Peyton Conway March was an American soldier and Army Chief of Staff. He is largely responsible for the designing the powerful role of the Chief of Staff in the 20th century.
He was born December 27, 1864 in Easton, Pennsylvania to Francis Andrew March and Mildred (Conway) March. His father was a college professor, and is regarded as the principal founder of modern comparative linguistics in Anglo-Saxon. His mother descended from Thomas Stone, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and was Moncure D. Conway's sister.
Peyton March attended Lafayette College, where his father occupied the first chair of English language and comparative philology in the United States. While at Lafayette College, March was a member of the Rho Chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon. After graduating with honors in 1884, he was appointed to West Point and graduated in 1888, ranked 10th in a class of 44.
He gained prominence during the Spanish-American War as commander of the privately raised Astor Battery during the battle of Manila. From 1901 to 1917 March received various assignments as battery, battalion, and regimental commander; his staff tours included that of military observer with the Japanese First Army during the Russo-Japanese War.
A forceful and decisive officer, Colonel March in April 1917 was chief of the Eighth Field Artillery Regiment, and three months later was sent to France in the grade of brigadier general to command the artillery brigade of the First Division. In August 1917, he was promoted to the grade of major general and still later that year appointed head of all artillery for the American Expeditionary Forces. During the winter of 1917/1918, Secretary of War Baker came under intensive fire from Congress for alleged inadequacies in his office's logistical efforts, and the secretary appointed March acting chief of staff on March 4, 1918, in order to allay such fears and suspicions; two months later March was officially appointed army chief of staff.
He approached his job with a single-minded, ruthless drive for efficiency. March's cold, tactless manner may have upset congressional leaders, but he got the job done, first by reducing the power of the entrenched bureau chiefs. Specifically, March deployed his assistant chief of staff, General Goethals, the builder of the Panama Canal, as a trouble-shooter endowed with sweeping powers to streamline all phases of production. In Bernard Baruch March found an able civilian economic planner and coordinator. The new chief inherited a staff of fewer than twenty officers in April 1917; by November the General Staff had swelled to more than 1,000 members.
March introduced grand reforms for his office: weekly press conferences became routine, training at "the Point" was reduced to one year for the duration of the war, the special branches of Air Service, Tank Corps, and Chemical Warfare Service were created, the distinctions between Regular Army, National Guard, and National Army were abolished, and March succeeded in elevating his position to that of the highest-ranking officer in the army and the immediate military adviser to the civilian authority. This brilliant, hard-driving officer "lived, breathed, and slept efficiency." He also understood his task in Washington; "My position was that under the war power of the President I could do anything necessary to carry out the military program, and I invariably acted on that assumption." Between March and November 1918, General March helped swell the U.S. forces in France from 250,000 to 2,000,000 at a crucial time when Allied fortunes were at full ebb after the Italian defeat at Caporetto and Russia's withdrawal from the war. Secretary of War Baker unequivocably supported the endeavors of his chief of staff.
March's hard manner and cold efficiency naturally aroused fears among other military leaders. Generals Pershing and Harbord especially disliked the manner in which March had increased the powers of his office, and the American field commander in France was apprehensive that March might seek to replace him. The army's top field commander and its chief of staff feuded in 1918 over a proposal to exchange staff officers regularly as well as over the right of promotions to general rank. Pershing desired control over the latter, hoping to reserve such distinction for officers in France; March, on the other hand, had to consider the entire army in this regard. Finally, Pershing objected to March's decision to send Goethals to France as logistics chief, and he countered this feared move by appointing his friend Harbord to that position. March's memoirs, published in 1932, constituted an acid criticism of Pershing's writings of the war experience, and greatly fueled the so-called Pershing-March Feud.
General March retired as chief of staff on June 30, 1921. He died on April 13, 1955, in Washington, D.C.
Author: The Nation at War, 1932. Contributor various newspaper articles.
Member General Staff, 1903-1907, Society of the Cincinnati (Virginia) Descendants of Signers of Declatation of Independence, Army and Navy Union, Phi Beta Kappa, Delta Kappa Epsilon.
He married Josephine Cunningham (née Smith, 18 December 1862 – 18 November 1904), the widowed daughter of his battery commander, Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Smith, on July 4, 1891. She died in November 1904, while March was still observing the Imperial Japanese Army. Between 28 November 1917 and 8 June 1918, their daughters Mildred (1893—1967), Josephine (1895—1972) and Vivian (1899—1932) had all married Army officers. Josephine had a twin brother, named Peyton Jr. who died ten days after their birth. March's second son, also named Peyton, Jr., was killed in a plane crash in Texas during World War I. March AFB in Riverside, California was named in young March's honor. A third son, Lewis Alden March, was born in 1904 and died in 1928.