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General logistics paradigm: a study of the logistics of Alexander, Napoleon, and Sherman.

Alexander the Great

Alexander the Great is rumored to have wept upon the conclusion of his conquests because there were no longer any nations to conquer. To a large degree, it is true that at his height of power, Alexander was the ruler of the known world. The tales of his conquest take on a mythical grandeur in which he is located somewhere between a man and a god. "Alexander was in fact, a living myth, and unless we accept him as such we cannot begin to understand his history." (1)

Generalship and Military Professionalism

The almost superhuman view of Alexander is not a modern contrivance. In fact, throughout most of his life, Alexander was treated with godlike reverence.
   Led by a god they [the Macedonian Army] faced all dangers, and it
   was their faith in him as a supernatural world-hero, as much as his
   inborn genius for war, which made him not only the greatest of all
   the Great Captains, but which distinguishes him from all and each
   one of them?

This unparalleled allegiance to Alexander coupled with his genius for integrating logistics concerns into every facet of his military theory, doctrine, strategy, tactics, and administration enabled the support of a world-conquering army.

Alexander did not rise through the ranks but inherited his position from his father, Philip. Likewise he inherited a formidable fighting force without equal in the ancient world. Alexander's professional education was enviable, to say the least. He received instruction in strategy and tactics from his father and was privately tutored by Aristotle. The negative legacy of Philip and Aristotle' s tutelage was their incredible hatred of the Persians, referred to by both Philip and Aristotle as the barbarians. However, Alexander seemed to rise above the hatred of his father and mentor and developed an attitude toward conquered peoples, even Persians, that was key in ensuring logistical support across the vast empire under his control.

Military Theory, Doctrine, Strategy, and Tactics

B. H. Liddell Hart characterized Alexander's logistics strategy as "direct and devoid of subtlety." (3) Moreover, to a large degree, logistics concerns shaped Alexander's strategy and tactics. From the time of his initial defeat of Darius at Issus, through his campaign into Egypt, and his final defeat of Darius at Gaugamela (also known as the Battle of Arbela) Alexander displayed an acute awareness of the logistical requirements of his army. Alexander considered the logistics implications of every aspect of the campaign, from the route he took to the allies he courted, in successfully moving the Macedonian army across the relatively barren desserts of Asia Minor.

Alexander began his move east from Macedonia, intent upon engaging the Persians at the Gracicus River. He had an estimated 10 days' worth of provisions for his army at Hellespont. (4) Ten days' provisions were ample, given Alexander's close proximity to ports along the Aegean Sea and the relative friendliness of the people of that region. Upon defeating the Persians at the Gracicus River, Alexander then marched on Sardis. It was on his march to Sardis that he encountered his first great logistics challenge. The direct route to Sardis was across mountainous terrain. However, Alexander elected to take a more circuitous route, moving back toward the coastline rather than southward to Sardis. This move was indicative of his exceptional grasp of logistics requirements and their direct influence upon the fighting capability of his army. Had he chosen the more direct route, not only would the terrain have slowed his advance, but the greater strain of covering mountainous terrain would have increased the consumption of supplies by both his men and horses. In all likelihood, his supplies would have been exhausted prior to reaching Sardis, and his army would have been located in the mountainous region vice the coastal area with its ready access to supply ships. Alexander repeated this strategy of attacking the enemy then quickly returning to the coastal region for resupply throughout his campaign against the Persians. The two exceptions to this strategy were his move on Ancrya (modern day Ankara) and his expedition into Egypt.

Alexander achieved two major logistics objectives in his capture of Sardis. Sardis was the political and economic hub of the entire region, and by bringing it under his control and raiding its treasury, Alexander further increased the resources he could draw. Second, the defeat of Sardis cleared his path southward along the coast of the Aegean. He then liberated Ephesus, Caria, Lycia, and Pamphylia. Alexander limited the Persian fleet's ability to move and took away their access to these ports by bringing these coastal cities under his control. A secondary effect of controlling these cities was that Alexander deprived the enemy fleet of a valued manpower resource. The Persians had been recruiting heavily from this area. (5) Alexander continued his coastal movement through Lycia and Pamphylia. While passing through this fertile region Alexander again illustrated his ability to integrate logistics requirements with the gamut of additional concerns facing the leader of a large force. Although the region was fertile and presented an excellent source of resupply for his army, he was well aware the effect mountainous terrain had on the consumption of supplies. Additionally, it was now winter. He chose to grant leave to newlywed members of his army. This act of altruism was, in fact, a brilliant means of reducing the army' s consumption of stores, in addition to significantly improving morale. Though it seems unusual to grant leave in the midst of a campaign, Alexander was sensitive to the limits to which this region could support his army, and he did not intend to march on until the end of winter. (6)

Throughout his campaign, Alexander left garrisons of forces at key locations along his route. This practice had three major purposes: it ensured the allegiance of the city was secure, it allowed the city to serve as a depot for the storage of supplies, and it protected his lines of communication. In some instances, Alexander was able to send a small force ahead to secure a city's allegiance and support. His emissaries were able to secure logistics support and supplies, simply because the city's leaders desired to be in favor with Alexander.

Alexander's army remained throughout the winter and spring in the region around Pamphylia. He did not make his march to Ancyra until well into summer. The reason for the delay was purely logistical. He would be departing the coastline and heading inland. Given his doctrine of traveling light, his army would quickly exhaust its supplies and be forced to forage. Knowing that, Alexander began his march in late summer to ensure crops within the region between Pamphylia and Ancyra had an opportunity to both mature and be harvested, the latter being performed by the residents of the region, thus sparing his army that arduous task. (7)

En route to Ancyra, the Macedonian army crossed a region best described as an utter wasteland. Given the lack of potable water in this region, Alexander made frequent use of advance depots. He established the depots forward of the main army, with supplies from the rear augmented with whatever else could be secured at the advanced location. Upon securing Ancyra, Alexander successfully consolidated his position in Asia Minor.

He then marched to Issus and once again was forced to rely heavily upon the advance garrisons he had established, in addition to securing supplies from the local population en route. To his advantage, the majority of the cities between Ancyra and Issus were quite unhappy with their subjugation under Persian rule and viewed Alexander's cause favorably. Issus was a coastal city, which enabled Alexander to move forces garrisoned in the rear on the Aegean Sea forward. The army he had partitioned prior to his march on Ancyra was now back in full force at Issus. The partitioning and regrouping of his army aptly illustrates his philosophy of carrying only what was needed and could be supported. This applied to not only his supplies but also his troops.

Upon his defeat of Darius at Issus, Alexander departed from the direct conquest of Persia. He then turned southward through Phoenicia and eastward into Egypt. Although Phoenicia and Egypt were under Persian control, Alexander did not face serious opposition until his return to Asia Minor. Additionally, his logistics philosophy was consistent with his earlier actions along the coast of the Aegean Sea. His route in Egypt followed the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The majority of the cities, especially those in Egypt, viewed Alexander as a liberator and not a conqueror and were, therefore, generous in their support of his army.

Upon his return to Asia Minor, Alexander again remained near the coast and its valuable seaports. The cities that he passed en route from Egypt were now directly under his control and represented an asset rather than a possible threat. His departure from the coast and march on Arbela was made through the fertile Tigris-Euphrates Valley. Though meeting the logistics needs of an army is no small task regardless of location, Alexander's march through the Tigris-Euphrates Valley was not marked by any significant logistics challenges.

Alexander's defeat of Darius at the Battle of Arbela marked the end of the Persian Empire and Darius as their king. Key to his defeat of Darius was his approach to Darius' main body at an angle and the rapid encirclement of Darius' forces by Alexander's left flank. Alexander's successful use of maneuver is directly attributable to his overarching philosophy of flexibility and mobility, a philosophy integrated into and facilitated by his logistics practices.

Administration and Technology

One of Alexander's logistics strengths, one for which he cannot wholly take credit, was the organization of his army. "Alexander had as a legacy a model instrument--the army which Philip developed." (8) Key to Alexander's combat superiority and logistics prowess was his staff. In addition to the traditional second in command, called the Secretariat, Alexander had Keepers of the Diary, Keepers of the King's Plans, Surveyors and Official Historians. In addition to the more traditional staff functions, he also kept a large number of specialists and scientists on his staff. This wealth of expertise, both operational and logistical, he kept close at hand and without reservation solicited their counsel. Alexander's use of his staff of experts made his army formidable, not only in terms of its ability to execute combat operations but also in terms of its ability to plan and support combat operations.

