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Preparing for War: The Emergence of the Modern U.S. Army, 1815–1917, by J. P. Clark

Ca,bridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 2017. Pp. xiv, 338. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 0674545737.

The Evolution of American War Planning

Clark, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and former West Point history instructor, offers an excellent overview of the evolution of military planning by the U.S. Army from the War of 1812 through World War I.

At the start of this period, America’s Republican sensibilities were highly suspicious of armies, and the Army was a highly decentralized collection of units. There was no actual doctrinal coherence nor a clear chain of command, each regiment and battery was essentially functioning directly under the Secretary of War, and he had a minimal staff, with no planning abilities. This primitive force proved inadequate to the nation’s needs during the War of 1812. In the aftermath of that war, changes began to be made.

The evolution of the Army into a professional force under the centralized control of a chief-of-staff who reported to the Secretary grew across the nineteenth century. By the 1840s the Army, benefiting from the outstanding work of Secretary of War John C. Calhoun and General-in-Chief Winfield Scott, turned in an excellent performance during the war with Mexico (1846-1848), and then proved itself again in the Civil War (1861-1865), albeit with some problems. Over 30 years later the Army helped win the war with Spain (1898), put proved in need of major reforms, which were undertaken by Secretary of War Elihu Root, so that the was more or less well prepared for World War I. During this same period, of course, the Army was mostly concerned with a protracted series of small wars with Native Americans, in the Philippines, and on the Mexican Border, which also helped shaped its evolution.

In the course of examining this evolution Clark touches on the work of many men who played a role in shaping the army, for better or worse. Some were famous, such as Winfield Scott, Nelson A. Miles, Emory Upton, and even the treacherous James Wilkinson, and some little known, such as J. Franklin Bell, Arthur L. Wagner and Eben Swift, but all helped shape the Army’s future.

Preparing for War can be read with profit by anyone interested in the development of the U.S. Army.


Note: Preparing for War is also available in several e-editions.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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