Bernard Christian Steiner.

The life and correspondence of James McHenry, Secretary of War under Washington and Adams online

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men who have served in the army, except where very superior
qualifications may mauifestly eljiim <i superiority

"With jTreat esteem & regard
"Yrs Obedlv

"A Hamilton"

"Philadelphia April
26. 1799
"Dr Sir

"I have a second time maturely reflected on the proper
rule for promotions in the army, and I continue to adhere to
that which was adopted by the General Officers last winter, &
which is recapitulated in your letter. I am persuaded that,
in the general course of things, it will work well and satis-

"A moment's hesitation as to its uni-
versal application arose from the situa-
tion of the four Regiments of the old
establishment. The understood rights of
The promotions the older Captains, as resulting from

to field offi- past usage may appear to be enfringed —

cers should be But this inconvenience must be encoun-

eomplete before tered — perhaps mitigated by a distribu-

the rule is tion of the oldest Captains among the

applied four Regiments. There cannot with pro-

priety or order be two Rules — That
which is proposed will after a little time
operate favourably every where & give
equal chances.
"With great esteem & regard
"I am Dr Sir

"Yr obed servt.

"A Hamilton"

Hamilton was urgent, ^ before he left Philadelphia, that
the artillery regiments be organized into companies and dis-
posed of and submitted McHenry a plan for this, a.sking
that McHenry settle the arrangement and communicate it to
the major generals. JMcHenry wrote Washington, on April
29, of the promotion plans and that he will now push the

1 Hamilton, v, 25L Letter of April 26.

386 Life and Correspondence [Chap. xiv

recruiting and the supply of clothes. As to the speed of the
preparation of clothing, Hamilton was very sceptical and
wrote on his return to New York :

''New York April 30. 1799
*'My Dear friend —

"I hear of no cloathing arrived. The recruiting service
is now actually begun here and elsewhere. I trust that the
cloathing and other articles will certainly reach the Regi-
mental rendezvouses before any of the men are there. It will
be a discouraging omen, if it proves otherwise. I beg you to
appreciate the importance of having the articles forwarded
as soon as they can be, even to those places where the busi-
ness is not yet completely organised, in the reliance that what
remains to be done must be quickly completed.

"Yrs. truly
"A H"
"P. S.

"I find by a return of Cloathing just received from Mr.
Hodgsdon that the process in preparing the Cloathing con-
tinues to be very slow — proving more & more the expediency
of changing the button No. 1 on the six hundred and odd
suits — i pray you to let such articles as are ready be for-
warded to the several destinations, for it will damp extremely
the recruiting service w^hich is now begun, if the supplies for
the recruits are not ready to be delivered to them — fast as
they may be raised."

McHenry suggested, on April 29, that Hamilton corre-
spond with Washington. He did not know that his friend
was so doing and that the correspondence was not always
friendly to him. Thus, on May 3, Hamilton wrote: "It is
understood that the President has resolved to appoint the
officers to the provisional army and that the Secretary has
thought fit to charge the Senators ^ of each State Avith the des-
ignation of characters." The clothes are still delayed and
report states that Adams and Wolcott do not wish to accelerate
the raising of the army. Yet, if McHenry 's "energies for
execution were equal to his good Dispositions, the public
service under his care would prosper as much as could be
desired. It is only to be regretted that good dispositions will

1 This reference to senators produced trouble in New Hampshire.
Lodge's Hamilton, vii, 79; Granite Monthly, xxxviii, 123.

1799-1800] of James McHenry 387

not alone suffice and that, in the nature of things, there can
be no reliance that the futinv proj^ress will be more satis-
factory than the past."

On May 5, Washinprton wrote ^ McHenry that, while
the officers who lived near the capital should draw pay from
the time of their acceptance, they should not hold i-clative
rank from that date, for sui-li a course would be most unjust
to officers ai)pointed from a distance.

