The driving power of the commander-in‑chief of the Army and Navy — "Force to the utmost" — "Do the thing most audacious to the utmost point of risk and daring" — Real comrade and shipmate to fighting men — Winning the war — Victory message to Congress
"The supreme test of the nation has come. We must all speak, act, and serve together." — Wilson
War was declared by Congress April 6, 1917. A resolution carrying the President's recommendation that Congress declare the recent course of the Imperial German Government to be, in fact, nothing less than "war against the Government and people of the United States" was adopted in the Senate April 4, by a vote of 82 to 6. The House completed action at 3 o'clock on the morning of April 6 by a vote of 373 to 50 and President Wilson promptly affixed his signature. It was at the Cabinet meeting on March 20 — it might be called the Day of Decision — that every member of the Cabinet counselled President Wilson that war was inevitable and the call was made for a special session of Congress "to receive a communication by the Executive on grave questions of national policy which should be taken into consideration."
The business of carrying on war became the only business in America. The War and Navy Departments, anticipating the event, had made every preparation consistent with the national policy. From the moment p282the United States entered the war, Wilson's resolute policy carried on under high pressure was, as he stated: "Force! Force to the utmost! Force without stint or limit! The righteous and triumphant Force which shall make Right the law of the world, and cast every selfish dominion down in the dust."
Two decisions of Wilson indicate his militant leadership. Hardly had our soldiers begun to land in France before there came urgent insistence from Allies that they be used as "replacement troops." Some short-sighted Americans abroad joined in the unwise suggestion. Pershing had been sent across by Wilson and Baker to command an "American Army." He had no patience with the replacement propaganda. When Baker brought the matter up in the Cabinet, Wilson declared with great emphasis: "No, we will leave to General Pershing the disposition of our troops, but it must be an American Army, officered and directed by Americans, ready to throw their strength where it will tell most." And he added in substance: "It may not be impossible before the war is over that we shall have to bear the brunt. We must be prepared for any demand with all the agencies necessary to supply our army and secure victory." The replacement dispersion was nipped in the bud.
It was largely due to Wilson that the weakness of divided command was ended and Foch became the Commander-in‑chief of all the forces engaged in the war. Even before the United States entered the war, he criticized the lack of unified command. Immediately upon our entry, in concert with Lloyd George, he threw his powerful influence for the new organization that gave coherence and new power to the allied forces.
p283 In the field of preparation and conduct of the war, and in strategy too, he demonstrated ability. Military men came to lean on his judgment, and in strategy he showed that a military chieftain was lost when he gave himself to letters, to study of government, and to statesmanship. He was not only the commander-in‑chief in name, but in deed also. He early saw the necessity of war mobilization of every industry and activity. He welcomed the organization of the Naval Consulting Board in 1915 which made the first survey of industry for war. Before war began he created the Council of National Defense. He brought into being the War Industries Board, the War Trade, Food, Fuel, Labor, Shipping, Welfare, Publicity, and other agencies, without which the mobilization of all American power for the successful prosecution of the war would have been impossible. He not only called them into being. He kept in close touch with their work, and gave prompt and effective co‑operation. Once every week at the White House he held conferences with what came to be called — it had no official name — "The Super War Cabinet or Council," composed of the Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of War, Secretary of the Navy, Bernard M. Baruch, Harry A. Garfield, Herbert Hoover, Edward N. Hurley and Vance McCormick.a This body was the clearing house. To it he brought grave questions for consideration and all the members brought their perplexities for his clear counsel and direction.
© U. & U.º
President Wilson and his war advisers
Standing, from left to right: Herbert Hoover, Food Commissioner; Edward N. Hurley, Chairman Shipping Board; Vance McCormick, Chairman War Trade Board; Harry A. Garfield, Fuel Commissioner. Sitting on second row, left to right: Benedict Crowell, Assistant Secretary of War, representing Secretary Baker in his absence at the war front; William G. McAdoo, Secretary of the Treasury; President Woodrow Wilson; Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy; Bernard M. Baruch, Chairman of the War Industries Board.