Under Philip's direction, the Macedonian Army also underwent a significant change in the manner in which troops and provisions were transported. Philip outlawed the use of wagons in the Macedonian Army. This single act gave the Macedonian Army far greater speed and flexibility than any of their contemporaries. Philip's philosophy was expanded by Alexander, who limited the number of followers, civilians who tracked behind an army providing a gamut of services. Alexander only used horses, camels, and mules because of their greater speed and endurance over traditional pack animals such as oxen and donkeys. (9) The speed and flexibility of the Macedonian Army proved to be its greatest asset on many occasions.

Social, Political, and Economic Factors

Philip, through his victory at Chaeronea, had secured control over Thebes and Athens. He then founded the Corinthian league and, through it, unified Greece. His next and ultimate goal was to destroy the barbarians, the Persians. His plans, however, were cut short with his assassination. Alexander was then left with the goal of conquering the Persians and, in doing so, laying claim to the known world. Despite his father's outright hatred of the Persians and the unbridled hatred of the Persians by Aristotle, his mentor, Alexander took a decidedly different view of his enemy. Alexander, too, saw the necessity of engaging and conquering the Persians. However, his purpose was well apart from the destruction of the barbarians. Under Philip, Greece had been unified, "and though he might have avenged Greece upon Persia, he [Philip] was not the man to carry the idea of homonia (unity in concord) into the world empire of his day ... this supremely greater task was destined for his son." (10) Alexander's philosophy was not one of revenge and destructive conquest but one of control and ownership. When brought under Alexander's control, either through defeat, or in many cases by self-capitulation, a conquered city was left with a measurable level of autonomy.

His method throughout his reign was always the same. He separated civil administration from military control. The first he handed over to the representative of the conquered people, the second he placed in the hands of one of his chosen Macedonians. (11)

Alexander's goal was not for homonia just among Greeks but among all men, including Persians. In addition to the obvious political benefits this policy held, it provided substantial military logistics benefits. Although not completely free to choose whether or not to lend support to Alexander, conquered peoples, on the whole, favored life under Alexander's rule to that under some other conqueror and were generally supportive. On the off chance the carrot of semiautonomous rule did not persuade the conquered people, Alexander still had the stick of garrisoned troops left behind to oversee military affairs.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon is widely regarded as one of the premier generals of all time. He brought about numerous reforms in the way in which wars are fought and the very structure and composition of the fighting forces engaged in combat. Napoleon embodied the idea of the professional military leader, not gaining his position through political or familial connections, but earning it by distinguishing himself in combat. Although the focus of this study is on the logistics aspect of Napoleon's 1812 march upon Moscow, it first seems appropriate to recognize Napoleon for what he was, one of the greatest military leaders of all time.

Generalship and Military Professionalism

A major drawback to Napoleon's superior generalship and professionalism during the planning of the Russian campaign was his overpowering need to be involved in every aspect. An even greater problem than this, however, was his tendency to make decisions without consulting with his key leaders. There is a consensus among the accounts describing Napoleon's preparation for the Russian campaign that there were severe oversights regarding the logistic requirements of his army.

Although the planning for the Russian campaign was performed over the span of 2 years and showed some aspects of logistics consideration, it is clear Napoleon did not fully understand the logistical challenges he would face. (12) His misunderstanding, coupled with his reluctance to share information, had an obvious impact upon the soundness of the logistics aspects of his plan. His reluctance to seek the counsel of others was as much a function of "delusion and irrationality clouding his powerful mind" as the lack of any competent advisor. Just prior to the invasion of Russia, "there were few men left in the imperial entourage with sufficient integrity to speak their true minds," and "for the main part, Napoleon was now surrounded by claquers and sycophants." (13) Whether acting out of ego or necessity, Napoleon planned the Russian campaign, to a large extent, entirely on his own. Operating in a vacuum led to numerous logistics problems in terms of military theory, doctrine, strategy, tactics, administration, and technology.

Military Theory, Doctrine, Strategy, and Tactics

Throughout the planning and execution of the campaign into Russia, Napoleon committed numerous errors in terms of strategic focus and tactics, which directly affected the ability of his logistics system to support sustained operations. One of his greatest oversights was his doctrinal belief he could conduct a war on two fronts. When he began the invasion of Russia in 1812, Napoleon's forces were still actively engaged in a peninsular war with the Spanish. Though it is unclear as to his exact reasoning, Napoleon chose not to regard his commitment to the war in Spain. It seems he preferred to have the British involved on the side of the enemy in Spain rather than being involved in some other less convenient sector of Europe. Regardless of Napoleon's exact reasoning, the net negative effect of the Spanish War was the loss of 50,000 French soldiers per year and the consumption of an untold amount of the materials of war that could have been used in the Russian campaign. (14)

Though Napoleon did show some consideration for logistics, he viewed these requirements in a static sense. He failed to factor in the possibility that the support he anticipated would not be available. Similarly, he did not consider the possibility that the enemy he wanted to destroy would not engage him.

Napoleon's strategy did recognize the materiel challenges to be faced by any force marching on Moscow. The date for the start of the invasion, 23 June, was largely chosen for logistics reasons. (15) Napoleon thought the crops in Russia would be sufficiently developed and provide adequate forage for the thousands of horses upon which he relied for transportation and as weapons of war. He also had the horses bear a larger-than-traditional load in an attempt to ensure an adequate supply of food for both man and beast. Unfortunately, the addition of the extra loads increased the horses' consumption of food, in essence negating or worsening the effect of the additional provisions. In very short order after crossing the Niemen River, Napoleon would see his fleet of horses cut down by a third because of an outbreak of colic, the relative lack of edible forage (on which he was counting), and incredibly hot weather. The loss of those horses had a cascading effect. Men who had been mounted were now forced to advance on foot, and horses were diverted from other details to fill vacancies in horse-drawn artillery teams. The net effect was to distribute the transportation and logistics burden over an ever-decreasing population of beasts of burden. The burden increased with the onset of heavy rains, which turned the Russian roads into impassable bogs. Throughout the campaign, the ever-dwindling supply of horses and the ever-worsening weather contributed to the complete destruction of Napoleon's ability to provide for his forces. (16)

The greatest strain on Napoleon's logistics system proved to be the Russian unwillingness to engage in battle. From the start of the campaign, the Russian forces were quite content in withdrawing and forcing Napoleon to pursue them. To compound this, they would also burn their own cities prior to abandoning them. Thus, the farther Napoleon marched into Russia, the farther he marched into a virtual wasteland. The Russians rarely left behind anything of use. Upon reaching his strategic goal of Moscow, Napoleon found it deserted and generally devoid of any useful supplies. The Russians, after fighting a pitched battle on the outskirts of the city and seeing the city would fall, simply deserted it during the night. The net effect of Napoleon's march on Moscow was that his army, some 250,000 strong when it crossed the Niemen, was reduced to 130,000 because of the lack of supplies, disease, and Russian hit-and-run attacks on Napoleon's rear. The Russian Army, which was outnumbered two to one when Napoleon crossed the Niemen, was now approximately equal in size to his army. Further, the Russian army, in spite of all its retreats, had stubbornly hung on to its artillery and enjoyed a slight numerical advantage over Napoleon's heavy guns. Upon reaching the strategic goal of Moscow, Napoleon was no closer to defeating the Russians than when he began, and he was now in the midst of a vast wasteland, several hundred miles from his stores of supplies in Warsaw.

In search of both victory and supplies to sustain his army, Napoleon marched on to Kaluga. It was en route to Kaluga that he obtained what he so desperately wanted battle with the Russians. General Kutuzov made his stand at Maloyaroslavetz, a village on the road from Moscow to Kaluga. Although Napoleon was able to remove Kutzov's forces from Maloyaroslavetz, it came at the cost of 4,000 French troops. Worse yet, Kutuzov's forces still controlled the road to Kaluga. It was at this point that Napoleon began his retreat from Russia. Without losing a battle, he had lost the war.

