Historical Work in the United States Army

Part One

Source: Stetson Conn, Historical Work in the United States Army 1862-1954 (U.S. Army Center of Military History, Washington, D.C., 1980).

Stetson Conn (formerly of Amherst College) served as a Chief Historian, General Editor of the United States Army in World War II official history. He was co-author of The Western Hemisphere: Guarding the United States and its Outposts.  For the Center of Military History, Conn co-authored The  War of the American Revolution: Narrative, Chronology, and Bibliography

Bookmark: War of the Rebellion: publication plan  /Medical and Surgical History Revolutionary War records War with Mexico, Justin H. Smith The Army establishes a Historical Branch Summary through World War I U.S. Army in World War I: original plan US Army in World War I: revised plan Medical history of World War I Unit histories Genesis of the First Army controversy Battlefield commemoration program Col. Howard L. Landers’ monographs Order of Battle project Work on World War I records  /Author’s notes

Go to Part Two: 1941 to 1947 /Part Three: 1947 to 1954 Bibliography

From Chapter 1: The Beginnings, 1862-1918

Officially, the historical activities of the United States Army began during the American Civil War, starting in the Office of the Surgeon General and thereafter broadening to include a plan to publish all historically significant records of the Union and Confederate armies and their headquarters relating to the military conduct of the war. Before this time the War Department and other agencies of the United States government had published many records and other materials of great historical value, as in the annual reports of the Secretary of War and the American State Papers; but none of these undertakings was considered to be nor did it have the true character of an official historical effort.

Although not the first, by far the greatest of the Civil War productions was the selection, arrangement, and publication of the records of the armies and their headquarters, a task begun in 1864 and not completed until 1901. The project originated in a recommendation of Union General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck. Because of his difficulties in assembling materials for his 1863 annual report, Halleck urged therein that military records be properly collected and published. Acting on Halleck’s recommendation, Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs, on 26 January 1864 introduced Senate Joint Resolution No. 21 “to provide for the printing of the official reports of the armies of the United States.” The House adopted an amended resolution drafted by John D. Defrees, Superintendent of Public Printing, that proposed including all significant Union official military records relating to the war, dating from 1 December 1860 onward, to be arranged in chronological order and printed in 10,000 copies. Senator Wilson strongly supported the amended resolution. It received Senate and House approval on 18 May 1864, and President Abraham Lincoln’s signature the following day. Work began almost immediately under Army Assistant Adjutant General Edward D. Townsend. In the summer of 1865 his office sent the first eight volumes, containing field reports of commanding officers, to the public .  *1*

Observing that the volumes transmitted by the Adjutant General lacked the breadth of coverage contemplated in the May 1864 resolution, Public Printer Defrees delayed publication. Instead he communicated with Senator Wilson. In May 1866 the senator introduced a new resolution designed to carry out a broader plan, this time including Confederate military records and providing for the appointment of a competent editor at an annual salary of $2,500. In a spirited Senate discussion, Wilson estimated the project might involve publishing about fifty volumes at a maximum cost of $500,000. Opponents asserted that without a careful selection of documents the series might run to five hundred volumes and cost millions. As passed, the resolution specifically rescinded the act of 1864 under which the Adjutant General’s Office was preparing volumes for the printer. Instead it provided that the editor to be chosen should be within two years come up with a new plan for publishing the war’s military records. This act, signed by President Andrew Johnson on 27 July 1866, christened the project official history. The President appointed former Assistant Secretary of War Peter H. Watson as the editor, but Watson never served. In effect the act of 1866 stopped all work on this history, leaving some thirty chronologically arranged documentary volumes either completed or in preparation.  *2*

Pressure from veterans’ organizations persuaded the Secretary of War to request in his annual report of 1870 and 1873 appropriations for resuming work on Civil War records. Congress responded in 1874 by voting $15,000 to pay publication costs of what were now designated The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. Other appropriations followed, including money for overtime work by employees of the Adjutant General’s Office. This funding permitted the completion of forty-seven chronological volumes, and the printing in preliminary form of thirty copies of each, by December 1877. In that month the Secretary of War removed the project from the Adjutant General’s jurisdiction and placed it in a new organization called “The Publications Office, War Records,” directly under his control. Capt. Robert N. Scott. 3d Artillery, was assigned as chief. Scott had been an aide to General Halleck both during and after the Civil War and had shown his scholarly talent in compiling a Digest of the Military Laws of the United States, published in 1872. He would stay with the War Records Office until his untimely death nearly ten years later. As chief, Scott developed a new and truly historical publication plan and personally superintended the completion of eighteen volumes and the near readiness of as many more. A mostly civilian staff of twenty-five to thirty-two members and annual appropriations of about $80,000 after 1879 made this accomplishment possible.  *3*

 The volumes compiled and printed before 1878 consisted of separate chronologically arranged series of field reports, letters, telegrams, and so forth. From 1874 onward there was no intention of distributing them. Before the days of the typewriter, it was more accurate and almost as cheap to set type directly from the originals as to copy them by hand. The thirty sets made were actually used as working copies from which the final compilation was produced. This practice continued throughout Scott’s term, with printers forming a third of his staff; it was also considered necessary for detecting duplications and gaps in the records. Within a general chronological framework, the final compilation was topical. Both Union and Confederate items related to a given topic, such as a battle, were grouped together. The principle of selection and other scholarly practices made the final product a true if not perfect documentary history. A half century later, much the same method and practices would be adopted as the only practical way to prepare World War I records for publication. *4*