Concurrent with the practical direction and inspection of his captains in these practical fields, he was in close touch with the allied powers, receiving and conferring with delegations from all the Allies and Associated nations, and keeping in close touch with every movement p284in the Cabinet or on the field. He read practically all the cablegrams that came to the Army and Navy Departments and followed the active operations of both arms of the service in France and afloat, giving suggestion and direction, with commendation to wisdom and courage. He was in closest touch with the State Department directing the weighty foreign policies and problems, all of which went to him for determination. Neglecting no agency, his chief interest was international. In the midst of the prosecution of war he kept his mind on the time he felt sure would come when the United States might couple world deliverance from war with the conclusion of peace terms.
By messages to Congress, by letters, by addresses to fighting men, to organizations and political bodies he stimulated deeper patriotism and greater consecration. He marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, scorning to ride, and down Fifth Avenue in great parades planned to give enthusiasm to the Liberty Loan and other drives. All the time he must be in touch with the leaders of Congress, give impulse to their fine desire to afford all means and assistance to win victory, and pilot emergency legislation.
© Kadell & Herbert
Columbus Day in New York
President Wilson leading a parade of thousands of marchers down Fifth Avenue to help boom the Fourth Liberty Loan. In the front, from left to right, are Secretary Tumulty, Rear-Admiralº Grayson, President Wilson, and Brigadier-General Geo. R. Dyer, the Grand Marshal
The legislation providing for the Selective Draft was the outstanding constructive new method of securing recruits to carry on the war. This made it democratic to the core, calling upon all men to render the service most needed. It could not have been put through Congress except by the driving force of Wilson and his irresistible arguments. It was the first time in history that a plan of obtaining soldiers through the good offices of civilian boards had been undertaken. It was so justly administered by patriotic citizens, selected with great p285care, as to convince even those who had been hostile to departing from the voluntary system. Under it every man was commandeered to the khaki, to the factory, to the farm — wherever he could render best service in winning the war.
A departure that was distinctive was the greater care for the health and morale of the soldiers and sailors. Safety zones were created where men were in training and immoral houses were banned. Cities were called upon to repeal segregation district laws. Welfare agencies contributed to the comfort, health and clean living of the fighting forces. The medical care was unequalled and the self-mobilization of surgeons and physicians and nurses reduced sickness and the death rate. In all these agencies President Wilson took the deepest interest and gave the most cordial support. War-time prohibition demonstrated the wisdom of its adoption.
President Wilson was the inspiration of naval achievement. Early in his administration he had said: "We shall take leave to be strong upon the seas," and early in 1916 he declared for "the most adequate navy in the world." Before this country entered the war he thought the British ought to convoy their merchant ships and "shut the hornets up in their nest." He took that position in advance of naval officers in Britain or America. He gave support when our Navy adopted his suggestions, and was impatient because the British Navy delayed its approval of the barrage across the North Sea.
The total number of men who served in the Army was 4,272,521. The story of its distinguished service is the glory of America. Under the direction of the able Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker, supported at every p286turn by President Wilson, the American Expeditionary Force made possible the victory in France. The selection of General Pershing, who had proved his fitness in Mexico, by the Secretary of War and approved by the President, guaranteed efficient leadership. The application of Theodore Roosevelt to go overseas in high command, declined by the President, caused much criticism, which Mr. Wilson's letter somewhat mitigated. Roosevelt's subsequent death proved he was not physically up to the task, though in heart and spirit and patriotism he had the courage of youth. It was necessary also to run counter to the request of General Leonard Wood for a command in France. In war there must be a supreme commander. General Pershing did not ask for Wood. He did ask for Liggett and others. In that, as in all else for the successful prosecution of the war, the President and Secretary of War gave to Pershing full support.
"No such movement of troops ever took place before across 3,000 miles of sea, followed by adequate equipment, and carried safely through extraordinary dangers of attack," said President Wilson in his Victory Message to Congress December 2, 1918. He pointed out that in twelve months the Army had enlisted, equipped and trained and sent overseas 1,950,513 men, an average of 162,542 each month, rising to 307,182 in the month of July. "Of all this movement," he said, "only 758 men were lost by enemy attacks — 630 of whom were upon a single British transport which was sunk near the Orkney Islands."
