To James McHenry
Dear Sir,Philadelphia 13th Decr 1798
I am really ashamed to offer the letters &ca herewith sent, with so many erazures &ca; but it was not to be avoided, unless I had remained so much longer here, as to have allowed my Secretary time to copy the whole over again; And my impatience to be on my return homewards, on Account of the Season—the Roads—and more especially the passage of the Susquehanna—would not admit of this. With consideration & respect—I am—Dear Sir Your most obedt Servt
P.S. Mr. Lear, you are sensible, was engaged with myself & the Genl Officers; of course could not be employed in Transcribing what you will now receive, as the result of our deliberation at the mom[en]t we were engaged in other matters.
ALS, owned (1997) by Mr. Joseph Rubinfine, West Palm Beach, Florida. In DLC:GW there are drafts of three letters dated 13 Dec. 1798 to James McHenry from GW, all in the hand of Alexander Hamilton. All three are printed with notes in Syrett, Hamilton Papers, description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends 22:341–66. The first of these enclosed letters is cast in the form of a point-by-point response to the thirteen questions posed by McHenry in his letter to GW of 10 Nov., which in effect set the agenda of the just concluded five-week meeting of GW with major generals Hamilton and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. The second of these letters attempts to set out the organization of the New Army and deals with such things as ranks, promotions, uniforms, and provisions. As McHenry informed GW on 28 Dec., in making his “report [on 24 Dec.] to the President on the military points, proper for the consideration of Congress,” he “freely used” these two letters and had invoked GW’s “name.” See ASP, Foreign Relations, description begins Walter Lowrie et al., eds. American State Papers. Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States. 38 vols. Washington, D.C., Gales and Seaton, 1832–61. description ends 1:124–27, and Annals of Congress description begins Joseph Gales, Sr., comp. The Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States; with an Appendix, Containing Important State Papers and Public Documents, and All the Laws of a Public Nature. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. description ends , 5th Cong., 2d sess., 2199–2201. See also GW’s expression of dissatisfaction that the reports to the secretary of war were not “communicated entire” but in the form of “Extracts” (GW to McHenry, 6 Jan. 1799). The third of these enclosed letters, regarding the allegations against William S. Smith, is included separately, as the second letter of this date.
The draft of the first of these enclosed letters from GW to McHenry dated 13 Dec. from GW reads: “Sir Since my arrival at this place I have been closely engaged, with the aid of Generals Hamilton and Pinckney, in fulfilling the objects of your letter of the 10th of November. The result is now submitted.
“The two first questions you propose, respecting the appointment of the Officers and men of the troops to be raised in virtue of the act of Congress of the 16th of July last among districts and states will naturally be answered together.
“1. As to the apportionment of the Commissioned officers of the Infantry, no particular reason is discovered to exist at the present period for combining the states into districts; but it is conceived to be expedient to adopt as a primary rule the relative representative population of the several States. The practice of the government on other occasions, in the appointment of public officers, has had regard as far as was practicable to the same general principle; as one which by a distribution of honors and emoluments among the citizens of the different states, tends both to justice and to public satisfaction. This principle however must frequently yield to the most proper solution of character among those willing as well as qualified to serve, and sometimes to collateral considerations, which arising out of particular cases do not admit of precise specification. In the application of the rule, in this, as in other instances, qualifications of it must be admitted. The arrangement which will be now offered proceeds on this basis. You will observe that it does not deviate from the table you have presented [in McHenry to GW, 10 Nov. 1798]. It is contained in the Schedule A [not found].
“2. As to the non commissioned officers and privates, it is conceived to be both unnecessary and inexpedient to make any absolute apportionment among the states. It is unnecessary, because, contemplating it as desireable that the men shall be drawn in nearly equal proportions from the respective states, this object, where circumstances are favourable, will be attained by the very natural and proper arrangement of assigning to the officers who shall be appointed recruiting districts within the states of which they are. It is inexpedient, because if it shall happen that the proportion of fit men cannot easily be had in a particular state, there ought to be no obsta[c]le to obtaining them elsewhere.
“3. As to the officers of the dragoons, it does not seem adviseable to confine their selection to any subdivision of the U. States. Though very strong conjectures may be formed as to the quarters in which they would probably be employed, in the case of invasion, there can be nothing certain on this point, if this were even the criterion of a proper arrangement. And it may be presumed that it will conduce most to general satisfaction to exclude considerations of a local aspect. But from the small number of this corps, which is to be raised it would be found too fractional and for that among reasons inconvenient to aim at a proporti[on]al distribution among all the states. It is therefore supposed most adviseable to be governed principally by a reference to the characters who have occurred as candidates; leaving the inequality in the distribution to be remedied in the event of a future augumentation of this description of troops. The proportion at present is in various views inadequate; a circumstance which it may be presumed will of course be attended to should the progress of public danger lead to an extension of military preparation.
