A little over a hundred years ago, against a backdrop of a century of American independence, Secretary of War George Washington McCrary wrote Lurton Dunham Ingersoll, a well-informed and well-connected individual then in charge of the War Department Library, to suggest that Ingersoll prepare a history of the department for publication. Ingersoll adopted the proposal with alacrity, although it would be a private venture, and his book, A History of the War Department of the United States With Biographical Sketches of the Secretaries, was published in 1880.

In the opening lines, Ingersoll noted that "in nearly all instances" the War Department had been "placed in the control of men of high renown throughout the republic, and indeed throughout Christendom." He noted further that "in but very few instances had it been given in charge to men of ordinary abilities or of little reputation."

The department’s second century, recently completed, is a match for its first, and tends to confirm Ingersoll’s assessment, although many of the secretaries would have been quick to disavow the superlatives. The occasion of the bicentennial thus offered a suitable historical moment in which to compile a comprehensive record of the Army’s civilian leaders over the course of the two hundred years since the War Office was established.

Although this is the first Army historical publication to be devoted exclusively to the civilian leadership, the department heads have not been ignored previously; the secretarial dimension has been woven into every one of the department’s official historical works where its inclusion was germane.

Considerations of style and format have dictated the approach to the biographical feature of this book. Thus the personality sketches, telegraphic in nature, have been scaled roughly to uniform size despite variations in the terms of office, substance of service, and celebrity or distinction of the incumbents. Army stewardship is the common denominator.

It also seemed appropriate to include in the main listing of office holders only the primary secretaries—those nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The only exceptions are James Monroe and James Porter. Monroe, while Secretary of State, a position to which he had been nominated and confirmed, was designated by President James Madison to serve concurrently as Secretary of War following Secretary John Armstrong’s resignation, and Monroe ran the War Department for an extended period in wartime. Porter served as secretary for almost a full year before the Senate, for political reasons, declined to confirm him.

A break in continuity in public office is not an unusual thing, of course, and interruptions in secretarial progression have occurred through the years. Secretaries ad interim have been required on a number of occasions. Often they were high level Army officers who carried out the secretarial function in addition to their other duties. These temporary and unconfirmed officials are reviewed in Appendix A.

Published sources disagree on the dates of secretarial incumbency; disparities exist because compilers have used such different service bases as date of appointment, date of announcement, date of acceptance, date of confirmation, date of administration of the oath of office, or date of assumption of office. For purposes of consistency, the dates set out in the Department of the Army Manual, an internal reference handbook published for many years and drawn upon for other publications and uses, have been cited herein and are treated as authoritative.

For readers who wish to probe more deeply into the history of the United States Army, the operation of the departmental headquarters, the lives of the respective secretaries, or the backgrounds of the portrait painters, a selective bibliography is supplied. Intended only as a starting point, it is by no means exhaustive. The material available on the secretaries is as uneven as the careers of the individuals involved. Full biographies, if not autobiographies, exist on the more prominent figures, while little information is available on others of more modest service. The same may be said with even more emphasis where the painters are concerned.

Every effort has been made to ensure that the material in this book is accurate, but because of the two-century time span, a paucity of records, and occasionally conflicting information, it is possible that errors have crept in. There are also some informational gaps, especially on the portrait painters. Corrections, documented where possible, and missing pieces of information such as the date and location of an artist’s birth or death, may be addressed to the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, Washington, D.C. 20314. For readers primarily interested in the paintings reproduced in this work, portrait dimensions are given in inches, with height preceding width, and are sight measurements in the frame.

Thanks are due Mr. John G. Connell, Jr., former Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Army, for his interest and assistance in this project. As the pivotal administrative official in the Army civilian secretariat under fifteen department heads ranging from Secretary Stimson to Secretary Alexander, Mr. Connell superintended the secretarial portrait collection with a careful regard for its unique character and its historical significance. Mr. Thomas J. Scheblik and Mr. C. Leslie Walleigh, former directors of the Defense Supply Service, Washington, were also most helpful in their agency’s Pentagon custodial role.

The Department of the Army, the Center of Military History, and the author gratefully acknowledge the substantive assistance of key staff members of a number of official and private agencies and institutions: Mrs. Mona Dearborn, Keeper of the Catalog of American Portraits, and Mr. Richard K. Doud, Survey Coordinator, of the National Portrait Gallery; Mrs. Katherine Ratzenberger, Assistant Librarian of the National Collection of Fine Arts and the National Portrait Gallery; Mr. Michael Musick, Archivist in the National Archives; Mr. George Hobart, Curator of Documentary Photography in the Library of Congress; Mrs. Andrea Ericson, Gallery Director, Portraits, Inc., New York; and numerous directors, curators, research assistants, and librarians of museums, galleries, historical societies, and libraries.

The author is indebted to three independent reviewers who read and commented upon the manuscript: Russell F. Weigley, Professor of History at Temple University and a member of the Department of the Army Historical Advisory Committee; Edward M. Coffman, Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin and Visiting Professor (1977–1978) at the United States Military Academy; and John K. Mahon, Professor of History at the University of Florida and Visiting Professor (1977–1978) at the U.S. Army Military History Institute–U.S. Army War College.

The manuscript was also reviewed within the Center of Military History and the author benefited from the comments of key members of the professional staff: Dr. Maurice Matloff, Chief Historian, and Dr. Robert W. Coakley, Deputy Chief Historian; Col. James F. Ransone, Jr., Chief, Histories Division, and Dr. Walter G. Hermes, Chief, Staff Support Branch; Col. William F. Strobridge, Chief, Historical Services Division; and Mrs. Marian R. McNaughton, Staff Art Curator, and Miss Marylou Gjernes, Museum Specialist, Army Art Activity. Mrs. Loretto C. Stevens gave generously of her time and editorial experience from the earliest stages of preparation. Mrs. Anita L. Dyson typed the manuscript, and Mrs. Joanna M. Fringer edited it.

Mr. James M. Breedlove of the Adjutant General Center designed the book. Mr. William Rosenmund and Mrs. Viola Destefano of the Army Audiovisual Activity made important contributions.

A general expression of appreciation must go also to other members of the staff of the U.S. Army Center of Military History—historical, reference, editorial, curatorial, clerical, administrative—and the staffs of the National Archives, Library of Congress, General Services Administration, National Portrait Gallery, Defense Supply Service, and Military District of Washington—archivists, librarians, audiovisual and information specialists, photographers, laboratory technicians, administrative force—whose individual contributions always come into focus with the publication of a historical work such as this, but whose recognition is often completely overlooked or submerged under the umbrella credit accorded an institution or the personal mention conferred upon a superior. That it must be that way because of the lines of authority or the rule of numbers neither diminishes the contribution nor dilutes the acknowledgment.

The kind assistance of so many individuals does not relieve the author of full responsibility for the finished work; errors of fact or of interpretation are mine and mine alone.

William Gardner Bell
Washington, D.C.

page created 28 March 2001

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