James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Armstrong, 5 September 1813

From John Armstrong

Sackets’ harbor 5 Sept. 1813.


Prevost has returned from the neiborhood of Fort George to Kingston. It is supposed that after reconnoitring Boyd’s position he did not think it adviseable to attack it. My opinion is, that he wanted to draw our attention to the West & that at no time had he any serious intention of doing more than spinning out the Campaign.

I enclose copies of my correspondence with Gen. Hampton, alluded to in my last.1 I have a private letter from him of the 31st. closing with these words—“your letter has locked the door upon me. The close of the campaign must open to me a passage, should I not find a shorter route in the course of it.” He will be ready by the 20th. & will be at the head of an effective force of 4500 regular troops & 1500 militia.

It is with great regret I find that Gen. Williams’s private business makes necessary a furlough at this point of the Campaign. Between granting this and loosing him altogether I could not hesitate. This was the alternative presented.

By the return of the morning, the aggregate of the troops here is close upon 4000. The auxiliary Militia force ordered at this point, will be 2000.

Our last accounts from the fleets, (about four days ago) left Yeo off Niagara and Chauncy off the mouth of the Genessee river—distance about sixty miles.

I enclose a copy of a letter received from Major Lee of the 2d. unit.2 It shews the necessity of enlarging the monthly allowance for war expenditure. We now draw about a Million & a half for everything. Half a Million extra may enable us to keep on our legs. I have written to the Pay master of the army to furnish the funds necessary to the object stated by the Depy. paymaster. This has been done on the supposition that the extra allowance would be made & that nothing would be permitted to check the impulse given to the campaign in this last stage of it. The moment is auspicious. If Chauncy either fight to advantage or do not fight at all, in either Case, we will be in condition to execute the meditated enterprise. An order from you to the Treasury department will be necessary in obtaining the additional funds. The quarter on which Major Lee’s estimate is made will terminate on the 30th. instant. I am Sir, with the highest respect, your faithful & obedient servant

John Armstrong.

RC and enclosures (DLC). RC docketed by JM. For enclosures, see nn. 1 and 2.

1Armstrong referred to his letter to JM of 28 Aug. 1813. He enclosed copies of Maj. Gen. James Wilkinson’s letters to Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton of 15 Aug. (1 p.) and 16 Aug. 1813 (1 p.), Hampton’s letter to Armstrong of 22 Aug. 1813 (3 pp.), and Armstrong’s reply to Hampton of 25 Aug. 1813 (4 pp.). On 15 Aug., invoking his authority as commander of the Ninth Military District, Wilkinson requested that Hampton provide him with returns of the troop strength of Hampton’s division at Burlington, Vermont, as well as its arms and ammunition, equipment, and available transportation, deeming such information “indispensible to our effectual cooperation, in the common cause of our country.” His note of the following day ordered Hampton to move his army across Lake Champlain to Plattsburgh. Hampton enclosed copies of these letters in his to Armstrong of 22 Aug., reminding the secretary of war that he had accepted the assignment at Burlington only because Armstrong had represented it as a “distinct and separate command” and had averred that Hampton would not be subject to Wilkinson’s orders until their two armies were joined. Wilkinson’s letters, by contrast, seemed to Hampton clear statements that the other general considered Hampton his subordinate and was determined, though “200 or 400 miles distant,” to control Hampton’s maneuvers at Lake Champlain. If Wilkinson’s assumptions reflected those of the government, Hampton wrote, he had no choice but to resign. Armstrong asserted in response that “the nature of the trust committed to you has not been changed,” but that as his most recent dispatch to Hampton would make clear, “combined operations” between Wilkinson and Hampton had actually begun, which placed Wilkinson, as the senior officer, in command. Observing that “some difference of opinion … as to the meaning of words” might exist between himself and Hampton, Armstrong argued that “commands may be separate and distinct, without being independant,” and that by characterizing Hampton’s assignment as such, he had merely meant to charge the general with the “interior management and temporary direction of the corps” at Burlington. Though the command was only “honorary,” Armstrong assured Hampton that he need have no concern for his reputation. “I shall be with you throughout the campaign,” the secretary of war wrote, “& I pledge to you my honor as a soldier, that your rights shall not be invaded.” He added that he would wait for a reply from Hampton before sending the general’s letter, with its conditional resignation, to JM.

2Enclosure not found, but Maj. Washington Lee’s letter to Armstrong of 2 Sept. 1813 is described in the Registers of Letters Received by the Secretary of War (DNA: RG 107) as requesting $400,000 for “pay and arrearages.” Lee was deputy paymaster general for the Northern Army (Hamersly, Complete Regular Army Register of the U.S., 89).

Index Entries