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washington to mchenry - Alexander Hamilton, The Works of Alexander Hamilton, (Federal Edition), vol. 7 
The Works of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Henry Cabot Lodge (Federal Edition) (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904). In 12 vols. Vol. 7.
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washington to mchenry
Draft by Hamilton.
December 13, 1798
Sir:—I shall now present to your view the additional objects alluded to in my letter of this date.
A proper organization for the troops of the United States is a principal one. In proportion as the policy of the country is adverse to extensive military establishments, ought to be our care to render the principles of our military system as perfect as possible, and our endeavors to turn to the best account such force as we may at any time have on foot, and to provide an eligible standard for the augmentations to which particular emergencies may compel a resort.
The organization of our military force will, it is conceived, be much improved by modelling it on the following plan:
Let a regiment of infantry, composed as at present, of two battalions, and each battalion of five companies, consist of these officers and men, namely: one colonel; two majors, a first and second; one adjutant, one quartermaster, and one paymaster, each of whom shall be a lieutenant; one surgeon, and one surgeon’s mate; ten captains; ten first and ten second lieutenants, besides the three lieutenants above mentioned; two cadets, with the pay and emoluments of sergeants; two sergeant-majors; two quartermaster-sergeants; two chief musicians, first and second, and twenty other musicians; forty sergeants; forty corporals; and nine hundred and twenty privates.
Let a regiment of dragoons consist of ten troops, making five squadrons, and, of these, officers and men, namely: one colonel; two majors, a first and second; one adjutant, one quartermaster, and one paymaster, each of whom shall be a lieutenant; one surgeon, and one surgeon’s mate; ten captains, ten first and ten second lieutenants, besides the three lieutenants above mentioned; five cadets, with the pay and emoluments of sergeants; two sergeant-majors; two quartermaster-sergeants; two chief musicians, first and second, and ten other musicians; forty sergeants; forty corporals; and nine hundred and twenty privates; the privates including, to each troop, one saddler, one blacksmith, and one bootmaker.
Let a regiment of artillery consist of four battalions, each battalion of four companies, and, of these, officers and men, namely: one colonel; four majors; one adjutant, one quartermaster, and one paymaster, each of whom shall be a lieutenant; one surgeon, and two surgeon’s mates; sixteen captains; sixteen first and sixteen second lieutenants, besides the three lieutenants above mentioned; thirty-two cadets, with the pay and emoluments of sergeants; four sergeant-majors; four quartermaster-sergeants; sixty-four sergeants; sixty-four corporals; one chief musician and ten other musicians; eight hundred and ninety-six privates, including, to each company, eight artificers.
The principal reasons for this organization will be briefly suggested.
It will be observed, that the proportion of men to officers in the infantry and cavalry is considerably greater than by the present establishment. This presents, in the first place, the advantage of economy. By the proportional decrease of the officers, savings will result in their pay, subsistence, and the transportation of their baggage. The last circumstance, by lessening the impediments of an army, is also favorable to the celerity of its movements.
The command of each officer will become more respectable. This will be an inducement to respectable men to accept military appointments, and it will be an incentive to exertion among those, who shall be engaged, by upholding that justifiable pride, which is a necessary ingredient in the military spirit.
A company will then admit of an eligible subdivision into platoons, sections, and demi-sections, each of a proper front. Each battalion will then be of the size judged proper for a manœuvring column in the field, and it is that portion of an army which, in the most approved system of tactics, is destined to fulfil this object. A battalion ought neither to be too unwieldy for rapid movements, nor so small as to multiply too much the subdivisions, and render each incapable either of a vigorous impulse or resistance.
The proportion of officers to men ought not to be greater than is adequate to the due management and command of them. A careful examination of this point will satisfy every judge, that the number now proposed will be equal to both. This conclusion will be assisted by the idea, that our fundamental order, in conformity with that of the nations of Europe generally, ought to place our infantry in three ranks, to oppose to an enemy, who shall be in the same order, an equal mass for attack or defence.
These remarks explain summarily the chief reasons for the most material of the alterations suggested.
But it is not the intention to recommend a present augmentation of the number of rank and file to the proposed standard. It is only wished, that it may be adopted as that of the war establishment. The regiments, which have been authorized, may continue in this respect upon the footing already prescribed; leaving the actual augmentation to depend on events, which may create a necessity for the increase of our force. The other alterations recommended have relation rather to systematic propriety, than to very important military ends.
The term lieutenant-colonel, in our present establishment, has a relative signification, without any thing in fact to which it relates. It was introduced during our revolutionary war, to facilitate exchanges of prisoners; as our then enemy united the grade of colonel with that of general. But the permanent form of our military system ought to be regulated by principle, not by the changeable and arbitrary arrangement of a particular nation. The title of colonel, which has greater respectability, is more proper for the commander of a regiment, because it does not, like the other, imply a relation having no existence.
