The Staff of the United States Army

"Our army presents the only known example of a business or profession, either public or private, in which incompetency and want of zeal bring the same substantial rewards as energy, capacity, and active attention to duty."

To the officers of the adjutant-general's and inspector-general's departments a detailed knowledge of special business would not seem so necessary; but being frequently required to inspect the operations of the supply departments, or called on to express opinions or make recommendations relative to the work of all the departments, a general knowledge of business, as 'well as the various interests with which each is charged, is absolutely essential to them. How otherwise can an officer who belongs to one of these departments, and is ordered, for example, to inspect a quartermaster's depot or an ordnance arsenal, judge correctly of the manner in which duty is performed thereat, or whether the government money is expended to the best advantage? Without this information, of what value is his opinion as to whether the material necessary in the manufacture of supplies is purchased judiciously; whether the labor, both skilled and unskilled, is employed at the most reasonable rates; or whether the material and labor are used to the greatest advantage?

But vitally necessary as is this knowledge to staff officers, it is of equal importance that they understand thoroughly the principles of the military profession. To the officers of the general staff especially is this familiarity with military principles a necessity. In the various branches of the special staff, duties are performed in accordance with law, regulation, or precedent, which are sufficiently clear and explicit to prevent any disastrous result. This is the case with the general staff officer in the discharge of the ordinary routine duties intrusted to him; but the occasions are not rare, particularly in time of war, when he has neither precedent nor regulation to guide him, and when, thrown upon his own resources, he is forced to act with the full knowledge that an error of judgment on his part may, and probably will, lead to serious disaster. The routine duty required of the general staff can easily be performed by any officer of ordinary capacity; but so uncertain and varied are the duties which the general staff is at times expected to discharge that they have never been defined in our army by regulation, and can with difficulty be described. In general terms, these more important duties require that the general staff officer shall familiarize himself with everything pertaining to the army, so that be may perform satisfactorily, by the general's order or in accordance with his plans, all that which it is the general's duty to do, but which he cannot attend to in person. During emergencies, and in the absence of the general, it is the province of the general staff officer to assume all responsibility as his representative, and to give all needed orders to meet the case in his name, although the emergency may have been unforeseen, and no measures taken to meet it. It is impossible that a commanding general can be present on every important occasion arising in the constantly changing circumstances of a battle or campaign, or that he can foresee every contingency and give proper orders to meet it; and he is necessarily compelled, under such conditions, to trust to the judgment and skill of these officers. In addition to the foregoing, it is their duty to place troops in line of battle, and to superintend the march of the different columns of an army so that the plan of a campaign may be successfully carried out. Such duties require, on their part, thorough knowledge of the relative value of each arm on the battle-field and in the general campaign; of the best manner in which the different arms should be placed, in view of the ground on which they are to fight or over which they are to march, so that the best result may be obtained by their combined efforts; of the tactics of the different arms; and, above all things, of the personnel of the army. A general staff officer, intrusted as he is with such responsible duties, cannot hope to perform them successfully unless he knows thoroughly the reputation for discipline, instruction, and courage which each body of troops in the army bears, and is well acquainted with the peculiar personal characteristics of the officers who cornmand them. Many other similar duties devolve upon general staff officers, but those mentioned are the most important, and are sufficient of themselves to show, beyond a doubt, that there should be required of them a high degree of proficiency and great skill in the military profession, or, in other words, that they should be amongst the most consummate soldiers an army contains. At the outbreak of the rebellion the officers composing our general staff were only in rare instances allowed to perform the important duties which have been described. Personal preference on the part of commanding generals usually led them to select for this purpose officers who in the majority of cases were without previous experience, and who in some cases were unfitted, by want of capacity and education, for the responsible positions in which they were placed. It was due to this, probably, more than to any other cause, that our military operations during the first years of the war were conducted without proper combination, that many of our earlier battles were fought in such a manner that the efforts of our troops were scattered and spasmodic, and that whatever successes they obtained were incomplete and indecisive. So universal was the custom, during the rebellion, to select officers without experience or training for the performance of general staff duty that the necessity for a competent corps of staff officers seems no longer recognized; and the general staff corps of our army, with a few exceptions, is now, and has been for years, simply a special staff department, the duties of which are of the most ordinary routine character.

