Classic History Books


The Path of Empire. A Chronicle of the United States as a World Power
by Carl Russell Fish

military sense. Some regiments, it is true, were impressive on parade, but almost none of the officers
knew anything of actual modern warfare. There had been no preliminary sifting of ability in the army,

and it was only as experience gave the test that the capable and informed were called into positions of

importance. In fact, the training of the regular officers was inferior to that of the naval officers. West

Point and Annapolis were both excellent in the quality of their instruction, but what they offered

amounted only to a college course, and in the army there was no provision for systematic graduate study

corresponding to the Naval War College at Newport.

These difficulties and deficiencies, however, cannot fully explain the woeful inferiority of the army to
the navy in preparedness. Fundamentally the defect was at the top. Russell A. Alger, the Secretary of

War, was a veteran of the Civil War and a silver-voiced orator, but his book on the "Spanish-American

War," which was intended as a vindication of his record, proves that even eighteen months of as grueling

denunciation as any American official has ever received could not enlighten him as to what were the

functions of his office. Nor did he correct or supplement his own incompetence by seeking professional

advice. There existed no general staff, and it did not occur to him, as it did to Secretary Long, to create

one to advise him unofficially. He was on bad terms with Major General Nelson A. Miles, who was the

general in command. He discussed even the details of questions of army strategy, not only with Miles but

with the President and members of the Cabinet. One of the most extraordinary decisions made during his

tenure of office was that the act of the 9th of March, appropriating $50,000,000 "for national defense,"

forbade money to be spent or even contracts to be made by the quartermaster, the commissary, or the

surgeon general. In his book Secretary Alger records with pride the fact that all this money was spent for

coast defense. In view of the fact that the navy did its task, this expenditure was absolutely unnecessary

and served merely to solace coast cities and munition makers.

The regular army on April 1, 1898, consisted of 28,183 officers and men. An act of the 26th of April
authorized its increase to about double that size. As enlistment was fairly prompt, by August the army

consisted of 56,365 officers and men, the number of officers being but slightly increased. It was decided

not to use the militia as it was then organized, but to rely for numbers as usual chiefly upon a volunteer

army, authorized by the Act of the 22d of April, and by subsequent acts raised to a total of 200,000, with

an additional 3000 cavalry, 3500 engineers, and 10,000 "immunes," or men supposed not to be liable to

tropical diseases. The war seemed equally popular all over the country, and the million who offered

themselves for service were sufficient to allow due consideration for equitable state quotas and for

physical fitness. There were also sufficient Krag-Jorgensen rifles to arm the increased regular army and

Springfields for the volunteers.

To provide an adequate number of officers for the volunteer army was more difficult. Even though a
considerable number were transferred from the regular to the volunteer army, they constituted only a

small proportion of the whole number necessary. Some few of those appointed were graduates of West

Point, and more had been in the militia. The great majority, however, had purely amateur experience, and

many not even so much. Those who did know something, moreover, did not have the same knowledge or

experience. This raw material was given no officer training whatsoever but was turned directly to the

task of training the rank and file. Nor were the appointments of new officers confined to the lower ranks.

The country, still mindful of its earlier wars, was charmed with the sentimental elevation of confederate

generals to the rank of major general in the new army, though a public better informed would hardly

have welcomed for service in the tropics the selection of men old enough to be generals in 1865 and then

for thirty-three years without military experience in an age of great development in the methods of

warfare. The other commanding officers were as old and were mostly chosen by seniority in a service

 

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