The US Army’s Battle of the Systems, 1914–1920

World War I is commonly remembered as a machine war or an industrial war, but it was a war of flesh and blood as well. Many strands of technological change converged during the Great War that rendered battlefield conditions vastly different from those of a century prior. Machine guns, rifles, huge artillery concentrations lobbing high explosives, and more drove soldiers underground and created strangely empty battlefields. In the generation before 1914, most of Europe’s leading military thinkers had posited an aggressive offensive mindset as the best way of overcoming the advantages new weapons technologies gave to the defense. According to this body of thought, the strategic offensive was necessary to win a war, and this depended upon offensive success at the tactical level. If opposing forces possessed similar technology, then triumph would go to the side whose men were stronger, faster, more resilient, and more motivated.1 Consequently, firepower could enable offensive action, but the margin of victory lay with man. European militaries had looked to physical training systems for decades as a way to gain that critical, qualitative edge in manpower.

Most European militaries expanded their physical training systems during World War I and the US Army followed suit. Physical training was a major element of every US soldier’s preparation for war. Koehler’s physical culture guided it, at least initially. For instance, both Koehler and his system were fixtures at preparedness camps in the summers of 1915 and 1916; also, his Special Regulations No. 23: Field Physical Training of the Soldier became a staple training aid for many junior officers in 1917. Experience in combat only reinforced the value leaders inside and outside the military affixed to physical training. When noted physical educator Luther Gulick returned from a visit to the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe in 1918, he brought a message for his fellow physical educators: physical fitness in war had become more important than ever. Gulick dismissed certain prewar theories that suggested modern war would be one of machines and that the improved ability to kill from a distance devalued physical strength, speed, and endurance. Nothing, he argued, could be further from the truth. The willingness to do or die counted, but “plain physical capacity” was equally vital. Victory went to the man who could endure longer, march farther, and fight harder. Gulick declared that even in the land of the machine gun and artillery shell, man’s physical fitness remained the “foundation of all success in war.”2 Even as leaders continued to emphasize physical fitness, the ways of building up that foundation changed drastically between 1917 and 1918. In that narrow window, an insurgent corps of civilians entered the scene and challenged the physical culture the Army had so recently sanctioned as official after thirty years of development.

Ultimately, mobilized civilians displaced Koehler and his compatriots as the Army’s primary producers of physical culture between 1917 and 1920. The relative decline of Koehler’s institutional power began in 1917 when the newly created Commission on Training Camp Activities (CTCA) took charge of recreational athletics and physical training in the Army. Unfettered by the Army’s conventions and existing physical culture, and bearing fresh ideas from the world of physical education about what physical training could be, the CTCA’s civilian cadre crafted a new physical culture. This new culture was more inclusive of varied activities, more focused on combat-oriented functional fitness, and more concerned with efficiently sculpting the individual soldier into an effective fighting machine. Such efficiency seemed critical within the context of a perceived manpower crisis engendered by surprisingly high rates of draft rejections for physical and mental inadequacy. As the war drew to a close and in its immediate aftermath, the CTCA’s leaders attempted to cement their physical culture as the Army’s own. Yet supplanting Koehler’s physical culture proved more difficult than expected.

As conscription began swelling the US Army’s ranks in the late summer of 1917, the Army struggled to deliver sufficient physical training to its new recruits. At the beginning of 1917, the Army counted approximately three hundred thousand men in uniform in either the Regular Army or the National Guard. By November 1918, that population exploded to nearly 3.9 million.3 The bodies and minds of those recruits needed strengthening, toughening, and sculpting, but the Army lacked an expansible corps of physical trainers able to meet the demand. Despite the Army’s embrace of the physical culture developed by Koehler and his compatriots, it had not invested in a training pipeline to create and certify trainers. Calls for a central school on the British Aldershot model had come to naught and Koehler’s alternative proposal for a “postgraduate” course at West Point had withered by 1904.4

Instead of a central school, the Army had opted to rely on West Point for the production of its physical trainers. Young West Point graduates, all beneficiaries of Koehler’s instruction, assumed various duties at their new units as athletic officers and gymnasium directors. Though this system worked reasonably well in the prewar Army, it proved wholly inadequate to the challenge of mass mobilization.5 West Point’s accelerated program turned out hundreds of new officers during the war years, but their physical training education was curtailed, other duties quickly consumed their time, and they were simply too few in number. Without a central school for physical trainers, the Army could not equip newly enlisted and commissioned citizen-soldiers with the knowledge and skills to lead training. Thus, the Army was incapable of expanding its corps of physical trainers to meet the demands of mobilization.

Similar shortfalls in other areas ranging from logistics management to psychological evaluations challenged the Army’s ability to mobilize on such a vast scale. To make up for these shortfalls, the Army, and President Woodrow Wilson’s administration more broadly, turned to civilian elites staffing new, ad hoc organizations.6 The CTCA was one such organization, and it rapidly assumed responsibility for the care of soldiers’ bodies, minds, and morals. Wilson established the CTCA on April 17, 1917, just eleven days after the United States entered World War I, and charged it with preventing the spread of venereal disease among soldiers. Simultaneously, the Department of the Navy established a nearly identical commission to provide healthy recreational outlets for its sailors.7 According to the Army’s CTCA, victory would come through “man-power and manhood,” so the commission dedicated its efforts to cultivating both.8

In part, the CTCA’s existence revealed the obligation the Wilson administration felt toward young men it drafted into service. America’s youth were called in unprecedented numbers for a cause portrayed in highly moralistic terms. Accordingly, those men should be moral warriors and return home bearing only those scars “won in honorable conflict.”9 The CTCA’s campaign against venereal disease and the immoral influences traditionally associated with military encampments by Americans helped assuage the public’s concerns about entrusting its young men to the military.10

The CTCA’s mission also revealed two other impulses in the Wilson administration’s management of the war effort. Efficiency was the first of these. Rumors at the time held that venereal disease ravaged the armies fighting in Europe—supposedly, the Austrian army alone had lost upward of sixty-seven divisions worth of men to it.11 Reduction in venereal disease rates therefore seemed an excellent way to minimize wastage. Fewer soldiers put out of action by preventable disease meant more bodies available for military operations. Additionally, the soldiers themselves would be more efficient if content and engaged instead of bored and left to their own devices. The second impulse was toward social engineering on a massive scale. Progressives in the Wilson administration perceived an opportunity to reshape American society using soldiers and their training camps as a vector. Instead of introducing men to vice, military service could teach men healthy alternatives. Soldiers could return home with their bodies “strengthened and more virile,” their minds “deepened and enriched by participation in a great, heroic enterprise,” and their spirits enhanced by values “which come from a full life lived well and wholesomely.”12 After the crusade in Europe, American soldiers could bring the crusade home as the vanguard in a campaign of national uplift.

Both impulses were evident in the ideas and actions of the CTCA’s director, Raymond Fosdick, and the man to whom the CTCA answered, Secretary of War Newton Baker. Both were Progressives keen on improving American morals and leveraging social engineering for reform.13 Fosdick, a New York city official who had made his name investigating European and American police systems, first encountered the problem of morality in military training camps in August 1916. That summer, US soldiers deployed to the Mexican border found themselves bored in a hot and desolate land. Alcohol and prostitutes helped fill the dull hours. Alarmed by reports of vice, the War Department dispatched Fosdick as a special agent to study conditions.14 Fosdick’s report earned him the chairmanship of the Army’s CTCA and of the Navy’s parallel commission in 1917. Fosdick waged his subsequent campaign against venereal disease and immorality on many fronts. For instance, the CTCA established in-camp alternatives to vice such as libraries, clubs, and hostess houses. The organization also used repression, as in their agents’ heavy-handed dealings with communities near training camps when rooting out illegal liquor sales and prostitution. Simultaneously, the CTCA worked at the development of soldiers as moral men through educational programs, singing, sport, and more. Such diverse lines of effort demonstrate that Baker, Fosdick, and their chief subordinates conceived of their mission in broad terms and were willing to pursue their objectives aggressively by many means.

