National Archives | RG 108

RG 108

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From 1798 to 1903 the Headquarters of the Army consisted of the Commanding General of the Army and his staff. The Commanding General was responsible for the distribution of the military forces and for the discipline of the troops.

The Act of May 28, 1798 (1 Stat. 558), which authorized the President to raise a provisional army, also permitted the President to appoint a commander of the Army who was to be commissioned a lieutenant general and was to command the Armies of the United States. Gen. George Washington accepted command of the Army on July 13, 1798. He was authorized by this act to appoint aides, not exceeding four, and secretaries, not exceeding two. An act of Congress of March 3, 1799 (1 Stat. 749), stated that the commander of the Army of the United States shall be titled "General of the Armies" and abolished the title of lieutenant general.

General Washington served until his death on December 14, 1799. After this date there is no record of the formal assignment of a commanding general until June 1, 1821, when Maj. Gen. Jacob Brown was appointed to the position. During this time the direct control of the Army came under the Secretary of War rather than the senior officer of the U.S. Army. An act of Congress of March 2, 1821 (3 Stat. 615), fixing the military peace establishment, authorized the appointment of a major general with two aides-de-camp, the major general being invested with the command of the Army. It was under this authority that Major General Brown was appointed Commanding General.

Thereafter throughout the 19th century, except for the period from 1846 and 1849 and for the period from March to July 1862, the Army had a Commanding General. The first laps occurred in the office during the Mexican War when at the outbreak of the war the Commanding General of the Army, Winfield Scott, left for Mexico where he commanded only one of the ARmies of the United States. Upon his return to the United States, Scott was assigned to the command of the Eastern Division by War Department General Order No. 49 of August 31, 1848. He was ordered to resume command of the Army by War Department General Order No. 27 of May 10, 1849. Therefore there are no records belonging to the Commanding General of Army Headquarters for the period between the date of General Scott's departure for Mexico on November 24, 1846, and that of his restoration to the command of the entire Army on May 10, 1849.

The other lapse in the position occurred during the Civil War. On March 22, 1862, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan was relieved as commanding general but remained as commander of the Army of the Potomac. From March until July 1862 President Lincoln and Secretary of War STanton performed the duties of the Office of the Commanding General. On July 23, 1862, Maj. Gen. H. W. Halleck was appointed to command the U.S. Army. After his appointment, except for several intervals of a few days between appointments, there was an officer assigned to the command of the Army until the office was abolished by the establishment of the General Staff Corps in 1903.

Before the Civil War there was no official location for the Headquarters of the Army. Maj. Gens. Jacob Brown, Alexander Macomb, and Winfield Scott established Army Headquarters at Washington from 1821 to 1846. General Scott insisted on commanding the Army from New York after the Mexican War in order to avoid the influence of the President and the Secretary of War. Headquarters remained at New York from 1849 to 1850 and from 1853 to 1861; it was at Washington from November 1850 to June 1853. At the beginning of the Civil War General Scott moved Headquarters back to Washington, where it remained for the duration of the war. This location was made official by War Department General Order No. 94 of November 1, 1861.

General Halleck commanded Army Headquarters at Washington until March 1864 when Gen. U.S. Grant was assigned command of the Armies of the United States, with Headquarters in the field, and Halleck was asigned to duty at Washington as Chief of Staff. War Department General Order No. 64 of April 13, 1865, formally established Headquarters of the Army at Washington, and an act of Congress of March 2, 1867 (14 Stat. 486), confirmed this order. In October 1874, at the request of the Commanding General and with the assent of the President, the Headquarters of the Army was established at St. Louis, Mo;, but in April 1876, on orders of the President, it was reestablished at Washington. The removal of Headquarters from Washington also was a result of the conflict over control of the Army between the Commanding General and the Secretary of War. Headquarters remained at Washington from April 1876.

The military establishment was placed under the orders of the Commanding General in all matters regarding its discipline and military control. He was responsible for watching over teh economy of the service in all that related to expenditure of money, supply of arms, ordnance and ordnance stores, barracks, quarters, transportation, fortifications, the military academy, and pay and substance. His position frequently involved him in issues such as instructions relating to military strategy and operations; notices of appointment, transfer, or discharge of personnel; military posts; recommendations on military participation in expositions, centennials, and special celebrations; recommendations on military equipment; and instructions for Indian campaigns.