“The materials furnished by you with the addition of those derived from other sources are insufficient for a due selection of the officers whom it is proposed to allot to the States of Connecticut North and South Carolina & Georgia. Hence the selection for these states must of necessity be deferred. It is conceived, that the best plan for procuring the requisite information and accelerating a desireable conclusion as to the three last mentioned States, will be to charge Major General Pinckney, who will avail himself of the assistance of Brigadier Generals Davy and Washington, to make the arrangement of those officers provisionally, and subject to the ratification of the President. It will be in their power to ascertain who are best qualified among those willing to serve; which will at the same time assure a good choice and avoid the disappointment and embarrassment of refusals. As to connecticut, you are aware of the progress which has been made and of the misapprehension which has occasioned an obstacle to a definitive arrangement. You will it is presumed be speedily in possession of the further information necessary, and having it can without difficulty complete the arrangement for this state.
“The 3d 4th & 5th of your questions may likewise be answered to gether.
“The act for augmenting the army is peremptory in its provisions. The bounds of executive discretion as to the for[b]earance to execute such a law might perhaps involve an investigation nice in its own nature and of a kind which it is generally most prudent to avoid. But it may safely be said negatively, for reasons too plain to be doubted, that the voluntary suspension of the execution of a similar law could not be justified but by considerations of decisive urgency.
“The existence of any such considerations is unknown.
“Nothing has been communicated respecting our foreign relations to induce the opinion that there has been any change in the situation of the Country as to external danger which dictates an abandonment of the policy of the law in question. It need not now be examined how far it may be at any time prudent to relinquish measures of security suggested by the experience of accumulated hostility, merely because there are probable symptoms of approaching accommodation: It need not be urged that if such symptoms exist they are to be ascribed to the measures of vigour adopted by the Government; and may be frustrated by a relaxation in those measures affording an argument of weakness or irresolution: For has it not been in substance stated from the highest authority that no decisive indications have been given by France of a disposition to redress our past wrongs and do us future justice, that her decree alleged to be intended to restrain the depredations of French Cruisers on our commerce has not given and from its nature cannot give relief—that the most hostile of the acts by which she has oppressed the commerce of neutrals, that which subjects to capture and condemnation of neutral vessels and cargoes, if any part of the latter be of British production or fabric, not only has not been abrogated but has recently received an indirect confirmation—and that hitherto nothing is discoverable in the conduct of France which ought to change or relax our measures of defence.
“Could it be necessary to enforce by argument so authoritative a declaration as it relates to the immediate object of consideration these among other reflections would at once present themselves.
“Though it may be true that some late occurrences have rendered the prospect of invasion by France, less probable or more remote: Yet duly considering the rapid vicissitudes, at all times, of political and military events; the extraordinary fluctuations which have been peculiarly characteristic of the still subsisting contest in Europe; and the more extraordinary position of most of the principal nations of that quarter of the globe; it can never be wise to vary our measures of security with the continually varying aspect of European affairs. A very obvious policy dictates to us a strenuous endeavour as far as may be practicable, to place our safety out of the reach of the casualties which may befal the contending parties and the powers more immediately within their vortex. The way to effect this is to pursue a steady system—to organise all our resources and put them in a state of preparation for prompt action. Regarding the overthrow of Europe at large as a matter not intirely chimerical—it will be our prudence to cultivate a spirit of self-dependence—and to endeavour by unremitting vigilance and exertion under the blessing of providence to hold the scales of our destiny in our own hands. Standing, as it were, in the midst of falling empires, it should be our aim to assume a station and attitude which will preserve us from being overwhelmed in their ruins.
“It has been very properly the policy of our Government to cultivate peace. But in contemplating the possibility of our being driven to unqualified War, it will be wise to anticipate that frequentiy the most effectual way to defend is to attack. There may be imagined enterprises of very great moment to the permanent interests of this Country which would certainly require a disciplined force. To raise and prepare such a force will always be a work of considerable time; and it ought to be ready for the conjuncture whenever it shall arrive. Not to be ready then may be to lose an opportunity which it may be difficult afterwards to retrieve.
“While a comprehensive view of external circumstances is believed to recommend perseverance in the precautions which have been taken for the safety of the country—nothing has come to my knowlege in our interior situation which leads to a different conclusion. The principal inquiry in this respect concerns the finances. The exhibition of their state from the Department of the Treasury which you have transmitted, as I understand it, opposes no obstacle; nor have I been apprised that any doubt is entertained by the Officer who presides in that Department of the sufficiency of our pecuniary resources. But on this point I cannot be expected to assume the responsibility of a positive opinion. It is the province of the Secretary of the Treasury to pronounce definitively whether any insuperable impediment arises from this source.
“The sound conclusion, viewing the subject in every light is conceived to be—that no avoidable delay ought to be incurred in appointing the whole of the Officers and raising the whole of the men provided for by the act which has been cited. If immediately entered upon and pursued with the utmost activity, it can not be relied upon that the troops will be raised and disciplined in less than a year. What may not another year produce? Happy will it be for us if we have so much time for preparation, and ill-judged indeed if we do not make the most of it! The adequateness of the force to be raised in relation to a serious invasion is foreign to the present examination. But it is certain that even a force of this extent, well instructed and well disciplined would in such an event be of great utility and importance. Besides the direct effects of its own exertions, the Militia rallying to it would derive from its example and countenance additional courage and perseverance. It would give a consistency and stability to our first efforts of which they would otherwise be destitute; and would tend powerfully to prevent great though perhaps partial calamities.
