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Divisions - Early History

On 22 July 1775, George Washington, General and Commander in Chief of the American revolutionary forces, ordered the army at Boston to be organized into three divisions. Each division comprised two brigades of approximately equal strength. Major generals commanded the divisions, and most brigades were commanded by brigadiers who were general officers. The division commanders had no staffs, but the brigade commanders had brigade majors to assist them. Brigade majors were officers through whom orders were issued and reports and correspondence transmitted, analogous to regimental adjutants. Initially, both divisions and brigades were administrative commands rather than tactical organizations. Divisions and brigades soon evolved into semipermanent tactical, as well as administrative, organizations.

Washington assigned infantry brigades to divisions, but the number of brigades assigned to each division varied. Divisions, nevertheless, became quasi-permanent commands, with the same brigades serving in the same divisions for extended periods of time. As this organizational relationship matured, the divisions maneuvered independently and conducted operations away from the main army. Washington occasionally expressed theories about the proper organization of divisions and brigades. In January 1777, as the army was about to be reorganized, he told Congress that three full-strength regiments, approximately 700 men each, would be sufficient for a brigade and that three brigades would be adequate for a division. The following year, during similar discussions, Washington explained that the division-brigade-regiment organization was for the sake of order, harmony, and discipline. Each brigade and division would have a general officer as its commander and would be capable of moving either jointly or separately like a "great machine" as the circumstances required. Because of shortages in personnel, at no time during the war did either divisions or brigades adhere to organizational concepts, particularly as far as the number of assigned regiments and brigades was concerned.

Following the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781, the Continental Army dwindled away, and its divisions and brigades slowly disappeared. In 1792 the new national Congress also provided for a reserve force based upon the state militia, which the federal government could employ under certain conditions within the United States. The militia forces were to consist of all able-bodied white male citizens between the ages of eighteen and forty-five and were to be organized into companies, battalions, regiments, brigades, and divisions. The legislation provided that each brigade consist of four two-battalion infantry regiments. A militia division could also have an artillery company and a cavalry troop, both of which were to be formed from volunteers within the brigades at the discretion of the governors. Major generals and brigadier generals were to command divisions and brigades, respectively. As implemented, the militia divisions and brigades were generally paper organizations.

Raising and maintaining troops during the War of 1812 proved to be difficult because of the opposition to the war. As a result, when divisions and brigades took to the field for the various campaigns, they were temporary organizations. Although Regular, militia, and volunteer brigades served at times in commands that equaled the size of a division, such organizations were frequently called "armies."

Despite the small size of the Army of the United States, Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott in 1819 secured congressional approval for the preparation of a code incorporating the laws, regulations, orders, and practices governing the Army. Having studied foreign armies, particularly the French, he thought such regulations would be useful. Scott's General Regulations for the United States Army, published in 1821, thus included the new European concepts. Two regiments constituted a brigade, two brigades a division, and two divisions an army corps. Infantry and cavalry were to be brigaded separately. The only staff officer for either the brigade or the division was a "chief of staff," who acted in a manner similar to a brigade inspector or brigade major. The divisions and brigades were to be numbered according to the rank of their commanders. For ease in distinguishing each body of troops in official reports, units were to be identified by their commanders' names.

In the fall of 1845, just before hostilities broke out between the United States and Mexico, Brevet Brig. Gen. Zachary Taylor organized the Regular Army forces that had gathered at Corpus Christi, Texas, numbering about 3,900 men, into three brigades, each consisting of two infantry regiments or their equivalent. After the declaration of war in the spring of 1846, Congress called for 50,000 volunteers. Individual states organized their volunteers into regiments, which the War Department initially planned to brigade, mixing foot and mounted infantry 23 in the same units. Two or more volunteer brigades, each consisting of three or more regiments, were to form a division. Under the wartime laws, a brigade was to be authorized at least 3,000 men and a division 6,000.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 01:35:31 ZULU