United States Department of War: Wikis


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Line drawing of the Department of War's seal.
The emblem of the Dept. of the Army, for comparison.

The United States Department of War, also called the War Office, was the cabinet department originally responsible for the operation and maintenance of the US Army. It was also responsible for naval affairs until the establishment of the Navy Department in 1798, and for land-based air forces until the creation of the Department of the Air Force in 1947.

The War Department existed from 1789 until September 18, 1947, when it was renamed as the Department of the Army, and became part of the new, joint National Military Establishment (NME). Shortly thereafter, in 1949, the NME was renamed the Department of Defense, which the Department of the Army is part of today.



The first United States Secretary of War was Henry Knox.[1]

In the early years, between 1797 and 1800, the Department of War was headquartered in a house, located at 5th and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia. In 1820, the Department of War headquarters moved into a building in Washington, D.C. at 17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, adjacent to the White House. The War Department building was replaced in 1888 by construction of a new building, the State, War, and Navy Building (now the Old Executive Office Building) which was built in the same location as the predecessor.

By the 1930s, the War Department was being squeezed out of office space by the Department of State, and the White House was also in need of additional office space. In August 1939, Secretary of War Harry H. Woodring, along with Acting Chief of Staff of the Army George C. Marshall, moved his office into the Munitions Building, which was a temporary structure built on the National Mall during World War I. In the late 1930s, a new War Department Building was constructed at 21st and C Streets in Foggy Bottom, but upon completion, the new building did not solve the department's space problem, and ended up being used by the Department of State.[2]

Coming into office, with World War II breaking out in Europe, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson was faced with the situation of the War Department spread out in numerous buildings across Washington, D.C., as well as Maryland and Virginia, and the Munitions Building was overcrowded.[3][4] On July 28, 1941, Congress authorized funding for a new Department of War building in Arlington, Virginia, which would house the entire department under one roof[5] When construction of the Pentagon was completed in 1943, the Secretary of War vacated the Munitions Building and the department began moving into the Pentagon.

External media
1945 War Department Organization


The War Department was headed by the Secretary of War, who was a member of the President's Cabinet.

The National Security Act of 1947 merged the Department of War and the Department of the Navy into the National Military Establishment, which later became the Department of Defense. On the same day this act was signed, Executive Order 9877 assigned primary military functions and responsibilities,[1] with the former War Department functions divided between the new Army and Air Force departments.

In the aftermath of World War II, the American government (among others around the world) decided to abandon the word 'War' when referring to the civilian leadership of their military. One vestige of the former nomenclature is War College, where military officers of the United States are still trained in battlefield strategy.

The seal of the department

The date "MDCCLXXVIII" and the designation "War Office" are indicative of the origin of the seal. The date (1778) refers to the year of its adoption. The term "War Office" used during the Revolution, and for many years afterward, was associated with the Headquarters of the Army.

Description: In the center is a Roman cuirass below a vertical unsheathed sword, point up, the pommel resting on the neck opening of the cuirass and a Phrygian cap supported on the sword point, all between on the right an esponton and on the left a musket with fixed bayonet crossed in saltire behind the cuirass and passing under the sword guard. To the right of the cuirass and spontoon is a flag of unidentified designs with cords and tassels, on a flagstaff with spearhead, above a cannon barrel, the muzzle end slanting upward behind the cuirass, in front of the drum, with two drumsticks and the fly end of the flag draped over the drumhead; below, but partly in front of the cannon barrel, is a pile of three cannon balls. To the left of the cuirass and musket is a national color of the Revolutionary War period, with cords and tassels, on a flagstaff with spearhead, similarly arranged above a mortar on a carriage, the mortar facing inward and in front of the lower portion of the color and obscuring the lower part of it; below the mortar are two bomb shells placed side by side. Centered above the Phrygian cap is a rattlesnake holding in its mouth a scroll inscribed "This We’ll Defend." Centered below the cuirass are the Roman numerals "MDCCLXXVIII."

Symbolism: The central element, the Roman cuirass, is a symbol of strength and defense. The sword, esponton (a type of half-pike formerly used by subordinate officers), musket, bayonet, cannon, cannon balls, mortar, and mortar bombs are representative of Army implements. The drum and drumsticks are symbols of public notification of the Army’s purpose and intent to serve the Nation and its people. The Phrygian cap (often called the Cap of Liberty) supported on the point of an unsheathed sword and the motto "This We’ll Defend" on a scroll held by the rattlesnake is a symbol depicted on some American colonial flags and signifies the Army’s constant readiness to defend and preserve the United States.

Current Usage: This "War Office" seal continues to be used to this day when legal certification is necessary to authenticate as "official" documents and records of the Department of the Army. The Army's "emblem" as depicted above, which is based on this seal, is preferred for public display.

See also


  1. ^ Davidson, Dr. James West and Stoff, Michael B (2007). America History of our Nation. Prentice Hall. p. 283.  
  2. ^ Goldberg, Alfred (1992). The Pentagon: The First Fifty Years. Office of Secretary of Defense / Government Printing Office. pp. 4–9.  
  3. ^ "Intro - Secretaries of War and Secretaries of the Army". Center of Military History, United States Army. 1992. http://www.history.army.mil/books/Sw-SA/Intro.htm. Retrieved 2008-10-17.  
  4. ^ Vogel, Steve (2007). The Pentagon - A History: The Untold Story of the Wartime Race to Build the Pentagon and to Restore it Sixty Years Later. Random House. pp. 29–33.  
  5. ^ Goldberg, Alfred (1992). The Pentagon: The First Fifty Years. Office of Secretary of Defense / Government Printing Office. pp. 22.  

External links


Simple English

The United States Department of War, also called the War Office, was the department of the United States government's executive branch responsible for the operation and maintenance of land (and later air) forces from 1789 until September 18, 1947, when it became part of the National Military Establishment, renamed on August 10, 1949 the Department of Defense. The War Department also had responsibility for the young nation's naval affairs until the establishment of the Navy Department in 1798.

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