“The senate being in session the officers to be appointed must of course be nominated to that body.
“The pay of all who shall be appointed ought immediately to commence. They ought all to be employed without delay in different ways, in the recruiting service; but were it otherwise there ought to be no suspension of their pay. The law annexes it as a matter of right. The attempt to apply a restriction by executive discretion might be dissatisfactory; and justice to the public does not seem to require it, because the acceptance of an office which makes the person liable at pleasure to be called into actual service will commonly from the moment of that acceptance interfere with any previous occupation—on which he may have depended—This observation cannot be applicable to myself because I have taken a peculiar and distinct ground to which it is my contention to adhere.
“on the subject of your sixth question the opinion is that under existing circumstances; it is not adviseable to withdraw any of the troops from the quarters of the Country, which you mention, towards the Atlantic frontier. But the disposition in those quarters probably requires careful revision. It is not impossible that it will be found to admit of alterations favourable both to œconomy and to the military objects to be attained. The local knowlege of General Wilkinson would be so useful in an investigation of this sort, that it is deemed very important to direct him forthwith to repair to Philadelphia. If this be impracticable by land he may it is presumed come by way of New Orleans. It is observed that in his late communications with the Spanish Governor he has taken pains to obviate jealousy of the views of the U. States. This was prudent, and he ought to be encouraged to continue the policy. It will also be useful to employ a judicious Engineer to survey our posts on the Lakes in order that it may be ascertained in the various relations of trade and defence, what beneficial changes if any, can be made. In this examination Presque-Isle and the South Western extremity of Lake Erie will demand particular attention.
“The reply to your seventh question is that the companies directed to [be] added to the regiments of the old establishment ought as soon as convenient to reinforce the Western army. It is probable that in the progress of events they will be not less useful there than on the sea-board. Their destination in the first instance may be Pittsburgh.
“The following disposition of the Artillery (the subject of your Eighth question) is recommended. The two Regiments by their establishment consist of 28 Companies of these nearly a batalion in point of number, forms part of the western army. A complete batalion there will suffice. Let there be assigned to the fortifications at Boston one company to those at New port two companies, to those at west point one and to those at New York two to those at Mud Island two, to those at Baltimore one to those at Norfolk two to those on Cape Fear River One to those at Charles town two to those at Savannah one to those at the mouth of St Mary one. The remaining two batalions had best be reserved for the army in the field. During the Winter they may retain the stations they now occupy. But as soon as they can conveniendy go into tents it will be adviseable to assemble them at some central or nearly central point there to be put in a course of regular instruction, together with successive detachments of the Officers and non commissioned Officers of the sea board garrisons, until their services shall be actually required. The field officers will of course be distributed proportionally, assigning to each the superintendence of a certain number of companies; and, as to those in garrison the posts at which they are stationed.
“The permanent disposition of the troops after they shall have been raised which is understood to be an object of your Ninth Question will probably be influenced by circumstances yet to be unfolded, and will best be referred to future consideration.
“An arrangement for the recruiting service is the point of primary urgency. For this purpose each state should be divided into as many districts as there are companies to be raised in it, and to every company a particular district should be allotted, with one place of rendezvous in it, to which the recruits should be brought as fast as they are engaged: a certain number of these company districts wherever it can be done should be placed under the supervision of a field officer. During the Winter in most of the states it would be inconvenient to assemble in larger corps than companies. Great cities are to be avoided. The collection of troops there may lead to disorders and expose more than elsewhere the morals and principles of the soldiery.
“But though it might now be premature to fix a permanent disposition of the troops, it may be not unuseful to indicate certain stations where they may be assembled provisionally and may probably be suffered to continue while matters remain in their present posture. The stations eligible in this view may be found for two Regiments in the vicinity of Providence River somewhere near Uxbridge for two other Regiments in the vicinity of Brunswick in New Jersey—for two other Regiments in the vicinity of the Potomack near Harpers Ferry, for two other Regiments in the vicinity of Augusta but above the falls of the Savannah. This disposition will unite considerations relative to the discipline & health of the troops and to the œconomical supply of their wants by water. It will also have some military aspects, in the first instance towards the security of Boston & New Port; in the second towards that of New York & Philadelphia in the third and fourth towards that of Baltimore Charleston Savannah and the Southern States generally and in the third particularly towards the reinforcement of the Western army in certain events—But the military motives have only a qualified influence; since it is not doubted that in the prospect of a serious attack upon this country the disposition of the army ought to look emphatically to the Southern Region as that which is by far most likely to be the scene of action.
