The Military Police Corps achieved permanent status in the U.S. Army on 26 September 1941, yet its traditions of duty, service, and security date back to the Revolutionary War. Over the last two centuries the military police-or provost marshals as they were called during much of their history-evolved from a group of miscellaneous units and men organized on a temporary basis in time of national emergency to perform a limited range of law and order responsibilities into today's highly organized and trained combat support force. During the 1980s military police units carried out many of the wide-ranging duties they have assumed in the Army, such as fighting in Grenada; guarding the summer Olympics in Seoul, Korea; helping to quell civil disturbances in the Virgin Islands in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo; and playing an essential role in JUST CAUSE, the Army's operation in Panama in 1989-1990. Based on a tradition of service that stretches back more than two hundred years, military police have come to be recognized as an important element of the Army in both peace and war.
The Military Police Corps traces its beginnings to the formation of a provost unit, the Marechaussee Corps, in the Continental Army. Authorized by Congress on 27 May 1778 with a name borrowed from the French term for provost troops, the special unit was assigned by General George Washington to perform those necessary police functions required in camp and in the field. The first American military police unit was organized along the lines of a regular Continental Army company with 1 captain, 4 lieutenants, 1 clerk, 1 quartermaster sergeant, 2 trumpeters, 2 sergeants, 5 corporals, 43 provosts, and 4 executioners. Reflecting the unit's special requirements for speed and equipment, the corps was mounted and accoutered as light dragoons.
Washington appointed Bartholomew Von Heer provost marshal of the Continental Army and commander of the Marechaussee Corps with the rank of captain. Von Heer and his men were expected to patrol the camp and its vicinity in order to detain fugitives and arrest rioters and thieves. During combat the unit was to patrol behind the Army's socalled second line where it would secure the rear by rounding up stragglers and preventing desertions. It also assumed what in later times would be called the "early warning" responsibility, that is, keeping watch against enemy attack from the rear. The Marechaussee Corps also supervised relations with the sutlers, the merchants who supplied the Army, and assumed general responsibility for the collection, security, and movement of prisoners of war. A second, larger military police force, this one organized in 1779 by the Commonwealth of Virginia, administered the prisoner-of-war compound established at Charlottesville to secure the British and German soldiers captured at Saratoga. Although the existence of both units was short-lived-the prisoner guards were disbanded in 1781; the Marechaussee Corps at the end of the Revolution in 1783- their functions as well as their extraordinary mobility and communications capability established a legacy for the provost units that would follow.
No other military police units were formally organized in the U.S. Army until the outbreak of the Civil War, although commanders during that extended period often detailed certain officers and men to perform similar functions. This method, deemed unsatisfactory in many respects, nevertheless helped maintain order and discipline during the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and frequent clashes with Indian tribes along the frontier.
Increasingly during this period the Army came to assume new responsibilities that called for units capable of extending national security authority along the new nation's frontiers. Serving essentially as military police, federal troops played a vital role throughout the settlement of the trans-Appalachian West. Because of the proximity of Army outposts and the general scarcity of civil law enforcement authority, settlers looked to the military as the primary source of law and order.
Not only were federal units used to police many of the towns and lines of communications along the new American frontier, they also assumed responsibility for quelling some of the civil disturbances which occurred during the period. An important example of federal troops being used in this manner occurred in the summer of 1794 during the so-called Whiskey Rebellion. Faced with a large-scale threat to law and order by farmers in western Pennsylvania who were up in arms against the newly imposed excise tax on whiskey, President Washington ordered the federalization of militia units, which marched in force to the scene of the troubles. While not military police in the strict sense of the term, these troops assumed police duties, made numerous arrests, and occupied several counties, performing provost marshal functions that would become standard in the future.
