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THE MILITARY POLICY OF THE UNITED
Shortly after the disastrous battle of Camden, Washington wrote to the President of Congress "what we need is a good army, not a large one.” Unfortunately for the country, the object sought by this assertion, so thoroughly in harmony with our cherished institutions, has only been partially attained in time of peace.
In view of the growth of our neighbors, the vast extent of our territory, and the rapid increase of our floating population, the time must speedily arrive when all intelligent and law-abiding people will accept, and adhere to, the opinion of John Adams that “the National defense is one of the cardinal duties of a statesman."
Our military policy, or, as many would affirm, our want of it, has now been tested during more than a century. It has been tried in foreign, domestic, and Indian wars, and while military men, from painful experience, are united as to its defects and dangers, our final success in each conflict has so blinded the popular mind, as to induce the belief that as a nation we are invincible.
With the greater mass of people, who have neither the time nor the inclination to study the requirements of military science, no error is more common than to mistake military resources for military strength, and particularly is this the case with ourselves.
History records our triumph in the Revolution, in the War of 1812, in the Florida War, in the Mexican War, and in the Great Rebellion, and as nearly all of these wars were largely begun by militia and volunteers, the conviction has been produced that with us a regular army is not a necessity.
In relating the events of these wars, the historian has generally limited himself to describing the battles that have been fought, without seeking to investigate the delays and disasters by which they have been prolonged, till, in nearly every instance, the national resources have been exhausted.
The object of this work is to treat historically and statistically, our military policy up to the present time, and to show the enormous and unnecessary sacrifice of life and treasure, which has attended all our armed struggles.
Whether we may be willing to admit it or not, in the conduct of war, we have rejected the practice of European nations and with little variation, have thus far pursued the policy of China.
All of our wars have been prolonged for want of judicious and economical preparation, and often when the people have impatiently awaited the tidings of victory, those of humiliating defeat have plunged the nation into mourning.
The cause of all this is obvious to the soldier and should be no less obvious to the statesman. It lies partly in the unfounded jealousy of not a large, but even a small standing army; in the persistent use of raw troops; in the want of an expansive organization, adequate for every prospective emergency; in short and voluntary enlistments, carrying with them large bounties; and in a variety of other defects which need not here be stated. In treating this subject, I am aware that I tread on delicate ground and that every volunteer and militiaman who bas patriotically responded to the call of his country, in the hour of danger, may possibly regard himself as unjustly attacked.
To such I can only reply, that where they have enlisted for the period of three months, and, as at Bladensburg and on many other fields, have been hurled against veteran troops, they should not hold me responsible for the facts of history, which I have sought impartially to present. To such volunteers as enlisted for the period of the Mexican War, and particularly for two and three years during the War of the Rebellion, with whom it is my pride to have served and to whom I owe all of my advancement in the service, I but express the opinion of all military men, in testifying that their excellence was due, not to the fact that they were volunteers, but to the more important fact that their long term of service enabled them to become, in the highest sense, regulars in drill, discipline, and courage.
With a keen appreciation of their own ignorance and helplessness when they entered the service, the veterans of Gettysburg laughed at the militia who assisted in driving Lee across the Potomac, satirically asking the full regiments fresh from home, “Where they buried their dead?” The same men who felt hostile to the regular troops because of their superior discipline, found as they approached the same standard that no gulf lay between them, and with the recollections of Bull Run fresh in their memories they in turn ever after made sport of the raw troops which came temporarily to their aid.
Every battlefield of the war after 1861 gave proof to the world of the valor of the disciplined American soldier; but in achieving this reputation the nation was nearly overwhelmed with debt from which we are still suffering, while nearly every family in the land was plunged in mourning.
Already we are forgetting these costly sacrifices, and unless we now frame and bequeath to the succeeding generation a military system suggested by our past experience and commended by the example of other enlightened nations, our rulers and legislators in the next war will fall into the same errors and involve the country in the same sacrifices as in the past.
It has been truly remarked by one of our philosophers that We follow success and not skill.'
Should my labors in a field thus far unoccupied, and which I do not pretend to exhaust, be instrumental in aiding our future statesmen to achieve national success through skill, to the saving of life and treasure, it will be my satisfaction to have discharged a duty which every patriotic soldier and citizen owes to his country.
Up to this time in our history our military policy has been largely shaped by the Anglo-Saxon prejudice against standing armies as a dangerous menace to liberty.” Assuming that with this as one of bis premises the reader has come to the erroneous conclusion that the officers of the army are wholly given over to selfishness and ambition it ought not to be difficult to convince him that no one of their number can suggest any change or modification of our system without being false to his guild.