Two days later, Adams wrote concerning appointments.
"Merit I consider, however, as the only true scale of grada-
tion in the army. Services and rank, in the last war or in
any other war, are only to be taken into consideration, as
presumptive evidence of merit, and may at any time be set
aside by contrary proofs." -

Hamilt(m wrote constantly. What shall be the disposi-
tion of troops for the summer, why does not the accountant
pay money more promptly, why should not the colonels rec-
ommend officers for promotion, why not annex Maryland to
Pinckney's command and i^ive Hamilton command of all the
forces in the West ? ^ Such are some of the queries which
are sent during the early days of May. McHenry answers
and gives various directions that ^Maryland had better not be
taken away from Hamilton's command at present, that en-
listments are for five years, that the colonels are to recom-
mend, but that even they are not exempt from partialities,
that no foreigners are to be enlisted, if it can be avoided. *
He is also busy making contracts for the supply of rations
to the forces. About this time, ^ Washington wrote, con-
cerning the officers to be appointed from Virginia, whom he
had been asked to select. He feels not sufficiently acquainted

1 Sparks, xi, 426 ; Ford, xiv, 174. He approves of McHenry's plans
for promotion. May 2, McHenry wrote, asking wlio sliould suggest officers
from North Carolina, where the governor was not sufficiently impressed
with the need of real federal men.

2 Adams, viii, 640.

3 May 30, McHenry informed Hamilton that Tennessee would be
under Pinckney.

4 Mav 23, McHenry asks Hamilton to recommend officers from New

5 May 13, Sparks, xi, 429. Sparks leaves these sentences unprinted:

"Your favour of the 2d. inst. concerning dispatches of the 10th ulto.
was brought to me bv the messenger who carried my letters to you (of the
5th & 6th.) to the Post Office in Alexandria. • • • There are many matters
necessary for me to settle before I could leave home with any tolerable
conveniences, and many things, the providing of which would run me to an
unnecessary expence, if I am not called to the Field. * • • "

Sparks, xi, 447. August 12, Washington wrote that there was no Im-
mediate prospect of officering the Virginia quota unless some other method
of finding officers be provided.

388 Life and Correspondetice [Chap. xiv

with the people to do this alone, but has summoned the aid
of Generals Morgan, Lee and Marshall, and Colonels Heath
and Carrington. The task is delicate, for he must find
whether men will accept positions, which may not be offered
them. He suggests, therefore, that the war office give public
notice that it may have to raise the twenty-four additional
regiments and that it requests that "all those, who are de-
sirous of serving their country on the terms specified in that
act, would signify the same" to Washington, or to whomever
the department should appoint in any state to receive the
applications. These applications should be in writing and
accompanied by testimonials and would be of great use in
selecting persons to receive appointments. Washington
thinks, from Adams's acts, that "stronger indications of hos-
tility have been received" and asks to be told at once, if this
be so, that he may prepare for active service. He also urges
that the "most prompt and pointed attention be given to the
procuring and instructing" men in artillery and engineering;
in which the "great advantage of the armies of France" lies.
McHenry answered, six days later, that he feared to adver-
tise for officers, lest people should say the service was unpop-
ular. To this subject, Washington recurred in a letter of
June 6, enclosing letters from Marshall and Lee, which show
they can be of little assistance. He promises to pursue the
search for officers from Virginia to the best of his ability.
Washington transmits ^ a number of applications for ap-
pointment as officers and discusses them, reverting especially
to the position of chief of engineers, for which he thinks no
Frenchman ought to be employed at this time.

We also learn of Virginia matters from a letter sent from
Charlottesville on May 3 by John Nicholas.

"Your inclosures of the Commissions to the Officers of
Capt. Hay's company of volunteer rifleman, together with a
letter to myself, & another to Cap Hays, have been duly re-
ceived ; the delay of which I can readily believe imputable to
no other cause than those you have assigned. The propriety
of the govt's giving incouragement to federalism in this quar-
ter of the Union, Avhere its' sparks, I am sorry to say, are
too rare, can not be unknown to those in the President's and
your situation. It was my great zeal for those principles &
that conduct which I have ever approved of in the administra-

1 Sparks, xi, 432.

1799-1800] of James McHi'ury 380

tion of our govt., I undortook to recommond the vohmtetn-
corps of ritlemeu of Albemarle; & am not a little gratified, I
can assure you, ti) find that reivmimendation has met the
approbation of the President & yourself, altlKi' ail "the reijui-
sites of the law have not been complyed with." re-
quests shall be attended to, & the necessity of a complyance
with them fully impressed on that little band, which' I will
also endeavour to have encreased. But I have to infoi-m you,
which is the principal object of trouliling you at present, that
the 'printei^s copy of general regulations,' mentioned in your
letter to me, was not inclosed; owing, no doubt, to the variety
& multiplicity of other and more important business of your
departnumt. You will, therefore, oblige me by inclosing a
copy of those regulations as soon as the business of your office
will admit.

