Establishment of the General Staff

After the Spanish-American War the Army also underwent important organizational and administrative changes aimed in part at overcoming some of the more glaring defects revealed during the war. Although the nation had won the war with comparative ease, many Americans realized that the victory was attributable more to the incompetence of the enemy than to any special qualities displayed by the Army. In fact, as a postwar investigating commission appointed by President William McKinley and headed by Maj. Gen. Granville M. Dodge brought out, there was serious need for reform in the administration and direction of the Army’s high command and for elimination of widespread inefficiency in the operations of the War Department.
No one appreciated the need for reform more than Elihu Root, a New York lawyer whom McKinley appointed Secretary of War in 1899. The President had selected Root primarily because he seemed well qualified to solve the legal problems that would arise in the Army’s administration of recently acquired overseas possessions. But Root quickly realized that if the Army was to be capable of carrying out its new responsibilities as an important part of the defense establishment of a world power, it had to undergo fundamental changes in organization, administration, and training. Root, as a former corporation lawyer, tended to see the Army’s problems as similar to those faced by business executives. “The men who have combined various corporations … in what we call trusts,” he told Congress, “have reduced the cost of production and have increased their efficiency by doing the very same thing we propose you shall do now, and it does seem a pity that the Government of the United States should be the only great industrial establishment that cannot profit by the lessons which the world of industry and of commerce has learned to such good effect.”
Beginning in 1899, Root outlined in a series of masterful reports his proposals for fundamental reform of Army institutions and concepts to achieve that “efficiency” of organization and function required of armies in the modern world. He based his proposals partly upon recommendations made by his military advisers (among the most trusted were Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Henry C. Corbin, and Lt. Col. William H. Carter) and partly upon the views expressed by officers who had studied and written about the problem in the post–Civil War years. Root arranged for publication of Col. Emory Upton’s The Military Policy of the United States (1904), an unfinished manuscript that advocated a strong, expansible Regular Army as the keystone of an effective military establishment. Concluding that after all the true object of any army must be “to provide for war,” Root took prompt steps to reshape the American Army into an instrument of national power capable of coping with the requirements of modern warfare. This objective could be attained, he hoped, by integrating the bureaus of the War Department, the scattered elements of the Regular Army, and the militia and volunteers.
Root perceived as the chief weakness in the organization of the Army the long-standing division of authority, dating back to the early nineteenth century, between the Commanding General of the Army and the Secretary of War. The Commanding General exercised discipline and control over the troops in the field; while the Secretary, through the military bureau chiefs, had responsibility for administration and fiscal matters. Root proposed to eliminate this division of authority between the Secretary of War and the Commanding General and to reduce the independence of the bureau chiefs. The solution, he suggested, was to replace the Commanding General of the Army with a Chief of Staff, who would be the responsible adviser and executive agent of the President through the Secretary of War. Under Root’s proposal, formulation of broad American policies would continue under civilian control.
A lack of any long-range planning by the Army had been another obvious deficiency in the War with Spain, and Root proposed to over- come this by the creation of a new General Staff, a group of selected officers who would be free to devote their full time to preparing military plans. Planning in past national emergencies, he pointed out, nearly always had been inadequate because it had to be done hastily by officers already overburdened with other duties. Pending congressional action on his proposals, Root in 1901 appointed an ad hoc War College Board to act as an embryonic General Staff. In early 1903, in spite of some die-hard opposition, Congress adopted the Secretary of War’s recommendations for both a General Staff and a Chief of Staff but rejected his request that certain of the bureaus be consolidated.
By this legislation Congress provided the essential framework for more efficient administration of the Army. Yet legislation could not change overnight the long-held traditions, habits, and views of most Army officers or of some congressmen and the American public. Secretary Root realized that effective operation of the new system would require an extended program of reeducation. This need for reeducation was one important reason for the establishment of the Army War College in November 1903. Its students, already experienced officers, would receive education in problems of the War Department and of high command in the field. As it turned out, they actually devoted much of their time to war planning, becoming in effect the part of the General Staff that performed this function.

