Major - General Franklin Bell


Major - General

JAMES FRANKLIN BELL was a major-general in the Regular Army of the United States, commanding the Department of the East, with headquarters at Governors Island, New York at the time of his death, January, 1919. He entered West Point in 1874 and graduated in 1878, with a commission as lieutenant of cavalry.

General Bell's venerable figure, as he addressed the officers and the men of the newly formed 77th Division at Camp Upton in September and the ensuing months of training, will be remembered among the first impressions of a life strange and full of new conditions.

General Bell commanded the Division when the first newly appointed officers climbed the hill and reported to their first assignment, through that formative stage when barracks were thrown together at a miraculous speed and being filled at the same rate. Then, in December, he sailed for France under orders to make a tour of the front and observe first hand actual fighting conditions. He did not return until the latter part of March, 1918.

On his return, when he was given that physical examination which active service overseas required, it was found that he was not equal to the severe test.

It was on the western prairies that be first saw active service, with the 7th Cavalry, "Custer's Crack Regiment." With this regiment he participated in the battle of Wounded Knee, North Dakota, and against the Sioux Indians. For a decade he led the active life of the plains. Later he became an instructor and Chief of the Army War Colleges located at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

At the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, he was acting as adjutant, to General Forsyth, then commanding the Department of the West, with headquarters at San Francisco. He was immediately commissioned Colonel of Volunteers, and authorized to organize a regiment. This he successfully and quickly did and it was ordered to the Philippines. Under his command the regiment rendered valuable services against the insurgents.

His service in the Philippines won General Bell high distinction, and after a lapse of but a few months he was promoted from his commission of captain in the Regular Army to brigadier-general in the Regular Army, outranking many officers previously his senior. Most notable of his numerous engagements with the insurgents was that near Porac in the Island of Luzon, in which he was wounded while leading a charge. For his action here he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, for gallantry in action.

When, in 1905, he returned to the United States he was commissioned major-general, and in the spring of 1907 was appointed Chief of the Army General Staff. As such he served for four years, under Presidents Roosevelt and Taft.

When the United States military forces concentrated in the Philippines he returned to Manila and remained there as Commander-in-Chief until war with Mexico seemed imminent. He was then ordered home to take command of the 4th Division. The 4th Division remained in Texas City as reserve, and although at several times seemed about to cross the Rio Grande, was never a part of the expeditionary force.

After the Mexican situation quieted, General Bell was relieved of the 4th Division and placed in command of the Department of the West. Here at San Francisco, where he had been acting adjutant, he remained the commander until America entered the Great War.

In the early spring of 1917 he was transferred to the Department of the East, and as commander of that department, became responsible for the First Officers' Training Camps, at Plattsburg, Madison Barracks and Fort Niagara. These camps, in August, 1917, graduated the great quota of new officers who were to be a part of the new National Army, and to a large extent to officer the new divisions of the east and northeast.

In the same month he was offered and promptly accepted the command of the National Army Division to be organized at Camp Upton. When the doctors decreed that General Bell would not take his division to France, he was again given command of the Department of the East, and returned to his old headquarters, Governors Island, which command he held until his death, January, 1919.
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