hamilton to washington
September 9, 1799.
Two days since I received from General Wilkinson a report of which I now send you the original. You will find it intelligent and interesting. Perhaps on the score of intrinsic propriety, it deserves to be adopted to a larger extent than some collateral and extraneous considerations may permit.
I had previously thought of the subject, but had purposely limited myself to a few very general ideas, that I might examine with the less prepossession the plan of an officer who, possessing talents to judge, has for years had his mind occupied with the scene to which he refers. Since the receipt of his plan, I have assiduously contemplated it with the aid of a full personal explanation; and my judgment has formed a result, though not definitive, but liable to revision. I adopt several of the leading ideas of the General, but I vary in some particulars: as well because I think the change might be too strong with reference to its influence on public opinion, and the feelings of the parts of the country immediately concerned, as because it seems to me that motives of real weight dictate a modification of his plan.
Premising that one complete regiment of infantry should be left for Tennessee and the frontiers of Georgia, I would propose the following disposition of the remaining three of the old regiments, and for the battalion of artillerists and the two troops of dragoons allowed for the Western army. It is taken for granted that the plan must contemplate only the four old regiments of infantry (with those portions of artillerists and dragoons), inasmuch as these are the only infantry regarded by our system as permanent. The twelve additional regiments will dissolve, of course, as to the non-commissioned officers and privates, by the simple fact of the settlement of our dispute with France.
Let these troops be disposed of as follows, viz.:
A Battalion of Infantry and a Company and a Half of Artillery
Niagara.—Two companies of infantry and a half company of artillery.
Detroit.—Three companies of infantry and one company of artillery, to furnish a detachment for
Michilimackinac.—A subaltern, two sergeants, and twenty-four rank and file infantry, and a sergeant and twelve artillerists.
A Battalion of Infantry and a company of Artillery
Fort Fayette and Pittsburgh.—One company of infantry and a quarter of a company of artillery.
Fort Wayne.—One company of infantry and a quarter of a company of artillery.
Fort Massac.—Three companies of infantry and half a company of artillery, to furnish detachments for
Fort Knox.—A sergeant and eight rank and file.
Fort Pickering, Chickasaw Bluffs.—A subaltern, two sergeants, and twenty-four rank and file.
A Battalion of Infantry and a Company of Artillery
Fort Adams, Loftus Heights.—A battalion of infantry and a company of artillery, to furnish for
Fort Stoddard, function of Alabama and Tombigbee rivers, Mobile.—Not exceeding a company of infantry and a quarter of a company of artillery.
There will then remain a regiment and a battalion of infantry, half a company of artillery, and two troops of dragoons. Let these be stationed at some convenient point at or near the rapids of the Ohio, to form an army of observation, and act as exigencies may require.
The other posts now occupied to be relinquished.
A few remarks will illustrate the reasons of this plan.
As a general principle it is desirable to concentrate the force as much as possible. This tends to efficiency for action, to the preservation of order and discipline, and to the promoting of economy. It is conceived that the occupying a small number of critical points with a reserve of force to support an attack, will be more impressive on the Indians than the dissipation of the whole force among a great number of small posts. This reserve ought to be so placed as to look to all the principal objects, and it may, as an incidental one, with propriety, look to that of preventing or suppressing insurrections. The concentration of force, with a proper disposition, will render the maintenance of it far less expensive than if subdivided into small and scattered portions.
These more particular considerations co-operate.
As to Niagara and Detroit.—The effectual possession of the straits which connect Lake Erie on the one side with the Ontario, on the other with the Huron, appears to me very material as a security against British attack, and as a means of controlling the northern and northwestern Indians, by enabling us to obstruct communication. These points are mentioned because they now exist as posts; but the straits ought to be reviewed by a skilful engineer, and such points selected as will be most defensible, and will best command the straits. The force proposed for these stations at present is inadequate in a prospective view; but as there is a probability of a continuance of good understanding with Great Britain for some time, it is conceived that it may now suffice for the sake of obtaining a respectable corps de reserve, to be augmented as our military means may increase.
When the proper points shall have been definitively selected, it would be my plan to have at each station a regular fortification, requiring a garrison of from 500 to 1,000 men, as the nature of the ground to be occupied may indicate, with a citadel in each, defensive by from two to three hundred men. These, in times of complete harmony with Great Britain, may suffice; but, on the appearance of approaching differences, to be increased to the complement. The posts at all times to be supplied for a siege. The progress of settlement will speedily furnish the means of prompt reinforcement.
