OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

OAH Distinguished Lectureship program 40 years 1981-2021

John W. Hall

Portrait of John W. Hall

John W. Hall is an associate professor and the inaugural holder of the Ambrose-Hesseltine Chair in U.S. Military History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He served fifteen years as an active-duty infantry officer in the U.S. Army and is a former faculty member of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. His research focuses on early American warfare with a particular emphasis on intercultural conflict and cooperation between European and Native American societies during the eras of the American Revolution and the early republic. He is the author of Uncommon Defense: Indian Allies in the Black Hawk War (2009) and numerous essays on early American warfare. His current book project, "Dishonorable Duty: The U.S. Army and the Removal of the Southeastern Indians," examines how Andrew Jackson's administration used military force to transform a contested borderland into part of a factious national domain. Within the field of military history, his research has focused on "small wars" involving irregular forces and U.S. defense policy.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

In the spring of 1832, when the Indian warrior Black Hawk and a thousand followers marched into Illinois to reoccupy lands earlier ceded to American settlers, the U.S. Army turned to rival tribes for military support. Elements of the Menominee, Dakota, Potawatomi, and Ho Chunk tribes willingly allied themselves with the United States government against their fellow Native Americans in an uncommon defense of their diverse interests. As the Black Hawk War came only two years after the passage of the Indian Removal Act and is widely viewed as a land grab by ravenous settlers, the military participation of these tribes seems bizarre. What explains this alliance? This 45-minute lecture explores their alliances in earlier wars with colonial powers as well as in intertribal antagonisms and conflicts. In the crisis of 1832, Indians acted as they had traditionally, leveraging their relationship with a powerful ally to strike tribal enemies, fulfill important male warrior expectations, and pursue political advantage and material gain. However, times had changed and, although the Indians achieved short-term objectives, they helped create conditions that permanently changed their world. Providing a rare view of Indian attitudes and strategies in war and peace, this lecture deepens our understanding of Native Americans and the complex roles they played in the nation’s history. More broadly, it demonstrates the risks and lessons of small wars that entail an “uncommon defense” by unlikely allies in pursuit of diverse, even conflicting, goals.
This 45-minute lecture surveys recent works on early American warfare and biographies of George Washington (along with his own writings) to reconcile divergent interpretations of Washington as a paragon of frontier martial virtue, a pedant for European orthodoxy, a genius, and a stumblebum. The officer who emerges is a martial cosmopolitan; the forces he constructed and the strategy by which he employed them were the hybrid products of his own experience on the American frontier and European precedents for both grande and petite guerre. Ultimately, they served his nation’s dearest interests: independence and territorial expansion.
Historians generally concede the existence of a distinctive American “way of war” characterized by a preference for rapid, decisive operations. Against both irregular and conventional enemies, the United States has expressed this preference though the application of overwhelming force and firepower—while extending protections only to the noncombatants of “civilized” societies. This 45-minute lecture critically reexamines this consensus and posits the existence of a heretofore unrecognized (and fleeting) “second way of war,” in which the officer corps of the United States Army increasingly reflected the nineteenth-century middle class ideal of restrained manhood and attempted to impose the rules for “civilized” warfare on its Antebellum wars of territorial expansion.
20-minute lecture addresses the employment of Native American imagery and soldiers during World War II as means of exploring the ambiguous place of American Indians in American society at the time of the war. A version of this lecture is available at http://www.supportuw.org/calendar/mohawks-in-normandy/.