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In a letter dated June 13, 1776, addressed to the President of Congress, General Washington wrote:
I once mentioned to Congress that I thought a war office extremely necessary, and they seemed inclined to institute one for our Army; but the affair seems to have been since dropped. Give me leave again to insist on the utility and importance of such an establishment. The more I reflect upon the subject, the more am I convinced of its necessity and that affairs can never be properly conducted without it.
Congress having, June 13, 1776, created a Board of War, General Washington, seven days later, wrote to the President of Congress as follows:
The instituting a War Office is certainly an event of great importance, and, in all probability, will be recorded as such in the historic page. The benefits derived from it, I flatter myself, will be considerable, though the plan upon which it is first formed may not be entirely perfect. This, like other great works, in its first edition may not be free from error; time will discover its defects, and experience suggest the remedy and such further improvements as may be necessary; but it was right to give it a beginning, in my opinion.
The Board of War, thus created, was the germ of the War Department of our Government. The evolution of the general staff of the American Army covers a period of many years, during which tentative measures were adopted, from time to time, to meet emergencies.
On the eve of his recall to the supreme command of the Army, General Washington forcibly presented his views on the subject of a general staff in two letters addressed by him to Hon. James McHenry, the then Secretary of War. July 4, 1798, he wrote:
In forming an army, if a judicious choice is not made of the principal officers and, above all, of the general staff, it never can be rectified thereafter. The character then of the Army would be lost in the superstructure. The reputation of the commander in chief would sink with it and the country be involved in inextricable expense. To remark to a military man how important the general staff of an army is to its well being seems to be unnecessary.
And again, on the following day:
"The appointment of general officers is important, but of those of the general staff all important.
The Inspector-General, Quartermaster-General, Adjutant-General, and officer commanding the corps of artillerists and engineers, ought to be men of the most respectable character and of first rate abilities, because from the nature of their respective offices and from their being always about the Commander in Chief, who is obliged to intrust many things to them confidentially, scarcely any movement can take place without their knowledge. It follows, then, that besides possessing the qualifications just mentioned they ought to have those of integrity and prudence in an eminent degree that entire confidence might be reposed in them. Without these, and their being on good terms with the commanding general, his measures, if not designedly thwarted, may be so embarrassed as to make them move heavily on.
If the Inspector-General is not an officer of great respectability of character, firm and strict in discharging the duties of the trust reposed in him, or if he is too pliant in his disposition, he will most assuredly be imposed upon, and the efficient strength and condition of the Army will not be known to the Commander in Chief. Of course he may form his plans upon erroneous calculations and commit fatal mistakes.
If the Quartermaster-General is not a man of great resource and activity, and worthy of the highest confidence, he would be unfit for the military station he is to occupy; for, as it is not possible at all times to mask real designs and movements under false appearances, the better and safer way is to place full confidence in him under the seal of responsibility. Then, knowing the plan, he participates in the concealment, on which, and the celerity of a movement, success oftentimes entirely depends. In addition to these requisites in a Quartermaster-General, economy in providing for the wants of an army, proper arrangements in the distribution of the supplies, and a careful eye to the use of them is of great importance and call for a circumspect choice.
The Adjutant-General ought also to be a man of established character, of great activity and experience in the details of an army, and of proved integrity, or no alertness can be expected in the execution of the several duties consigned to him on
the one hand, and everything to be feared from treachery or neglect in his office on the other, by which the enemy might be as well informed of our strength as of their own.
It was not, however, until 1812-1821 that the general staff was organized on correct lines and its several departments created, substantially, as they have remained since.
Mr. Secretary William H. Crawford, in a report dated December 27, 1815, expressed himself as follows:
A complete organization of the staff will contribute as much to the economy of the establishment as to its efficiency. The stationery staff of a military establishment should be substantially the same in peace as in war, without reference to the number or distribution of the troops of which it is composed.
Hon. John C. Calhoun, Secretary of War, replying, December 11, 1818, to a resolution of Congress asking what reduction, if any, might be made in the military establishment, wrote:
* * *
The staff, as organized by the act of last session, combines simplicity with efficiency. Were our military establishment reduced one-half, it is obvious that, if the same posts continued to be occupied which now are, the same number of officers in the Quartermaster's, Paymaster's, Medical, and Adjutant and Inspector General's Departments would be required.
To compare, then, as is sometimes done, our staff with those of European armies assembled in large bodies is manifestly unfair. The act of last session, it is believed, has made all the reduction which ought to be attempted. It has rendered the staff efficient without making it expensive. Such a staff is not only indispensable to the efficiency of the Army, but it is also necessary to a proper economy in its disbursements; and should an attempt be made at retrenchment by reducing the present number, it would, in its consequences, probably prove wasteful and extravagant.
In fact, no part of our military organization requires more attention in peace than the general staff. It is in every service invariably the last in attaining perfection; and if neglected in peace, when there is leisure, it will be impossible, in the midst of the hurry and bustle of war, to bring it to perfection. It is in peace that it should receive a perfect organization, and that the officers should be trained to method and punctuality, so that at the commencement of a war, instead of creating anew, nothing more should be necessary than to give it the necessary enlargement.
With a defective staff we must carry on our military operations under great disadvantages, and be exposed, particularly at the commencement of a war, to great losses, embarrassments, and disasters.
The history of the general staff is marked by good judgment, great executive ability, and readiness of execution in emergencies. The value of the staff has been fully demonstrated by the administration of its affairs in the wars of the past, but in none more so than during the late civil war, when the system was submitted to most severe tests, from which it emerged triumphantly. The crowning evidence of its thorough effectiveness was the preparation of the plan by the AdjutantGeneral's Department for the muster out and disbandment at the close of that war of the volunteer armies, numbering over 1,500,000 officers and men, distributed to 1,274 regiments, 316 independent companies,
and 192 batteries.
The plan was submitted to the Secretary of War and the General of the Army and was adopted within one hour of its presentation. The movement homeward commenced May 29, 1865, and, had it been practicable to spare all the forces, the entire number could easily have been mustered out and returned to their homes within three months. hundred and forty-one thousand were mustered out within about two months, 741,000 within two and a half months, and 800,963 were discharged by November 15, 1865. In his annual report for that year General Grant states that
These musters out were admirably conducted; 800,000 men (subsequently increased to 1,034,064) were passing from the Army to civil life so quickly that it was scarcely known, save by the welcomes to their homes. R. P. T.