Born on 27 December 1864 in Easton, Pennsylvania, Peyton Conway March (1864-1955) attended Lafayette College in Easton from 1880 to 1884 prior to graduating from the United States Military Academy in 1888. He received his lieutenancy and assignment to the 3rd Artillery Regiment in June 1888. In the course of inconsequential stateside duty for the next eight years, March earned promotion to first lieutenant and was assigned to the 5th Artillery in 1894. In 1898, he completed two years of artillery school at Fort Monroe, Virginia and was subsequently deployed to the Philippines as a captain in command of the seventy-nine man Astor Battery.
March served as an aide to Major General (Volunteers) Arthur MacArthur (1845-1912) in 1899. That year, he earned promotion to major in the 33rd Infantry, U.S. Volunteers, which in November proved essential to the defeat of a 1,200-man Filipino force in the Battle of San Jacinto. As a temporary lieutenant colonel, March became a provincial governor. In 1901, he reverted to captain in the U.S. Army and commanded the 19th Battery at Fort Riley, Kansas until 1903. While serving a four-year stint on the War Department General Staff until 1907, March worked as an observer of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904. Promoted to the permanent rank of major three years later, he then commanded the 1/6th Field Artillery until 1911. For the next five years, the combat commander served as an adjutant at the divisional, post and departmental levels.
Chief of Staff↑
March's term as the U.S. Army Chief of Staff followed from a cascade of command assignments that began with the new 8th Field Artillery in 1916 on the Mexican border. Two months after the U.S. intervened in the First World War, March earned his first star as Commander of 1st Artillery Brigade, 1st Division, American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). Promoted to major general in the National Army in August 1917 and in the U.S. Army a month later, he commanded First U.S. Army's artillery units as well as separate artillery units in France.
In late 1917, Secretary of War Newton D. Baker (1871-1937) informed General John J. Pershing (1860-1948) that the current U.S. Army Chief of Staff, General Tasker H. Bliss (1853-1930), was retiring and that he was considering March for that job. March insisted on remaining in France when Pershing told him of this, so the Commanding General, AEF instead suggested Major General Tasker H. Bliss, which Baker accepted. As acting Chief of Staff, Biddle faced many of the same bureaucratic challenges that Bliss had in that position. In early 1918, Baker again cabled Pershing and told him more emphatically that he needed March. Serving as acting U.S. Army Chief of Staff from March to May 1918, Major General March was then promoted to temporary general as he officially took the reins of U.S. Army Chief of Staff.
Serving as Chief of Staff during the massive buildup of American forces in Europe in 1918, General March set a high standard for his position. He shook things up in the War Department, unapologetically firing and shuffling around many officers as a means of ensuring the various bureaus’ proper role and importance. He helped streamline the army logistical system. He established the Air Service, Tank Corps and Chemical Warfare Service. He facilitated the redesign of the War Department General Staff, which included the establishment of an independent Military Intelligence Division. And after the Armistice, he supervised the demobilization of U.S. forces.
Although Pershing had had a high opinion of March, he grew increasingly irritated by him throughout 1918. March did not accept the traditional dynamic whereby the senior combatant commander had carte blanche during wartime. He instead asserted the primacy of Chief of Staff over all other officers, stateside or deployed. For example, March refused to rubber stamp all of Pershing’s recommendations for senior officer promotions and placements within the AEF, instead offering some of his own. Pershing, commanding the largest combat formation in the war, believed that he should make all of the major operational, logistical and administrative decisions involving the AEF. In contrast, March held a more holistic view of the nation’s armed forces: to him, it was America’s war, not the AEF’s. The feud between March and Pershing bled into the post-war era.
At the end of his term as U.S. Army Chief of Staff in 1921 March retired as a major general, though he earned a promotion to general in 1930 while retired. March published The Nation at War in 1932 as an answer to Pershing's criticisms of the War Department (a veiled indictment of March) in his memoir My Experiences in the World War. Later, former Secretary of War Baker published his own book, straddling the line between Pershing's and March's respective views of the war and essentially ending the feud. March passed away on 13 April 1955 in Washington, D.C.
Jared M. Tracy, U.S. Army Special Operations Command
Section Editor: Lon Strauss