Random Recollections
by FQC Gardner

Copyright, all rights reserved


22. RECOLLECTIONS OF GENERAL MARCH
(Note: In February, 1958, I received a letter from Mr. E. M. Coffman, History Department, Memphis State University, Memphis, Tenn., stating that he had, for some time, been engaged in research preparatory to writing a biography of General March, and requesting me, in view of my long association with him, to give him some notes on General March. I was glad to do so, and I shall insert here those notes, which, in general, cover matters in regard to which Mr. Coffman had asked specific questions, in the hope that these notes may possibly be of some interest to you.)

General March, having been ordered back from France by Secretary Baker for that purpose, assumed the duty of acting Chief of Staff on March 4th, 1918. He became Chief of Staff on May 20th, 1918.

Colonel P. P. Bishop (Coast Artillery Corps), General Staff, was shortly afterward designated as Secretary of the General Staff, and, upon his recommendation, I was relieved from duty with the War College Division and assigned to duty as assistant to the Secretary of the General Staff. Upon the organization of the Personnel Branch, in September, 1918 General March promoted Colonel Bishop to the grade of Brigadier General and assigned him to the important duty of organizing and operating that Branch. At the same time he appointed me, on September 12, 1918, Secretary of the General Staff, and I remained on this duty until August, 1921. I had never seen nor served under General March before he became Acting Chief of Staff.

General March came back from France with the belief that the most fundamental necessity was that the shipment of troops to France should be vastly increased and should have priority over everything else. To this end he immediately began to effect a reorganization of the General Staff and of the War Department. The steps taken in this connection are set forth in some detail in his Report to the Secretary of War, 1919. (the preparation of which was one of my responsibilities as Secretary of the General Staff), and in his book, "The Nation at War." These reorganizations were far reaching in their effects and were of paramount importance in the accomplishment of the tremendous military program.

Among the more important of the decisions or actions for which General March was, in my opinion, personally and individually responsible were the following, listed roughly in chronological order:

1. The adoption, by the Secretary of War, by the President and by the Congress of the 80 division program as proposed by him in July, 1918.

2. The consolidation of all the Regular Army, National Guard, and National Army forces into one army, the United States Army, and the adoption of promotion by selection. (G. O. #73, August 7, 1918)

3. The reorganization of the General Staff under G. O. #80, August 26, 1918. This order definitely charged the Chief of Staff with the responsibility for the execution of the Army program, and delegated to him the authority commensurate with that responsibility. It prescribed four Divisions of the General Staff: (1) Operations, (2) Military Intelligence, (3) Purchase, Storage and Traffic, and (4) War Plans.

4. Through his efforts as representative of the War Department with the War Industries Board, the Shipping Board, the Shipping Control Committee, and other similar agencies, he was able to secure the tremendous amount of shipping that was required for the transportation of troops and supplies to France under the 80 Division program, and which, without his personal efforts would undoubtedly not have been made available.

5. The complete divorcement of Army appointments, promotions, and assignments from all political influence, for the first time in the history of all our wars.

6. The organization of the Personnel Branch (of the Operations Division of the General Staff, by G. O. #86, September 18, 1918, to have control over the appointment, promotion, transfer and assignment of all the commissioned personnel of the Army. Consideration had been given to the selection of some prominent civilian to head up the Commissioned Personnel of the Army; General March was primarily responsible for the decision that this new agency should be under Army personnel.

7. The plan for the demobilization of the Army by complete military organizations in order of their availability for discharge, instead of by individual soldier whenever work was available for him. The latter mentioned system was that undertaken in Great Britain and found to require extensive modification in practice. It was the basis of a plan recommended by Assistant Secretary of War Keppel and other close advisors of the Secretary of War. For the conception of the plan actually used, with great success, in this country, General March, in my opinion, was personally responsible.

General March generally reached his office before 8 o'clock, the opening time. He had a sandwich and a glass of milk brought in for lunch at his desk; he went back to his quarters at Fort Myer for dinner and returned to his office, where he remained until midnight or later.

