James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Jonathan Williams, 21 June 1812

From Jonathan Williams

New York June 21. 1812


By the 27th Section of the Act of 16 March 1802 it is declared that the Engineers “shall be subject at all times to do duty in such places and on such Service as the President of the United States shall direct,”1 and By the 63d Article of War “the Engineers are not to assume nor are subject to be ordered on any duty beyond the Line of their profession, except by the special order of the President of the United States.”2

While the peace establishment alone existed I had but 3 superior Officers (Genl Wilkinson, Colonels Burbeck & Cushing). I have now 14 superiors, and while I cannot assume the command of a subaltern, I am exposed to perform professional duties where a subaltern commands.

War being now declared, my Situation in this Harbour becomes humiliating to the last degree. Works that have been constructed by me become inhabited and commanded by my inferiors, while I appear to be merely a spectator, for in military command I have not the authority of a Serjeant.

I pray you Sir to releive me from this unpleasant Situation, and by a special order, which you alone can give, to place me in that, which my nominal rank naturally points out, and which my honour requires. I indulge a hope that this reasonable request will be complied with immediately, and that by return of post I shall be placed in a command consistent with my Character, and such as I hope, also, is not unmerited by the public Services I have performed.3 I have the honour to be with the greatest Respect Sir Your most obedient & most humble Servant

Jona Williams

RC (DNA: RG 107, LRRS, W-172:6); FC (InU: Jonathan Williams Papers). RC docketed by a War Department clerk as received 23 June 1812.

1U.S. Statutes at Large description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America … (17 vols.; Boston, 1848–73). description ends , 2:137.

2Ibid., 2:367.

3On 23 June, at JM’s request, Eustis instructed the commander of the New York harbor, Brig. Gen. Joseph Bloomfield, that “whenever the Exigencies of the Service may require the talents & knowledge of the Officers of the Corps of Engineers beyond the Line of their immediate profession, you may assign to those under your Command such duties in the Line of the Army, as may Comport with their Rank” (DNA: RG 107, LSMA). On 6 July Bloomfield replied that under these orders Williams wished to take immediate command of Castle William but that Col. Henry Burbeck, the commanding officer on Governors Island, would not consent to such an action except under direct threat of enemy attack. Bloomfield informed Eustis that the officers of the artillery would not allow their men to serve under officers of the Corps of Engineers (DNA: RG 107, LRRS, B-322:6). After sending another letter on 9 July, enclosing a memorial from the officers of the harbor addressing this point (DNA: RG 107, LRRS, B-330:6), Bloomfield received word from Eustis on 11 July that “the employment of the Officers of the Corps of Engineers, is altogether subject to your judgement & decision” (DNA: RG 107, LSMA). Williams resigned his commission on 31 July 1812 (Heitman, Historical Register description begins Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, from Its Organization, September 29, 1789, to March 2, 1903 (2 vols.; Washington, 1903). description ends , 1:1041).

Index Entries