James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Armstrong, 21 February 1814

From John Armstrong

War Department February 21st. 1814.


I some time since received a Report, of which the inclosed paper (marked A) is an Extract.1 Sensible of the delicacy of military reputation, I was in no haste to act upon it, nor even officially to submit it to you. The reason for this hesitancy is now removed. I have, in two instances, followed the references made in the report, and in both, the truth of the principal charge is confirmed. A sense of duty compels me to propose, that the General be relieved from the command of the Army and of the 9th. Military District, and that a Court of Enquiry be instituted, as speedily as possible, for the purpose of examining and deciding, whether his Conduct has, or has not, been censurable during the last Campaign? This course is also indicated by the General’s wishes as expressed in the inclosed paper marked B.2 I have the Honor to be, With the highest Respect, Sir, your most obedt. Servant.

John Armstrong

RC and enclosures (DNA: RG 59, ML); letterbook copy (DNA: RG 107, LSP). RC in a clerk’s hand, signed by Armstrong. Letterbook copy dated 19 Feb. 1814.

1The enclosed extract marked “A” (3 pp.) from a “confidential report” to Armstrong, 28 Dec. 1813, contained eight charges against Maj. Gen. James Wilkinson: he had allegedly 1) given orders to Col. Winfield Scott on 3 Oct. 1813 that were “unjustifiable” because they would have prevented Scott from aiding the militia in an emergency; 2) caused delay and mismanagement in moving troops from Fort George to Henderson Bay by leaving the task entirely to Brig. Gen. John P. Boyd; 3) delayed the expedition against Canada and wasted supplies by interfering with Maj. Gen. Morgan Lewis’s arrangements for moving his division from Sackets Harbor to Grenadier Island; 4) attempted to end the expedition prematurely by emphasizing the shortage of provisions to his councils of war, which overruled him; 5) retained his command despite being, by his own admission, too sick to perform its duties; 6) delayed progress down the St. Lawrence, thus allowing the British to overtake his army; 7) failed to prevent or effectively resist attack from the rear; and 8) been drunk and incapable of “thinking or acting correctly” while the army passed Prescott, and in a second instance of intoxication, proceeded to “sing and shuffle,” disgracing himself and his office “not only by what he did but by the sentiments he uttered.” The informant, not named in the extract, listed Scott, Col. Edmund Pendleton Gaines, Col. Alexander Macomb, Brig. Gen. Robert Swartwout, Col. John Walbach, and Col. Joseph Gardner Swift as potential witnesses to the truth of his allegations.

2Armstrong enclosed an extract marked “B” (1 p.) from Wilkinson’s letter to him of 17 Dec. 1813 (not found), requesting to “be immediately called forward & allowed to vindicate [his] military Character” if his conduct was questioned.

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