas POW Camps," Military History of the Southwest 19 (Spring 1989). David J. Weber, New Spain's Far Northern Frontier (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1979). Ralph A. and Robert Wooster, "`Rarin' For a Fight': Texans in the Confederate Army," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 84 (April 1981). Robert Wooster, "The Army and the Politics of Expansion: Texas and the Southwestern Borderlands, 1870&ndash1886," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 93 (October 1989). Robert Wooster, "Military Strategy in the Southwest, 1848&ndash1860," Military History of Texas and the Southwest 15 (1979). Robert Wooster, Soldiers, Sutlers and Settlers: Garrison Life of the Texas Frontier (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1987).
The Military History Community
Military history is an important subset of the history field. The AASLH Military History Committee provides advice and direction for the development of programs and services that benefit U.S. history institutions with a military focus as well as museums/historic sites with military items in their collections.
The Military History Community is made up of a dedicated network of professionals committed to providing the best resources for those interested in the care of military artifacts and interpretation of military history at their sites.
Almost every history organization in the country has some affiliation with or attachment to military history. We are here to help ensure that AASLH’s programs and services for these organizations are high quality, address identified needs of the membership, and reflect current issues and thinking in the field.
Military History Committee
The AASLH Military History Affinity Community is led by the following committee:
Marc Blackburn, Immediate Past Chair (2013-2020)
National Park Service, Eatonville, WA
Francoise Bonnell (2015-2019)
U.S. Army Women’s Museum, Fort Lee, VA
Lisa Budreau (2015-2019)
Tennessee State Museum, Nashville, TN
Claire Samuelson (2015-2019)
U.S. Army Ordnance Training and Heritage Center, Hampton, VA
Adam Scher (2015-2019)
Virginia Museum of History & Culture, Richmond, VA
Richard White (2017-2019)
Tennessee State Museum, Nashville, TN
Military History Forum
Looking for a way to connect with Military History colleagues across the country? The Military History Affinity Community discussion forum is a place where history practitioners can ask questions, share advice, and stay up-to-date with their peers. Please click the “Join the Community” button above to be directed to the AASLH Community Center to get involved with the Military History Affinity Community or click here.
Military History Resources
Keep up with military history blogs on the AASLH blog.
Browse military history resources in the AASLH Resource Center.
Recent military history publications from AASLH:
AASLH Annual Meeting Events
Every year at the AASLH Annual Meeting, the Military History group plans sessions involving military history and at least one meal or event for the community members to attend to network. Past events includes special tours of military sites and luncheons.
Collections Camp: Military Collections
AASLH holds a 2.5 day Collections Camp workshop focusing on military collections at locations across the country. This workshop covers conservation, artifact identification and handling, interpretation, and collections management for military objects, including photographs, textiles, and equipment. View photos of the 2018 workshop on our Facebook page.
Register for Collections Camp: Military Collections 2019 in the AASLH Resource Center.
Who are we?
Military History Matters was launched in September 2010, and changed its name from Military History Monthly in January 2019. Six issues are produced each year, and they are published every other month.
Neil Faulkner, Editor
Neil is an archaeologist and historian who works as a lecturer, writer, editor, and occasional broadcaster. He is co-director of the Sedgeford Historical and Archaeological Research Project in Norfolk and of the Great Arab Revolt Project in Jordan.
Educated at King’s College, Cambridge, and the Institute of Archaeology, UCL, he is currently a Research Fellow at the University of Bristol. The author of countless magazine articles and numerous academic papers, his books include: Apocalypse: the great Jewish revolt against Rome, AD 66-73 Rome: empire of the eagles and A Visitor’s Guide to the Ancient Olympics. His latest book, Lawrence of Arabia’s War, will be published by Yale University Press in spring 2015.
As well as being the Editor of Military History Matters, he has a long association with both Current Archaeology and Current World Archaeology.
Calum Henderson, Assistant Editor
Calum read History at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, where he developed interests in revolutionary and modern political history. He continued his studies at the University of Glasgow with an MA in Modern History, writing a thesis on 21st century American interventions in the Middle East. After some work as an online journalist, Calum joined MHM as Assistant Editor.
