Military Policy From the Close of the War of 1812 to The Beginning of the Mexican War

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Chapter VI Pages: 70-78

Hostilities were no sooner over than the policy of retrenchment was again resorted to and the peace establishment was fixed at 10,000 men, (1) but the organization of the Army was still defective. (2) The Act of April 24, 1816, imperfect as it was in many respects, (3) created the first permanent peace establishment in which both the line and the staff were duly represented. (4) A vigorous protest from General Jackson in 1817 put an end to the issuance of orders from the War Department directly to officers without being transmitted through the division commanders. (5)

Seminole War

In 1817 began this war which originated in a massacre of a detachment (6) on the Apalachicola River, Florida, on November 30th, followed a fortnight later by an attack by the Indians on Fort Scott, Georgia. In March, 1818, General Jackson advanced into Florida with 1,800 men and, being joined in April by General McIntosh with 1,500 Creeks, destroyed the Mikasuky villages, captured the Spanish garrison at St. Marks, burned a large Indian village, invested the Spanish Fort Barrancas, bombarded it and forced it to surrender after two days, on May 27th.

The management of this war was quite in keeping with the policy followed during the Revolution and the War of 1812. For lack of sufficient regulars, Generals Jackson and Gaines, in defiance of statutory law and orders, undertook to organize volunteers and Indians and mustered them into the United States' service. Although Jackson finished in three months this war against a "miserable, undisciplined banditti of deluded Indians and fugitive slaves, their whole strength when combined not exceeding 1,000 men," (7) no less a force than 6,9ll had to be called into service. (8) As Upton remarks: (9)

"Needless extravagance is not the valuable lesson to be drawn from this war. It lies in the proof, recorded by a committee of the Senate, that the greatest dangers to which our liberties have thus far been exposed have occurred in time of war, not through the presence, but for the want of, a sufficient disciplined army. "

Reorganization of 1821

Pursuant to a resolution of the House of Representatives on May 11, 1820, instructing the Secretary of War to bring forward at the next session.

"a plan for the reduction of the Army to 6,000 noncommissioned officers and privates, and preserving such parts of the Corps of Engineers as, in his opinion, without regard to that number, it may be for the public interest to retain,"

Mr. Calhoun complied with a project worthy of the most careful study even at the present time. It is a very remarkable document, insomuch as he traced the general scheme for an expansive organization such as almost every army in the world has now found it necessary to adopt. In his report to Congress, made in December, 1820, Mr. Calhoun wrote:

"If our liberty should ever be endangered by the military power gaining the ascendancy, it will be from the necessity of making those mighty and irregular efforts to retrieve our affairs, after a series of disasters, caused by the want of adequate military knowledge, just as in our physical system a state of the most dangerous excitement and paroxysm follows that of the greatest debility and prostration. To avoid these dangerous consequences, and to prepare the country to meet a state of war, particularly at its commencement, with honor and safety, much must depend on the organization of our military peace establishment, and I have accordingly, in a plan about to be proposed for the reduction of the Army, directed my attention mainly to that point, believing it to be of the greatest importance.

"To give such an organization, the leading principles in its formation ought to be, that AT THE COMMENCEMENT OF HOSTILITIES THERE SHOULD BE NOTHING EITHER TO NEW MODEL, OR TO CREATE. The only difference, consequently, between the peace and war formations of the Army, ought to be in the increased magnitude of the latter, and the only change in passing from the former to the latter should consist in giving to it the augmentation which will then be necessary. (10)

"It is thus, and thus only, the dangerous transition from peace to war may be made without confusion or disorder, and the weakness and danger which otherwise would be inevitable, be avoided. Two consequences result from this principle: First, the organization of the staff in a peace establishment ought to be such that every branch of it should be completely formed, with such extension as the number of troops and posts occupied may render necessary; and, secondly, that the organization of the line ought, as far as practicable, to be such that in passing from the peace to the war formation, the force may be sufficiently augmented without adding new regiments or battalions, thus raising the war, on the basis of the peace establishment, instead of creating a new army to be added to the old, as at the commencement of the late war." (11)

Irrespective of certain defects, (12) Mr. Calhoun's plan was fundamentally sound (13) and would have given the Army all the benefits derived from the most modern staff organization; but, as usual, Congress eliminated the most important features and proceeded by the Act of March 2, 1821, to reduce the Army from 12, 664 officers and men to 6,183, (14) made the staff efficient to the detriment of the line and prevented the President from adding an enlisted man, (15) although it permitted him in the event of Indian wars to authorize governors and generals to call out militia in unlimited numbers. The Ordnance department (16) was merged into the artillery, but this arrangement proved so unsatisfactory that eleven years later it had to be restored. (17)

During 1828 and 1829 the question of abolishing the grade of Major General was much mooted, and out of it arose a prolonged discussion as to the officer upon whom would evolve the command of the Army in that case. The Committee on Military Affairs of the House of Representatives expressed its opinion that, in the absence of a general-in-chief, "the Army would virtually be commanded by the staff officers who surround the Secretary of War," (18) and subsequent years amply proved the correctness of its prediction. (19)

Black Hawk War

This war, begun in March, 1832, was marked by two engagements only. The first, fought by Illinois volunteers, took place on the Wisconsin River on July 21st; (20) the second at the Bad Ax River near its junction with the Mississippi on August 2nd, (21) when the Indians under Black Hawk were totally defeated and dispersed. (22) The Government acted with more than customary dispatch in this instance, (23) but, even so, nearly 6,000 troops (24) were required to conquer a force of Indians estimated to be between 800 and 1,000. (25)

During these operations the defenselessness of the frontiers caused the creation of a battalion of 600 mounted rangers, (26) who were enlisted for one year only, required to arm and equip themselves and to furnish their own horses, (27) and nine months later a regiment of dragoons was added to the Army. (28)

