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A GENERAL STAFF FOR THE ARMY. 

BY BRIGADIER-GENERAL WILLIAM H. CARTER, ACTING ADJUTANT- 
GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES ARMY. 



Americans can never be brought to admit that any other war 
can equal the Civil War from 1861 to 1865; yet, there was so 
great a lack of coherence in the management of affairs during that 
conflict that a committee of Congress sat almost continuously " in- 
vestigating the conduct of the war." The War with Spain 
brought forth in a marked degree dissatisfaction with the methods 
of army administration; and so widespread did this feeling be- 
come that the President felt compelled to assemble a board of dis- 
tinguished gentlemen to investigate the conduct of affairs during 
that war. The report of this commission is quite voluminous; 
but, as should have been expected, the commission was unable to 
fix responsibility with such accuracy as to admit of applying a 
proper remedy under our existing system. It may be fairly stated 
that its findings indicated that in some instances there had been 
a lack of foresight in preparation ; in some, a division of authority 
which made it impracticable to fix responsibility; and in others, 
indications of the necessity for the consolidation of certain func- 
tions which most nearly affect the comfort and success of troops 
in the field. To quote from the findings of the board: 

" For many years the divided authority and responsibility in the War 
Department has produced friction, for which, in the interest of the 
service, a remedy, if possible, should be applied. The Constitution 
makes the President the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, and he can- 
not transfer that authority to any other person. The President selects 
a Secretary of War, who is his confidential adviser. The President 
must have the same power of selection of his General-in-Chief as he has 
of his Secretary of War; without this there can be no guarantee that 
he will give, or that the Secretary of War will place in the General-in- 
Chief, that confidence which is necessary to perfect harmony. Neither 



A GENERAL STAFF FOR THE ARMY. 559 

the President nor the Secretary of War should have in command of the 
Army an officer who is not working in harmony with him." 

This is the opinion of a board composed of intelligent gentle- 
men, all of whom had seen service in the Civil War on one side 
or the other. Their opinion, just quoted, contains the essence of 
thought which has guided many students of our system to the be- 
lief that a General Staff, with a Chief who shall stand between the 
Secretary of War and the army at large, including the various 
staff and supply corps and departments, is the substantial element 
of that reform which is necessary to put the American army upon 
a proper basis for the successful conduct of any great war. 

After the close of the Civil War in 1865, the necessity for 
immediate and continuous retrenchment in the expenses of the 
government brought about a centralization of affairs in the War 
Department, which has loaded down every officer employed there 
with administrative paper work beyond the average capacity. 
This system, on the one hand, not only deprives the Department 
and the Army Commanders of much of that general control which 
should be left to them, but, on the other, it leaves the officers at 
the War Department, overwhelmed as they are with routine mat- 
ters, little or no opportunity for the consideration of very im- 
portant questions requiring their decision. 

There has been for many years general dissatisfaction, 
amongst progressive and intelligent officers of the army at large, 
with the administrative methods of the War Department, and 
many undigested essays have been written, based on the theory 
that centralization is responsible for every trouble. The system 
fulfilled sufficiently well its functions during the early period of 
our government, but it is not prepared for the strain of a great 
modern war. Although not analogous, the history of many of our 
great corporations is available for comparison sufficiently per- 
tinent to justify the belief that they furnish argument for the 
existence of a General Staff. 