Matt Baker, Advertising Sales
To advertise in Military History Matters contact Matt Baker on 020 8819 5361, or email [email protected]
As America’s Civil War raged, with the enslavement of millions of people hanging in the balance, African Americans didn’t just sit on the sidelines. Whether enslaved, escaped or born free, many sought to actively affect the outcome.
From fighting on bloody battlefields to espionage behind enemy lines from daring escapes to political maneuvering from saving wounded soldiers to teaching them how to read, these six African Americans fought courageously to abolish slavery and discrimination. In their own way, each changed the course of American history.
To learn more, read:ਆ Black Heroes of the Civil War
Don’t Let Academia Destroy Military HistoryA view of a Douglas SBD Dauntless Dive Bomber in the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana. Education Images / Universal Images Group / Getty Image
The presumption in much of modern academia appears to be that only warmongers would teach about war.
Knowledge, critical thinking and prudent judgment are as vital as military hardware, artificial intelligence, and powerful economies.
There is no question that the United States needs to better think the future. That requires getting back to fostering critical thinking and judgment.
Distinguished war historian Max Hastings recently lamented, “In centers of learning across North America, the study of the past in general, and of wars in particular, is in spectacular eclipse.” This created a bit of a buzz among “classically” educated national security professionals—i.e., those who learned the blocking-and-tackling basics of their field through the study of history.
But this “buzzing” matters little. While they would like history to be used to help keep America safe, free and prosperous, these folks don’t control how history is taught and propagated. That’s controlled by American academia, American universities have no intention of fixing the problem. Instead, they are unilaterally disarming America’s knowledge base.
Crisis! What Crisis?
Fewer and fewer major universities promote world-class work in the military history field. There are probably two basic reasons for that. One is that, in this field, universities mostly function to produce scholars for other universities. As the demand for such academic scholars dissipates, so do universities’ investments in the field. And it’s a field particularly unattractive to foreign “investors.”
U.S. universities rake in billions in foreign investments. China alone averages a billion dollars a year. Pretty much all of it goes to hard science and engineering. Military history goes empty-handed.
Hastings highlights a second reason military history is dying on the hill. “The revulsion from war history may derive not so much from students’ unwillingness to explore the violent past,” he suggests, “but from academics’ reluctance to teach, or even allow their universities to host, such courses.” The presumption in much of modern academia appears to be that 1) only warmongers would teach about war and 2) most military history, like much of history, is a tool of institutional oppression and control.
As one historian noted, “Unfortunately, many in the academic community assume that military history is simply about powerful men—mainly white men—fighting each other and/or oppressing vulnerable groups.” Indeed, much in the manner the 1619 Project seeks to replace history with narrative, contemporary social studies are more inclined to jettison traditional historical studies in many fields.
The witch’s brew of economics and “woke” politics drives much university behavior today. What makes this problem different from the plethora of others is that it does have real national security implications—as serious as Beijing’s influence at American universities, which facilitates the transfer of critical technology to the Chinese military.
In today’s great power competition, knowledge, critical thinking and prudent judgment are as vital as military hardware, artificial intelligence, and powerful economies. In our hyper-competitive world, we need all hands—and brains—on deck.
What trains the human mind to make hard, powerful choices in a chaotic, competitive world is not dogma, but deep thinking—the essential ingredient in all impactful and significant learning. Many disciplines and practices can help develop this skill. In the fields of military competition, international relations, and national security, the value of historical thinking—what’s been called the “concepts of hard thinking about “change over time, causality, context, complexity, and contingency”—is paramount.
How We Got Here from There
The military history enterprise in the United States reached its high-water mark in the aftermath of World War II. Thank the GI bill, which dumped a lot of veterans and money into universities. Also thank the U.S. government, which made unprecedented investments in national security research and development—including the social sciences—that fueled programs at universities and federally-funded research and development centers like RAND.
Having lived through war, veterans understood the value of studying war. Moreover, they brought to the historian’s practice their own visceral, gritty wartime experiences that made national security more than an academic exercise. The academy cranked out academics, but also helped fill the professional ranks of government, the intelligence community and uniformed military. Those professionals subsequently helped shape professional military education.
