1-271 To Brigadier General John McA. Palmer, January 17, 1929

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: January 17, 1929

To Brigadier General John McA. Palmer

January 17, 1929 Fort Benning, Georgia

Dear John,

Your letter with enclosures came in the next mail after a note I sent to you.1 I have read the manuscript and this is my reaction:

Material,—excellent and unusually interesting.

Treatment,—not up to standard of other chapters I have read. My impression is you have played too frequently on the same string and not brought out the points with all your usual finesse, particularly as to your forcible and frequent comments on the promotion aspects. I do not mean to omit this, but it is a decided side issue when compared to the great question of the principles involved as to Confederate and Union methods of distributing officers of the regular establishment.

You should admit that promotions were inevitable considering the small group of regulars at the disposal of the government and the tremendous forces which were to be raised. If you leave this chapter as now written, my guess is that it will come in for a tremendous criticism, not based on the larger aspects of the problem, but directed solely at your personal attitude on the promotion question. This would be an unfortunate diversion of attention and thought from the main thing. I believe you can leave in all the secondary points you make, but do it in a more moderate or indirect fashion, not affording the cast iron “regular” too conspicuous a target, diverting attention from the main issues.2

I would be very glad to read the typed copy as you suggest; and I am gratified that you feel my views are of sufficient moment to warrant this procedure. Incidentally, if you have this respect for my judgment, permit me to observe that your own treatment of these coming chapters would probably be greatly benefited by a little less of the desk at the present time and more of fresh air, with the casual comments Rhodes and myself would willingly supply. I got the impression from this last chapter that you have been tied down too long, and I think, apropos of your possible trip here on the completion of the draft of the manuscript, that such a time is a little too late to work in a refreshed point of view, which I am certain would come from a temporary break in your tremendous effort.


G. C. M.

How’s this for cold blooded criticism?3

Document Copy Text Source: John McA. Palmer Papers, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Document Format: Typed letter signed.

1. Some time during the second week of January, 1929, Palmer wrote: “You were so good about reading the former samples that I am sending you two more short chapters. These cover the period from Fort Sumter to Bull Run. . . . And now I am going to ask a great favor of you. I hope the typing of the book will begin about a month from now. Can I send the chapters to you like a serial story as they are typed and get your frank verdict? I will not expect you to concur in all of my conclusions but I do want the reaction of a broad, cool mind before I release it to the publishers, and yours is the broadest and coolest that I know." (Rough draft, LC/J. McA. Palmer Papers.)

2. The two chapters Marshall read were probably those printed as “Promotion and Bull Run” and “The Young Napoleon” (i.e., Robert E. Lee). In Palmer’s opinion, the federal government’s insistence upon expanding the Regular Army and giving its officers rapid promotions to lead the new regiments—rather than using the Regulars to train a “well-regulated militia” in each of the states—squandered the union’s manpower advantage in the early part of the Civil War. The Confederacy, having no Regular Army, used its trained soldiers and cadets for militia training. The result was that the Confederacy initially had better troops. (Washington, Lincoln, Wilson, pp. 187-209.)

3. This sentence was written in Marshall’s hand at the bottom of the typed letter.

Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 1, “The Soldierly Spirit,” December 1880-June 1939 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), pp. 338-340.

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