It was now October, and 200 miles lay between Napoleon and his nearest supply depot, Smolensk. The depot at Smolensk was established on the march across Russia from Poland. Napoleon had charged the garrison commander to secure stores while the main body of Napoleon's army pressed onward to Moscow. Napoleon anticipated that upon the conclusion of the grueling 2-week march from Maloyaroslavetz to Smolensk he would be able to halt there and regroup. There were, however, three tragic flaws with this plan. The Russians were now attacking Napoleon's rear with great vigor. The garrison commander at Smolensk had precious few supplies at the onset of establishing the depot and, being surrounded by a virtual wasteland, had failed to secure any stores of adequate quantity. The weather was steadily deteriorating.

The strain on the weakened transport system was growing. All along the way, the men were discarding the bulkier and less valuable items among their loot. Rations were limited. Horseflesh began once more to be cooked at the evening campfires. Snow began to fall. And on the night of 5 November, the cold came.

No longer were the retreating troops faced with merely the unpleasant chill of frost. This was a cold that could not be held off by the upturned collars of their greatcoats. It could not be pushed aside by stamping in the snow or by holding cupped hands against ears and cheeks. This cold was so terrible that frozen feet, followed by frozen death, came upon men who had done nothing more than momentarily step into the ankle-deep water of some frozen roadside puddle on which a heavy artillery wheel, a moment before, had broken the ice. (17)

Upon his arrival at Smolensk, Napoleon realized his folly. There were no adequate stores at Smolensk, and he must keep moving, or his army would be lost. Throughout the retreat, the Russian Army dogged Napoleon's heels, at times separating the rear guard from his main body and inflicting even heavier casualties. When Napoleon finally returned from the Russian campaign, his army, once numbering 250,000, reported 8,800 men fit for duty.

Administration and Technology

The administrative weakness of Napoleon's army was directly attributable to his style of leadership. Although Napoleon's influence had garnered great success in the past, he made the tragic flaw of assuming what worked in previous situations would work again, despite the dramatic difference the Russian campaign represented from his previous conquests. Most important, Napoleon's army was larger than it had ever been, and the campaign was spread over the vast expanse of the Russian countryside.

The problems of time and distance were to prove too great for the capacity of a single mortal, even when that man was Napoleon. Napoleon's whole idea of warfare was based upon personal supervision of all parts of his army. (18)

His philosophy of direct supervision had proven difficult for him to execute over armies of smaller size that operated over a far more confined area. This philosophy proved impossible during the Russian campaign. Napoleon's inability to oversee his subordinates' preparation and execution of his planning led to significant shortfalls in readiness and synchronization of effort. The army's reliance upon guidance from the highest levels led to poor preparation and logistics support.

Technologically, Napoleon's army was the model of modern arms for the time. However, technological superiority in this case did not ensure battlefield superiority. Specifically, Napoleon's heavy guns required multiple horse teams. The horses in turn required provisions of their own. The only means of replenishing a lost horse was to obtain it from another function within the army. The net result, as mentioned earlier, was the logistics burden continually being spread over a decreasing number of pack animals. Furthermore, Napoleon' s wagons were well suited for the relatively passable roads of western Europe but were woefully inadequate in the boggy mire of the Russian countryside. The combined net effect was a technologically advanced force incapable of getting to the battle in force and forced to consume itself in order to keep pursuing an enemy not committed to full engagement.

Social, Political, and Economic Factors

Leading up to Napoleon's invasion of Russia, Tsar Alexander was able to make peace with Turkey, sign a treaty of alliance with Great Britain, and court the favor of Crown Prince Bernadotte of Sweden. The collective effect of this diplomatic maneuvering was that Russia "was able to clear her hands of all outstanding commitments and proved notably successful in her search for new allies." (19) Although Napoleon made similar political attempts to garner support, the vast majority of his support was obtained by force. The Russians were fighting on their own soil, which provided many logistical advantages. Their supplies had shorter distances to travel, and their personnel were well equipped to handle the severe weather. Tsar Alexander eerily predicted the results of the Moscow campaign in a conversation with Armand de Caulaincourt, then Ambassador to St Petersburg.
   If the Emperor Napoleon decides to make war, it is possible, even
   probable, that we shall be defeated, assuming that we fight. But
   that will not mean that he can dictate peace. The Spaniards have
   frequently been defeated; and they are not beaten, nor have they
   surrendered. Moreover, they are not so far away from Paris as we
   are, and have neither our climate nor our resources to help them.
   We shall take no risks. We have plenty of space; and our standing
   army is well organized. Your Frenchman is brave, but long
   sufferings and a hard climate wear down his resistance. Our
   climate, our winter, will fight on our side. (20)

Logistics problems played the pivotal role in Napoleon's failed campaign into Russia. Inadequate transportation systems, reliance upon single sources of replenishment, and improper provisioning for extremes in climate reduced the greatest army of the time, some 250,000 men strong, to a feeble force of 8,800 survivors. Until his retreat, Napoleon had not lost a battle, but he did lose the war.

William Tecumseh Sherman

The concept of generalship, a person's ability to be a general, cannot be viewed simply in terms of his conduct and influence upon his surroundings. His surroundings must also be evaluated. The environment in which the general commands has a great deal to do with his success and, in turn, will clearly influence the overall perception of his generalship. An analysis of William Tecumseh Sherman's environment leading up to and during the march on Atlanta provides unique insight into his generalship and military professionalism and how these threads of continuity both influenced and were influenced by his logistics practices.

Generalship and Military Professionalism

Ulysses S. Grant's appointment as Lieutenant General, Commanding the Armies of the United States in 1864, served to solidify unity, not only in terms of command but also in sense of purpose. Grant was the field general under whose leadership Sherman led the armies of the West into the heart of the Confederacy. Sherman's success can, in large part, be attributed to the autonomy with which he was allowed to operate. This autonomy was brought about as much because of Grant's trust in him as because of his geographic separation from Grant. Grant, in his written direction to Sherman, illustrates his belief in outlining what needs to be done, not how to do it. "I do not propose to lay down for you a plan of campaign, but simply to lay down the work it is desirable to have done, and leave you free to execute it in your own way." (21)

This concept of centralized control and decentralized command was especially useful given Sherman's nature as a man of action. His conduct during the preparation for and subsequent march on Atlanta is distinguished by quick and decisive action. His focus was first on the end goal, then on achieving it. In terms of logistics support, Sherman clearly identified his logistics requirements, then obtained the necessary means to meet them. Sherman was not prone to micromanagement. He simply expressed his requirements, established a completion date, and then ensured adequate motivation for completing the task. An excellent example of Sherman' s leadership style, as it specifically relates to logistics, was the case in which a subordinate was not providing adequate transportation support. Sherman informed the officer that if he did not supply his army and keep it supplied "We'll eat your mules up." Sherman was far more forgiving of tactical errors than errors regarding logistics planning. He believed tactical errors often "stem from the enemy's resistance and counteractions, which are the most incalculable factors in war," but a failure to adequately prepare was intolerable. Sherman believed "by due foresight, preparation and initiative, material obstacles can always be overcome." (22)

Sherman enjoyed the benefit of the best military education available in the United States at the time. He was a graduate of the United States Military Academy. Despite not holding any cadet positions of authority while at West Point, he graduated near the top of his class, number six in the class of 1 840. (23) The military education he received at West Point proved valuable because it provided a sound background upon which to build military command experience and was the same background the majority of the military leaders of the time had. Grant, Lee, Jackson, and numerous other Northern and Southern generals came from the same school of thought, West Point. The classical approach to education at West Point undoubtedly exposed Sherman to the histories of great generals and campaigns of the past. It is then not surprising that there are significant similarities between Sherman's campaign into the heart of the South and Alexander's campaign against Darius.

Military Theory, Doctrine, Strategy, and Tactics

Sherman, in his memoirs, makes two points clear regarding his planning for the campaign on Atlanta: adequate supplies and maneuverability were key to the success. "The great question of the campaign was one of supplies." (24) Sherman was well aware of the relative length and vulnerability of his supply chain and took many creative steps to ensure he was provided adequate support.

