During the first week in October I received another telegram, stating that I had been detailed on the General Staff, and directing that I proceed without delay to Washington. I left the next day. I had no time to do anything about packing our household effects, and this arduous task devolved upon my bride of six months.
She instructed me to get an apartment having a southern exposure, in an apartment house having an elevator and a dining room.
When I reached Washington I spent all my spare time looking for an apartment. I was unable to find any kind of an apartment at any price. Eventually I succeeded in getting a lease on a small apartment, sight unseen, in an apartment house on California Street, then under construction and not to be completed for several months. It had a northern exposure, no elevator and no dining room, but I considered myself very lucky when my bride arrived and we were able to move in. We were able later to get a small, but better, apartment at the Farnsboro, on Florida Avenue, where we lived for about four years. During most of this time the Bishops also had an apartment there.
It is difficult to visualize the utter confusion that existed in the War Department at this time. On the outbreak of the war General Scott was Chief of Staff and General Bliss was Assistant Chief of Staff.
General Scott was a fine, old, inarticulate, Indian fighter (the greatest authority in the country on Indian sign language), but he had little qualification for Chief of Staff. General Bliss was a man of integrity and force, was a scholar (a speaker of Russian and an eminent Ballistician); he had a slow, but accurate and profound mind, excellent judgement and a great capacity for details. He could doubtless have written a better paper on any subject than any officer in the War Department, but he made the great mistake of trying to handle personally, or to pass upon, revise or rewrite each of the hundreds of papers a day that flooded through his office at this time. He had few gifts as an Executive and an Organizer.
Under the restrictions imposed by the National Defense Act of 1916, there were, on the declaration of war, but 19 officers on the War Department General Staff (At the signing of the Armistice there were more than 1200 officers on or with the War Department General Staff.) By the time I arrived in Washington most of the 19 had been promoted and had been replaced by new and totally untrained officers. With the exception of three or four these were assigned to the War College Division and were organized into three or four committees, to one of which I was assigned.
General Scott had retired in September, 1917; General Bliss, who succeeded him, had been sent overseas on a mission to Russia and thence to duty as American Representative on the Supreme War Council at Paris; and General John Biddle (an Engineer officer, and a former Superintendant of the U.S.M.A) a polished and educated gentleman but devoid of qualifications for Chief of Staff, was Acting Chief of Staff. The General Staff had practically no personnel or organization. No funds were available, and no program existed, nor were any ships to speak of available. There was no one to decide upon policies or to exercise control over the War Department. Benedict Crowell, an Assistant Secretary of War, had gradually taken over most of such control as was exercised and the duties of the War College Division (the only Division that existed) consisted chiefly in passing on a multitude of relatively unimportant papers and of such other ones as Mr. Crowell did not care to handle.
The Chief of Staff seemed to be merely a figurehead, occupied chiefly with routine matters. No coordination existed over mobilization, training, transportation, procurement, or shipping.
It was into such a scene of frustration and chaos that, in October, 1917, I entered upon my duties as a General Staff officer.
Within a few months I was made Executive Officer of the War College Division, and I was then even better able to appreciate the situation.