The United States Department of War, also called the War Department (and occasionally War Office in the early years), was the United States Cabinet department originally responsible for the operation and maintenance of the United States Army, also bearing responsibility for naval affairs until the establishment of the Navy Department in 1798, and for most land-based air forces until the creation of the Department of the Air Force on September 18, 1947.
The Secretary of War, a civilian with such responsibilities as finance and purchases and a minor role in directing military affairs, headed the War Department throughout its existence.
The War Department existed from August 7, 1789 until September 18, 1947, when it split into the Department of the Army and the Department of the Air Force and joined the Department of the Navy as part of the new joint National Military Establishment (NME), renamed the United States Department of Defense in 1949.
During the American Civil War, the War Department responsibilities e
Forming and organizing the department and the army fell to Secretary Knox. Direct field command of the small Regular Army by President Washington leading a column of troops west through Pennsylvania to Fort Cumberland in Maryland in 1794 to combat the incipient Whiskey Rebellion on the frontier was an occasion never since used by American Presidents. The Possibility of re-organizing a "New Army" under nominal command of retired President and Major General George Washington and his aide, former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton to deal with the rising tide of maritime incidents between American commerce ships and the new French Republic was authorized by second President John Adams in 1798 and the remote possibility of land invasion was an interesting adventure. On November 8, 1800 the War Department building with its records and files was consumed by fire.
Foundation of the new military academy at West Point along the Hudson River upstream from New York City in 1802 was important to the future growth of the American army. In August 1814 during the Burning of Washington, the United States Department of War building was also burned-however the War and State Department files had been removed-all books and record had been saved; the only records of the War Department lost were recommendations of appointments for the Army and letters received from seven years previous. The multiple failures and fiascos of the War of 1812 convinced Washington that thorough reform of the War Department was necessary. Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun reorganized the department into a system of bureaus, whose chiefs held office for life, and a commanding general in the field, although the Congress did not authorize this position. Winfield Scott became the senior general until the start of the American Civil War in 1861. The bureau chiefs acted as advisers to the Secretary of War while commanding their own troops and field installations. The bureaus frequently conflicted among themselves, but in disputes with the commanding general, the Secretary of War generally supported the bureaus. Congress regulated the affairs of the bureaus in detail, and their chiefs looked to that body for support.
Calhoun set up the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1824, the main agency within the War Department for dealing with Native Americans until 1849, when the Congress transferred it to the newly founded Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1824, the main agency within the War Department for dealing with Native Americans until 1849, when the Congress transferred it to the newly founded Department of the Interior.
During the American Civil War, the War Department responsibilities expanded. It handled the recruiting, training, supply, medical care, transportation and pay of two million soldiers, comprising both the regular army and the much larger temporary volunteer army. A separate command structure took charge of military operations.
In the late stages of the war, the Department took charge of refugees and freedmen (freed slaves) in the American South through the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands. During Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands. During Reconstruction, this bureau played a major role in supporting the new Republican governments in the southern states. When military Reconstruction ended in 1877, the U.S. Army removed the last troops from military occupation of the American South, and the last Republican state governments in the region ended.
The Army comprised hundreds of small detachments in forts around the West, dealing with Indians, and in coastal artillery units in port cities, dealing with the threat of a naval attack.
The United States Army, with 39,000 men in 1890 was the smallest and least powerful army of any major power in the late 19th century. By contrast, France had an army of 542,000. Temporary volunteers and state militia units mostly fought the Spanish–American War of 1898. This conflict demonstrated the need for more effective control over the department and its bureaus.
Secretary of War Elihu Root (1899–1904) sought to appoint a chief of staff as general manager and a European-type general staff for planning, aiming to achieve this goal in a businesslike manner, but General Nelson A. Miles stymied his efforts. Root en
Secretary of War Elihu Root (1899–1904) sought to appoint a chief of staff as general manager and a European-type general staff for planning, aiming to achieve this goal in a businesslike manner, but General Nelson A. Miles stymied his efforts. Root enlarged the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York and established the United States Army War College and the General Staff. He changed the procedures for promotions and organized schools for the special branches of the service. He also devised the principle of rotating officers from staff to line. Concerned about the new territories acquired after the Spanish–American War, Root worked out the procedures for turning Cuba over to the Cubans, wrote the charter of government for the Philippines, and eliminated tariffs on goods imported to the United States from Puerto Rico.
Root's successor as Secretary of War, William Howard Taft, returned to the traditional secretary-bureau chief alliance, subordinating the chief of staff to the adjutant general, a powerful office since its creation in 1775. Indeed, Secretary Taft exercised little power; President Theodore Roosevelt made the major decisions. In 1911, Secretary Henry L. Stimson and Major General Leonard Wood, his chief of staff, revived the Root reforms. The general staff assisted them in their efforts to rationalize the organization of the army along modern lines and in supervising the bureaus.
The Congress reversed these changes in support of the bureaus and in the National Defense Act of 1916 reduced the size and functions of the general staff to few members before America entered World War I on April 6, 1917. President Woodrow Wilson supported Secretary of War Newton D. Baker, who opposed efforts to control the bureaus and war industry until competition for limited supplies almost paralyzed industry and transportation, especially in the North. Yielding to pressure from Congress and industry, Secretary Baker placed Benedict Crowell in charge of munitions and made Major General George W. Goethals acting quartermaster general and General Peyton C. March chief of staff. Assisted by industrial advisers, they reorganized the supply system of the army and practically wiped out the bureaus as quasi-independent agencies. General March reorganized the general staff along similar lines and gave it direct authority over departmental operations. After the war, the Congress again granted the bureaus their former independence.
In the 1920s, General John J. Pershing realigned the general staff on the pattern of his American Expeditionary Force (AEF) field headquarters, which he commanded. The general st
In the 1920s, General John J. Pershing realigned the general staff on the pattern of his American Expeditionary Force (AEF) field headquarters, which he commanded. The general staff in the early 1920s exercised little effective control over the bureaus, but the chiefs of staff gradually gained substantial authority over them by 1939, when General George Marshall assumed the office of Army Chief of Staff.
During World War II, General Marshall principally advised President Franklin D. Roosevelt on military strategy and expended little effort in acting as general manager of the Department of War. Many agencies still fragmented authority, burdening the chief of staff with too many details, making the whole Department of War poorly geared toward directing the army in a global war. General Marshall described the chief of staff then as a "poor command post." President Roosevelt brought in Henry L. Stimson as Secretary of War; after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Secretary Stimson supported General Marshall in reorganizing the army under the War Powers Act of 1941. He divided the Army of the United States (AUS) into three autonomous components to conduct the operations of the War Department: the Army Ground Forces (AGF) trained land troops; the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) developed an independent air arm; and the Services of Supply (later Army Service Forces) directed administrative and logistical operations. The Operations Division acted as general planning staff for General Marshall. By 1942, the Army Air Forces gained virtual independence in every way from the rest of the army.
After World War II, the Department of War abandoned the organization of General George Marshall for the fragmented prewar pattern while the independent services continually parried efforts to reestablish firm executive control over their operations. The National Security Act of 1947 split the War Department into the Department of the Army and the Department of the Air Force, and the Secretary of the Army and Secretary of the Air Force served as operating managers for the new Secretary of Defense.