In the first years after its establishment the General Staff achieved relatively little in the way of genuine staff planning and policy making. While staff personnel did carry out such appropriate tasks as issuing in 1905 the first Field Service Regulations for government and organization of troops in the field, drawing up the plan for an expeditionary force sent to Cuba in 1906, and supervising the Army’s expanding school system, far too much of their time was devoted to day-to-day routine administrative matters.
The General Staff did make some progress in overcoming its early weaknesses. Through experience, officers assigned to the staff gradually gained awareness of its real purpose and powers. In 1910, when Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood became Chief of Staff, he reorganized the General Staff, eliminating many of its time-consuming procedures and directing more of its energies to planning. With the backing of Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson (1911–1913), Wood dealt a decisive blow to that element in the Army itself that opposed the General Staff. In a notable controversy, he and Stimson forced the retirement in 1912 of the leader of this opposition, Maj. Gen. Fred C. Ainsworth, The Adjutant General.
The temporary closing of most Army schools during the Spanish- American War and the need to coordinate the Army’s educational system with the Root proposals for creating a War College and General Staff had provided an opportunity for a general reorganization of the whole system, with the overall objective of raising the standards of professional training of officers. In 1901 the War Department directed that the schools of instruction for officers thereafter should be the Military Academy at West Point; a school at each post of elementary instruction in theory and practice; the five service schools (the Artillery School, Engineer School of Application, School of Submarine Defense [mines and torpedoes], School of Application for Cavalry and Field Artillery, and Army Medical School); a General Staff and Service College at Fort Leavenworth; and a War College. The purpose of the school at Leaven- worth henceforth was to train officers in the employment of combined arms and prepare them for staff and command positions in large units. To meet the requirements for specialized training as a result of new developments in weapons and equipment, the Army expanded its service school system, adding the Signal School in 1905, the Field Artillery School in 1911, and the School of Musketry in 1913.
Creation of the General Staff unquestionably was the most important organizational reform in the Army during this period, but there were also a number of other changes in the branches and special staff designed to keep the Army abreast of new ideas and requirements. The Medical Department, for example, established Medical, Hospital, Army Nurse, Dental, and Medical Reserve Corps. In 1907 Congress approved the division of the artillery into the Coast Artillery Corps and the Field Artillery and in 1912 enacted legislation consolidating the Subsistence and Pay Departments with the Quartermaster to create the Quarter- master Corps, a reform Secretary Root had recommended earlier. The act of 1912 also established an enlisted Quartermaster service corps, marking the beginning of the practice of using service troops instead of civilians and combat soldier details.
In the new field of military aviation, the Army failed to keep pace with early twentieth century developments. Contributing to this delay were the reluctance of Congress to ap- propriate funds and resistance within the military bureaucracy to the diversion of already limited resources to a method of warfare as yet unproved. The Army did not entirely neglect the new field—it had used balloons for observation in both the Civil and Spanish-American Wars and, beginning in 1898, the War Department subsidized for several years Samuel P. Langley’s experiments with power-propelled, heavier-than-air flying machines. In 1908, after some hesitation, the War Department made funds available to the Aeronautical Division of the Signal Corps (established a year earlier) for the purchase and testing of Wilbur and Orville Wright’s airplane. Although the Army accepted this airplane in 1909, another two years passed before Congress appropriated a relatively modest sum ($125,000) for aeronautical purposes. Between 1908 and 1913, it is estimated that the United States spent only $430,000 on military and naval aviation, whereas in the same period France and Germany each expended
$22 million; Russia, $12 million; and Belgium, $2 million. Not until 1914 did Congress authorize establishment of a full-fledged Aviation Section in the Signal Corps. The few military air- planes available for service on the Mexican border in 1916 soon broke down, and the United States entered World War I far behind the other belligerents in aviation equipment, organization, and doctrine.

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