“As to your Tenth question, the opinion is, that the Government ought itself to provide the rations. The plan of furnishing money to the recruits as a substitute for this is likely to be attended with several inconveniences. It will give them a pretence for absence injurious to discipline and facilitating marauding and desertion. Many of the soldiery will be disposed to lay out too much of their money in ardent spirits and too little in provisions, which besides occasioning them to be ill fed will lead to habits of intemperance.
“The subject of your 11th question is peculiarly important. The two modes have severally their advantages and disadvantages. That of purchases by Agents of the Government is liable to much mismanagement and abuse, sometimes from want of skill but much oftener from infidelity—It is too frequently deficient in œconomy; but it is preferable, as it regards the quality of the articles to be supplied, the satisfaction of the troops, and the certainty of the supply; which last is a point of the utmost consequence to the success of every military operation. The mode by contract is sometimes found more œconomical; but as the calculations of contractors have reference primarily to their own profit, they are apt to endeavour to impose on the troops articles of inferior quality; the troops suspecting this are apt to be dissatisfied even where there is no adequate cause and where defects may admit of reasonable excuse. In the attention to cheapness of price and other savings of expence, it from time to time happens that the supplies are not laid in as early as the service requires, or not in sufficient quantity, or are not conveyed with due asperity to the points where they are wanted. Circumstances like these tend to embarrass and even to defeat the best concerted military plans; which, in this mood, depend for their execution too much upon the combinations of individual avarice—It also occasionally happens that the Public, from the failures of the contractors, is under a necessity of interposing with sudden and extraordinary efforts to obviate the mischief and disappointments of those failures, producing, in addition to other evils, an accumulation of expence which the fortunes of the delinquent contractors, are insufficient to indemnify.
“The union of the two modes will probably be found safest and best. Prudence always requires that magazines shall be formed beforehand at stations relative to the probable or expected scene of action. These magazines may be laid in by contract—and the transportation of the supplies from the magazines and the issuing of them to the army may be the business of the Military Agents, who must likewise be authorised & enabled to provide for the deficiencies of the contractors and for whatever may not be comprehended in the contracts—This plan will, to a great extent, admit the competition of private interest to furnish the supplies at the cheapest rate: by narrowing the sphere of action of the public agents it will proportionally diminish the opportunities of abuse; and it will unite as far as is attainable œconomy with the efficiency of military operations.
“But to obtain the full advantages of this plan, it is essential that there shall be a man attached to the army, of distinguished capacity and integrity to be charged with the superintendence of the department of supplies. To procure such a man, as military honor can form no part of his reward, ample pecuniary compensation must be given; and he must be entrusted with large authority for the appointment of subordinate agents accompanied with a correspondent responsibility. Proceeding on this ground there would be a moral certainty of immense savings to the public in the business of supplies; savings the magnitude of which will easily be understood by any man who can estimate the vast difference in the results of extensive money transactions between a management at once skilful & faithful and that which is either unskilful or unfaithful.
“This suggestion contemplates as a part of the plan that the procuring of supplies of every kind which in our past experience has been divided between two departments, of Quarter Master and Commissary, shall be united under one head. This unity will tend to harmony system and vigour. It will avoid the discordant mixture of civil with military functions. The Quarter Master General in this case, instead of being a purveyor as formerly, will besides the duties purely military of his station, be confined to the province of calling for the requisite supplies and of seeing that they are duely furnished; in which he may be rendered a very useful check upon the purveyor.
“The extent of your twelveth question has been matter of some doubt. But no inconvenience can ensue from the answering it with greater latitude than may have been intended. It is conceived that the strongest consideration of national policy & safety require that we should be as fast as possible provided [with] Arsenals and Magazines of Artillery small arms and the principal articles of military stores and camp equipage equal to such a force as may be deemed sufficient to resist with effect the most serious invasion of the most powerful European nation. This precaution, which prudence would at all times recommend, is peculiarly indicated by the existing crisis of Europe. The nature of the case does not furnish any absolute standard of the requisite force. It must be more or less matter of judgment. The opinion is that the calculation ought to be on the basis of fifty thousand men, forty thousand infantry of the line two thousand riflemen four thousand horse, and four thousand Artillery men. And with regard to such articles as are expended by the use not less than a full years supply ought to be ready. This will allow due time from internal and external sources to continue the supply in proportion to the exigencies which shall occur. The schedule B [“Estimate of Artillery small Arms principal articles of Military stores and Camp Equipage for an army of 50000 men,” n.d. (DLC:GW)] contains an estimate of the chief of these articles. It is to be observed that the quantities there exhibited are not additional to the present supply but the totals to be provided. As to cloathing, since we may always on a sudden emergency find a considerable supply in our markets, and the articles are more perishable, the quantity in deposit may be much less than of other articles—but it ought not under present circumstances to be less than a years supply for half the abovementioned force especially of the woolen articles.
