WAYNE WEI-SIANG HSIEH


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October 12, 2017

CIVIL WAR & THE ORIGINS OF MODERN WARFARE

I did enjoy this talk very much.  It provided a very broad perspective about how our CW fit into and was affected by the evolution of technology, culture and the science of organization.  Organization, I think, is the most important and first invention of humans.  "Hey Bill, you and Fred  go get some sticks while I find a rock and we will try to invent fire." - George Yocum
I enjoyed and benefited from this interesting program.  I found it difficult to hear the questions from the audience.  The questioners should be microphoned to keep the guests involved.  It seems to quickly turn into a private conversation. - Steve Olsen
Intelligent, knowledgeable, well-spoken, and simply excellent.  - Ed Malles
A very well delivered lecture.  Left no doubt as to his incredible grasp of all things civil war / nineteenth century America.  As a Naval Academy alumni I was pleased to see and hear the Naval Academy faculty so well represented. - Phil  Allen
Thought provoking question and answer session!! - Doug Galuszka
A comprehensive, highly informative and convincing perspective on the interrelated factors leading to the war by a highly knowledgeable historian. - Richard Kerr
This month's speaker was Wayne Wei-Siang Hsieh, speaking on the Civil War and the Origins of Modern Warfare. Hsieh (pronounced "shay"), co-author of a history of the Civil War called "A Savage War" gave a very good presentation. Although lacking a power point presentation, he made his points very well. You can tell he knows his subject and was very enthusiastic. Although the statement that the Civil War was the first "Modern War", is not new, Hsieh's take on it is quite different. Most other historians focus on the weapons created during the war, but Hsieh said it was a modern war in the sense that huge percentages of men (especially in the South) were able to be mobilized for war and were motivated to fight not for a King but for themselves. This was a somewhat new concept that was just evolving in Europe after the French Revolution brought about many of the same changes in society and warfare. Hsieh pointed out one difference for the American soldier in the Civil War as opposed to his European counterpart. In Europe countries HAD to have standing armies and a professional class of leaders. These systems often forced armies into a way of fighting that didn't rely so much on individual leadership, but on training a familiar regimen.

Hsieh pointed out that the American soldier didn't have this- except for the regular Army, which only had 16,000 troops in 1860, the armies had to be created from nothing. And, apart from the drill manual and weapons that were mostly alike, commanders (for better or worse) were more likely to imprint their own personalities on their units. He pointed out the example of George B. McClellan, who had to completely reorganize the Army of the Potomac. He did so by putting soldiers into leadership positions who were much like him- organized, but methodical and slow. This affected the army for some time to come- even after Grant had taken over command and had reversed the trend. On the other hand, when Robert E. Lee took over from Joe Johnston, he found ways to rid the Army of Northern Virginia of the slow, in effective leaders, and replaced them with aggressive commanders. This told on the battlefield. 

There were many other "Aha" moments. In fact, I had told the member sitting next to me that I wasn't interested in Hsieh's book because "I have other histories of the war". Well, 5-10 minutes into the talk I changed my mind and grabbed a copy because I wanted to see what insights Hsieh and his co-author had included in his book. Looking forward to reading it. -
Mark Terry
I liked how he could tie so many things together, public opinion, other battle outcomes and other narratives that we’re somewhat familiar with but haven’t seen in this depth. - Stephen Pierce