BG James A. Drain

By: Peter Grilley | Published: 2020-11-23

Service as Adjutant General:
#16: 1901-1906
Born: 1870, Illinois
Died: 1943, Washington, DC

James A. Drain was born to Andrew H Drain and Virginia Whitley (Wornom) Drain on a family farm in Illinois. His parents were both from Warren Co, Illinois. James had three brothers. James married Ethel Mary (Marsland) Drain in 1891 at the age of 20. They had 5 children.

His career in the Washington National Guard started when he enlisted in Troop D, First Cavalry, Washington National Guard on 4 Mar 1894. On 27 Jun 1895, Troop D was disbanded and Drain was discharged. A few months later, he enlisted on 7 Dec 1895 in the newly created Battery A, Light Artillery stationed in Spokane. Drain was subsequently discharged on 13 Jul 1896. Receiving an officer’s commission, he was appointed First Lieutenant on 1 Aug 1898 and assigned to Co A (Spokane), 2nd Infantry Regiment; on 8 May 1899 Drain was promoted to Captain.

On 9 Nov 1899, following the return of the First Washington Regiment of US Volunteers from the Philippines, the Washington National Guard was reorganized pursuant to General Orders No. 11 of that date. Capt James A Drain of Spokane was appointed Major commanding 3rd Battalion (Spokane), First Infantry Regiment, Washington National Guard.

On 16 Jan 1901, Major James A. Drain was appointed Brigadier General and Adjutant General of the Washington National Guard upon the resignation of Brigadier General E. H. Fox. While BG Drain’s time at the reins was shorter than some others, he was responsible for making significant changes to how the Guard functioned and was viewed by the Regular Army.

The year 1901 began significant changes for the Washington National Guard. The State Legislature amended the Militia Laws eliminating a Brigade level in the Washington National Guard that was effective on 1 Apr 1901. Beginning in 1901, officer appointments were based upon written exams and performance. Drain’s policy changes required National Guard candidates be evaluated using the same physical examinations as those of the regular army. BG Drain began a policy of rigid inspections of both personnel and units and leaders were held accountable. The changes in discipline had an immediate effect. Major WR Abercrombie was detailed by the Secretary of War, Elihu Root, to inspect and report on the 1902 annual encampment. In his report, Major Abercrombie reported “that the discipline was the best he had ever seen in a National Guard encampment, Pennsylvania and New York, considered; that it was the cleanest camp he ever saw; and that for the first time in his experience he saw the enlisted men of the National Guard properly and satisfactorily subsisted”. To be compared to the Pennsylvania and New York National Guard was not to be understated as both states represented the epitome of National Guard of the time.

BG Drain was also an avid marksman and his policies reflected a change in focus of the National Guard. Under Drain’s leadership, soldiers were required to shoot a specified number of rounds each year for marksmanship training. Those who did not were discharged. Drain organized training for leaders at the company level to become proficient in teaching marksmanship further promoting and endorsing its value. Groups of Guardsmen began participating in domestic and international marksmanship competitions.

On 1 Aug 1906, BG James Drain resigned as Adjutant General and was replaced by Otis Hamilton. During his 5 years of service as Adjutant General, his accomplishments were noticed at a national level. President Theodore Roosevelt selected Drain as an appointee. Roosevelt and several others pushed Drain’s name for an executive role in the Philippines. Roosevelt wrote several letters of introduction for Drain between 1906 and WW1 to prominent politicians and policy makers.

During this period, Drain suffered a hunting accident that resulted in the partial loss of his right arm. This unfortunate event did not stop Drain. Although he never attended college, he was a self-taught attorney and accountant. He practiced law in Washington, Nebraska, New York and Washington DC. His real passion was as champion of the National Guard. He took the model he developed from the Washington National Guard and promoted it at a national level. Drain figured prominently in changing the federal laws that effected the National Guard.

In 1908, James led the US shooting team to Gold Medals at the London Olympic games.

Although handicapped, Drain was accepted as a Major in the Ordnance Corps and shipped with the 1st Division when it departed for France June 1917. Drain was known as an expert in small arms and helped create tactics and techniques for the deployment of machine guns. A short time later, Major Drain represented the United States in the Anglo-American Commission on tank warfare. The commission was responsible for developing allied tank warfare strategy. His efforts were significant and appreciated. Lt Col James Drain was awarded the Army Distinguished Service Medal for his efforts per War Dept General Order #11, 1922.

Following WW1, James Drain pushed for the creation of the American Legion. Following its creation, he served 20 months as commander of the department of the District of Columbia, served as the Fourth District Chairman of Rehabilitation Committee of the Legion, elected National Commander for 1924-1925, and was a member of the American Legion national executive committee and board of directors. Drain also served as President of the National Rifle Association and is credited with bringing the organization from the brink of collapse to its prominence today.

James passed away 30 May 1943, at the age of 72 in a Washington DC hospital after a protracted illness. Between 1906 and 1943, Drain was influential with every President from Theodore Roosevelt to Franklin Roosevelt. He and his wife are buried Arlington National Cemetery.