In our early history, when railroads were constructed with a 
view to uniting adjacent towns, they needed only honest manage- 
ment and technical skill; but when they were merged into great 
systems controlling thousands of miles of track, and dependent 
upon freights from far distant territory, forced to consider the 
varying conditions of agriculture, manufacture and navigation, it 
was no longer enough that they should possess skilled engineers 



560 THE SOUTH AMERICAN REVIEW. 

and accountants, but it became necessary to the life of these sys- 
tems that they should be controlled by directors, — groups of men 
whose principal work was to observe rival lines, to consider State 
and local laws, and to prepare their systems to derive all possible 
advantage from future growth of contiguous territory. The 
duties of these directors and other functionaries of the great rail- 
road systems, who do the thinking for these vast corporations, are 
very nearly akin to those of the proposed General Staff of the 
Army. With large corporations and trusts, success depends upon 
wise fore-thought and a right application of economic principles. 
Eatc wars do not resemble real war, for they are never based on 
questions of national honor; on the contrary, they are usually 
senseless, extravagant, wasteful in the extreme, and finally end 
where they should have begun — in arbitration. 

The business of the War Department, which in proportions ex- 
ceeds that of many of the largest trusts or corporations of the 
world combined, is managed upon an entirely different plan from 
that pursued in any private concern. All appropriations are based 
on estimates laid before Congress. The fact that the appropria- 
tions are specific prevents any efforts at taking advantage of a 
low market, since all purchases in large quantities must be by con- 
tract after public advertisement. This assures all citizens a like 
opportunity to share in government purchases. A watchful Comp- 
troller and many auditors sit in judgment constantly over all ac- 
counts ; and, notwithstanding the ponderous system and its utter 
lack of elasticity or adaptation to a state of war, it must be ad- 
mitted in its favor that, considering the enormous amount of 
funds disbursed through the Treasury, there is and always has 
been a notable absence of great defalcations and scandals. 

That the army itself recognizes the necessity for some reorgani- 
zation of its staff system is best made known by the statement 
that the Military Service Institution, of which the Lieutenant- 
General was president, offered, as the subject of its prize essay 
for the year 1900, " The Organization of a Staff best adapted for 
the United States Army." The prizes for the best essay included 
a gold medal, a certificate of life membership in the Military Ser- 
vice Institution, and $100 in cash. The gentlemen chosen to con- 
stitute the board of award for the essays were General John M. 
Schofield, General James H. Wilson and Professor G. J. Febiger. 
This fact is cited here because, when the bill known as the 



A GENERAL STAFF FOR THE ARMY. 561 

" General Staff Bill " was before the Congress at its last session, 
opposition was aroused against it on the plea that it was an at- 
tempt to Germanize our army, notwithstanding it had been the 
subject of this public essay competition, and, so successful was 
this attack, that an intelligent discussion of the objects of the bill 
was not possible at the time. 

Any reorganization of the Staff of the Army without the intro- 
duction of a General Staff is doomed to failure. The need for 
such a corps in the army is a natural one, but a General Staff 
cannot be brought about by a gradual growth, as has been the case 
with many other departments of the Government. The present 
administrative system is the result of gradually installing bureau 
chiefs in the War Department, to each of whom were assigned 
specific duties which have been added to from time to time by 
special legislation on appropriation bills and otherwise, until each 
bureau is hedged about by certain inelastic laws which, at times, 
hinder and embarrass the wheels of the administration to the 
detriment of the army as a whole. Many of the functions de- 
volving upon General Staff officers in other countries are, and 
have been, performed in our country by officers of various staff 
bureaus and of the line, but these duties do not properly pertain 
to any particular corps or department; the performance of them 
being needful to the wellbeing of the service as a whole, they 
have been placed from time to time on the most available men. 
Were it possible to extend this method and select those with 
the most aptitude, much good could be done; but full and com- 
plete success of a General Staff system cannot be expected with- 
out legislative action. The crying evil of our whole administra- 
tive system in the past has been that no central authority, except 
the Secretary of War, has ever been empowered to direct the 
manifold interests in the hands of the various staff bureaus. It 
is not contended for a moment that the German General Staff 
system is applicable to the United States army. On the contrary, 
it may be stated most emphatically that it is not so applicable, for 
the reason that, in the German system, the General Staff and the 
Generals commanding the troops form practically an interchange- 
able body, which is feasible only because Germany maintains a 
great army in peace as well as in war. With us few Generals are 
in active service in peace, compared to the great numbers which 
would be appointed in event of a war of ordinary magnitude. 
vol. clxxv. — no. 551. 36 



