Military Geography

GEOG 590/399

Spring 2006

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Class Announcements

  1. The course web site is still under construction and does not currently reflect the latest course requirements. The course will NOT be substantially different in content and requirements from what is described below. In particular, the primary texts will be the same. The final updates to this site should in place by mid-December. Feel free to contact me by email, if you have any questions.

  1. The reading by Williamson Murray, "Some thoughts on War and Geography," is available on reserve in the book Geopolitics, geography, and strategy / editors, Colin S. Gray, Geoffrey Sloan, not on E-reserves as previously listed.  The reading by David Hanson, "The Immutable Importance of Geography," is available online following the link below as well as on the GMU E-reserves.  The password for accessing the E-reserves is "maps" all lower case.

  2. I have two books on Gettysburg, one on Antietam, and one on Civil War mapping on reserve in the Johnson Center library for use as additional Staff Ride resources.

Course Overview

Warfare is inherently geographic in nature. The fundamental military problem is a space-time problem, as Nathan Bedford Forrest succinctly observed "getting there firstest with the mostest." In addition, the geographic factors shaping military operations vary by the scale of the operation. The nature of military geography changes in response to the level of war, strategic, operational, or tactical, under consideration. The result is a nested set of geographic concepts and maps that describe the influence of physical and cultural features on military operations.

The purpose of this course is to give the student an understanding of the impact of various geographic features, both physical and cultural, on the conduct and outcome of military operations. The student will also learn to assess these impacts in terms of the three levels of war. Finally, the student will apply this understanding to an on-the-ground analysis of a selected military operation in a Staff Ride format.

Course Objectives

Based upon assigned reading, class discussion, individual research, and field observations, the student will be able to:

  1. identify and assess the impact of physical and cultural geographic features on the conduct of military operations;
  2. describe and compare the changing nature of geographic considerations based upon the three levels of war, including geographic aspects of
    1. the principles of war,
    2. the tenets of Army operations, and
    3. the Battlefield Framework;
  3. evaluate the conduct of a specific military operation in terms of the impact of geographic factors at each level of war, with particular emphasis on tactical operations including the effects on
    1. movement,
    2. weapons employment,
    3. command and control, and
    4. combat service support;
  4. conduct an analysis in the field of a selected battlefield in a Staff Ride format.

Text Books

  1. Harold A. Winters, et al, Battling the Elements, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.

  2. Patrick O'Sullivan, Terrain and Tactics, Greenwood Press, 1991
  3. Select one of the following:
      1. Jay Luvaas and Harold W. Nelson, ed. U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Antietam, University of Kansas, 1996
      2. Jay Luvaas and Harold W. Nelson, ed. U.S. Army War College Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg, University of Kansas, 1994

Additional and Recommended Reading:

  1. Field Manual 3-0, Operations, HQ, Department of Army (available online)
  2. Field Manual 3-90, Tactics, HQ, Department of Army (available online)
  3. Field Manual 1-02, Operational Terms and Graphics, HQ, Department of Army (available online)
  4. Department of Defense Dictionary (available online)
  5. Michael Howard and Peter Paret, ed., Carl von Clausewitz: On War, Princeton University Press, 1984
  6. The Infantry Journal, Infantry in Battle, Garrett & Massie, Richmond, VA, 1939 (reprinted by Combat Studies Institute, Fort Leavenworth).
  7. E. D. Swinton, The Defence of Duffer’s Drift, Avery Pub Group, 1986 (reprinted by Combat Studies Institute, Fort Leavenworth).
  8. Carlo D'Este, Decision in Normandy, Konecky & Konecky, 1994 (Chap 3, 6, 7).
  9. John Keegan, Six Armies in Normandy, Viking Penguin, 1994. (On Reserve in Johnson Center Library)
  10. Charles E. Heller and William A. Stofft, ed., America's First Battles, 1776-1965, University of Kansas Press, 1987.  (On Reserve in Johnson Center Library)
  11. Harry W. Pfanz, Gettysburg, The Second Day, University of North Carolina Press,1998.  (On Reserve in Johnson Center Library)
  12. Stephen W. Sears, Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam, Warner Books, 1983.  (On Reserve in Johnson Center Library)


Topographic Maps:

The following map sheets provide coverage for each of the battlefield staff rides.  These are current topographic maps from the 7.5 minute quadrant series in a scale of 1:24,000.  The maps are available from the USGS Map Sales office at USGS headquarters on Sunrise Valley Drive in Reston or the Department of the Interior in downtown Washington.  Some local retailers (e.g. REI) also carry these maps.

  1. Antietam (MD) - Keedysville; Middletown; Sheperdstown (WV)
  2. Gettysburg (PA) - Gettysburg; Fairfield

Student Requirements

Examinations and Examination Policies:

There will be a midterm exam and a short test during the Staff Ride.

Staff Ride:

Each student must participate in a Staff Ride at one of the following battlefields.

For additional information see below.

