James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Armstrong, 11 November 1813

From John Armstrong

11 Nov. 1813 Albany.

Dear Sir,

About 1 oclock this morning I received the enclosed letters from Major Gen. Hampton.1 I immediately answered by express—that “the Main army was descending the St. Laurence; that notice of its approach would be given to him; that he must immediately make another movement in a direction which should secure to him the ability either of effecting a junction with it, or of detaining the enemy on the south side of the St. Laurence, untill W. should pass his rear and seize Montreal.” This is not commanding what is impracticable or difficult & either course will secure our object. The embarrasments he details arising from weather, are not insurmountable & in that respect, the last ten days have been as mild as the weather of September. In these therefore I see no reason for coming to the General’s conclusion, that the Campaign was substantially at an end. When this is the case, I shall not refuse to him permission to go to Washington. The jealousy & misunderstanding existing between him & W. may make it necessary to part with one of the two. At the present moment these causes are more menacing to the success of the campaign than anything to be found in the force of the enemy or the inclemency of the season. I am Sir, with the highest respect, your faithful & obedt. servt.

John Armstrong

The order of the Qr. M. Gen. was an act of mere providence. The failure of the enterprise was a possible event & being such, was guarded against. It shewed only wisdom & foresight. If we got to Montreal, we but lost the labor of felling trees. If we did not get to that City—a covering for the Army was provided. There was nothing in this to sink the spirits of any one.2


RC (DLC). Docketed by JM. For enclosures, see n. 1.

1Armstrong probably enclosed two letters to him from Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton of 1 Nov. 1813, and one of 4 Nov. 1813. In the first letter of 1 Nov. (DNA: RG 107, LRRS, H-292:7; printed in ASP, Military Affairs, description begins American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States … (38 vols.; Washington, 1832–61). description ends 1:461–62), Hampton reported the failure of his army’s 26 Oct. attempt to drive the British from their position on the Chateaugay River in Canadian territory. The American losses, according to Hampton, were not more than fifty, and his army’s retreat was deliberate and orderly. Having learned, however, that the quartermaster general was planning the construction of winter quarters for the army, and with no news of the U.S. forces on the St. Lawrence, Hampton feared that he would not be reinforced if he renewed the attack. He and a council of officers concluded that the army should return to Chateaugay, New York, and wait for orders. His second letter of 1 Nov. (DNA: RG 107, LRUS, H-1813; printed in Wilkinson, Memoirs of My Own Times, 3: appendix No. 69) expressed his opinion that the campaign was “substantially at an end” and requested that Armstrong either allow him to go to Washington to return his commission, or immediately accept his resignation, which he had offered and then agreed to delay in his 22 and 31 Aug. 1813 letters to the secretary of war (see Armstrong to JM, 5 Sept. 1813, PJM-PS, description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (7 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984–). description ends 6:592–93 and n. 1). On 4 Nov. 1813 (DNA: RG 107, LRUS, H-1813) Hampton wrote from Chateaugay that due to lack of forage he had sent most of his artillery, cavalry, and wagon teams to Plattsburgh, that the roads in that direction were “impracticable for loaded Waggons” and he was short on provisions, that his troop numbers had been reduced by the “hardships of the late expedition,” and that a recent “considerable snow” made it necessary to get the soldiers into winter quarters without delay. He did not know why he had yet to hear of any U.S. troop movements on the St. Lawrence, and observed that “being kept so long in the dark” might endanger his army.

2Armstrong’s 18 Oct. 1813 letter to Quartermaster Gen. Robert Swartwout contained instructions for siting and building a winter encampment for Hampton’s army, “to be prepared against contingencies” (DNA: RG 107, LSMA).

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