The Root Reforms and Army Schools and Branches

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by William J. Webb
Elihu Root, 41st US Secretary Of War


In 1901 Secretary of War Elihu Root appointed an ad hoc War College Board, which actually functioned as an embryonic General Staff. It consisted of five officers detailed for limited terms, plus the Chief of Engineers, the Chief of Artillery, the Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, and the commanding officer of the Infantry and Cavalry School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Root charged the board with the advancement of Army education and the study of military policy. In 1903 Congress, at Root's recommendation, established a General Staff Corps with a Chief of Staff. The War College Board then gave way to an Army War College that performed some General Staff functions and that served as a capstone for a reorganized military education system.

Prior to 1900 an Army system of individual education did not exist; individual training was accomplished primarily within units. In most cases, Army schools were local in attendance and were designed to improve the academic education of the new officer as well as his professional military education. Notable exceptions were some of the schools of application that were early forerunners of the later combat arms schools: the Artillery School of Practice, Fort Monroe, Virginia (1824); the Engineer School of Application, Washington Barracks, D.C. (1866); and the Infantry and Cavalry School, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas (1886). During the Spanish-American War, officers in the lower echelons demonstrated that they knew their basic jobs, but those at higher levels did not sufficiently adapt to the problems of sudden mobilization and training and the widespread deployment of military forces.

Secretary Root discovered that one-third of Regular Army officers possessed no formal military education, and he believed that the Military Academy and the schools of application were inadequate to equip officers to handle the new responsibilities attendant to the growing world prominence of the United States. Nevertheless, he valued the Military Academy as the initial training ground for the Army's officers and launched a successful campaign to increase the cadet corps, modernize the academy's curriculum, and improve its physical plant. In 1901 Root announced a comprehensive system of officer education in which the Military Academy, post schools, five special service schools, and the General Service and Staff College at Fort Leavenworth would train officers in combined arms and staff positions in large units; and what became the Army War College would do advanced planning at Washington Barracks, D.C. The special service schools were the Artillery School at Fort Monroe; the Engineer School of Application, Washington Barracks, D.C.; the School of Submarine Defense, Fort Totten, New York; the School of Application for Cavalry and Field Artillery at Fort Riley, Kansas; and the Army Medical School, Washington, D.C. Root required that the schools test the officer students and that the results be placed in their records. All of the Army's schools for officers except the Army War College admitted National Guard officers and civilian graduates of land grant college military training programs who were earmarked for future U.S. Volunteers commissions. In 1904 the Army's system of military education added post schools for the academic and technical instruction of enlisted men.

The General Staff supervised the Army's schools (except for the Military Academy) through the Army War College, whose purpose was not to conduct academic instruction but rather to provide practical application of military knowledge. Along with studying tactical and strategic problems and planning for the mobilization of troops, the War College supervised the courses and methods of instruction at post and special service schools and at the General Service and Staff College. From 1901 to1917 the Army's system of military education expanded through the establishment of new schools and the reorganization of existing ones. The creation of new branches and the expansion of existing ones also affected the status of Army schools. In 1907 Congress approved separating the Artillery Branch into the Coast Artillery Corps and the Field Artillery, which led to the opening of the School of Fire for Field Artillery at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in 1911. The Infantry and Cavalry School at Fort Leavenworth became the School of the Line in 1910. During this period the Medical Department redefined its specialized corps into Medical, Hospital, Army Nurse, Dental, and Medical Reserve. Congress in 1912 enacted a reform, recommended earlier by Secretary Root, that consolidated the Subsistence, Pay, and Quartermaster Departments into the Quartermaster Corps. This act of 1912 also initiated the Army's use of service troops by establishing an enlisted Quartermaster service corps.

The outbreak of war in Europe in August 1914 increased the concern of some in the United States about the nation's readiness for military engagement. Only the month before had Congress belatedly recognized the significance of military aviation by authorizing the creation of an Aviation Section in the Signal Corps. In 1915 Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood organized a summer camp at Plattsburg, New York, to provide military training for business and professional men. While serving as Chief of Staff, Wood in 1913 had begun similar camps for college students. The National Defense Act of 1916 continued the student military training and the businessmen's summer camps and placed them on a firmer legal basis by authorizing an Officers' Reserve Corps and a Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC). An Enlisted Reserve Corps would produce specialists for the Engineer, Signal, Quartermaster, Ordnance, and Medical branches.

Root's extensive improvement of the Army's military education system, which had no organized program for individual schooling when the twentieth century began, formed a major part of his War Department reforms. He increased the student body and modernized the curriculum of the Military Academy, revitalized post schools for officers, set up new post schools for enlisted men, created new special service schools and restructured existing ones, and introduced the Army War College, which supervised the Army's military education system. His emphasis on specialized individual training eventually resulted in better opportunities for civilians with creation of the Officers' Reserve Corps, Reserve Officers' Training Corps, and Enlisted Reserve Corps. Thus Secretary Root's initiatives in War Department reorganization and establishment of individual schooling for soldiers, both officer and enlisted, substantially facilitated the development and readiness of the Army for its expanded responsibilities in the twentieth century.


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This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).

– US Army Center of Military History