During all this time he was under extreme tension and pressure. He normally devoted less than half an hour each day to handling the regular work of the General Staff. Since, on the average, perhaps 600 papers a day passed through the office of the Secretary of the General Staff, some account of the way in which papers were handled may be of interest. The 600 papers referred to included all studies or action papers submitted by the four Divisions of the General Staff (except that a large part of the routine papers of the PS&T and the Military Intelligence Divisions were handled by them through other than military channels), all communications received that required action or reply by the General Staff, and probably the greater part of the numerous letters received by the Secretary of War from other Cabinet members (from one of whom, the Attorney General E. Mitchell Palmer, as many as 15 or 20 letters a day were sometimes received on behalf of various individuals, many of whom were not known to him), members of Congress, or others, and referred by his office to the office of the Secretary of the General Staff for draft of reply for the signature of the Secretary of War. Incoming papers were assigned to the proper General Staff Division and a record system enabled the whereabouts of each such paper to be ascertained at once whenever this became necessary. Upon receipt each paper was carefully examined by one of the assistants to the Secretary of the General Staff, and perhaps 25 or 50 of the most important ones, in addition to those for the signature of the Secretary of War, were turned over to me. Each of these papers was then carefully examined by one of my assistants or by me, and out of these papers perhaps a dozen or less were selected for presentation to the Chief of Staff. I made it a practice that such notes as were to be used in making this presentation should be limited to one sheet of a small (about 3" by 5") memorandum pad per paper.

Regularly each morning at 11:30 General March rang a buzzer on my desk signifying that he was ready for the presentation of papers. In presenting the papers orally in turn the salient features of each were stated. In most cases these covered important details that were of sufficient importance to be brought to his personal attention as a matter of information. In other cases where there was considered to be some question as to whether or not the action proposed to be taken was entirely consistent with his policies, the matter was submitted to him for decision. He rarely ever took a paper in his hands to examine it. He listened intently to the presentation, quickly asked several searching questions if he deemed it necessary, and promptly made his decision orally. The entire proceeding did not ordinarily require more than 20 or 30 minutes. He made it a practice to initial with an encircled M any paper that he had personally examined.

He had a remarkable memory, as is illustrated by one incident that I recall. At the time when the Liberty engines were just coming into production the question as to the allocation of the limited number to become available soon to the Air Service, to the Navy and to the British and French was a difficult one. I presented a General Staff study on this matter and, among other things, I read off to him the figures covering the estimated production and the recommendations for the allocations for the ensuing months covered by the study. As usual, he did not take the paper in his hands. A month or so later another study submitted recommended certain changes in the allocations. I started to orient him by explaining what the previous allocations had been. He stopped me at once, stating that he remembered the figures and telling me to give him only the new figures.

Some idea of the magnitude of the task that he performed may be derived from a study of the Report of the Chief of Staff to the Secretary of War, 1919, and from General March's book, "The Nation at War." I shall not undertake to comment further upon this, but shall limit myself to a few comments upon the personality of General March as I knew him during the period of about 3 1/2 years that I served as Secretary (or assistant Secretary) of the General Staff.

He was ruthless in replacing Bureau Chiefs and others whenever he deemed such action necessary. His attitude may be illustrated by an incident that occurred shortly after the arrival of General March and before I came into the office. The officer in temporary charge of the office took in a basketful of papers to make his first presentation to General March. The first paper he presented pertained to the relief of a general officer from his command as a result of the recommendation of the Inspector General. General March interrupted the officer and asked him why he had brought that particular paper to him. The officer replied that he thought General March would want to see it as he understood that the officer concerned was a personal friend of General March. General March interrupted him again and said, "Don't ever bring in to me another paper only because you consider that it concerns someone who is a personal friend of mine. I want it distinctly understood by you and by everyone else in the office that as Chief of Staff I have no friends." The presenting officer then said, "I have a number of important papers here. I have not had the time to familiarize myself with them, but I brought them in because I assumed that you would want to study them yourself." General March again interrupted him, with, I have no doubt, a look that was well remembered by the officer concerned, by saying "Take them out and get familiar with them before you bring them in again."

He made practically no appointments with members of Congress in general, but if they asked to see him they were generally courteously referred to General Frank McIntyre (and later to General Mw. M (sic) Wright), the Deputy Chief of Staff, whose knowledge and personality particularly fitted him to assuage the ruffled feelings of the caller and generally leave him well satisfied. However, his relations with Sen. James W. Wadsworth, Chairman of the Senate Military Affairs Committee, and with several other members of Congress in whose ability and leadership he had confidence, were quite close.

His unwillingness to take the time to see any Congressman who had a request for some special request for one of his friends or constituents resulted in engendering, on the part of some of them, feelings of resentment. This, I believe, was the basis of the "cabal" that opposed his being given, in 1919, the permanent rank of General.

