James Harbord

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James Harbord
James Harbord.jpg
BornMarch 21, 1866
Bloomington, Illinois, United States
DiedAugust 20, 1947 (aged 81)
Rye, New York, United States
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army
USA - Army Infantry Insignia.png Infantry Branch
USA - Engineer Branch Insignia.png Corps of Engineers
Years of service1889–1922
RankUS-O9 insignia.svg Lieutenant General
Commands held4th Marine Brigade
2nd Infantry Division
Battles/warsMexican Revolution
World War I
AwardsArmy Distinguished Service Medal

Lieutenant General James Guthrie Harbord (March 21, 1866 – August 20, 1947) was a senior officer of the United States Army and President and Chairman of the Board of RCA.


Harbord was born in Bloomington, Illinois, and raised in Bushong, Kansas and Manhattan, Kansas. He graduated from Kansas State Agricultural College in 1886, and thereafter worked as an instructor at the college for two years. In 1889, he enlisted in the United States Army. On July 31, 1891, he received a commission with the Fifth Cavalry.[1]

Harbord's first overseas experience came as a member of the occupation army in Cuba after the Spanish–American War. On January 21, 1899, during an extended leave, he married Emma Yeatman Overshine, daughter of brigadier General Samuel Ovenshine.[2] In 1901, he was promoted to captain and transferred from Cuba, where he has served initially as quartermaster and commissary for the 10th Cavalry Regiment, and later as aide-de-camp and adjutant-general of the department of Santiago and Puerto Principe.[3]

After serving briefly in the Secretary of War office, he requested and received transfer to duty in the Philippines with the 11th Cavalry Regiment.[4] He then served as Assistant Chief of the Philippine Constabulary from 1903 to 1909 and again from 1910 through 1913. By late April 1914 he was commanding the unit defending the California border at Calexico.[5] In 1916, he was on the Mexican border with brigadier general John J. Pershing, pursuing Pancho Villa.

When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, Harbord went to France as Pershing's chief of staff, which won him a promotion to brigadier general. Throughout the war he continued to work closely with Pershing, now the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) on the Western Front. In June 1918, he was succeeded by James W. McAndrew as AEF chief of staff, and assigned to command of the 4th Marine Brigade, which was serving as part of the 2nd Infantry Division, and then on July 15, briefly given command of the division itself. He commanded the U.S. Marines during the Battle of Château-Thierry and the Battle of Belleau Wood.

Harbord (4th from the right) and staff during a visit of Newton D. Baker (center) at S.O.S. headquarters in Tours in October 1918.

After generals Richard Blatchford and his replacement, Francis Kernan, had failed to organize an adequate delivery of supplies to the US troops in France, John J. Pershing asked Harbord in August 1918 to take the job. Harbord introduced several reforms to the ″Services of Supply″ (SOS) and achieved almost instant improvements. Pershings trust in Harbord went so far, that Jim Lacey wrote in his Pershing biography "if a problem were outside Harbord's ability to solve, it was not solvable by mortal man".[6]

Following the war, he was promoted to major general and was awarded the Army Distinguished Service Medal.[7]

In August 1919, President Woodrow Wilson sent a fact-finding mission to the Middle East, headed by Harbord, to investigate the feasibility of the Balfour Declaration, which supported the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, taken from the Ottoman Empire during the war. Harbord was also to report on Turkish–Armenian relations in the wake of the Armenian Genocide. Upon returning to the United States, Harbord wrote the Conditions in the Near East: Report of the American Military Mission to Armenia, which was a summary of the expedition that provided various details of the mission. The report includes maps, statistics, and a historical analyses of the country and its population. In addition to such details, Harbord collected evidence and information regarding the massacres of Armenians and was an eyewitness to them.[8] Harbord's report stated that "the temptation to reprisals for past wrongs" would make it extremely difficult to maintain peace in the region.[9][10] The final conclusion of the report was the inclusion of Armenia in the possible American mandate for Asia Minor and Rumelia since a mandate for Armenia alone was not deemed feasible under these conditions.[11]

Radio Corporation of America[edit]

