Hard Nosed Folks Both Good & Bad Real men The Green Machine War

Medal of Honor Recipient Melvin Morris

Dear Grumpy Advice on Teaching in Today's Classroom Hard Nosed Folks Both Good & Bad The Green Machine

I had a few Officers like that in my unit! (Sean Connery at work)

By the way, you had better be in really good shape to try this by the way! Grumpy

The Green Machine This great Nation & Its People War

Why America Loses Wars By John Waters

Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Terms of Agreement Entered into with Gen.  Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, April 9, 1865, and  Supplementary Terms April 10, 1865 | American Battlefield Trust

Clausewitz tells us to measure society’s strength by whether we achieve victory on the battlefield. Victory entails not just destroying the enemy’s fighting capability or claiming his territory, but achieving certain political objectives. American politicians have shown a willingness to end wars without achieving their objectives. In other words, they have shown a willingness to lose.

Precedent was set with the 1953 ceasefire in Korea and upheld when America withdrew from Afghanistan in 2021. It remains unclear whether politicians intended to lose those wars (and others) or merely accepted that the price of victory had become too high, that victory was no longer worth the time or effort required.

Whatever the case, our troops care about winning. Desire for victory is one reason young Americans leave their homes and families to enlist. They join to gain a mission, to make a difference, and to win on the battlefield. Desire for victory was part of the reason our troops performed so well in the fight against terrorism. Ask anyone who served whether they believed their combat deployments were making a difference. Odds are they answer ‘yes’, but acknowledge the overarching policy was misguided if not destined to fail.

No one blames the troops for our failures in Korea, Vietnam, or Afghanistan. Rather, it is “the political leaders who have forgotten that victory matters,” historian and Clausewitz scholar Donald Stoker told me recently over the phone. And since the politicians do not believe that victory matters, our troops have found themselves trapped in endless wars that lead to defeat or stalemate, a doom loop of poor planning-leads-to-poor results, where the pursuit of war itself becomes more important than defeat or victory.

In his book Why America Loses Wars (Cambridge, 2019), Stoker argues that flawed thinking about war, especially limited war, has led to flawed war policy and poor results. And, Stoker anticipates more of the same unless our political leaders clearly define their political objectives and apply the necessary military strategies and resources to achieve those objectives. The following is our conversation on war and politics.

Can you first define “war” for our readers?

War is the use of military force to achieve a political aim. The violence (force) element is pivotal. What you will see argued is that you can have war without violence. That’s wrong. You have rivalry and competition, but war must have politically directed violence, directed at an adversary for a political end.

Your writing is concerned with winning on the battlefield. Define victory.

Achieving your political aim. That’s the one that shines through. When you get what you want, and have the strength or ability to convince the other side to agree to your terms. This is where the complexity of the book comes into play. The most difficult chapter to write was on how to end wars, particularly those wars fought for a limited aim where often you’re not able to impose your will on the enemy. In such situations, it’s difficult to force the other side to come to your point of view, as was the case in the Korean War and the Gulf War, to name a couple of examples. It was too difficult to get the agreements to end those wars on the terms we wanted.

I’ll add that we almost never plan for the ending of a war, which is one reason for our failure to achieve victory in some of our wars since 1945. This is not just a problem for the United States—most countries never plan for the end of a war. The Russo-Japanese War [1904-05] is one of those very few examples where a nation-state (Japan) contemplated in advance exactly how to end the war. Japan thought through the negotiation steps needed to end the conflict on favorable terms. In contrast, the H.W. Bush Administration had thought about the need for a plan to end the Gulf War but didn’t create one. Instead, it had General Schwarzkopf negotiate in a very ad hoc way, and he was criticized for the settlement even though everything he did was approved by the administration.

You are opposed to loose usage of “war” in academia, government, and journalism. The term “limited war” is particularly bothersome. “Hybrid war” as well. To borrow a line from the Smiths: What difference does it make?

I get criticisms sometimes that I’m worrying about nothing, but as you dig into the arguments, you discover that we don’t even agree on basic definitions for “war” and “peace.”

For instance, there’s this constant drumbeat that we’re at war with Russia, that we’re at war with China. I think many terms we use confuse “subversion” and “crime” with actual war. Now, the “gray zone” is a big one used to denote actions occurring in this supposed realm between peace and war, but my point is that people are again misunderstanding “subversion” and elements of Great Power Competition. I think we’re creating new terminology and imaginary complexity that amounts to sloppy thinking. This affects our ability to plan and make war.

