The reasons for troops falling by the wayside during a critical march are many, such as heavy loads, poor physical conditioning, exhaustion, hunger, steep or rugged terrain, and excessively hot or adverse weather conditions to name a few.
However, by and large, the overwhelming majority of marching men fell out as a result of foot injuries that were caused by improperly fitting shoes. During the 19th and early 20th centuries it was recorded that American soldiers fell out in staggeringly large numbers.
In the period from the Civil war to the beginning of the 20th century statistics showed that on average anywhere from one quarter to one third of a command could be expected to sustain some form of foot injury after several days of marching. Of that number, not less than 10% would wind up in the hands of the regimental surgeon.
This fact caused Major Edmond Lyman Munson of the Medical Department to write in 1912, that,
The soldier whose badly shod feet are unable to carry him into battle fails at the critical moment of the purpose for which he is trained, and instead of being an added strength, he becomes an encumbrance.”
Despite the fact that so many men were falling out with foot injuries, the important matter of correctly fitting shoes to the soldier’s feet was given scant consideration by the War Department. In fact, at the turn of the century, more attention was given to shoeing the horse’s hoof than that of the soldier’s foot!
Both the Army and the War Department failed utterly and completely to make the connection between sore feet and the fundamental importance of shoe fitting. The Army’s General Staff was convinced that it was the design of the field shoe, not its fit that was to blame for so many men falling out whilst on the march.
Photo No. 02: Two images showing the Resco shoe measuring device in use – one borrowed from America’s Munitions, the other from the Resco kit’s manual.