previous next

Chapter 19:

  • Sneers at the staff
  • -- the controversy with the War Department over the control of the staff Corps.

General Sherman, in his last chapter discusses at considerable length the same issues which he raised with the Secretary of War and the statute law, when he assumed the duties of general and promulgated an order assigning all officials in the War Department, except the Secretary himself, and possibly his chief clerk, to duty on his staff. In his treatment of this question he indulges in many undignified sneers at staff officers. For example:
‘The subordinates of these staff-corps and departments are selected and chosen from the army itself, or fresh from West Point, and too commonly construe themselves into the élite, as made of better clay than the common soldier. Thus they separate themselves more and more from their comrades of the line, and in process of time realize the condition of that old officer of artillery, who thought the army would be a delightful place for a gentleman if it were not for the d—d soldier; or, better still, the conclusion of the young lord in “Henry IV.,” who told Harry Percy (Hotspur) that “but for these vile guns he would himself have been a soldier.” This is all wrong; utterly at variance with our democratic form of government and of universal experience; and now that the French, from whom we had copied the system, have utterly “prescribed” it, I hope that our Congress will follow suit.’

General Sherman's own military history, however, will show that it was not until he attained the rank of brigadier-general that his antipathy to staff duty began. But from that time forward it has been marked. Even the large body of staff officers in his own army, who, on the Atlanta campaign, had been continuously on duty and most of the time under [260] fire from May till September, did not escape being made to feel this prejudice.

While the army was moving from Atlanta on Hood, who had passed to its rear, Lieutenant-Colonel Warner, inspector-general on the staff, was appointed by the Governor of Ohio to the command of one of the new regiments from that State. Whereupon General Sherman issued the following order:

[special field orders no. 98.]

headquarters Military division of the Mississippi, in the field, Summerville, Ga., October 19, 1864.
1st. Lieutenant-Colonel Willard Warner, acting Inspector-General on the staff of this military division, having been appointed colonel of the One-Hundred and Eightieth Ohio, is hereby relieved from duty at these headquarters, and will proceed to Nashville and assume command of his new regiment.

2d. The General commanding thanks Colonel Warner for his most zealous and intelligent service during the past campaign, compliments him on his good sense in preferring service with troops to staff duty, and predicts for him the highest success in his professional career.

Colonel Warner was an able and gallant officer. As lieutenant-colonel of an Ohio regiment, he was detailed for duty on the staff of General Sherman, and afterward, upon being appointed to a colonelcy, he naturally desired to assume command of his regiment. Certainly there were very few, if any, of the hundreds of staff officers serving with General Sherman who would not gladly have exchanged places with Colonel Warner. They were for the most part, men who had volunteered for the war without stopping to bargain for place or power, and accepted their staff positions and obeyed the orders detailing them for such duty as they would have obeyed any other military orders they might have received. It was a fact universally recognized that promotion came chiefly from the line, and none of them, with the same opportunity, would have failed to follow Colonel Warner's example.

In the nature of things it was impossible for many of them to receive such promotion in the line as would justify them in asking to be relieved from staff duty, and under the [261] circumstances, General Sherman's order was to these officers both a cruel wrong and a gratuitous insult.

But if General Sherman in writing his final chapter had remembered the facts set forth in the opening of his book, he might have tempered his language in regard to staff service.

The Memoirs begin with the information that in the Spring of 1846 he was first-lieutenant in the Third Artillery, and present with his company at Fort Moultrie, South Carolina. In April of the same year he was detailed for recruiting service. In June he was ordered to California with Company F of his regiment, and assigned to staff duty as quartermaster and commissary. In March, 1847, he returned to company duty. The next month (April) he was assigned as aid-de-camp to General Kearney. In May General Kearney left California, and Lieutenant Sherman became acting assistant adjutant-general on the staff of Colonel R. B. Mason. In February, 1849, he was relieved from this service and assigned in the same capacity to the staff of General Persifer F. Smith. While thus acting his duties were changed to those of aid-de-camp on the same staff, in which capacity he continued to act until September, 1850, when he rejoined his company in St. Louis with the assurance that he would soon receive a regular staff appointment. This promise was soon after fulfilled, and on the 27th of the same month he was appointed captain and commissary of subsistence in the regular army. This position he held until his resignation some three years after, September 6th, 1853, having, thus completed an almost unbroken record of seven years service as an officer of the staff.

