“West Pointers and the Civil War” by Dr. Wayne Hsieh

Here’s Dr. Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh of the US Naval Academy.  This presentation is based on his book, West Pointers and the Civil War.  This presentation from 2011 was given at the US Army Heritage and Education Center.

From the video’s description:  “Most Civil War generals were graduates of West Point, and many of them helped transform the U.S. Army from what was little better than an armed mob that performed poorly during the War of 1812 into the competent fighting force that won the Mexican War. Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh demonstrates how the “old army” transformed itself into a professional military force after 1814, and, more important, how ‘old army’ methods profoundly shaped the conduct of the Civil War. Hsieh demonstrates the importance of the Old Army’s post-War of 1812 professionalization to American military success during the Mexican War, and he examines both the strengths and the weaknesses of the U.S. Army’s institutions during the antebellum period. He reveals how an antebellum American military culture that idealized the citizen soldier allowed regular army men a virtual monopoly on professional military expertise, and how that forced both sections to use old army veterans as the leadership cores of their armies. Hsieh draws out the implications of that reliance, which produced an equilibrium of competence between both armies that helped prolong the conflict, because both sections’ armies began with roughly comparable levels of military competence, and learned the business of war at roughly the same rate. Furthermore, the weakness of American military institutions gave an outsized importance to individual military leaders, the two most important being Lee and McClellan, who could thus stamp their respective armies with distinctive command cultures.”


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