Sherman was adamant about ensuring the highest maneuverability, while still maintaining adequate support.
   I made the strictest possible orders in relation to wagons and all
   species of encumbrances and impedimenta whatever. Each officer and
   soldier was required to carry on his horse or person food and
   clothing enough for five days. (25)

Sherman gave strict orders regarding the number of wagons and ambulances each regiment was allowed in addition to banning the use of tents by his army. The ultimate goal of Sherman was to strike a balance between maneuver and support. Sherman required each soldier to carry sufficient supplies for 5 days, yet he relieved units of the burden of carrying nonessential items such as tents, excess wagons, and ambulances. Sherman's key focus during the planning of the Atlanta campaign was to make his "troops as mobile as possible." (26)

Sherman was well aware of the possibility of not receiving adequate support despite the many actions he had taken in preparation for the Atlanta campaign--the increased buildup of supplies at the front, commandeering

of the railroads, and strict limitations he placed upon his army. Sherman bluntly informed General Grant of his anticipated course of action should his supply system fail to support him.
   Georgia has a million of inhabitants. If they live, we should not
   starve. If the enemy interrupt our communications, I will be
   absolved from all obligations to subsist on our own resources and
   will be perfectly justified in taking whatever and wherever we can
   find. (27)

Sherman's strategy and tactics in terms of logistics were then clear: a highly mobile force that would rely upon significant logistics support from the rear; whenever this support was interrupted, whatever was required would be taken from the local inhabitants. The plan of taking what was required from the local population further supported Sherman's overarching doctrine of bringing the horror of war to the people of the South. (28)

From the onset of the campaign into Atlanta, Sherman's strategy emphasized maneuver and focused on logistics. Specifically, Sherman's desire was to feign an attack on the Confederate forces at Dalton while engaging in a rear action to bar the retreat of the Confederate forces farther south to Resaca. If the Confederate forces were allowed to retreat south to Resaca, Sherman not only would face the burden of being farther from his main supply depot but also be driving the Confederates closer to theirs.

Unfortunately for Sherman, his plans for a rear action were not completely carried out. Due to a lack of initiative on the part of one of his subordinate commanders, Sherman's army failed to attack the rear decisively, and Sherman's attempt to execute a rear action failed to reach complete fruition. However, Sherman's actions did have both a negative and positive result. The Confederate forces were drawn away from their fortified position in Dalton to a far less favorable position with their retreat through Resaca across the Oostenaula River.
   It was nevertheless a brilliant achievement to have maneuvered so
   renowned a master of defense [General Johnston, Confederate
   commander at Dalton] out of two strong positions against his will
   and his orders. (29)

The negative result of the Confederate retreat was that Sherman had missed a golden opportunity to trap Johnston's army and attack it from the rear. "Sherman had a lengthening line of communication [and supply], Johnston a shortening and less exposed one." (30)

Throughout the remainder of Sherman's march to Atlanta, he was able to effectively employ maneuver to force Johnston backward while continually supplying his troops from the rear. Essential in the resupply effort was a trailing echelon of 2,000 troops under the command of Colonel Wright, a civil engineer, whose expertise in the repair of enemy-damaged railways enabled virtually uninterrupted resupply to the forward lines beyond Resaca. "Time after time, Sherman's greater army outflanked Johnston's lesser forces, compelling their withdrawal." (31) Sherman eventually won the Battle of Atlanta and captured the city.

Administration and Technology

The Civil War arguably was the first modern war, especially when considering war in terms of the American experience. The North, in particular, was a highly industrialized region capable of producing a variety of both durable and consumer goods. One key necessity of industrialization is the need for rapid, reliable transportation. In the late 1860s, the railroad developed as an indispensable mode of transportation for both military and civil concerns. Sherman, well aware of its importance, made the acquisition and maintenance of rail transportation, while denying it to the enemy, a priority. (32)

Chattanooga, the starting point for Sherman's advance on Atlanta, lay 151 miles from his supply depot at Nashville, which in turn was 185 miles from his main source of supply in Louisville. Given the significant length of Sherman's lines of supply, it was of paramount importance that he secure adequate transportation for supplies and reserves. His first step in ensuring a reliable line of supply was to acquire supreme control of the railroads. Previously, the railroads had been controlled by "the departmental commanders, with consequent friction and uneven distribution of supplies." (33) Sherman, much like Grant had done for the entire Union Army, unified his control over this critical resource. Sherman then decentralized execution while maintaining overall control. His philosophy of overarching control and decentralized execution of railroad operations resulted in two largely beneficial effects. He was able to oversee the flow of supplies to the front without directly involving himself in the ins and outs of rail operation, and he eliminated the bickering and supply imbalance between subordinate commands. A secondary effect of Sherman's control of the railroads was his ability to weigh in with the authority of his office should any problems arise.

He further ensured the availability and proper use of railroads by banning civil traffic. Still not satisfied, despite the fact his daily delivery of stores to the front had doubled, Sherman directed that cars and locomotives from other locations be diverted to the Chattanooga line. The decision to ban civil traffic and commandeer additional cars was not an attempt to simply bring a valuable resource directly under his control. He had a clear level of support in terms of rail shipments, 130 ten-ton car loads per day, he felt must be met, and taking control of the railroads seemed the logical way to do it. (34)

Sherman also displayed his penchant for centralized control and decentralized execution in both his mode of operation and his army's organization. An excellent illustration was the composition of his staff. His staff included functional experts in artillery, engineering, ordnance, logistics (actually called Chief Quartermaster and Commissary) and medicine. In addition to the functional representatives, Sherman's staff had three inspectors general and three aides-de-camp. Conspicuously absent from his staff was the administrative function. He advocated that clerical work in the field be kept to a minimum and used permanent clerical offices in the rear for daily correspondence. The composition of his staff facilitated the scheme of centralized control by using the staff in a controlling capacity while still leaving the execution to the lower echelons.

Social, Political, and Economic Factors

The political motives behind Sherman's campaign were clear: to bring the war and all its horror to the heartland of the South. "Sherman was eager to teach the people of the South a lesson in the horrors of war, believing that a harsh war would ensure a lasting peace." (35) Sherman further believed he was justified in his laying claim to any and all stores before him, shaking off the "old West Point notion that pillage was a capital crime." (36)


Though it can be maintained that the two largely successful campaigns of Alexander and Sherman had many similarities among policies and practices, it cannot further be assumed that there then exists some exacting set of rules or practices shared by the two that will always guarantee success if employed. This study does not attempt to develop a listing of the key logistics principles that will guarantee success but, rather, establishes a logistics paradigm intended to be a guide or a starting point from which current and future military leaders can develop their own policies and practices. By analyzing the commonalities among successful campaigns and integrating those with the lessons learned from not-so-successful campaigns, a logistics paradigm is developed that is based upon practices proven to be valid in antiquity, which forms a starting point from which leaders can tailor their own practices to fit their specific situations. The campaigns of Alexander and Sherman illustrate the good logistics practices, while Napoleon's campaign into Russia provides the lessons learned. The framework for analyzing the commonalities and lessons learned is based upon the threads of continuity approach.

Generalship and Military Professionalism

In terms of formal military education and background, backgrounds of Alexander and Sherman are dramatically different than that of Napoleon. The former represent the aristocratic general, while the latter represents the journeyman solider. In no way does that mean Napoleon was a lesser general. He is arguably one of the greatest generals of all time. What is meant by the distinction between aristocratic and journeyman is that both Alexander and Sherman were taught to be generals and leaders of men, while Napoleon was first taught to be a soldier and, through aptitude and hard work, rose to his position as general. Both Sherman and Alexander received superior education and military training compared to their contemporaries. Alexander's private tutor was Aristotle, and he was taught by his father, Philip, from an early age how to be a general. Sherman attended the United States Military Academy and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, with the focus of the United States Military Academy on teaching men to be leaders and, ultimately, generals. Napoleon, though a graduate of l'Ecole Militaire, did not have the formal military education of Sherman. L'Ecole Militaire during Napoleon's time was not "particularly distinguished for the attention it paid to the proper preparation of its young aspirants for commissions." (37) Similarly, given Napoleon's middle-class upbringing, he was not afforded the tutelage of a great thinker, and his father was not a great general.

Though no direct correlation can be made about the military education received by Alexander, Napoleon, and Sherman and their general logistics practices during the campaigns under study, their backgrounds provide insight into the disposition and character of these generals. It can clearly be seen that by working his way up from his middle-class beginning through the ranks as a junior artillery officer, Napoleon developed a significant sense of self-reliance and, as was the case during the planning for the invasion of Russia, a need to be involved in every aspect of the operation down to the minutiae. Conversely, both Sherman and Alexander consistently maintained supervisory oversight of their armies while leaving the precise execution of daily operations to their functional experts.