The glory days began to fade with the anti-war movement of the 1960s, followed by the increasing influence of progressive voices at civilian universities who sought to cut ties with the government’s national security infrastructure. As universities like Harvard expelled Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs, the military history professors were not far behind.
Traditional military history, with its focus on operational activities, campaigns and strategy, began to wane, as the discipline shifted to “new military history,” which emphasized a variety of social, ethnic, racial and cultural aspects of conflict. In many cases, the focus on these topics supplanted, rather than complimented, the focus of much of the scholarship of the 1950s and ‘60s.
As military history faded in the civilian world, it thrived in the military. By the late 1970s and 1980s, many of the university-trained uniformed officers achieved influential positions in the military professional education system and leadership in the armed forces. Military history served as an intellectual engine to help fuel the rebuilding of the armed forces during the Reagan era. In turn, the military helped keep university military history programs on life support, sending officers to their graduate programs, hosting visiting scholars and supporting military history through ROTC programs.
Then 9/11 happened. The military got too busy to take care of military history because it was busy making military history. That was followed by the Obama administration taking a peace dividend, even though there wasn’t much peace. This left the military with less time and money to dedicate to military history, and many of its most vibrant professional programs evaporated or atrophied.
This is not to say there are no world-class programs left. They still exist, both inside government (e.g., the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas) and outside (e.g., the National World War II Museum in New Orleans). And they may still be found at a few universities like Ohio State. But these remnants constitute platoons, and America needs divisions.
What is next?
There is no question that the United States needs to better think the future. That requires getting back to fostering critical thinking and judgment, rather than espousing politically correct dogma that may or may not comport with the reality of how the world turns.
This is not to say America needs to save history as a profession or discipline, or to resuscitate traditional historical methods or to “fix” the academy—though all of those would be salutary.
What the United States does need is to get a considered, serious, critical appreciation of military history back into America’s intellectual bloodstream. Two thoughtful scholars, Tami Biddle and Robert Citino got it exactly right:
“Military history ought to be a vital component of a liberal education, one that prepares students to be informed and responsible citizens… Any use of military force is so consequential on so many levels that it demands serious contemplation and full comprehension by all those in a democratic polity who own some piece of responsibility for it.”
Too many of those who are either responsible for—or really care about—this issue are either incapable of or indifferent to addressing this challenge. It is time to bring new voices, new energy, new technologies, and new action to the task.
Military History - History
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A number of experts offer their favourite books on military history and war. The historians Hew Strachan and Michael Howard and the journalist Peter Snow offer very different choices on the general topic, while Jeremy Black focuses on the contribution made by China, the Ottomans and other Asian nations to military history and strategy. Antulio Echevarria chooses his favourite books on military strategy.
Turning to particular wars, Andrew Exum chooses his best books on understanding the war in Afghanistan, and Julia Lovell looks at China and the Opium Wars in the 19th century. Jonathan Boff chooses the best books on World War I and Antony Beevor his on World War II. Simon Ball focuses exclusively on the battle of El Alamein. Former SAS soldier Peter Winner chooses the best books on the special forces unit of the British army, the SAS (Special Air Service).
On themes related to military history, Joseph Corn chooses his best books on Aviation history. Stephen Glain chooses the best books on US militarism and Peter Paret discusses the cultural context of war with his best books on war and intellect. Chris Walsh chooses his best books on cowardice.
Other interviews covering military history—particularly more recent conflicts—can be found in our sections on the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, Conflict & War, Foreign Policy & International Relations and Terrorism.
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The Role of Military History in the Contemporary Academy
A Society for Military History White Paper byTami Davis Biddle, US Army War College, and Robert M. Citino, University of North Texas.
The resort to war signals the failure of far more satisfactory means of settling human conflicts. It forces us to face and wrestle with the darkest corners of the human psyche. It signals the coming of trauma and suffering—often intense and prolonged—for individuals, families and societies. War-fighting concentrates power in nondemocratic ways, infringes upon civil liberties, and convulses political, economic, and social systems. From the wreckage—the broken bodies, the redrawn boundaries, the imperfect treaties, the fresh resentments and the intensified old ones—altered political and social patterns and institutions emerge that may help to prevent future conflicts, or sow the seeds of new ones. All of this creates a difficult, complicated, and fraught historical landscape to traverse.