A commander's military police responsibilities received greater recognition in 1821 when the War Department tried, through a series of general regulations, to establish a uniformity of organizations within the Army. Article 58 of these regulations, entitled "General Police," outlined the duties of military police and recommended that commanders select personnel of superior intelligence and physical ability to perform these duties. Significantly, throughout the Army's history these qualities have always been identified as prerequisites for the soldiers selected to perform military police duties. But the regulation made no provision for special training for these provost troops, nor did it order the organization of military police units, maintaining that military police forces would, in usual circumstances, be assigned temporary status within larger military organizations.
The Civil War created an urgent need for provost marshals and military police units within the federal Army. As early as 18 July 1861, Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell, the Union Army's first field commander, authorized the commander of each regiment in the Department of Northeastern Virginia to select a commissioned officer as regimental provost marshal along with a permanent guard of ten enlisted men. McDowell was responding to reports of widespread marauding in the ranks as his units marched across northern Virginia on the way to Bull Run. He wanted these units assigned the "special and sole duty" of preserving property from depredation and of arresting "all wrong-doers, of whatever regiment or corps they may be." Wrongdoers, he went on to order, "will be reported to headquarters, and the least that will be done to them will be to send them to the Alexandria jail." In those early days of the war, commanders were particularly sensitive to the political implications of interfering with local law enforcement, and McDowell also made it clear that his provosts were not to arrest civilians. His troops were to fight the enemy, "not to judge and punish the unarmed and helpless, however guilty they may be."
In the wake of the Union's defeat at Bull Run, the newly appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac, Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, reported "with much regret" that large numbers of soldiers stationed in the vicinity of the capital were in the habit of frequenting the streets and hotels of the city. Calling the practice "eminently prejudicial to good order and military discipline," he appointed Col. Andrew Porter provost marshal of Washington and assigned him the duty of keeping the officers and men in camp unless under special pass. He gave Porter some 1,000 officers and men-all the Regulars in the city, including infantry, cavalry, and artillery units-to suppress gambling, marauding, and looting in the capital area and to intercept stragglers and fugitives from nearby Army units. To carry out its mission, the provost guard was allowed to impose curfews on soldiers, all of whom were obliged to carry passes. Eventually, Porter was also empowered to search citizens, seize weapons and contraband, and make arrests. Thus began the gradual extension of the jurisdiction of provost marshals during the Civil War from responsibility for maintaining law and order within the military to include the protection and, to some extent, the control of the civilian population.
Although organized military police units were relatively rare in the Union Army, General McClellan established the Office of Provost Marshal General of the Army of the Potomac and appointed Colonel Porter, lately returned from his duties in Washington, to command the unit. McClellan gave Porter a sizable force to carry out military police functions in his army, including battalions from the 8th and 17th Infantry and the entire 2d Cavalry, as well as several units of Regular artillery. McClellan later enumerated the duties of his provost marshal, which, in addition to those already made familiar by Porter's troops in Washington, included regulation of places of public accommodation and amusement, distribution of passes to civilians for purposes of trade within the lines, and "searches, seizures, and arrests" within the army area.
Porter coordinated, but did not supervise, the activities of the provost units McClellan was also organizing in the separate divisions of the Army of the Potomac. Following Porter's appointment, McClellan ordered each of his division commanders to organize a provost guard within his command. Serving under a divisional provost marshal, again with an enlisted strength of ten men, these units were primarily responsible for protecting civilian property from the sometimes sticky hands of soldiers on the march as well as all other duties associated with the discipline and orderly activities of the army. They also carried on the many collateral duties already made familiar in the Continental Army. They supervised and otherwise inspected the trade between local private merchants and Army units and individual soldiers, and they also assumed certain intelligence responsibilities, collecting and disseminating information on enemy forces.
Rivaling the work of military police in the field, provost marshals also assumed the enormous task of enforcing the nation's first conscription law. When demands for manpower led the Union to abandon its dependence on volunteer enlistments and turn to conscription, Congress created the Office of the Provost Marshal General of the Army on 3 March 1863 and appointed James B. Fry to the position in the rank of colonel of cavalry. The new draft law charged the provost marshal general with overseeing the administration and enforcement of military recruitment and conscription along with a number of other quasi-military police duties associated with the war effort. It also empowered Fry to arrest summarily anyone engaged in impeding or avoiding conscription.
