JPME Students Travel Through History for an Antietam Staff Ride

Staff Rides have had a long tradition in the United States military. Not long after the conclusion of the Civil War, the historic battlefields began to be preserved as national military parks. Apart from our national heritage and places where honored war dead were buried, these battlefields were preserved by congressional legislation in 1890, for the purpose of, “preserving and suitably marking for historical and professional military study the fields of some of the most remarkable maneuvers and most brilliant fighting in the war of the rebellion.” One of the first battlefield parks to be recognized at the end of the 19th century was Antietam, located in Sharpsburg, Maryland.

Marines chat with Civil War veterans during an October 1921 staff ride at the Wilderness Battlefield, Va. (Photo: Archives Branch, Marine Corps History Division)

On November 30th, forty students from National Intelligence University’s (NIU) Joint Professional Military Education (JPME) program continued the tradition of professional military study by attending a staff ride to the Civil War battlefields of Harpers Ferry, South Mountain, and Antietam, three of the major sites in General Robert E. Lee’s 1862 Maryland Campaign. Preceded by a prologue to battle scene setter presented by historian Dr. Duane Young, the students spent the day observing, thinking, and discussing the battles with NIU professors.

Assistant Professor Colligan uses role-playing to brief students on the significance of the Irish Brigade at the “Sunken Road”.

Students split into small groups to explore the battlefield and learn about strategic leadership and decision-making. At various stops around the battlefield, the small groups discussed tactics and operations of the battles to analyze Union and Confederacy commanders’ decisions, and evaluated the implications of the Battle of Antietam on both the Civil War and modern military decision making today. The JPME staff ride provided students the opportunity to learn about strategy and leadership in the context of the Civil War battle by walking and driving through the same terrain 155 years later.

The tactile experience with the terrain, supplemented by tactical maps, photographs, and lively narrative descriptions, offers a complete learning experience for the military and civilian NIU students. The interactive experience takes advantage of the rich military heritage in the National Capital Region and leverages the various learning modalities to create a unique and enriching educational environment for the students enrolled in the JPME program at NIU. NIU hopes to expand the staff ride program with a visit to the Yorktown Battlefield in academic year 2021 where a joint domain, sea and land, as well as fighting with coalition partners can be examined.

CDR Leese discusses tactical events at Miller’s Cornfield, Antietam Battlefield.