Copyright © 2000. Marshall Papers Project. All rights reserved.

Purpose of this Mini-Edition

George C. Marshall's Early Career, 1897-1917

The first twenty years of Marshall's life away from Uniontown coincided with important social and economic transitions in America. Observers at the time and since have often proclaimed that the Spanish-American War constituted America's debut as a world power. As the brief conflict demonstrated, however, the U.S. Army was not prepared, intellectually, organizationally, or in materiél terms, for this new role.

The years between 1901 and 1917 witnessed the initiation of numerous efforts to correct the army's perceived faults. Marshall benefitted in several ways from these efforts.For example, the increase in the army's size somewhat eased Marshall's path into the professional army, despite his neither having graduated from the U.S. Military Academy or being a volunteer in the recent war. Improvements in the army's school system--and his successes at the Leavenworth schools were crucial to his career--laid the foundation for the development of the well-trained mid-level leadership cadre that prevented U.S. participation in the World War from being a disaster. Moreover, increases in the size, training, and funding of the National Guard permitted Marshall to learn from Guardsmen while teaching them and gave him valuable connections with and insights into the nation's citizen-soldier component.

The eighty annotated documents (plus editorial notes) of this mini-edition provide a view of Marshall's early life and the development of his army career. Marshall's oral history interviews, done in 1955-56 for his authorized biographer, Forrest C. Pogue, are indispensable in the annotation for this period and give insights into his thinking and development as a leader. Numerous documents on various aspects of the National Guard are important examples of Marshall's attitude toward the citizen-soldier and his own development as a trainer.

Documents from Marshall's 1906-10 assignments at Fort Leavenworth are rare, but an October 2, 1935, letter reminiscing about a teacher there who had a profound impact upon Marshall's thinking is included in the pages covering 1908-9. Several documents from Marshall's 1913-16 assignment in the Philippines illustrate Marshall's growth in stature in the army (particularly when he led the attackers in the 1914 maneuvers) and his continued interest in professional education (as demonstrated in his lengthy 1914 report on a visit to the Manchurian battlefields of the Russo-Japanese War).

Bright young officers were sometimes retained by senior generals as aides in order to permit them to exercise authority (in the general's name) far beyond their rank in the promotion-by-seniority army. The mini-edition includes documents from 1916 and 1917, when Major General J. Franklin Bell made Marshall his aide in order to help with army mobilization, first in the Western Department and then in the Department of the East.

In June 1917, Marshall was selected by the commanding general of the First Infantry Division to be the training and operations officer. In France, he witnessed the problems attendant upon an unprepared force entering the third year of a generally static war. His perceptions, considerably different from those of officers who arrived later, when the Germans were weaker and the Americans better armed and trained, provided Marshall with important lessons about preparedness and mobilization that would be important to him as army chief of staff in 1939-41. Two November 1917 documents describe the results of the first German raid on an American position.

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