And when, after the hesitation about reentering the army at the beginning of the war, which he details at length, he finally decided to take part in the struggle, he applied for staff duty again, as is plain from the close of the letter in which he tendered his services. ‘Should they be needed,’ he writes May 8, 1861, to the Secretary of War, ‘the records of the War Department will enable you to designate the station in which I can render the most service.’ As these [262] records for seven preceding years of his former army duty pertained mainly to varied staff service, the intent of the application is manifest.

However, he was made colonel of the Thirteenth Infantry, and this was his ‘new regiment.’ But, instead of following Colonel Warner's example, who went from inspector on the staff to the command of a regiment, he reversed it, and with his colonel's commission in his pocket passed to duty as inspector on the staff of General Scott, and this duty continued until he was assigned to the command of a brigade some weeks later. From this time forward he ‘had the good sense to prefer service with troops to staff duty.’

In this last chapter General Sherman argues that military correspondence with higher officials should pass through the hands of the intermediate generals, in order that they may never be ignorant of any thing that concerns their command. This has always been considered sound doctrine in the army, and yet General Sherman's records show that he constantly corresponded directly with General Halleck, on matters intimately affecting the whole army, without sending the letters through his own superiors. Now he writes: ‘I don't believe in a chief-of-staff at all.’ But up to the 18th of April, 1865, he sustained most intimate, cordial, and confidential relations with General Halleck as chief-of-staff, and on that date, as has been seen, wrote, asking him to influence the President, ‘if possible, not to vary the first terms made with Johnston at all.’ So close were these relations as to suggest the idea that his present non-belief in a chief-of-staff dates from a few days later, when, in addressing General Grant after his terms had been rejected, he wrote:

‘It now becomes my duty to paint in justly severe characters the still more offensive and dangerous matter of General Halleck's dispatch of April 26th to the Secretary of War, embodied in his to General Dix of April 27th.’

Out of the circumstances attending the rejection of the Johnston-Reagan terms, grew the controversy with the [263] Secretary of War over the relative rights and powers of this officer and those of the General of the Army, which subject is discussed at some length in the Memoirs.

Ever since Secretary Stanton's fearless performance of duty in connection with the political features of Johnston's surrender, General Sherman has maintained that this officer was a mere clerk, and in his last chapter he contends that the General of the Army should have command of all the heads of staff-corps, and that the President and Secretary of War should command the army through the general. What he leaves to the Secretary of War is thus described: ‘Of course, the Secretary would, as now, distribute the funds according to the appropriation bills, and reserve to himself the absolute control and supervision of the larger arsenals and depots of supply.’

And while he declares that the law or its judicial interpretation is against the right for which he contends, the removal of army headquarters to St. Louis resulted in great degree from the fact that when he became general he could not bring himself to conform to this law. The history of this controversy is pertinent to his present discussion of the organization and control of the staff-corps.

One of his first official acts, when made General of the Army was to issue an order reducing the Secretary of War to the position which he had frequently before with great emphasis assigned him, namely, that of a mere clerk.

The preliminary order to effect this he obtained from the President. It was as follows:

[General orders no. 11.]

headquarters of the Army, Adjutant-General's office, Washington, March 8, 1869.
The following orders of the President of the United States are published for the information and government of all concerned:

War Department, Washington city, March 5, 1869.
By direction of the President General William T. Sherman will assume command of the Army of the United States. [264]

The Chiefs of Staff Corps, Departments, and Bureaus will report to and act under the immediate orders of the General commanding the Army.

All official business, which by law or regulations requires the action of the President or the Secretary of War, will be submitted by the General of the Army to the Secretary of War; and, in general, all orders from the President or Secretary of War to any portion of the army, line, or staff, will be transmitted through the General of the Army.

