In Memoriam: Russell F. Weigley
Herbert J. Ershkowitz and Richard H. Immerman, October 2004
From the In Memoriam column of the October 2004 Perspectives
Russell F. Weigley, professor emeritus of American history at Temple University, died at the age of 73 on March 3, 2004. He passed away suddenly following a heart attack at his home in Center City Philadelphia. He is survived by his wife of 40 years, Emma Seifrit Weigley, his son Jared, and his daughter Catherine.
A lifelong resident of Pennsylvania, Russ Weigley was born in Reading on July 2, 1930. As a child growing up about 70 miles from the battle site at Gettysburg, Weigley developed his interest in military history. His parents made an annual excursion to Gettysburg. In making this trip, Weigley followed the route of his great grandparents, who visited the battlefield in the summer of 1863 along with thousands of other Pennsylvanians to view the carnage. Russ Weigley wrote of the emotions that Gettysburg always held for him. Even when visiting in the summer, "there is always a chill in the air….I know the ghosts." Growing up in the midst of World War II also influenced his vivid imagination. As a consequence, it surprised no one that Weigley chose to become such an imaginative as well as rigorous student of war. Yet he never glamorized it. Armies, he consistently lectured to his students, "are simply state-organized instruments of mass murder."
Weigley graduated from Albright College in 1952, and he received the MA in 1953 and PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1956. He wrote his dissertation under the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, Roy F. Nichols. It was published as Quartermaster General of the Union Army: A Biography of M.C. Meigs (Columbia University Press, 1959). After receiving his degree, Russ Weigley taught at the University of Pennsylvania from 1956 to 1958 and from 1958 to 1962 at Drexel University. That fall he joined the faculty at Temple University as an associate professor and remained until his retirement in 1999 as Distinguished University Professor. He also was a visiting professor at Dartmouth College and the United States Army War College at Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
For 36 years, Weigley was the heart and soul of the Temple history department. He was its most important scholar, its premier mentor of graduate students, and one of its most popular undergraduate instructors. At one point he had over 30 PhD candidates working under him concurrently. Even in retirement Weigley continued to direct dissertations and serve on examining committees. During his tenure, he received numerous awards including Temple's College of Arts and Sciences Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching, as well as the Samuel Eliot Morison Prize of the American Military Institute, the Society for Military History's Distinguished Book Award, and the Lincoln Prize. Weigley held a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, was an elected member of the American Philosophical Society and the Society of American Historians, and served as president of the American Military Institute and the Pennsylvania Historical Association. He was the eighth holder of the United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College Foundation Chair of Military Affairs.
Weigley also served as chair of the Department of History and director of its graduate program, and he was a member of virtually every significant college and university committee. In addition, he was the co-founder of Temple's Center for the Study of Force and Diplomacy, housed in the history department. After retiring in 1999, Weigley continued to teach two graduate seminars a year and to participate actively in the center.
Russell Weigley left a profound and indelible impression on many scholars of military history, colleagues who worked with him, and undergraduates and graduates who studied under him. He was the author of nine books and editor of three more. Sixty-five of his articles appeared in journals or in books. In addition, he delivered countless invited lectures. Among his most recent books, The Age of Battles: The Quest for Decisive Warfare from Breitenfeld to Waterloo (Indiana University Press, 1993) won the Society for Military History's Distinguished Book Award, and A Great Civil War: A Military and Political History, 1861–1865 (Indiana University Press, 2000) received the Lincoln Prize. Perhaps his most important books were Eisenhower's Lieutenants: The Campaign of France and Germany, 1944–45 (Indiana University Press, 1981), which was nominated for the American Book Award in history in 1983, and The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy (Macmillan Publishing Co., 1973).
Weigley remained dedicated to grand narrative. Although he respected recent innovations in historical writing, and his students' publications reflect both the "new" and "old" military history, Weigley always tried to tell a captivating story. Without exception, though, the stories he told added up to the broadest of pictures incorporating both tactics and strategy, both causes and consequences. Although most firmly grounded in American history, he wrote the Age of Battles as the beginning of a three-volume comparative history of modern warfare aimed at understanding the way the modern state has been organized to fight wars. Unfortunately, his premature death denied us his insights from the remaining two volumes of this trilogy as well as from his projected history of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Weigley attracted students from across the country anxious to gain a better understanding of the nature of the American military. Dozens of officers from the army came to study with him. As one explained at the memorial service organized for Weigley by Temple's Department of History and College of Liberal Arts and attended by hundreds of his friends, colleagues, and family, Russ Weigley probably had more influence than any single individual in recent years on the way the army thinks about strategic planning. Many of his graduate students who did not seek academic careers found jobs in government agencies or in branches of the military. They continue to affect how the America goes to war.
The death of Russ Weigley was a great loss to his many colleagues, friends, and students, and to the historical profession. We will miss his wisdom and the many books that were still to come. But we will miss Russ the person most of all. He was one of those rare individuals who combine a fabulous mind with spirit, humor, and the warmest of hearts. He was an inspiration to us all.
Herbert J. Ershkowitz
Richard H. Immerman