Military Theory, Doctrine, Strategy, and Tactics

Military theory, doctrine, strategy, and tactics, for the purpose of this analysis, are focused at the operational level and can be viewed in general terms as to how each general conducted the campaign. Each of the three campaigns represents dramatic differences in how the conduct of war influences or is influenced by logistics. Alexander's conduct of his campaign was greatly influenced by logistics concerns. Napoleon's logistics practices were greatly influenced by how he intended to conduct his campaign. Unfortunately for Napoleon, how he thought he was going to conduct the campaign was not how he ended up conducting it, and his logistics system proved horribly inadequate. Sherman's conduct of his campaign was influenced by logistics concerns and influenced his logistics practices.

Alexander's foremost concern was the adequate provisioning of his army, as is evident in his route through Asia Minor. Though the defeat of the Persians was the ultimate military goal of his conquest up to the Battle of Arbela, clearly that could not be accomplished without first addressing the logistics needs of his army. Throughout his campaign, Alexander employed three main techniques to ensure adequate provisioning. First, he stayed as close to the coast as possible. His proximity to the coast facilitated easy access to his fleet of supply ships while denying port access to his enemy. Second, he modified the size of his army (flexible sizing) to suit the environment he was facing. An excellent example of this was when Alexander, faced with the onset of winter after passing through the region around Pamphylia, granted leave for all newlywed members of his army. The granting of leave greatly decreased the number of troops he had to supply and undoubtedly had the additional benefit of increasing morale. Finally, when he marched inland, he took great pains to ensure advance logistics support. He sent military envoys ahead with the charter to inform local officials of his approach. The message was clear; surrender yourselves and your property or be destroyed. As was often the case, support was granted without the use of force.

Napoleon's hubris was that he failed to fully understand the environment in which he was to conduct war and, therefore, developed a logistics system that was woefully mismatched for that environment. The most popular example was the inadequacy of Napoleon's wagons to effectively negotiate the rough Russian countryside. However, a closer examination indicates the problem was just as much about what he carried and how he carried it as what it was carried in.

Though Napoleon had planned the start of the invasion to coincide with the harvest in western Russia, the availability of crops proved inadequate to support the thousands of horses he relied upon for transportation and as weapons of war. The lack of fodder, combined with an outbreak of colic, decimated his fleet of horses and had the cascading effect of spreading the burden over an ever-decreasing number of horses, which in turn increased their consumption of supplies. Worse yet, as the number of horses decreased, horses had to be shifted from pack details to pulling artillery. The shortage of pack horses meant more was being carried by men, increasing their consumption and reducing their mobility.

Napoleon's greatest misunderstanding was how the Russians would respond to his advance. The Russian willingness to trade land for time proved to be Napoleon's undoing. As Napoleon pressed farther and farther into Russia, he traveled farther and farther away from his main supply reserves in Poland and farther into a vast wasteland. The Russians laid waste to anything of logistical value prior to retreating, leaving Napoleon with little to draw upon from the local population. The Russian scorched earth tactic, accompanied by constant attacks on Napoleon's lines of supply, deprived Napoleon of even the slightest relief. By the time Napoleon was able to engage the enemy face-to-face, his 2-to-1 superiority in numbers had vanished. With the onset of winter, he realized the war was lost, and in his desperate march back to Poland, he lost the bulk of his remaining troops.

Napoleon began the campaign with the anticipation of relying upon the available crops within the area to augment the provisions his army carried with them. Additionally, he intended to bring his superior numbers and firepower to bear against an enemy in an army-to-army confrontation for the control of the capital. Unfortunately, what he encountered was something far different. Had events gone as Napoleon expected, it could be argued that he well may have won in Russia. However, Napoleon's logistics plan and practices proved woefully inadequate in the end.

Sherman's logistics policies and practices influenced and were influenced by how he conducted his campaign. Sherman was well aware of the logistics strain and the vulnerability of his lines of supply as he advanced toward Atlanta. He took unusual measures to bolster his lines of supply. From the planning stages through the execution of the campaign, he maintained control of the railways. He diverted locomotives from other locations and aggressively repaired battle-damaged rail lines. His route southward followed the main rail line from Chattanooga to Atlanta. Clearly, in this instance, his conduct of war was influenced by logistics.

Sherman is noted for the destruction that he brought to the heart of the South. The destruction he inflicted was neither solely the result of pillaging for supplies nor the result of pure malice and wanton destruction but a combination of both. Sherman was clear from the onset of the campaign that one of his motives was to bring the war to the people of the South. He also considered himself completely justified in obtaining whatever he required from the local population. He believed if the Confederate forces impeded the flow of supplies to the front he was then perfectly justified in acquiring the supplies he needed from the local population. Whether it be the case that the Confederate forces significantly affected Sherman's supply lines or that he simply needed more supplies than he could provide for himself, before the onset of the campaign, he clearly established his intention to take what was needed from the local population. Sherman allowed his desire to bring the horror of the war to the people of the South, a key element in how he was to conduct this campaign, to influence his logistics practices.

Sherman and Alexander shared one key factor in their conduct of war: the logistics requirements they placed upon individuals during the planning stages of their respective campaigns. Both gave specific instructions aimed at lightening the load of individuals and individual units under their commands. Interestingly, both Alexander and Sherman prohibited the use of tents. Alexander built upon Philip's requirements and minimized followers, while Sherman limited the number of wagons available to individual units. The ultimate end goal was to increase individual and unit mobility by limiting to the bare essentials what was carried. This is not to say that Napoleon did not take measures to increase mobility and in turn increase the army's ability to maneuver, but in the case of Alexander and Sherman, maneuver proved to be the deciding factor in the defeat of their enemy. Sherman was able to outflank Johnston's forces, and Alexander was able to attack Darius' forces at an angle and encircle them. Both victories resulted from the successful use of maneuver, which was directly attributable to their armies' ability to move quickly, a concept integrated into and facilitated by their logistics policies.

Administration and Technology

A key attribute shared by both Alexander's and Sherman's success, which proved to be a contributing factor to Napoleon's failure, was the use of their staffs. Both Alexander and Sherman had experienced and trusted military advisors to advise them on a multitude of functional areas. Though Napoleon also had a staff, his, to a large degree, was made up of claquers and sycophants. (38) It is unclear if the lack of sound advisors resulted in Napoleon's tendency to micromanage or if his management style made a staff position an overly unattractive billet for anyone except a sycophant. Regardless of the cause for his less than competent staff, its lack of competence left Napoleon with little choice but to rely upon his personal involvement in all aspects of the operation of his army.

As discussed earlier, both Sherman and Alexander, to a large degree, dictated what was to be done but not how to do it. Such a philosophy is an excellent indicator of a high level of trust and respect for one' s subordinates and indicates a capable and competent staff.

Each of the three armies represented the most technologically advanced fighting forces of their time. They differ, however, in how they adapted their technology to fit the situation at hand. Napoleon had state-of-the-art weaponry, especially artillery, yet he was unable to use it effectively because he could not transport it effectively. The wagons carrying his artillery were well suited for the well-maintained roads of Western Europe but were woefully inadequate in the impassable bogs of the Russian countryside. Alexander, on the other hand, purposefully did not use traditional pack animals, such as oxen and donkeys, but opted for animals with better endurance and speed, such as horses and camels. Alexander adapted his transportation technology to suit the situation. Sherman took complete control of the railways and ensured he had a viable repair activity prior to the start of the Atlanta campaign. He exploited available technology to his advantage while denying the enemy access to it.

Similarly, Alexander made great use of naval resupply and, in doing so, denied the enemy similar access since he controlled the ports. Alexander's and Sherman's ability to adapt and apply logistics technology, specifically transportation technology, rather than their absolute technological superiority, proved valuable in the success of their campaigns.

Social, Political, and Economic Factors

To analyze the effect of social, political, and economic factors, this study examines the interaction between the campaign forces and the indigenous peoples and local environment. Although each of the three campaigning forces interacted differently with local inhabitants, there is one common aspect that defined the interaction. In the case of the successful campaigns, the commander understood the environment he was to operate in, to include not only the tangible factors such as terrain but also the intangible factors such as the resolve and attitude of the people he intended to conquer.