Let’s apply these terms. Was the Iraq War a failure?

That depends. You can look at the question several different ways.

First, what were the political aims being sought in the Iraq War? The political aims were to (a) overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime; and (b) build a democratic Iraq. You can make a good argument that we achieved both aims, but that we did not understand that achieving these aims required different things. Building a democratic Iraq is a completely different political aim and, when the aims are different, usually the ways must be different. The Iraq War certainly killed more people and cost more than it was expected to, but you could argue that the war was a success.

All that said, I don’t like the question. You could certainly argue that we helped create a situation in Iraq that allowed Iran to obtain a dominant position in the country, that this probably would not have happened without overthrowing Saddam Hussein.

Okay. How about the War in Afghanistan. Was it a failure?


We wanted to (a) overthrow the regime; and (b) build a democratic Afghanistan. Then, late last year [2021], we decided we didn’t want to support the regime we created. What we did in Afghanistan failed to achieve the aim. In Iraq, we got our aim but was it worth it? I’m iffy on that. In Afghanistan, we didn’t accomplish our political aim.

But is it a problem of thinking or a problem of will? We knew the political objective of the war: to create security conditions for peace and the development of a new government and military. We also understood the problem: accomplishing the objective would take 100 years.

Both. Loose terminology is a problem of thinking. But it always boils down to will, too.

Clausewitz would say it always comes down to one side’s ability to hold. People would argue that the North Vietnamese or the Afghans were just willing to do it longer.

What if it’s impossible to achieve the aim? I think it’s a fair question to put forward in the context of Afghanistan. I’ve seen it in a couple of books. When Mullah Omar and Karzai cut a deal in early 2002, the administration wouldn’t accept the deal because it was very much an Afghan deal. It was rejected by the administration. Just think if they had taken the deal – what would have happened? It’s a fascinating one to think about.

It’s really tough if you’re in the political decision-making role. You may have to make the decision that you’re willing to lose. That’s the criticism leveled by Peter Bergen at the Biden Administration in Afghanistan, that they decided to lose. But did they really think they were losing the war?

Harry Summers’ book on Vietnam says there was no clear political aim in Vietnam. But it’s very clear from the Kennedy and early Johnson administration documents that these administrations wanted a non-Communist Vietnam. The interesting thing from Summers’ argument is that there are all these flag officers he interviewed who did not know the political aim. It’s as if it was not pushed down the chain. There’s a broken link in the chain.

When you look at the political aims for the Iraq War, it’s very clear that the administration wanted to overthrow the regime and establish a democratic Iraq. But then you have Rumsfeld writing in his correspondence that the goal was not to establish a democratic Iraq. Moreover, the political aim given to the war planners was to overthrow the regime, not to plan for creation of a democratic Iraq. The disconnect between the WH – DoD – ground commanders was huge in the Bush Administration. I think it was very different in the Obama Administration. As far as communicating the political aim, I think there was some improvement in the Obama administration but there was also a real tightening of control at the WH in the Obama administration. Consequently, there was a real loss of strategy in favor of tactical planning. In Ash Carter’s memoir, he writes that the Administration was slow to figure out a strategy to fight the Iraq War in 2014 and beyond. I think there was a lack of emphasis on winning during the Obama Administration.

I’ll add that it’s very weird to see flag officers say that the point of fighting a war is not to win. You’ll see evidence of that dating back to the Korean War. It’s very odd. The class I taught at the Naval War College was essentially on “how to win wars,” but now you’ll see from military officers and politicians and others that the point is not to win the war. If you’re not trying to win the war, how will you ever get to peace? Fighting the war becomes an end. There’s a phenomenon where the war becomes more tactical the longer it goes on, and planners and decision-makers lose sight of the strategic picture.

There is a divergence between the academic’s answer and the participant’s answer. Many veterans believe we won tactically but lost strategically. There is a sense that the people most out-of-touch with war—politicians, bureaucrats, other “experts” in war policy—are the people most responsible for our failure. Can people who never served in war fully understand war?