The energetic Fry quickly organized a small army of civilian bureaucrats to supervise the draft calls. To assist him in this and an ever-increasing number of other duties largely unrelated to the draft, the War Department authorized the creation on 28 April 1863 of a new organization, the Invalid Corps (later renamed the Veteran Reserve Corps). Manned by soldiers wounded on the battlefield or weakened by illness and judged unfit for further frontline service, this special force reached a strength of more than 30,000 officers and men by the end of the war. Its units served as provost guards in large cities and towns, escorts for prisoners of war, security guards for railroads, and during the raid on Washington in 1864, they were committed to battle when the enemy penetrated into rear areas.
One of their most important functions remained to guard the many district draft offices established by the provost marshal general to supervise the selection of men under the provisions of the draft act. That legislation proved extremely unpopular and placed the Invalid Corps in a perilous position when massive resistance to conscription spread across the North. Their most notable service came in the valiant but futile effort to preserve order at the outbreak of the riots that shook New York City in July 1863. Few in number, the provost troops were quickly overwhelmed. The riots continued unimpeded until Washington brought in more than 100,000 combat troops, ending what would become the nation's deadliest civil disturbance.
Following the pattern set at the end of the Revolutionary War, the Office of Provost Marshal General was discontinued in 1866. In fact, despite the appointment of Brig. Gen. Arthur MacArthur as military governor and provost marshal general of Manila in the Philippines after the War with Spain in 1898, the creation of a permanent military police branch in the Army would not be seriously considered until the latter stages of World War I. Ironically, it was during this period of organizational neglect that the term "military police" first came into vogue in Army circles.
World War I marked a significant step in the military police's journey toward permanent branch status within the Army. Once again the Army organized units both at the War Department level and in the field to carry out military police duties. Following America's entry into the war in 1917, the War Department appointed Maj. Enoch H. Crowder provost marshal general of the Army. Again the paramount mission of this official and the units placed under his command was to administer a selective service law. In July 1917 General John J. Pershing appointed Lt. Col. Hanson E. Ely as provost marshal general of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) to advise him "on military police and provost marshal matters." And finally, in May 1918, the War Department created yet another military police organization on the Army staff, the Criminal Investigation Division (CID).
Charged with investigating criminal wrongdoing within the service, the CID was organized along the lines of a detective squad similar to those found in any large city police department of the era. Initially the CID consisted of eight companies, each with 5 officers and 100 enlisted men. Its members were selected by the provost marshals in the various army areas from among those soldiers with civilian experience as police detectives, lawyers, and journalists. Its full organizational structure was not established until the last weeks of the war. During 1918 the CID was involved in some 4,500 cases pertaining to the investigation of black market activities, fraudulent passes sold in troop areas, worthless check-cashing operations, mail theft, and theft and illegal sale of government supplies.
Anticipating the need for military police in the AEF, the War Department approved a divisional table of organization in May 1917 that included authorization of a headquarters and two military police companies, a total of 316 officers and men in each division. Based on this guidance, the AEF organized two military police companies in the 1st Division in July, marking the first use of an organization officially called military police. General Pershing's plan called for placing these companies in the divisional train. Divisional returns of 4 September 1917 listed 95 men in the 1st Division's train headquarters and two military police companies with a strength of 150 and 152 officers and men respectively. To supplement the direct support units, a general support military police regiment, the First Army Headquarters Regiment, was formed by converting a French-speaking New Hampshire National Guard infantry organization and filling it out with men with civilian experience as detectives.
During the war the AEF organized military police units in sixty-one separate divisions, but in July 1918 Pershing also received permission to organize military police units in each corps and army with additional separate companies posted to the various sections of the Service of Supply, the Training Depot, and "to tactical units as may be necessary." Ironically, the increase in the number of military police companies resulted in a weakening in the strength of all military police companies in the AEF, because Pershing was forced to cut down on the size and number of divisional military police units in order to provide trained manpower for the new units. In the months following the end of hostilities, the AEF could count military police battalions in each of its three armies with a fourth battalion attached to the AEF's general headquarters at Chaumont, France.
