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General Staff Act

General Staff Act (1903).The General Staff Act of 1903 culminated the reforms initiated by Secretary of War Elihu Root and provided the U.S. Army with a central planning body. The immediate impetus for creating such an agency was the chaotic mobilization for the Spanish‐American War (1898). Since the Franco‐Prussian War of 1870–71, 11 major powers had been creating some variant of the German General Staff. Root shepherded the legislation through Congress, but ran into opposition from congressional antimilitarists and Lieut. Gen. Nelson Miles, the commanding general of the army.

Miles helped to kill an ambitious general staff bill in 1902. A narrower law in 1903 provided for a small General Staff Corps, limited to forty‐five officers and assigned to the War Department. It also sanctioned the Army War College, a planning entity that Root had created in 1900. The legislation replaced the commanding general with an army chief of staff, who supervised the staff corps and served as principal military adviser to the secretary of war. Congress required that the chief of staff serve for no more than four years and that the staff officers rotate out of Washington and into the field. The chiefs of existing bureaus such as the Quartermaster and Ordnance departments, and especially the Adjutant General's office, remained powerfully allied with Congress and worked to marginalize the general staff until U.S. entry into World War I.


James E. Hewes, Jr. , From Root to McNamara: Army Organization and Administration 1900–1963, 1975.

Matthew Oyos

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