The road to Plattsburgh: Progressive-era reform, army preparedness, and officer development, 1886-1918


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In 1869 General William Tecumseh Sherman was assigned as the Commanding General of the United States Army. During his tenure, Sherman cultivated a period of reform in the post-Civil War Army that was featured by a movement among the officers to professionalize the corps and the founding the Infantry and Cavalry School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in 1881. Although senior officers in the Army resisted the idea that education was necessary after graduating from West Point, the belief persisted that necessary leadership skills and postgraduate training in military art and science was a viable alternative to learning through experience on the battlefield. This period also featured the emergence of progressive reformers such as Frederick Winslow Taylor, whose work on management reform and reducing work to a science marked a turning point in civilian workplace reform during the Industrial Age. Reformers worked to instill order amid the chaos of the Industrial Age, and this work to increase organization and efficiency was influential on the Army’s reform effort in the years leading to World War I. Elihu Root was assigned as the Secretary of War in 1899. Root was charged with reorganizing the Army following its haphazard mobilization for the Spanish-American War. His reform efforts were influenced by the work of civilian reformers such as Taylor, who believed in streamlined organization, intelligent management, and a scientific approach to problem-solving. The civilian and military spheres were combined under the Root reforms, and were further advanced through the work of General Leonard Wood and the Military Training Camps Association (MTCA) in their campaign for preparedness and a systematic approach to training the large number of officers that would be needed in the next war. The Officer Training Camps of 1917-1918 were the culmination of the Army reform movement that began in 1886.



Plattsburgh, Leavenworth, Progressive, Officer, Army, Preparedness

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Master of Arts


Department of History

Major Professor

Donald J. Mrozek