Though the study of war is demanding, both intellectually and emotionally, we cannot afford to eschew or ignore it. Examining the origins of wars informs us about human behavior: the way that we create notions of identity, nationality, and territoriality the way that we process and filter information and the way that we elevate fear and aggression over reason. Analyzing the nature of war informs us about the psychology of humans under stress: the patterns of communication and miscommunication within and across groups the causes of escalation and the dynamics of political and social behavior within nations and across populations. And studying the consequences of wars helps us to understand human resilience, resignation, and resentment we learn to identify unresolved issues that may lead to further strife, and we develop a heightened ability for comprehending the elements of political behavior that can lead to sustainable resolution and the re-building of broken—indeed sometimes shattered—social, political, and economic structures and relationships.
Research in military history not only informs and enriches the discipline of history, but also informs work in a host of other fields including political science, sociology, and public policy. Students need this knowledge in order to become informed, thoughtful citizens. If the role of a liberal education is to hone analytical thinking skills and prepare young people to accept their full responsibilities in a democratic society, then it is more than ever imperative that we prepare our students to think critically and wisely about issues of war and peace. Among its many roles, scholarship has a civic function: it facilitates our understanding of the institutions we have created, and opens a debate on their purpose and function.1
The members of the Society for Military History have a broad and inclusive sense of our work and our educational mission. We see our realm as encompassing not only the study of military institutions in wartime, but also the study of the relationships between military institutions and the societies that create them the origins of wars, societies at war and the myriad impacts of war on individuals, groups, states, and regions. Our mission encompasses not only traditional studies of battles, but also of war and public memory. The cross-fertilization in these realms has been extensive in recent years, and each one has influenced the others in salutary ways.
Several decades ago the phrase “new military history” arose to highlight a shift away from traditional narratives that focused on generalship and troop movements on the battlefield. But events have clearly overtaken the phrase. The “new military history” is simply what military history is today: broad-based, inclusive, and written from a wide range of perspectives. In an essay for The American Historical Review in 2007, Robert Citino wrote: “Once controversial, and still the occasional subject of grumbling from a traditionalist old guard, the new military history is today an integral, even dominant, part of the parent field from which it emerged. It has been around so long, in fact, and has established itself so firmly, that it seems silly to keep calling it “new.’” 2
Those of us who labor in this realm believe that our work, which is regularly published by some of the most discerning presses in the world, deserves not only a wide readership, but serious scholarly attention. The increasing number of university presses initiating military history book series reflects our field’s vitality. And the National Endowment for the Humanities has signaled its support for our work by launching a major new initiative to fund military history research: http://neh.gov/veterans/standing-together. Beyond this, we believe that for our democracy to remain healthy, the study of war must be included in the curricula of our nation’s colleges and universities.
The short essay that follows will argue the case for integrating a broadened, revitalized military history subfield into history departments nationwide. And it will highlight the potential dangers of failing to do so.
Overcoming Old Stereotypes
The phrase “military history” still stirs conflicted emotions or hostile reactions among those who teach history in the nation’s colleges and universities. Indeed, this fact has convinced some of those who study war to distance themselves from the phrase, or to eschew it altogether. But there is a case to be made for retaining and reinvigorating the term, linking it to the body of innovative scholarship that has been produced in recent years, and continues to be produced today. The first step is open communication and exchange between those inside the field and those outside of it. Within the academy, conversation and education ought to be the first steps towards breaking down stereotypes.
The challenges facing those who study war extend beyond the fact their terrain is challenging, morally-freighted, and emotionally-draining. Wariness towards the field persists despite its evolution in recent decades. Other historians—for instance those who study slavery, or the history of Native Peoples, or the dictatorship of Josef Stalin—work in fraught spaces without finding themselves the object of suspicion or stereotype. Part of the problem stems from the way that military history is, and has been, identified and categorized inside American popular culture.