562 THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW. 

The scheme of a General Staff proposed for our army contem- 
plates that the Chief of Staff shall take his place between the 
Secretary of War and the army as a whole, line and staff both in- 
cluded. General Schofield, who has had wide and varied experi- 
ence, and who has given the question much thought and study, 
testified before the Commission which investigated the War with 
Spain that : 

" Recent experience has served to confirm all the results of my life- 
long study and large experience, that the proper position for the senior 
officer of the army on duty at Washington is not that of Commanding 
General, a position which is practically impossible, but that of General- 
in-Chief, which means in fact Chief of Staff to the President." 

No intelligent person can study our system without forming 
the conclusion that, in time of great peril, when it is too late 
to give to questions of great moment the study and research which 
they deserve, our practice has been to throw the burden upon 
Congress. This burden usually falls upon that body at a time 
when its members cannot give the subjects the careful considera- 
tion which they ought to have, and the result is that the statute 
books are filled with ill-digested legislation relating to the army. 
If the General Staff system, or one similar to that proposed for 
the army at the last session of Congress, be inaugurated, it would 
not be many years before the careful study of selected officers 
would evolve a sound and practical system which would enable us 
to prepare in peace for war as we have never done before. Any 
attempt to establish a General Staff system without first changing 
the office of the Commanding General of the Army will fall short 
of success. 

It is impossible to present the economic features of this plan, 
because we have no basis for calculation in detail ; but enough is 
known to justify the prediction that a properly organized General 
Staff, possessing the authority of law for its existence, could ar- 
range in advance of war the mass of details with reference to dis- 
tribution, transportation and mobilization of armies, and the 
establishment of supply depots, in such a manner as to effect a vast 
saving of men and material. These things cannot be properly 
done by officers already overburdened with routine work. 

While the Chief of General Staff would be the Chief of Staff to 
the Secretary of War, and stand as an adviser between him and 



A GENERAL STAFF FOR THE ARMY. 553 

the chiefs of bureau and the various army commanders in the 
field, he would also have direction of the employment of General 
Staff officers. These functions cannot be performed by the Com- 
manding General of the Army under the present system. Every 
Commanding General has encountered similar obstacles in his 
conduct of affairs, and they are inseparable from our un- 
businesslike arrangement. Many of these complications arise 
from the fact that the finances of the army, which are adminis- 
tered by the various staff bureaus, are wholly within the jurisdic- 
tion of the Secretary of War; and it is hardly within the limits 
of possibility that Congress will ever enact a statute which would 
remove them from his control and turn them over to the Com- 
manding General of the Army. 

The responsibility for success in battle must ever rest with 
the Generals commanding the various armies in the field. It 
would be idle speculation to endeavor to show how many reputa- 
tions would have been saved to General officers had the army been 
possessed of a well-trained body of General Staff officers, whose 
duty required of them the preparation of all the information de- 
sirable for a Commanding General undertaking a campaign. It 
is not claimed that a General Staff will prove a panacea for all 
the misfortunes which may overtake a nation engaged in war; 
but, certainly, history has shown in a multitude of instances that 
previous preparation for war tends to abbreviate the period of 
active hostilities, and thereby to effect a saving of millions. 

Through the agency of a General Staff, military and political 
policies may be harmonized as becomes our form of government; 
and all the bureau chiefs of the War Department, the proper per- 
formance of whose functions has more to do with the success of 
war than the average layman can possibly comprehend, would be 
brought into line and work more coherently and to a common 
purpose. Under the present system, it is quite possible for a 
bureau chief to work along his own lines in ignorance of what the 
other bureaus are doing, — a possibility directly contrary to eco- 
nomic and business principles. 

