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Prussian Army - Recruitment and Training

On the 9th November, 1867, a new development of the Prussian military system took place, including this time the whole of North Germany. The main features of the law were as follow : Every North German, with the exception of a few specially exempted classes, was liable to servo for the help of his country in war. The armed force of the Confederation comprised first the "standing Army," divided into Active Army, Reserve, and Landwehr. The Landwehr was no longer a Militia, but part of the standing Army. The second division of the armed force was the Navy, comprising the Fleet and the Seewehr. The third division was the Landsturm.

In each corps district, the Corps Commander, together with the President of the Civil Government and his chief officials, form a Commission. In each brigade district was an inferior Commission, formed from the Brigade Commander and the civil official of corresponding rank. In each "circle," or Landwehr battalion district, was a still lower Commission, formed by the Landwehr Commander and corresponding civil official, or director of police, together with extra members, namely, an infantry Officer, four landed proprietors (two of country, two of town property), and a Staff Surgeon, the last having. no vote. Above all, there were Commissioners specially appointed by the Minister of War and the Interior.

Before the 15th of April in each year, the Minister of War receives reported from the provinces, stating the number of men required to complete each regiment, &c., and he issued in return his directions as to the number of recruits he wished to have called up both for Army and Navy. Then the various Commissions decided whether each small Landwehr district can supply the proper number. If not, the deficiency is made up from the other districts of the same brigade. But there were generally more than enough, in which case lots were drawn among those liable for the year, and the youths drawing the highest numbers were put back into the Ersatz Reserve, and were liable to be called at any time to make up deficiencies.

But how are all the men of proper age brought together and selected? In January, the clergy and officials in charge of registers sent in lists of all youths who had reached 17 years of age. The young men had to present themselves to the local civil authorities before the 1st of February, and alphabetical lists of their names were made. They now began to be liable for the Landsturm; or they may, if they like, become "one year Volunteers." This was the part usually chosen by young men of education, who did not wish to become Officers in the active Army. By volunteering for one year, providing their own equipment, and passing two examinations, they fell into the Reserve at 18 years old, and remained in it for six years. They had the right at first of choosing their own regiment. In peace they need not join their regiment before their 23rd year, but they must pass their examination before their 20th year. Those who did not volunteer were dismissed to their homes, but called up again in their 21st year, examined medically in May or June by the circle, or lowest of the commissions, and divided into classes. Some were rejected or exempted for various reasons, others held over till next year, and upon the rest the commissioners made remarks as to their adaptability for special branches. Then came the brigade district commissioners, accompanied by the adjutant of the brigade, an Officer of the Guards, and a surgeon.

There was another medical examination, after which the guardsman selected any one he chose for service in his corps, which was supplied indiscriminately from all districts. Men not taken into the service for any reason, yet not rejected absolutely for all military duty, both in peace and war, fell into the Ersatz Reserve, whence they were liable to be called in case of war as recruits for the Reserves. The recruits had some of the articles of war read to them, and were henceforth under military law, though they did not join until October. If they had lost work by their selection for the Army, they could claim the right to join the standards at once, if they pleased.

Then came the three years (often reduced by several months) in the active Army, four years in the Reserve, and five in the Landwehr, after these the Landsturm, till 42 years of age. During the four years service in the Reserve, the men had all the freedom of civilians except that they were bound to take part in two maneuvers, neither of which may exceed eight weeks. During the Landwehr service they may be called twice for a few days' drill. A man who wishes to re-engage for a further period after the three years' active service, may do so if his Colonel consents, and he himself has shown a probability of his becoming a non-commissioned Officer. A slight addition is made to the pay in such cases, and nearly all the subordinate posts in the Civil Departments were open to non-commissioned Officers, who had been re-engaged and served altogether 12 years. They had the preference over civilians, but must pass an examination, if required. The one year volunteers were examined after their year of service, and received certificates stating whether they were qualified to be Officers, non-commissioned Officers, or privates in the Landwehr.

As the cavalry training took longer than that of the infantry, great inducements were offered to young men to volunteer to serve four years instead of three in that branch of the service. Such were not called out for maneuvers at all while in the Reserve, and had only to pass three years in the Landwehr.

The Reserves were principally officered by gentlemen who had held commissions in the active service. A few soldiers, who had distinguished themselves by personal bravery before the enemy, and a few others who have received certificates from their regiment as to their military and nodal qualifications, were appointed Officers of the Reserve. Similarly the Landwehr was commanded either by old Reserve Officers, or by promoted men of the Landwehr, who had passed examinations, served with and received certificates, military and social, from a regiment of the line. This necessity of being elected by a regiment to the position of an Officer, no matter what examinations may have been passed, was a great feature of the Prussian military system, and extends, as a principle, throughout the whole service. When a candidate has bcen so elected, the "guinea stamp" had been put upon him, showing him to be not only good metal, but up to a certain standard. No inconvenience ia found to result from it. It was agreed on all hands that Officers should be gentlemen.

In Britain there were some who feared for the social tone of the Army when purchase was abolished. Would not election in addition to examinations secure all that was wanted? The chief difficulty would be the want of connection between districts - counties, if you please - and regiments in the modern English service, but both principle and expediency were against the continuance of the no-how system of recruiting, and its end was near at hand. If regiments were really localized, and passed their home service always in their own districts, one difficulty at least would be removed from the path of the British Minister of War who did not now even know how to find recruits at all.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:55:25 ZULU