In addition to his ability to make quick decisions, he possessed an uncanny ability to read between the lines. I recall one incident that will illustrate this perhaps. In June, 1918, when enemy submarines appeared off the Atlantic coast, the British made a strong recommendation that our main port of embarkation be changed from New York to Halifax. This recommendation also stated, in effect, that unless the United States agreed to this the British Navy would be forced to give serious consideration to discontinuing escorting our troops to France. General March, after considering the paper, with its virtual ultimatum, for about fifteen minutes, dictated a reply which stated concisely the reasons why the War Department considered it essential that New York be continued as the main port of embarkation. The last paragraph of his reply stated that, in effect, "If the British Navy is unable, or unwilling, to continue to convoy United States troops to France, the War Department will continue to rely, for this purpose, upon the American Navy, which has never failed it yet." This was the last that was ever heard of the matter. I took occasion, a few days later, to comment upon the rather unusual nature of the British paper. He replied that there were other reasons back of it than the one advanced -- the matter of danger to the British fleet, that it would be very desirable from their point of view if the United States would build a modern port of embarkation at Halifax, which would, after the war, be available, at no cost, to Canadian and British shipping, and which would, furthermore, enable a bumper crop of Canadian wheat, then rotting on the ground, to be sold and shipped overseas instead of United States wheat.

I recall several other incidents that made an impression on me at the time.

Prior to the arrival of General March, on not infrequent occasions, the President had, presumably as a matter of routine, sent notes to the Secretary of War suggesting, in effect, that, if it was not inconsistent with the policy of the War Department, the President would be glad if such and such an individual were given a commission in a certain grade and were assigned to such and such Arm or Service. Shortly after General March arrived such a communication was received by the Secretary of War and was routinely referred to the office of the Chief of Staff for action. This was the first communication of this type that General March had received. He gave it his concentrated attention for a short while, then got up and took it, through the connecting door, to Mr. Baker's private office. He stayed in with Mr. Baker for some time and then came out -- without the paper. Shortly afterwards Mr. Baker put on his hat and walked over to see Mr. Wilson. When he came back it was without the letter, and it was the last letter of its kind that was sent by Mr. Wilson during the war.

General March took no exercise except a little tennis in the early morning, and he had practically no recreation other than the very rare attendance at a Major League baseball game. During the summer of 1918, when the shipment of troops overseas was at its height, a delegation of men well known in the baseball world came to see him, knowing him to be a fellow baseball enthusiast, and requested him to hold in this country a certain baseball player who was very popular and who was due for shipment at an early date to France, on the ground that his retention here would greatly help civilian morale. General March listened until they had made the purpose of their visit clear; then he promptly terminated the interview by saying, "Gentlemen, my job is to get men to France, not to keep them in this country."

In his relations with General Pershing he was, I believe, always conscious of the fact that, under the law, (Act of May 12, 1917), he, as Chief of Staff took rank and precedence over all other officers of the Army, including the Commanding General of the A. E. F., and that he was (G. O. #80, August 12, 1918), by virtue of his position, charged with the responsibility for the execution of the Army program, and that he had delegated to him authority commensurate with that responsibility. He insisted that any communication from General Pershing (some of which had been addressed to the Secretary of War) to the War Department should be sent to him. He did not hesitate to disapprove any recommendation from General Pershing, or from his headquarters, that he considered to be impractical or undesirable. He considered that the execution of the Army program in this country was the responsibility of the Chief of Staff, not of the Commanding General A. E. F, and he did not tolerate any action that was contrary to this view. He considered that he was, by virtue of his position, the principal advisor of the Secretary of War on all military matters, and he acted accordingly.

He scrupulously abstained from interference with General Pershing in the performance of his duties as Commanding General of the A. E. F. I believe that it can be said truthfully that he "gave General Pershing the greatest support and American General has ever received from a military superior in our history." (The Nation at War, page 290.)

In my opinion it would be an understatement to say that General March was not a great admirer of General Crowder; this for several reasons. The National Defense Act included a provision, (believed to have been inserted at the behest of General Ainsworth, the late Adjutant General, who had been forced to retire as a result of the bitter contest between him and General Wood, the then Chief of Staff, as to which should run the Army) which prescribed that the General Staff "should be exclusively employed on duties not of an administrative nature." Mr. Baker had become Secretary of War shortly after the passage of the Act on March 9, 1918. Shortly after the approval of the Act on June 3rd, 1916, Judge Advocate General Crowder (so far as I know without having been called upon to do so) rendered an opinion construing this legislation as eliminating the supervisory functions of the General Staff, thus prohibiting it from exercising any control over the Bureaus of the War Department. Secretary Baker, with remarkable courage and insight, disapproved this opinion and directed that the Chief of Staff should "coordinate and supervise the various bureaus, offices and departments of the War Department." Without this action by Mr. Baker it would have been impossible for any Chief of Staff to have exercised effective control over the War Department during the War.