I think at some levels “yes” and some levels “no.” There’s a friend of mine who spent a year in Iraq and a year in Afghanistan. His father had been an infantryman in Vietnam. He said when he came back from Iraq, his father finally talked to him about Vietnam and the wounds he suffered. He never spoke about the Vietnam War beforehand, maybe because it was too personal and he feared he wouldn’t be understood. Another colleague had a similar experience with a student who had a grandfather who served in World War II. The reason why is because they had someone they knew—someone they knew would understand.

So, yes, I think it’s difficult to really understand the violence and chaos of war unless you’ve experienced it.

You mentioned Clausewitz. I’ve not given you any preparation, but can you apply his “ends,” “ways,” and “means” analysis to the engagement in Ukraine?

I’m probably wrong on this because I’m guessing, but here it goes, from the Ukrainian side:

ENDS – I don’t know. Ukraine wants to secure its independence. Do the Ukrainians also want to retake land they lost in 2014? Some would argue “yes” but we don’t know.

WAYS – depends how you want to slice it. Probably defensive. Attrite the Russians and give ground until Ukraine can mount an offensive. [Which has happened since the interview was conducted]

MEANS – an effort to mobilize the entire country. Zelensky tried to revive the levée on masse at the beginning of the war, from ages 16 to 60. I’m uncertain how well this has worked.

That seems right. Thanks for doing the analysis on the fly. 

Sure. And one further note on Clausewitz, if I may.

Of course.

He was first and foremost an infantryman, a soldier. We have this misperception that he was just a staff officer. He was in at least 36 battles. There were weeks where they would fight every day. He was at the Battle of Borodino. He once took a bayonet to the side of the head. He experienced nearly everything about war, from being wounded to being a prisoner of war, to leading in combat. But he also sat in meetings with the Czar. He had vast experience and vast education on war—he built his theoretical approach on all these different things. Bad theory will get you killed, he believed. And so, I’ve taken up that last point by writing this book, an attempt to encourage better thinking about why and how we wage war.

John Waters is a writer in Nebraska. 

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John Sedgwick: The Pachydermal General & the Whitworth Sniper Rifle by WILL DABBS

John Sedgwick was a popular and effective General Officer fighting for the Union during the American Civil War.

John Sedgwick was born in September of 1813 in the Litchfield Hills town of Cornwall, Connecticut. His grandfather had served as a General Officer during the Revolutionary War alongside George Washington. Originally commissioned into the Artillery, Sedgwick graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point in 1837 with a class rank of 24th out of 50.

John Sedgwick, shown here on the right alongside a brace of his staff officers, was a professional American soldier at a time where there weren’t a great many professional American soldiers.

Sedgwick served in both the Seminole and Mexican-American Wars, earning brevet promotions to Captain and then Major. Afterwards, he transferred to the Cavalry and served in the Indian Wars concluding with a punitive expedition against the Cheyenne. By the onset of the American Civil War John Sedgwick was a Colonel serving in Washington DC.

John Sedgwick was a cautious but successful General.

Cholera nearly killed him early in the war. However, he recovered and was promoted to Brigadier General in the summer of 1861. What followed was a successful career involving a series of combat commands and ultimately promotion to Major General.

Stonewall Jackson thoroughly trounced Sedgwick at the Battle of Antietam. MG Sedgwick was nearly killed in the exchange.

During the Battle of Antietam, the Union II Corps Commander MG Edwin Sumner threw Sedgwick’s division into a desperate assault against Confederate forces commanded by Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson without proper reconnaissance. Sedgwick’s troops were engaged from three sides and summarily butchered. MG Sedgwick was himself shot three times–in the shoulder, leg, and wrist–and retired from the field with roughly half his command remaining.

Sedgwick’s men revered him.

MG Sedgwick was popular with his men. His troops affectionately called him “Uncle John.” However, quick to speak his mind, Sedgwick remained a reliably poor politician. He had thrown his weight behind such controversial figures as George McClellan and was a vocal critic of General Benjamin Butler. The Secretary of War Edwin Stanton felt that he should have been a more vigorous proponent of abolition and what was then viewed as the Radical Republican agenda.

By 1864 MG John Sedgwick was a capable Union Corps commander.

By the Spring of 1864, Sedgwick was tired. He had by now been fighting for decades and had been seriously wounded multiple times. He had lost men in combat by the hundreds. He admitted in a letter to his sister that he wished to leave the Army and return home to New England. Despite some of his more unpopular political views, Sedgwick was granted command of the VI Corps holding the Union right during the Battle of the Wilderness in May of 1864 under LTG US Grant.