The term ensign is changed into that of lieutenant, as well because the latter from usage has additional respectability, offering an inducement to desirable candidates, as because the former, in its origin, signified a standard-bearer, and supposed that each company had a distinct standard. This, in practice, has ceased to be the case, and for a variety of good reasons a stand of colors to each battalion of infantry is deemed sufficient. This standard is intended to be confided to a cadet, in whom it may be expected to excite emulation and exertion. The multiplication of grades, inconvenient with regard to exchanges, is thus avoided.
In the cavalry it is proper to allow a standard to each squadron, and hence it is proposed to have five cadets to a regiment.
The nature of the artillery service, constantly in detachment, renders it proper to compose a regiment of a greater number of battalions than the other corps. This our present establishment has recognized. But there is now want of uniformity, which leads to disorderly consequences; one regiment being composed of four battalions, the other of three. The same organization ought to be common to all.
The diminution of the number of musicians, while it will save expense, is also warranted by the peculiar nature of the artillery service. They answer in this corps few of the purposes which they fulfil in the infantry.
The existing laws contemplate, and with good reason, that the aids-de-camp of general officers, except the commander-in-chief and the officers, in the department of inspection, shall be taken from the regiment. But they do not provide that, when so taken, their places shall be supplied by others. It is conceived that this ought to be the case. The principles of the establishment suppose, for example, that three officers to a company of a given number are the just and due proportion. If, when an an officer be taken from a company to fill one of the stations alluded to, his place be not filled by another, so that the number of officers to a company may remain the same, it must follow that the company will be deficient in officers. It is true, that the number of a company is continually diminishing, but it diminishes in officers as well as men; and it is not known that the proportion is varied. Practice in every institution ought to conform to principle, or there will result more or less of disorder. An army is in many respects a machine; of which the displacement of any of the organs, if permitted to continue, injures its symmetry and energy, and leads to disorder and weakness. The increase of the number of rank and file, while it strengthens the reasons for replacing the officers who may be removed, will more than compensate in point of economy for the addition of officers by the substitution. This may be reduced to the test of calculation. But, though the place of an officer in his regiment ought to be supplied upon any such removal, he ought not to lose his station in the regiment, but ought to rank and rise as if he had continued to serve in it.
The provision, that the aids-de-camp and the officers of inspection shall be drawn from the line of the army, is not restricted as to grade. There ought to be such a restriction. The aids of major-generals ought not to be taken from a rank superior to that of captain, nor those of brigadiers from a rank superior to that of first lieutenant. The inspectors ought in like manner to be limited, those of brigadiers to the rank of captain, those of divisions to that of major. This will guard against the multiplication of superior grades by removals to fill such stations.
The judicious establishment of general rules of promotion, liable to exceptions in favor of extraordinary service or merit, is a point of greatest consequence. It is conceived, that these rules are the most convenient that can be devised; namely, that all officers shall rise in the regiments to which they respectively belong up to the rank of major inclusively; that afterwards they shall rise in the line of the army at large, with the limitation, however, that the officers of artillery, cavalry, and infantry shall be confined to their respective corps until they shall attain the rank of colonel.
It is very material to the due course of military service, that the several classes of an army shall be distinguished from each other by certain known badges, and that there shall be uniformity in dress and equipment subject to these distinctions. The dress itself will indeed constitute a part of them. It is of inferior moment what they shall be, provided they are conspicuous, economical, and not inconsistent with good appearance, which in an army is far from being a matter of indifference. The following uniforms and badges are recommended; but, if any of them are supposed liable to exception, they may be changed at pleasure.
The uniform of the commander-in-chief to be a blue coat, with yellow buttons and gold epaulets (each having three silver stars), with linings, cape, and cuffs of buff; in winter, buff vest and breeches; in summer, a white vest, and breeches of nankeen. The coat to be without lapels and embroidered on the cape, cuffs, and pockets. A white plume in the hat to be a further distinction. The adjutant-general and the aids and secretaries of the commander-in-chief to be likewise distinguished by a white plume.
The uniform of the other general officers to be a blue coat with yellow buttons, gold epaulets, the lining and facings of buff; the under clothes the same as those of the commander-in-chief. The major-generals to be distinguished by two silver stars on each epaulet, and, except the inspector-general, by a black and white plume, the black below. The brigadiers to be distinguished by one silver star on each epaulet, and by a red and white plume, the red below. The aids of all general officers, who are taken from regiments, and the officers of inspection, to wear the uniforms of the regiments from which they are taken. The aids to be severally distinguished by the like plumes which are worn by the general officers to whom they are respectively attached.