As discussed previously, Napoleon's failure to comprehend Russian resolve and willingness to sacrifice land for time was key in his defeat. In his statement to Armand de Caulaincourt, Tsar Alexander was quite clear about the Russian willingness to use the vastness of their frontier and the severity of their climate as key aspects in their defense. Apparently Napoleon failed to regard these comments or simply thought that even if the Russians did employ these tactics they would be of little impact. Napoleon was also willing to begin his offensive against Russia while still engaged in a war with Spain. He neglected to realize that a fundamental building block to alliances is a common enemy. Unfortunately for Napoleon, the fact that France was engaged in two wars made France far less attractive to any new prospective allies than Russia, who had settled all her other disputes. The net result was Russia was able to form alliances with Great Britain and Sweden and make peace with Turkey. Napoleon failed not only to comprehend the impact of the physical environment upon his logistics plan but also to recognize the political environment's effect upon his logistics plan. Russia had gained new allies and made peace with former enemies, which allowed her to focus on the entire military logistics capability toward a single foe. Unlike his Russian enemy, Napoleon was now actively engaged in fighting a war on two fronts, with the bulk of his allies being former conquered peoples whose support was tenuous at best.

Sherman understood well the environment he was to encounter during his campaign. One of his specific goals was to change the environment of the enemy citizens he encountered. Atlanta and the surrounding region represented a wealthy and pristine area of the South, particularly in terms of its exposure to the destruction of the Civil War. Sherman conducted his campaign "aimed at defeating the South psychologically as well as militarily." (39) He was dramatically successful in both aspects. Sherman not only successfully completed his campaign to capture Atlanta but also left a lasting mark on the consciousness of the enemy population he encountered. Sherman clearly understood his environment and made affecting that environment a key factor in his campaign.

Alexander, too, was well aware of the environment he was to encounter. He, however, took a decidedly different approach than Sherman. Alexander allowed the conquered people to retain some measure of autonomy with regard to their own civil affairs. Additionally, the people he encountered often surrendered to Alexander without a fight and in some instances viewed him as a liberator from the oppressive rule of the Persians. The conquered peoples' view of Alexander is in stark contrast to how Napoleon and Sherman were viewed during their respective campaigns. Alexander's goal, too, was different from that of Napoleon or Sherman. Where Sherman explicitly wanted to make war on the people of the South and Napoleon wanted to conquer the people of Russia, Alexander, to a large extent, wanted to unify, under his rule, the people he conquered. This distinction between conquering and unification on the surface may seem subtle, but examination of how conquered people were treated by the two generals illustrates the dramatic difference between the two concepts. Alexander retained military control but, to a large extent, left the civilian population to continue their lives as they had done before. Napoleon, in contrast, retained control through the establishment of some puppet civil and military leadership. The net result was those under Alexander's rule, to a large extent, were unaffected by the shift in power, whereas former enemies under Napoleon's control were much the worse for the shift in power. Clearly, Alexander realized that if he was to accomplish his goal of homonia he would have to ensure the eventual and lasting support of the people. Homonia could not effectively be accomplished at the point of a spear. By understanding and integrating the political and social environment of the people he conquered, Alexander obtained their support, a factor that played a major role in his logistics practices during the campaign to defeat Darius.


The conclusions set forth in this article result from an examination of the events surrounding the campaigns examined and an analysis of the commonalties among successful campaigns and lessons learned from the not-so-successful one. The logistics paradigm resulting from this analysis has four key principles. Each principle of logistics put forth by the analysis relies upon the use of demonstration by "revealing a necessary connection between the defining properties of the object being compared." (40) Key to the validity of the logistics principles, and in turn the entire paradigm, is the underlying assumptions specifically outlined with the explanation of the principles. The assumptions form the framework in which the application of the principles apply as per the demonstration. (41)

It can easily be seen the four principles of logistics offered by this article are not entirely new to anyone familiar with the study of war. In fact, in some form or another, each of these principles appears in several prominent historians' statements of principles of war and logistics. However, the method with which these principles can be applied distinguishes them from previous theory. The difference between the principles put forth in this article and other theories will be discussed, but the principles themselves must first be described.

Centralized Control, Decentralized Execution

As described earlier, both Alexander and Sherman made extensive use of staffs of functional experts. Conversely, Napoleon, though possessing a staff of his own, tended to be involved down to the lowest operational levels. The logistics challenges Napoleon faced would prove too great for any one man to handle, even if that man was Napoleon. (42) Sherman and Alexander allowed their functional experts to manage the daily operations of their specific area of responsibility, and both generals weighed in with the authority of their office only when needed. Their management philosophies allowed them to focus on the overall management of their armies, while still staying close to the daily operations managed by their staffs.

Although these campaigns involved large armies and the necessity for centralized command and decentralized execution seems well founded, there is just as much applicability of this concept for smaller sized, more modern military units. Given the assumption that logistics concerns are a function of the complexity of the operation at hand, which is, in turn, a function of the people, equipment, and supplies being used, then the challenge of meeting basic logistics requirements has increased in proportion to the complexity of the fighting force. Though the size of the army or military unit may be quite different from that of Alexander, Napoleon, or Sherman in modern times, it is still quite complex. Complexity then implies the need for exacting expertise in numerous, specific fields integrated to support an overarching end goal or mission. In much the same manner that even a general as brilliant as Napoleon could not manage the wide gamut of logistics and nonlogistics issues he faced during the campaign into Russia, neither can a modern military leader expect to have adequate knowledge in the gamut of functional areas of responsibility. Though an extensive staff may be neither practical nor attainable, a leader should be willing and endeavor to consult the functional experts.

Key to the validity of centralized control-decentralized execution and its implied reliance upon functional experts is that such experts exist and are available. This assumption seems negligible, but the availability of a competent staff or group of advisors is quite rare in small military units. Of even greater concern is the lack of true functional experts. Though career broadening and the blurring of the lines between logistics specialties in the modern military does provide an increased pool of trained personnel from which to draw upon to fill logistics billets, it necessarily results in the reduction of true functional experts who have spent the bulk of their career learning their specialty and honing their skills to a superior level. The greatest challenge to the concept of centralized control and decentralized execution is the loss of true functional experts.


The need for flexibility seems to be an item of consensus among students of military history. Flexibility is analyzed in this article as the degree to which forces can adapt to their environment, specifically, how logistics policies and practices enable forces to quickly adapt to their environment. Both Alexander and Sherman made advance orders to their armies specifically outlining what they could and could not bring with them, the ultimate goal being the most mobile force they could possibly have. Alexander and Sherman used maneuver as a key tactic in the defeat of their enemies. What is not so well documented, but equally important, is how their ability to move rapidly between battles further enhanced the capability of their armies. Napoleon, on the other hand, was unable to maneuver with any success and was forced to plod along the Russian countryside, enabling the enemy before him to retreat and lay waste to anything of value prior to his arrival. The flexibility to move and maneuver was clearly key in the success of Alexander and Sherman and was integrated into all aspects of their armies, to include their logistics planning and practices.

Additionally, this article examines flexibility not only in terms of an army's ability to respond to the physical aspects of the environment but also in the more intangible aspects of the environment. Napoleon very well may have been able to overcome the hardships he faced crossing the Russian countryside if he had an enemy to fight directly in battle. Ironically, it was the lack of an enemy that led to his eventual defeat. In taking Moscow, Napoleon fully expected the war to be won. When Napoleon marched into the capital largely unopposed, he was no closer to defeating the Russians than when he began his campaign. The Russians simply abandoned Moscow and, after Napoleon's arrival, set parts of the city ablaze. The intangible factor of Russian willingness to trade land for time proved to be the downfall of Napoleon's logistics plan. Though it cannot be said if his logistics plan would have adequately supported his troops had he been able to conduct the war as he had planned, it can be said that his logistics plan based upon the invasion of Russia and the ultimate capture of Moscow was not capable of sustaining his army in the protracted conflict into which he was lured.