Athletics instantly emerged as a key tool in the CTCA’s grand campaign to combat venereal disease, improve efficiency, and remake American society. Sports and exercise fulfilled the CTCA’s immediate mission of providing healthy alternatives to vice. Soldiers could spend their energy in exercise and their spare time playing in or spectating at sporting events. Such arguments had long been among the justifications for recreational athletics, gym construction, and systematic physical training in the military. Additionally, sporting events could tie training camps and their local communities together more tightly through wholesome competition, which advanced the CTCA’s vision of reshaping society. Athletics also enabled the CTCA’s Progressive leadership to pursue what historian Nancy Bristow has identified as one of their prime objectives: cultivation of an active middle-class masculinity to counter the feminization wrought by industrialization and urbanization.15 Ideally, soldiers would take their new knowledge of and zest for physical activity back to their communities after discharge. Veterans could be vectors for revitalizing, and remasculinizing, an enervated American society. Finally, athletics seemed to have obvious and direct military relevance. At least three decades of cultural, intellectual, and institutional momentum ensured that many of the Army’s leaders were receptive to athletics, even if the Army’s official physical culture separated athletics and training. The CTCA, dedicated to “educat[ing] the men to be better fighting organisms,” capitalized on this moment and on easy analogies in claiming that athletics could make men fit to fight and keep them that way.16

Responsibility for athletics fell to the CTCA’s Athletic Division, headed by Princeton’s Joseph Raycroft.17 This division, and Raycroft specifically, displaced Koehler between 1917 and 1920 as chief producer of official Army physical culture. The CTCA’s authority and reach made the displacement possible. Part of that authority derived from the professional credentials Raycroft and others like him brought to bear. A member of the University of Chicago’s first graduating class in 1896, Raycroft earned his doctoral degree in medicine from Rush Medical College in 1899. He later returned to Chicago as a full professor and served for twelve years as the university’s medical director. In 1911, Raycroft became Princeton’s second chairman of health and physical education, a position he retained until retirement in 1936. Among many other accomplishments at Princeton, Raycroft championed expanding the school’s intramural athletics. He based his Princeton program partly on arguments that unhealthy students lowered the efficiency of the institution as a whole and that healthy bodies were essential for “clear thinking, clean living and efficient citizenship.”18 He also called on physical educators to design outcome-oriented curricula instead of prescribing general programs. For Raycroft, physical education’s ultimate purpose was training the person to “get normal control of himself and to adapt himself to his environment.”19 At Princeton and in the Army, Raycroft championed a holistic, educational approach to physical training intended to produce positive mental, moral, and physical effects in its subjects.20 Raycroft’s belief in holistic education belonged to physical education’s third generation, which had diverged from the thought and practice informing the Army’s physical culture around 1906.

The Athletic Division differed from benevolent organizations such as the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and Knights of Columbus, which facilitated recreational athletics in camps and overseas, by aggressively interceding in military training.21 In May 1917, less than a month after the CTCA’s creation, Raycroft laid out his understanding of the problems facing physical training and his proposed solutions in a memorandum for the Army’s General Staff. This memorandum reveals Raycroft’s desire to fundamentally change Army physical training practices. In it, Raycroft asserted that the US Army had to rapidly mold the “raw, untrained material from civil life” into men ready for “technical military training.” In brief, the problem was to bring men up to “a condition of maximum physical and mental efficiency in the shortest space of time.” Raycroft urged a “simple, intensive, uniform” training program to develop the “body control, physical reserve and endurance demanded by modern warfare.”22 According to Raycroft, doing so necessitated an increase in scale, more central control, further standardization, and the use of “more varied types of physical activities” beyond the disciplinary exercises Koehler’s culture promoted.23 The Athletic Division’s leaders prided themselves on their open-mindedness to any methods, whatever their source, that would help them achieve their goals.24 Crucially, Raycroft and his community of newly empowered civilians were unfettered by Army traditions and many of the assumptions that underwrote the Army’s existing physical culture.

To fulfill this vision, Raycroft initially recommended using the Army’s internal resources to build up a cadre of physical trainers in the British mold through a central Physical and Bayonet School. He envisioned this central school training and certifying instructors in courses ranging from one to four weeks in length. As in Britain and Canada, such a school could grow and shrink its capacity based on demand, thereby creating an expansible training pipeline.25 From the beginning, Raycroft attached a great deal of importance to training trainers. He stressed that success in physical training depended upon the spirit and expertise shown by instructors. Expecting Koehler and his limited cadre of young West Point graduates to teach all the new conscripts and recruits would be inefficient, not to mention physically impossible. Instead, Raycroft wanted experts such as Koehler in a school where they could “teach other men to teach.”26 Raycroft also proposed the establishment of a physical training control board in Washington to develop the thought, practice, and systems to be taught at the central training school.27 Though this board never formed, the CTCA’s Athletic Division filled the role, temporarily replacing West Point as the de facto agency for development and promulgation of physical training systems.

Much of Raycroft’s vision for the Army’s future physical training infrastructure reflected his study of programs in use by Allied forces. In drafting his memorandum of May 1917, Raycroft had focused his studies on the British and Canadian systems, and even briefly visited a Canadian training camp.28 This was not a new or novel approach. Aldershot had served as a model for physical training advocates within the Army for decades. Civilian physical educators newly interested in military physical training repeatedly pointed to Aldershot as a model too. After all, it demonstrated the feasibility of an expansible central school for trainers, and its curriculum was informed by lessons learned on the battlefields of World War I.29

Prompted by Raycroft’s memorandum, the War Department dispatched Koehler to Toronto in June 1917 to study the feasibility of implementing a system like the Canadian Army School of Physical and Bayonet Training in the US Army.30 The curriculum Koehler encountered differed from his own in many respects, even if both built from a foundation of disciplinary physical exercise. For instance, the Canadian system reflected its British roots by incorporating both formal and recreational athletics. Bayonet and hand-to-hand fighting figured prominently as well.31 Koehler issued a negative report upon his return that convinced the War Department that it was “not considered possible to establish a course . . . on the scale suggested.”32 What exactly Koehler found unfeasible or undesirable is not known. However, Koehler had expressed hostility in the past to turning over any part of Army physical training to civilians, so he may have found it impractical to build such a school just using the military’s limited pool of uniformed experts, given the urgency of mobilization.

Subsequently, the War Department dispatched Koehler to officers’ training camps instead of putting him in a school as Raycroft urged. Koehler spent two to four weeks at these camps, giving special instruction to selected candidates.33 Graduates of Koehler’s crash course could, in theory, lead exercise sessions in accordance with Special Regulations No. 23, published in May 1917.34 This practice essentially perpetuated the Army’s existing instructor training program, but where Koehler spent four years preparing West Point graduates to lead physical training, he now spent at most four weeks with candidates. Several factors compromised the effectiveness of this arrangement. First, Koehler simply could not train enough officers himself. Training at most a few hundred men during each two-to-four-week iteration did not produce a corps sufficient to meet the needs of the Army’s rapidly swelling ranks. Second, other duties tended to consume these officers once they arrived at their units, making them unavailable for service as physical training instructors.35

Because the War Department did not initially follow through on Raycroft’s recommendations, the Athletic Division’s head shifted his efforts to promoting a second scheme. Perceiving that Koehler’s assignments to the camps signaled the way forward, Raycroft moved to place his own men in training camps. The Athletic Division would recruit leaders of college athletics and insert them into camps as athletic officers responsible for organizing training and sports. This plan followed the model set by Koehler while capitalizing on a feature common to most Regular Army camps, especially those overseas: athletic councils.36 By 1917, athletic councils had been in operation for about two decades. Army officers on those councils were charged with organizing and supervising recreational athletic competitions. Raycroft’s proposal would put civilians at the head of similar councils that simultaneously organized training and athletic competitions while educating officers on how to do the same in their regiments, battalions, and companies.

