Reflections of a Civil War Historian: Essays on Leadership, Society, and the Art of War

By Herman Hattaway | Go to book overview

THE WAR BOARD, THE BASIS
OF THE UNITED STATES' FIRST
GENERAL STAFF

with Archer Jones

In the slow evolution of the modern general staff, the United States lagged behind the leading European armies. As late as the Civil War the country woefully lacked an adequate staff structure, but during that war the United States Army evolved for its Washington headquarters a very effective model, one that corresponded to that used in contemporary Prussia. But because this superior staff organization was largely informal, it did not last beyond the large-scale military operations that called it into being.

The United States entered the war with a system that melded both special and general staffs but was characterized more by the functions of the former than the latter. In Civil War field armies an officer sometimes enjoyed the unofficial title of chief of staff and sought to coordinate the activities of the army's special staff officers and often the aides-de-camp who helped to perform general-staff duties.1

But the War Department staff was even more primitive than that evolved by field armies. The army's staff consisted of special sections whose chiefs reported directly to the secretary of war. Though there was no chief of staff, there was a general in chief, an informal position not provided for in law. However, the special staff did not report to the general in chief; in fact special staff officers in subordinate

This essay first appeared in Military Affairs 46:1 (February 1982) and is re-
printed by permission of the Society for Military History.

1. See J. D. Hittle, The Military Staff: Its History and Development (Harrisburg,
Pa.: Military Service Publishing, 1952), 12.

-158-

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