Flexibility is the key to the success of any organized unit, military or otherwise. If an organization cannot adapt to changes in the physical and intangible factors which encompass its environment, then it will become extinct. The challenge in developing, obtaining, or maintaining flexibility is that it, in some sense, presumes clairvoyance. Clearly, it is easy to identify factors that at present must be adapted to or overcome. It is an entirely a different matter to plan for factors--or contingencies--before they manifest themselves, the mark of true flexibility. The measure to which a unit can respond to unforeseen contingencies is the true measure of the unit's flexibility. Therefore, the principle of flexibility implies the assumption that measurable flexibility is the result of planning for immeasurable and unforeseeable contingencies. Additionally, every contingency that is planned for and not encountered is needlessly planned for. The paradox is there is no way to know with any surety which contingencies will arise and which will not. The lack of a spare tire is only problematic when a flat tire is encountered. Otherwise, the omission of a spare tire represents additional cargo space and possibly better gas mileage. Flexibility then is more an aspect of the art of logistics than the science of logistics. It is both logistically and economically not feasible to plan for every possible contingency, but to the largest degree possible, logistics plans should be adaptable to the gamut of most likely contingencies. Quality planning and experienced logistics leadership can go a long way in the development of viable contingency plans. The major factor in ensuring flexibility, however, is not to attempt to analyze every possible contingency and then plan for it. In fact, this will result in excessive waste, and as pointed out earlier, those contingencies not encountered are needlessly planned for. The key is to develop a logistics plan that at its core is highly adaptive, meaning it requires the minimum possible support from external agencies. By having a highly adaptive logistics plan, the unit's reliance on its environment is minimized, allowing it to function unencumbered in a wide variety of environments, thus enhancing flexibility.

Proper Application of Technology

Both Alexander and Sherman not only properly applied the technology available to them but also integrated this technology into their logistics support practices. Alexander made use of nontraditional pack animals because they better fit the environment in which his army was operating. Additionally, Alexander made use of sealift whenever available. The capture of enemy ports and the coastal route Alexander followed illustrate how he integrated transportation technology into his overall strategy. His route and the ports he captured enabled him to exploit available shipping while preventing his enemy from doing the same. Similarly, the use of shipping enabled better and more rapid resupply, further enhancing his capability to execute his strategy. Sherman, prior to the march on Atlanta, was well aware of the critical role railroads would play in his preparation and execution of the campaign. He took the unprecedented step of bringing this critical asset under his control to ensure its proper use and application in support of his efforts. Furthermore, Sherman had the foresight to form and utilize a rail repair force of some 2,000 troops. The rail repair force enabled the quick repair of any damaged rail lines and resulted in the preservation of this valuable transportation technology.

It cannot be said, however, that technologic superiority necessarily equates to victory. Napoleon's force at the onset of the Moscow campaign represented the most technologically advanced force of its time. Additionally, it enjoyed numeric superiority over the Russian forces by whom it was ultimately defeated. The key in Napoleon's case was that he was unable to exploit his technological advantage, or in other words, he failed to properly apply the technology available to him. There are numerous instances throughout recent history in which a technologically superior force was defeated by a technologically inferior enemy, but those conflicts are not the focus of this article. In a broad sense, technology can be seen as a single tool. No matter how advanced the tool, if it is used improperly or if it is the wrong tool, it simply will not work.

For modern military leaders, the challenge to the proper use of technology is that in most instances leaders do not have the leeway to determine the technology they employ. This is most true in terms of the actual weapons a unit employs. The critical assumption regarding the proper application of technology is that there is some choice regarding the technology that can be used. The greatest leeway, in terms of technologic choice, is in how the weapons of war, to include troops, are provided. It is true in this case the most technologically advanced method may not always be the best method. Though airlift in its own fight might be the fastest mode of shipment, attempting to airlift an entire support package may result in a bottleneck and lengthy delays awaiting available air transport. The ultimate result may be the support package, had sealift been used, would have arrived earlier than by air due to sealift's ability to handle a larger capacity of freight. Similarly, the best way to provide potable water is to employ portable water purification units. However, this application of advanced technology is only of use if some source of water exists. This may not always be the case in extremely arid regions. The examples are numerous and further illustrate that superior technology is only of use if it is applied properly or can even be applied at all.

Understand the Environment

A major function of logistics is the neutralization of the effects of the environment. Clearly, it follows that to neutralize the effects of the environment the environment must be understood first. The paradox is the ability to completely understand the environment is beyond the capacity of any individual or group of individuals. This problem is further compounded by the fact that the environment can be defined in varied terms or at varied levels of precision. For example, the United States can be defined as the 50 states and all territories. An equally valid description is that the United States consists of all those individuals who consider themselves American. Furthermore, the United States can be defined in terms of longitude and latitude. The course of action offered by this article is that, given the environment is at best vaguely defined, the key to understanding the environment is to define as much as can be defined and then integrate control, flexibility, and technology in such a manner as to minimize the effect of any unforeseen factors in the environment. Therefore, the fourth logistics principle offered in this article is as much the integration of the previous three as it is an individual concept in its own right.

The environment, though definable in multiple terms, does have basic characteristics of interest to military leaders. Though the physical aspects of the environment, terrain, size of the enemy force, and supply requirements, to name a few, tend to garner the bulk of a military leader's attention and accordingly are addressed by his strategy, tactics, and logistics plans, the intangible aspects of the environment are just as important. Napoleon had a fairly good grasp of the tangible environmental factors that he would encounter during his invasion into Russia. What he failed to consider was the intangible factors that dramatically altered the effect of the physical factors of the environment. The Russian willingness to trade land for time resulted in Napoleon's advancing farther into the interior of Russia without garnering a victory. The Russian willingness to surrender their capital without a major conflict resulted in Napoleon's having to press even farther into Russia in search of an enemy to defeat. These two intangible factors resulted in Napoleon's having to completely change his concept of how he was going to defeat the enemy. Furthermore, Napoleon's logistics plan was not developed to support a seek-and-destroy mission across the vastness of the barren Russian countryside. Had Napoleon understood Russian resolve--that is to say, understood the intangible aspects of the environment of a war with Russia and integrated proper control, flexibility, and technology into his logistics plans--the outcome of the Moscow campaign could have been dramatically different.

Alexander was attuned to the environment he encountered during his campaign against Darius. His goal of homonia for all people had no hope of being achieved unless he could bring the conquered peoples under his control. Alexander knew that he would not maintain lasting control if he relied upon military force alone to keep his newly acquired territories in line. He, therefore, allowed them a large measure of autonomy with regards to their own civil affairs. Interestingly, Alexander was viewed as a liberator in some of the areas that he conquered since life under Alexander was viewed as better than life under the rule of Darius. Alexander was able to exploit his understanding of the environment to gain support from the local population. He successfully integrated his control policies, flexibility, and technology into a plan that exploited the support of the local environment and could be adapted to any adverse factors that arose from the environment. Alexander would gladly accept support from the local population, but should they choose not to support him, he was more than capable of adapting and taking whatever he needed by force.

Sherman, too, was well attuned to the environment. In fact, one of his overarching goals was to affect the environment of the people he encountered. Sherman, from the planning stages of the Atlanta campaign, was clear in expressing his willingness to acquire whatever was needed from the local population if the need should arise. This would serve the twofold purpose of meeting his logistics requirements while further supporting his goal of bringing the war to the people of the South. Sherman, by understanding his environment, was able to integrate control polices, flexibility, and technology into his logistics plan, which not only limited the effect of adverse environmental factors but also promoted one of his ultimate goals.

Modern military leaders face an environment that is extremely complex and consistently changing. Major political events in recent history have significantly changed the political, social, and economic landscape of the world. The potential theaters of operations are now, more than any other time in history, more diverse and geographically separated. Given that, it is impossible to understand every possible environmental factor, both tangible and intangible, that may present a logistics challenge. However, by knowing as much as possible about the people, geography, and culture of many areas and developing logistics plans and practices that integrate proper control, flexibility, and technology, the effect of unforeseen and adverse environmental factors can be minimized.

Other Views on Logistics Principles

The four logistics principles put forth by this article--Centralized Control/Decentralized Execution, Flexibility, Proper Application of Technology, and Understanding the Environment--can be found in some form or another in other research. However, it is how this article applies these principles that is quite different from previous research. These principles are not simply a listing of specific dos and don'ts, they are intended to form a paradigm or framework of thought from which military leaders can draw to develop their own policies and practices. The biggest failing of a list of dos and don'ts is that it cannot hope to fit every possible situation and, in fact, may be the worst possible course of action for a given environment or situation. The paradigm consisting of the four principles of logistics is intended to guide thought, not specify actions. It facilitates creativity while offering a bounded framework for the development of executable logistics plans. A comparison of Huston' s and Thompson' s principles of logistics with the four principles of logistics outlined in this article serves to further illustrate the applicability and adaptability of these principles.