J. M. Schofield, Secretary of War.
By command of the General of the Army. E. D. Townsend, Assistant Adjutant-General.

General Schofield, who expected to retire in a few days, did not care to make issue upon it, and contented himself with pointing out that it violated or contravened some twenty-six express provisions of statute law, or regulations having the force of law. Based upon the above order General Sherman issued the following:

[General orders no. 12.]

headquarters of the Army, Adjutant-General's office, Washington, March 8, 1869.
By direction of the President of the United States, the undersigned hereby assumes command of the Army of the United States. His general staff will be:

Brevet Major-General E. D. Townsend, Adjutant-General.

Brevet Major-General R. B. Marcy, Inspector-General.

Brevet Major-General M. C. Meigs, Quartermaster-General.

Brevet Major-General A. B. Eaton, Commissary-General Subsistence.

Brevet Major-General J. K. Barnes, Surgeon-General.

Brevet Major-General B. W. Brice, Paymaster-General.

Brevet Major-General Joseph Holt, Judge Advocate-General.

Brevet Major General A. A. Humphreys, Chief of Engineers.

Brevet Major General A. B. Dyer, Chief of Ordnance.

Brevet Brigadier-General A. J. Myer, Chief Signal Officer.

His personal staff, Aids-de-Camp with the rank of Colonel from this date, will be:

Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel J. C. McCoy, Second Lieutenant, Second Infantry.

Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel L. M. Dayton, Captain, Seventh Cavalry.

Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel J. C. Audenried, Captain, Sixth Cavalry.

Brevet Brigadier-General C. B. Comstock, Major, Corps of Engineers.

Brevet Brigadier-General Horace Porter, Major, Ordnance Department. [265]

Brevet Brigadier-General F. T. Dent, Lieutenant-Colonel, Thirty-third Infantry.

II. Generals commanding military departments, in addition to the duties heretofore required of them, will give their special atttention to the economical administration of all branches of the service within their command, whether of the line or staff, and to this end will exercise supervision and command of every part of the army within their limits not specially excepted.

III. The military academy, general depots of supply, arsenals of construction, permanent forts in process of construction or extensive repairs, general recruiting depots, and officers employed on duties not military, are excepted from the operation of the foregoing paragraph.

IV. All orders and general instructions to the troops, or to staff officers serving in military departments, must go from the headquarters of the army through the Adjutant-General's office, and through the Generals commanding the military divisions and departments in which the officers are serving; but ordinary correspondence relating to the details of execution may be carried on between the parties concerned and the heads of the staff department or corps charged with their execution.

On the 13th of March General Rawlins assumed the duties of Secretary of War, and among his first acts he called the attention of the President to the various violations of law involved in Sherman's order These were too plain to admit either of doubt or extended discussion, and the following order was issued by direction of the President, revoking those printed above:

[General orders no. 28.]

headquarters of the Army, Adjutant-General's office, Washington, March 27, 1869.
The following orders, received from the War Department, are published for the government of all concerned:

War Department, Washington city, March 26, 1869.
By direction of the President, the order of the Secretary of War, dated War Department, March 5, 1869, and published in General Orders No. 11, Headquarters of the Army, Adjutant-General's office, dated March 8, 1869, except so much as directs General W. T. Sherman to ‘assume command of the Army of the United States,’ is hereby rescinded.

All official business which, by law or regulations, requires the action of the President or Secretary of War, will be submitted by the Chiefs of Staff Corps, Departments, and Bureaus, to the Secretary of War.

All orders and instructions relating to military operations, issued by the [266] President or Secretary of War, will be issued through the General of the Army.

John A. Rawlins, Secretary of War.
By command of General Sherman. E. D. Townsend, Assistant Adjutant General.

The violations of law in General Sherman's Order No. 12, can be readily made to appear. The act of July 25, 1866, reviving the grade of General, authorized him, ‘under the direction and during the pleasure of the President, to command the armies of the United States.’ The same act authorized him to select ‘for service upon his staff such number of aids, not exceeding six, as he may judge proper,’ and the act of July 28, three days later, provided that ‘there shall be one General * * * * entitled to the same staff officers, in number and grade, as now provided by law.’ The law provided only six; Sherman's order assigned sixteen—an excess of ten; and more than this, each of the ten was, by law, directly under the Secretary of War.

