Under the Shadow of Napoleon

French Influence on the American Way of Warfare from Independence to the Eve of World War II

318 pages

10 figures, 13 maps

May, 2012

ISBN: 9780814709429



Also available in



Part of the Warfare and Culture series


Michael A. Bonura is a Major in the United States Army, and is currently serving in the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. From 2006 to 2009, he was Assistant Professor at the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY.

All books by Michael Bonura

The way an army thinks about and understands warfare has a tremendous impact on its organization, training, and operations. The central ideas of that understanding form a nation's way of warfare that influences decisions on and off the battlefield. From the disasters of the War of 1812, Winfield Scott ensured that America adopted a series of ideas formed in the crucible of the Wars of the French Revolution and epitomized by Napoleon. Reflecting American cultural changes, these French ideas dominated American warfare on the battlefields of the Mexican-American War, the American Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and World War I. America remained committed to these ideas until cultural pressures and the successes of German Blitzkrieg from 1939 - 1940 led George C. Marshall to orchestrate the adoption of a different understanding of warfare. Michael A. Bonura examines concrete battlefield tactics, army regulations, and theoretical works on war as they were presented in American army education manuals, professional journals, and the popular press, to demonstrate that as a cultural construction, warfare and ways of warfare can be transnational and influence other nations.


  • "As an active serving officer and a trained historian, Michael Bonura has written an excellent volume analyzing the French method and Napoleonic system of war as it applied to the American method of warfare during the formative years. Tracing the impact of this system upon the education of cadets and officers trained at West Point and the other military schools, on the army administration, its publications and military exercises as well as in the actual wars fought by America, Bonura has produced in invaluable study in understanding the evolution of America's method of war."

    —Donald D. Horward, Founding Director, Institute on Napoleon and the French Revolution

  • "The debate over the existence of an 'American way of war' continues, and never has it had more urgency than it does today. Now, active duty officer Michael Bonura reminds us of the crucial role played by French Revolutionary and Napoleonic methods. As he argues convincingly, admiration for the 'French combat method' first took hold at West Point, spread throughout the army in the 19th century, and remained its lodestar until the very eve of World War II. Bonura presents an army that talked constantly of change and transformation, but remained largely consistent in its methods over time. This thought-provoking and well researched book is essential for anyone interested in the U.S. Army, the evolution of military doctrine, and, above all, the role that West Point has played in the army’s development."

    —Robert Citino, Military History Center, University of North Texas

  • "The absence of a bibliography is academically disappointing."

    Journal of American History

  • "Bonura makes a provocative argument for the primacy of French and Napoleonic military thinking on American tactical development prior to World War II. His research provides convincing evidence of both the intellectual conservatism and the fixation on battle that have shaped the Army’s way of war."

    —Brian M. Linn, Ralph R. Thomas Professor in Liberal Arts, Texas A&M University

  • "In this work, the author, an active-duty army officer, has produced a wonderfully detailed intellectual history of the US Army from 1812 to 1940....This well-researched and extensively documented book will be of interest to students and scholars of French and American military history as well as intellectual history." 

    —Robert G. Angevine , The Historian