In The Sinews of War: Army Logistics 1775-1953, Huston outlines 14 principles of logistics: "First with the Most, Equivalence, Materiel Precedence, Economy, Dispersion, Flexibility, Feasibility, Civilian Responsibility, Continuity, Timing, Unity of Command, Forward Impetus, Information, Relativity." (43) It is clear that Huston's principles are intended to be a list of things to do vice a description of how to approach logistics challenges, the latter being the focus of this article's principles. Similarly, Thompson makes use of the British Principles of Administration as a reference for general logistics principles in his book The Lifeblood of War: Logistics in Armed Conflict. Thompson's principles--foresight, economy, flexibility, simplicity, cooperation--are fewer and broader in scope than Huston's but still, to a large extent, focus on what to do rather than how to think. (44) If viewed on a continuum with the fight being the pragmatic how to and the left being the thought-provoking paradigm, Huston's principles would be on the far right, Thompson's somewhere between the middle and the right, and this article's principles would be past the middle and more toward the far left. There is no particular spot on the continuum that is particularly better than the other. However, as one moves from the fight to the left, the focus becomes more broad, but the principles' applicability also increases to a larger number of situations. Admittedly, moving to the extreme left of the continuum is of little use because the principles would be so broad that, although they would surely apply to any situation, they would be of little use. The resultant guidance would be broad, with useless principles like employ sound logistics principles at all times and ensure your logistics requirements are met. Generally, an extreme point on a continuum is of little use. The principles put forth in this article, though less pragmatic than the traditional listing of dos and don'ts, are still specific enough to provide guidance while enhancing applicability by focusing on outlining a way to think instead of listing specific actions to complete.

Application of the Logistics Paradigm

Operational level commanders should, at the onset, endeavor to understand as much about their theater of operations as possible. Studying history, combined with genuine intellectual curiosity, will go a long way in gaining an understanding of a diverse and often multicultural theater of operations. As the perception of the operational environment becomes more clear, commanders, with the aid of their functional experts, can begin to modify their existing command structure, protocols, and organization to facilitate the proper balance between centralized control and decentralized execution. Certain tangible and intangible environmental factors will lend themselves to either a more centralized control structure or a more decentralized one. For example, a geographically vast theater of operations with diverse climates and terrain lends itself to a decentralized control structure. Therefore, the logistics policies and practices within that theater of operations should support a high level of autonomy between distinct, geographically separate units.

Much in the same manner that the logistics command and control structure should be tailored to the specific theater of operations, so should the application of technology. Advanced technology should not be forced into use in an environment in which it is not well suited. Advanced technology should not be the square peg forced into an inappropriate situation's round hole. Commanders should use the most advanced technology available that is suited for the theater of operations. For example, no matter how advanced the available motorized transportation is, if the only means of transport through a mountainous area of operations is by donkey, then donkeys should be used. It would be of greater benefit to ensure the best donkeys and donkey drivers are used than to force the use of motorized vehicles in an unsuitable environment.

The fine tuning of control practices and technology to best mesh with the environment within the theater of operations is an iterative process. As more information is obtained about both the tangible and intangible factors of the environment, adaptations to existing policies and practices will need to be made. As stated earlier, a major role of logistics is the neutralization of adverse environmental factors and the exploitation of favorable ones. As a better understanding of the environment is gained, policies and practices must be modified to best take advantage of new opportunities or defend against previously unknown adverse conditions. The discovery of a previously unknown water source could result in a change of logistics policy by allowing the practice of drinking locally acquired, fresh water. Similarly, the discovery that a local water source is no longer potable may result in changing logistics policy and banning of the use of any water found in the local area.

An excellent measure of the soundness of existing logistics policies or practices is the speed with which they can be adapted to meet changes in the environment. The speed of change is a direct function of the flexibility of the existing logistics system. It is, therefore, of paramount concern that flexibility be a core characteristic of any logistics plan, policy, or practice. Reliance upon single sources of supply, the belief there is only one way to do something, and resistance to new ideas are key indicators of a lack of flexibility. Without flexibility, the ability to adapt slows, which, in turn, can result in an excellent logistics plan evolving into a dated, useless way of doing things. The highest degree of flexibility should be maintained in all aspects of an operation. By maintaining the highest level of flexibility, the unit's logistics policies and practices will be able to rapidly adapt to a constantly changing environment.

The previous description of how the logistics paradigm should be applied illustrates the pronounced difference between its application and the use of more traditional, list-type logistics principles. Fundamental to the logistics paradigm is its iterative and adaptive nature. It is meant to guide thought instead of specifying specific actions to take. The shortfall of any list of to dos is that there will always be some instance where they do not fit, are inadequate, or are the wrong thing to do. The logistics paradigm focuses on integrating logistics policies and practices with the environment in order to ensure adequate support, exploitation of opportunities, protection against threats, and the ability to adapt to change, all key abilities demonstrated during Alexander's and Sherman's campaigns and woefully lacking in Napoleon's.


(1.) John C. Fuller, Decisive Battles: Their Influence Upon History and Civilization, New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1940, 5.

(2.) Ibid.

(3.) B.H. Liddel Hart, Strategy, New York, NY: Frederick A. Praeger, 1954, 39.

(4.) Donald W. Engels, Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1978, 28.

(5.) Hart, 40.

(6.) Engels, 23.

(7.) Theodore A. Dodge, Alexander, New York, NY: DeCapo Press, 1996, 53.

(8.) Strategy, 39.

(9.) Engels, 23.

(10.) Fuller, 4.

(11.) Fuller, 9.

(12.) David G. Chander, The Campaigns of Napoleon, New York, NY: The MacMillan Company, 1966.

(13.) Chander, 747.

(14.) Chander, 748.

(15.) Kathy Scott, "Napoleon in Russia," Time line of Napoleon's campaign into Russia, 13 Jan [Online[ Available:

(16.) Daniel Hawthorne, For Want of a Nail: The Influence of Logistics on War, New York, NY: McGrawHill Book Company, 1948.

(17.) Scott, 141-142.

(18.) Chander, 763.

(19.) Chander, 746.

(20.) Chander, 749.

(21.) B.H. Liddell Hart, Sherman: Soldier, Realist, American, New York, NY: DeCapo Press, 1993.

(22.) Sherman: Soldier, Realist, American, 232-5.

(23.) "All About Sherman," Biography of General William Tecumseh Sherman, 13 Jan 1998 [Online] Available:

(24.) William Tecumseh Sherman, The Memoirs of General William Tecumseh Sherman, New York, NY: DeCapo Press, 1984, Vol II, 8.

(25.) Sherman, Vol II, 15.

(26.) Ibid.

(27.) Sherman, Vol II, 28.

(28.) Lance Janda, "Shutting the Gates of Mercy: The American Origins of Total War, 1860-1880," The Journal of Military History, Jan 1995, 59: 7-26, 12.

(29.) Hart, Sherman: Soldier, Realist, American, 252.

(30.) Ibid.

(31.) Scott, 194.

(32.) Julian Thompson, The Lifeblood of War: Logistics in Armed Conflict, London, UK: Brassey's, 1991, 21.

(33.) Hart, Sherman: Soldier, Realist, American, 234.

(34.) Hart, Sherman: Soldier, Realist, American, 235.

(35.) "Shutting the Gates of Mercy: The American Origins of Total War, 1860-1880," 12.

(36.) Ibid.

(37.) Chander, 8.

(38.) Chander, 747.

(39.) "Shutting the Gates of Mercy: The American Origins of Total War, 1860-1880," 8.

(40.) Morris R. Cohen, and Ernest Nagel, An Introduction to Logic and Scientific Method, New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc, 1934, 408.

(41.) Ibid.

(42.) Chander, 763.

(43.) James A. Huston, The Sinews of War: Army Logistics 1775-1953, Washington, DC: Center for Military History (US Army), 1997, 564.

(44.) Thompson, 7.
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Title Annotation:Rewind Readings in Logistics
Author:Hardemon, Richard A.
Publication:Air Force Journal of Logistics
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2011
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