Buell, Thomas B. 1936-2002
Buell, Thomas B. 1936-2002
Born April 30, 1936; died June 26, 2002. Education: Graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, 1958, Naval Postgraduate School, and Naval War College, College of Naval Command and Staff, 1971.
Writer, 1974-2002. U.S. Navy, became commander. Taught military history at West Point Military Academy.
Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison Award for Distinguished Contribution to Naval Literature, Naval Order of the United States, and Alfred Thayer Mahan Award for Literary Achievement, Navy League, both for The Quiet Warrior: A Biography of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance.
The Quiet Warrior: A Biography of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1974.
Master of Sea Power: A Biography of Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1980.
Naval Leadership in Korea: The First Six Months, Naval Historical Center (Washington, DC), 2002.
(Contributor) The Second World War, Square One Publishers (Garden City Park, NY), 2002.
The Reminiscences of Commander Thomas B. Buell, U.S. Navy (Retired), interviewed by Paul Stillwell, U.S. Naval Institute (Annapolis, MD), 2005.
The late naval officer and historian Thomas B. Buell is perhaps best remembered for his award-winning biography The Quiet Warrior: A Biography of Admiral Raymond A. Spruance. Spruance was the commander of the American forces at the World War II battles of Midway and the Philippine Sea. "Researching a paper for the Naval Postgraduate School led him to an afternoon's conversation with the admiral at his Carmel, California, home," stated Donald Chisholm in his obituary of Buell appearing in the Naval War College Review, "which was such a ‘profoundly moving experience’ for young Buell that when at the Naval War College he produced a monograph on Admiral Spruance." Buell's biography of Spruance received two major awards—the Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison Award for Distinguished Contribution to Naval Literature from the Naval Order of the United States and the Alfred Thayer Mahan Award for Literary Achievement from the Navy League. The Quiet Warrior proved to be so influential that it remains in print and is required reading for all military services: Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. "Based on extensive primary sources, it is eminently readable and evocative of person and place," the Naval War College Review contributor explained, "clearly informed by Buell's own professional experience with the admiral." "The Quiet Warrior serves as the model for a biography of a military leader," Chisholm concluded, "and has been widely recognized as such."
What makes The Quiet Warrior so significant, Chisholm explained, is its analysis of how Spruance dealt with the problems associated with command—how he made the decisions that led to his notable victories. This was a question that Buell returned to throughout his oeuvre. "Running throughout each of his works," Chisholm stated, "is the fundamental question of what makes a good, effective military leader, to which he provides significant and useful answers." Buell continued to explore the ramifications of command in Master of Sea Power: A Biography of Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King—an analysis of the character of the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Fleet and Chief of Naval Operations during much of World War II—and The Second World War, a volume in a series for the West Point Military Academy.
In The Warrior Generals: Combat Leadership in the Civil War, Buell examined the ways in which different leaders in the struggle that tore the United States apart were defined by both their leadership qualities and their performances in battlefield conditions. He examined key characteristics of generals from both the South and the North, including Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, George "Pap" Thomas, John Bell Hood, Francis C. Barlow, and John Brown Gordon. "Buell takes a different approach to the currently popular, but gradually blurring, focus on Civil War battles and leaders," stated BookPage Web site, contributor David Madden, "by consistently blending a narrative of the war with evaluations of the military tactics and strategy of these six generals." In a controversial conclusion Buell stated, in opposition to conventional views of Civil War generalship, "Pap" Thomas showed a better command of modern tactics and strategic vision than did Robert E. Lee. "Even those who refute his premise should find the book's unfamiliar detail and good writing rewarding—and Mr. Buell does have an initial point in his favor," declared Phoebe-Lou Adams in the Atlantic Monthly. "The Federals won."
Shortly before his death in 2002 Buell completed a monograph on the early days of the Korean War, again examining the qualities of leadership exhibited by the officers in command of operations. The volume, stated Curtis Hooper O'Sullivan in Air Power History, emphasized the importance of naval operations in Korean waters, especially in the ways they provided support to ground troops through their command of the area surrounding the peninsula. "The fleet's mastery of adjacent waters," O'Sullivan declared, "had made it possible for the UN to remain in Korea, build up the forces hanging on there, and then to counterattack to regain lost territory." "Others may concentrate on the operational aspects of the conflict," the Air Power History contributor concluded, "but this is the one that gives insight into the role of the First Team that played during the First Quarter of the Big Game."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Air Power History, summer, 2006, Curtis Hooper O'Sullivan, review of Naval Leadership in Korea: The First Six Months.
Atlantic Monthly, March, 1997, Phoebe-Lou Adams, review of The Warrior Generals: Combat Leadership in the Civil War, p. 105.
Journal of American History, September, 1997, John F. Marszalek, review of The Warrior Generals, p. 665.
Military Law Review, December, 1998, John M. Bickers, review of The Warrior Generals, p. 164.
School Library Journal, July, 1997, Robert Burnham, review of The Warrior Generals, p. 117.
Naval War College Review, autumn, 2003, Donald Chisholm, "Thomas B. Buell: Sailor and Scholar—Commentary."