By the time General March had become Chief of Staff the Draft Act had been in operation nearly a year, and it had been generally recognized as having been a great success. General Crowder, as Provost Marshal General, was generally given credit both for the conception of the Draft and for the preparation of the detailed instructions and regulations which had made its operation so successful, credit which he apparently accepted as his just due. General March states in his book that he was informed by Secretary Baker that General Crowder had actually been opposed to the introduction of such a Bill in Congress because he did not believe that either the Congress or the people would accept it. It is certain that Mr. Baker was fully entitled to credit for the basic conception of the Draft -- namely that it should be conducted by local Boards of civilians -- which was primarily responsible for its success, and, to a very great degree he was responsible for securing the passage of the Act by Congress. Colonel Hugh S. Johnson, of the office of the Provost Marshal General, was personally responsible for the preparation of the Draft Regulations and for the procedures that were followed in the operation of the Draft.

The extensive and favorable publicity received by General Crowder served to enhance his popularity with the 4600 Draft Boards throughout the country, and, in my opinion, General March was probably inclined to believe that General Crowder was in no way unaware of the possible political advantages to be derived from the support of such a nation wide organization as those Draft Boards, particularly as General Crowder sought to continue them in existence to conduct the demobilization under the Provost Marshal General.

General Crowder, as Provost Marshal General, functioned directly under the Secretary of War and was independent of the Chief of Staff.

All of these considerations were, I believe, involved in determining General March's personal feelings toward General Crowder.

I recall an incident in the summer of 1918 that may be of interest in this connection. General Crowder, as Provost Marshal General, submitted to the Secretary of War a proposal that the Provost Marshal General give some military training to draftees before they were turned over to the Army. Upon the reference of this communication to General March he insisted that all military training should be conducted by the military authorities, and that such training was not within the province of the Provost Marshal General. As I recall it, General Crowder then, in a somewhat sharply worded indorsement or memorandum took exception to these views and insisted that such training could and should be given by the Provost Marshal General. General March then, in a sharper worded communication, reiterated his strong objection to the conduct of any military training by the Provost Marshal General. It seemed to me that the papers submitted to the Secretary of War by each the Provost Marshal General and the Chief of Staff contained what was, in effect, almost an ultimatum that his point of view should be supported by the Secretary of War. I recall that, when all the papers were returned to the office of the Secretary of War, I felt sorry that Mr. Baker, in addition to his other problems, should be confronted with such situation, and I wondered how he could possibly handle it.

Within a day or two Mr. Baker's action was received. It consisted of an identical Memorandum to each the Provost Marshal General and the Chief of Staff, typed on less than half a sheet of letter size paper, in which he analyzed the question at issue, outlined succinctly the functions of each the Provost Marshal General and the Chief of Staff, announced his decision (which, as I recall it, was that all military training should be conducted under the Chief of Staff), and made it clear that each General Crowder and General March was invaluable in his own sphere of activity and that it was essential that they work together as a team. In short, the Memorandum, which I hope is still available in the files, exemplified to perhaps a greater degree than any other that I recall, the remarkable analytical ability, impartiality, judicial qualities, power of decision and clarity of expression of Mr. Baker. It left nothing more to be said, and it served to compose the existing differences between General March and General Crowder.

In his dealings with officers and civilians, General March had no time for the ordinary amenities of conversation. He came straight to the point, made a decision where one was required, and then terminated the conversation.

I do not know of anyone that he habitually called by his first name (other than the members of his family), with one exception. (He probably did so also in the case of General George W. Burr, Director of Purchase, Storage, and Traffic, and General Peter C. Harris, The Adjutant General, both of whom were classmates of General March). That exception was General Henry Jervey, Director of Operations. I should like to comment briefly on General Jervey.