Preparing and positioning new athletic directors posed some challenges. For example, the CTCA could not force commanders to accept these men. To get around this, the CTCA, with Secretary Baker’s authorization, wrote to camp commanders offering “the right, if they so desired,” to “invite the services of trained athletic coaches” in order to “stimulate and promote the development of a knowledge of the organization and conduct of athletic sports.”37 However, the Athletic Division reserved responsibility for recruiting and managing civilian athletic directors. Rolled out first at officers’ training camps, the program proved popular and rapidly expanded to cover all training camps. By November 1917, the CTCA’s athletic directors operated in sixteen Army and sixteen National Guard cantonments.38 This training cadre reinforced the Athletic Division’s institutional control over physical culture production. Over the following two years, they extended Raycroft’s influence down to the division level and below, built a school system from the ground up, and used their laboratory of human material to develop a comprehensive system of military physical training.

This influential group initially included physical educators, coaches, and athletic trainers pulled mostly from institutions of American higher education at the outset of the war. The War Department designated these experts as “civilian aides” to camp and division commanders. For the most part, camp commanders enthusiastically welcomed them, and most received the title of “athletic director.”39 Their duties involved building and leading athletic councils, as well as coordinating the work of YMCA and Knights of Columbus physical directors who were already organizing recreational activities. In August, the CTCA expanded this program by adding boxing experts to serve under the athletic directors as special instructors.40 Raycroft prided himself on recruiting men as athletic directors, special instructors, and advisors based purely upon their qualifications in the subject matter. This led to the recruitment of some unorthodox trainers, including professional prizefighters, a “Scotchman who had lived in Japan” and there earned a fifth-degree black belt, and a “couple of noted knife fighters” from a lumber camp in Mississippi who were “very tough guys,” according to Raycroft.41 Merit-based recruitment reflected Raycroft’s commitment to efficiency. Yet it occasionally cut against the Progressive morality project, such as when rough-and-tumble instructors failed to model the honorable masculine ideal the CTCA sought to cultivate.42 However, the use of these instructors demonstrated Raycroft’s functional, combat-oriented definition of fitness that characterized the physical culture he helped craft.

Inserting civilians into military organizations triggered a running debate about whether the athletic directors should remain civilians or receive a commission, and if they should deploy with their divisions. In part, this debate reflected negotiations over the athletic director’s role. The CTCA’s initial pitch to camp commanders emphasized the athletic director’s responsibility for organizing and promoting sport. Yet clearly Raycroft and others in the CTCA imagined a larger role for their directors. In this regard, the title “athletic director” was somewhat misleading; one Athletic Division inspector observed in 1918 that most of a director’s work, and the “most important part” of that work, was in physical training.43 Were these civilians really just supposed to promote sports, or did their duties blend recreation and training?

Preserving the athletic directors’ civilian status offered several advantages. For instance, a civilian aide could sometimes get the ear of a general more easily than could a captain or major on staff because they retained a unique expert status in their area of proficiency instead of appearing as just one more junior officer among numerous others.44 Many of the CTCA’s senior leaders therefore believed that civilians could potentially push the Athletic Division’s agenda more effectively by generating more traction with decision-makers at the division level and below. After the war, Raycroft’s former executive officer, John Griffith, recalled that Raycroft’s civilian status opened generals’ doors, which helped him convince key leaders of the value of physical training.45 Secretary Baker also viewed civilian status as an asset, at least at first. As he observed in June 1917, civilians not only enjoyed potentially better access to senior officers, but they could also build closer relationships with soldiers than could officers.46 Close relationships helped athletic directors advance the Athletic Division’s agenda and spread its emerging physical culture.

Civilian status also imposed liabilities, though. Some of these were trivial or merely annoying. For instance, Fort Gordon’s athletic director, Thomas Browne, complained about receiving extra scrutiny from sentries, being unable to purchase clothing from the quartermaster, and difficulties in securing memberships at a nearby country club. Other liabilities posed a greater threat to the Athletic Division’s mission: Browne also reported that some officers resented being instructed by a civilian, and many objected to him inspecting their physical training programs.47 Commissioned athletic directors could, in theory, more effectively institutionalize and police their systems of exercise and athletics by their own authority.

Despite the advantages that Raycroft apparently enjoyed as a civilian, he argued for commissions for his athletic directors as early as May 1917. Raycroft believed that his directors deserved the pay, privileges, and respect that came with a commission. He also believed that commissions increased the likelihood of keeping his directors in the Army on a permanent basis, thereby enhancing their long-term influence on physical training practices and policies after the war.48 Finally, Raycroft believed that his division’s responsibilities extended beyond recreational athletics, and that commissioned physical trainers could make claiming a stake in basic military training easier. Raycroft’s and Fosdick’s exertions convinced Baker to reverse his position and authorize some commissions in December 1917.49 In January 1918, fourteen athletic directors received commissions as captains and were assigned duties as “physical training officers.”50 More followed in 1918, and a few of these physical training officers even deployed to Europe with their divisions.

Beyond winning physical training officers some new power in military units, commissions also helped resolve occasionally fractious relationships between the YMCA’s agents and the CTCA’s representatives. In camps, directors from both organizations found that they shared overlapping areas of responsibility and that their relationships were not well defined. This sometimes led to conflict, as when one YMCA regional secretary suggested to a camp physical director that he organize athletics at his camp so as to impede the CTCA’s newly arrived athletic director’s participation.51 Conflicts led to a series of letters and meetings between the top leaders of both organizations in late 1917. These exchanges produced an agreement that required directors in the various camps to develop harmonious working relationships. The agreement implied a superior position for the CTCA’s athletic directors, who were responsible for coordinating athletics for commanding officers. Yet the agreement forbade the athletic directors from issuing orders to their YMCA counterparts.52 Relationships between directors became more vertical and formal as the CTCA’s representatives gained commissions. The debates between these organizations are further evidence of the role the CTCA perceived for itself in military training. Unlike the YMCA, which worked chiefly to improve soldier morale, the CTCA viewed itself as a part of the War Department responsible for the “military efficiency of the soldiers.”53 In following this logic, the CTCA’s Athletic Division positioned itself as the preeminent authority on physical training and athletics by early 1918.