"You will, before you receive this, have learnt the state
of our elections. As far as they are yet known, there is
great reason to hope we shall obtain a federal majority from
this state. At any rate we have secured IMarshall (& Goode
in the room of T. Claiborne) two important changes. I have
lost my own election by a very great majority, owing to the
powerful influence, the well known opinions and great exer-
tions of my good friotds & much adtnired patriotic Country-
men T. Jefferson & James Monroe; but if I mistake not, the
first of those gentlemen will feel the influence of a majority of
the citizens of his own state against him at the next election
for a vice president. I flatter myself the northern states
will join us in the election of jMarshall or Pinckney to that
office; & in case of our present good old president's declining
(which God forbid) either those two, or Plamilton & one of
them to the two offices.

"With due consideration, I am Dr. Sir
"Your most obedient huble servant"

Washington wrote again about his uniform ^ on June 7.

1 Mount Vernon 7th. June 1799.


When I began the enclosed letter (left open for your peru.=:al) I in-
tended to addres it to Colo. Biddle ; who transacts all matters of that sort
for me in Philadelphia; but as I wrote on. it occurred that, possibly,
the Quarter Master might be a more appropriate character to accomplish
my order: — for this reason, I have left the letter without a .Superscrip-
tion, in order that you might direct it to the one. or the other as you shall
deem best. — and I give you this trouble for the reason which is assigned
on it ; and for which, & troubling you with such trifles. I pray your excuse.

I had thoughts once, of asiting Genl. McPherson to execute this
Commission for me; (believing, thereby, that it would be well done) but
never having been in the habit of corresponding with him, I declined it,

390 Life arid Correspondence [Chap. xiv

The question of uniform was an engrossing one. Hamil-
ton had written McHenry i that he did not like the hats
provided for the soldiers. "Nothing is more necessary than
to stimulate the vanity of soldiers. To this end a smart dress
is essential. The Federal government can aflford to provide
this and should do so. ' ' He urged also that arms be speedily
provided and no time be lost in teaching the recruits their
use, in performing guard and other duties. The provision of
supplies was still tardy and Hamilton wrote concerning this :

''private & confidential New York June 14. 1799

"I use, my Dear Sir, the privilege of an old friend to
write to you in language as explicit as the occasion recjuires.
The fact is that the management of your Agents, as to the
affair of supplies, is ridiculously^ bad. Besides the extreme
delay, which attends every operation, articles go forward in
the most incomplete manner. Coats without a corresponding
number of vests. Cartouche boxes without belts &c &c noth-
ing intire — nothing systematic. Tis the scene of the worst
periods of our revolution war acted over again even with

"Col Stevens tells me that lately materials for tents were
purchased here and sent to Philadelphia. This is of a piece
with what was done in regard to cloa thing and it is truly
farcical — proving that the microscopic eye of the purveyor
can see nothing beyond Philadelphia. It is idle to pretend
that the materials in such cases cannot be made as well else-
where as at Philadelphia and that double transportation and
the accumulation of employment in a particular place beyond
its means can tend to economy or any other good end — and
the delay is so enormous as to overballance any minute advan-
tage, if any there be, that attends the plan.

"It is a truth, My Dear Sir, and a truth which you ought
to weigh well that, unless you immediately employ more com-
petent Agents to procure and to forward supplies, the Service
will deeply suffer and the head of the War Department will
be completely discredited.

on reflection ; — and of course the Stars for my Epaulets have stood sus-
pended, & I would thank you for sending them to me: — and if it is not
heaping too many trifles upon you, also for requesting Mr. McAlpin (if
he has been able to obtain the gold thread) for letting me have my
Uniform Cloaths by the Anniversary of our Independence — forwarded
in the manner he has heretofore been directed. I am always and very

Affectionately Yours


1 Letter of May 18. Hamilton, v, 256; Lodge, vii, 80.

1799-1800] of James McHciiry 391

"The object will very soon be much enlarged to an extent
to which such men and such measures can never suffice.

