Maneuver Self Study Program

Infantry Heritage

Per FM 3-21.20 (The Infantry Battalion)

"The primary mission of the Infantry battalion is to close with the enemy by means of fire and maneuver. Its purpose is to destroy or capture him, to repel his assaults by fire, close combat, and counterattack, or all of these..." (para 1-1)

The role of the American infantryman has remained constant since the earliest days of American military history: to close with and destroy the enemy. While this role has changed due to changes in tactics, technology, and the strategic environment today’s infantryman faces the same basic challenges faced by his predecessors. It is important for infantry leaders to study the experiences of their predecessors to understand how they adapted to change and how they dealt with the external chaos and internal emotion of war. It is also important to understand how the infantry has worked as a part of a larger, combined-arms team. It is imperative to understand the historical role of the infantry, the lessons infantryman have learned through conflict, and the continuity of the human dimension of warfare so that the infantry and maneuver leader may apply these lessons in the future.

To understand these elements, maneuver leaders must study the history of the infantry in breadth, depth, and context. First, one must understand how the changes in environment, tactics, and technology have affected the role of the infantryman across history. For example, a maneuver leader should understand the how an infantryman fought during the American Revolution, how it differed from his role in the Civil War, and the general reasons for those changes. This understanding will help maneuver leaders to better adapt to the change that they will undoubtedly experience during their careers.

Next, one must study individual campaigns in depth to fully understand the challenges faced by infantrymen and leaders and how these challenges were overcome. For example, by studying the campaign in Northern Virginia in 1864, maneuver leaders can see how new technology resulted in a bloody assault at Cold Harbor, and how this forced an evolution in offensive tactics and the beginnings of trench warfare at Petersburg several months later. Through these studies a maneuver leader should understand what occurred, and why certain events occurred as they did. Such an approach to studying the heritage of the American Infantry will highlight the continuities of warfare and demonstrate how leaders have faced similar challenges throughout history.

To understand our profession, it is also important to examine how infantry operations have fit into the larger military effort, and how cultural and political realities have influenced this relationship. A study into this context of the 1864 Northern Virginia campaign can explain how the industrial weight of the North encouraged General Grant to employ his forces as he did in this campaign. A study of its context can also reveal why the Army of Northern Virginia lost the campaign despite winning nearly every battle. It is important for maneuver leaders to extrapolate these lessons to current and future conflicts, and understand how an operation’s context can affect its execution.

It is important for infantry and maneuver leaders to understand that they are not the first Soldiers to encounter challenges on the field of battle, simply the most recent. Successful maneuver leaders will study the experiences of their predecessors and draw valuable lessons from them. It is even more important to then project these lessons to current and future operations and avoid the mistakes of the past.

Questions for Reflection/ Discussion

  1. What are the primary characteristics of infantry units throughout history? How have these characteristics affected the mission of the infantry in general and in specific?
  2. How would you characterize the core competencies of Infantry organizations? How can these best be sustained and/or improved to ensure their effective employment against varied threat types on different battlefields?
  3. What constituted the greatest threat to infantry organizations during the period or campaign studied? How was this threat mitigated with the existing capabilities, skills, and assets available to the Infantry leader? How are similar threats mitigated in the same way today?
  4. How has the infantry interacted with other branches as a member of a combined arms team throughout history? How did this cooperation affect the outcomes of battles, campaigns, or wars? How does this translate to current operations?
  5. What common challenges have infantry leaders encountered throughout history? How have they adapted to and overcome these challenges?
  6. How has technology affected the role of the infantryman? How have infantry leaders and formations adapted to new technological advances throughout history?
  7. How can you use the study of Infantry Heritage to improve your unit’s capabilities and performance?
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