CTCA athletic directors and physical training officers, along with their YMCA physical director compatriots, entered service with many shared ideas shaped by civilian education and experience. Over time, these ideas gelled into a coherent physical culture. For the most part, this was a bottom-up process that resembled, in Raycroft’s words, a “great laboratory experiment in the development of human material.”54 Physical educators and athletic coaches initially applied their knowledge and experience to improve soldiers within the unique conditions that each camp presented. As these volunteers and their military counterparts hashed out practices at the local level, they shared their experiences through organs such as the US Army War College and the American Physical Education Review journal.55 The CTCA’s Athletic Division also served as a central clearing house for information. Camp athletic directors remained in regular communication with the Athletic Division’s office in Washington, DC, and the Athletic Division issued weekly bulletins to their men in the field that included policy guidance and highlighted best practices.56 In the spring of 1918, the CTCA also began holding regional conferences for their camp athletic directors and boxing instructors. These conferences were intended to give directors opportunities to discuss common problems and develop solutions.57

Raycroft standardized these practices as they cohered into a training system over time. This was among his top priorities from the moment he assumed leadership of the Athletic Division.58 Initially, Raycroft envisioned a central school fulfilling this role. Although the War Department initially declined to build such a school, Raycroft never gave up on the concept. In April 1918, the Athletic Division once again proposed an Aldershot-like central bayonet and physical trainer school along the British model, plus expanded duties for physical training officers. Raycroft grounded his argument in a review of the Athletic Division’s accomplishments to date, and in an awareness that the military would eventually assume responsibility for the services civilians had until then provided. Baker approved the recommendations. In July, he directed the Athletic Division to coordinate with the General Staff’s Instruction Branch to develop the plans further.59 Coordination bore fruit that September in the form of Training Circular No. 19: Organization of Physical and Bayonet Training. Among other items, the circular advised that units form Physical Training Boards under commanding officers to supervise and coordinate athletic and physical training activities. The boards included a chairman, who was a staff officer directly responsible to the commander for physical training, the physical training officer, and selected physical and bayonet training officers, advisers, and instructors.60 These were precisely the organizations Raycroft had advocated in his April arguments. Functionally, they combined recreational and physical training activities under one body. The boards also consolidated the power of the Athletic Division’s officers and directors within camps and units.

Another pathway to standardization emerged organically by the summer of 1918. Since late 1917, many camps and divisions had formed schools under their athletic directors to create physical and bayonet trainers.61 In the summer of 1918, Raycroft capitalized on these small schools to take concrete steps toward building a central school for the entire Army. In June, Raycroft received authorization to put a test school at Rich Field, Texas, into operation, formally charged with improving air crews’ physical capabilities. Every aviation field and ground school dispatched three men to attend. Officers and civilians detailed by the Athletic Division conducted the training under the advisement of the War College’s Training Committee.62 In August, the General Staff’s War Plans Division’s Training and Instruction Branch authorized a wider “coordination course of physical training.”63 Raycroft selected Camp Gordon’s school, run by Cap. Thomas Brown, as the host. Camp Gordon’s school had become a robust operation since late 1917. With a staff of more than thirty, the school educated physical training officers for Camp Gordon units as well as classes of noncommissioned officers. Graduates of these latter classes numbered at least fifteen hundred and were supposed to pass on the Athletic Division’s nascent system to the recruits under their charge.64

Fifteen months of effort culminated in the Athletic Division gaining a central school, though it was ostensibly temporary. The Athletic Division’s physical directors, hand-to-hand fighting specialists, and boxing instructors were the first to attend. Raycroft later recalled that this temporary school represented a major step toward standardizing Army physical training along the lines of the Athletic Division’s emerging system.65 Not only did it increase the likelihood of the Army opening a permanent central school, but its graduates received a special certification and returned to duty with recommendations for commissions in the Reserve Corps, further institutionalizing the Athletic Division’s system and its associated physical culture.

Movement toward centralization and standardization of physical training under Raycroft’s model continued even as the war drew to a close and the CTCA demobilized. As part of that demobilization in 1919, the CTCA recommended establishing a permanent course in physical instruction. The General Staff’s War Plans Division concurred and directed that the emergency course at Camp Gordon transfer to Camp Benning.66 Raycroft believed that the Benning school marked a “great step upward” in promoting a “comprehensive standardized physical . . . athletic and bayonet training” throughout the Army on a “permanent basis.”67 Veterans of Raycroft’s Athletic Division staffed the new school, including senior instructor Maj. John Griffith, who was Raycroft’s former executive officer.68 Five officers each from the Infantry, Cavalry, Field Artillery, Coast Artillery, and Engineers attended the Benning school’s first class between September 8 and 30, 1919. The purpose of this class was twofold. First, it was a testbed for Raycroft’s forthcoming manual, which many anticipated would replace the Manual of Physical Training of 1914.69 Indeed, the course’s content matched Raycroft’s later manual exactly. Second, its officer graduates were supposed to establish similar courses at their service schools to propagate the physical culture nurtured at Benning’s central school.

Between 1917 and 1919, Raycroft and his civilian compatriots displaced Koehler as the Army’s primary producers of physical culture. Beginning with a broad charter to improve the minds, morals, and muscles of America’s soldiers, the CTCA’s Athletic Division leveraged its influence and access at the War Department’s highest levels to reshape physical training in the Army. Koehler stayed active throughout this period and his ideas and practices remained relevant. For instance, elements of Koehler’s earlier manuals were reprinted for use in 1917, and Koehler himself moved from camp to camp conducting training with all the vitality and energy he had always displayed. Yet Koehler could not be everywhere. In place of the old Turner and his West Point disciples, civilian educators and coaches wielding fitness philosophies from the physical education community flooded in. Over time, their ideas coalesced through an institutional framework of conferences and schools, built from the ground up, that came to fulfill Raycroft’s original vision of a central proponent. Civilian ascendency had major consequences for the Army’s physical culture, but what ideas informed the work of those civilians, what sort of physical culture did they sculpt, and how did that culture differ from Koehler’s?

As before, context is key to understanding this new physical culture, hereafter referred to as Raycroft’s culture in acknowledgment of his central role in conceiving, shaping, packaging, and promoting it. Four elements of that context were especially relevant to the formation of Raycroft’s culture. First, the men who created it entered the Army in a time of acute emergency with orders to address that emergency. Second, those men revered efficiency—maximum gain toward a specific outcome in minimum time with minimum waste. Third, the producers of Raycroft’s culture approached their duties from the perspective of educators, not merely trainers. Finally, Raycroft and his partners understood their mission to be part of a broader enterprise concerned with the morality and masculinity of young American men.

Concerning the conditions under which Raycroft and his team entered service, the War Department called upon these men soon after the United States entered World War I and charged them with preparing for combat an army growing more massive by the day. The CTCA’s civilians believed that they belonged to a world where “everything is necessarily subordinated to the need of creating an efficient fighting force.”70 That force was preparing to embark on a difficult and dangerous task. Shortly, its troops would enter the war in Europe alongside and against veteran forces with years of experience. Raycroft held that physical training was a way to compensate for inexperience. He and his colleagues hoped that an effectively leveraged, comprehensive system of exercise could put American recruits near the level of German veterans in terms of mental readiness, physical preparedness, and “fighting spirit.”71 Thus the men of the CTCA were not much concerned with the need for instilling iron discipline or controlling regulars. Their understanding, or perhaps imagination, of the modern battlefield and combat differed from the way prewar regular officers understood battle. Officers such as Edmund Butts who promoted physical fitness prior to 1917 emphasized unit fitness. In contrast, CTCA leaders focused on the individual fighting man. This was reflected in Training Circular No. 19’s stated purpose: the “development of the greatest possible individual efficiency and power in offensive combat.”72 A battalion’s average marching speed was less important in this construct than the soldier’s grit, aggressiveness, and close-combat skills.