"You must immodijitely j^^et a more efficient Purveyor &
I believe a more efficient Superintcndant — or nothinfc can

"My frankness & plain dealing are a new proof of the
cordial friendship which I must always cherish for you Adieu

"Affect yrs
"A Hamilton"

McTIenry replied, on the next day, that Hamilton's at-
tacks on the purveyor ^ and superintendent - are but too well
founded. He expects to appoint an assistant to the former
but the latter "has so strong a supporter, that I dont see how
to get rid of him."

MelTenry was much interested in the development of a
permanent laboratory, or arsenal, in Philadelphia and wrote to
have Captain Elliott sent there. He also enquired why Major
Toussard should be sent to the Potomac, instead of completing
the duty which McHenry had assigned him.

Hamilton answered McHenry 's letter thus:

"New York June 17. 1799
"Dr. Sir —

"Your favour of the 15th. is received. I am very glad
you have determined (m changing the Purveyor. I think it
likely that Mr. Williams will be a good substitute.

"As the subject of the Q. M. G' — removal to the seat of
Government began with you. I think it best that you should
write the definitive order.

"My instruction to Major Toussard only communicated
his eventual destination. It was my idea that he should first
execute the duty to which you had assigned him. I shall take
care that there is no misapprehension.

"I have not time to recur to my letter ordering Capt
Elliot to Philadelphia. But I believe the idea was included
of his calling upon you for orders. The inclosed will settle
the matter Yrs. Affecly

"A Hamilton"

In his frequent letters to McHenry, Hamilton urged the
sending of supplies and bounty money ; ^ suggested that there

1 Tench Francis.

2 Colonel .Stevens.

3 Hamilton, v, 272. Letter of June 18.

392 Life and Correspondence [Chap. xiv

be fast sailing vessels and signals before the principal ports,
that we be not entirely surprised by the enemy; and, contin-
ually pressed for steps to be taken to increase the supply of
clothing and tents. If blue cloth cannot be found ^ in suffi-
cient quantity to avert the terrible delays, he proposes to take
some other color for whole regiments. The delay in raising
cavalry seemed to Hamilton especially grievous and he sug-
gested raising one troop and enlisting the non-commissioned
officers of the other and then enlisting all the officers for in-
struction and exercise. ' Cavalry tactics must be established.
That arm of the service is not brought to perfection even in
England. This plan McHenry thought well of, but seems to
have done nothing at the time, from a desire to husband his
means and guard against interrupting the infantry recruit-
ing. ^ Hamilton thought the engineers and artillery should
be separated and complained * that the artillerists were not
uniformly drilled. About this time, McHenry proposed to
offer Count Eumford the positions of lieutenant colonel and
inspector of artillery or of engineer and superintendent of the
proposed military school, a project McHenry had at heart.
Adams approved of the plan and McHenry made proposals
to Rumford, through Rufus King, but without success. Rum-
ford had written King suggesting that he would be happy to
present to the proposed military academy of which King had
told him, his collection of military books. King thereupon
wrote McHenry suggesting that Rumford wished to revisit
America and that his experience might be useful for the
academy. jMcHenry at once conferred with Adams and on his
consenting to the offer, asked Rumford, through King, to take
charge of the academy, but Rumford, after considering the
matter, declined to accept the position and King on September
28 transmitted McHenry this declination. ^

From Litchfield, Connecticut, Uriah Tracy sent cheerful
news of the recruiting on June 10:

"* * * The recruiting Officer in this Town has nearly his
number, & can have the whole in an hour, but I have advised
him to wait a little & pick the best. He has a fine set of stout

1 Hamilton, v, 271. Letter of June 16. LiOdge, vii, 94.

2 June 21 and 25. Hamilon, v, 275, 276 and 278; Lodge, vii, 93.
July 2, Hamilton wrote again. Hamilton, v, 2 84.

3 July 27. Adams, ix, 4.

4 Hamilton, v, 278. Letter of June 28. Adams, viii, 660. Letter of
June 24.

5 EJIis's Life of Rumford, pp. 352 to 359.

1799-1800] of James Mc Henry 393

orderly Yanky 's as you would wish to see — and the recruitiog
is very successful all over the State — as I am informed."

"N B. Are we to have a minister from France? If so,
ought not the Senate to be coUectt^d?"