Anyone walking into a large bookstore will find, in most cases, a sizable section labeled “military history.” Some of the work located there will be of high quality – serious, deeply- researched, and conforming to the highest scholarly standards but some of it will consist of shallow tales of adventure and conquest, written for an enthusiastic but not terribly discerning audience. Some of it will cover esoteric topics that appeal to those with highly particularized interests, such as military uniforms, weapons types, or aircraft markings. Popular military history varies immensely in quality, and there is a great gulf between the best and the worst it has to offer. Outside the subfield, all this work tends to be lumped together, however, and academics with little exposure to serious scholarship in the field may assume that it is a discipline defined by the weaker side of the spectrum.
Popular television also complicates the lives of academic military historians. “Info-tainment” via commercial media shapes ideas about what military history is, and how its practitioners allocate their time and energy. The academic subfield struggles also to free itself from association with popular writing and popular film that grasps too readily at “great man” theories, triumphalism, nationalism, gauzy sentimentality, or superficial tales of derring do. We face a suspicion that those drawn to the field are mesmerized by the whiz-bang quality of arms technology, or the pure drama of organized violence. We find ourselves called upon, sometimes, to answer the charge that by studying armed conflict we are glorifying it or condoning it. Because the field was predominantly male for a long time, many of our colleagues assume that it remains so, and is hostile to women.
Unfortunately, many in the academic community assume that military history is simply about powerful men—mainly white men—fighting each other and/or oppressing vulnerable groups. The study of the origins of war was fertile ground during the 1920s and 1930s as scholars searched for answers about the complex, wrenching, and seemingly incomprehensible event that was the “Great War” -- as it was then called. But by the 1960s, critics had begun to conclude that military and diplomatic history focused too much on presidents, prime ministers, and generals many felt it had become dry and stale, and had few new insights to contribute to our understanding of the past. In the United States this problem was exacerbated by the Vietnam War, and the terrible, searing divisions it created in the domestic polity. No small number of senior academics today came of age during that war, and, understandably, they resolved to put as much distance as possible between themselves and engagement with military issues of any kind.
Shedding the Baggage and Making a Difference
Shedding these burdens will require ongoing and mutual outreach from both military and non-military historians. Perhaps the best way for military historians to make their case to the broader profession is to highlight the range, diversity, and breadth of the recent scholarship in military history, as well as the dramatic evolution of the field in recent decades. Military historians believe that our work is a vital component of a liberal education that prepares students to be informed and responsible citizens.
Young scholars taking up the study of war are broadly-trained and well-trained—and they must be since high-quality military history demands that its practitioners understand the intricate relationship between a society and its military institutions. This requires competence not only in political and economic history, but in social and cultural history as well. Scholars fortunate enough to have grown up in departments that are home to outstanding social and cultural historians have benefited immensely from the privilege, and it is reflected in their work.3
Over time, the practitioners of academic military history have become more diverse, and have looked at war from new angles. As minorities and women enter the field, they bring to it their own unique lenses and fresh perspectives. In 2005 the Society for Military History elected its first woman president, Carol Reardon. In recent years the SMH has awarded a high percentage of his prizes, grants and scholarships to young women, specifically the Edward M. Coffman Prize for First Manuscript. Recent awardees include Ellen Tillman from Texas State University, San Marcos, for “Dollar Diplomacy by Force: US Military Experimentation and Occupation in the Dominican Republic, 1900-1924” (2014) Lien-Hang Nguyen, University of Kentucky, for “Hanoi’s War: An International History of the War for Peace in Vietnam” (2012) and Kathryn S. Meier, University of Scranton, for “The Seasoned Soldier: Coping with the Environment in Civil War Virginia” (2011).