It was necessary to apply the principle of selection to the Union records because of their sheer  bulk. War records of Washington agencies held by the Adjutant General filled a third of the old War Department building, and records of discontinued commands occupied a four-story warehouse. Items dealing with individuals, except those of high rank, were generally excluded. A policy of including only contemporary records was vigorously defended by Scott against all attempts by officer veterans to submit ex post factor reports of participation. The records were also printed without factual correction in order to present the reader with exact data upon which wartime participants based their actions. Because so many of the Confederate records were missing, the principle of selection was not applied as rigorously to them as to the Union records. Every effort was made to locate and secure copies of Confederate records in private hands. Some were purchased from funds voted by Congress in 1878, but most of the missing records that turned up were obtained through friendly negotiation. Their acquisition was eased by the employment of a number of Confederate officers in records work in Washington, including Brig. Gen. Marcus J. Wright, used by the War Records Office as its liaison man. *5*

The overall plan for the records project developed by Scott was approved by the Secretary of War on 23 August 1880. It called for four series: I, on operations, with 111 volumes; II, on prisoners of war, 8 volumes; III, miscellaneous Union records, mostly administrative, 5 volumes; and IV, Confederate records of a similar nature, 3 volumes. The volumes prepared under the new plan and published through the Government Printing Office bore the title The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. The first ones were ready by late 1880 but were not distributed until July 1881. The 128th and last book of the project, the General Index, appeared twenty years later. Work on a supplementary atlas, sometimes counted as two volumes, began in 1899. This latter task included the preparation of more than 1,000 maps, with 181 plates. It was accomplished during the next six years under the close supervision of Capt. Colvin D. Cowles. The printing was done in New York between 1891 and 1895 by the specialist firm of Julius Bien. Of substantial help in the compilation was the acquisition by the War Department in 1875 of a set of the Brady Civil War photographs. In 1893, at peak strength, a staff of 123 people worked on the project, some indication of the cost in manpower of producing a documentary history. More than 1.6 million volumes, in more than 12,000 sets, were printed by 1902. Less than one-sixth of the sets found their way to educational institutions or into state or local libraries. The volumes were sold to the public at considerably less than their actual printing costs (only one being sold for more than ninety cents). The overall cost of the project, including estimated military pay and allowances, was calculated at $3,158,514.67.  *6*

Scott’s successor as chief of the Army records project ran into trouble in 1888 for publishing an apparently doctored troop list. Congress then voted to establish a three-man Board of Publication to take over the work on the remaining volumes. This board had a military president, Maj. George B. Davis until 1895 and Maj. George W. Davis, 1895-98, and two civilian members, Leslie J. Perry and Joseph W. Kirkley. Perry, an ex-Union prisoner, worked particularly on the prisoner-of-war series. Kirkley, a civilian clerk with the project under the Adjutant General before 1878, was the only person to stay with it throughout; every volume published in the Official Records reflects his personal examination of the documents and vast knowledge of the war. When Col. Fred C. Ainsworth, the chief of the War Department’s Record and Pension Office also became president of the Board of Publication in the summer of 1898, he immediately cut the board’s staff by two-thirds. Six months later he transformed it into the Publication Branch of his office, with Kirkely as chief. The last sixteen volumes appeared under the auspices of this branch in the two years before the project came to an end.  *7*

The publication and wide distribution of Civil War military records by the Army was a truly monumental undertaking, although not one that has escaped criticism. In 1916 America’s leading military historian called it “a botched job from beginning to end”, particularly because of wasteful distribution. [The “leading historian” was Robert Matteson Johnston, a Harvard professor who would later serve in the AEF historical office.] In his judgment until that time only five European and American writers, one of them himself, had made intelligent use of the series. Others have deplored its overwhelming concern with campaigns and battles, to the neglect of the war’s logistical aspects, or have expressed the somewhat contrary view that the Official Records failed to include data on a host of minor operations. The inadequate indexing, both overall and for individual volumes, has been evident to every serious user. In assessing such criticisms, one should keep in mind that the Civil War series was not planned as a documentary history for professional historians. The profession was in its infancy during the period of preparation and publication of the volumes. They were intended as reading for the veteran and as source material for the narrator of campaigns. Most twentieth century scholars who have made extensive use of the volumes have found them an honest attempt to print everything of consequence within the prescribed scope of the project. Great use of the compilation did not come about until the middle decades of the century following the one in which they were published. Judgments in this period were generally favorable, typified by the observation of the Library of Congress that thanks to this “unprecedented documentary publication…it is nearly as easy to study the Civil War in detail in Europe as in America.” In the centennial bibliography of the war scholars called the Army Official Records “the major source of Civil War research material and absolutely indispensable to the serious student.” *8*

The Army’s medical history of the Civil War had its inception in a requirement laid down in May 1862 by the Surgeon General. He first called for more detailed and accurate reporting from the field and for the transmission of specimens to a newly established Army Medical Museum. Soon thereafter he announced that his office “intended to prepare for publication the Medical and Surgical History of the Rebellion.” The inspiration was theBritish multi-volume Medical and Surgical History of the Crimean War, published in 1858, the first clinical history of war in any detail. When the the Surgeon General established the Army Medical Museum in 1862 as an institution “to collect and preserve specimens illustrating injuries and diseases that cause death and disability during war,” the closely associated history was viewed as the vehicle for the general dissemination of information on these matters. The men put in charge of the museum work, Dr. Joseph J. Woodward on its medical side and, from 1864, Dr. George A. Otis on its surgical aspects, became the principle compilers of the history. During and immediately after the war they concentrated on collecting specimens and records. Their publication, Report on the Extent and Nature of the Materials Available for the Medical and Surgical History of the Rebellion, printed in November 1865, was widely distributed to encourage the inflow of records and other materials. The following April the Surgeon General directed that all Civil War medical records be turned over to his office for the use of Drs. Woodward and Otis.  9*