Reverence for efficiency appeared frequently in texts and practices produced by the CTCA’s physical training experts. In a presentation delivered to the Athletic Research Society shortly after the war, Raycroft named three elements of efficiency that guided his approach to developing a military physical training system: a clear conception of the work’s purpose, suitability of the means and methods of administering work to achieve that purpose, and standards of measurement to mark progress toward the ultimate purpose. In that same speech, Raycroft rejected as too general the promotion of overall strength, vigor, and discipline that he understood to be the purpose of prewar Army physical training. Raycroft believed that more focus was necessary, specifically on advancing a soldier’s basic military training and his physical education.73 Physical training could do more than strengthen muscles and minds; it could make soldiers ready for combat.74 This was the basis of Raycroft’s repeated assertion that one differentiate between exercise and training when developing a military physical training system. Exercise for the sake of exercise was inefficient. Instead, everything needed to contribute to building a competent, lethal soldier. However, Raycroft and his compatriots do not appear to have made any significant efforts to compile data on actual physical requirements for combat or to determine what specifically soldiers needed to be able to do. In reflecting later on their process of creating a training system, Raycroft laid out broad objectives, but never mentioned specific requirements such as being able to move a given load over a given distance.75

Raycroft defined soldier physical fitness in his manual of 1920 using four categories that aligned with his training system’s broad objectives. First, fit soldiers demonstrated excellent bearing. They were poised, neat, alert, well disciplined, and precise in their movements. Second, fit soldiers possessed physical and mental control. They were coordinated and could respond to commands and changing situations rapidly. Control of body and mind granted soldiers “initiative, persistence, shiftiness, resourcefulness, willingness to give and take punishment, nerve, strength, and endurance.” Third, fit soldiers could fight unarmed and with a bayonet. Raycroft specifically defined fitness here as a soldier’s ability to “acquit himself creditably in a three-round bout with a skilled boxer of his own weight.” Finally, fit soldiers could demonstrate achievement of minimum standards in a test that involved running, jumping, climbing, throwing, and negotiating obstacles.76 Mental health also appeared occasionally in Raycroft’s definition of fitness. He believed that sports and training toughened minds, provided outlets for competition and entertainment, and prevented soldiers from “getting stale” or giving in to the anxiety of combat, which was a route to shell shock.77

Raycroft’s rejection of exercise for its own sake and his desire to align the means of physical training with desired outcomes reflected his background as a physical educator. He shared this background and its attendant perspectives with the Athletic Division’s other experts. Raycroft believed that the purposes of civilian and military physical education were very similar, except in some of their specific outcomes. Likewise, he believed that the problems both military and educational institutions faced were “fundamentally the same.” That problem was, in short, how to leverage physical activities to prepare a person for success by developing crucial qualities, whether physical or not.78 Koehler and other early advocates of physical training in the Army had voiced similar ideas, but the qualities sought by these two generations differed. Koehler’s generation focused more on the group and the individual’s role in that group, while Raycroft’s focused more on the individual himself. Physical educators of Raycroft’s generation were also willing to use a much wider range of physical activity in pursuit of their outcomes. For instance, the Athletic Division promoted activities once appreciated purely for their recreational worth, such as sports, as valuable augmentations to the soldier’s “formal training.”79 This willingness reflected the heritage of the playground movement and physical education’s embrace of sport, both trends that had manifested after the paths of civilian physical education and military physical training diverged around the turn of the century.

Raycroft and his compatriots also demonstrated an awareness of their role in a larger social engineering enterprise when crafting their system. The CTCA was dedicated to cultivating an active middle-class masculinity in the men of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). In turn, the AEF represented America in the world. An article published in the Independent in 1917 captured this prevailing perspective: the AEF was a model for the world of “a composite, human standard of our national ideals.”80 Soldiers needed to be masculine, morally wholesome, and physically fit to meet this standard. Yet those responsible for getting soldiers up to such a standard shared a considerably dimmer view of the quality of American men entering the service than had Koehler and Butts. Based on high draft rejection rates and personal observations in camps, Raycroft found that many recruits were “awkward” for not having had a chance to play and undergo athletic training as children.81 Social, moral, and physical consequences followed. Such a perspective contrasted with Butts’s late-nineteenth-century assertions that recruits were high-quality raw material merely needing refinement and sculpting. The Athletic Division, on the other hand, perceived a gap to be bridged using physical activity. Their charge was to turn “narrow-chested clerks,” “lean-visaged philosophers,” and the “book-keeper and the street-car motorman” into soldiers ready for the modern battlefield. Their tools were exercise, sports, and teaching men how to “get bumped, and not to mind it.”82 The drive to cultivate a more physical and active masculinity in new recruits influenced the structure of Raycroft’s system and pervaded the physical culture his system exemplified.

The clearest expression of Raycroft’s system is in his book published in 1920, Mass Physical Training, and in the operations of the Camp Benning Physical and Bayonet Training Course in September 1919. In writing his book, Raycroft surveyed the programs of instruction fashioned by the various divisional and camp schools that had grown up under the Athletic Division’s supervision since 1917. Regular communication with the Athletic Division headquarters and cross-talk in various channels between athletic directors and physical training officers had introduced a good deal of consistency to these programs. Raycroft combined the programs into a single system and tested it during the Benning school’s first class. He regarded the result as the “first detailed and comprehensive scheme of Physical Training to be adopted by the army.”83 The War Department originally intended to publish Raycroft’s book as an official document. However, postwar budget cuts and downsizing forced the manual into private publication.84 Despite its private publication, the General Staff’s War Plans Division under Maj. Gen. William Haan approved the book and directed that its “contents form the basis for the training and instruction of the military service of the United States in the subjects included.”85

Mass Physical Training’s body of subjects was much broader than that of its predecessor from 1914, the Manual of Physical Training. Raycroft’s system covered six general categories of activity: physical drill, group games, drills in personal contact, individual efficiency tests, mass athletics and competitive games, and bayonet training. In contrast, the manual of 1914 ostensibly embraced ten subjects, but five of those fit within the rubric of Raycroft’s “physical drill.” Three other subjects received minimal coverage: running, athletics, and boxing and wrestling. Whereas setting-up exercises and gymnastic exercises formed the basis of Koehler’s program, functional training for individual combat readiness characterized Raycroft’s, as evidenced by exploration of each subject in detail.

Physical drill was the first subject Raycroft addressed. This comprised Koehler’s setting-up drills and other routines from Koehler’s earlier system. In fact, Raycroft simply adapted his drill from Koehler’s manuals.86 Adaptation was not direct, though. At least one CTCA athletic director had found Koehler’s physical drill to be a mixed bag. “He has a mass of material both good and bad,” this director observed, but instructors tended to pick the bad more often than the good and failed to redeem the drill with expertise as could Koehler.87 Raycroft and his partners therefore had to simplify and modify Koehler’s drill to meet their goal, which was to enable someone besides the system’s creator to conduct effective training. One of Raycroft’s greatest deviations from the preexisting system was the lesser emphasis he placed on physical drill. In Koehler’s system, the setting-up drills were central to the entire physical culture. In contrast, Raycroft considered physical drill useful only for disciplinary training and education in bodily control, not for exercise.88 Recruits might benefit from improved posture and responsiveness to commands, but ultimately physical drill was merely “kindergarten work.”89

Mass Physical Training’s second subject encompassed a wide variety of group games. All games were selected for simplicity of organization and their popularity in addition to their educational value. Raycroft intended ten of the simplest for use in regular drill periods. Examples of these include relay races, tug-of-war, and a mass participation version of red-rover called “Over the Top.” Mass Physical Training covered another eighty-three games in its later chapters, many of which instructors could also adapt to drill periods, though most filled supervised athletic periods and leisure time. Additionally, group games included a series of skirmishing and quickening exercises. Many of these were taken directly from French and British practices: bear crawls, goose steps, standing long jumps, and more. Moving on the modern battlefield required soldiers to crawl, dash, dive, and run while stooped forward. Skirmishing drills strengthened the muscles needed for such unusual activities. Quickening exercises also prepared men to react rapidly to commands. For instance, an instructor might yell, “out of my sight,” in the eponymous game to prompt his men to drop whatever they carried and scurry for the nearest tree or hole. Raycroft advised that any men remaining visible be singled out and made to “feel conspicuous.”90

