James Madison Papers
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From James Madison to John Armstrong, 19 August 1814

To John Armstrong

Aug. 19. 1814

Note to Secy. of War, on Genl. Browns letter of Aug. 7.1

If there be no opposing considerations unknown to me, Col. Miller is entitled to brevet promotion. Majrs. Wood & McRae at least seem to merit attention also.2

What is best as to Ripley3

J. M

FC (DLC); Tr (DLC, series 3). FC in JM’s hand; included among documents dated 16 Aug. 1814 in the Index to the James Madison Papers.

1Maj. Gen. Jacob Brown’s 7 Aug. letter to Armstrong was his official report of the 25 July 1814 Battle of Lundy’s Lane (PHi: Daniel Parker Papers), which Armstrong copied and emended for publication (DNA: RG 107, LRRS, B-82:8). The letter and its enclosures were printed in the Daily National Intelligencer, 20 Aug. 1814, and Niles’ Weekly Register 6 (1814): 433–36. Brown wrote that in order to prevent the British from attempting an attack on U.S. territory, he had sent a force under Brig. Gen. Winfield Scott from Chippawa toward Queenston. Finding British troops in front of him at Niagara Falls, Scott attacked after sending for reinforcements. When these arrived, Brig. Gen. Eleazer W. Ripley ordered Col. James Miller to capture the British artillery, situated on a hill, which Miller successfully did. Three British attempts to recover the cannon failed, the last partly owing to the efforts of Maj. Eleazer Derby Wood. Wounded and suffering from loss of blood, Brown would have turned over command to Scott at this point, but Scott was also too badly injured to continue fighting. Brown therefore put Ripley in charge of withdrawing the U.S. forces to rest, get water, reorganize, and return to the field at daybreak to resume the battle if the British came forth. Ripley, however, did not carry out the last part of this order, and Brown lamented that “under able direction [his army] might have done more and better.” Among other combatants, Brown commended Wood and Maj. William McRee of the Corps of Engineers as “worthy of the highest trust & confidence.” He enclosed a return of U.S. losses totaling 171 killed, 572 wounded, and 117 missing, a list naming casualties among U.S. officers, and a statement of British prisoners taken totaling 169.

2Miller was breveted a brigadier general, and Wood and McRee received brevet lieutenant colonel appointments, all effective as of the date of the battle (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.; 1903; reprint, Baltimore, 1994). description ends 1:682, 710–11, 1054).

3On 26 July 1814 Ripley retreated to Black Rock and asked Brown for permission to move the army back across the Niagara to U.S. territory. Brown refused, ordered the army to encamp at Fort Erie, summoned Brig. Gen. Edmund Pendleton Gaines from Sackets Harbor to take command in Ripley’s place, and gave Ripley eight weeks’ leave. On 3 Nov. 1814 Congress passed a resolution recognizing Ripley and other officers for their “gallantry and good conduct” in the Niagara campaign, of which JM received a copy (DLC); however, insulted by the derogatory assessment of his performance in Brown’s widely published 7 Aug. 1814 report, Ripley requested a court of inquiry. It was granted on 16 Feb. 1815 and met in March but was almost immediately dissolved by a general order stating that due to the Congressional resolution “and the President being pleased to express his favorable opinion of the military character of Gen. Ripley,” he was to “honourably resume his command.” This about-face by JM’s administration evidently occurred as the political and other advantages of retaining both Ripley and Brown in the peacetime army became clear, along with the necessity of minimizing public quarrels between its officers. Ripley was not satisfied with this outcome, but acting Secretary of War Alexander J. Dallas persuaded him not to pursue a new trial by breveting him a major general dated from the day of the battle, and by obtaining a 30 Apr. 1815 letter from Brown retracting his accusations. Dallas, Brown, and Ripley agreed that Brown’s letter would not be made public while JM or James Monroe remained in office, but Ripley nevertheless included a truncated and inaccurate version of it, reproduced from memory, in his pamphlet entitled Facts Relative to the Campaign on the Niagara, in 1814 and published later that year (Quimby, U.S. Army in the War of 1812, 2:544–45; Annals of Congress, description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends 13th Cong., 3d sess., 1964–65; John D. Morris, Sword of the Border: Major General Jacob Jennings Brown, 1775–1828 [Kent, Ohio, 2000], 187–92; Dallas to JM, 16 and 19 Apr., and 2 May 1815, DLC; 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.; 1903; reprint, Baltimore, 1994). description ends 1:832; Eleazer Wheelock Ripley, Facts Relative to the Campaign on the Niagara, in 1814 [Boston, 1815; Shaw and Shoemaker description begins R. R. Shaw and R. H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819 (22 vols.; New York, 1958–66). description ends 35791], 9, 18, 46).

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