With Secretary of War Edwin Stanton’s enthusiastic support, on 8 June 1868 Congress approved publication of the medical history. The following spring it appropriated enough funds to permit publication in 1870 of 5,000 copies of the first two of six oversize volumes, each numbering 800 to 1,000 pages. The original plan had contemplated covering hospital operations as well as medical and surgical matters, but the series never got beyond the latter. Each of the series’ three parts contained medical and surgical volumes. Part I was published in 1870, Part II in 1876, and Part III in 1883 (Surgical) and 1888 (Medical). The first medical volume was primarily tabular, separately covering “Sickness and Mortality of White Troops” and “Sickness and Mortality of Colored Troops.” It also had a 365-page fine-print appendix consisting of 289 chronologically arranged narrative reports of Union field medical officers. The second medical volume featured a single 842-page chapter on the Union Army’s greatest health problem, “Diarrhea and Dysentery,” that is certainly one of the longest chapters ever written. The volumes of Part III were completed by others after Drs. Otis and Woodward died. Although they had the help of large staffs. Otis and Woodward were the real “giants” of the project. The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, which despite its name was not as truly historical in character as the Official Records, nevertheless through its elaborate statistics and reports provided a wealth of medical and historical data for later generations. Whether it helped greatly in World War I is not so clear, because tremendous medical changes and advances occurred in the half century after the Civil War.  *10*

During the period of peak activity on the Civil War records, congressional acts of 1892 and 1894 directed the other executive departments to turn over to the War Department all military records in their possession relating to the American Revolution and the War of 1812. In due course, these and the War Department’s own records of those wars were to be indexed and prepared for publication. The Secretary of War assigned this task to Ainsworth’s Records and Pension Office. That office received a large quantity of records from the Interior and Treasury Departments, but it soon became evident that there were so many gaps in the federal holdings on the Revolution that a search of material in state hands would be essential. After 1894 Ainsworth’s office borrowed and made copies of military records held by New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware. But duties connected with the Spanish-American War and Philippine Insurrection, together with Ainsworth’s own preference for preparing a roster of Union and Confederate officers and men, a project approved by Congress in 1902, sidetracked work on the American Revolution for more than a decade.  *11*

The growth of the historical profession generally after 1900 increased interest in access to pre-Civil War military records. Plans for their eventual publication were expanded in 1907 to include those of the Mexican War. It was in that year also that, through the intervention of President Theodore Roosevelt and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, historian Justin H. Smith became the first scholar to be given full access to War Department records. This opening enabled him to prepare his classic volumes on The War with Mexico. But it was not until five years later, after Ainsworth’s resignation, that an order of 26 March 1912 allowed other serious students to do research in Army records. Even then poor working facilities limited the number who could take advantage of the order. *12*

Proposals to publish War of 1812 and Mexican War records died after scholars obtained direct access to them, but such was not the case for Revolutionary War records. It was commonly recognized that the federal government would have to acquire many more materials before publication would be meaningful. Historians gave enthusiastic backing to congressional action in March 1913 that provided $25,000 to the Army and $7,000 to the Navy for collecting and publishing the “scattered military records of the Revolutionary War.” The Secretary of War assigned responsibility for Army work on it to the Adjutant General’s Office and signed letters to state governors urging their cooperation….In 1914-1915 four historians working in state capitals selected and photographed more than thirty thousand documents, two thirds of them in Massachusetts, and added these copies to War Department’s Revolutionary War collection. The project came to a halt in the spring of 1915 when the appropriated money was exhausted, leaving the acquisition of copies of state records far from finished and the whole collection too incomplete to warrant publication. More than half a century would pass before the records would become more generally available for research through microfilming.  *13*

Official Army historical work more sophisticated than editing and publishing military records evolved from the General Staff Act of 14 February 1903. A section of this act specified among general staff duties preparing plans for national defence and for mobilizing military forces in time of war. Army regulations based on this section charged the General Staff Corps, among other duties, with “the preparation of plans of campaigns, of reports of campaigns, battles, engagements, and expeditions, and of technical histories of military operations of the United States.”  *14*  For history, the General Staff Act had its first impact in Leavenworth, Kansas, rather than in the nation’s capital, after the Line and General Staff College introduced the teaching and practice of professional historical research methods in its two-year program. These methods were used particularly in a teaching seminar led by Harvard trained Capt. Arthur L. Conger. Conger was assisted by Professor Fred M. Fling of the University of Nebraska, an enthusiastic but unpaid consultant. As a result, a small but growing group of regular officers developed an interest in and understanding of military history at Leavenworth. One, honor graduate Charles W. Weeks, later became the first chief of the Army’s World War I historical office in Washington. *15* 