The AEF's military police performed all those activities made familiar in earlier wars but with some significant additions. A constant concern of senior commanders in this era of massive military units fighting on wide fronts was the control of traffic in the rear areas and prevention of unauthorized individuals from entering the zones of operations. Borrowing a method devised by the French, Brig. Gen. Harry H. Bandholtz, a successor to Ely as the AEF provost marshal general, organized military police units to check all individuals traveling in leave areas, major cities, and examining points in rear Army areas.
World War I also altered the Army's traditional way of administering and caring for prisoners of war. In distinction to most earlier conflicts, where prisoners of war were usually held for short periods of time until exchanges could be effected, World War I created massive numbers of prisoners that had to be confined for long periods. During the ten-month period in which the United States processed foreign troops through its temporary prisoner-of-war camps, escort guard companies of military police handled some 48,000 prisoners. These guard companies were responsible for transporting all prisoners from division cages to a central prisoner-of-war enclosure. Reminiscent of the Civil War, soldiers judged unfit for full combat duty manned these companies.
Although the need for military police was universally recognized and thousands of men were performing military police functions throughout the Army, the pressing need for their services left selection of personnel haphazard and specialized professional training limited. General Bandholtz had established a service school at Autun, France, during the last months of the war that trained and graduated over 4,000 officers and men during its brief existence. Nevertheless, familiar patterns continued to persist. Men, usually with no experience in such duties, were drafted out of military units and thrust into military police organizations where they were expected to learn on the job.The existence of a formal branch, especially if perpetuated in the peacetime Army, would allow for the systematic selection of personnel based on aptitude and fitness for these duties. It would also lead to a permanent training establishment where men could receive specialized instruction before assignment to regularly organized military police units throughout the Army. Then military police could be expected to have special supervision during a systemized training program before assignment to units. The promises implicit in the formation of such a corps were not to be fulfilled. Although under wartime legislation, Congress finally authorized establishment of a Military Police Corps, it was not until the closing weeks of the war, on 15 October 1918.
The new corps was to consist of the Provost Marshal General Department, AEF, all military police units in the AEF, and "additional personnel." The basic organizational unit remained the military police company, which as of October 1918 consisted of 205 officers and men. Equipment for the AEF military police company was listed in the new legislation. Including 50 horses, 6 mules, 1 wagon, 18 motorcycles, and 105 bicycles, it was one of the most mobile organizations in the Army.
With the cessation of hostilities, the military police in the AEF were made extra busy by the hordes of American GIs who took unauthorized leave to see "Paree" and the other fabled sights of a Europe now at peace. At the time of the Armistice agreement, the strength of the new corps stood at 463 officers and 15,912 men, who were stationed throughout France and with those troops of the Third Army who would participate in the occupation of the Rhineland.
In an effort to preserve the new branch as the Army entered its usual postwar drawdown in strength and also to preserve and document the role played by military police during the war, General Bandholtz requested all division commanders to submit reports concerning military police activities in their areas. Most of these reports strongly endorsed the work of the corps, and subsequently Bandholtz proposed to the War Department that a permanent military police corps be retained in the Regular Army. Citing the inadequacies in assigning nonspecialists to such technically demanding duties, he stressed the obvious point that a permanent corps would ensure the existence of stable and efficient military police units in future emergencies.
Although Congress rejected the idea of a permanent corps, it did ratify the permanent organization of military police units in the Army in the National Defense Act of 1920. To save spaces in the Regular divisions, Congress combined the headquarters company and military police company. It also organized a Military Police Branch in the Officers' Reserve Corps. In the 1920s military police duties were once again performed by troops drawn from posts, camps, and stations and tactical units, usually on the basis of rosters drawn up by local commanders. Provost marshals existed in the reserve commands but never above the corps area level. Despite its organizational preservation in the severely reduced postwar Army, the military police function was again allowed to drift.