Even a quick glance at the program for the 2014 Annual Conference of the Society of Military History reveals a thriving subfield that is diverse and dynamic. Papers delivered this year included: “The Chemists’ War: Medical and Environmental Consequences of Chemical Warfare during World War I” (Gerard J. Fitzgerald, George Mason University) “World War I, Manhood, Modernity, and the Remaking of the Puerto Rico Peasant” (Harry Franqui-Rivera, Hunter College) “British Counterinsurgency and Pseudo-warfare in Palestine, 1936-39” (Matthew Hughes, Brunel University) “War, Disease, and Diplomacy: Transatlantic Peacemaking and International Health after the First World War” (Seth Rotramel, Office of the Historian, Department of State).4
The scholarship in our field entitles its authors to claim a legitimate place among their colleagues in the academy and beyond. Indeed, books about war continue to earn national and international recognition. Fredrik Logevall’s superb work, Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America’s Vietnam, was a recent (2013) winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the Francis Parkman Prize. It examined the way that disastrous decisions at the end of France’s war in Indo-China set the Americans up for their own catastrophe in Vietnam. Just over a decade ago, Fred Anderson’s account of the Seven Years’ War, Crucible of War, set a new standard for history that is deeply perceptive, sweeping in scope, and able to comprehend and convey the overarching trajectory and import of the story, including its most subtle and nuanced details. Several of the nominees for the inaugural Guggenheim-Lehrman Prize in Military History – including Rick Atkinson’s The Guns at Last Light, and Allen C. Guelzo’s Gettysburg: The Last Invasion – are works not only of breathtaking research but also of profound literary merit. The first book in Atkinson’s trilogy on the Second World War, An Army at Dawn, won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 2003.5
Contemporary military history has been incorporated into some of the best broad- scope and survey literature written in recent decades, allowing the narrative of conflict to become part of a comprehensive story that includes—rather than avoids—warfare and all of its wide-ranging and long-lasting effects. Here the excellent volumes produced by for the “Oxford History of the United States” series come immediately to mind.6
At the same time as it has branched out into new areas, however, military history retains a footing in “operational history,” the province of war, of campaign, and of battle. As today’s military historians recognize, battlefield history gains maximum impact when it is infused with insights into the nature and character of the organizations taking part. It requires knowledge of their social composition, command hierarchies, norms and cultural codes, and relationships to non-military institutions. Insights from social, cultural, gender and ethnic history have influenced the study of more conventional military history, with scholarship emphasizing aspects of mobilization, training and doctrine, and combat as a reflection of values and institutions in society. Operational history enables us to make sense of the larger story of war because battlefield outcomes matter: they open up or close off opportunities to attain (or fail to attain) important political ends.7
In addition, combat sheds light on the civil-military relationship within states, and the way that societies are able (or unable) to leverage technology by setting up organizations and processes to take advantage of it. What happens on the battlefield also influences, and sometimes crafts, key social and political narratives. For instance, the tactical and operational reasons for stalemate on the Western Front matter precisely because this stalemate shaped the human experience of the war, burdened its settlement, and shaped its legacy. The stalemate also changed the way that European power was understood and interpreted by those peoples under the yoke of European colonialism in the early part of the 20th century. Similarly, one cannot understand the intensity of the Truman-MacArthur civil-military clash during the Korean War— and its long and damaging legacy—unless one understands the power and influence gained by the latter through his military victories in World War II, and, in particular, at Inchon in 1950.
Adding Depth and Insight to College Curricula
Scholarly military history puts big strategic decisions about war and peace into context it draws linkages and contrasts between a nation’s socio-political culture and its military culture it helps illuminate ways in which a polity’s public and national narrative is shaped over time. All this gives the field relevance, and, indeed, urgency, inside the classroom. Scholars in our field are well-positioned to draw linkages and build bridges among subfields in history, and to engage in interdisciplinary work. Because warfare has dramatic consequences at every level of human existence, it must be a central element in the way that we understand our own narrative through the ages. To avoid the study of war is to undermine our opportunity to fully comprehend ourselves—and our evolution over time—in social, political, psychological, scientific, and technological realms.
Students long for intellectual frameworks that help them understand the world in which they live—and the study of war and conflict is an essential part of such frameworks. For instance, it is difficult if not impossible to understand the geo-political fault-lines of the 21st century world if one does not understand the causes and outcomes of the First World War. Students will not understand Vladimir Putin’s contemporary Russian nationalism if they do not understand (at least) Western intervention in the Russian civil war, the history of the Second World War, the Cold War that followed it, and the expansion of NATO following the Soviet collapse in 1989.