From Chapter 2: World War I and After, 1918-1921

The Army has maintained a central historical office since the assignment, on 5 March 1918, of general staff officer Lt. Col. Charles W. Weeks as chief of the newly established Historical Branch of the War Plans Division. The new branch was physically located with the rest of the division in the Army War College building, the college itself had been suspended for the duration of hostilities. With an initially authorized strength of seven officers, fifteen enlisted men, and five civilians, before the Armistice the branch reached a Washington officer strength of thirty, and by the end of June 1919 a peak strength of forty officers, six field clerks, and thirty-five civilians employees. Colonel Weeks, who remained the chief until August 1919, had entered the Army during the Spanish-American War as a member of the famous University of Nebraska battalion that enlisted as a unit (fourteen years before he graduated from Leavenworth). Acting quickly in his new assignment recruited Professors Johnston of Harvard and Fling of Nebraska for his staff. Johnston reported for duty in early in April, Fling in June. Although commissioned as majors, they and other academic historians similarly recruited were customarily referred to as civilian members of the professional staff. Several of the other qualified professionals were retired or limited service regulars. Among them were the professors of military science and tactics at Princeton and Rutgers who were brought in to head sections in the new office. Another, Maj. John R.M. Taylor, previously retired for disability and then recalled for active limited service, was author of the basic plan that the Historical Branch proposed to prepare and publish.

Major Taylor’s plan, developed by mid-March 1918, contemplated a general volume surveying all aspects of American participation in World War I and specific volumes or sub-series dealing with American diplomatic activities, naval operations, the military action in France, and economic and military mobilization. His aim was to cover everything a general staff officer should know about American participation in the war, not only the Army’s role. The plan also included a multi-volume pictorial history of the war. The Historical Branch was organized into sections along these topical lines, with the Pictorial Section being organized first. This section, with a separate Motion Picture Section, had twenty-one people at work by the end of June. The research sections developed more slowly, as men to man them became available. Military Mobilization began in May under Maj. John Bigelow, Diplomatic in June under Professor Fling, Economic Mobilization in early August following recruitment of Professor Frederic L. Paxson of the University of Wisconsin, and Operations in April under Professor Johnston. Actually Johnston did not begin his work until he reached Pershing’s headquarters in June….In effect the official history plan defined the major mission of the Historical Branch, for its duties had not been spelled out when it was established. In practice, scholarly work in Washington during and immediately after the war was largely confined to collecting data.

Summary of Conn’s text, pages 18-38, through World War I

The collection of data was frustrating to advocates of a broader mission. One advocate was historian Robert M. Johnston. Another was Army Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Tasker H. Bliss who recommended a history of World War I to “record the things that were well done, for future imitation; [and] errors as shown by experience, for future avoidance.” But hopes for change were doomed to be frustrated.

The conservative opinion on this matter was thoughtfully articulated in 1919 by Secretary of War Newton D. Baker:

The work of the Historical Section should in my judgment be limited to the collection, indexing, and preservation of records and the preparation of such monographs as are purely military in character and are designated to be of use to the War Department. The War Department ought not to undertake the preparation, either by way of monograph or connected discourse, of a narrative history of the war. Such a history would be incomplete unless it undertook to discuss economic, political and diplomatic questions, and the discussion of such questions by military men would necessarily be controversial, and many of the questions appropriate to be discussed in a narrative history would be impolitic and indiscreet for treatment by the War Department.

In a general way, it may be said that the writing of history is the interpretation of facts in accordance with a philosophy. Each historian has his own philosophy and his own method, and an official historian would be but one of many historians and yet his philosophy and method would be stamped with approval while the deductions perhaps equally sound, of other scholars from the same facts would not be so approved. As a branch of Government, the duty of the War Department is merely to present records and to make them available to historical writers generally so that each historian who so desires may put his own interpretation upon the facts, unembarrassed by the existence of an official interpretation.

This judgment, though an opinion rather than a ruling, was enough to squelch the wishes of Johnston and the Bliss and their like-minded colleagues. Earlier, their wishes had been squelched on less formal basis. Professor Johnston and other historical personnel overseas found themselves at cross-purposes with General Pershing and his staff who demanded changes in monographs, refused permission for publication, and later simplified the issue by losing the monograph manuscripts. Johnston, who, like other personnel, was not allowed to visit the front, expressed his frustration in a letter to Colonel Weeks:

It is difficult to convey the deadweight that the Section is always up against. This deadweight is the complete absence of understanding on the part of almost everybody that the work we are trying to do has a scientific basis. We are always viewed, automatically, as a sort of halting adjunct of propaganda. When, at infrequent intervals, it occurs to someone that we may be useful for something, that usefulness is inevitably for propaganda purposes.

In 1919, Colonel Oliver L. Spaulding became chief of the Historical Section. Spaulding had joined the Army during the Spanish-American War and commanded an artillery brigade (with the temporary rank of general) in France. He took over from Colonel Weeks the day after Secretary of War Baker sent out his opinion regarding the work of the Historical Section. Spaulding shared Secretary Baker’s view. In August 1919, Spaulding defined the section’s conservative mission:

 to preserve historical documents relating to the wars of the United States; to make these documents and the information therein contained, accessible to agencies of the War Department, and to students and investigators when properly accredited; and to preserve monographs on matters of military history of interest to agencies of the War Department.