But before following this branch of the subject to its conclusion, it will be well to present in brief some of the decisions upon the relations of the President as commander-in-chief under the Constitution, and those of the Secretary of War to the army:

By the Constitution the President is made Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States. The departments of war and of the navy are the channels through which his orders proceed to them respectively, and the secretaries of these departments are the organs by which he makes his will known to them. The orders issued by those officers are, in the contemplation of the law, not their orders, but the orders of the President of the United States.—[1 Opinions, 380.

By the act of August 7, 1789, establishing the War Department, the duties of the Secretary of War are thus defined:

‘There shall be an Executive Department, to be denominated the Department of War, and there shall be a principal officer therein to be called the Secretary for the Department of War, who shall perform and execute such duties as shall from time to time be enjoined on or intrusted to him by the President of the United States, agreeable to the Constitution relative to military commissions, or to the land or naval forces, ships or warlike stores of the [267] United States, or to such other matters respecting military or naval affairs as the President of the United States shall assign to the said department.’

Subsequently, upon the establishment of a Navy Department, the supervision of naval affairs was withdrawn from the War Department.

The Secretary of War is “The regularly constituted organ of the President for the administration of the military establishment of the nation, and rules and orders publicly promulgated through him must be received as the acts of the Executive, and as such be binding upon all within the sphere of his legal and constitutional authority.” —[U. S. vs. Eliason, 16 Peters, 291.

‘The War Department has a staff officer, the Adjutant-General, through whom the Secretary, in behalf of the President, that is, the President, speaks when he sees fit, in matters pertaining to the army.’—[7 Opinions, 473.

And yet General Sherman, in the first line of his assignments, boldly invaded the official household of the President, his military superior, and ordered the chief staff officer there to report to him at the headquarters of the army. This did not differ, in any material respect, from what General Sheridan or any other general officer would be guilty of in issuing an order directing staff officers to report to him, who, by express provision of law, had been placed under the General of the Army.

The Quartermaster and Commissary Departments are placed by law directly under the Secretary of War, and yet General Sherman attached them both to his staff, and assumed that they were under his direction. The law regulating their duties reads as follows:

In addition to their duties in the field, it shall be the duty of the Quartermaster-General, his deputies, and assistant deputies, when thereto directed by the Secretary of War, to purchase military stores, camp equipage, and other articles requisite for the troops, and generally to procure and provide means of transport for the army, its stores, artillery, and camp equipage.—[Act March 28, 1812.

‘Supplies for the army, unless in particular and urgent cases the Secretary of War should otherwise direct, shall be purchased by contract, to be made by the Commissary-General * * * * under such regulations as the Secretary of War may direct.’—[April 14, 1818.


These officers are also severally directed by law to make their reports to the Secretary of War. And none of these acts were changed when the grade of General was revived.

By another section it is made the duty of the Quartermaster-General, ‘under the direction of the Secretary of War,’ to receive and distribute all clothing and camp and garrison equipage, and, ‘under the direction of the Secretary of War,’ to enforce a system of accountability for the same.

In the same manner the Surgeon-General by law performs his duties under the direction of the Secretary of War, and, in short, the whole general staff is, by law, governed by regulations which the Secretary of War is, by direct statute provision, obliged to make.

By the law creating it, the Bureau of Military Justice was ‘attached to and made a part of the War Department.’

Paragraph 1,063 of Revised Army Regulations, which were enacted by Congress into law, reads as follows

‘The Signal Officer shall have charge, under the direction of the Secretary of War, of all signal duty, and of all books, papers, and apparatus connected therewith.’

The following extracts from regulations, taken from many similar provisions, show clearly that Congress placed the general staff under the Secretary of War, and these regulations have been recognized by Congress since the office of General was established:

Paragraph 1,010. The Chief of such Military Bureau in the War Department shall, under the direction of the Secretary of War, regulate, as far as practicable, the employment of hired persons required by the administrative service of his department.

‘Paragraph 1,043. Chiefs of the Disbursing Department shall, under the direction of the Secretary of War, designate where principal contracts shall be made, etc.’

