- United States Department of War
The United States Department of War, sometimes also called the War Office, was the department of the
United Statesgovernment'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.
Upon becoming a part of the National Military Establishment, the War Department was renamed the Department of the Army and became one of the three military departments of the Federal government. At the same time, the Army Air Forces were separated from the Army and became the U.S. Air Force under the newly-formed Department of the Air Force.
World War II, many countries had a Ministry of War which was responsible for national defense. However, in the aftermath of the carnage of WW II, governments came to the conclusion that the use of the word “war” added, if not assumed, a bellicose attitude towards military preparedness. Thus, the late 1940s and 1950s witnessed the renaming from “War” to “Defense” in most countries around the globe. 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
cuirassbelow a vertical unsheathed sword, point up, the pommelresting on the neck opening of the cuirass and a Phrygian capsupported on the sword point, all between on the right an esponton and on the left a musketwith fixed bayonetcrossed in saltirebehind the cuirass and passing under the sword guard. To the right of the cuirass and spontoonis a flag of unidentified designs with cords and tassels, on a flagstaff with spearhead, above a cannonbarrel, 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 cuirassand musket is a national color of the Revolutionary Warperiod, 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 Phrygiancap 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
rattlesnakeis 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.
United States Secretary of War
United States Assistant Secretary of War
Commanding General of the United States Army
Chief of Staff of the United States Army
* [http://wardepartmentpapers.org/index.php Reconstruction of War Department Records from 1784-1800]
* [http://www.eisenhower.archives.gov/listofholdingshtml/finding_aids_u.html U.S. War Department, Operations Division Diary, 1941-1946, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library]
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