The Military Uses Merit for Promotions

By | July 23, 2020

[July 23, 2020]  During the American Civil War, casualties were extraordinarily high.  More than any other war in which the United States participated, the proportion of those killed and wounded is the highest.  There were many factors, but incompetence among senior Army officers was the most profound.  Eventually, the military used merit for promotions.

At the beginning of the war, selection for higher rank was based upon their family’s political influence, loyalty to their state, and their social status in their communities.  Fundamentally, rank depended upon power, money, and influence.  This system of promotion occurred on both the Union and Confederate sides of the conflict.

The result was that Army officers in leadership positions possessed little or no experience.  In a battle with a determined enemy, this promotion system was a recipe for disaster.  An example of this was Confederate General Braxton Bragg.  As the commander of the Army of Tennessee, he quarreled with his subordinates and failed to follow-up with his victory at the 1863 Battle of Chickamauga.  The battle is considered the most significant tactical Confederate victory in the Western theater but with a staggering cost when his army suffered over 18,000 casualties and his failure not to pursue retreating Union forces and crush them.1

With the introduction of merit and determination into the promotion system, later in the Civil War, the armies on both sides found more professional officers.  They conducted themselves far better in combat.  The effect was immediate.  Exceptional officers rose to the fore and pushed aside politically-appointed officers who created chaos both on the battlefield and in the sluggish resupply system.

Those officers who obtained their positions because of powerful friends and relatives found themselves sidelined.  Often pushed to less-desirable jobs, they rebelled against the new system of merit.  Selection of an officer was, in their minds, based upon gentlemanly traits such as upbringing, good manners, and discriminating tastes.  Now, to their great dismay, recent rabble-rousers could be their superior officers.

Merit became the new philosophy of promotions.  Since the Civil War and its many hard-won lessons, Americans can now dream that any citizen, regardless of sex, race, creed, or color, can rise on their own determination and merit.  All institutions can reinforce that dream and find talented and hard workers over those who are wealthy and have connections.


Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

18 thoughts on “The Military Uses Merit for Promotions

  1. Benny

    MERIT should always be the main criteria. When other, inborn-like attributes are used, then we are on the path to discrimination. This discrimination is not just unfair but creates circumstances where people are trapped at a given level of society and thus violence is MORE likely to occur.

    1. Edward Kennedy III

      Benny, correct. Often overlooked by the whiners and pinko-colored whacks that think but don’t think, is that humans are unique and to have freedom, our laws and mores must support them.

  2. Joe Omerrod

    Great work again on these article. I get a little leadership kick each time I read one of these. The comments section is especially enlightening, often elaborating on and giving additional resources to read on the subject. I like it here at the because it is short and to the point. Once I read on one of the main subjects, I can then go out and read more if I want to. Otherwise, I get my daily dose here. Thank you Gen. Satterfield.

    1. Karl J.

      The whole process is designed to promote top performers sooner, according to service officials. As it should be.

      1. Wilson Cox

        Some organizations (Public Sector Undertakings) decide promotions solely on the basis of seniority while others (Private Corporate) finalize promotions on the basis of merit. There are also organizations those who decide promotions on the basis of seniority-cum-merit or merit-cum-seniority.

  3. Eric Coda

    Merit promotions are not based on favoritism or political gain; they are considered fair and equitable.

    1. Willie Shrumburger

      Right…..Equal opportunity is stressed in a transparent environment in which all employees can see the reason for promotion or the denial of advancement. The merit system is designed to allow workers the opportunity to move into higher positions by producing high quality work and proving their worthiness in ability.

    2. Otto Z. Zuckermann

      Too bad folks don’t like this and want time to be the determining factor. Seniority implies relevant experience but it doesn’t work that way.

      1. Dale Paul Fox

        While the merit promotion process has much to recommend it, it is still a human system that’s subject to flaws.

      2. Tracey Brockman

        Even with guiding principles in place, supervisors can ignore the most deserving candidates and instead choose candidates based on subjective factors rather than demonstrated ability and performance.

  4. Gil Johnson

    It is always great for me to wake up each morning and while I’m getting my coffee ready, I can drop into Gen. Satterfield’s leadership forum and read a little snippet on leadership. Thanks.

  5. Harry B. Donner

    Great article on merit but you also noted “persistence” being a factor as well – with merit. I agree. Keep up the great works here in your leadership blog.

  6. Roger Yellowmule

    “Merit” is being denigrated today in our cancel cultural movement. The most competent are seen as the enemy. Of course, this is the opposite of what should be happening and it will be only a matter of time before those same politically progressives collapse of their own stupidity.

    1. JT Patterson

      Couldn’t happen soon enough. Roger that, Roger. 😊😊
      Too many politicians lack the simple courage to stand up and against high ignorance.
      The are moral cowards.

    2. Yusaf from Texas

      Funny how that works, doesn’t it. Crazies running in the streets and mayors and governors siding with them. Many of the citizens of those cities are too stupid to realize what they are supporting. Propaganda works!!! The Democrats in the US are really communist sympathizers in disguise.


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