By December of 1919 the Army’s Historical Branch had developed a new publication program consistent with the guidelines put forth in August. It proposed publishing in limited editions, and as soon as possible, compilations of field orders, operations reports, and so forth of larger units. These publications were to be in the same character as the preliminary compilations of Civil War documents. When the series was reasonably complete, the objective was to “arrange the material by subjects rather than by units, somewhat as was done with the Rebellion Records, publication of which was not commenced until 1880, fifteen years after the end of the war.” It would also be fifteen years after the end of World War I before the historical office would take a similar step in preparing its documents for final publication. In March 1920 the Secretary of War formally approved the plan for the initial publishing of World War I documents. Of the many hundreds of preliminary documentary compilations planned, 350 on operations alone, thirteen were actually compiled and two were published. Monographs on combat and supply operations overseas and military activities in the United States constituted the second part of the publication program. Fourteen monographs were worked on during the next year and a half, and, of the eight completed by the summer of 1921, five were published. The branch proposed also to compile and publish a division order of battle. A severe paper shortage impeding the publication of both documents and monographs until the autumn of 1920. Thereafter a lack of publication funds led the congressional Joint Committee on Printing in June 1922 to decide against printing more World War I Army documents until all were ready for publication, a decision that helped prevent the publication of any more of them until 1948.  Work on monographs continued, but none were published for several years after 1922.  *16*

In addition to its work on publications the Historical Branch became increasingly involved in a miscellany of other activities related to history and to its historical knowledge….It answered hundreds of requests for information, including a growing number concerning Army units and their battle participation. Almost in self-defense the branch compiled brief histories of divisions, regiments, and coast defenses and became more and more involved in the determination of unit history and honors for World War I and previous conflicts. On occasion the War Department temporarily attached collateral activities to the branch. An early instance occurred between November 1919 and May 1921 with the attachment of the American Section of the international Military Board of Allied Supply. The work involved completion of and some translation for a “Comparative Study of the Supply System of the Allied Nations,” and also, at the request of the War College, a study of the German supply system.  *17*

A new type of documentary support for the Historical Branch began after the appointment in November 1919 of Maj. Henry Phelan as its representative in Paris. Phelan became a liaison officer between the American and French armies’ historical offices; he also copied material from the French archives relating to American operations in France. A civilian assistant was employed to help him in an activity that continued until 1940. Similar representatives in London and Berlin were established in 1922. The former lasted only two years, but the latter endured until 1938.

Later in his study, Conn notes: Col. Walter Krueger opened the historical effort in Berlin, an especially notable one undertaken with the wholehearted cooperation of the German government. In a typical year (1935-1936) the Historical Section received from Germany 200 documents totalling 2,632 pages and 156 map tracings. By the time the program ended the United States had acquired copies of almost all the worthwhile records of German units of high and low degree that operated against American troops. The United States had promised to reciprocate, but it never had to do so to any significant extent because the German official history had not gotten beyond 1917 when Historical Section representation in Berlin ended in 1938.]

In another move to improve documentation of the war, and especially of military operations in France, the branch sponsored formal War Department letters that went out in December 1919 to 153 active and retired officers. The list was headed by Lieutenant Generals Hunter Liggett and Robert Bullard [both corps commanders in the First Army during the Meuse-Argonne campaign]. The letters requested answers to a number of questions, and any papers of historical value. Responses came from most of the officers addressed, some of them lengthy, but there is no clear evidence that they were properly digested and used.  *18*

[In February 1920] Assistant Secretary of War Benedict Crowell and the Chief of Staff decided that the Historical Branch should supervise all War Department historical offices and insofar as possible fit their work into a common pattern. A survey by Colonel Weeks in February of Army historical activities outside of the branch produced the following picture: Among the tradition arms only the Field Artillery was collecting historical material, particularly on operations in France, with two officers and a clerk so employed, but with no plans for publication. In the new arms and support elements there was or had been significant historical activity, much of it a carry over from France, in the Air Service, Chemical Warfare Service, Medical Department, Ordnance Department, Signal Corps, Construction Division, Quartermaster Corps, and Transportation Corps. The historical officer of the last named, 1st Lt. George J.B. Fisher, would become coauthor of one of the Army’s official history volumes on the next great war. Altogether at least thirty-five people were employed in historical activity, but most were archival assistants rather than writers. Among these various efforts, that of the Medical Department would be by far the most productive in terms of publication.  *19*

The Surgeon General’s office took the first step toward producing an Army medical history of World War I in August 1917. It established a three-man Historical Board to encourage preserving the information that would be needed. During field visits at home and abroad members of the board sought to stimulate interest in the future history and improve the records being accumulated for it. From the outset the Medical Department planned to have the actual participants who did or directed medical work during the war also do the basic writing for the history. An Editorial Board was established in January 1919 to oversee the work of preparing authors’ drafts for publication….

By early 1920 work toward producing a medical history was well advanced…. Congressional appropriations for $50,000 each for fiscal years 1921 and 1922 permitted printing to get under way. The first book appeared in 1921, but the last one in the series would not be published until eight years later, partly because it was so difficult for the many author-participants who had returned to private practice across the nation to complete their writing assignments in a satisfactory manner. The huge quantity of material frustrated hopes to publish the history in normal medical book size. The finished product consisted of fifteen volumes in seventeen oversize books and differed considerably in arrangement and coverage from the original plan. Nevertheless the Medical Department series, more truly historical in character than the earlier Civil War history, was by a wide margin the Army’s most successful undertaking in narrative history on World War I.