Raycroft gave two explanations for including group games in their many forms. First, he considered them useful for making soldiers combat-ready in a physical sense, but even more useful for developing mental qualities. Games, skirmishing drills, and quickening exercises presented soldiers with rapidly changing conditions, whether due to competition or the instructor’s commands. Soldiers had to perceive change, make decisions, adapt, and respond rapidly. Physical exercise thus achieved mental effects by training “concentration of attention, quick thinking and instant execution.”91 Morale building and mental health also justified group games. Raycroft asserted that in the Athletic Division’s wartime experience, its directors found that such games were more effective than anything else in “preventing discontent and homesickness” during training or after returning from the front lines.92

After the setting-up drill and group games sections, Mass Physical Training diverged sharply from its predecessor of 1914 with more than fifty pages on personal contact drills. Many activities fell under the personal contact rubric, including wrestling, hand-to-hand fighting, and boxing. Again, this training was intended to develop mental as well as physical qualities: aggressiveness, personal grit, mental and physical alertness, confidence, and the “ability and willingness to carry on in spite of punishment.”93 Treatment of hand-to-hand combat training in the Raycroft and Koehler manuals highlights differences between their physical cultures. In the manual of 1914, boxing and wrestling made a brief appearance, but were “not recommended as an obligatory part of the enlisted man’s training.”94 Koehler encouraged boxing and wrestling for their value in strengthening muscles and self-confidence, but he did not consider them a key element of physical training. In contrast, Raycroft dedicated nearly half his manual to physical contact and combat training, emphasizing a gritty, individual warrior paradigm. The “spirit of hand-to-hand fighting,” Raycroft wrote, “is that of grim, watchful determination.” Raycroft advised that aggressiveness and determination were keys to success, and that “principles of sportsmanship and consideration” for the opponent had “no place in the practical application of this work.”95 Like Koehler, Raycroft valued the physical and mental benefits of combat training. However, he also appreciated the functional benefits of the skills themselves. This physical culture valued an individual soldier’s ability to control a prisoner and strike, strangle, or trip an enemy combatant. Each manual’s imagery made the differences between Koehler’s and Raycroft’s systems obvious: Koehler’s depicted gymnastic contests between opponents in gym clothes, while Raycroft’s featured combatants locked in mortal combat.

Later in the manual, Raycroft continued his emphasis on aggressiveness and the realities of combat with a chapter on bayonet training. Raycroft considered this “invaluable in the basic training” of all soldiers, regardless of branch or duty, chiefly because it developed confidence, determination, and a “fighting spirit.”96 The Army had trained its soldiers in bayonet fighting for years. However, Raycroft’s manual was the first instance of bayonet training featuring as a component of physical training. This fact highlights the functional fitness focus in Raycroft’s physical culture. Discipline and obedience were not enough—soldiers must be ready to kill. Mass Physical Training drove this point home repeatedly. “In a bayonet assault,” Raycroft wrote, “all ranks go forward to kill or be killed, and only those who have developed skill and strength by constant training will be able to kill.”97 Even if few soldiers ever found themselves in true bayonet combat, the spirit of the bayonet held value culturally, much like General Pershing’s emphasis on rifle marksmanship and open warfare.98

Differing emphasis on activities within any given training session also illustrates variances between Raycroft’s and Koehler’s physical cultures. In his manual, Raycroft left the construction of daily and weekly programs up to individual instructors, much as Koehler had done. This freedom allowed instructors to meet the specific needs of the groups being trained and to adapt that training to local conditions. Simplicity and enabling physical training anywhere under any circumstances were central design principles, after all. However, Raycroft did give some guidance on the apportionment of time within a daily drill based on wartime best practices. In this guidance, he advised spending well over half of any given hour-long session in combat-oriented activities: boxing, hand-to-hand fighting, physical efficiency tests, bayonet fighting, and skirmishing exercises. In contrast, the setting-up drill occupied as little as ten minutes.99 Again, this highlighted the differences between Koehler’s and Raycroft’s physical cultures. The former revered disciplinary drill, while the latter valued combat-centric functional fitness.

Three other elements of Raycroft’s system especially characterized the physical culture produced by the CTCA’s Athletic Division and distinguished it from Koehler’s: boxing, athletics integration, and individual efficiency testing. Raycroft and his compatriots attached great significance to these elements, each of which were vital components of the larger system. Accordingly, the definitions and valuations of fitness in Raycroft’s physical culture are exceptionally visible in these elements when examined closely. Of the three, boxing was perhaps the Athletic Division’s signature initiative. Following the British example, pugilism figured prominently in Raycroft’s system and in the CTCA’s publicity campaigns because Raycroft and others regarded it as having an “intimate connection with bayonet fighting.”100 Parts of this connection were very direct: the “long point” bayonet attack corresponded with a “left lead” in boxing, as did a rifle butt strike with a “right-hand counter.” Bayonet fighting was merely “boxing with a gun in your hands,” according to the Athletic Division’s boxing training film.101 Other connections were less direct, but still key to Raycroft’s definition of martial physical fitness, such as developing the quality of aggression.102 More than most sports, boxing cultivated quickness, self-confidence, self-control, and toughness in participants. The CTCA’s rules even specifically promoted aggressive offense and penalized defensive strategies.103

The Athletic Division recruited boxing experts as special instructors, partly to capitalize on star power to popularize their work. Between the instructor corps and the special subcommittee to study boxing formed in 1917, the Athletic Division collected many of the biggest names in the sport at the time, including James Corbett, Norman Selby (Kid McCoy), Robert Edgren, Richard Melligan, and Michael Donovan.104 Raycroft later wondered at the “galaxy of world’s champions” that his corps of instructors represented.105 In keeping with his dedication to efficiency and his combat-centric, functional definition of fitness, Raycroft repeatedly focused this corps on their primary mission of making “‘head up and eyes open’ two-fisted fighting men.”106 Mass instruction was key, not the creation of individual ring stars. Instructors were to stress aggressiveness, simplicity, effectiveness, and a willingness to give and take punishment. Soldiers did not need anything fancy, just the six standard blows and the appropriate attitude. “A straight left,” advised an Athletic Division memo, “well delivered and backed up by aggressive American determination, is a Boche eliminant in nine cases out of ten.”107

Incorporating boxing into the Athletic Division’s physical training program posed some challenges, though. One was a concern about high injury rates, which could cut against the CTCA’s emphasis on efficiency. The Athletic Division took several steps to reduce this risk. Centrally developed standards dictated instruction, and only trained personnel were authorized to deliver and supervise boxing instruction. The CTCA’s special boxing instructors were assigned to each camp under the athletic directors, who supervised training. Through intensive small group sessions, camp instructors trained and certified enlisted assistant instructors selected from the ranks. These assistant instructors in turn trained their fellow soldiers. Most soldiers would have experienced mass training, where whole companies or battalions at a time learned the fundamentals of stance, movement, and punching.108 Bouts were encouraged to give men a real fighting experience and to increase the training’s popularity, but matches were only allowed under strict supervision. Furthermore, the Athletic Division created a film to communicate the importance of boxing and to further standardize training. Linkage between bayonet fighting and boxing was the film’s central thrust, but it also demonstrated basic boxing techniques.109

Boxing posed another potential problem for the CTCA in light of the form of masculinity the commission promoted. The CTCA promised to make men tougher, but also more wholesome. In contrast, boxing was illegal in most states and the prizefighter experts brought on as instructors were rarely paragons of moral righteousness.110 The commission’s public messaging revealed sensitivity to this tension. For instance, its book Keeping Our Fighters Fit for War and After, published in 1918, featured an enthusiastic clergyman who declared it “worth a ten-dollar bill to see a man who can take a blow in the face without getting mad” after watching a bout.111 The book included a similar vignette directed at soldiers’ mothers and wives who feared brutalization of their men through boxing. “If you feel that jabbing six inches of cold steel into Germans will make brutes” of your men, the author asked, “what would you think about him if he refused to do it?” The author assured female readers that the bravery, tenderness, loyalty, and other qualities they taught and inspired in their men were still present, but that those men had to kill their foes to protect the innocent. Army training did not make men brutes with a “lust for blood,” but rather equipped honorable men with the skills and moral fiber they needed to fight for the “righteousness of the cause.”112 This rhetoric, combined with the focus on efficiency in making fighting soldiers, justified boxing in the commission’s broader effort to form better men in the Progressive mold. The CTCA’s boxing program fashioned manly warriors—crusaders—who could and would kill in battle, but who possessed the character to control and precisely direct violence.