“I proceed to the last of your questions, that which respects the stations for magazines. It is conceived that three principal permanent stations will suffice and that these ought to be Springfield and Harpers Ferry which are already chosen, and the vicinity of Rocky Mount on the Wateree in South Carolina. These stations are in a great measure central to three great subdivisions of the United States; they are so interior as to be entirely safe and yet on navigable waters which empty into the Ocean and facilitate a water conveyance to every point on our sea Coast—they are also in well settled and healthy districts of Country. That near Harper’s ferry it is well known possesses extraordinary advantages for founderies and other manufactories of iron. It is expected that a canal will ere long effect a good navigation between the Wateree & the Catawba; which whenever it shall happen will render the vicinity of the Rocky Mount extremely convenient to the supply of North Carolina by inland navigation. Pittsburgh west Point in New York, the neighbourhood of Trenton in New Jersey and Fayetteville in North Carolina may properly be selected as places of particular and occasional deposit. Large Cities are as much as possible to be avoided.
“The foregoing comprises it is believed a full answer to the questions you have stated. I shall in another letter offer to your consideration some further matters which have occurred and are deemed to be of importance to our military service. With respect & esteem I have the honor to be Sir Yr very obed. servant” (Df, in Hamilton’s hand, DLC:GW).
The second enclosed letter, dated “Philadelphia December 13 1798,” reads: “Sir, I shall now present to your view the additional objects alluded to in my letter of this date.
“A proper organization for the Troops of the United States is a principal one. In proportion as the policy of the Country is adverse to extensive military establishments ought to be our care to render the principles of our military system as perfect as possible; endeavouring to turn to the best account such force as we at any time may have on foot, and to provide an eligible standard for the augmentations to which particular emergencies may compel a resort.
“The organization of our military force, will, it is conceived, be much improved by modelling it on the following plan.
“Let a regiment of Infantry, composed as at present of two battalions and each battalion of five companies, consist of these Officers and men viz. One Colonel, two Majors, a first and a second; one Adjutant, one Quarter Master, and one Paymaster; each of whom shall be a Lieutenant, One Surgeon and one Surgeons Mate, Ten Captains, Ten first and Ten second Lieutenants, besides the three Lieutenants above mentioned; Two Cadets with the pay and emoluments of Sergeants, Two Sergeant Majors Two Quarter Master Sergeants Two chief Musicians, first and second, Twenty other musicians, forty sergeants, forty Corporals and nine hundred and twenty privates.
“Let a regiment of Dragoons consist of Ten Troops making five Squadrons, and of these Officers and men viz.—One Colonel, Two Majors a first and second, one adjutant, one Quarter Master and one paymaster, each of whom shall be a Lieutenant, One Surgeon and one Surgeons mate, ten Captains, ten first and ten second Lieutenants, besides the three Lieutenants above mentioned, Five Cadets with the pay and emoluments of Sergeants, Two Sergeant majors Two Quarter Master Sergeants, two chief Musicians first and second, Ten other Musicians, Forty sergeants forty corporals and nine hundred and twenty privates; the privates including to each Troops, one Sadler, one Blacksmith and one Bootmaker.
“Let a regiment of Artillery consist of four battalions, each battalion of four companies and of these Officers and Men viz.—One Colonel, Four Majors, One Adjutant, One Quarter Master and one paymaster, each of whom shall be a Lieutenant, One Surgeon and Two Surgeons mates, Sixteen Captains, sixteen first and sixteen second Lieutenants, besides the three Lieutenants above mentioned, thirty two Cadets, with the pay and emoluments of Sergeants, four Sergeant Majors, four quarter master Sergeants, sixty four Sergeants, sixty four corporals, one
Chief Musician and ten other musicians—eight hundred and ninety six privates, including to each company eight artificers.
“The principal reasons for this organization will be briefly suggested.
“It will be observed that the proportion of men to Officers in the Infantry and Cavalry is considerably greater than by the present establishment.
“This presents, in the first place, the advantage of œconomy. By the proportional decrease of the Officers, savings will result in their pay, subsistence and the transportation of their baggage. The last circumstance by lessening the impediments of an Army is also favorable to the celerity of its movements.
“The command of each Officer will become more respectable. This will be an inducement to respectable men to accept military appointments, and it will be an incentive to exertion among those who shall be engaged, by upholding that justifiable pride, which is a necessary ingredient in the military spirit.
“A Company will then admit of an eligible subdivision into platoons, sections, and demi sections each of a proper front.
“Each battalion will then be of the size judged proper for a maneuvring column in the field, and it is that portion of an army which in the most approved systems of tactics is destined to fulfil this object—A battalion ought neither to be too unweildy for rapid movements nor so small as to multiply too much the subdivisions, and render each incapable either of a vigorous impulse or resistance.
“The proportion of Officers to men ought not to be greater than is adequate to the due management and command of them—A careful examination of this point will satisfy every Judge, that the number now proposed will be equal to both. This conclusion will be assisted by the idea that our fundamental order, in conformity with that of the nations of Europe generally, ought to place our infantry in three ranks; to oppose to an enemy who shall be in the same order an equal mass for attack or defense.
“These remarks explain summarily the chief reasons for the most material of the alterations which are suggested.
“But it is not the intention to recommend a present augmentation of the number of rank and file to the proposed standard. It is only wished that it may be adopted as that of the war establishment. The regiments which have been authorized may continue in this respect upon the footing already prescribed; leaving the actual augmentation to depend on events which may create a necessity for the increase of our force.