The uniform of the aids and secretaries of the commander-in-chief, when not taken from regiments, to be a blue coat with yellow buttons and gold epaulets, buff lining and facings; the same under clothes as the commander-in-chief.
The inspector-general, his aids, and the officers of the inspection generally, to be distinguished by a blue plume. The quartermaster-general and other military officers in his department to be distinguished by a green plume.
The uniform of the infantry and artillery to be a blue coat, with white buttons and red facings, white under clothes, and cocked hats. The coats of the infantry to be lined with white; of the artillery, with red.
The uniform of the cavalry to be a green coat, with white buttons, lining, and facings; white vest and breeches; with helmet caps.
Each colonel to be distinguished by two epaulets, each major by one epaulet on the right shoulder and a strap on the left. All the field-officers, except as above, and the regimental staff, to wear red plumes.
Captains to be distinguished by an epaulet on the right shoulder. Lieutenants by one on the left shoulder. Cadets by a strap on the right shoulder. The epaulets and straps of the regimental officers to be of silver.
Sergeant-majors and quartermaster-sergeants to be distinguished by two red worsted epaulets. Sergeants by a like epaulet on the right shoulder. The flank companies to be distinguished by red wings on the shoulders.
The coats of the musicians to be of the color of the facings of the corps to which they severally belong. The chief musicians to wear two white worsted epaulets.
All the civil staff of the army to wear plain blue coats, with yellow buttons and white under clothes. No gold or silver lace, except in the epaulets and straps, to be worn.
The commissioned officers and cadets to wear swords.
All persons belonging to the army to wear a black cockade, with a small white eagle in the centre. The cockade of the non-commissioned officers, musicians, and privates to be of leather, with eagles of tin.
The regiments to be distinguished from each other numerically. The number of each regiment to be expressed on the buttons.
It cannot fail to happen that clothing made at a distance from the army will in numerous instances be ill fitted to the persons to whom it is issued. This is an inconvenience, as it respects appearance, comfort, and use. It merits consideration, whether it may not be remedied by making provision by law for the necessary alterations at the cost of the soldiery. As there are always to be found tailors in an army, the alterations may be made there during seasons of inactivity; and moderate compensations may be established, to be deducted out of the pay. The tailors, when so employed, being exempted from military duty, will be satisfied with very small allowances; and the soldiers will probably prefer this expense to the inconvenience of wearing clothes which do not fit them.
On this subject of clothing, it is remarked with regret that the returns which have been received exhibit none on hand; though from verbal communications it is understood that measures are in train for obtaining a present supply. It is desirable that some more effectual plan than has hitherto been pursued, should be adopted to procure regular and sufficient supplies on reasonable terms. While we depend on foreigners, will it not be advisable to import the materials, rather than take the chance of markets? And will it not be expedient, with a view to economy, to have the clothing made up in the countries from which it may be brought? The matter certainly deserves serious attention. Our supply in the mode hitherto practised is not only very precarious, but must doubtless be obtained at a very dear rate.
Another point, no less deserving of particular attention, is the composition of the ration of provisions. It was in the last session augmented beyond all former example. It is not recollected that the ration, which was allowed during the war with Great Britain, was found insufficient by troops once formed to military habits, and acquainted with the best methods of managing their provisions. The present ration, estimating by price, is understood to be greater than the ration in that war by at least forty per cent. This is evidently a very important augmentation. Various disadvantages attend it; a great increase of expense; additional difficulty in furnishing under all circumstances the stipulated allowance, consequently a multiplication of the possible causes of discontent, murmur, and perhaps even mutiny; the necessity of a greater number of wagons for transportation, and of course the extension of this always serious source of embarrassment to military operations.
The quantity of spirituous liquors, which is a component part of the ration, is so large as to endanger, where they might not before exist, habits of intemperance, alike fatal to health and discipline. Experience has repeatedly shown, that many soldiers will exchange their rum for other articles; which is productive of the double mischief of subjecting those with whom the exchange is made, to the loss of what is far more necessary, and to all the consequences of brutal intoxication. The step having been once taken, a change is delicate; but it is believed to be indispensable, and that the temporary evils of a change can bear no proportion to the permanent and immense evils of a continuance of the error.
It may not perhaps be advisable to bring back the ration to the standard of the late war, but to modify it in some respects differently, so as not materially to affect the aggregate expense. It may consist of eighteen ounces of bread of flour, one pound and a quarter of fresh beef, or one pound of salted beef, or three quarters of a pound of salted pork; salt, when fresh meat is issued, at the rate of one quart, and candles at the rate of a pound, for every hundred rations. With regard to liquor, it may be best to exclude it from being a component part of the ration; allowing a discretion to commanding officers to cause it to be issued in quantities not exceeding half a gill per day, except on extraordinary occasions. Vinegar also ought to be furnished, when to be had, at the rate of two quarts, and soap at the rate of two pounds, per hundred rations.