A formal War Department directive of 5 April 1920 put the preparation of historical works intended for publication by the Medical Department as well as all similar activity in Army headquarters under the supervision of the Historical Branch….War Department historical writing for publication was to be neither too technical nor too popular. The goal was histories “that the thoughtful military man or an educated, interested civilian could follow.” All such histories were to be carefully documented, and all were to be submitted to the Historical Branch for its comment and approval before publication. The pattern thus prescribed has remained essentially the same for Army historical work ever since.  *20*

From Chapter 3: Between World Wars, 1921-1942

…Since Civil War days the War Department had periodically required Army units to maintain an historical record of their activities….After World War I, as interest in the general history, lineages, rightful honors, and battle participation credits of units grew the Army’s new historical office became increasingly involved in answering questions of such matters. In 1919 it compiled a list of campaigns and battles of American wars, which it periodically revised thereafter, to help in the determination of battle credits. The section also prepared brief histories of the major units involved in World War I….

Responsibility of the Historical Section for organizational history was further enhanced in the Spring of 1922. General Pershing directed that henceforth War Department agencies were to obtain the views or the concurrence of the Historical Section before initiating or deciding matters relating to the following:

(a)  All phases of battle participation of organizations including award of battle streamers.

(b) Disposition of flags, colors, and standards of World War organizations

(c)  All cases involving military accomplishments of organizations.

(d)  Carrying out the National Defense Act in perpetuating World War organizations through organizations of the National Guard and Organized Reserves.

(e) All matters involving consolidation, revival, or creation of organizations.


[The plan for a World War I history bumped along with many a fit and start. In April 1926 a new plan was submitted for a monographic series. The plan was whittled, down, put aside, revived, and revised through May of 1929 when one actually managed to be published. Unfortunately, it was the source of immediate controversy of the sort Secretary Baker had feared ten years earlier. Stetson Conn’s narrative continues below.]   


The first of the new monographs to be printed was The Genesis of the First Army by Maj. Julian F. Barnes. When copies reached the Historical Section, its Secretary, Maj. William A Ganoe, called in a representative of the Washington Post and gave him an exclusive release. The Post’s printing of the releases on 10 May 1929 not only stirred the ire of other press representatives but also headlined how the United States had triumphed over France in establishing an autonomous Army on the Western Front. The announcement was played up by the European press at about the worst possible time. General Pershing was then in Paris to attend the extensive ceremonies that followed the death of Marshall Foch. Pershing was furious, and demanded by cable that “in the interest of historical accuracy that opportunity be given me to examine and comment on manuscript before approval and issue.”

[In fact, Pershing had approved the manuscript a year earlier. His comments on it were adopted verbatim in the final printed copy. Nonetheless, the monograph program was terminated. Work continued on the AEF Order of Battle volumes, the only historical publications to reach the press before World War II.]

About five hundred copies of the Genesis monograph had been printed before the furor over it arose. All but one of the remaining copies on hand, the page proofs of another monograph, and the drafts of other completed and partially completely completed World War I monographs, were turned over to the War College, from which in due course they disappeared.

Later in his study, however, Conn notes this was not the end of the story: In 1937…Spaulding moved to republish the Genesis of the First Army. While officially suppressed, printed copies of the 1929 version had gotten out and from one of these the National Tribune in May 1936 started to print the monograph in installments. After corrections, and a few further minor changes by General Pershing, Colonel Spaulding recommended its official publication…and Genesis was republished in 1938.]


One phase of the Historical Sections scholarly work, a battlefield commemoration program, was so autonomous and remote from the criticism of participants that it continued without interruption or even mention during and after the attack on the monographic program. As a result of post war popular and congressional interest in memorializing battlefields within the United States, in 1925 the Army’s historical office had been directed to make a study of such sites to determine their relative importance. Retired West Point professor Colonel Fieberger, the author of the monograph plan, was again called upon to draft this study. The product became the basis for legislation in 1926 directing the Army to undertake further historical research. The assignment naturally went to the Historical Section, which administered a small Battlefield Sub-Section that handled the activity from 1927 to 1933. For political reasons the Office of the Secretary of War kept the work of this subsection under its direct supervision. The four published monographic studies of Revolutionary War battles prepared by the subsection were printed as House and Senate documents instead of being handled through normal Army publication channels. These studies were primarily the handiwork of Col. Howard L. Landers, a soldier who knew how to write good history. Landers stayed with the project for almost five years. His volume on the Yorktown campaign, published in 1931, is evidence that the Army’s inhibitions concerning historical monographs did not extend to writing about earlier wars.  *21*

….In addition to the printed studies, Landers and others prepared at least three others on battles of the American Revolution, one on the Battle of New Orleans, and at least fourteen on Civil War battles. They also gave briefer consideration to literally thousands of other engagements that might justifiably be memorialized at least by markers. In the summer of 1932 the Chief of the Historical Section looked upon this activity as a useful complement to its lineage and honors and general inquiry work and anticipated that the battlefield studies might eventually provide authoritative histories of all important land engagements that had taken place within the bounds of the United States. A year later that Battlefield Sub-Section was abolished and its functions transferred to the Department of the Interior’s Office of National Parks. And five years later the Army turned over the records and map collections relating to the earlier battlefield work to the Park Service historical office.  *22* 

Later in his study, Conn notes: While the historical office lost the battlefield commemoration function in 1933, it did add some new duties under Colonel Spaulding. After the National Archives opened in 1935, the Secretary of War made the Chief of the Historical Section responsible for all War Department liaison with the new institution. Spaulding also served on its associated committee on historical publication. As another duty, he was named Chief of the Translation Section of the Army War College, a section actually manned as required by linguists of the Historical Section. After Spaulding called attention to errors in the brief regimental histories that were published through 1938 in the annual Army Register, responsibility for revising them and reproducing the results in pamphlet form passed to the section. This was a foundation step to the later preparation of certificates of unit lineages and honors by the historical office. As for inquiry work, the more the Historical Section built up its reference files, the more queries it was called upon to answer. The number of official and unofficial inquiry actions was reported as more than 2,100 in fiscal year 1937.]