With the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939 the creation of a military police corps became almost a necessity. In conjunction with a rising national concern over possible subversion and the perceived need to control hostile aliens, the Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson appointed Maj. Gen. Allen W. Guillon, the adjutant general of the Army, as acting provost marshal on 31 July 1941. To meet the demands associated with an army mobilizing for war, the War Department also recognized that a centralized authority above the corps level was necessary. On 26 September 1941, the official birthday of the corps, the secretary of war established the Military Police Corps as a permanent branch of the Army.
The duties of the new branch were published the day the United States declared war.18 The military police became responsible for investigating all crimes and offenses committed by persons "subject to military law within the area under the control of the organization to which they are assigned or attached." The branch was also charged with fighting crime, enforcing all police regulations pertaining to their area, reporting violations of orders "given by them in the proper execution of their duties regardless of the grade or status of the offender," and preventing the commission of acts "which are subversive of discipline or that cast discredit in any way on the United States Army." The branch was expected to perform those duties traditionally associated with their specialty controlling the movement of traffic both in the battlefield area as well as in camps, posts, and stations; safeguarding soldiers from violence or accidents; recovering lost, stolen, and abandoned property within the Army; and relieving combat organizations of the custody of prisoners of war and operating the prisoner-of-war system-along with some new military duties, including assisting in destroying hostile airborne troops when combat troops were unavailable or inadequate to the task.
The enforcement of military laws and regulations, the maintenance of order, and the control of traffic remained the most important wartime duties of the military police. But as usual in wartime, the corps was also expected to assume some duties more usually associated with civilian law enforcement. These included protecting designated buildings, public works, and localities of special importance from pillage, sabotage, and damage; supervising and controlling the evacuation and repatriation of civilian populations; assisting in the enforcement of gas defense, passive antiaircraft measures, and blackouts; and performing security investigations and other general measures for security and secrecy.
To perform military police responsibilities in the field, the War Department authorized larger military police units, with the battalion (later in the war it changed to group) prescribed as the largest unit in higher headquarters. It created the position of provost marshal general to serve on the staff of these headquarters to assist the commanders "in the supervision and operation of police matters." Describing it as a wartime measure, the War Department also authorized the appointment of a provost marshal general at each general headquarters or theater of operations and on the staff of all divisions and higher units. In distinction to those serving in the tactical units, these general headquarters officers, with certain exceptions, were assigned to the special staff and exercised no command function over the military police units in the command.
The War Department initially organized three new battalions and four separate companies of military police from already existing assets. It also transferred all officers and enlisted men performing military police duties as well as all units performing such functions to the new corps. As a consequence, by mid-1942 the number of military police units had increased to seventeen battalions organized under the tables of organization. By that time, as the Army was rapidly expanding toward its full wartime strength, military police companies had become increasingly specialized as planning became more sophisticated. Some served exclusively as zone of interior guards, escort guards, and post, camp, and station garrisons. Others focused on duties relating to prisoners of war or in security processing while still another large number of companies became exclusively involved in criminal investigations. The corps, which started with a paltry 2,000 men in 1941, grew to a strength of more than 200,000 during the course of the war.
As a result of the rapid expansion of the military police and the everincreasing need for trained personnel, the corps created the Military Police Service School at the Arlington Cantonment, Fort Myer, Virginia, on 19 December 1941. The school was similar to the one established in France in 1918 for training military police in the AEF. Its curriculum emphasized internal security and intelligence functions. The Provost Marshal General's School, as it was renamed on 15 January 1942, had four basic departments: Military Law, Traffic Control, Police Methods, and Criminal Investigation. The corps also established a replacement training center and a unit training center. By V-J Day some 40,000 men had processed through the replacement training center.
