James Madison Papers

To James Madison from John Armstrong, 4 June 1814

From John Armstrong

War Dept. 4th. June 1814


I have the honor to transmit herewith, in obedience to your orders of yesterday, a General Report of the Army of the U.S. it’s strength and distribution;1 an estimate of the regular force of the enemy in the two Canadas; the posts occupied by this, and the reinforcements from Europe destined thereto, and to the Atlantic frontier of the U.S.2

The Department of War having no means, other than those strictly military, of gaining information of the enemy’s numbers movements & positions, What is offered under these heads, though the best in it’s possession, may be very erroneous. I am Sir, with the highest respect, your Obedient humble servant

John Armstrong

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

1The enclosed report (4 pp.; printed, with the exception of the concluding note, 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 1:535) provided effective and aggregate numbers of troops stationed in each of the nine military districts, broken down by regiment. It gave the total effective strength of the U.S. Army as 27,010, and the aggregate total as 31,503. The number of effective troops in the first division of the ninth district, on the border of Canada, was 4,908, while the aggregate was 7,108; in the division that included Buffalo, Oswego, and Sackets Harbor, the ratio was 5,348 effectives to 6,613 aggregate. At the foot of the document, a note stated that recruits for regiments other than those assigned to the Ninth Military District were not included in the report, and that “the difference between the effective and aggregate columns of these Regts. and particularly of those composing the Division of the right confirms Genl. Izard’s representation of the wretched condition in which he found that command.”

Armstrong’s note on the cover of JM’s letter to him of 3 June 1814 suggests that he also enclosed here a 4 June 1814 list signed by John R. Bell, assistant inspector general, stating that a total of 9,588 men had been recruited “for 5 years or during the war,” according to the most recent returns from various regiments (DLC; 1 p.). Dates for the returns ranged from 28 Feb. through 31 May 1814, with nine of the fifty-three regiments and corps having provided no return of recruits whatsoever. The dates make clear that Bell was counting only recruits signed after passage of the 27 Jan. 1814 law increasing the enlistment bounty to $124 (U.S. Statutes at Large, description begins The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America … (17 vols.; Boston, 1848–73). description ends 3:94–95).

By 2 Nov. 1814, Bell had prepared a revised and updated return of enlistments in which the monthly totals from February through May 1814 added up to 7,976, and the total through September 1814 was 13,898. He qualified those figures extensively, however, in an accompanying letter to acting secretary of war James Monroe. Noting that the poor quality and irregular submission of recruiting returns greatly limited the accuracy of the data that could be compiled from them, Bell provided an alternative total of recruits based on a general return of the army of September 1814, which showed a total strength of 34,029. Since in January 1814 the effective force of the army had totaled only 8,012, Bell concluded that “at least” 26,017 men must have enlisted since that time, nearly doubling the count derived from the recruiting returns (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 1:519–22). This reasoning was faulty, because in comparing effective force in January with total strength in September, Bell neglected to account for the 22,988 non-effectives that according to Armstrong’s estimate were already in the army in January, for a total strength of 31,000 at that point (see Daniel Parker to JM, 20 Dec. 1813, and n.). Based on these figures, the total strength of the army would appear to have increased by only slightly more than 3,000 men in the first nine months of 1814. Data from the registers of enlistments in the adjutant general’s office suggest, however, that actual army strength and recruitment figures may have been significantly greater than even Bell’s highest estimates (J. C. A. Stagg, “Enlisted Men in the United States Army, 1812–1815: A Preliminary Survey,” WMQ, description begins William and Mary Quarterly. description ends 3d. ser., 43 [1986]: 615–45).

2The enclosure (1 p.) estimated the regular British force in Canada at 12,000 men, with the largest concentrations at York and on the Niagara Peninsula, at Kingston, and near Montreal, and cited reports in “English papers” of “one Regt. and a batallion destined to Canada & a Regiment to Halifax, part of which is to be stationed at St. Andrews, and 900 marines for service under Admiral Cochrane.”

Index Entries