As to Michilimackinac.—The only motive for retaining this post is to preserve the occupancy of an old communication in some sort calculated to influence the Indians. As to trade, it is now only useful to the British, and likely to continue so for some years, except in so far as they find it their interest to turn their trade into our channels. There are here a few white families, supposed to be able to furnish about sixty arm-bearing men, who are said to be well disposed to our government, and who certainly, in a controversy merely with the Indians, would co-operate with the garrison. A small one is deemed sufficient for the present purpose of the post. For this an additional reason is, that the maintenance of troops there is excessively costly. Any greater force which, with our present total, could be thought of for that station, must be considered as a corps perdu in case of war with Britain, as it would be entirely out of the reach of succor. Consequently, the smaller the force there, if sufficient for the other objects, the better. It is to be observed as to this place, that the Indians whose situations are relative to it, are in no view, formidable. The insular situation is a further security.
As to Fort Fayette.—It may be doubtful whether any force here is really essential, and whether, as being a mere depot, it may not be left, as at other places, to the safeguard of the inhabitants; but, considering that it is a portal to the Western country, and that disaffection to the government has been shown by the inhabitants of the neighboring country, the force proposed is deemed expedient as a guard and as a rallying-point to the well-affected.
As to Fort Wayne.—The critical situation of this place with regard to a number of different waters, and the influence of its immediate aspect upon the most warlike of the Indians in that quarter, make it, in my view, a post to be maintained, contrary to the idea of General Wilkinson.
As to Fort Massac.—This being another portal, and the great outlet for the commodities of the Northwestern Territory, Kentucky, etc., it appears to me that, for obvious reasons, it ought to be secured by a strong regular fortification and a respectable garrison.
As to Fort Knox.—There has been for some time no more force than is now proposed, which is only necessary as a guard. The settlement is of itself an overmatch for the feeble Indians in the vicinity; who, besides, will be within the speedy stroke of the main body.
As to Fort Pickering.—The considerations mentioned by General Wilkinson are referred.
As to Fort Adams..—I make the like reference. This is an essential point. It is on a height which completely commands the river and the surrounding country, and, according to General Wilkinson, can easily be put in a state to defy every thing but famine with a garrison of about two hundred men. The force allowed will always afford this garrison.
As to Fort Stoddard.—This is now occupied with a company. It is critical as to an important river. The Indians are in the habit of seeing it occupied by the Spaniards. It commands an important communication with the powerful nations of savages in the neighborhood, and it is calculated to have an influence upon them. It is in the bosom of a white settlement. These are reasons for keeping it as a post. But an objection to it is, that at present it can with difficulty be supplied otherwise than through the Spanish territory. To make it proper as a permanent one, an easy communication through our own territory must be established. General Wilkinson says this is practicable.
I take no notice of the other posts suggested by General Wilkinson to be established along our Southern line; because, in his own view they are eventual. The Indians must be first reconciled there. And leaving a regiment for Georgia and Tennessee there is no present force for the purpose. It is also liable to the objection of an extreme frittering of our force.
I do not concur with General Wilkinson in the disposition of the corps de reserve. He would have it in the neighborhood of Fort Adams (say Natchez). I propose for it the vicinity of the rapids of the Ohio.
On General Wilkinson’s plan its great utility would be narrowed to a point, the meeting in the first instance an invasion from below, and in case of rupture of a prompt attack upon New Orleans.
But the strength of the reserve alone could not be relied upon as adequate to either object. If a superior force from below should attack, the principal body of our regular force might in the outset be defeated, dissipated, and lost. Thus depriving the militia of a necessary support might lead to greater misfortunes. If an attack is to be made, as little as possible should be left to chance, and consequently the force ought to be greater than the plan would admit.
The stationing of a large body below would give jealousy to the Spaniards, and lead to the measure of augmenting their regular force by drawing reinforcements from some other quarter.
Stationed above, no jealousy will be excited. For attack or defence the regular force can descend with the addition of the force of the country. Concerted and combined operations may insure efficiency.
In this situation the force will look to various points: to the northern Indians, to the disaffected of the neighboring country, etc., etc. Enough is said. Your reflection will supply the rest.
I send this letter without a copy, that I may not lose a post, as time and the season urge. Favor me as soon as possible with your observations and directions, for which I wait.
With the greatest respect and affection, etc., etc.
P. S.—Presque Isle is very healthy situation, and capable of much defence. The neighboring country is fast growing powerful, so as to take care of itself.