Most historians describe the First World War as the first modern war, a “total war,” with the full impact of industrial lethality and destructiveness. However, some argue that the American Civil War introduced “total war” as a reality, especially in the final year of that conflict. Here is a short video from the House Divided Project, however, featuring historian Mark Neely from Penn State, arguing against this view:
As part of a series of centennial commemorations, the History Channel has offered some helpful videos and data visualizations for understanding World War I:
[MARKER TITLE]: 3 p.m. July 2, 1863– Meade Confronts Sickles
IMAGE: George G. Meade (Library of Congress) // LOCATION: Peach Orchard (Gettysburg) // TEXT: “At about 3 p.m. I rode out to the extreme left, to await the arrival of the Fifth Corps, and to post it, when I found that Major-General Sickles, commanding the Third Corps, not fully apprehending the instructions in regard to the position to be occupied, had advanced…” (Report by Maj. Gen. George Meade, October 1, 1863, OR, ser. 1, vol. 27, part. 1, chap. 39, p. 116) // [ADDITIONAL RESOURCES –OPTIONAL]
Special Citation Guideline
For first-time reference to material from the Official Records:
 Report by Maj. Gen. George Meade, October 1, 1863, A Compilation of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion of the Union and Confederate Armies [OR] (127 vols., Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), ser. 1, vol. 27, part. 1, chap. 39, p. 116.
Chapter 6 in Echevarria’s Reconsidering the American Way of War (2014) covers a great deal of terrain in a mere twenty pages –from the early twentieth-century military interventions in the Caribbean (such as Panama 1903) to the Korean War (1950-3). The concise chapter begins by explaining how the small wars of the early twentieth century challenged a number of recent war-fighting traditions, including the ideas of the great naval strategist Alfred T. Mahan (1840-1914). A blue-water navy was certainly important for projecting U.S. power at the dawn of the twentieth century, but Mahan “overlooked” (in Echevarria’s estimation) the challenges of projecting such force ashore. [For more on Mahan’s influence, see this lecture by Mackubin Owens]
During this period, Smedley Butler was one American marine who became essential for the projection of U.S. force ashore in the Caribbean, Latin American, and Mexico. Butler became the most decorated marine officer in American history, but later came to regret his role as what he sardonically termed “a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers.” He became a political reformer and wrote a searing memoir, War is a Racket(1935).
Both world wars affected American families on a scale unknown since the Civil War, but neither entirely reoriented the operational science of the U.S military. In World War I, the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), in particular, struggled to overcome limitations in coordination, concentration and communication. There was a great deal of post-war analysis devoted to improving and professionalizing such military practices, but, as always, there were still a variety of interpretive disagreements. One particularly contested area was the subject of air power and how best to utilize it. Echevarria points out the leading advocates for air power, such as army aviator Billy Mitchell, were often guilty of making “unverifiable” claims. The Second World War provided a testing ground for air-power theorists, but once again, the results left no clear consensus. The US Strategic Bombing Survey demonstrated the “unparalleled” destructive power of bombers, but it did not prove to everyone that such devastating assaults on industrial centers and human populations were either decisive or even necessarily effective in demolishing the enemy will to fight.
Echevarria describes the “operational doctrine” of the Korean War era as essentially one of “maneuver warfare” with an emphasis on “air-ground cooperation.” General Douglas MacArthur’s celebrated Inchon landing perhaps illustrated such operational art its finest. However, Echevarria points out that much of the success behind Inchon has gone uncelebrated, and was more about planning and good staff work than simple audacity in battle. He also suggests that MacArthur’s subsequent struggles leading to the Chinese intervention, illustrated the “opposite” of brilliant military leadership.
In 1981, military historian Richard H. Kohn argued for a new appreciation of the social history of the American soldier. The House Divided Project at Dickinson College has launched various efforts in recent years to help convey some of the social history of Civil War soldiers, both Union and Confederate.
John Taylor Cuddy
We have featured the story of John Taylor Cuddy from Carlisle, both within our augmented reality studio and in a short documentary film about his unit, “From Carlisle to Andersonville.” Cuddy became a prisoner-of-war in 1864 and served time in the notorious Andersonville prison camp before his death late in that year. Also, check out the exhibit on “William Elisha Stoker: A Texas Farmer’s Civil War,” for an intimate (and often grumpy) bottom up view of the conflict from the perspective of a private in the Confederate infantry. Stoker’s letters are available at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg and have been digitized and curated at the House Divided research engine.
Children of Amos Humiston
Or watch this video excerpt (below) as House Divided Project Director Matthew Pinsker describes the poignant story of Sergeant Amos Humiston of the 154th New York, a man who died fighting for the Union at Gettysburg. Humiston was one of thousands of fatalities during that battle, but what made his story stand out –and what turned him into a celebrity for a time– was that he died clutching a photograph of his three children. That photograph, in fact, was how Union officials eventually managed to identified Humiston’s body. What’s fascinating about considering the stories of ordinary soldiers like Stoker and Humiston together is how their experiences overlapped. Both men desperately missed their families and each struggled to hold onto their memories through the relatively new technology of photography.