Boxing underscored core elements of Raycroft’s physical culture. Within this culture, fitness was defined functionally in light of World War I’s combat and European battlefields. Like Koehler’s culture, Raycroft’s conceived of fitness more broadly than simply as a measure of physical capacity. Both attached mental and moral elements to fitness, though each culture valued variations of those elements differently. Discipline and obedience were important in both cultures, as evidenced by Raycroft’s inclusion of Koehler’s disciplinary drill. However, Raycroft and his compatriots prioritized qualities such as toughness and aggression that did not feature in Koehler’s definition of fitness.

As with boxing, Raycroft’s integration of athletics into his system highlighted core elements of his physical culture. The inclusion of athletics also reflected civilian physical education’s zeitgeist. Initially, the CTCA intended its athletic program to encourage the “largest possible number of soldiers” to participate regularly in “some form of athletics” during leisure hours, though the program favored those “hard competitive sports that develop the fighting instinct.”113 Athletic directors and military commanders both perceived such great utility in games that they soon pushed athletics into formal training periods too. Sports were certainly not new to the Army in 1920, but Raycroft incorporated them into a formal physical training program in a way Koehler had not. Through the latter half of the nineteenth century, Army leaders had tolerated sports as a diversion for troops. Changing attitudes followed sport’s exploding popularity both inside and outside the military in the 1890s, leading officers to argue that competitions helped men become physically fit for war while molding character.114 However, the Army’s official, pre-Raycroft physical training barely addressed sport. Training and athletics had thus proceeded on related but separate tracks, whereas Raycroft integrated them.

Comparing the manuals of 1914 and 1920 illustrates this difference. In the manual of 1914, athletics appeared in a single, slim chapter that mostly warned about the potential evils of athletics. That chapter led with a word of advice: “in order to meet the requirements of the service,” military athletics should “have nothing in common with competitive athletics.”115 Koehler was not opposed to sports, but he thought their presence tended to undermine or challenge the physical training mission. Thus, Koehler advised eliminating any events that “have nothing to commend them from a military point of view.”116 The only events that met his criteria were distance running and various jumps. Other activities might have a place in field days, which he counseled holding annually at most, or as pure recreation, but they had no place in physical training.117 In contrast, Raycroft dedicated nearly half of his manual to athletics. This included chapters on conducting meets and contests, as well as a chapter on the “strategy and tactics” of football, baseball, basketball, and other games. The Camp Benning school’s curriculum also reflected the emphasis on athletics. Just under thirteen of its 145 instructional hours were spent on disciplinary gymnastics, while twenty-five and a half were committed to mass athletics and “highly organized games” such as football and baseball.118

Moreover, Raycroft and his compatriots frequently cited the perceived merits of athletics in regard to improving soldiers. Raycroft believed that play and games were “immensely important in the making of an efficient man” because they developed valuable mental, moral, social, and physical qualities.119 Whether used in training or as a leisure activity, Raycroft sensed sport’s social function in developing group loyalty, teamwork, and leadership. Additionally, sports were thought to cultivate group loyalty and esprit de corps.120 Linkages between combat and sports skills also regularly appeared in justifications and statements. Raycroft and his fellows often cited soccer, baseball, and football in this regard. For instance, they asserted that soccer taught balance and a short gait useful for negotiating no-man’s land, and that throwing a baseball obviously correlated with grenade throwing.121 In short, the Athletic Division’s members held that nothing “coordinated the personal faculties needed in warfare” like organized athletics.122

Integrating athletics reflected the broad educational mission Raycroft and his partners pursued. While Koehler had also described physical training as primarily educational, he put more emphasis on the term “training” than “education.” Also, Koehler believed that his disciplinary gymnastics approach was the best way of strengthening bodies and minds, improving unit capabilities, and instilling discipline and obedience.123 Raycroft and his partners conceived of their educational ends, ways, and means differently. They grounded their ends in an individual’s functional combat fitness and agreed that there was more than one way to achieve those ends. Raycroft distilled many of his ideas in critiquing the Army’s existing approach to training during a talk given in 1918 to college administrators and physical educators. The core of his critique concerned an old false dichotomy in the Army’s physical culture between recreation and training, the latter being defined as disciplinary or hygienic exercise. In his opinion, recreation and training could be combined in an educational mission. For instance, combining sports with basic soldier training could prepare men to react to changing situations and respond effectively under fire. Simultaneously, sports could develop crucial battlefield qualities such as strength, endurance, leadership, and confidence.124 Several of these qualities differed from those that the Army’s earlier physical culture sought to develop. Furthermore, Raycroft argued that the Army’s greatest mistake was its tendency to commit to a single form of activity, such as disciplinary drill or gymnasium work, as the basis of its system. Raycroft held that a comprehensive, inclusive system was superior. By combining the educational strengths of various activities, a more efficient and effective system became possible. Raycroft kept faith that sports would not displace physical training as Koehler had feared, but that they could supplement and augment formal military training.125

One final element of Raycroft’s system that characterized his physical culture and differentiated it from Koehler’s deserves attention: individual efficiency testing. The presence of individual efficiency tests reflected the backgrounds of the Athletic Division’s personnel. In civilian physical education, such tests had become increasingly popular in the two decades preceding 1917. Testing benefited both individuals and units according to Raycroft. By setting standards, testing inspired soldiers to meet or exceed those standards. Testing also gave officers a snapshot of unit fitness levels and singled out those “inefficient men” in need of “special attention and work.”126 Mass Physical Training proposed a modest five-event test done monthly that measured attainment of baseline standards in combat-focused physical activity. Soldiers sprinted one hundred yards, executed a running broad jump, climbed an eight-foot smooth fence, threw a hand grenade thirty yards into a ten-foot-square box, and negotiated a simple obstacle course involving hurdles, barbed-wire entanglements, plank bridges, and smooth walls in less than thirty seconds.127 Testing progressed through three grades. Each grade used an identical course, but soldiers in the third grade performed without equipment while those in the second and first grades performed with a rifle and with a rifle and light equipment, respectively. Achieving first-grade status also required soldiers to prove their abilities with the bayonet, in hand-to-hand combat, and in boxing. No specific standards defined a passing score in these latter three events, but Raycroft advised weighting most heavily the display of “fighting spirit, determination, and willingness and ability to give and take punishment.” The combatives events functioned not only as motivational and confidence-building tools, but also as filters to identify and possibly eliminate those unwilling to apply violence or endure it. According to Raycroft, testing in general identified men requiring remedial training, gave commanders an objective appreciation of unit fitness, and built esprit de corps through interunit competition over pass rates.128

Unlike earlier Army physical tests like those designed by Koehler for West Point’s cadets, Raycroft and his compatriots specifically designed theirs to align with their perception of real battlefield demands.129 Raycroft’s test measured the effectiveness of the object he and his partners sought in physical training, namely, the fitting of a soldier to combat through the use of physical activity. Raycroft’s team identified key soldier qualities, in this case “strength, speed, skill, endurance,” and the ability to “creditably” acquit oneself in close combat.130 Through experimentation and study at various camps, the Athletic Division’s members crafted a test to measure those qualities directly. Ultimately, testing implied that fitness was measurable and defined it in terms of individual combat efficiency.

