February 9, 2017

William T. Sherman, Helmuth von Moltke, and the Transnational Challenges of Command in the 19th Century

Ethan Rafuse certainly knows his stuff. He was informative about a rather esoteric subject but still made it approachable with clarity and confidence. I would like to have heard more details about how Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan shaped the US Military as it navigated to the 20th Century and how this served us in the Spanish-American War and WW1. His speaking style was accessible, he was open to questions, and his knowledge of the subject matter was impressive. - Ed Malles
  He as a good speaker with a well-organized presentation.  I would have liked to hear him explain why Sherman had a greater influence on the development of warfare than U.S. Grant.   He put that over until the question time and then did not get back to it. - Jorgen Bader
I enjoyed Ethan Rafuse’s presentation last night.  His knowledge is obvious and his enthusiasm is infectious.  The emphasis was on Helmuth von Moltke rather than William Tecumseh Sherman, which is fine.  I like how Dr. Refuse discussed the political and socio-economic backgrounds that led Prussia, rather than Austria, to be the primary force in German Unification.  Comparing Austria to the heavyweight boxer, George Clooney, was a riot. 

Dr. Rafuse pointed out the temperamental differences between the Prussians and the southern Germans which was quite enlightening.  Pat Brady should get Dr. Rafuse to speak to our Roundtable as often as possible.  All his presentations have been smooth, enthusiastic and thought provoking.  If anyone gets the chance please see other presentations by Dr. Rafuse on YouTube. - Rick Solomon
Very interesting topic related to the Civil War and all other wars. I did learn a few facts.  Dr. Rafuse is a very enthusiastic speaker. - Steve Clayton
I absolutely love Ethan’s enthusiasm and am astounded by his depth of knowledge. The presentation gave us a real eye-opener regarding military training philosophies, mass mobilization versus a professional response and the differing cultural perspective of those in military service. Another excellent presentation by a wonderful historian! - Mike Movius
I enjoyed our meeting and all of the interesting conversations Thursday night.  

Ethan's lecture was, I thought, a bit of a dog's breakfast.  The talk ranged from 1796 to 1945 and covered the armies of the Northern States, Confederacy, US Army, France, Germany, Prussia and I think more.  One of his themes could have been really interesting if it was delivered with clarity.  That is the evolution of military science.  His bias was very political in spite of his position that politics should stay out of the military.  I guess he thinks the army should be in control.  

Another theme was the advantages of  professional officer corps.  It became apparent that his normal audience is a military class that has the text to read first (for clarity) and who would be encouraged to adopt a certain "professional" attitude.  However, I think he confuses professional  conduct with personality.  

None-the-less, I am sure that he is a very nice man. -
George Yocum
A good presentation.  The speaker obviously loves his subject. - Craig Miller
Very smart Man with lots of WAR details in his head!  It was a little long for me BUT interesting.  He did get off the "CIVIL WAR" FOR PART OF PRESENTATION. - Ann Brown
I enjoyed Ethan's presentation. The presentation was a bit different than we normally hear and was refreshing and interesting. - Richard Dickson
The speaker for the February 2017 meeting was Ethan Rafuse. His topic was a comparison between German General Helmut Von Moltke and General William T. Sherman. It was an interesting talk, as both generals had similar problems, mostly concerning the best way to develop a standing army. Both the Germans in their mid-19th century wars and Americans in the Civil War had to deal with the issue of "professional" army versus an army more lead by "the people". Obviously, in both armies, volunteers outnumbered the regular army by a great deal. That being said, both sides tried to fill the officer ranks with West Point graduates. Even so, there was a backlash both during and after the war against what some saw as "elitist" leadership, the assumption being that the enthusiasm and motivation of the volunteer could win out.

Eventually, in both the U.S. and Germany, the professionals won out.

What I found interesting was Rafuse's comments regarding the differences in the German people and how Prussia- though one of the smaller states- dominated the military leadership. There was a fear that if Southern Germany, dominated by the more relaxed and fun-loving Bavarians, took over, the army would lose it's discipline. Another was the observation that in a comparison between the U.S. and Germany, the latter tended to be more tactical minded as opposed to strategically minded. The U.S. has always been forced to think strategically, Rafuse pointed out, because of it having large oceans on either side. Instead, Germany was often surrounded by their enemies as they perceived them to be. Even as the 20th Century evolved into two World Wars, Germany didn't plan strategically- a carryover from their 19th Century wars- and thus lost wars they could have perhaps won.

Interesting lecture! -
Mark Terry
This in no way reflects negatively on Ethan Rafuse's excellent scholarship or ability to present information in an interesting way, but we are a Civil War Round Table. By my experience of his talk, less than five minutes was directly related to increasing our understanding of the personalities, issues, or conduct of that war.

I offered no opinion last month, though my driving partner and I were equally disappointed for exactly the same reason: interesting, but irrelevant presentations.

This is also not about Pat, who works so diligently each year to provide our programs. I'm only responding to presenters who come with their own agenda instead of addressing ours.

I'm only speaking for myself, but it's going to be hard for me to invite guests to come to a Civil War speech if that's not what they're going to get...
Nick K. Adams
I thought the speaker was great. Very knowledgeable. The link for the speaker review did not work for me consequently this e-mail. - Verlin Judd