James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Armstrong, 5 December 1813

From John Armstrong

La Bergerie 5th. December 1813.

Dear Sir,

I yesterday had a meeting with the contractors Anderson and Thorn (the latter just arrived from the Army) and have settled with them the different points in District No. 9 for the collection of new & the distribution of old deposits. If Wilkinson can cover both—he will keep the post he has taken on Salmon river. The better to enable him to do this, the order he had given to move Hampton’s Division from Platsburg to French Mills—has been countermanded.1

Before I left Albany I had taken means with Govr. Tompkins for keeping up a competent force at Fort George & without giving a bounty.2 The enemy will dislodge themselves from the head of Burlington Bay. They intend wintering at York, whence I suspect, that they mean to reestablish there a navy yard & that the troops are wanted for it’s protection. In every other view, the heights of Burlington would be for them, a better position.

Sacketts harbor has now a competent defense. Besides what the fleet can afford to itself, there will be at that point, about 2000 regular effectives.

The command of the main army in Winter Quarters is a business of such magnitude, & under present circumstances, requiring such immediate provision—that I send on my thoughts on that subject ahead of myself. Wilkinson has given over the command to Lewis and Lewis wants to be recalled & ought to be indulged. The next is Boyd, & under him, we are not to expect that the troops will do well or be satisfied. The next Brig. (in rank) is Parker, but he is sick & offers his resignation, if not permitted to winter in the South. Izzard comes next and fortunately, is the man who ought to Command. He will make them a formidable Corps by the next Spring. There are now two vacant Major Generals places. Flournoy & he ought immediately to be nominated to these.3 The moment is too critical for ceremony—the Service too important to be trammelled with rules of precedence. Efficient men must be selected without regard to their relative rank. If these promotions be made—there will be three Brigadiers to be provided—two to replace Flournoy & Izzard & one to replace Covington.4 Smith of the rifle Regt. now comg. at Sackets’ harbor & Mc.Comb of the 3d. Artillery, should be two of the three & should be immediately appointed. The third we may take time to select.5

Another subject, of even higher interest, are the means to be employed in filling up the rank & file of the Army. What can be done on the old way of enlistment will be fully tried. To give it the utmost effect, I have ordered the Corps now in the field to be consolidated during the winter, retaining only Officers sufft. to command them, & despatching all others on the recruiting Service. Of the efficacy of this mode however I have much doubt. Our experiments of it hitherto have failed & left us miserably short of the legal provision. To rely on it therefore will not be wise. As6 a substitute for it, or auxiliary to it, I would propose adopting the mode which was resorted to during the War of the revolution. Classing the militia of the U.S. & drawing from each class of 20 men, one man for the War. On this plan, this State would immediately give us 5000 men—nor would any one be oppressed by it. 5 dollars paid by each man of a class would, in addition to present inducements, draw out another & abundant description—immediately fill our ranks and enable us to finish the war, (without again calling on Militia) in one Campaign. The public mind is I think prepared for vigorous measures & this should be made the foundation stone.

I shall go down the river to-morrow as far as West point—where some arrangements & regulations for the Mil. Accademy are called for. These may employ me a day, after which I proceed directly to Washington. With the highest respect I am Sir Your obedt. & faithful servant

John Armstrong

RC (DLC). Docketed by JM.

1Armstrong probably intended to refer to Maj. Gen. James Wilkinson’s 17 Nov. 1813 order for Maj. Gen. Wade Hampton’s army to return to Chateaugay (DNA: RG 107, LRUS, W-1813), of which JM was apprised by the enclosures in Wilkinson’s 21 Nov. 1813 letter to Armstrong (1 p.; DNA: RG 107, LRRS, W-251:7; marked in an unidentified hand: “Shown to the President”). The enclosures were copies of Hampton’s 20 Nov. 1813 letter to Wilkinson (2 pp.), written from Plattsburgh in response to Wilkinson’s order, stating that Hampton would begin his march as soon as teams were available, despite leaving behind the army’s nearly finished winter quarters and a large quantity of provisions “at the mercy of the Enemy,” and of Wilkinson’s 21 Nov. 1813 reply (2 pp.), instructing Hampton to remain at Plattsburgh to defend the provisions but to send some of his men to Chateaugay to protect the stores there.

2On 3 Nov. 1813 Armstrong ordered Maj. Gen. William Henry Harrison and his troops to Sackets Harbor to protect the fleet there, which left Fort George with an inadequate garrison. At the urging of the fort’s commander, Brig. Gen. George McClure, Armstrong then requested that New York governor Daniel D. Tompkins call out 1,000 militia to defend the Niagara frontier. On 10 Dec. 1813, however, the day before he received notice of Tompkins’s order, McClure abandoned Fort George in the face of a British advance and acting on a questionable interpretation of Armstrong’s instructions, burned the adjacent Canadian village of Newark. Angered by this destruction, the British laid waste the U.S. side of the river, capturing Fort Niagara on 18 Dec. 1813, subsequently sacking and burning Buffalo, Lewiston, and several villages, and allowing their Indian allies to kill and scalp noncombatants (Quimby, U.S. Army in the War of 1812, 1:352–60, 367 n. 166).

3Wilkinson resumed command of the Northern Army and held it until Armstrong removed him in the spring of 1814. George Izard was promoted to major general on 24 Jan. 1814 and took command on the northern frontier following Wilkinson’s departure; Jacob Brown, rather than Thomas Flournoy, received the second major general’s position, also on 24 Jan. 1814 (ibid., 2:481–84, 490).

4Brig. Gen. Leonard Covington was mortally wounded in the Battle of Chrysler’s Farm on 11 Nov. 1813, and died three days later (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 1:330).

5Thomas Adams Smith and Alexander Macomb were promoted to the rank of brigadier general on 24 Jan. 1814. Daniel Bissell, Edmund Pendleton Gaines, Winfield Scott, and Eleazer Wheelock Ripley also were commissioned as brigadier generals, the first three on 9 Mar. and the last on 15 Apr. 1814 (ibid., 221, 442, 680, 832, 870, 903).

6At a later date JM placed an asterisk here and wrote at the foot of the page: “*see letter to the P. from Mr. Monroe—of Decr. 27 1813.”

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