Through popular media and public discourse in this decade alone, American students have heard about such events as the bicentennials of the Napoleonic Wars and War of 1812, the centennial of the First World War, and the sesquicentennial of the battle of Gettysburg. They realize that in order to fully comprehend the significance of these commemorations, they need a basic historical grounding that can explain why the events mark turning points—and have thus become influential pieces of our contemporary narrative.
Our students’ desire for knowledge creates an important opportunity for Departments of History. The late recession has produced a drop in humanities majors as students seek courses that seem more likely to produce an immediate payoff in terms of jobs and wages. Legislative budget cuts have forced even state schools to conform to a tuition-driven model, and departments that cannot attract a sufficient number of students can expect hard times to get harder. University college administrators, particularly college deans and chairs of History Departments, may find some relief in the appeal of military history. Courses in military history tend to fill, not only with history majors and minors, but also with students from other disciplines who are interested in the field. And because military history intersects regularly with the profession’s other subfields, it can serve as an ideal gateway to the other specializations any given History Department has to offer. It may, as well, lure back some of the students who have been drawn away to political science, international relations, and public policy departments. But the central reasons for an embrace of contemporary military history go far beyond the practical realities of departmental budgets.
Military history ought to be a vital component of a liberal education, one that prepares students to be informed and responsible citizens. Since civilian control of the military is a foundational element of American democracy, our civilians must have enough basic knowledge to carry out this function competently and responsibly. In the US today, the burden of military service is carried by only about 1% of the population. The remaining 99% have only limited (if any) contact with serving military personnel, and military institutions our young people know little about warfare—and its profound costs and consequences—outside of what partial and often unhelpful information filters through via the popular culture. We do little to prepare our citizens to understand their role in owning and controlling a large military institution. Indeed, many of our young people have no idea of how the US military came to exist in its present form, what tasks it has been called upon to carry out in the past (or why), and what tasks it may be called upon to carry out in the future.
This is an unsettling state of affairs, especially since the US military does not send itself to war. Choices about war and peace are made by civilians – civilians who, increasingly, have no historical or analytical frameworks to guide them in making the most consequential of all decisions. They know little or nothing about the requirements of the Just War tradition and the contemporary legal and ethical frameworks that affect jus ad bellum, jus in bello, and jus post bellum. They know little about the logistical, geographical, and physical demands of modern military operations they do not realize that the emotional stresses, profound complexities, and constant unpredictability of war-fighting make it more difficult than any other human endeavor to carry out successfully. And they do not sufficiently link this fact to the family stresses and emotional wounds that veterans endure.
Any use of military force is so consequential on so many levels that it demands serious contemplation and full comprehension by all those in a democratic polity who own some piece of responsibility for it. In a democracy, the burden—including and especially the moral burden—of choosing to use violence for political ends belongs to elected officials and to the people they represent.8 And, once a choice to use force is undertaken, elected officials continue to have a serious responsibility to remain fully engaged in the wielding of violence on behalf of the state. When Americans go to war, they do so because they have been sent by the elected leaders of the Republic they carry the flag of the United States, and wear that flag on the sleeves of their uniforms. Civilians must respect the requirements of Just War this is essential not only for the preservation of American leadership in the world, but also for building a foundation on which a stable post-war peace can be built. Just as crucially, civilians must realize that respect for Just War requirements is essential to the mental and emotional health of the soldiers, sailors, and airmen they send to war.
In addition, civilians need to understand how consistently and tirelessly one must work to align means and ends in war. Soldiers will be fully occupied trying to cope with the intense and ever-changing demands of the battlefield, while civilian policymakers will be fully occupied trying to build and maintain support for national strategy. With both groups working round the clock in their own realms, it is easy for them to begin to drift apart. An intentional and unflagging effort must be devoted to maintaining the ongoing civil-military communication that gives strategy its meaning, and that prevents the nation from engaging in counterproductive or even senseless conflict.