General March and General Jervey were classmates at West Point, General Jervey having graduated No. 1 and General March having graduated No. 10 in the class of 1888, which consisted of 44 members. General Jervey was an Engineer and General March was a Field Artilleryman. In 1917 Colonel Jervey was promoted to Brigadier General in the National Army and was assigned to the command of a Brigade in a Division scheduled for early shipment to France. Upon arrival of the Division at the Port of Embarkation, under the policy then in effect, all general officers were given a thorough physical examination. General Jervey was found to be not physically qualified for overseas service, and his Brigade sailed without him. Pending new orders he came to Washington, and General March having just arrived there he went in to see him. General March was very glad to see him and, after exchanging greetings, he asked General Jervey what he was doing in Washington. General Jervey replied that he had been physically disqualified for foreign service and that he had come to Washington to request that he be returned to his permanent grade of Colonel and be assigned to appropriate Engineer duties. General March's reply was something to this effect: "Well, Henry, this is the first time that I ever had an officer asked to be reduced in grade. I know you well enough to know that somewhere in this war there is a job that you can fill with credit in your present grade of Brigadier General, and I propose to see that you are made full use of. I don't know now just what that job is, but I want to have you at hand. There is a small Operations Committee in a room down the hall. I wish you would, for the present, sit in with that Committee and give them any help you can, and you can forget about being returned to your permanent grade."

In a short time General Jervey had acquired such a thorough grasp of the problems confronting this Committee that General March began to rely more and more on his recommendations. Upon the reorganization of the General Staff and the creation of the Operations Division General Jervey was promoted to temporary Major General and made Director of Operations, which position he held until September, 1921.

I know of no officer in the Army, other than General March, who personally carried a greater load of responsibility in our war effort than General Jervey. The multitude and importance of duties performed by the Operations Division is indicated in the Report of the Chief of Staff for 1919. General March conferred frequently with General Jervey, in whose judgement and ability he had the greatest confidence, and to whom, from time to time as difficult situations arose, he assigned important responsibilities in addition to those normally pertaining to the Operations Division, as, for instance, the supervision of the Personnel Branch and of the Motor Transport Corps.

In my daily contacts with General Jervey over a period of about three years I was constantly amazed at the uniform high quality of the work turned out by the Operations Division. There was not one officer in the Division who had ever had any General Staff experience and a great many of them were Reserve officers of relatively little experience. This high quality was due primarily to the remarkable personality, character and ability of General Jervey, to his unremitting industry, to his patience and calmness under stress, and to his rare faculty of being able to instill into his subordinates his own high standards of thoroughness and of loyalty. I am sure that there was no officer who served under him who did not feel for him a high admiration and a deep affection. I never knew him to attribute to anyone else any error (of which there were very few) that might have occurred in any paper that came from the Operations Division.

To me he exemplified, more than any man I have known, the qualities that endeared General Robert E. Lee to his subordinates. I regret exceedingly that he has never received due recognition for his great contribution to the planning and execution of the War program.

General March rarely laughed; he did grin, with his lips only, on occasion. Frederick Palmer, in his "Newton D. Baker", well expressed the significance of this grin when he wrote, "According to various interpretations of the March grin, it might be taken as appreciation of a joke; or as an intimation that he saw through a suggestion and it did not wash; or the prospect pleased him and so go ahead; or he was administering a dose of medicine."

During my long association with him our relations were close. My position as Secretary of the General Staff required that I know his views exactly in order that I might be able to pass advisedly on the great number of papers that were sent out without reference to him, and he expressed these views freely and frankly as occasion arose. He gave me whole hearted support on the occasions where it was necessary. He never asked me a question as to the personnel or organization of my office. He never expressed to me personally either criticism or approbation of my work, although he was most considerate in the ratings he gave me on my Efficiency Reports.

I believe I was as close to him as any one on the General Staff except perhaps General Jervey, but the relationship between us was on a strictly official -- and never on a personal -- basis. He inspired, in a high degree, confidence, admiration, respect and loyalty. He did not inspire affection.

I conclude these notes with a quotation from an author whose identity, I regret, is not now known to me, in which I concur entirely.

"General March, as Chief of Staff, demonstrated ability as an organizer and executive of the highest order. It is doubtful if any other American soldier has ever been called upon to assume equal responsibilities. The results accomplished were made possible only by his extraordinary capacity for work, his broad vision, his ability to distinguish at once between the essential and the unessential and his capacity of making quick and accurate decisions. In a surprisingly short time he brought order out of confusion and chaos. While naturally quiet and reserved, he was quick, concise, forceful, decisive and efficient. He radiated concentrated energy and he possessed the faculty of imparting his power of accomplishment to his associates. He was a natural leader, more by virtue, however, of his keen and analytical mind, his force and determination, and his integrity of purpose and principle, than by his personal magnetism."

I believe that history will regard him as an organizer and executive without a superior in American history. In my opinion he was probably more responsible than any other one man in the United States, if not in the world, that this country sent to France the second million men during the four months of May, June, July and August, 1918, thereby making it possible for the war to be brought to a victorious conclusion in 1918 instead of late in 1919.

(End of my memorandum to Mr. Coffman.)


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