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LIEUTENANT-GENERAL OF THE ARMY.
JANUARY 4, 1847.
Mr. Dix moved that the Senate proceed to the consideration of the bill to appoint a lieutenant-general to command the military forces of the United States during the war with Mexico.
The motion was agreed to, and the bill was taken up accordingly, as in committee of the whole.
Mr. President: The bill under consideration was introduced in accordance with the recommendation contained in the President's special message of the 4th instant. The reasons for asking the appointment of a general to command all our military forces in Mexico were briefly explained in that message. Having introduced the bill as a member of the Committee on Military Affairs, I deem it due to the Senate and to the subject to state the considerations, by which I have been governed in giving the measure my support.
Our military operations in Mexico have heretofore been carried on in detached commands, on very extended lines, and in the execution of enterprises not only totally distinct from each other, but at geographical distances so remote as to preclude anything like direct combination between the forces respectively employed in them. These enterprises have all been successful. Santa Fe and Chihuahua have been overrun and occupied by the military forces under General Kearney; the Californias by Colonel Fremont and our naval forces in the Pacific; New Leon and part of Tamaulipas by General Taylor; and Durango by General Wool and General Worth. The whole of northern and central Mexico, as far south as the mouth of the Rio Grande and the twenty-sixth parallel of latitude, is virtually in our possession. The Mexican authority may by this occupation be considered extinct in this extensive district, constituting — if we include Sonora and Sinoloa on the eastern shore of the Gulf of California, from which I believe the Mexican forces are withdrawn — about two thirds of the entire territory of the Mexican republic, and about one tenth of its population. The land forces, by which these acquisitions have been made, are rapidly concentrating upon the southern line of the subjugated territory. Their operations are to be, in some degree, combined, instead of being carried on in separate divisions. General officers, who have heretofore operated independently, are to come together and to act with each other in the accomplishment of common objects. At least four of these generals have the same rank, that of major-general, the highest rank in the service; and precedence among them in their respective arms is, therefore, to be determined by date of commission. In subordinate commands this mode of settling questions of precedence is inevitable, and ordinarily leads to little practical inconvenience. But to permit the right to the chief command over such numerous forces as are now to be combined, and in such extensive operations as are to be carried on, to be determined by mere priority of commission, and not by superiority of grade, is, to say the least, exceedingly undesirable, not only in deference to military principles, but because this very circumstance has often proved unfriendly to united and zealous action, and sometimes has led to the frustration of plans of campaign, and even to defeat, when success would have been certain with proper cooperation on the part of the commander and his subordinates. I might appeal, for the truth of this remark, to our own military history, as well as to that of other countries. I believe I may say, it is a well-settled opinion in respect to military command, and especially in extensive operations, that the chief commander should, if possible, be superior in grade to the other general officers serving under him. The considerations by* which the correctness of this principle is supported, are perfectly compatible with the highest patriotism and honor in the persons holding subordinate commands. It is strictly a question of military organization. We may concede to all the purest devotion and disinterestedness; and yet, in the organization of military bodies, and in the preparation of plans of campaign, we should be wanting in ordinary prudence, if we were not guided by those general principles which are calculated to render our arrangements proof, as far as human arrangements can be, against all hazard of failure in their execution. If there is a particular form of organization better suited than any other to give efficiency to the movements of military forces, it is the part of wisdom to adopt it; nor should we be content with a less efficient form, even though we have the fullest confidence in the patriotism and zeal of those who are to take part in the contemplated enterprises. Sir, I have entire faith in the devotedness and gallantry of the officers of our army, and of the volunteers; and no one shall surpass me here in attributing to them the praise, and awarding to them the justice to which they are entitled. I consider the proposed measure entirely consistent with the interests of both arms of the service, which are deeply concerned, though not so deeply as the interests of the country, in giving to the military body, of which they are a part, the most judicious and efficient organization.
Looking to the numerical forces to be moved in combination, they will far exceed any number ever commanded in this country — and I believe I may say in any other, except from accident or some temporary necessity — by a majorgeneral, the highest grade in our service. The proper command of an officer of that rank is a division. A majorgeneral and a general of division are convertible terms. A division consists of two brigades; a brigade consists of two regiments in the regular service, and three in the volunteers. The command of a major-general, therefore, is from four to six thousand men. The force to be employed in Mexico, if our operations are to be carried on with proper vigor, should not fall short of twenty-five or thirty thousand fighting men in the field. It now exceeds twenty thousand. It is sufficient for four full divisions. To permit it to be commanded by a major-general, having no precedence over his associates excepting by the date of his commission, is as inconsistent with military principles as it would be to organize a regiment with three or four majors, and without a colonel, or, in other words, without a head. It is far too large a force to be commanded either by a major-general or a general having no higher rank than others serving under him. Such an arrangement is totally inconsistent with military principles and usages, looking to organization in its narrowest sense. When Napoleon was in command of the army of Italy, after his first successes, the Executive Directory determined to associate with him General Kellermann, one of the best commanders of that day. Napoleon remonstrated against it in a letter written in his usual terse and vigorous style; and he concluded by saying, that one bad general was better than two good ones. Sir, there is great force and truth in the proposition. He intended to intimate that every military body should have a distinct head; and certainly the observation is eminently applicablei to cases in which the numerical forces are greatly disproportioned to the rank of the officer commanding them. For these reasons, if there were no others, I should be in favor of the President's recommendation to appoint an officer of higher rank to command our armies in Mexico.
Thus far I have spoken of the proposed measure as connected with sound principles of military organization and command. I desire now to present some considerations of a different nature. Our military commanders in Mexico are operating in an enemy's country of vast extent. They are overrunning provinces, reducing cities and towns, and providing for the security of the subjugated territories under the rules of international law, and according to the usages of civilized States. These are high prerogatives, the incidents of war, having their authority in conventional rules beyond the civil constitution and municipal laws of our own country. It is very desirable that the depositary of these high and extraordinary powers should not only carry with him the requisite military talents, but that he should also possess the experience and the civil qualifications indispensable to enable him to meet his responsibilities intelligently and discreetly. Not only his own government, but all civilized n.ations have an interest in the maintenance of rules designed to mitigate the asperities of warfare by applying to the conduct of war the principles of humanity and justice. Errors in the application of these rules may involve his own government in embarrassment and reproach. These considerations, I am aware, apply rather to the qualifications of the man than to the rank he may happen to hold. I advert to them only for the purpose of indicating the importance of the position occupied by the commander of our armies in Mexico, and the propriety of extending to the President the broadest field for selection.
In the message of the President, it is recommended that authority be given to appoint a commanding general for our military forces in Mexico, without specifying any rank. The committee, in reporting the bill, propose to confer on him the rank of lieutenant-general, — the grade in other services next above that of major-general, which is the highest in ours. The grade was created in 1798, during our dissensions with the French republic, by an act authorizing the President to raise a provisional army. The office was conferred, by the unanimous vote of the Senate, on General Washington, and was accepted by him, but with