James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Armstrong, 25 November 1813

From John Armstrong

Nov. 25th. 1813. Albany

Dear Sir,

In W’s letter of the 15th. he requires instructions on the subject of the position he has chosen.1 I enclose copies of two letters to him, the one in anticipation—the other in reply.2 I but fear that the army will be hedged in, as during the last summer at Fort George, & exhibit again the novelty, as Prevost calls it, of a smaller force investing a larger & wearying out their strength & spirit by small attacks & constant alarms. From the moment troops think themselves inferior, they infallibly become so. To prevent this, we have a powerful motive to withdraw them—or to order them to advance. This last is but opposed by the season—which though now mild, may, in half an hour, become formidable & even fatal to any farther operation.

Taking for granted that something must be said about the progress & events of the war on the land, I have assembled all I could on that subject & presented it briefly and truly.3 The enclosed letter from Mr. Campbel alludes to something important, but to what, I know not—as the hand-bill was forgotten. If a battle gained over the Creeks, it may be inserted somewhere in the progress of the climax. But alas! What a cap for this has been lost?

I yesterday suggested the encrease of naval means in Lakes Champlain & Ontario—& (if we stay at Salmon river) in Lake Francis. They will be essential to the only plan of campaign we can persue with effect. Building may go on at Sacket’s harbor as usual, I shall have troops enough there to protect them.

I wait only the arrival of the contractor, to make the necessary arrangements with him. He will be here to-day & on Saturday, I shall set out for Washington. With the highest respect I am sir, your obedt. & faithful servant

John Armstrong

I am pushed for time and have no copies & must defer sending the letters I mention, till to-morrow.

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM. Enclosures not found, but see n. 2.

1Maj. Gen. James Wilkinson’s 15 Nov. 1813 letter to Armstrong (DNA: RG 107, LRUS, W-1813) presented arguments in favor of encamping Wilkinson’s army at French Mills for the winter: he could defend his artillery, flotilla, and provisions, harass British communications between Kingston and Montreal, and easily renew the campaign against Montreal in the spring. He requested to be informed if Armstrong thought otherwise. The additional expense of supplying the army at French Mills for the winter, Wilkinson added, would be negligible.

2The letter sent “in anticipation” may have been Armstrong’s to Wilkinson of 25 Nov. 1813 (see Armstrong to JM, 24 Nov. 1813, n. 2). No other correspondence of this description has been found.

3Appended to the letter on a separate sheet, in Armstrong’s hand, is the following summary: “The progress of the Campaign, tho’ less favorable than was expected in it’s general issue, has been filled with incidents highly honorable to the American arms. The attacks of the enemy on Crany Island, on Fort Meigs, on Sacket’s harbor and on Sandusky, have been vigorously & succesfully repulsed; nor have they in any case succeeded, on either frontier, excepting when directed against the peaceable dwellings of individuals or villages wholly unprepared or undefended.

“On the other hand, the movements of the American Army have been followed by the reduction of York and of Forts George, Erie and Malden; by the recovery of Detroit and the extinction of the Indian war in the West & by the occupancy or command of a large portion of Upper Canada. Battles have also been fought on the borders of the St. Laurence which though not accomplishing their special Objects, reflect the highest honor on the discipline and prowess of our soldiery and offer to us the best assurance of eventual victory.” At the foot of the page is JM’s pencilled note: “important & unexampled victories in the South over some of the most powerful, who had become the most hostile also of the Savage tribes.” JM included Armstrong’s summary nearly verbatim in his 7 Dec. 1813 message to Congress.

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