Boxing, integrated athletics, and individual efficiency tests, together with the structural dissimilarities between Raycroft’s and Koehler’s systems, illuminate a new wartime physical culture that differed in many ways from its predecessor. This culture bubbled up as a collaboration between like-minded civilian physical educators and athletic coaches with guidance and coordination provided by the CTCA’s Athletic Division, and Raycroft specifically. During the war years, this culture displaced Koehler’s in the Army. It defined fitness in more functional, combat-oriented terms than had Koehler’s and evinced a willingness to leverage a wider variety of activities in pursuit of fitness. In a key departure from its predecessor, Raycroft’s culture also emphasized maximizing individual combat efficiency over general unit capability. In 1914, the fit soldier was disciplined, obedient, self-confident, and capable of above-average feats of strength and endurance. In 1918, the fit soldier exhibited additional characteristics. He could also give and take punishment, fight barehanded and with the bayonet, react to rapidly changing conditions, and play a number of all-American sports. This culture reflected the conditions in which it developed. Its creators sought to efficiently prepare conscripts for combat with hardened veterans, often without the lavish gymnasiums and apparatus collections that Regular Army posts had accrued since the last decade of the nineteenth century. Furthermore, its creators also pursued a project of social engineering of greater ambition and scope than Koehler and his compatriots had imagined.

Though Raycroft’s physical culture displaced Koehler’s during the war years, its continued dominance was not a foregone conclusion. The suddenness of its success posed one challenge to the durability of Raycroft’s culture. In contrast with Koehler’s slow and steady rise to almost complete control of Army physical culture, Raycroft’s was sudden, temporary, and occasioned by an emergency. Raycroft’s culture did become dominant, and it did determine Army policy from late 1917 through late 1919 at least. Two pieces of War Department guidance, Special Regulations No. 23 (1917) and Training Circular No. 19 (1918), show this clearly. Where the former advanced Koehler’s system wholesale, the latter decisively broke with the Army’s older physical culture, which was organized around unit fitness, in asserting that the purpose of physical training was to develop “in each individual soldier the highest attainable physical efficiency, confidence and power in offensive combat and in military activities related thereto.”131 Despite its dominant position, Raycroft’s physical culture did not fully penetrate the Army’s institutions and its larger culture because it was mostly developed and implemented by outsiders.

Following the Armistice, the CTCA’s leadership had to work quickly and aggressively to sustain the programs it developed during the war.132 Raycroft began demobilization work in earnest in June 1918, having spent the months since November in France with Fosdick at the secretary of war’s direction. As part of this demobilization work, Raycroft tried to transfer parts of the Athletic Division’s program to permanent organizations within the War Department. For example, Raycroft collaborated in the creation of the General Staff’s Education and Recreation branch. He also urged the establishment of a central instructor school, which he realized in September at Camp Benning, and the transfer of control for all athletic and physical training activities at camps to the physical training officers educated at that school.133

Raycroft’s strategy for earning the official adoption of his physical culture within the Army and making it permanent had three main components: a certified instructor corps, a central school, and his manual. The instructor corps’ members would serve as physical training officers in camps, divisions, and service schools. Physical training officers would ensure adherence to centrally developed physical training policy, educate others on the conduct of physical training, and control leisure-time athletics and competitions.134 In short, they were to continue the work that the Athletic Division’s athletic directors had performed between 1917 and 1919, but as commissioned officers. A central school was necessary to create and certify this instructor corps. Raycroft intended for the school at Camp Benning to become a permanent fixture beyond its first iteration in September 1919. The school would give the Army an expansible training pipeline and a means to rapidly propagate new policies through the force. Raycroft’s Mass Physical Training manual would be the school’s cornerstone document. The Army already had a standardized training program in the form of its Manual of Physical Training of 1914, but Raycroft wanted to replace it with his own. The old methods were outdated, he believed. His system combined the latest in physical education thought with lessons learned in the crucible of combat. A corps of school-trained instructors could make this a reality over time.

Raycroft’s strategy had to overcome several obstacles. First, all of this had to be achieved within the context of shrinking budgets. The CTCA had capitalized on massive government expenditures to build out its physical training and athletic programs beyond the scope of anything achieved by its predecessors. Against this backdrop, the Camp Benning school’s continued existence was never a given. Also, most of Raycroft’s men left the service after 1919. A cadre of trainers, mostly those certified at the Camp Gordon school and given commissions, remained at Benning and in some units. Yet most of Raycroft’s athletic directors were civilians or reserve officers. Their service was no longer needed after the war emergency, so they returned to civilian life. Creation of a new training cadre of commissioned officers through the Camp Benning school was consequently a vital necessity. Additionally, shrinking budgets pushed Raycroft’s manual into private publication. As a result, it was not issued widely by the War Department and, despite the General Staff’s full endorsement, it did not appear as official as had Manual of Physical Training in 1914.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Raycroft had to decisively overcome the Army’s existing physical culture. Despite Raycroft’s culture having displaced Koehler’s in policy and in training camp practices, Koehler’s culture persisted during the war. Koehler himself provided instruction in camps and in Europe. His manual remained in publication, and the Army directed its use in the form of Special Regulations No. 23 in 1917 before the Athletic Division fully took charge. Regular Army officers, most of them West Point graduates, were more likely than any other officer to remain in the service after the war. Nearly all of these had been Koehler’s pupils at one time or another, and they had grown up in an Army that equated physical training with Koehler’s disciplinary drill. A book published in 1919 on physical training authored by one of those officers, Col. William Waldron, illustrated the persistence of Koehler’s culture. Waldron, who simply copied the disciplinary drill chapter from the manual of 1914 and marketed it for civilian use, claimed that the setting-up drill was the “basis upon which the entire system of physical training in the United States Army is founded—the system employed in the physical training of the vast army of over two million men who went to France in 1918 and fought the Nation’s battles.”135 Ignoring the Athletic Division’s system, Waldron credited Koehler’s setting-up drill for all of the physical improvements civilians observed in their returning soldiers.

The permanence of Raycroft’s physical culture in the Army was clearly not a foregone conclusion in 1920. That culture was the product of a particular time and of the men who fashioned it. The wartime emergency opened a window of opportunity for new cultural producers to reimagine Army physical training. Combining the latest thought from the worlds of physical education and college athletics with the practices of seasoned Allied militaries, civilian leaders such as Joseph Raycroft and his athletic directors crafted a new training system. Their system responded to the needs of a newly mobilized army of citizen-soldiers rapidly preparing to face veteran opponents. Pursuit of efficiency, a hallmark of Progressivism, informed their efforts. Efficiency demanded matching means to ends while maximizing gains and minimizing waste. In this new physical culture, the individual soldier’s fighting ability displaced general unit condition as the chief aim sought.

As a consequence, the system they crafted and the physical culture it reflected emphasized the individual in combat conditions. Where discipline and obedience characterized Koehler’s culture, Raycroft’s stressed grit, aggressiveness, and a functional definition of fitness. This new culture also embraced a wider spectrum of physical activities as means by which to achieve those qualities. Sports and bayonet training became core components of physical training, both intended to augment and supplement disciplinary drill instead of existing in separate spheres of work. Such inclusiveness echoed both the drive for efficiency and the influence of college athletics and the playground movement on civilian physical education. Whether such a culture developed in wartime for an army mobilizing on an unprecedented scale would be valued after the war remained an open question in the era of downsizing and normalization that followed demobilization.

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