The Regulars: The American Army, 1898-1941

The Regulars: The American Army, 1898-1941

The Regulars: The American Army, 1898-1941

The Regulars: The American Army, 1898-1941


In 1898 the American Regular Army was a small frontier constabulary engaged in skirmishes with Indians and protesting workers. Forty-three years later, in 1941, it was a large modern army ready to wage global war against the Germans and the Japanese. In this definitive social history of America's standing army, military historian Edward Coffman tells how that critical transformation was accomplished.

Coffman has spent years immersed in the official records, personal papers, memoirs, and biographies of regular army men, including such famous leaders as George Marshall, George Patton, and Douglas MacArthur. He weaves their stories, and those of others he has interviewed, into the story of an army which grew from a small community of posts in China and the Philippines to a highly effective mechanized ground and air force. During these years, the U. S. Army conquered and controlled a colonial empire, military staff lived in exotic locales with their families, and soldiers engaged in combat in Cuba and the Pacific. In the twentieth century, the United States entered into alliances to fight the German army in World War I, and then again to meet the challenge of the Axis Powers in World War II.

Coffman explains how a managerial revolution in the early 1900s provided the organizational framework and educational foundation for change, and how the combination of inspired leadership, technological advances, and a supportive society made it successful. In a stirring account of all aspects of garrison life, including race relations, we meet the men and women who helped reconfigure America's frontier army into a modern global force.


During the forty-three years from 1898 to 1941, the American Regular Army made the great transformation from a frontier constabulary to a modern army. In this period the Army conquered and controlled a colonial empire, fought the German Army in World War I, and prepared to fight not only the Germans but also the Japanese. To meet these formidable challenges, the regulars had to develop a professionalism of the highest order. A managerial revolution at the turn of the century provided the organizational framework and the educational foundation for this transformation, while the continuous technological revolution demanded adaptation of individuals and organizations to make the best use of the new tools of war.

The Regular Army of this period was a relatively small community within the total American population. These officers and soldiers, their wives, and their children lived in distinctive communities in posts wherever they served, from China and the Philippines to the heartland of the United States. This book is about their lives and their roles in this era of momentous change.

In the fall of 1969 a conversation with Francis Paul Prucha, author of the landmark military social history, Broadax and Bayonet: The Role of the United States Army in the Development of the Northwest 1815–1860, crystallized my thinking about a social history of the Regular Army from the War of Independence to World War II. I assumed that I could base the earlier history on published primary and secondary works and then develop many of my sources for the twentieth century through oral history and questionnaires. As I researched the earlier period, however, I came across a good many manuscript collections and unpublished records from the nineteenth century. A conversation with Russell F. Weigley, whose History of the United States Army remains the standard, convinced me that would be the proper course. The result was two books: The Old Army: A Portrait of the American Army in Peacetime, 1784–1898 (1986) and this one.

Unlike The Old Army, which did not include wars, this book takes . . .

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