Major General Fox Conner
Noteworthy Mississippian of World War I Era
Major General Fox Conner
November 2, 1874 - October 13, 1951
A Brief Biography
by Lt. General Sidney B. Berry, U. S. Army (Ret.)
edited by Robert J. Bailey
Generally unknown to the American public, knowledgeable Army professionals such as John
J. Pershing, George C. Marshall, George S. Patton, Jr. and Dwight D. Eisenhower judged Fox
Conner to be one of the most able officers in the Army and revered the man and his work.
Fox Conner's service, contributions and significant accomplishments fall into three
major areas: (1) as chief plans and operations staff officer for the American
Expeditionary Forces during and following WW I; (2) as one of the Army's senior officers
appointed to a number of responsible positions during the period between the two World
Wars; and (3) as model, mentor and teacher of a select group of younger Army officers who
rose to the highest positions of leadership during World War II, most notably Dwight D.
Fox Conner was once described by Dwight D. Eisenhower as "the ablest man I ever
knew".(1) That is quite a compliment for any man, but
especially for one born and raised in Calhoun County, Mississippi.
Born in Slate Spring, Mississippi on November 2, 1874, he entered the United States
Military Academy at West Point in 1894 upon the recommendation of Senator H. D. Money.
Soon after Conner graduated from West Point and after the action of the Cuban Campaign had
subsided, he served in the occupation forces there in 1899.(2)
Through the next ten to fifteen years Conner advanced through the ranks becoming a
"serious soldier and a technically proficient artillerist".(3)
His performance led to his recommendation for the Army General Staff in Washington and
included teaching at the War College and service with the Third Division, responsible for
artillery tactical doctrine. During this time, Fox Conner was one of several officers
selected to examine the history of the preparedness of the United States.(4)
When the United States declared war against the central powers on April 6, 1917, Conner
was serving with the Inspector-General's Department(5). In
his capacity as an inspector of field artillery fire, Conner, along with several other
officers, was charged by General Pershing to recommend the exact place to fight the enemy,(6)
but increasing concerns forced Pershing to revise his staff structures(7)
which led to Fox Conner's appointment as a member of the Operations Section mapping the
strategy for the employment of an American force in its own sector of the Allied Front,
being one of the most difficult questions of the early American involvement.(8)
Conner was soon appointed chief of operations. "As Chief of G-3, which had to do
with strategy and tactics and all battle action, his was the problem of how to hit the
enemy harder than he hit you with more cost to him than to you."(9)
Most of Pershing's higher staff officers were graduates of Fort Leavenworth's Staff
College, and "they showed a common passion for precision planning, clear orders,
simple movements and care of the troops". Fox Conner was the genius of operations for
Conner pulled together a team of skilled and brilliant technicians---one of them was
Lt. Col. George Marshall.(11)
Conner was a demanding chief whose meticulous attention to the planning of AEF
operations set high standards for all the American staffs. In one form or another, nearly
every American action of the war came under Conner's view and influence. Even after the
war it was his responsibility to write the AEF's after-action report in which he discussed
the structure of future army divisions, and indeed, the future shape of the army itself.(12)
For services rendered during the war, General Conner was awarded the distinguished
Service Medal with citation as follows:
For exceptionally meritorious and distinguished service as assistant chief of staff
in charge of operating sections, he has shown a masterful conception of the tactical
situations, which have confronted the American forces in Europe.
He also received the French Croix-de-Guerre.(13)
From 1921 to 1925 General Conner commanded a brigade in Panama which consisted of
little more than keeping up a network of jungle trails for the use of troops and pack
animals,(14) this period had a profound effect on one
young officer by the name of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower and Conner developed a
Realizing that Eisenhower had little interest in military history, Conner invited him
to use his personal library, first selecting two or three historical novels for him and
later suggesting books on the military history of those periods(15).
Conner would then ask Eisenhower probing questions on his readings, forcing the younger
man to think about what he was reading.(16)
Two comments from Eisenhower's autobiography indicate his admiration for Fox Conner and
the esteem in which Eisenhower held Conner:
---my tour of duty was one of the most interesting and constructive of my life. The
was the presence of one man, our brigade commander, General Fox Conner---a tall
easygoing Mississippian---practical---down to earth---as open and honest as any man I have
at home in the company of the most important people and with any of the men in the
General Conner was a natural leader and something of a philosopher---he had an
library, especially in military affairs---The range and curiosity of his mind was not
military affairs. He quoted Shakespeare at length, and he could relate his works to
It is clear now that life with General Conner was a sort of graduate school in
and the humanities, leavened by the comments and discourses of a man who was
in his knowledge of men and their conduct. I can never adequately express my gratitude
one gentleman, for it took years before I fully realized the value of what he had led
And then General Conner was gone. But in a lifetime of association with great and good
is the one more or less invisible figure to whom I owe an incalculable debt.(17)
Conner's subsequent career was not quite as dramatic. He returned to Washington in 1925
and served as the deputy chief of staff. The battles during these years were over the
budget.(18) General Conner held command in Hawaii and in
1933 when President Roosevelt instituted the civilian corps, he assigned Conner the task
of mobilizing approximately 24,000 young men and World War veterans for the 125 Civilian
Corps companies in the six New England States.
