Short History of the Quartermaster Corps
The Quartermaster Corps traces its origins to 16 June 1775. On that day, following General Washington’s address accepting command of the Army, the Second Continental Congress passed a resolution providing for “one Quartermaster General of the grand army and a deputy, under him, for the separate army.” Major General Thomas Mifflin, the first Quartermaster General, had virtually no money and authority and was dependent upon the several states for supplies. Major General Nathanael Greene, the third Quartermaster General, reorganized the supply system after Valley Forge, established the first depot system to support the Army. While his fame as a battle leader is well know, his outstanding service as the Quartermaster General during the darkest period of the Revolution have been almost forgotten.
From 1818 to 1860, the Quartermaster General was BG Thomas Sidney Jesup, a daring leader and able administrator who did much to enhance the Corps’ reputation. During his 42-year tenure as head of the Quartermaster Department, he instituted an improved system of property accountability and experimented with new modes of transportation, including the use of canal boats in the east and camel caravans in the desert southwest, and worked some of the earliest railroads. Because many of his policies remained in effect well into the 20th century, Jesup is traditionally regarded as the “Father of the Quartermaster Corps.” The supply of clothing and other items was taken over by the Quartermaster Department in 1842.
During the Civil War, the Department under the leadership of MG Montgomery C. Meigs supplied the Union Army of over half a million strong, ran the Army’s first major depot system, and transported unprecedented levels of supplies and personnel throughout the war. Also, in 1862, the Quartermaster Department assumed responsibility for burial of war dead and care of national cemeteries.
In 1912, Congress consolidated the former Subsistence, Pay, and Quartermaster Departments in order to create the Quartermaster Corps much as we know it today-fully militarized with its own officers, soldiers, and units trained to perform a host of supply and service functions on the battlefield. With this consolidation came the missions of Subsistence and food service. And when the Army began purchasing motorized vehicles, as early as 1903, the Quartermaster Corps naturally assumed the new petroleum supply mission.
World War I showed the increased importance of logistics in the modern era, and witnessed the first use of specialized Quartermaster units on the Western Front. Several “logistics warriors” were also singled out for valor in the Great War and received the nation’s highest honors for bravery.
During World War II, the Quartermaster Corps trained thousands of soldiers to fill specialized roles in every theater of operation-from the Pacific Isles and China-Burma-India theater to North Africa, Italy, and central and northern Europe. They performed heroically at such far off places as Bataan, Iwo Jima, Leyete, Salerno, Anzio, Normandy, and Bastogne. At the height of the war, Quartermasters were providing over 70,000 different supply items and more than 24 million meals each day. When it was over, they had recovered and buried nearly a quarter of a million soldiers in temporary cemeteries around the world. 4,943 Quartermaster soldiers lost their lives in World War II.
In 1950, the Quartermaster Corps moved swiftly to supply the United States and their UN allies sent to defend South Korea from the Communist North. That same year the Corps assumed a new mission-supply by air-which often proved crucial to the sustainment of troops on the Korean peninsula.
The 1965 decision to commit major United States combat forces to the Republic of Vietnam led to a massive logistics buildup. Quartermaster Corps personnel were deeply involved in meeting this challenge. They could be found operating in every area of Vietnam, furnishing vital supplies and services often under the most adverse and dangerous conditions.
Over the past decade, Quartermaster soldiers have upheld the long tradition of service by being among the first deployed in operations Urgent Fury (Grenada) and Just Cause (Panama). History will long record the role of Quartermaster soldiers in providing the logistic support needed to defeat Iraqi forces during Operation Desert Storm. More recently Quartermasters have provided humanitarian relief to victims at home (hurricanes Andrew and Iniki) and abroad (Operations Provide Comfort, Restore Hope, Provide Promise, and Uphold Democracy).
Over the course of history quartermasters have served as mule skinners, dog trainers, teamsters, bakers, launderers, typewriter specialists, shoe repairmen, depot operators, heraldry experts, paymasters, cemeterial custodians–and in other capacities too numerous to mention. No other branch of the service can begin to rival the Quartermaster Corps for its diversity of tasks and the many functions provided. But despite all the changes, the fundamental mission of the Corps has stayed the same: it is to support the individual combat soldier in the field.
No other branch of the Army can claim so many missions, either historically or at the present.
No other branch of Army touches the live of soldiers on a daily basis as does the Quartermaster Corps. This has been the case since 1775.
America’s success on the battlefield is directly related to the quality of the logistical support that has been provided by the Quartermaster Corps.