Conference Program


85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky


Title: Winter, Jungle, and Bayou: Nature, Ecology, and Environment in Eighteenth and Nineteenth-Century US Military Decision Making
Abstract: Natural and man-made environments are the silent participants in all military planning, decision-making, and acting. Despite their silence in planning councils, cities, towns, terrain, weather, hydrology, the disease regime, and the myriad other elements constituting the built and natural settings all have their say in warfare. Silent they are, but unheard they are not.

This panel contemplates the manmade and natural landscapes of war that constituted some of the fundamental considerations in selected eighteenth and nineteenth-century US military planning, decision-making, and acting. In "'[P]leas'd with the thoughts of going into winter Quarters': The Environments and the Decision for Valley Forge," Ricardo A. Herrera examines how Gen. George Washington and his generals took the weather, terrain, hydrography, towns, cities, farms, pastures, and roads into consideration for the army's winter cantonment. Shifting into the years prior to the US and Colombian civil wars, Ellen D. Tillman scrutinizes officers' interactions and shifting plans as they sought to map out a canal route and conducted diplomatic relations in the 1850s in "The Union's 'Jungle' Crossing: Panama and the Civil War." The Colombian province of Panama was a vital geographical location for gold seekers, travel writers, tourists, but also US military officers.

Finally, in "'The men ?grumbled audibly, and began to fail in health': Disease, Hydrology, and Race at Vicksburg," Anthony E. Carlson evaluates some of the ecological dimensions of Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Bayou Expeditions during the Vicksburg Campaign and their contributions to Grant's high operational tempo after crossing the Mississippi River.

As this panel demonstrates, the landscape of war was more than a backdrop. It was a central element in planning, decision-making, and action. Perceptive commanders and planners recognized the place and role of the natural and manmade environments and incorporated their silent counsel.
 
Ricardo Herrera, US Army Command and General Staff College
Participant's Paper Title: "[P]leas'd with the thoughts of going into winter Quarters": The Environments and the Decision for Valley Forge.
Participant's Paper Abstract: The choice to winter at Valley Forge was not a foregone conclusion. It had come after a series of deliberations between George Washington, the governors of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, members of the Continental Congress, and the generals of the army. The decision making process behind that choice reveals something of the complex considerations involved and the calculations that weighed political concerns, military needs, and even popular perceptions. Two actors, whose voices were mute but whose presence was manifest, were the natural and man-made environments. Weather, terrain, hydrography, towns, cities, farms, pastures, and roads were not actors with whom to be negotiated or dismissed, yet were just as real and as significant as any human actors. As in all wars, no decision or action takes place in a vacuum. Some decisions or actions are far less consequential than others; some, on the other hand, have second and third order affects that extend beyond the theater of war to the highest councils. War and warfare exist within military, political, social, cultural, economic, and environmental realms. To deny war's inherent and natural complexity is to delude oneself. Whether the army should wage a winter campaign or take up winter quarters was as much a political decision as it was a military matter. The implications went beyond narrow military concerns. Thus, in making the decision as to what the army would do that winter, Washington weighed political considerations at the Continental, state, and local levels against military needs and concerns and those of the populations most directly affected by the army's proximity, and the omnipresence of the man-made and natural environments. The environments would have their say.
Ellen Tillman, Texas State University
Participant's Paper Title: The Union's "Jungle" Crossing: Panama and the Civil War
Participant's Paper Abstract: In the years leading up to both the US and Colombian civil wars, the Colombian province of Panama, along Central America's isthmus, became a vital geographical location not only for gold seekers, travel writers, and tourists, but also for the US military. The completion of the US-owned Panama railroad in 1855 increased the US Army's use of Panama to cross from one US coast to another. Even as the presence of US troops increased, and the US Navy was called upon more often to protect US interests, the influx of people crossing the country led to an increase in crime, creating problems for both the railroad's owners and the government of the largely undeveloped province. When Panama became important for transporting soldiers, and increasingly central to US military planning, the Buchanan administration sought ways to consolidate control over the area. Military and engineering missions contended not only with the delicate diplomacy of the situation, in which they were exploring portions of another sovereign country, and with the natives who lived throughout the region, but also with a foreign and strange environment that challenged their understandings. This paper examines the officers' interactions and shifting plans as they sought to map out a canal route and conducted diplomatic relations in the years leading up to the US Civil War, and then the Panama-related plans of the Union as the Civil War unfolded. The coincidence of a Colombian civil war, which shook the foundations of Panamanian sovereignty, added to the military missions' challenges of space, environment, and legal uncertainty as the US sought to use the Panama crossing to the greatest advantage against the Confederacy.
Anthony Carlson, US Army Command and General Staff College
Participant's Paper Title: "The men...grumbled audibly, and began to fail in health": Disease, Hydrology, and Race at Vicksburg
Participant's Paper Abstract: Environmental historians have recently started to evaluate the ecological dimensions of warfare. In particular, the American Civil War has invited a broad range of environmental scholarship. Lisa Brady, Megan Kate Nelson, Kathryn Shively Meier, Jim Downs, Andrew Bell, and many others have explored infectious disease, how combat reshaped agro-ecological systems, the legacy of ecological destruction, and nature's wartime "agency." These studies compliment other works that emphasize wartime commodity flows and agricultural production. The crosspollination of Civil War studies and environmental history may constitute a historiographical watershed, reshaping how scholars conceptualize the intersection of human and nonhuman factors during military conflicts.

An analysis of U. S. Grant's Bayou Expeditions during the Vicksburg Campaign offers another opportunity to explore the impact of nonhuman factors on military operations. Following William Sherman's failed assault at Vicksburg in late December 1862, Grant shifted his base of operations to the west side of the Mississippi River. Seeking to bypass the Confederate batteries positioned atop Vicksburg's riparian bluffs, Grant initiated a series of canal and levee cutting projects designed to create artificial waterways to bypass the batteries. To supplement his sickly workforce and attack the Confederacy's economic center of gravity, Grant's soldiers rounded up slaves from nearby plantations and put them to work. Ultimately, the complex interplay of malaria, hydrology, and heavy precipitation forced Grant to abandon his efforts but fortified his environmental knowledge, which contributed to his high tempo after finally reaching the eastern side of the Mississippi River. Ultimately, the paper will conclude by demonstrating how the Bayou Expeditions offer novel interdisciplinary and hydrological approaches to further the integration of military and environmental histories.
Paul Lockhart, Wright State University



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