He wrote again from Litchfield on June 24:

"* * * In the county whore I liv(\ thorc is one compleat
company raised, & three more can be raised here in a month,
altho' the busiest season of the year — & in next autumn, I
can raise a Regt. here in this single county in a month — &
they shall all be natives, & the best of men for activity, size, &
character. This looks like bragging, but it is not so. I de-
clare it is a sober stat(^mcnt of facts, as I really believe. Capt.
Ramsey, the recruiting officer here, informs me he is troubled
to get rid of men, who wish to inlist — & that he could have
inlisted 200 by this time, had he had money »S: clothing. I
will write to Mr. Sedgwick, but not disclose my knowledge of
his letter.

"If the Devil should send a French Minister to the IT,
States — altho' I di-ead a journey to, or stay at Philada. in the
hot season, yet by all means let the Senate be convened. I
had rather risk it, than not to have it in my power to say at
once, as I will most certainly, that he ought, be he who he may,
to be sent directly back again. I will not consent to say a
word to a French Minister on the subject of negociations. 1
sincerely wish it were so, that the Executive could & would
dismiss him instanter. If he offered an indt.'mnity for past
injuries I would accept, but go no further, we want no con-
tract, league, or covt. with that set of wretches.

' ' I trouble you often, & now with a long letter, your good-
ness will excuse me."

Even there, however, there was complaint concerning
supplies, as we learn from a letter written at Litchfield on
June 17, by John Allen :

"Your favour of the 12th. relative the proposed Contract
for officers shoes is duly reed. It furnishes me, too, with the
knowledge of the Cause of the very miserable manner in which
the soldiers are supplied with that article. Capt. Ramsey,
who is stationed at this place, unites his protestation with
those of his men against the scandalous frauds practiced on
them. The shoes which have been dealt out to the men here,
& I understand the same to be the fact at all the other stations,
are of the very worst leather and, worst manufaetu*-e. A
march of 20 miles would totally ruin the greater part of them

394 Life and Correspondence [Chap. xiv

— and the heels of many of them drop off immediately on
handling them. The hats of the Soldiers are of the same
quality, a rain or two has rendered several of them utterly
useless — and the Cloaths are but little better, particularly
in the making.

"By these things the public service is discouraged, & the
Oovernment itself discreditted. Very many respectable people
impute these defects to circumstances that should not be often
named — they surely deserve, & I trust will undergo a rigid
scrutiny — they must he traced to their source.

"Permit me also to inform you that the recruiting ser-
vice has met with very handsome success. Capt. Eamsey,
here, already has 56 fine fellows. But Sir, why are they not
furnished with Armsl The appearance of so many soldiers
scattered thro' the Country, part of them only properly clad,
& none of them with Arms, makes the whole business assume
too much of the air of a farce. The people call out for more
promptness & energy in their business — and really, sir, if the
Administration is to be saved from contempt & ridicule of the
Country it must be by a more vigilant & irresistable pressing
forward of the proper measures.

"I am induced to write thus plainly by the Murmurs of
both Citizens and Soldiers, and which the Interest and honour
of the Government demand there should no more causes for. '^

There were obstacles at Philadelphia, whence ]McHenry
wrote Hamilton i that Wolcott had prejudices against aug-
mentation and said the revenues were inadequate, that either
the army or navy must be suspended or dropped, and con-
templated a statement on these points to Adams. McHenry
felt that "peace, honour, and respect, at home and abroad,
depends upon the permanency of our litle army" and intended
to press forward, as he could. Pickering seemed favorable
to vigorous measures and McITenry thought of writing para-
graphs for Fenno's newspaper, showing "the necessity of our
army." He exhorted Hamilton to "keep up, among your
Eastward friends, a due sense of the propriety" of action.

At this time, Hamilton wrote i^ "It is a pity, my dear
sir, and a reproach that our administration have no general
plan. Certainly, there ought to be one formed without de-
lay." Among other things it should be agreed what precise
forces should be created, land and naval, and this should be

1 Hamilton, vi, 408. Letter of June 26.

2 Hamilton, v, 283; Lodge, vii, 99.

1799-1800] of James Mc Henry 395

proportioned to the state of our finances. We should have 6
ships of line and 20 frij^ates and sloops of war. He offered
to come to Philadelphia, if advisabk-, anil try to form a fjen-
eral plan, in consultation with the cabinet, feeliuj^ that, if the
chief is too desultory, the ministry oii^'ht to be united and
steady. ^ "Besides eventual security' against invasion, we

Online LibraryBernard Christian SteinerThe life and correspondence of James McHenry, Secretary of War under Washington and Adams → online text (page 39 of 64)