Civil War campaign delivers lessons for SAMS students
April 10, 2011
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kansas -- Standing on what appears to be an average street corner on the outskirts of Vicksburg, Miss., the town locals curiously watch a group of people huddled around a map discussing key terrain, initiative, and decisions made at that junction almost 150 years prior.
Students from the School of Advanced Military Studies, also known as SAMS, participated in a week-long staff ride in Vicksburg, examining the Battle of Vicksburg, the civil war campaign that took Union forces almost nine months to win.
"I participated in the Vicksburg staff ride when I was a student in SAMS," explained Lt. Col. Joseph McLamb, SAMS Seminar Leader, "and the lessons I learned from that experience have stuck with me to this day."
Since attending SAMS as a major, McLamb served as both a battalion and brigade S3 in Iraq, and commanded 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, which deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2007. Now as a promotable lieutenant colonel, he is one of several seminar leaders who instruct majors selected to attend the Advanced Military Studies Program.
"Students spend the week prior to the staff ride researching the history and context leading up to the campaign," said McLamb,"and all the preparation is necessary in order for students to make the leap from tactical to operational understanding while on the ground."
Along with understanding the strategic context and tactical decisions of the battle, each student was assigned a leader on either the Union or Confederate side to examine in depth.
"If each student comes well prepared with information on his or her leader, it allows the group to learn an extraordinary amount of detail about who was where on the battlefield, when they were there, and why military leaders made their decisions," said McLamb.
While students came prepared with tactical details of the campaign, the intent of the SAMS staff ride was to examine the campaign from an operational perspective.
"The tactical lessons learned are useful to an extent, but the SAMS student is looking to make the leap from a tactician to operational thinker during the year, and many of them do that during the staff ride," said McLamb.
Providing lessons learned was a group effort between students and faculty. Each SAMS seminar had it's own Seminar leader, an academic professor with a background in military history, and a representative from the Combat Studies Institute in addition to the seminar's student input.
Maj. Chris L'Heureux, a student in SAMS Seminar 8, was assigned the role of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.
"All of us really got into studying the battle and our character. There was a lot of depth there," said L'Heureux. "I looked at what General Grant had done leading up to Vicksburg, how he approached the problem and the decisions he made during the campaign."
After a week of preparation, students spent the 12-hour bus ride to Vicksburg quizzing each other on what was occurring in the battle down to the day and even hour.
The three days spent in and around Vicksburg, Mississippi, chronologically followed the decisions of the Confederate and Union leaders, and the movements of Union forces over a nine-month span at locations called "stands." Following dinner each night, students spent the evenings in sessions called "integration," with the purpose of integrating the lessons learned into the present day.
"Each location brought new insights into view for everybody. The light bulbs were turning on," said L'Heureux, "but the operational lessons really started to take hold in the evenings when we reexamined the day's events and applied them to operational planning today."
Integrating lessons from the past, in addition to the theoretical and conceptual classes SAMS students attend throughout the year, is all designed with creating a better operational planner, leader and teammate to send back into the field.
"Military history studied by itself is only mildly interesting," said McLamb. "The real intent of getting into the detailed and conceptual planning aspect of any historical campaign is to take away lessons that can be applied today when these students return to the force."