Five minutes after the President signed the war resolution, orders were given for the mobilization of the fleet. So completely was it prepared that Admiral p287Henry T. Mayo, Commander-in‑Chief of the Naval forces then and throughout the entire war, said he "did not have to give a single order to pass the fleet from a peace to a war basis and that it was in a better state of preparedness than it had ever been and there was a feeling of confidence in the personnel of being able to cope with any emergency." The Navy made ready in every possible way. Before the declaration of war it had increased its enlistment to 87,000, which it increased to 533,000 officers and men during the war. Never at any time from April 6, 1917, till the Armistice was a ship ready (and the number was increased to 2,000) when officers and men were not promptly furnished to man it.
The first military order of the war was made by the Secretary of the Navy April 14. It was, "Fit out for long and distant service" sent to the Commander of the Eighth Destroyers Division. This had been immediately after a conference in Washington with the naval representatives of the British and French Governments which agreed upon the plan of co‑operation. Upon the arrival of the first division of destroyers in Europe, the British Admiral asked the Commanding Officer:
"When will you be ready to go to sea?"
"We are ready now," was the answer.b
That was the record of the American Navy throughout the war. Its record was such as to justify Senator Lodge in saying on the floor of the Senate in June, 1918, when U‑boats appeared on the Atlantic seaboard: "The Navy has been doing the greatest possible work everywhere. It has not failed in convoying the troops. It has not failed in its work in the Baltic and in the Channel and the Coast of France and the Mediterranean, and it p288will not fail here. It will do everything that courage and intelligence and bravery can possibly do."
The outstanding achievement of the Navy was that it kept the road open to France so that of the 2,079,880 men in the Army sent overseas, not one soldier on an American troopship lost his life on the way to France. "We fully realize," said Pershing, "that had it not been for the Navy, which kept watch and guard night and day over our transport fleet, the American effort in France would never have been successful." Of its collateral work, of assistance in relief, Hoover said: "I do not see how we could have carried on the work without the wonderful help of the Navy."
The second outstanding achievement of the Navy was the laying of the barrage across the North Sea. Only nine days after war was declared the Bureau of Ordnance outlined the plan which had to its credit when the war ended 8½ per cent of the total number of enemy submarines put out of business. The barrage was in operation only in the last few weeks of the war.
The most remarkable address of the war, certainly as it related to the Navy, was made to the assembled officers of the fleet from the quarterdeck of the Pennsylvania, August 11, 1917. President Wilson told the officers to "leave out of your vocabulary altogether the word 'prudent'," and counselled them, "Do not stop to think about what is prudent"; and "Do the thing that is audacious to the utmost point of risk and daring."
In his Victory Message to Congress, December 2, 1918, President Wilson made this appraisement and paid this tribute to the spirit and achievement of the Americans in the World War:
"I am proud to be the fellow-countryman of men of p289such stuff and valor. Those of us who stayed at home did our duty: the war could not have been won or the gallant men who fought it given their opportunity to win it otherwise; but for many a long day we shall think ourselves 'accurs'd we were not there, and hold our manhood cheap while any speaks that fought' with those at St. Mihiel or Thierry. The memory of those days of triumphant battle will go with those fortunate men to their graves; and each will have his favorite memory. 'Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot, but he'll remember with advantages what feats he did that day.'
"What we all thank God for with deepest gratitude is that our men went in force into the line of battle just at the critical moment when the whole fate of the world seemed to hang in the balance and threw their fresh strength into the ranks of freedom in time to turn the whole tide and sweep the fateful struggle — turn it once for all, so that henceforth it was back, back, back, for their enemies, always back, never again forward! After that it was only a scant four months before the commanders of the Central Empires knew themselves beaten: and now their very armies are in liquidation.
"And throughout it all how fine the spirit of the nation was! What unity of purpose! What untiring zeal! What elevation of purpose ran through all the splendid display of strength, its untiring accomplishment!"
"Thus the war came to an end."
a Financier Bernard Baruch's career as governmental policy adviser would span another half-century. Harry A. Garfield was the son of President James Garfield. Herbert Hoover, a specialist in humanitarian relief, would become President in 1929. Edward Hurley tells the story of the wartime supply effort in his book The Bridge to France (1927), available online at the World War I Document Archive. Vance McCormick was also chairman of the Democratic National Committee in those same years, 1916 to 1919.
b Secretary Daniels was particularly proud of the Navy's readiness; in a wartime speech he refers to this again, and expands on it; a recording (now in the public domain) of a sound bite from the speech is available onsite as a .wav file.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
Life of Wilson
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 8 Sep 14