Another Historical Section activity that continued unaffected by the events of 1929 was the compilation of an Order of Battle for the Army’s units of World War I. This work, begun in 1926, was designed to present concise factual information about the command and composition of units and the major events in which they had participated. Though planned primarily for internal reference use, it would also provide the military student and the public with “a sort of compendium of the American Army in World War I.” Col. Henry Hossfield was the principal architect and executor of the Order of Battle project, with important assistance from Warrant Officer Charles H. Collins. The fact that “two commandants of the War College, two Chiefs of the Historical Section, and the head of the publication division of the Adjutant General’s Office” had all taken a keen personal interest in making the Order of Battle a reality helps to explain the separate directive that exempted the project from the orders ending the World War I monographic program and from the general prohibitions on Army historical publications. The historical office also used proper caution in getting General Pershing’s blessing before publishing the Order of Battle volumes that appeared in 1931 and 1937. The first dealt with the AEF’s divisions and the second with its headquarters and larger field units. Two volumes covering the Army’s units at home, completed as a labor of love by Colonel Hossfield after he retired, would not appear until a dozen years later.  *23*

The major task of the Historical Section from 1929 onward was preparing the Army’s World War I records for publication. Initial instructions for this work specified that priority be given to the operational records of the AEF, that one copy of each document selected as possibly worthy of publication go into a topical file and another (when applicable) into a unit file, and that no work on the final compilation of documents for publication or on the writing of factual “synopses” about units be undertaken until the preliminary selection process was complete. With a dozen or more officers regularly employed on this work, it took over four years to select 100,000 AEF documents relating to operations as worthy of consideration for publication, from 12,000,000 examined. Even then the search generally extended downward only through the division level. Under the procedures followed, it took one year for an officer to search and select the items to be published from the records relating to each active division. The second phase of the work, the actual compilation of documentary volumes for publication began in December 1933. Selections were made not only from the 100,000 items obtained during the preliminary screening but also from the additional 100,000 AEF GHQ and SOS documents collected by the historical organization in France in 1918 and 1919 and from the foreign documents collected for the Historical Section since 1920. In this second phase, each document was examined to determine whether it should be printed in full, in part, or merely listed in a catalogue of documents of secondary historical interest. With this screening and a somewhat reduced force after 1 July 1933, the Historical Section estimated that the anticipated forty or so volumes of AEF command and operational documents could be ready for the printer by 1940. After a further sharp cut in the staff in 1935, the estimated completion date became much later. The whole documentary series was projected in 1931 at 80 to 100 volumes, but until 1940 there were no detailed plans for the selection and compilation of records on supply operations overseas or activities on the home front during mobilization and demobilization. *24*

See Part two for World War II to 1947


Author’s notes

*1* (1)  Charles W. Franklin, “Study on Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 1861-1865,” in Thomas file 5255, hereinafter referred to as T 5255, etc. This study is cited below as HS, AWC, monograph. A 480-page monograph completed by the Historical Section, Army War College, in 1931, it is the major source of information on the project, containing all relevant extracts from congressional hearings, Secretary of War reports, and the like, as well as other detailed data. (2)  The Preface to the General Index volume published in 1901 also describes the undertaking. (3)  Dallas D. Irvine “The Genesis of the Official Records,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review  24, no. 2 (September 1937): 221-29, throws new light on the project’s development to 1877. [Return]

*2*  (1) Irvine, “Genesis of the Official Records.”  (2)  HS, AWS, monograph, pp. 55ff. [Return]

*3*  Works previously cited, and Josephus N. Larned, The Literature of American History (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1902), pp. 213-15.  [Return]

*4* (1) HS, AWC, monograph, pp. 349ff.  (2) On World War I practice, see Chapter 3. [Return]

*5* (1) General Index, pp. x ff.  (2)  On the War Department’s collection of Confederate records, see Dallas D. Irvine, “The Archive Office of the War Department, Military Affairs 10, no. 1 (Spring 1946): 93-111. [Return]

*6* (1) General Index, pp. iv ff.  (2)  HS, AWC, monograph, pp. 473ff.  (3) On the atlas, see Henry Steele Commager’s Introduction to The Official Atlas of the Civil War (New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1958).  (4) In a parallel undertaking, the U.S. Navy in 1884 began to collect Union and Confederate naval records for publication, and these appeared in a series of thirty-one volumes including an index, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of Rebellion (Washington: GPO, 1894-1927).  [Return]

*7* (1) General Index, pp. xii ff.  (2)  Mabel E. Deutrich, Struggle for Supremacy: The Career of General Fred C. Ainsworth (Washington: Public Affairs Press, 1962), pp. 61-62. [Return]

*8* (1) Robert M. Johnston, editorial comment in Military Historian and Economist 1, no. 2 (April 1916): 199-200.  (2) Dallas D. Irvine, “Genesis of the Official Records,” and his Introduction and Endnote to Prospectus, Military Operations of the Civil War: A Guide-Index to “Official Records, Armies” (Washington GPO, 1966), p. 448.  (4) U.S. Civil War Centennial Commission, Civil War Books: A Critical Bibliography, 2 vols. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1967), II:31. [Return]