Fate, Valor, and Snipers

MG Sedgwick is shown here second from the right along with a variety of Union staff officers and generals. Those guys did rock some snazzy uniforms.

The Battle of Spotsylvania was the second major fight in Grant’s Overland Campaign against forces under Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Fighting went on for some thirteen days and resulted in 32,000 casualties on both sides. Spotsylvania was the bloodiest battle of the campaign.

MG Sedgwick had no shortage of courage. His calm demeanor under fire reliably inspired his troops.

On May 9, 1864, Sedgwick’s Corps was tepidly engaging Confederate skirmish lines vicinity the left flank of the Rebel defense. As was his custom, MG Sedgwick was at the front personally directing the placement of his organic artillery assets. John Sedgwick had begun his career as an artilleryman, and he had a gift for the employment of cannon.

Confederate sharpshooters armed with specialized weaponry were remarkably capable for their day.

As Sedgwick and his staff attended to the myriad tasks associated with preparing a Corps for battle, Confederate sharpshooters opened fire from 1,000 yards distant. Soldiers of this era were typically simply cogs in a gigantic machine, the purpose of which was to amass musket fire. Rank upon rank of synchronized fire is what won battles. Individual sharpshooters, particularly firing from such prodigious ranges, amounted to little more than harassment.

Whitworth rifles fired this radically advanced forged polygonal bullet.

The Confederate sharpshooters this day were armed with expensive and rare British Whitworth rifles firing an elongated faceted 530-grain .451-caliber bullet. These heavy but accurate bullets made a characteristic whizzing sound as they passed nearby. Rebel snipers prided themselves on their ability to pick off gun crews at extreme distances. As the Union artillerymen and Sedgwick’s own staff scrambled for cover the General strode about upright and unprotected.

John Sedgwick was not going to let a little sniper fire drive him to ground.

Survivors heard Sedgwick say, “What? Men dodging this way for single bullets? What will you do when they open fire along the whole line?”

Not sure exactly what the hand in the jacket thing meant, but they all seemed to do it. MG Sedgwick on this fateful day let his bravery get the better of him.

Sedgwick’s men were indeed ashamed yet they persisted in flinching at the sounds of the Whitworth bullets flying uncomfortably nearby. The General continued, “Why are you dodging like this? They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” You can likely see where this is leading.

The Rifle

This somber-looking gentleman designed a remarkably advanced rifle during the middle years of the tumultuous 19th century.

The British Whitworth rifle was a product of Englishman Sir Joseph Whitworth, a successful engineer, and businessman. Whitworth did his initial experimentation into polygonal rifling with large-bore brass cannon before shrinking the concept down into something more portable.

These terrifying-looking lads were British officers during the Crimean War.

Whitworth visualized his eponymous weapon as a replacement for the general issue British 1858 Enfield then in use during the Crimean War.

The Whitworth was a markedly better performer at long range when compared to more primitive muskets of the day. However, it was expensive and maintenance intensive.

The Whitworth did indeed significantly outperform the .577-caliber Enfield in both accuracy and range. However, Sir Joseph’s rifle cost four times what the Enfield did at the time. The Whitworth’s radical polygonal rifling was also markedly more prone to fouling than was that of the Enfield.

The Whitworth’s hexagonal bore was its most unusual feature.

The hexagonal cross section of the Whitworth’s rifling combined with its unique elongated faceted projectile meant that the bullet did not have to bite harshly into the rifling as was the case for the more traditional Enfield. This meant markedly higher velocities. The Whitworth’s 1-in-20 twist was also appreciably tighter than the typical 1-in-78 twist of the contemporary 1858 Enfield. In the hands of a skilled marksman, the Whitworth was known to render accurate fire at up to 2,000 yards.

The lockwork on the Whitworth was of a fairly uninspired design.

While the Whitworth barrel was radically revolutionary, the lock, trigger, and furniture were relatively conventional.

Though rare, these early 4X telescopic sights revolutionized precision riflery.

Some of these early Whitworths were fitted with rudimentary 4X Davidson telescopic sights and fired from log rests or forked sticks carried for the purpose.