The rather cavalier and shortsighted way that Americans sent troops to war in Iraq in 2003 spoke to vast gaps in civilian understanding of the capabilities of blunt military instruments, in the complexity of sectarian political divisions (exacerbated by a colonial legacy) within Iraq, and in the myriad and long-lasting costs of warfare and war-fighting—among individuals and societies.
Officers and NCOs who enter the US professional military education (PME) system are educated about the responsibilities they hold in a society where civilians control the military and make decisions about where and when to use military force. At the most senior level of PME, for instance, War College students become well-versed in the special responsibilities they hold on the military side of the civil-military equation. Today’s civilians, by contrast, are under- educated about their responsibilities. Even as the American people built a large military and handed it vast responsibilities, they devoted less and less time to equipping their future civilian leaders with the knowledge they need to interact with the military in informed and constructive ways. This affects the nation’s ability to develop, implement, and sustain an optimal national security strategy for itself, and to adequately address the great range of crucial issues pertaining to the effects and consequences of war.
It is incumbent upon those who train our college and university students—our next generation of civilian leaders—to address the civilian side of the equation. They must teach today’s students about the role of the military in a democracy, the blunt character of military force, and the lasting consequences of the decision to wage war. To ignore the study of such an enterprise is, in the end, corrosive of the Constitutional principles that legitimize choice and action in the American system of government. The strong body of literature produced by contemporary military historians, and the knowledge and pedagogical skills that they bring to the classroom, can surely help in this crucial task.
This White Paper, written By Drs. Rob Citino and Tami Davis Biddle, first appeared in print in November 2014 under the auspices of the Society for Military History. Its purpose was to generate discussion of the key role that military history should play within college and university history instruction. Tami Davis Biddle’s views are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the US Army, Department of Defense, or US Government.
1 Professor Walter McDougall, Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania, makes this point powerfully in a short essay for the Foreign Policy Research Institute entitled, “The Three Reasons We Teach History,” Footnotes 5, no. 1 (February 1998). See www.fpri.org/footnotes.
2 Robert M. Citino, “Military Histories Old and New: A Reinterpretation,” American Historical Review 112 (October 2007): 1070-90.
3 In her essay for the Times Literary Supplement special issue, “New Ways in History,” Stella Tillyard commented on the productive cross-fertilization between academic and popular history. She specifically cited the influence of social history upon military history. See Tillyard, “All Our Pasts: The Rise of Popular History,” TLS, 13 October 2006, 7-9.
4 Gerard Fitzgerald presented his paper as part of a Presidential Panel on “The Environmental Dimensions of World War I” sponsored by the Society for Environmental History, which has established a productive partnership with the Society for Military History.
5 Atkinson’s “Liberation Trilogy” on the US Army in the Second World War includes: An Army at Dawn (2002) The Day of Battle (2007) and The Guns at Last Light (2013).
6 Two prominent examples include David Kennedy, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and
War, 1929-1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) James T. Patterson, Grand Expectations: The United
States, 1945-1974 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996). The former won the Pulitzer Prize (2000) and the
latter won the Bancroft Prize (1997).
7 This is a point that is made and emphasized in another Pulitzer Prize-winning volume in the Oxford series, James McPherson’s classic analysis of the US Civil War, Battle Cry of Freedom (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988). This work too won the Pulitzer Prize in history.
8 An illuminating argument about the need for citizens to reclaim this responsibility is found in Sebastian Junger, “Veterans need to share the moral burden of war,” Washington Post, 24 May 2013. The citizen’s role in the use of military power is the central concern in Rachel Maddow’s, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power (Crown: New York, 2012).
9 Richard K. Betts puts the case powerfully: “Any significant resort to force will hurt people on a large scale, without definite assurance of achieving its purpose. For these reasons, force should be used less frequently, with better reason, and with more conscious willingness to pay a high price than it has been in many cases since the Cold War.” He adds, “The presumption should actually be against it unless the alternatives are unambiguously worse.” See Betts, American Force: Dangers, Delusions, and Dilemmas in National Security (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 12-13.
10 Richard K. Betts, “Is Strategy an Illusion,” International Security 25, no. 2 (Fall 2000): 7.