“The other alterations recommended have relation rather to systematic propriety than to very important military ends.
“The term Lieutenant Colonel in our present establishment has a relative signification, without any thing in fact to which it relates. It was introduced during our revolutionary war to facilitate exchanges of prisoners as our then enemy united the grade of Colonel with that of General. But the permanent form of our military system ought to be regulated by principle, not by the changeable and arbitrary arrangement of a particular nation. The tide of Colonel which has greater respectability is more proper for the Commander of a regiment, because it does not, like the other imply a relation having no existence.
“The term ensign is changed into that of Lieutenant, as well because the latter from usage has additional respectability, offering an inducement to desireable candidates, as because the former, in its origin, signified a standard bearer, and supposed that each company had a distinct standard.
“This in practice has ceased to be the case and for a variety of good reasons a standard of Colours to each battalion of Infantry is deemed sufficient. This standard is intended to be confided to a Cadet, in whom it may be expected to excite emulation and exertion. The multiplication of grades, inconvenient with regard to exchanges, is thus avoided.
“In the cavalry it is proper to allow a standard to each squadron consisting of two Troops, and hence it is proposed to have five Cadets to a regiment.
“The nature of the Artillery service, constantly in detachment, renders it proper to compose a regiment of a greater number of Battalions than the other Corps. This our present establishment has recognized. But there is now a disorderly want of uniformity; one regiment being composed of four battalions the other of three. The same organization ought to be common to all. The diminution of the number of Musicians, while it will save expence, is also warranted by the peculiar nature of the Artillery service. They answer in this Corps few of the purposes which they fulfil in the Infantry.
“The existing laws contemplate, and with good reason, that the aids of General Officers (except of the Commander in Chief) and the Officers in the department of Inspection, shall be taken from the regiments. But they do not provide that when so taken their places in the regiments shall be supplied by others. It is conceived that this ought to be the case. The principles of the establishment suppose, for example, that three Officers to a company of a given number are the just and due proportion. If when an Officer be taken from a company to fill one of the stations alluded to, his place be not filled by another, so that the number of Officers to a company may remain the same, it must follow that the company will be deficient in Officers. It is true, that the number of a company is continually diminishing, but it diminishes in Officers as well as men; and it is not known that the proportion is varied. Practice in every institution ought to conform to principle, or there will result more or less of disorder. An Army is in many respects a machine, of which the displacement of any of the organs, if permitted to continue, injures its symmetry and energy, and leads to disorder and weakness. The increase of the number of rank and file, while it strengthens the reasons for replacing the Officers, who may be removed, will more than compensate in point of economy for the addition of Officers by the substitution. This may be reduced to the test of calculation. But though the place of an Officer in his regiment ought to be supplied upon any such removal, he ought not to lose his station in the regiment but ought to rank and rise as if he had continued to serve in it.
“The provision that Aides de camp and the Officers of Inspection shall be drawn from the line of the Army is not restricted as to grade. There ought to be such a restriction. The Aides of Major Generals ought not to be taken from a rank superior to that of Captain, nor those of the Brigadiers from a rank superior to that of first Lieutenant. The Inspectors ought in like manner to be limitted those of Brigades to the rank of Captain those of Divisions to that of Major. This will guard against the multiplication of the superior Grades by removals to fill such stations.
“The judicious establishment of general rules of promotion, liable to exceptions in favour of extraordinary service or merit, is a point of the greatest consequence. It is conceived, that these rules are the most convenient that can be devised; namely that all Officers shall rise in the regiments to which they respectively belong up to the rank of Major inclusively—that afterwards they shall rise in the line of the Army at large; with the limitation, however, that the Officers of Artillery, Cavalry and Infantry shall be confined to their respective Corps, until they shall attain the rank of Colonel.
“It is very material to the due course of military service, that the several classes of an army shall be distinguished from each other by certain known badges, and that there shall be uniformity in dress and equipment, subject to these distinctions. The dress itself indeed will constitute a part of them. It is of inferior moment what they shall be, provided they are conspicuous, œconomical, and not inconsistent with good appearance, which in an army is far from being a matter of indifference. The following uniforms and badges are recommended, but if any of them are supposed liable to exception, they may be changed at pleasure.
“The Uniform of the Commander in Chief to be a blue Coat with yellow buttons and gold Epaulets each having three silver stars, with linings cape and cuffs of Buff, in winter buff vest & breeches, in summer a white vest and Breeches of nankeen. The coat to be without lappels and embroidered on the cape cuffs and pockets. A white plume in the hat to be a further distinction. The Adjutant general, the aids and secretaries of the Commander in Chief, to be likewise distinguished by a white plume.
“The Uniform of the other General Officers to be a blue coat with yellow buttons gold epaulets lining and facings of buff, the under cloaths the same with those of the Commander in Chief.