The duties of a General Staff Corps consist in peace, to a great 
extent, of bureau work — including the preparation of maps, the 
drawing up of schemes for the organization and concentration of 
troops, the formation cf plans for the national defence, and a 
study of the higher military science to keep pace with modern 



564 TBE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW. 

conditions. The soldierly spirit, informed by experience of actual 
service with troops, must ever be the actuating impulse of such an 
organization, and for this reason all officers of such a corps must 
return periodically to service with the line. Any system which in 
peace allows the officers of the General Staff to degenerate solely 
into bureau officers, will cause them to forfeit the respect of the 
line of the army. It is on that account that a sufficient number 
must be maintained in such a corps to furnish ample details both 
for office work and for duty in the various branches of the army, 
interchanging from one kind to another at frequent intervals. 

Above all else, the personnel of a General Staff Corps should 
be selected with reference to ability, and without any suspicion 
of favoritism. To organize a new corps at once will involve the 
necessity of detailing well-equipped officers from the army at 
large. All subsequent additions to the Corps should come by 
selection from those officers who have distinguished themselves 
in the various courses of instruction provided for the younger 
officers. Favoritism might sometimes help an individual, but a 
properly wrought-out scheme would make it absolutely neces- 
sary that, before being appointed to the Corps, an officer should 
display sufficient talent to justify his being placed amongst a 
thoroughly trained body of ambitious and competent men. 

There is a widespread opinion that influence is more potent 
than trained talent and fitness. Eepublics do not differ much 
from monarchies in some things, and it is Utopian to expect, 
under any form of government, a system which will always put 
the best man in the right place, with or without influence. It is 
safe to say, however, that the common idea as to the success of 
influence in forcing men to the top is greatly exaggerated. It 
would be a grave misfortune to the army if this opinion were to 
fasten upon it. The officer who accepts his commission with a 
determination to fit himself thoroughly for each grade as he pro- 
gresses in the army, and for as much more as lies within his 
power, and who performs his duties in a conscientious, intelligent 
and forceful manner, is more apt to rise in the estimation of his 
superiors and his fellows than he who performs only the duty re- 
quired of him and that in a perfunctory manner. Fortunately 
for the country, it is considered discreditable among the great 
body of army officers for one not to be thoroughly posted in his 
professional duties. All that is needed to enable the country to 



A GENERAL STAFF FOB TUB ARMY. 565 

keep tip this spirit, is to give it recognition and encouragement as 
far as lies within the limits of law. 

One of the most serious questions which would arise in the 
establishment of a General Staff is: In what manner should 
effect be given to the determinations reached by such a body of 
officers on various questions affecting the army? It ought not 
to be necessary to state that officers of the General Staff serving 
with commanders of troops do not control them in any manner 
whatsoever; that they are detailed as staff officers of the various 
Generals to furnish them with information; to assist them in the 
preparation of their detailed plans and orders; and to relieve 
them from as much labor as possible, in order that the Generals 
may devote themselves to the higher questions of command and 
make success more probable. How much more intelligently can 
a Commanding General act in a theatre of campaign which has 
received the careful study of the General Staff, if he has an officer 
of that corps at his elbow who can elucidate and explain the situa- 
tion upon which orders for the movement of supplies and troops 
may be based, than the same General can do if dependent upon 
his own efforts and those of the ordinary staff with which he has 
suddenly been surrounded at the outbreak of war, and of whose 
qualifications he is, to a certain extent, ignorant ! 

With a General Staff in existence, important matters which re- 
quire investigation and grave consideration will be cared for by 
a body of selected and highly trained officers, whose time will not 
be frittered away with routine affairs, and whose opinions, there- 
fore, will be based upon systematic examination and mature 
thought. We will then be justified in expecting to escape the evil 
result of such imperfectly considered action as often characterizes 
much of the business now done under the present system, and 
which must continue to be so done until a radical but perfectly 
feasible reorganization takes place. 

William H. Carter.