Palmer and Patton
This was Col. John M. Palmer’s main point about the Civil War (in U.S. Grant’s words): the South leavened the whole loaf by distributing its professionals among the volunteer (amateur) formations. The North failed to reap the same benefit because of Winfield Scott’s commitment to concentrating experience in regular formations as part of a Regular Army buildout.
In Palmer’s view, this produced a qualitative disparity that enabled a long Confederate resistance against an inferior Union establishment.
In 1932, Maj. George S. Patton submitted an extensive memo to the War College on “The Probable Characteristics of the Next War and the Organization, Tactics, and Equipment Necessary to Meet them.”
In his memo, Patton attributed the duration of the Civil War to likeness: the two sides contended with similar organizations, tactics, weapons, and technology. Patton did not consider Palmer’s point that the Union reduced quality by creating a concentration of military talent in its regular establishment. The two sides were just too similar for one or the other to achieve striking results.
This was not the only point on which Patton disagreed with Palmer. He was, at the time, living in Palmer’s world, under the National Defense Act of 1920, crafted by Palmer and Wadsworth. The Act does not come into view in Patton’s ruminations.
As we noted earlier in this thread, that Act lost its Palmerite essence because the reserve components were not funded until WWII started abroad. In considering the Army as it was in 1932, Patton disregarded the unfunded reserves and wrote of the active component as if they were the “complete” army.
Before considering Patton’s suggested military reform, let’s lay out “Palmerism” and its alternatives.
(1) The most “Palmerite” structure was that proposed by Washington and Knox: small standing army, very large trained reserves, proportional to the male population.
(2) This would fix the anti-Palmerite situation of a small standing army supplemented with a large but useless militia. This was the traditional American setup, through the Civil War.
(3) Another non-Palmerite solution was Peyton March’s huge standing army with a large reserve stocked with the usual (poorly trained) suspects.
(4) Yet another is what we have now: a large standing army with a smaller standing reserve.*
(5) Another non-Palmer solution: Emory Upton’s proposed larger standing army with a small trained reserve.
Patton’s contribution to this is to suggest a sixth anti-Palmer organization:
(6) Small army, no reserves. What might look like an oversight – consideration of the reserves – is intentional. Patton’s 1932 paper is concerned with deflecting the U.S. Government’s planning for and reliance on a mass army of conscripts. He makes a number of good arguments against mass armies, many of which apply to Civil War armies and which we will take up in a separate post.
To summarize his views a bit summarily, Patton viewed a small professional army as better able to manage newer military technology; as being better trained over time; as being less susceptible to wounds, sickness, straggling; as being more maneuverable and able to strike much harder blows.
Patton, in Civil War terms, is aligned with Palmer’s bugbear, Winfield Scott. He wants a small, skilled force to win a shorter war. Like many an ACW reader, Patton believes in battles as decisive in war. Without battles, his view makes no sense.
He makes the Lincoln-Grant-Unionist error of thinking that if X army is destroyed/hurt/crippled the war cannot continue.
Wasn’t it Robert E. Lee, tears streaking down his face, voice quavering pitifully in that famous Richmond conference during McClellan’s advance, who said We cannot win a war of posts [positions]? Wasn’t it McClellan who laid out a national strategy to Lincoln in which his mass army would occupy successive posts (positions) at railway junctions and in cities, fortifying points as he went in an multi-phased internal strangulation of the CSA?
How soon we forget, if we ever even knew.
A war of positions is quite suitable for a mass army. Patton’s (or Scott’s) professionals, facing a positional mass army, would have to strike and dislodge a large number of fortified levies without running down their own strength beyond the point of extinction or dilution.
If facing Palmer’s mass army of highly trained reservists, Patton’s (or Scott’s) force would be quickly snuffed out.
Or so it seems to me. More on this shortly.
*In absolute numbers our NG and Reserves are large but they are not proportionate to the total population of the US as Washington, Knox, and Palmer intended. Additionally, they are comparable in size to the standing army whereas they should utterly dwarf the standing army.