There are often difficulties in furnishing articles of this description, and the equivalent in money is frequently pernicious, rather than beneficial. Where there is a contract, the promise of such articles is apt to prove more beneficial to the contractor than to any other person. He commonly so manages it, that the substitute is not a real equivalent. But it need not be observed, that whatever is to be done in this respect must be so conducted, as not to infract the conditions on which the troops now in service were enlisted.
It is deeply to be lamented, that a very precious period of leisure was not improved towards forming among ourselves engineers and artillerists; and that, owing to this neglect, we are in danger of being overtaken by war, without competent characters of these descriptions. To form them suddenly is impossible. Much previous study and experiment are essential. If possible to avoid it, a war ought not to find us wholly unprovided. It is conceived to be advisable to endeavor to introduce from abroad at least one distinguished engineer, and one distinguished officer of artillery. They may be sought for preferably in the Austrian, and next in the Prussian armies. The grade of colonel, with adequate pecuniary compensation, may attract officers of a rank inferior to that grade in those armies, who will be of distinguished ability and merit. But in this, as we know from past experience, nothing is more easy than to be imposed upon, nothing more difficult than to avoid imposition, and that therefore it is requisite to commit the business of procuring such characters to some very judicious hand, under every caution that can put him upon his guard.
If there shall be occasion for the actual employment of military force, a corps of riflemen will be for several purposes extremely useful. The eligible proportion of riflemen to infantry of the line may be taken at a twentieth. Hence in the apportionment of an army of fifty thousand men, in my letter of this date, two thousand riflemen are included, and in the estimate of arms to be provided, two thousand rifles. There is a kind of rifle commonly called Ferguson’s, which will deserve particular attention. It is understood that it has in different European armies supplanted the old rifle, as being more quickly loaded and more easily kept clean. If the shot of it be equally sure, or nearly so, those advantages entitle it to a preference. It is very desirable that this point, and its comparative merit in other respects, be ascertained by careful examination and experiment.
Perhaps generally, but more certainly when the troops shall serve in Southern climates, flannel shirts will be most conducive to health. Will it not be advisable to make provision for retaining a discretion in such cases; either to allow a less number of flannel shirts equivalent to the present allowance of linen, or, if this cannot be, to furnish the soldiery with the requisite number, deducting the difference of cost out of their pay?
The only provision for the appointment of a quartermaster-general is to be found in the act of the 28th of May, authorizing the President to raise a provisional army, which limits his rank and emoluments of those to lieutenant-colonel. This provision is conceived to be entirely inadequate. The military duties of the office are of a nature to render it of the first importance in an army; demanding great abilities and a character every way worthy of trust. Accordingly it is the general practice, founded upon very substantial reasons, to confide it to an officer of high military rank. The probability is that, without a similar arrangement on our part, we shall not be able to command a fit character; and in taking one of inferior pretensions we shall subject the service to disadvantages, out of all proportion to any objections which may be supposed to militate against the conferring of such rank. It is feared that an appointment under the existing provision would only create embarrassment, should there be real necessity for military exertions; and that the alternative must be either to leave the army destitute of so necessary an organ, or to give it one likely in the progress of things to prove unequal to the task.
It was much desired, for preventing future controversy, to fix in the first instance the relative grades of the regimental officers. That of the field officers has been rendered impossible, without injustice and the hazard of much dissatisfaction, by the impossibility of completing the arrangement in Connecticut and the three most Southern States. But upon close examination, many obstacles opposed a definitive establishment of the relative rank, even of the officers of companies, in the regiments which have been organized. Numerous circumstances, which ought to influence the decision, are unknown; and without this knowledge a final arrangement might lead to very awkward and perplexing results. In consideration of this difficulty, no more than a temporary one, liable to future revision, has been adopted. It will be necessary to attend to this in the appointments, and to signify to the persons that they are to obey according to the order of nomination, but that the President reserves to himself the right, where cogent reasons for it shall appear, to change the relative rank which that order may seem to recognize. He will judge whether, in making the nomination to the Senate, a like reserve is necessary.
I am well aware that several of the matters suggested in this letter will require legislative provision. If the whole or any of them shall be approved by the Executive, no time ought to be lost in recommending them to the consideration of Congress. As to some of them, it is very desirable that the necessary provision by law should precede the enlistment of the men, to avoid the obstacle to a change, which may result from contract.
With great respect and esteem, I have the honor to be, etc.