Research and Analysis:

Each student will demonstrate their understanding of the geographical factors discussed in class by applying them to an analysis of a selected battle. This analysis will be the major research project of the course. The analysis will address the influence of geographical factors for each level of war in terms of the conduct and outcome of a particular military operation. I suggest you begin by selecting a particular tactical operation, conducted by a formation no larger than a division (preferably at brigade or battalion level), and then work backward to consider the larger operational and strategic settings. A list of suggested topics is at appendix 1 to Annex C of the syllabus; you are not limited to this list, it is only a guide. ROTC students are limited to a study of American operations during the 20th century (but that still leaves a lot of ground and a wide variety of operations from which to choose). You will be asked to submit a study proposal early in the course.

Written Work:

    1. Each student will submit the results of their battle analysis as a case study paper.
    2. Graduate students will evaluate a selected book on military history in terms of how well it provided the reader with a sense of the geographical influences.

Oral Presentation:

Each student will prepare a short case study poster presentation highlighting the lessons related to the geographical factors identified by the battle analysis.  This presentation will be in lieu of a Final Exam and will be held on 11 May from 4:30-7:15 pm.


Staff Ride

A Staff Ride is an organized and methodical study of a particular historical battle conducted on foot over the battleground. The study begins with detailed preparation in terms of background reading and discussion of the battle. Each participant is responsible for studying and leading discussions, before and during the Staff Ride, concerning the actions of particular battle formations or leaders as a way to understand the flow of the battle. In the field, participants must be prepared to orient the staff during various phases of the battle and present briefings on the actions of the units or leaders for which they are responsible. The Staff Ride amounts to an After Action Review of an historical engagement. This is NOT your Grandfather’s tour of Gettysburg.

Selected Web Sites and Readings

Staff Ride

Case Study 1: Normandy Landings - Operation Overlord (June 1944)

Case Study 2: The Destruction of Task Force Faith  (November 1950)

Case Study 3: First Battle of the Ia Drang Valley (1965)

Military History Sites:

Selected Bibliographies

Tentative Class Schedule (Not Updated for 2006)

(As of  November 16, 2005 )

Week Date  Topic Assignment Reading
1   Course Introduction - The Scope of Military Geography

Three Levels of War - Strategic, Operational, Tactical

2   Doctrinal considerations and geography - The Principles of War  
  • FM 3-0, Chap 4 (para 4-33 to 4-49)
3   Functional Organization of the Battlefield - BOS

Spatial Organization of the Battlefield

  • FM 3-90, Chap 2 (para 2-10)
  • O'Sullivan, Chap 2
  • Annex E to Syllabus
  • FM 3-0, Chap 4 (para 4-69 to 4-99)
4   The Military Operating Environment  
  • Winters, Chap 2, 3, 11, 12 (select two)
  • O'Sullivan, Chap 3, 10
5   Special Environments: Fighting Insurgencies and Fighting in Cities

BOS Quiz

6   Geographic Dimensions of the Strategic Level of War
  1. Strategic Reach
  2. Centers of Gravity
  3. Lines of Communication
Paper Proposal due
  • O'Sullivan, Chap 4 (pp. 41-51)
7   Geographic Dimensions of the Operational Level of War
  1. Centers of Gravity
  2. Lines of Operation
  3. Decisive Points
  4. Joint Operations
  5. Operational Maneuver
  6. Intelligence (IPB) and Deception
  • O'Sullivan, Chap 6,7
8   Spring Break - No Class    
9   Geographic Dimensions of the Tactical Level of War
  1. Observation and fields of fire
  2. Cover and concealment
  3. Obstacles
  4. Key terrain
  5. Avenues of approach
10   Mid-Term Exam    
10   Case studies - Normandy  
  • Winters, Chap 1
  • Read: Normandy - U.S. Army Campaigns in World War II
  • Review Encyclopedia Britannica entry for Normandy Invasion
  • Decision in Normandy, D'Este, Chap 3, 6, 7 (recommended)
11   Case studies - Normandy Paper Part 1 due
  • Winters, Chap 1
  • Read: Normandy - U.S. Army Campaigns in World War II
  • Review Encyclopedia Britannica entry for Normandy Invasion
  • Decision in Normandy, D'Este, Chap 3, 6, 7 (recommended)
12   Case studies - 1st Battle of the Ia Drang (LZ X-ray)    
13   Case studies - Chosin Reservoir  
14   Staff Ride - Antietam Antietam Staff Ride Paper due

Antietam Staff Ride

  • Winters, Chap 6
  • War College Guide
  •  Review "How to Read a Civil War Battlefield" by Prof. Mark Grimsley
15   Staff Ride - Gettysburg Gettysburg Staff Ride Paper due

Gettysburg Staff Ride

Paper Part 2 due

16   Battle Analysis Poster Session - See Annex D




 Instructor's Military Experience

Mr. Dillon is a former infantry officer whose active service included command and staff assignments with the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood and the 3rd and 8th Infantry Divisions in the Federal Republic of Germany.  A 1985 graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, he has been an Army service school instructor in military history, combat operations, and Soviet military operations.  Currently, Mr. Dillon is adjunct faculty with the Industrial College of the Armed Forces at the National Defense University, Washington, D.C.

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