The title of the commanding officer of the Army varied. The Army Regulations before 1857 used the term "General-in-Chief" and also "General Commanding in Chief" to designate that officer. The Regulations of 1857 styled the officer the "General Commanding the Army" and "General Commanding in Chief". Grant called himself "General-in-Chief" and "General of the Army." Commanders following him used their rank and the term "General Commanding." John M. Schofield thus referred to himself as "Major General Commanding."

The rank of the Commanding General also varied. Commanding Generals Brown, Macomb, McClellan, and Halleck held the rank of major general. Winfield Scott was a brevet lieutenant general, and U.S. Grant assumed the position as a lieutenant general. An act of July 25, 1866, however, revived the grade of full general and authorized the President to appoint a general of the Army of the United States, who--under the direction and at the pleasure of the President--was to command the Armies of the United States. Under this authority Grant and Sherman held the rank of general, Grant being the first to hold this rank since General Washington. Under an act of July 15, 1870 (16 Stat. 318), the offices of general and lieutenant general were to cease whenever vacancies occurred. Sheridan therefore became commanding general with the rank of lieutenant general and Schofield and Miles became commanding officers with the rank of major general.

From time to time the Departments of the Adjutant General and of the Inspector General were under the supervision of the Headquarters of the Army. In 1876, however, these Departments were permanently assigned to Headquarters of the Army by War Department General Order No. 28. of April 6, 1876, which required that the Department of the Adjutant General and the Inspector General were to report to the Commanding General and that all orders and instructions relating to military control and discipline of the Army were to be issued through Army Headquarters. This organization existed until the Army reorganization of 1903.

The authority that the Commanding General held over the corps, departments, and bureaus of the War Department was unresolved during the existence of Headquarters and was a source of conflict with the Secretary of War. In 1869, for instance, when General Grant assumed the Presidency, the incoming Commanding General, William T. Sherman, took over at Army Headquarters with the assurance that he would command both the staff and line of the Army. General Order No. 11 of March 8, 1869, established clear relationships between the Commanding General and the Army, requiring all official business to be transmitted through the General of the Army. But Grant's Secretaries of War, John A. Rawlins and William A. Belknap, wanted control over bureaus and departments and therefore Sherman's authority was soon revoked. By War Department General Order No. 28 of March 27, 1869, the order of March 8 granting authority to Sherman was rescinded and all official business was to be submitted direct to the Secretary of War. Sherman--in frustration--avoided Headquarters, going on extended inspection tours and even taking a trip to Europe.

For the period 1869-72, when Sherman maintained nominal control of the office, correspondence of the office of the Commanding General was conducted mainly through the office of the Adjutant General. (The records of the Commanding General are in Record Group 94, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's-1917.) In addition, many of General Sherman's records for the years 1876-80 are also among the records in Record Group 94.

In 1899 Secretary of War Elihu Root proposed a reorganization of the command of the Army, suggesting a general staff that would be concerned mainly with war plans and strategy. His plan included the establishment of an Office of Chief of Staff and the subordination of the bureaus to the Chief of Staff. Legislation embodying this proposal was incorporated into the act of February 14, 1903 (32 Stat. 830), which provided that on August 15, 1903, the duties of the Commanding General would be taken over by the Chief of Staff, who was assigned supervision of the troops of the line and the staff departments.

A memorandum of August 11, 1903, from the Secretary of War, directed that upon the retirement of Gen. Nelson A. Miles, the records of Headquarters of the Army were to be properly arranged and turned over to the Office of the Adjutant General for keeping with other records of discontinued commands. By 1913 the records of the Headquarters of the Army had been arranged, filed, and cataloged. The volumes were numbered in a continuous numerical sequence, from 1 to 231, with some volumes bearing duplicate numbers; however, volumes in a series, such as letters sent, were frequently not numbered consecutively.

The volume numbers assigned by the Adjutant General's office have been retained in this inventory. When two numbers are given for a volume in the descriptions in this inventory, such as volume 9/7 in the main series of letters sent (series 2), the first number (9) refers to the overall number assigned to that volume in the set of volumes as they were numbered by the office of the Adjutant General; and the second number (7) refers to the number assigned to that particular volume by Army Headquarters.

