A Brief History of The United States Army Chaplaincy
by Chaplain James Edward Toley
The Army Chaplaincy, 1899-1920
As the Army Chaplaincy entered the twentieth century, it embarked upon a process of change, a process that would provide the framework for today's institution. Between 1899 and 1920, it grew from an ill-organized adjunct of the Army, into a small, but respected professional branch. This change was part of a series of reform initiatives brought about by the generally poor performance of the Army during the Spanish-American war. The catalyst for this change was the Secretary of War, Elihu Root. Appointed in 1899, Root inaugurated a series of reforms, which began a process that would transform the United States Army. They became know collectively as the "Root Reforms."
The reorganization of the Army received powerful support from President Theodore Roosevelt. The former Rough Rider also held up a high standard for chaplains. In a memorandum to both the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Navy on 10 June 1902, Roosevelt gave a series of benchmarks for military chaplains. "I want," he wrote, "to see that hereafter no chaplain is appointed ... who is not a first class man - a man who by education and training will be fitted to associate with his fellow officers, and yet has in him the zeal and the practical sense which will enable him to do genuine work for the enlisted men." The President was speaking from his perspective as a former Army officer who had commanded troops in the field.
The creation of a professionalized chaplaincy during this period mirrored the great changes taking place in the Army. It would be a chaplaincy far removed from the casual, ad hoc approach to organization, which had typified its existence since 1775.
In 1899, chaplains gained the right to wear new, distinctive insignia of their profession, the Latin Cross; the insignia of rang (1914); a coherent methodology for screening and selecting candidates for the Chaplaincy, and the creation of a Board of Chaplains (1909), "to collect and tabulate suggestions from chaplains and commanders... [and] to make recommendations to the War Department for a more effective Chaplaincy." In 1904, Congress authorized Army chaplains to hold the rank of major (later increased in 1905 to lieutenant colonel). The final two elements in this professionalization - the establishment of a school to train chaplains, and the creation of the Office of the Chief of Chaplains - would not take place until World War I and its aftermath: however, the process by which the Chaplaincy would evolve into an effective, professional branch of the Army had begun.
An important milestone in this development into a professional branch occurred when the Army officially recognized the position of the chaplain assistant in 1909. General Order, Number 253, issued by the War Department on 28 December 1909, stated that: "One enlisted man will be detailed on special duty by the commanding officer of any organization to which a chaplain is assigned for duty, for the purpose of assisting the chaplain in the performance of his official duties."
Not that enlisted men and noncommissioned officers did not assist chaplains at various times in the prior 134-year history of Chaplaincy, but this support was sporadic, unofficial, and generally based on the individual relationship between the chaplain and the enlisted man. Chaplain Allen Allensworth, for example, in developing an educational program for the 24th Infantry Regiment n the late 1880's, made use of a small group of black enlisted soldiers as teaching assistants.
Most often, relationships between enlisted soldiers and the chaplain developed because of the religious inclinations of the former. Enlisted assistance to the chaplain was in addition to regular military duties. An excellent example of this type of relationship was the one between Chaplain Leslie R. Groves, Sr. and Corporal Calvin P. Titus, when both were stationed with the 14th Infantry Regiment in the Philippines. The young enlisted man accompanied Groves when he held Sunday services for the various companies of the 14th scattered around Manila. Titus would help set up for the service, and play his violin. Corporal Titus would later be awarded the Medal of Honor during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, win an appointment to West Point, and have a long, distinguished career in the Army.