Frontline Education: The Army General Staff College

*This is an abbreviated blog post from a larger research article published in the Emporia State Research Studies journal in 2016. For the entire article, you can access it through the Ike Skelton Combined Arms Research Library, Command and General Staff College here.*

The U.S. Army faced a significant hurdle during their mobilization into the Great War: modern military technologies utilized by European armies were lacking in the U.S. Army and officers scantly adopted them. Training schools like Fort Leavenworth with the Cavalry School and School of the Line were a necessary component for officer education, but what General John Pershing noted was these courses did not offer real time application with novel technologies. Despite these shortcomings, Pershing assembled an impeccable general staff populated by officers who spent time together in the Leavenworth schools. Colloquially referred to as the ‘Leavenworth crowd’ or ‘Leavenworth men’ staff officers such as James Harbord, Fox Conner, Leroy Eltinge, and Hugh Drum served crucial roles not only in coordinating battlefield and logistical operations, but developing specific training courses for incoming officers. What was born was the Army General Staff College (AGSC).

The AGSC was critical in modernizing military education and providing officers with a real-time approach given its location in Langres France. By assessing the significance, usage, and abilities of new technologies and tactics, the AGSC trained officers then reported directly to frontline duty armed with newly acquired knowledge. The Leavenworth Men supported the AGSC’s objectives because the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) desperately needed to fill vacant officer billets.
Without a sufficiently full staff, direct lines of communication and efficiency would falter, putting the AEF in an untenable position on the Western Front. Assistance from British and French officers provided the necessary groundwork for the AGSC to establish a curriculum, but it was primarily American officers who taught classes and lectures. This model was not haphazardly developed though. The Leavenworth educational model was seen operating in every class. Given the Leavenworth background of the general staff, it was only appropriate that the AGSC follow the same model.

What was taught in this curriculum? Subjects consisted of military intelligence, logistics, administration, and new concepts, like the combined-arms doctrine. Combined arms doctrine centered on the concept of applying an army’s resources and strength in concert in order to overpower an enemy with identical technology and physical size. Basic warfare principles remained unaltered, but the methods applied were changing. Open warfare (the fire-and-movement concept where long range warfare was evolving from close quarters combat) and the single-mind theory (whereby the strategies and ideas of a commanding officer were adopted by the entire command to maximize cohesion and efficiency) were refined by the AGSC. These approaches can also be attributed to the Leavenworth Men themselves, given their common workplace cohesion and familiarity. After the armistice, the AGSC dissolved as the AEF returned home.

The lessons and concepts taught by the AGSC were not forgotten though. The experiences from World War I demonstrated that adopting novel technology and strategy quickly was the key to modern warfare. Former 1st Army Chief-of-Staff Lt. Col. Hugh Drum credited the AGSC for producing professionally trained officers. The AGSC was valuable not only to the AEF, but to future U.S. Army doctrine.

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