Queen Victoria used this counterweighted contraption to hit a bullseye 400 yards distant with a Whitworth rifle.

In 1860 at the first annual meeting of the British National Rifle Association (apparently a real thing back then) Queen Victoria fired the opening shot through a Whitworth in a machine rest and connected within 1.25 inches of the bullseye at 400 yards.

Confederate sharpshooters like this one had an outsized influence on the American Civil War.

Britain technically remained neutral during the American Civil War, but English companies were free to market their wares to the highest bidders. From 1862 until the end of the war, roughly 200 Whitworth rifles were sold to the Confederacy. It is estimated that there were never more than 20 of the Davidson sights in use during the course of the conflict.

Never Taunt Fate

The valiant MG Sedgwick caught a heavy Whitworth bullet to the face, suffering a pathologically unsurvivable wound.

As his staff wisely cowered nearby there was a sound described a “dull, heavy stroke” among all the characteristic whistling. One of the heavy Whitworth projectiles connected with the General on the left aspect of his face just underneath his eye. A shocked look on his visage, MG Sedgwick slowly turned to face one of his closest staff officers before falling forward involuntarily, a great gout of blood streaming from his massive wound.

Medics of this era were helpless to aid the fallen general. Folks with wounds this catastrophic frequently fare little better today.

Medical personnel were summoned immediately, but this wound at this time was invariably fatal. The General never regained consciousness though he continued to bleed for some while. I have myself attended gunshot wounds to the head that behaved similarly. Sometimes despite simply breathtaking damage to the central nervous system the human body nonetheless fails to get the memo for a while.


Sedgwick is shown here with his staff officers. His death left a mighty hole in the Union ranks.

MG John Sedgwick was the highest-ranking Union officer to be killed during the American Civil War. Though he had a reputation for being unduly cautious at times in battle, Sedgwick was a soldier’s General who was widely respected. Upon notification of Sedgwick’s death US Grant purportedly asked repeatedly, “Is he really dead?”

The Confederate General Robert E. Lee was a fellow West Point graduate and a personal friend of John Sedgwick. It is stuff such as this that made the American War Between the States so much more poignant.

Robert E. Lee was an old friend from before the war, and he expressed genuine sorrow at Sedgwick’s demise. Union General George Meade publicly wept at the news. LTG Grant later told his staff that Sedgwick’s death was a greater blow to the Union than the loss of a full division on the field.

MG John Sedgwick’s stern visage overlooks the grounds at the US Military Academy even today.

There is a monument to John Sedgwick on the grounds at West Point that includes a massive statue of the General. The likeness was cast from metal harvested from Confederate cannon captured by Sedgwick’s VI Corps. The monument was funded by veterans under his command.

MG Sedgwick’s spurs are said to have been good luck charms for generations of West Point cadets.

Legend has it that any cadet who approaches the statue in parade dress gray over white uniform at midnight under arms may spin the rowels of Sedgwick’s spurs and acquire good luck on any final exam. As a result, General Sedgwick’s influence is still respected within the storied halls of the Military Academy at West Point today.

Skilled marksmen used their expensive Whitworth rifles to sow chaos among critical targets like Union artillery units. Over the course of two hours during one engagement a pair of Confederate snipers armed with Whitworths neutralized an entire six-gun Union artillery battery.

The Whitworth rifle equipped with the Davidson telescopic sight was the world’s first dedicated sniper rifle. At the time these rigs cost up to $1000 a piece (about $16,000 today). Specially-selected Confederate marksmen were trained to use these precious resources sparingly against high-value targets.

President Abraham Lincoln came within a hair’s breadth of being killed by a rebel sharpshooter with a Whitworth in 1864.
After the battle numerous spent Whitworth slugs were recovered around where the President had been standing.

On July 12, 1864, during Confederate General Jubal Early’s foray against Fort Stevens on the outskirts of Washington DC, Abraham Lincoln did himself come within moments of falling to a rebel sniper armed with a Whitworth. A Whitworth round killed a Union officer mere feet from the President just before a bystander yanked the lanky Chief Executive to safety. Had that sniper connected with the somber-looking gentleman in the tall top hat the entire history of the planet might have unfolded differently. However, fate is oftentimes like that.

Sometimes the fates of both men and nations turn on some of the tiniest things.
The British Whitworth rifle was a generation ahead of its time.
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