The method ordinarily pursued, by which officers are appointed into our staff, is not such as enables the government always to obtain for the staff those whose merit best fits them for such duties; nor is the manner in which service is required of them that best calculated to develop such fitness for it as they may possess. Usually, officers are appointed into the staff departments whose friends have sufficient influence to obtain such positions for them. Occasionally, and at rare intervals, one is appointed without such influence, who has shown himself exceptionally competent, and who, in consequence of the good record he has made, is offered the staff position. The competition for these places is so great, however, that the first may be regarded as the rule of appointment, although the methods in the medical, ordnance, and engineer departments are exceptions to the rule. No valid objection can be urged against this rule, for it may generally be said that the personnel of our staff is more than ordinarily good. The error is to he found not so much in the manner of appointment as in that of the assignment of appointees to the different departments of the staff. Excepting in the departments above mentioned, no effort is made by the study of their records as officers, or by any examination of their characters or capacities, to ascertain for what particular portions of the staff they are by nature and education best fitted. Possibly the applicant may have been an excellent officer with troops, and capable of excelling in the general staff; but if the vacancy existed in the quartermaster's or commissary department, he would be assigned to it, regardless of his capacity for the management of business affairs, or of his fitness for the position. Perhaps the vacancy may occur in the general staff, and if so the applicant would be assigned to it, although he may never have served with troops, is ignorant of their duties, and may be incapable of learning them. In other' words, and strange as it may appear, except in the medical, ordnance, and engineer departments, it is an accident if an officer seeking a staff position in our army ever enters that portion of it the duties of which he is best qualified to perform.

In the first of the two departments mentioned as exceptions (the medical and ordnance), no applicant can be appointed until he has been pronounced competent in character and capacity by a board of examining officers. Nor can an officer, in either of time two, be promoted until he has passed a similar examination before a board of officers, senior to himself. The appointees of the engineer department are exclusively from the cadets who graduate highest in their classes at the military academy, and no engineer officer below the rank of field officer can be promoted to a higher grade until he shall have passed an examination before a board of three engineers, senior in rank to himself. In each of the three departments great care is exercised in the selections of the examining boards, and the examinations are rigid and thorough. In each, provision by law is made that when an officer fails to pass the examinations required for promotion, he is forced to give way to the one next in rank capable of undergoing the test, who after such examination receives the promotion. In each of these departments, officers are generally employed upon duty for which they have shown special qualification, and the natural result has been the competent education of a body of officers, who not only understand thoroughly the special duties of their own departments, but who are equally familiar with the practice of the corresponding professions in civil life. The superior officers of the medical department have supplemented this system of examinations by a wise course of action, having for its object the encouragement and special development of each subordinate medical officer. Every inducement to study is held out to them, every opportunity for advancement presented them; and it may truly he said that our medical department is to-day the equal of any in the world.

Having been appointed to a particular staff department, whatever his capacity for the position, the officer cannot afterwards be changed; nor can he transfer to another, unless some one is willing to exchange with him, which, as such changes usually involve loss of rank to one or both, is. of rare occurrence. His appointment having been granted him, his aptitude for its duties, save in the departments mentioned as exceptions, is of minor consequence. His position is fixed, and cannot be changed, and he learns his duties or not, as best suits himself. He must at least commit no overt act which may lead to his trial by court-martial; keep his property and pecuniary accountability, if he has any, correct; be careful to have his official accounts, returns, etc., prepared neatly, and promptly rendered in the manner required by the regulations of the army; and he will perhaps not only acquire a reputation for efficiency, but his chance for promotion to the higher grades will be as good as that of the best. Should he be fortunate in his assignment, or by industry and application develop a fitness for his duties, the probabilities are that he will many times be called on to perform duties which should have devolved on some one else, unfitted and incompetent by his own fault to discharge them. The penalty paid in this manner sometimes, by a good officer, contributes by no means to prolonged effort on his part to increase his efficiency. On the contrary, finding that special aptitude for his duties, or activity in their discharge, results only in personal inconvenience, with no corresponding advantage to himself, and that if he lives sufficiently long his chances of promotion are as good as those of any one else, he soon loses all ambition, and ceases to strive for excellence. It is not surprising that our staff contains many officers who have neither taste nor talent for their duties; that there are others in it who, having aptitude, have no ambition to excel in them; and that the large majority of its officers are content to remain, without exertion, what they are, rather than strive to fit themselves for positions which prolonged life only can give them, and for which, when received, old age and infirmity may have rendered them incompetent.