Paragraph 1,197 makes the approval of the Secretary of War necessary to rules which the Surgeon-General may prescribe for supplying hospitals. [269]

By various paragraphs of regulations the Paymaster-General is directed to report to the Adjutant-General, the legal staff officer of the Secretary of War.

‘Paragraph 1,360. The Chief Engineer, with the approbation of the Secretary of War, will regulate and determine the number, quality, form, and dimensions of the necessary vehicles, pontoons, tools, etc.’

By paragraphs 1,377, 1,378, 1,379, all the operations of the Ordnance Department are placed under the Secretary of War.

The officers of the Engineer Corps are placed under the sole direction of the President.

These various citations are quite sufficient to prove that the theory of Congress in all its legislation relating to army organization has been, that the President is Commander-in-Chief, while the Secretary of War is his representative at the head of the army, and his organ of communication with it; that the Adjutant-General is the staff officer of the Secretary of War, that is, of the President; and that the chiefs of the various staff corps form the general staff of the President, and are in consequence under the direction of the Secretary of War.

Thus it will be readily seen that Sherman's order contravened, or directly violated the laws and regulations which have the full force of law, for the government of the army. After that order was revoked, and his attention had been thus pointedly called to the law, every subsequent protest against it was unsoldierly, and in short, insubordination. The same conduct in any officer of less rank would not have been allowed to go unpunished. If the general of an army constantly frets over the restraints of the regulations, what attention can he rightfully expect to be paid them by the army at large?

Although at the time his order was revoked, he was made fully acquainted with the law, a few months later he was found not only violating it, but reporting and defending his disregard both of orders and the law. The facts upon [270] which this statement is based will be found in his annual report for 1869.

General Rawlins died September 6, following the issuing of General Order, No. 28, given above. General Sherman was assigned temporarily to the desk of the Secretary of War. The following paragraph of the President's order, as given above, was still in force:

By direction of the President, * * * * all official business which, by law or regulations, requires the action of the President or the Secretary of War, will be submitted by the Chiefs of Staff Corps, Departments, and Bureaus to the Secretary of War.

No order revoking this had been issued by the President. General Sherman was also aware that this order had been framed solely to control his official acts. It was not an order that he would for a moment forget. And yet, while speaking in his annual report of these same Chiefs of Staff Corps, Departments, and Bureaus, General Sherman said:

‘The heads of these departments reside in Washington, and submit annually a written report of their operations for the past year. It so happened that I was Secretary of War during the month of October, when by law these reports were made in order to reach the Public Printer by the first of November, and I required all the annual reports to be addressed, like all other military reports, to the Adjutant-General for the perusal of the General of the Army, who could make use of such information as they contained, and then lay them before the Secretary of War. This is, in my judgment, the course that should always be pursued-though a different one has heretofore prevailed — for otherwise we would have the absurdity of a general commanding an army with his chief staff officer reporting to somebody else.’

A little further on in the same paper he called attention to a report made by the Military Committee of the House, upon which, however, the House had taken no action, much less Congress, in which the Committee expressed the opinion that the staff corps should be as directly under the control of the general and the department commanders as the officers of the line. He then added: ‘I heartily concur in these views, and, so far as my authority goes, will carry them out.’ And this [271] in a formal report, after he had been expressly ordered by the President not to carry out these identical views. Throughout this controversy of General Sherman's own raising and pressing, there was no attempt by the War Department to assume unlawful authority over the General of the Army, nor had there been any other limitations placed upon his power than the law imposes. The case was simply this: The Secretary of War had been guided by the law as it exists. General Sherman had constantly protested against the law in the case, and, so far as he could, ignored it. The whole trouble on his side was this: He had not been regarded as Commander-in-Chief, and had not been allowed to command the army as such. Instead of exercising his authority under the law and in accordance with the terms of his commission—that is, ‘under the direction and during the pleasure of the President, to command the armies of the United States’—he insisted upon being allowed to exercise that authority as if both law and commission read, ‘under the direction and according to the pleasure of W. T. Sherman.’

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: