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14 June 2012


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William R. Cumming

Sir John Keegan's books on the various North American wars are an interesting take on the impact of geography on strategy. My question is simple or at least I think so! Is the American military knowledgeable about geography and its impact on tactics and strategy? It is said that Stonewall had the best maps of the valley! What is the story of the acquisition of these maps and was not General Jackson originally an artillery officer?

rjj du Nord

envy - the best kind.

tell more???


Yes, I have read Keegan's book on the Civil War.

I will let PL comment on the military's knowledge about terrain science.

As to Stonewall, and the maps, his secret weapon was a transplanted northerner named Jedediah Hotchkiss http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jed_Hotchkiss

Jackson was indeed an artillery officer and an instructor of artillery at VMI, but he was famously deficient in drawing and, in his own admission, in visualizing terrain. Hotchkiss was his secret weapon. There is a book by Hotchkiss called Make me a Map of the Valley.


We're home. I'm still digesting what I saw in the last two days. Today we did Cross Keys and Port Republic and came all the way up the Luray Valley to Front Royal.

I recommend the pilgrimage.


Should we bring 45's because they don't make 46's?


.45's 'cause they don't make .46's?

Yeah, I think someone mis-quoted Nathan Bedford Forrest as "get there fustest with the mostest."

In the caliber world it's "go big or go home."


The evil inverse ... had struck again!



Jackson was "Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy" and instructor in artillery tactics and gunnery as an additional duty. pl


Basilisk: Seriously, I've read these posts with great interest. When my boys get older, I plan on taking them to these battlefields.

The Twisted Genius

The Library of Congress has a collection of Jed Hotchkiss' maps available online. The site also has a KMZ file for Google Earth that gives you a fine way to study Jed's maps. As a pre-GPS light infantryman and a competitive orienteer, I have a special appreciation of fine maps. Jed's work is artistry.



Shelby Foote once wrote something to the effect that "if you don't understand the Civil War, you can't understand America."

It has taken me almost a lifetime to understand what he meant. I commend the idea of letting your boys witness the places these things happened. I think it is worth the effort.



Nothing short of amazing. Today when I saw "the coaling" at the Port Republic battlefield it was a revelation. I've seen battlefields from tactical recce imagery and "national technical means," but there's nothing like being there.

The next time you must arrange a "busman's holiday."


Ah, that's the reference in PL's article for Parameters posted in the Athenaeum. I'll have to find a copy and give it a reading.

Mike Martin, Yorktown, VA

It would be interesting to see course outlines for classes in "Natural and Experimental Philosophy."

There's an interesting - if dismaying article - in Wired's "Danger Room" regarding how will the US military find its way if GPS is not available. Perhaps DARPA would be interested in meeting w/ Br'er Hotchkiss's descendants as well as those of Nathaniel Bowditch.

Sounds like you had a good time in some lovely country. Welcome back!



That is what Physics was called then. He was bad at teaching this subject. One cadet, James Walker challenged his grading and when Jackson would not justify his grade, challenged him to a duel. The Superintendant heard about it and put a stop to this foolishness. pl

The Twisted Genius


It wasn't that long ago when land navigation with map, compass and pace cord was an essential skill in the Army. Damned near every course I ever attended required demonstrated proficiency in this kind of land navigation as a prerequisite for graduation. Mortar fire was directed with map, compass, plotting board and number 2 pencil. Even the RAF used these methods in 1984. My college roommate did an exchange tour with Number 1 Squadron RAF flying Harriers. Prep for his missions required plotting routes and targets on paper maps which he kept on the "dashboard" of the Harrier for use during the flight. It was just the way things were done back then. Hell, the British Army used sextants for celestial navigation in North Africa. I see no reason why the US military can't keep these skills up. Maybe they do.

rjj du Nord

this might have something of interest (on dial-up so can't view).



The first time I ever saw a GPS it was highly secret and in a great big briefcase. I promptly arranged to send it to East Germany for a small job.

A few years later I knew we were in trouble when I walked out to take a ride in an F-15D and the young pilot said, "let's go boot up the jet."



Here you go: http://turcopolier.typepad.com/the_athenaeum/2012/06/jacksons-valley-campaign-and-the-operationa


Fascinating. A political and geographical appreciation of Virginia in 1876. Thanks for that.

Mike Martin, Yorktown, VA

Understand about the map and compass. I was a C-130 navigator, not a modern day "combat systems officer" as the AF calls them now, thank you very much. Used dead reckoning, celestial and a couple of modern aids to navigation such as Doppler and pressure pattern to get across the water. Map reading was our primary means of delivering green suited parachute supported objects to a DZ. Manual flight planning and computing air release points was the order of the day. Yep, I'm a dinosaur.

The Twisted Genius

Let us raise a pint in a toast to us dinosaurs. May we once again rule the earth.


TTG et al

I am once again struck by the distances that these men marched and how fast they moved. Remarkable. BTW we saw four black bears out in a field in the Page Valley. A sow, a year old juvenile and two cubs. They were digging something up. The GW National Forest adjoins this field. This was about two miles south of Elkton. pl

The Twisted Genius


Yes, the ability of these men to "hump a ruck" for days and often move into an assault or spirited defense is remarkable. To walk in the footsteps of these infantrymen, even for a short time, is an eye opening experience. When much younger, I tramped in the footsteps of Robert Rogers, sometimes on snowshoes. These were hard, hard men.

different clue

Would enough people be willing to pay enough money to buy tapes or disks or whatever the storage medium is now . . . of a narrated aerial trip or trips over these key places . . . to make it worth planning and doing? A small blimp or other very stable aerial videography platform could be arranged for and flown over the areas to be narrated and explained about. Perhaps the aerial video and lecture could be intercut at key places with views "from the ground" of these same places to see the land as the soldiers involved would have seen it and faced it. How many people would have to pay how much money to buy (or pre-buy) how many such tapes to make it worth our host's while to even consider thinking about it?

Is that idea too silly to even bother considering? Or might it be a way to "bottle this stuff"?

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