No one can study the subject without acknowledging that our military policy is weak and that it invites and inevitably produces long wars, and that in the race for military laurels the professional soldier usually distances all competitors.
A century is a short period in the life of a nation, but its history may convey many valuable lessons as the result of the system which we cherish as our own invention; thus, the War of the Revolution lasted seven years, the War of 1812 three years, the Florida War seven years, the Mexican War two years, and the Rebellion four years, not to mention the almost incessant Indian wars of this period. In other words, since the publication of the Declaration of Independence to this time these figures show that for every three years of peace we have had one year of actual war.
The same prejudice has led our people to another false conclusion. If standing armies are dangerous to liberty, then it ought to follow that officers of the army should be inimical to republican institutions. But here again, if the lessons of history be read and accepted, it will be admitted that of all forms of government the republican, or democratic, is most favorable to the soldier. There is not a well-read officer in our service who does not know that monarchy sets a limit to military ambition, while in republies military fame is frequently rewarded with the highest civic honors.
The history of Rome, Greece, and Carthage affords abundant support for this statement, while, on the other hand, that of England shows that of all her great heroes Cromwell alone, in the days of the Commonwealth, stepped from the head of the army to the head of the state. After the restoration, Marlborough and Wellington received titles and estates, but those were bestowed by the Crown instead of the people.
In France, Turenne and Condé added the luster of their achievements to the glory of the King, but the wars of the Revolution filled Europe with the fame of republican generals, Napoleon at their head. When through popular favor he became First Consul and finally rose to supreme power he gave rank and titles to his generals, but the fame of his marshals was merged in the glory of the Emperor. He knew how to exalt and how to abase; he could tolerate no rival; a line in the Moniteur could at any time make or destroy the reputation of a marshal.
In our day Bismarck planned the political unity of Germany, while Von Moltke alone made it possible by destroying in two campaigns the military power of Austria and France.
Had Germany been a republic both would have risen to the chief magistracy of the state, but under a monarchy they had to content themselves with fame, titles, and estates, and the patronizing favor of a kind-hearted Emperor.
The French, on the contrary, after establishing a republic, elevated to the presidency the marshal who surrendered the Imperial army at Sedan.
Our own people, no less than the Romans, are fond of rewarding our military heroes. The Revolution made Washington President for two terms; the war of 1812 elevated Jackson and Harrison to the same office, the first for two terms, the latter for one; the Mexican war raised Taylor and Pierce to the Presidency, each for one term; the rebellion has already made Grant President for two terms, Hayes for one term, while the present Chief Magistrate, Garfield, owes his high office as much to his fame as a soldier as to his reputation as a statesman.
Long wars do not reward the highest commanders only. After the Revolution Knox, Dearborn, and Armstrong rose to the office of Secretary of War; Hamilton was Secretary of the Treasury; while Monroe, first Secretary of State, was finally elected President for two terms. During the Rebellion nearly 150 regular officers rose to the grade of brigadier and major general who, but for the four years' struggle, would have been unknown outside of the military profession.
Since the war, distinguished officers of volunteers have filled nearly every office in the gift of the people. They have been elected chief magistrates of their States, and to-day on both floors of Congress they are conspicuous alike for their numbers and influence.
The rewards following long wars apply chiefly to the combatant branch of the Army, but if we assume that all officers are devoid of patriotism there is another large class, namely, the statf, who should denounce any change in our system.
The officers of the supply department know that money is power and that the disbursement of it commands influence and friends. During the four years before the rebellion the total disbursements of the Quartermaster's Department was less than thirty-five millions of dollars. During the four years of war, they exceeded a thousand millions. Up to 1861 the Quartermaster-General could give no orders to persons outside of his own officers; during the war he issued general orders to more than a hundred thousand employees, and became admiral of a fleet of more than a thousand vessels.
The Surgeon-General, before 1861, could not control a single sick or convalescent soldier. During the war he was put in command of all the general hospitals and had subject to his orders more than a hundred thousand men. In other departments there was a similar increase of authority not enjoyed alone by their respective officers, who, except for the war, would never have been known as agents of the Government.
Free from danger and from lust of power, if the noncombatant officers love war more than peace, it is manifest that they, too, should join the ambitious soldier and the demagogue in the cry, “Standing armies are dangerous to liberty.” But who are our officers that they should be charged with mere selfishness and ambition? If we take those educated by the Government from their youth, are they not selected by the representatives of the people and from every class of society?
a Both Presidents, Benjamin Harrison and William McKinley, elected to the Presidency in the years 1888 and 1896, respectively, were volunteer officers of distinction in the civil war.-EDITORS.