“The Major Generals to be distinguished by two silver stars in each epaulet, and except the Inspector General, by a black and white plume, the black below—The Brigadier to be distinguished by one silver star on each epaulet and by a red and white plume, the red below. The aids of all General Officers who are taken from Regiments, and the Officers of inspection, to wear the uniforms of the Regiments from which they are taken. The aids to be severally distinguished by the like plumes, which are worn by the General Officers to whom they are respectively attached.
“The uniform of the aids of the Commander in Chief when not taken from Regiments to be a blue coat with yellow buttons and gold epaulets, buff lining and facings, the same under cloaths with the Commander in Chief.
“The Inspector General, his aids and the Officers of inspection generally, to be distinguished by a blue plume. The Quarter master General and other Military Officers in his department to be distinguished by a Green plume.
“The uniform of the Infantry and Artillery to be a blue Coat with white buttons and red facings, white under Cloaths and cocked hats: the Coats of the Infantry to be lined with white, of the Artillery with red. The uniform of the Cavalry to be a Green Coat with white buttons, lining and facings, white vest and breeches with helmet Caps.
“Each Colonel to be distinguished by two Epaulets, each Major by one epaulet on the right Shoulder and a strap on the left. All the field Officers, except as above, and the regimental Staff, to wear red plumes.
“Captains to be distinguished by an epaulet on the right shoulder, Lieutenants by one on the left shoulder—Cadets by a strap on the right Shoulder—The epaulets and Straps of the regimental Officers to be of Silver.
“Serjeant Majors and Quarter Master sergeants to be distinguished by two red worsted epaulets—Sergeants by a like epaulet on the right shoulder—Corporals by a like epaulet on the left Shoulder. The flank Companies to be distinguished by red wings on the shoulders.
“The Coats of the Musicians to be of the colours of the facings of the Corps to which they severally belong. The Chief Musicians to wear two white worsted epaulets.
“All the civil staff of the Army to wear plain blue Coats with yellow buttons and white under Cloaths. No gold or silver lace except in the epaulets and straps to be worn.
“The Commissioned Officers and Cadets to wear Swords.
“All persons belonging to the Army to wear a black Cockade with a small white Eagle in the Centre. The cockade of the non-commissioned Officers, Musicians and privates to be of leather with Eagles of tin.
“The Regiments to be distinguished from each other numerically. The number of each Regiment to be expressed on the buttons.
“It cannot fail to happen that Cloathing made at a distance from the Army will in numerous instances be ill fitted to the persons to whom it is issued. This is an inconvenience, as it respects appearance comfort and use. It merits consideration whether it may not be remedied by making provision by law for the necessary alteration at the cost of the Soldiery. As there are always to be found Taylors in an Army, the alterations may be made there during seasons of inactivity; and moderate compensations may be established to be deducted out of the pay. The Taylors, who when so employed will be exempted from military duty, will be satisfied with very small allowances; and the Soldiery will probably prefer this expence to the inconveniencies of wearing cloaths which do not fit them.
“On the subject of cloathing it is remarked with regret that the returns which have been received exhibit none on hand; though from verbal communications it is understood that measures are in train for obtaining a present supply. It is desirable that some more effectual plan than has hitherto been pursued should be adopted, to procure regular and sufficient supplies on reasonable terms—While we depend on foreigners, will it not be advisable to import the materials rather than take the chance of markets? And will it not even be expedient with a view to œconomy to have the Cloathing made up in the Countries from which it may be brought? The matter certainly deserves serious attention. Our supply in the mode hitherto practiced is not only very precarious, but must doubtless be obtained at a very dear rate.
“Another point no less deserving of particular attention is the composition of the ration of provisions. It was in the last session augmented [by act of 16 July 1798] beyond all former example. It is not recollected that the ration which was allowed during the war with Great Britain was found insufficient, by troops once formed to military habits and acquainted with the best methods of managing their provisions. The present ration, estimating by price, is understood to be greater than the Ration in that war by at least forty per Cent. This is evidently a very important augmentation. Various disadvantages attend it, a great increase of expence, additional difficulty in furnishing under all circumstances the stipulated allowance, consequently a multiplication of the possible causes of discontent, murmur and perhaps even mutiny—the necessity of a greater number of waggons for transportation, and of course the extension of this always serious source of embarrassment to military operations.
“The quantity of spirituous liquors, which is a component part of the ration, is so large as to endanger, where they might not before exist, habits of intemperance, alike fatal to health and discipline. Experience has repeatedly shewn that many Soldiers will exchange their rum for other articles; which is productive of the double mischief of subjecting those with whom the exchange is made to the loss of what is far more necessary and to all the consequences of brutal intoxication.
“The step having been once taken, a change is delicate; but it is believed to be indispensible, and that the temporary evils of a change can bear no proportion to the permanent and immense evils of a continuance of the error.
“It may not perhaps be advisable to bring back the ration to the standard of the last War, but to modify it in some respects differently, so as not materially to effect the aggregate expence.
“It may consist of eighteen Ounces of bread or flour, one pound and a quarter of fresh beef or one pound of salted beef or three quarters of a pound of salted pork; salt, when fresh meat is issued, at the rate of one quart and Candles at the rate of a pound for every hundred Rations.