*9* (1) Casey A. Wood and F.H. Garrison, “The Medical History of the War, I, Retrospective,” Military Surgeon, 44, no. 3 (March 1919). This article and the introduction to the reports published in 1865 are reprinted in Robin Higham, ed, Official Histories (Manhattan: Kansas State University Library, 1970), pp. 574-87.  (2) D.S. Lamb, “A History of the U.S. Army Medical Museum, 1862 to 1917,” photostat of typescript, n.d., in Library of Congress, pp. 3-29.  [Return]

*10* (1) The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, 6 vols. (Washington: GPO, 1870-88). The Preface to Volume I, The Medical Department of the United States Army in the World War (Washington: GPO, 1923), pp. 13-18, describes the project. [Return]

*11* (1) “Report of Chief, Record and Pension Office, 1901,” in Annual Report of the Secretary of War, vol. I, pt. 2, pp. 1103-12.  (2) Act of 18 August 1894. copy in T [Thomas file] 5741, Folder A.  (3) Papers in T 3819.  (4) Deutrich, Ainsworth, pp. 53-75.  [Return]

*12* Deutrich, Ainsworth, pp. 89-131. [Return]

*13* (1) Act of 2 March 1913, copy in T 5741, Folder A. (2) Ltr, Capt Clark to SW (through AG), 7 June 1915, in T 3819.  (3) Annual Report of the Secretary of War, 1915, I:223-224. (4) National Archives and Records Service, M847, 853, and 859. [Return]

*14*Annual Report of the Secretary of War, 1903, I:59, 64.  [Return]

*15* (1) Ltr, Chief, War College Division, to CofS, 6 Jan 1914, HRC 314.71 HS, WPD (1914-19).  (2) Lecture by President, Army War College, 14 Feb 1916, The Scientific Study of Military History, in “AWC, Session 1915-16, Pt. V, Lectures, Vol. 62,” CMH files.  (3)  Lecture by Lt. Col. Oliver L. Spaulding, Research Work in the Historical Branch of the General Staff, December 1920, copy in T 3336/H.  [Return]

*16* (1) Memo, Ch, HB for Director WPD, 2 Dec 1919, in WPD 4307.  (2) Memo, Ch, HB, for Asst Director, WPD, 27 Jan 1920, in T 3336/H.  (3) Memos, WPD for CofS, 2 Mar 1920, and Ch, HB, for AG, 8 Jun 1922, both in HRC 313.71 HS, AWC, WTY.  (4) HB Annual Reports, 1920 and 1921, copies in T 1.  (5) For the later work on documents, see Chapter 3 [“Between World Wars, 1921-1942”]. [Return]

*17* (1) HB Annual Reports, 1920 and 1921, in T 1.  (2) HB Memo for Record, 17 Feb 1920, in T 1371. [Return]

*18* (1) On overseas representation, information in WPD 2170, HRC 314.71 HS, AWC, Vol I, and T 3336/H.  (2) On the letters to participants and their responses,  Memo, WPD for CofS, 4 Dec 1919, and other papers in T 1063.  (3) See also Charles B. Burdick, “Foreign Military Records, World War I, in the National Archives” Prologue (Winter 1975), pp. 213-20.  [Return]

*19* (1) Memo, WPD for AG, 25 Aug 1919, in T 900.  (2) Memos, AG for CofS. 17 Dec, and of Exec Assist to CofS for WPD, 29 Dec 1919, and other papers in WPD 2914.  (3) HB Annual Report, 1921, in T 1.   [Return]

*20* (1) Ltr, AG to Chiefs of all Staff Bureaus and HB Annual Report, 30 Jun 1920, in T 1. (2) Memo for Record of Conference of HB and service representatives on 29 Apr 1920, in T3514/7-18/2.  [Return]

*21* (1) Memo, Ch, HS, for Commandant, AWC, 28 May 1925, and other papers in HRC 314.7 HS, AWC, Vol. 12.  (2) Ltr, AG to Commandant, AWC, 20 May 1927, in T 3336/H.  (3) Incl 4 Memo, R.S. Thomas for Exec, AWC, 8 Nov 1944, in HRC 314.71 HS, AWC, Vol. 1  (4) The other monographs, published in 1926 and 1929, dealt with the battles of Camden, King’s Mountain, and Cowpens.  [Return]

*22* (1) Various papers in HRC 314.7 HS, AWC, Vols. 12, 21, and 22.  (2)  The transfer was directed by Section 2 of Executive Order 6166, 10 June 1933.[Return]

*23* (1) Papers in T 5706, especially Memos of WO Collins for Ch, HS, 27 Feb 1932, and of Maj. R.B. Collins for Ch, HS, 16 Aug 1932, from which the above quotations were taken.  (2) Memo, Gen Pershing for Gen Craig, 21 Nov 1936, in HRC 314.71 HS, AWC, 216/149/2. [Return]

*24* (1) Ltr, Commandant, AWC, to Ch, HS, 4 Nov 1929, in T 5741.  (2) Memo, Ch, HS, for Commandant, AWC, 21 Apr 1933, in HRC 314.71 HS, AWC, Vol. 14.  (3) Memo, Maj. H.E. Maguire for Ch, HS, 25 Jun 1934, in T 5602.  (4) Memo, Ch, HS, for Congressional Committee, 20 Jan 1937, in HRC, 314.7 HS, AWC, Vol. 2.  (5) Joseph W. Hanson, “The Historical Section, Army War College,” in Journal of the American Military History Foundation 1, no. 2 (Summer 1937): 73-74. [Return]