Both military historians and military leaders have long regarded the notion of the “decisive battle” as central to warfare, with the ability to seek out a decisive engagement being the crux around which military strategy revolved for centuries. My research, however, based on an analysis of several battles and the work of a new generation of military historians, calls this notion into question. The term itself is a convenient concept that has been used to describe important battles in war throughout history, with both generals and historians using it as a simple method for explaining the course of events. The problem lies in the fact that there is no distinct definition of what constitutes a decisive battle, and categorizing battles in this way can easily lead to overestimating their value. This distracts from other important details of history, such as long-term trends of international relations or technological shifts, and allows the winners of history to continue to dictate the narrative. For this reason, I will be unpacking and reconsidering the concept of “decisive battle” by utilizing a strict definition of the term and applying it to several important battles fought throughout the 19th century. By looking at how well they do or do not represent a decisive moment in their time, I shed light on what is truly represented in a decisive battle.
O'Keefe, Spencer John, "The Idea of "The Decisive Battle" As It Applies to Military Conflict from the Late 18th to the Early 20th Century" (2019). Senior Independent Study Theses. Paper 8363.
Arts and Humanities
Bachelor of Arts
Senior Independent Study Thesis
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