James Madison Papers

To James Madison from James P. Preston, 26 August 1813

From James P. Preston

Fort George U. C. August 26h 1813


I have the honor to tender you my acknowledgements for the appointment that you have been pleased to promote me to, every additional trust thus derived serves more strongly to bind me by every tie of gratitude and affection zealously to devote myself to my country’s service.

In consequence of the promotion of Colo Coles to the command of the twelfth Regit of Infty and my own to the twenty third, I have solicited the Secy of War to continue me in the twelfth and arrange Colo Coles to the twenty third.

I have stated my reasons for this wish in a letter to the Secy of War which I take the liberty of inclosing to you as it contains some facts which are known to your self.1 I must pray you Sir to confer on me the favor of speaking to him on the subject. I would not presume to intrude myself upon your time or notice unconnected with what I deem of consequence, but believeing that you will take an interest in producing harmony and content in a regiment composed of men of your native State exclusively I have ventured this request.

Yesterday before light the enemy attacked our piquets and drove them to camp with an inconsiderable loss, not equal I believe to that sustained by the enemy. Capn Fitzgerrald a British officer of some celebrity for one of his rank was wounded and taken prisoner. It is very provoking to be thus insolently treated by inferior numbers marching almost in gun shot of our entrenchment, withou⟨t⟩ attempting to repel them by a vigorous onset, but supposing as I do that we are a component part of numbers that are to be simultaneously wielded by the government in a manner that will be felt from Malden to Montreal, I suppress my feelings of impatience, & trust that the hour will soon arrive when we shall be revenged for those injuries & insults. With every sentiment of personal regard and the highest respect I have the honor to be your Obt Serv.

James P. Preston2

RC (DNA: RG 107, LRUS, P-1813). Damaged by removal of seal. For enclosure, see n. 1.

1Preston enclosed a copy of his letter to John Armstrong dated August 1813 (3 pp.; DLC; original sent to Armstrong [DNA: RG 107, LRUS, P-1813] is dated 24 Aug. 1813) asking that he be allowed to continue commanding the Twelfth Regiment of Infantry because he had recruited many of its soldiers from western Virginia and “commanded them for such a length of time as almost to … know each personally”; he understood their “habits & dispositions” and enjoyed their confidence, while Col. Isaac A. Coles did not. In addition, though assuring Armstrong that he would “not complain of the hardship,” Preston observed that Coles had been promoted ahead of him despite Preston’s having already held the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Twelfth Regiment when Coles was merely a major there.

That “hardship,” however, featured prominently in Preston’s memorial to the Senate of 26 Dec. 1813, in which he declared that “in this irregular preferment, he at once saw his rank, as an officer disregarded—his right as a soldier annihilated—and all military etiquette set aside!” In Coles’s absence, Preston wrote, he had obtained Brig. Gen. John P. Boyd’s permission to retain command of the Twelfth Regiment at Fort George, but Coles was given command when he arrived on the northern frontier in late October 1813. All Preston’s other attempts to obtain redress having failed, he asked the Senate to see that he was “restored to his rank and to his Regiment.”

On 24 Jan. 1814 the Senate requested a report from Armstrong on the matter, and the secretary of war complied on 26 Jan. He stated that Preston and Coles had both been appointed lieutenant colonels during the first session of the Twelfth Congress; that according to a law of 17 Mar. 1812, all officers appointed during that session would “take rank in such manner as the President of the United States shall direct, without regard to priority of appointment”; and that according to the applicable rules, Coles took precedence on the basis of a prior army commission, Preston “never having before held a Military Commission in the Service of the United States” (DNA: RG 46, Executive Proceedings, 13B-D2).

2James Patton Preston (1774–1843) was born in Smithfield, Virginia, and attended the College of William and Mary. He served in the Virginia Senate from 1800 to 1804 and in the House of Delegates from 1810 to 1812. As commander of the Twenty-third Regiment of Infantry, he participated in the Battle of Chrysler’s Farm on 11 Nov. 1813 and received wounds that crippled him permanently. In recognition of his wartime service, Preston was elected governor of Virginia in 1816 and held the office until 1819 (Sobel and Raimo, Biographical Directory of the Governors, 4:1632).

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