Affixing no reward for excellence, and ignoring, to a great extent, all struggle on the officer's part for capacity an improvement, the policy of the government is to treat all as equally good. It is true, there are some few whose sins of omission and commission not even this charity will cover; but when one of these has so far transgressed, in the opinion of the authorities, as to be useless as an officer, he is frequently placed upon what is called ''awaiting orders," where he is sometimes better situated than when on duty. During an officer's service in the staff, he is at irregular intervals changed from one station to another, for the performance of the duties of his department at the place where he may be located. His fitness for the duties incident to any station is rarely considered in assigning him to such station: so that a quartermaster, for example, who has shown special capacity for active service with troops in the field may, according to the system, be transferred from that duty to a depot for the manufacturing of army clothing. Or, an officer of the adjutant-general's department, practically ignorant, perhaps, of the duties pertaining to troops in the Indian country, may be and is frequently sent to the head-quarters of a frontier military department, where in the absence of its commander he is called on to control all military affairs, and even at times give orders for the conduct of a campaign against hostile Indians.

The defects of the staff are due more to its management than to any other cause, and it is in curing these defects that every citizen of the country should interest himself. They are principally the occasion of the enormous and largely unnecessary appropriations for the support of the army, of the heavy taxation necessary to meet such appropriations, and of the wasteful but unintentional extravagance with which our army administration is conducted. If these defects were cured, there can be no doubt that our military establishment would cost us far less than at present, while its efficiency would be greatly increased; and that, with the same appropriations as are now made for the support of the army, we should be able to maintain a military force largely in excess of that we now have in service. It is claimed that the remedy for the errors of our staff system can be readily and easily found. The condition of the medical department is positive evidence that the system pursued in it is wise, and well adapted for the improvement of its officers; and this system should be made applicable, by legislation, to all the departments of the staff. Promotion by seniority, as a rule, should be done away with, and a certain number of vacancies, as they occur, filled by selection. Chiefs of staff departments should be expected, and if necessary required, to familiarize themselves more with the army and its operations than has sometimes previously been the case, when theory, on their part, has taken the place of practice, and the head of a staff department has not only never participated in any other military operations than the drills of the corps of cadets, but has perhaps rarely seen as many as a hundred soldiers in line and equipped for active service. They should be required to leave, to a great extent, the correspondence of their offices, with which their time is now principally occupied, to the care of competent subordinates, who should have charge of it under their direction, and by visits to the localities where the army is serving learn practically, instead of theoretical-as now, what the requirements and necessities of the service demand. Far more attention should be paid by them to the management and improvement of their officers than is now the case.

Each staff officer should serve sufficiently long with each arm of the line to learn so much of its appropriate duties as will enable him to perform understandingly his own staff duties; and every officer of the general staff should be required to familiarize himself, by tours of inspection and all other practicable means, with each portion of our country, as well as with the countries of our neighbors. Excepting a few of the oldest staff officers, who participated in the Mexican war, none of them, it is believed, know anything of Mexico, or speak its language, and it may safely be said that all of them are equally ignorant of Canada and Cuba. It is believed there are to-day officers in the staff departments, and perhaps even in the general staff, who are so ignorant of our own country and of military service on the frontier, who know so little of Indians and of their mode of warfare, that if ordered to proceed from one frontier post to another, through a hostile Indian country, they would be unable to conduct their marches or man-age their escorts so as to insure their own safety.

If these reforms here suggested are adopted, and our army remain as at present organized, the annual appropriations now made for its support can in time of peace be largely reduced; they are now sufficient to support a more numerous army should an increase be desired. Such reforms would be instrumental in reducing the expenses of a war to the lowest limit, and would prevent the country from incurring, during its progress, a debt similar to that which now afflicts us.

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