Based on its experiences during the war and faced with the challenge of a new conflict in Korea, the Department of the Army issued new guidance concerning the responsibilities and organization of the military police in September 1950. It redefined the responsibilities of the provost marshals who henceforth would not only advise the commander on policy matters, but directly supervise the operations of the military police of the command.
The Korean War also introduced a new duty for military police. The war witnessed a dramatic increase in black market activities associated with an army fighting in a third world nation. In previous decades control of the black market fell to civil affairs units, but the massiveness of the problem that began to appear in 1951 quickly involved the resources of the military police and, eventually, the corps added control and eradication of black market activities to its list of responsibilities. Noting that the destruction caused by military operations and the usual local shortages of supplies in occupied territories created an extensive demand for items such as cigarettes, gasoline, food, weapons, and vehicles, the Department of the Army called on the military police, subject to the Uniform Code of Military justice, to detect and apprehend military personnel and civilians participating in black-marketing.
In ensuing decades America's involvement in Southeast Asia brought about yet another significant expansion in military police responsibilities, underscoring new and varied uses for military police in a war without defined rear areas. In addition to their usual wartime functions, military police units served in a direct combat support role. They provided convoy security, often escorting supplies and equipment through districts subject to direct enemy attack. They controlled traffic throughout the four combat zones where front lines had ceased to exist in the usual sense of the word. They secured highways and bridges against both local subversives and North Vietnamese regulars. They joined combat troops in the hazardous task of locating and destroying enemy tunnels. They supervised the movement of refugees and the control of political detainees in a war where determining friends and enemies could be a deadly decision. Military police also became frontline fighters during the successful effort to repel the North Vietnamese during the Tet offensive in 1968. At one point in the war military police were given exclusive responsibility for a specific tactical area, including responsibility for civic action functions in that area.
This increase in responsibility was recognized organizationally by the expansion in the number of military police units in Vietnam and by their organization for command and control purposes under a military police brigade. The seven military police battalions that served in Vietnam were organized into three military police groups: the 8th performed all criminal investigative work in the theater; the 16th provided command and control of all military police units assigned to the I and II tactical zones; the 89th controlled those units in zones III and IV. These units in turn were organized under the 18th Military Police Brigade, the first military police unit of its level to be employed in the Army. The brigade commander also served as provost marshal of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam.
During 1968 the Army Chief of Staff, acknowledging the Military Police Corps' active involvement in support of military operations in Vietnam, approved changing the branch's identification from combat service support to combat support. This change was clearly justified by the responsibilities assumed by the corps in Vietnam where military police units were organized, trained, and equipped to perform operations in a combat support role. As a combat support branch, the Military Police Corps was placed under the U.S. Army Regimental System in September 1986.
The experience of Vietnam and the implementation of AirLand Battle doctrine for the battlefield of the future placed further responsibilities upon the military police in recent years. In 1988 the Army redefined and enlarged the branch's battlefield mission as first outlined in the publication of AirLand doctrine in 1986. Army doctrine posited that where in previous wars military police usually performed a rear security role, the battlefield of the future would find the need for protection against rear area threats vastly increased. The military police in the rear area must be ready and able for short periods of time to assume a direct combat role. The battle of the future, the new doctrine presupposed, would be fast paced and short in duration. Therefore the military police unit, with its special ability to move and communicate with great speed and with its possession of unusually heavy firepower for such a highly mobile unit, could significantly enhance a commander's combat options. In addition, its versatility in controlling traffic and troop movement would allow commanders to mobilize much more quickly than in the past. In a future when a small force structure would be used in low intensity conflicts worldwide, military police could be expected to play an increasingly important operational role.
The assets that make the Military Police Corps so valuable in contemporary battlefield doctrine are actually quite similar to those possessed by the Marechaussee Corps in the Revolutionary War. While traveling a difficult road to organizational permanence and recognition as an organic element of the Army's fighting team, military police have along the way carefully adapted their mobility and communications capability to a myriad of new duties and responsibilities, leaving the corps ready to assume greater responsibilities and duties in the Army of the future.
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