Even within the Army, crimes and accidents happen. Fortunately, the Army has their own law enforcement, security and emergency specialists to handle crimes committed on Army or Guard property or any illegal activity that involves Army personnel. On base, Military Police patrol, control traffic, secure the perimeter, and assist with emergencies and investigations. On the battlefield, they conduct area security, guard senior officers, and work with intelligence personnel in dealing with prisoners of war. Here is a brief History of the Military Police.
The Military Police Corps achieved permanent status in the U.S. Army on 26 September 1941, yet its traditions of duty, service, and security date back to the Revolutionary War. The Military Police Corps traces its beginnings to the formation of a provost unit, the Marechaussee Corps, in the Continental Army. Authorized by Congress in 1778 with a name borrowed from the French term for “provost troops”, the special unit was assigned by General George Washington to perform those necessary police functions required in camp and in the field. The first American Military Police unit was organized along the lines of a regular Continental Army company with one captain, four lieutenants, one clerk, one quartermaster sergeant, two trumpeters, two sergeants, five corporals, 43 “provosts”, and four executioners. Reflecting the unit’s special requirements for speed and equipment, the corps was mounted and classified as light dragoons.
Washington appointed Bartholomew Von Heer provost marshal of the Continental Army and commander of the Marechaussee Corps as a Captain. Von Heer and his men were expected to patrol the camp and its vicinity in order to detain fugitives and arrest rioters and thieves. During combat the unit was to patrol behind the Army’s so called “second line” where it would secure the rear by rounding up stragglers and preventing desertions. It also assumed what in later times would be called the “early warning” responsibility, that is, keeping watch against enemy attack from the rear.
The Civil War created an urgent need for provost marshals and military police units within the federal Army. As early as 18 July 1861, Brig. Gen. Irvin McDowell, the Union Army’s first field commander, authorized the commander of each regiment in the Department of Northeastern Virginia to select a commissioned officer as regimental provost marshal along with a permanent guard of ten enlisted men.
World War I marked a significant step in the military police’s journey toward permanent branch status within the Army. Once again the Army organized units both at the War Department level and in the field to carry out military police duties. Again, the paramount mission of the units was to administer a selective service law. Finally, in 1918, the War Department created yet another military police organization on the Army staff, the Criminal Investigation Division (CID).
The Korean War also introduced a new duty for military police. The war witnessed a dramatic increase in black market activities associated with an army fighting in a third world nation. In previous decades control of the black market fell to civil affairs units, but the massiveness of the problem that began to appear in 1951 quickly involved the resources of the military police and, eventually, the corps added control and eradication of black market activities to its list of responsibilities. Noting that the destruction caused by military operations and the usual local shortages of supplies in occupied territories created an extensive demand for items such as cigarettes, gasoline, food, weapons, and vehicles, the Department of the Army called on the military police, subject to the Uniform Code of Military justice, to detect and apprehend military personnel and civilians participating in black-marketing.
The Harper’s Ferry Army Arsenal flint lock, Model 1906, caliber .54, were adopted as the insignia of the Corps of Military Police in 1923. The initial design consisted of crossed billy-clubs because that was the primary weapon of the MPs at that time but that symbol became confused with the field artillery crossed cannons. The next proposal was crossed maces, the medieval clubs, but they appeared to be potato mashers. The third proposal was crossed M-1911 .45 caliber automatic pistols but they appeared to be carpenter’s squares. Then they agreed on the 1806 Model of the Harper’s Ferry pistols and it was adopted. The order was signed by the Chief of Staff, General John J. Pershing in 1923 and became official.
There are a few theories as to how the Military Police Corps acquired the colors of green and yellow. The uniform coats of the enlisted dragoons during the American Revolution were green with black trim and yellow buttons and button holes. In World War I, the military police of the American Expeditionary Force in France wore a yellow and green cord on their hats. The MP Corps has the same lineage as the Calvary, both having originated with the Dragoons, thus the yellow of the Calvary was retained. The green was taken from the staff of the Provost Marshall Branch. In any case, in 1921 the colors of green and yellow were officially adopted for the Army Military Police with green on the field of yellow. In 1941 the colors were reversed with yellow on green.
As you can see, the Military Police Corps has a strong and proud heritage. If you have ever served in this great branch, please leave a comment and share your experience with us.
Former Army Major (resigned)
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