There are two sets of records of Army Headquarters for 1864 and 1865, and for part of 1898. The first set constitutes records of Army Headquarters at Washington; the other set, records of the field command designated Army Headquarters in the Field. War Department General Order No. 98 of March 12, 1864, assigning General Grant to the command of the Armies of the United States and Major General Halleck to duty at Washington as Chief of Staff of the Army, established Army Headquarters at Washington and also with General Grant in the field. General Halleck remained in Washington as Chief of Staff until Grant's return to Washington in April 1865. Grant, in the field, directed Army strategy while primarily responsible for the coordination of Army commands.

In 1898, following the declaration of war with Spain, Gen. Nelson A. Miles left Washington for Florida in order to direct troop buildup and movement. He later landed in Cuba and directed an expedition to Puerto Rico. The records of Headquarters of the Army in the Field for this period consist of General Miles' records from May to September 1898 when Headquarters was located successively in Florida, Cuba and Puerto Rico.

Records of the Cavalry Bureau, which existed from 1863 to 1866 under the direction of the Chief of Staff of Army Headquarters, are also described in this inventory. The Cavalry Bureau, established by AGO General Order No. 236 of July 28, 1863, was to have charge of the organization and equipment of the Army's cavalry forces and was to provide for their mounts. By AGO General Order No. 162 of April 14, 1864, the Cavalry Bureau was put under the command of the Chief of the Army Staff, and responsibility for the purchase and inspection of horses and their subsistence was assigned to Col. James A. Ekin.

The records described in this inventory consist of four aggregations: general records of the office of Army Headquarters, 1821-1903; records of Cavalry Bureau, 1863-66; records of Headquarters of the Army in the Field under General Grant, 1864-65; and records of Army Headquarters in the Field for the expeditions to Cuba and Puerto Rico, 1898. The records amount to 93 cubic feet and comprise Record Group 108, Records of Headquarters of the Army. The records date from 1827 to 1903, with a few documents dating from 1821 to 1826.

Closely related records in the National Archives are in Record Group 94, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's-1917, and in Record Group 107, Records of the Office of the Secretary of War. Record Group 165, Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, includes some records reflecting continuation of the functions formerly performed by the Headquarters of the Army.

Other records of officers who commanded the Army are in other record groups or in other locations. For instance, with the exception of a few letters addressed to Maj. Gen. Jacob Brown, dated in 1821 and between 1825 and 1828, there are no records of Brown in Record Group 108; the Library of Congress, however, has a collection of Jacob Brown papers, including documents relating to his military career from the period when he was senior officer of the U.S. Army.

Other records of Maj. Gen. H. W. Halleck are the letters and telegrams received and sent, 1862-69, in the series entitled "General's Papers and Books," in Record Group 94. Telegrams sent and received by Halleck and Grant are in the series of bound and unbound telegrams collected by the office of the Secretary of War in Record Group 107. These telegrams have been reproduced as Microcopy 473, Telegrams collected by the Office of the Secretary of War (Bound), 1861-1882; and Microcopy 504, Telegrams Collected by the Office of the Secretary of War (Unbound), 1860-1870.

If a series described in this inventory has been found to bear a close relationship to a series of records in any of the record groups listed above, the relationship is noted at the end of the series entry.

Commanding Generals of the Army

Lt. Gen. & Gen. George Washington July 13, 1798-Dec. 14, 1799

Maj. Gen. Jacob Brown June 1, 1821-Feb. 24, 1828

Ma. Gen. Alexander Macomb May 29, 1828-June 25, 1841

Maj. Gen. & Bt. Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott July 5, 1841-Nov. 1, 1861

Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan Nov. 1, 1861-March 11, 1862

Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck July 23, 1862-Mar. 12, 1864

Lt. Gen. & Gen. Ulysses S. Grant Mar. 12, 1864-Mar. 4, 1869

Gen. William T. Sherman Mar. 8, 1869-Nov. 1, 1883

Lt. Gen. & Gen. Philip H. Sheridan Nov. 1, 1883-Aug. 5, 1888

Maj. Gen. & Lt. Gen. John M. Schofield Aug. 14, 1888-Sept. 29, 1895

Maj. Gen. & Lt. Gen. Nelson A. Miles Oct. 5, 1895-Aug. 8, 1903

Lt. Gen. Samuel B. M. Young Aug. 8-Aug. 15, 1903

Entries 1-50 | Entries 51-100 | Entries 101-150 | Entries 51-100 |  Entries 201-250 | Entries 251-300

National Archives | RG 108

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