“With regard to liquor it may be best to exclude it from being a component part of the Ration, allowing a discretion to commanding Officers to cause it to be issued in quantities not exceeding half a gill per day except on extraordinary occasions.
“Vinegar also ought to be furnished when to be had at the rate of two quarts and Soap at the rate of two pounds per hundred rations, but this ought to depend on circumstances, and ought not to make part of the established Ration.
“There are often difficulties in furnishing articles of this description, and the equivalent in money is frequently rather pernicious than beneficial. Where there is a Contract the promise of such Articles is apt to prove more beneficial to the Contractor than to any other person. He commonly so manages it, that the substitute is not a real equivalent.
“But it need not be observed, that whatever is to be done in this respect must be so conducted as not to infract the conditions on which the troops now in Service were enlisted.
“It is deeply to be lamented, that a very precious period of leisure was not improved towards forming among ourselves Engineers and Artillerists, and that owing to this neglect we are in danger of being overtaken by war without competent characters of these descriptions. To form them suddenly is impossible. Much previous study and experiment are essential. If possible to avoid it a war ought not to find us wholly unprovided. It is conceived to be advisable to endeavor to introduce from abroad, at least one distinguished Engineer and one distinguished Officer of Artillery. They may be sought for preferably in the Austrian and next in the prussian Armies. The Grade of Colonel, with adequate pecuniary compensations, may attract Officers of a rank inferior to that grade in those
Armies, who will be of distinguished ability and merit—But in this, as we know from past experience, nothing is more easy than to be imposed upon—nothing more difficult than to avoid imposition—and that therefore it is requisite to commit the business of procuring such characters to some very judicious hand, under every caution that can put him upon his guard.
“If there shall be occasion for the actual employment of military force, a corps of Riflemen will be for several purposes extremely useful. The eligible proportion of Riflemen to Infantry of the line may be taken at a twentieth. Hence in the apportionment of an Army of fifty thousand Men, in my letter of this date, two thousand Riflemen are included; and in the estimate of Arms to be provided, two thousand Rifles: There is a kind of Rifle commonly called Fergusons which will deserve particular attention. It is understood, that it has in different European Armies supplanted the old Rifle, as being more quickly loaded and more easily kept clean. If the shot of it be equally or nearly equally sure, those advantages entitle it to a preference. It is very desirable, that this point and its comparative merit in other respects be ascertained by careful examination & experiments.
“Perhaps generally, but more certainly when the Troops shall serve in southern Climates, flannel Shirts will be most conducive to health. Will it not be adviseable to make provision for retaining a discretion in such cases either to allow a less number of flannel Shirts, equivalent to the present allowance of linnen, or if this cannot be, to furnish the Soldiery with the requisite number, deducting the difference of cost out of their pay?
“The only provision for the appointment of a Quarter Master General is to be found in the Act of the 28th of May, authorizing the president to raise a provisional Army, which limits his rank and emoluments to those of Lieut: Colonel. This provision is conceived to be entirely inadequate. The military duties of the Office are of a nature to render it of the first importance in an Army, demanding great Abilities and a character every way worthy of trust. Accordingly it is the general practice, founded upon very substantial reasons, to confide it to an Officer of high Military rank. The probability is that without a similar arrangement on our part, we shall not be able to command a fit character, and in taking one of inferior pretensions we shall subject the service to disadvantages out of all proportion to any objections which may be supposed to militate against the conferring of such rank. It is feared that an appointment under the existing provision will only create embarrassment, should there be real necessity for military exertions, and that the alternative must be, either to leave the Army destitute of so necessary an organ, or to give it one likely in the progress of things to prove unequal to the task.
“It was much desired for preventing future controversy to fix in the first instance the relative grades of the regimental Officers. That of the field Officers has been rendered impossible, without injustice and the hazard of much dissatisfaction, by the impossibility of completing the arrangement in Connecticut and the three most southern States. But upon close examination many obstacles opposed a definitive establishment of the relative rank, even of the Officers of Companies in the Regiments which have been organized. Numerous circumstances, which ought to influence the decision, are unknown; and without this knowledge, a final arrangement might lead to very aukward and perplexing results. In consideration of this difficulty, no more than a temporary one, liable to future revision, has been adopted: It will be necessary to attend to this in the appointments, and to signify to the persons that they are to obey according to the order of nomination, but that the president reserves to himself the right, where cogent reasons for it shall appear, to change the relative rank which that order may seem to recognize. He will judge whether in making the nomination to the Senate a like reserve is necessary.
“I am well aware, that several of the matters suggested in this letter will require legislative provision. If the whole or any of them shall be approved by the Executive, no time ought to be lost in recommending them to the consideration of Congress. As to some of them it is very desirable, that the necessary provision by law should precede the inlistment of the Men—to avoid the obstacle to a change which may result from Contract. With great respect & esteem, I have the honor to be, Sir, Your obedient servant, Go: Washington” (LS, PPRF).