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Editorial Note on Relations with J. Franklin Bell
September 1916-April 1917
After the Utah Camp, Marshall returned to San Francisco where he got his first close look at Major General J. Franklin Bell. They had met before, at Fort Leavenworth and during the 1914 maneuvers in the Philippines, but Marshall did not know him personally. “General Bell was a very remarkable character,” Marshall said forty years later. “As a fighter I don’t think he had many equals. He held the Medal of Honor and should have been awarded it on several occasions. He was attacked by many older officers, particularly when he won preferment and promotion over their heads, but actually he was so far ahead of them in ability that there was no question about it.” (Marshall Interviews, p. 183.)
Marshall did not believe that Bell had been particularly successful as chief of staff of the army. “He tried to handle things too much by personal associations and by letters. . . . All of General Bell’s efforts to modernize the army were being ruthlessly attacked by those who were opposed to anything of that sort largely because they didn’t want to do it themselves personally.” If Bell had a failing, it was in making too many speeches; “he overdid it very badly, but nobody could tell him so. When I became his aide—I was getting pretty well along in years for that sort of duty—with some hesitation, but nevertheless with a firm intention, I made it plain that I thought he was making a great mistake in making these speeches. Mrs. Bell was shocked that I, a comparative unknown, should dare to make such a criticism of General Bell. But I was convinced that that was the trouble and thought that it was my duty to tell him, and if he didn’t like that he could relieve me as an aide, because I wasn’t after that kind of a job. But we got along. Mrs. Bell didn’t like me at all at first and afterwards we became devoted friends.” (Ibid., pp. 183-84.)
On October 13, Marshall was officially promoted to captain—with rank to date from July 1—and transferred to detached service in the Eighteenth Infantry, a regiment he never joined. Instead, he spent much of his time as aide handling requests from an increasingly worried public for Bell’s advice and influence in furthering various preparedness schemes or in obtaining military appointments.
During the early months of 1917, the German-American diplomatic crisis that was the chief cause of these preparedness efforts escalated. Germany began unrestricted submarine warfare on February 1, and two days later President Wilson broke diplomatic relations. On March 1, American newspapers published the Zimmermann Telegram which instructed the German minister in Mexico City to propose a Mexican-German alliance against the United States. By mid-March word of American ships sunk began to reach the public. War was clearly very near. By the end of the month, Marshall was busy helping to coordinate the Western Department’s efforts to mobilize the scattered National Guard units and to assign them to guard hundreds of bridges, tunnels, docks, and other potential targets of sabotage.
On April 2, President Wilson delivered his war message to Congress. Four days later the United States was officially at war, and the army was deluged with volunteers. Marshall sent versions of the following telegram to several university presidents.
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. 98-99.