George C. Marshall

(History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: General Marshall created the United States Army of World War II, picked the commanders who led it to victory, and exemplified the best in the American military tradition: civilian control, integrity, and competence.

Early Life

George Catlett Marshall, Jr., was born in 1880, the second son of George C. Marshall, a businessman, and Laura Bradford Marshall. He was an enterprising boy who enjoyed history and who, possibly because of his reading, became interested in a military career. After attending Uniontown’s public schools, he went to the Virginia Military Academy at Lexington. By this time, young Marshall had grown to just under six feet in height and was tough; despite weighing only 145 pounds, he starred in football. His bearing became very military, and he gained self-confidence along with military skills; as first captain, he made his voice heard across the length of the parade ground. Marshall’s manner grew austere, and his “cold blue and seldom smiling eyes” were piercing to those who did less than their best. Despite his bony face, under a thatch of sandy hair, he was becoming a formidable person.

Upon his graduation, Marshall married the beauty of Lexington, Elizabeth “Lily” Coles, on February 11, 1902. Three years after her death, in 1927, he married Katherine Tupper Brown.

Life’s Work

Marshall was commissioned a second lieutenant of infantry in the United States Army in January, 1902, with date of rank from 1901. He was immediately assigned to the newly conquered Philippine Islands, where he was often on his own with troops, and where he revealed the abilities to learn rapidly and to discover and put to best use his subordinates’ talents. He served in Oklahoma and Texas before being assigned, in 1906, to the Infantry and Cavalry School at Fort Leavenworth. Promoted to first lieutenant that year, he stood first in his class and came to the notice of General J. Franklin Bell, the commandant, who kept Marshall on as an instructor. Displaying unusual talent as an instructor, Marshall also learned to watch several maneuvers at once in war games. Returned to the Philippines in 1913, he was made chief of staff for one side in maneuvers, despite his junior rank, effectively commanding five thousand troops. He also visited Japan and Manchuria to learn how the Japanese had won the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905).

Reassigned as aide to General Bell, Marshall was promoted to captain in August, 1916. As the United States entered World War I, in April, 1917, Bell became commander of the Eastern Department. Marshall virtually ran the office during Bell’s illness, learning how to cut red tape in the hasty mobilization. Because of his now great reputation as both a thinker and a doer, Marshall was sent to France with the First Division, becoming its chief of operations. He became a major in November, 1917, and a lieutenant colonel in December. By July, 1918, he was an acting colonel at General John J. Pershing’s headquarters, already famous for his gifts of organization and improvisation and nicknamed Wizard. There, and as chief of operations for the First Army, Marshall learned how to maneuver large bodies of troops and how to solve the many problems that arise in war.

At the end of World War I, reduced to his permanent rank of major, Marshall became Pershing’s aide. Because of Pershing’s trust in him, Marshall’s duties were broad; he took part in inspections of many army posts and in Pershing’s dealings with Congress, coming to know intimately the army he would command after 1939. Also serving in China, the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest, at the Army War College, and as assistant commandant of the Infantry School, he came to know well some 150 future generals of World War II. A colonel again by 1933, he became a brigadier general in 1936. In 1938, he was assigned to Washington, D.C., first as chief of war plans and then as deputy chief of staff of the army.

On September 1, 1939, as World War II began in Europe, Marshall became chief of staff of the United States Army, with the temporary rank of four-star general. President Franklin D. Roosevelt named him to the post because of his breadth of experience, his ability to organize and to train troops, and his ability even to be unorthodox, qualities desperately needed in the building of the army.

Marshall took command of an army that was small, poorly equipped, and poorly trained. He built a reputation for truth with both the president...

(The entire section is 1861 words.)

George C. Marshall

(Comprehensive Guide to Military History)

Article abstract: Military significance: As chief of staff of the U.S. Army from September, 1939, to November, 1945, Marshall provided overall direction to the Army from his post in Washington, D.C., during World War II.

George C. Marshall graduated from Virginia Military Institute in 1901 and began his army career as a second lieutenant in 1902. He served two tours in the Philippines along with some stateside duty, graduated from the School of the Line in Leavenworth, Kansas, and taught there. He first earned distinction during World War I as a staff officer in France working on training and planning. His fine work won him a postwar job as chief aide to General John J. Pershing from 1919 to 1924, after which he spent three years in Tientsin, China, and later took charge of instruction at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he influenced a number of men who would become World War II generals. He made brigadier general in 1936, became chief of the War Plans Division in 1938, then deputy chief of staff, and, in September, 1939, he was named chief of staff.

In that position, he reorganized and mobilized the military during World War II, playing a key role in getting Congress to institute the draft in 1940 and to extend it in 1941. He planned the nation’s rearmament, coordinated training, and saw that materials from the United States reached Great Britain while that nation stood alone against Nazi Germany. When the United States entered the war, Marshall directed much of the war effort. He convinced Congress to change the law so that promotions went to...

(The entire section is 648 words.)