« ZurückWeiter »
lery and for the engineers were also proposed. The pay department of the army was stated to be well conducted, and pertinent comments were made on the importance of punctuality in payments of the troops as affecting them, the public credit, and the state of the currency. Provision for prisoners of war liberated on parole is suggested ; and modifications of the articles of war advised, especially to ensure a gradation of punishments. This important communication closed with an admonition, that, “ unless effectual remedies be applied without loss of time, the most alarming and ruinous consequences are to be apprehended.”
While these several suggestions were under consideration, the immediate supplies necessary to the army were of most urgent moment. To one individual, Hamilton writes, in behalf of Washington : “A prospect now opens of absolute want, such as will make it impossible to keep the army much longer from dissolution, unless the most rigorous and effectual measures be pursued to prevent it.” “If every possible exertion is not made use of to send us immediate and ample supplies of cattle, with pain I speak the alarming truth, no human efforts can keep the army from disbanding.” A week after, he wrote to Governor Clinton : “For some days past there has been little less than a famine in the camp. A part of the army has been a week without any kind of flesh, and the rest three or four days. Naked and starving as they are, we cannot enough admire the incomparable patience and fidelity of the soldiery, that they have not been, ere this, excited by their sufferings to a general mutiny and dispersion. Strong symptoms, however, of discontent have appeared in particular instances, and nothing but active effort every where can long avert so shocking a catastrophe. Our present sufferings are not all. There is no foundation laid
for any adequate relief hereafter. What a terrible crisis must ensue, unless all the energy of the continent is exerted to provide a timely remedy!” In terms similar to these, other States were called upon, “but nothing less than a change in the system,” it was observed, “ can effect a radical cure of the evils we labor under at present.” While such invocations were made to rescue the army from dissolution, officers were sent out to obtain supplies, and to collect clothing-Tilghman in one direction, Lee in another. In the mean time a new plan of the quartermaster-general's department was framed. Instead of the four branches into which it had been subdivided, without due subordination, one quartermaster-general and two assistants were recommended. This important place, it has been stated, was accepted by General Greene. Schuyler was proposed by the committee in camp as commissary-general of purchases, and his appointment was ardently desired by Washington, but the party of Gates was against him. At the instance of this committee, Jeremiah Wadsworth, a man of great vigor, talent, and independence of character, was appointed ; and though, at an immense expense, the soldiers were, in a measure, relieved from the sufferings so long and vainly deplored.
An important result was also attained by the adoption of a new plan of inspectorship, an office, the creation of which had been submitted by Washington some time before to the deliberations of a council of war.
This place had recently been conferred upon the Baron Steuben, a soldier of distinguished merit, who had learned the art of war under the eye of the great Frederick of Prussia, and had been induced by the Count St. Germains to visit the United States as a person most competent to organize an army. The value of his services was soon seen in the improved discipline of the
army, in the control of the detached commands, and in the regulation of the jarring duties of the officers. In its outset this appointment was not free from difficulty. The undefined duties of the office gave rise to great dissatisfaction among the officers, and frequent embarrassment to the commander-in-chief, indicating the necessity of retrenching the authority which, in their jealousy of Washington, and from a desire to lavish on their favorite extraordinary powers, the hostile party had conferred upon Conway.
To effect this object in a manner which would avoid compromitting the general, Hamilton addressed the following letter to his friend Duer:
“ I take the liberty to trouble you with a few hints on a matter of some importance. Baron Steuben, who will be the bearer of this, waits on Congress to have his office arranged upon some decisive and permanent footing. It will not be amiss to be on your guard. The baron is a gentleman for whom I have a particular esteem, and whose zeal, intelligence, and success, the consequence of both, entitle him to the greatest credit. But I am apprehensive, with all his good qualities, a fondness for power and importance, natural to every man, may lead him to wish for more extensive prerogatives in his department, than it will be for the good of the service to grant. I should be sorry to excite any prejudice against him on this account; perhaps I may be mistaken in my conjecture. The caution I give will do no harm, if I am; if I am not, it may be useful. In either case, the baron deserves to be considered as a valuable man, and treated with all the deference which good policy will warrant.
“On the first institution of this office, the general allowed him to exercise more ample powers than would be proper for a continuance. They were necessary in
the commencement, to put things in a train, with a degree of despatch which the exigency of our affairs required ; but it has been necessary to restrain them, even earlier than was intended. The novelty of the office excited questions about its boundaries; the extent of its operations alarmed the officers of every rank for their own rights. Their jealousies and discontents were rising fast to a height that threatened to overturn the whole plan. It became necessary to apply a remedy. The general has delineated the functions of the inspectorship in general orders, a copy of which will be sent to Congress. The plan is good, and satisfactory to the army in general.
“ It may be improved, but it will be unsafe to deviate essentially from it. It is, of course, the general's intention that whatever regulations are adopted by him should undergo the revision, and receive the sanction of Congress; but it is indispensable, in the present state of our army, that he should have the power, from time to time, to introduce and authorize the reformations necessary in our system. It is a work which must be done by occasional and gradual steps, and ought to be entrusted to a person on the spot, who is thoroughly acquainted with all our defects, and has judgment sufficient to adopt the progressive remedies they require. The plan established by Congress, on a report of the Board of War, when Conway was appointed, appears to me exceptionable in many respects. It makes the inspector independent of the commander-in-chief; confers powers which would produce universal opposition in the army, and, by making the previous concurrence of the Board of War requisite to the introduction of every regulation which should be found necessary, opens such a continual source of delay as would defeat the usefulness of the institution. Let the commander-in-chief introduce, and the legislature after
wards ratify or reject, as they shall think proper. Perhaps you will not differ much from me, when I suppose, that so far as relates to the Board of War, the former scheme was a brat of faction, and therefore ought to be renounced.
“There is one thing which the baron has much at heart, which, in good policy, he can by no means be indulged in :-it is the power of enforcing that part of discipline, which we understand by subordination, or an obedience to orders. This power can only be properly lodged with the commander-in-chief, and would inflame the whole army if put into other hands. Each captain is vested with it in his company,-each colonel in his regiment-each general in his particular command, and the commander-in-chief in the whole.
" When I began this letter I did not intend to meddle with any other subject than the inspectorship; but one just comes into my head, which appears to me of no small importance. The goodness or force of an army depends as much, perhaps more, on the composition of the corps which form it, as on its collective number. The composition is good or bad, not only according to the quality of the men, but in proportion to the completeness or incompleteness of a corps in respect to numbers. A regiment, for instance, with a full complement of officers, and fifty or sixty men, is not half so good as a company with the same number of men. A colonel will look upon such a command as unworthy his ambition, and will neglect and despise it ;-a captain would pride himself in it, and take all the pains in his power to bring it to perfection. In one case, we shall see a total relaxation of discipline, and negligence of every thing that constitutes military excellence; on the other, there will be attention, energy, and every thing that can be wished. Opinion, whether well