In 1922, Harbord retired from the Army to become President of the Radio Corporation of America.[12] While Harbord was President of RCA, the corporation undertook a number of significant moves. In 1926, RCA began television broadcasts and formed NBC. In 1928, RCA was one of four corporations that jointly formed RKO Pictures. Finally, in 1929, RCA acquired the Victor Talking Machine Company (maker of the famous "Victrola") and became RCA-Victor.[citation needed]

In 1928, Harbord took a leave of absence to campaign for Herbert Hoover for President, and in 1930 he officially retired from the position, allowing David Sarnoff to assume the office.[citation needed]

Harbord remained as Chairman of the Board for RCA until 1947.[citation needed]

Death and legacy[edit]

In 1942, the U.S. Congress passed legislation allowing retired Army generals to be advanced one rank on the retired list or posthumously if they had been recommended in writing during World War I for a promotion which they did not receive, and if they had received the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross or the Distinguished Service Medal.[13] Under these criteria, Harbord and William M. Wright were eligible for promotion to lieutenant general, and they were advanced on the retired list effective July 9, 1942.[14]

Harbord died in Rye, New York on August 20, 1947.[15] He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.[16]


  • Leaves From a War Diary (1931)[17]
  • The American Army in France 1917-1919 (1936)[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Davis, Jr., Henry Blaine (1998). Generals in Khaki. Pentland Press, Inc. p. 159. ISBN 1571970886. OCLC 40298151.
  2. ^ "The Social World of Washington". The Times. Washington, D.C. 28 January 1899. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  3. ^ "Captain Harbord Praised". Evening Star. Washington, D.C. 25 May 1901. p. 2. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  4. ^ "Every Day Stories of the Workings and Workers of the Departments". The Evening Times. Washington, D.C. 21 November 1901. p. 4. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  5. ^ "Forces Increase at Calexico". The Ogden Standard. Ogden City, Utah. 25 April 1914. p. 10. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  6. ^ Lacey, Jim (2008). Pershing: A Biography. St. Martin's Press. p. 121. ISBN 978-0-230-61270-9.
  7. ^ Tanner, Beccy (May 17, 2010). "Lyon Co. native led troops in WWI". The Wichita Eagle. Retrieved 2 December 2015.
  8. ^ Richard Hovannisian, ed. (2008). The Armenian genocide cultural and ethical legacies. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers. p. 123. ISBN 1-4128-0891-X.
  9. ^ "James G. Harbord".
  10. ^ "Conditions in the Near East: Report of the American Military Mission to Armenia". p. 22. Considering...the isolation of certain regions where the temptation to reprisals for past wrongs will be strong for at least a generation, a certain force must be kept in hand to supplement the native constabulary when needed.
  11. ^ Harbord, James G. (1920). Conditions in the Near East. Report of the American Military Mission to Armenia. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved 2 December 2015.
  12. ^ Davis, Jr., Henry Blaine (1998). Generals in Khaki. Pentland Press, Inc. p. 160. ISBN 1571970886. OCLC 40298151.
  13. ^ "Seven Generals Get Belated Boosts in Rank". Salt Lake Tribune. Salt Lake City, UT. Associated Press. July 12, 1942. p. 7.
  14. ^ "Retired Generals Promoted". Army and Navy Journal. New York, NY. July 25, 1942. p. 1316.
  15. ^ Davis, Jr., Henry Blaine (1998). Generals in Khaki. Pentland Press, Inc. p. 160. ISBN 1571970886. OCLC 40298151.
  16. ^ James Harbord at Find a Grave
  17. ^ Harbord, James G. Leaves from a War Diary. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1925. OCLC 1185394
  18. ^ Harbord, James G. The American Army in France, 1917-1919. Boston: Little, Brown, and Co, 1936. OCLC 1185407

Further reading[edit]

  • John Arthur Garraty & Mark Christopher Carnes, ed. (1999). "James Harbord". American National Biography. volume 10: Handerson-Hofmann. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-512783-8.
  • Robert McHenry, ed. (1978). "James Harbord". Webster's American Military Biographies. Merriam-Webster. ISBN 0-486-24758-9.
  • Hirrel, Leo P. "Supporting the Doughboys: US Army Logistics and Personnel During World War I." Ft. Leavenworth, KS Combat Studies Institute, 2017. online at no charge

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Harry A. Eaton
Commanding General 2nd Infantry Division
Succeeded by
John L. Hines