Conner retired from active service in 1938 after serving his country for forty-four
"Conner was a "good soldier" in more ways than one. From the beginning
of his career, he had disappointment and bore them to the end. When his dissatisfactions
overtook him, he would turn to his own pursuits of language and the literature of war,
particularly military history. In a branch he did not choose, Conner became a tactical and
technical expert in great demand. His intelligence and drive marked him for staff
eventually, and he was never able to escape from it to command troops in wartime. He had a
significant influence over the National Defense Act of 1920 by formulating Pershing's own
position on the future of the Army. His greatest contribution, however, may have been his
influence over the young Eisenhower. Conner was a fiercely loyal subordinate, a superb if
stern and demanding teacher and a meticulous planner; and while Fox Conner is generally
unknown to the public, Army professionals such as Pershing, Marshall, Patton, Eisenhower
and others revered Conner and his work."(20)
Major general Fox Conner died October 13, 1951 at the age of 77 and is buried in
Arlington National Cemetery.(21)
1. Stephen E. Ambrose, The Supreme Commander: The War Years of
General Dwight D. Eisenhower (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1970),
2. Roger J. Spiller, ed., Dictionary of American Military
Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1984), p. 198.
3. Ibid., p. 199.
5. Jackson Daily News, 13 July 1947.
6. Frank E. Vandiver, Black Jack: The Life and Times of John J.
Pershing, 2 vols. (College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1977), 2: 730.
7. Ibid., p. 738.
8. Spiller, Dictionary of American Military Biography,
9. Frederick Palmer, John J. Pershing: General of the Armies
Pennsylvania: The Military Service Publishing Company, 1948), p. 136.
10. Vandiver, Black Jack, p. 944.
11. Ibid., p. 945
12. Spiller, Dictionary of American Military Biography, p.
13. Charles F. Gaston, "Calhoun County - Important
Personalities." Mississippi Department of Archives and History - Subject File - Fox
Conner, p. 2.
14. Stephen E. Ambrose, Eisenhower: Soldier, General of the
Army, President- Elect, 1890-1952 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983), p. 76.
15. Dwight D. Eisenhower, At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends
(Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1967), p. 185.
16. Ambrose, Eisenhower, p. 76.
17. Eisenhower, At Ease, p. 187.
18. Spiller, Dictionary of American Military Biography, p.
19. Gaston, Fox Conner Subject File, p. 3.
20. Spiller, Dictionary of American Military Biography, p.
21. Calhoun City (Mississippi) The Monitor - Herald, 1
November 1951, p. 1.
Ambrose, Stephen E. Eisenhower: Soldier, General of the Army, President-Elect;
1890-1952. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1983.
Ambrose, Stephen E. The Supreme Commander: The War Years of General Dwight D.
Eisenhower. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1970.
Calhoun City (Mississippi) The Monitor-Herald, 1 November 1951.
Eisenhower, Dwight D. At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends. Garden City, New
York: Doubleday & Company, 1967.
"An Able Mississippi Soldier." Jackson Daily News, 13 July 1947.
Mississippi Department of Archives and History - Subject File - Fox Conner. Charles F.
Gaston, Calhoun County-Important Personalities.
Mosley, Leonard. Marshall: Hero for Our Times. New York: Hearst Books.
O'Connor, Richard. Black Jack Pershing. Garden City, New York: Doubleday
& Company, Inc., 1961.
Palmer, Frederick. John J. Pershing: General of the Armies. Harrisburg,
Pennsylvania: The Military Service
Publishing Company, 1948.
Spiller, Roger J., ed. Dictionary of American Military Biography. Westport,
Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1984.
Vandiver, Frank E. Black Jack : The Life and Times of John J. Pershing, Vol.
II. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1977.
The West Point Alumni Foundation, Inc. Register of Graduates and Former Cadets of
the United States Military Academy. Chicago: R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company,
Who Was Who in American History -The Military. Chicago: Marquis Who's Who,
The Historical Text Archive