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March 1878

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. Such a system of promotion is in violation of all the rules of common sense by which men are governed, as well as of those by which they are incited to strive for superior excellence, and the condition of our army at the outbreak of the rebellion affords an excellent example of its inevitable result. At that time the superior grades of the army were filled by old men, who, having outlived all above them, had been regularly promoted, in accordance with this system, to the positions which they occupied, regardless of the well-known fact that in the majority of instances they were unfitted, both by age and infirmity, to perform any military duty whatever. The spectacle was so pitiable, and the lesson it taught so apparent, that it might be supposed the government would have profited by such crushing experience, and been led by it to the adoption of wiser measures. Such, however, was not the case … [This system] is deadening to all effort at improvement or professional skill, and suggests the natural conclusion: that, as superior rank is obtained only by longevity, each should strive to avoid all exposure, hardships, or dangers by which health may be impaired or life risked.

Vol. 41, No. 245, pp. 376–384

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