Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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First Pub. Date
New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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WAR DEPARTMENT. One of the executive departments of the United States government, established by act of Aug. 7, 1789. (1 Stat. at Large, p. 49.) The head of this department, officially designated the secretary of war, has charge of all matters respecting military affairs, under the direction of the president; has custody of all records, etc., relating to the army, the superintendence of all purchases of military supplies, the direction of army transportation, the distribution of stores, etc., the signal service and meteorological records, the disbursement of all appropriations for rivers and harbors and their survey and improvement, and the superintendence and supply of arms and munitions of war. The secretary of war is a member of the cabinet (salary, $8,000). He is required to make an annual report to congress, with statement of all appropriations and their expenditure, contracts for supplies or services, reports of surveys, and of improvements of rivers and harbors, returns of the militia in the various states, etc.


—The extensive business of the war department is distributed among ten military bureaus, each under a chief who is an officer of the regular army, and receives a salary of $5,000 while at the head of a bureau. The chief clerk of the department (salary, $2,750) has charge of the correspondence and accounts, communicates between the secretary and department officers, and has general superintendence of 90 to 100 clerks and other employés attached to the secretary's office. The adjutant general of the United States army is at the head of a bureau of 575 clerks, etc. He issues the orders of the president and the general commanding the army, conducts the army correspondence, the recruiting and enlistment service, issues commissions, receives reports and resignations, is custodian of the voluminous army records of the United States, keeps the muster rolls, and makes an annual report of the strength and discipline of the army. The inspector general, with assistance, inspects and reports the condition of the army at all military posts, as well as the accounts of its disbursing officers. The quartermaster general (132 clerks, etc.) has charge of army transportation, clothing, quarters, equipage, forage, wagons, horses and mules, fuel and lights, stationery, hospitals, medicines, etc. He employs and pays guides, spies, etc., defrays funeral expenses, and has charge of the national cemeteries. The commissary general (38 clerks, etc.) is charged with the subsistence department, army rations, and purchase and distribution of the same. The surgeon general (463 clerks, etc.) has control of the medical department, the selection, purchase and distribution of medicines, records of all wounded, disabled and deceased soldiers, the supervision of army surgeons and of the army medical museum at Washington. The latter contains an extensive exhibit of specimens, representing the effects upon the human body of wounds, morbid conditions, etc., with the complete hospital records of the army, and a very extensive library of nearly 60,000 volumes. The paymaster general (60 clerks, etc.) keeps the accounts and disburses the pay of the army, through a large body of paymasters. The chief of engineers (17 clerks, etc.) is commander of the corps of engineers, charged with fortifications, torpedo service, military bridges, river and harbor improvements, military and geographical surveys, etc. The chief of ordnance (36 clerks, etc.) is charged with artillery and all munitions of war, prescribing models and modifications of weapons, and their construction, preservation and distribution to the regular army and to the militia of the states. The chief signal officer superintends the signal service, and the weather bureau, with a corps of instruction in signal duties, prepares and issues maps and charts, and publishes daily meteorological reports from the numerous stations of observation, which are afterward consolidated in permanent form. The judge advocate general receives and reviews proceedings of courts-martial and other military tribunals of the army, and furnishes opinions and reports on questions of law, etc., to the secretary of war.


—The war department is conducted at an annual expense for salaries of $1,936,855 (in 1884), and contingent expenses (including printing) of $340,000. The following is a complete list of the secretaries of war, with their terms of office:

1. Henry Knox... Sept. 12, 1789
2. Timothy Pickering... Jan. 2, 1795
3. James McHenry... Jan. 27, 1796
4. Samuel Dexter... May 13, 1800
5. Roger Griswold... Feb. 3, 1801
6. Henry Dearborn... March 5, 1801
7. William Eustis... March 7, 1809
8. John Armstrong... Jan. 13, 1813
9. James Monroe... Sept. 27, 1814
10. William H. Crawford... Aug. 1, 1815
11. George Graham... ad interim.
12. John C. Calhoun... Oct. 8, 1817
13. James Barbour... March 7, 1825
14. Peter B. Porter... May 26, 1828
15. John H. Eston... March 9, 1829
16. Lewis Oass... Aug. 1, 1881
17. Joel R. Poinsett... March 7, 1837
18. John Bell... March 5, 1841
19. John C. Spencer... Oct. 12, 1841
20. James M. Porter... March 8, 1843
21. William Wilkins... Feb. 15, 1844
22. William L. Marcy... March 6, 1845
23. George W. Crawford... March 8, 1849
24. Charles M. Conrad... Aug. 15, 1850
25. Jefferson Davis... March 5, 1853
26. John B. Floyd... March 6, 1857
27. Joseph Holt... Jan. 18, 1861
28. Simon Cameron... March 5, 1861
29. Edwin M. Stanton... Jan. 15, 1862
      Ulysses S. Grant, ad int... Aug. 12, 1867
      Lorenzo Thomas, ad int... Feb. 21, 1868
30. John M. Schofield... May 28, 1868
31. John A. Rawlins... March 11, 1869
      William T. Sherman... Sept. 9, 1869
32. William W. Belknap... Oct. 25, 1869
33. Alphonso Taft... March 8, 1876
34. Jas. Donald Cameron... May 22, 1876
35. George W. McCrary... March 12, 1877
36. Alexander Ramsey... Dec. 10, 1879
37. Robert T. Lincoln... March 5, 1881


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