Mark Peine

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




This paper is a study of Union military philosophy during the American Civil War. Its specific purpose is to identify and establish clearly what is classified here as the Union command problem. Simply stated, the command problem was due to the fact that there were two schools of generalship, both inadequate; this meant that top leadership was usually mediocre since, for different reasons, Union commanders had an incomplete idea of war.

The procedure used to study this command problem is, first, to examine its origins in eighteenth century European military theory and then to study its appearance on the battlefield of the Civil War, Second, this paper observes the proceedings of the Buell Military Commission, a military trial, obsolete in form, that provides the major focus of this paper by offering a microcosm in which the two differing Union philosophies come to a dramatic, head-on clash.

Eighteenth century European theory is revealed in the experiences and writings of Baron Henri Jomini and Marshal Maurice comte de Saxe. Both presented a "natural art plus science" theory of war that prescribed a balanced formula needed in any general in order to conduct efficient warfare. The ideas of Jomini and Saxe are used as a benchmark against which to judge Union generalship.

On the field of battle, Jomini's and Saxe's "art-science" theory demonstrate the existence of the two incomplete types of Union general. One type includes Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, Philip Sheridan, and John Pope, who were "natural artists" of war in their originality, audacity, and initiative; yet they consistently failed to consider correctly what Jomini and Saxe also stressed as the "textbook" side of war. The result was a lopsided combination of ideas in these generals that produced a brand of warfare that was effective in hurting the enemy but inefficient and bloody. Audacity and elan replaced close adherence to the basics of science in warfare.

In contrast to this "Grant-Sherman" Union general was a second type, represented by Don Carlos Buell, George B. McClellan, William Rosecrans, and George Meade. This other kind of general followed a philosophy that properly stressed the science of war, but failed to combine it with the natural artistry of a Grant or Sherman. As a result, type two was often efficient in preparing for battle but in little else—engaging and defeating the enemy almost became secondary objectives.

These "natural art" and "science oriented" schools of generalship in Union command are examined in the courtroom proceedings of what was known during the Civil War as the Buell Military Commission. Behind its doors this Commission served as a microcosm of the command problem, with the two sides of the court, the defense and prosecution, representing in their contrasting lines of argument an extension of the two types of generalship found on the field of battle. The courtroom illustration of the command problem represents the climax of this paper.