By CourtesyNovember 6, 2019
The 1777 Saratoga Campaign culminated in one of the most significant battles in American history, as American forces trapped an entire British army in the uplands of New York state compelling its surrender and earning the fledgling republic international recognition from France and eventually military assistance from French forces.
From Oct. 16-18, 50 members of the Department of Military Instruction conducted a staff ride on the same hallowed ground. The staff ride spanned three days and covered the 1777 Saratoga Campaign in depth, connecting one of the most decisive battles during the American Revolution to current conflicts.
The time spent away from West Point assisted the Department of Military Instruction in the professional development of its faculty and staff and reinforced departmental esprit de corps.
The concept of the staff ride originated in the mid-19th century with the German general and theorist Helmuth von Moltke. The staff ride is typically comprised of a rigorous study of a specific campaign or battle, a visit to the actual sites associated with that campaign and an opportunity to reflect on the lessons derived from the experience.
According to Defense and Strategic Studies historian and staff ride coordinator Capt. Matthew DiRisio, the staff ride provided each participant with a deeper understanding of the complex interplay between political, geographic, cultural and strategic factors that all come together in one dramatic setting.
DiRisio assisted the staff ride participants by conducting preparatory briefings on the American Revolution and Saratoga Campaign, including key individuals, battles and concepts.
Once the staff ride commenced, the participants visited several key sites from the Saratoga Campaign including Mount Defiance, Fort Ticonderoga, Freeman's Farm, the Barber Wheatfield, Breymann's Redoubt, and the Boot Monument. At each site, staff ride members analyzed both the American and British strategies. They also discussed the importance of leadership, developing command relationships, unity of command and disciplined initiative.
Lt. Col. Nathaniel Davis, director of Defense and Strategic Studies at West Point, explained that staff rides can be extremely beneficial to all those involved. He noted that "Staff rides develop our faculty by exploring battlefield leadership while standing on the ground where the battle occurred, but also by bringing that leadership into context with the strategic and operational picture that constrained or presented opportunities on the battlefield, and the significance of the outcome."
Discussing the Saratoga Campaign while on the battlefield led to comparisons between the invading British army during the American Revolution and present-day asymmetric conflicts, which rely heavily on an element of information warfare.
Maj. Cole Livieratos, a former psychological operations officer and DSS instructor who teaches Insurgency and Counterinsurgency, said he found special relevance when examining the messaging problems the British encountered in 1777 with the death of American noncombatant, Jane McCrea.
McCrea's death at the hands of British-allied Native American scouts turned into an effective rally cry for American Patriots during the Saratoga Campaign.
"Social movement theory stresses the importance of framing and narratives, which tell a story to galvanize an audience," Livieratos said. "This helps groups to mobilize and overcome the phenomenon referred to as the 'insurgents dilemma,' which prevents people from taking collective action because risks outweigh the potential benefits of joining a rebellion. The Patriot press capitalized on the incident with information campaigns that demonstrated the savagery of British forces and their callousness toward civilian lives. The campaign was a major turning point for public opinion during the Revolutionary War."
Staff rides remain an important part of the professional development of Army leaders. They provide leaders with an opportunity to study history in width and depth and examine events at all levels of war. Although the character of warfare has undoubtedly metamorphized during the past 242 years, the nature of war remains essentially the same.
The study of history enriches the understanding, establishes a connection with our storied martial traditions and solidifies the bonds present within our profession of arms.