Florida Or Second Seminole War

This struggle, which began in December, 1835, and dragged out until August, 1842, found the Government totally unprepared to meet the situation (29) in spite of months of warning. (30) The Governor of Florida, finding himself forced to look to his own resources, called out 500 hasty levies, (31) his action being the signal for the massacre of Major Dade and his command on December 28th. (32) Three days after, General Clinch with 200 regulars and about 500 Florida militia crossed the Withlacoochee River, was attacked by the Seminoles but repulsed them after a lively fight. The war would probably have ended then and there had not the militia mutinied and refused to take part in the action. (33) During January, 1836, the Government authorized the calling out of militia from South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama "to serve for at least three months after arriving at the place of rendezvous," and ordered General Scott to assume command of all the troops. (34) The operations began in February by an unauthorized advance of a mixed force under General Gaines which was besieged by the Indians, (35) but it was not until March 22nd that General Scott, after many delays in equipping and supplying his militia, took the field. (36) The Indians, who did not number 2,000, (37) avoided being drawn into a decisive engagement, took refuge in the Everglades and other impenetrable swamps, and continued to harass the country until the following March. The mention in General Scott's report of "3,000 good troops (not volunteers) " (38) evoked such a storm of indignation from the State levies that he was superseded by General Clinch and sent to Georgia to take command against the Creek Indians who had risen in open warfare.

In place of expanding the Regular Army as suggested by the Secretary of War, (39) Congress on May 23rd authorized the President to accept the services of 10,000 volunteers for six or twelve months, (40) requiring them to furnish their own clothes and horses, just as was done under the mischievous Act of 1792 (41) and, although these troops were to constitute a national force, their organization and the appointment of the officers were vested in the governors. (42)

In Georgia General Scott was confronted with conditions similar to those in Florida, the militia of Alabama and Georgia being without adequate arms or supplies, and it was not until June 21st that he was ready to move. (43) Nine days earlier General Jesup with a force of 2,300 had advanced against the Creeks (44) in Alabama, who promptly rendered their submission without fighting. Jesup's movement being contrary to Scott's instructions, a quarrel arose, which resulted early in June in orders to General Scott to proceed to Washington to answer before a Court of Inquiry for "the unaccountable delay in prosecuting the Creek war and the failure of the campaign in Florida." (45)

Such was the fiasco entailed by the Government's policy, notwithstanding the fact that no less than 27,842 troops were put into the field during the year.(46)

During the winter of 1836-1837 the military operations in Florida achieved nothing except to keep the Seminoles on the move, but on March 6th their chiefs agreed to capitulate and to transfer the entire tribe west of the Mississippi. This proved nothing short of a ruse to gain time, and on June 2nd Micanopy and some other chiefs were spirited away from Tampa where they were to embark. The Indians rose again and resorted to the same tactics as in the previous year, with the result that up to October 21st only 30 had been killed and 500 captured. On Christmas day General Zachary Taylor was successful in forcing them into an engagement at Lake Okeechobee and in inflicting a severe defeat upon them,(47) in spite of the fact that the Missouri volunteers and spies bolted to a nearby swamp and could not be induced to return to the fight. (48)

Before the year was out public opinion was aroused by the extravagance of the war in men and money to such an extent that the Secretary of War felt called upon to make explanations and to urge an increase in the regular establishment, as well as in the staff corps, (49) but it was not until July 5, 1838, that his recommendations were heeded. By the act of that date the army was considerably increased, (50) the departments of the Adjutant, Quartermaster and Commissary-Generals, and Ordnance being augmented, the principle of expansion recognized in respect to the pay corps__cadets required upon entrance to bind themselves to eight years' service, three months' extra pay given to each soldier re-enlisting and a bounty of 160 acres of land for ten years' faithful service.

Two days later it was found necessary to make certain modifications and to repeal the land bounty, (51) but these two laws gave the Army an authorized strength of 12, 539 officers and men. (52)

"The ills springing from detached service were but partly cured. In failing to provide supernumeraries in the Quarter-master's and Commissary's Departments, two of the most important branches of the staff, as in the past, could only be made efficient at the expense of the line.

"To the prejudice of true economy, the other great defect of the law of 1821, the nonexpanding of the rank and file, was also only remedied in part. Instead of authorizing the President to expand the Army to a given limit, with like power to reduce it by mere Executive order, the moment the public interest would permit, Congress prescribed a war maximum which might continue months after the emergency had ceased and could only be lessened by the slow and uncertain process of legislation." (53)

During 1838 and 1839 serious complications occurred on the Northern frontier, which threatened to bring about a third war with England. As the bulk of the Regular Army was occupied in Florida and the Southwest, (54) the President was authorized

"to resist any attempt on the part of Great Britain to enforce, by arms, her claim to jurisdiction over that part of the State of Maine which is in dispute between the United States and Great Britain."

Aside from the employment of the Regular military and naval forces and of such militia as he deemed advisable to call into service, the President was empowered to accept volunteers up to the number of 50,000, who were required to supply their own clothing and horses, and to serve for a period of six to twelve months after reaching the rendezvous and $10,000,000 were placed at his disposal. (55)

"A glance at this law, for the passage of which General Scott claimed special credit, (56) shows that on its face there was no indication that Congress had either appreciated or been able to profit by the losses of the Revolution, the War of 1812, or even by its own two years' experience with the Florida War. Fortunately for the country, a repetition of the disasters which marked the beginning of the War of 1812 was averted by a peaceful settlement." (57)

From 1838 to 1842 the operations in the Florida war were conducted by the successive commanders with small detachments rarely exceeding 100 men. In May, 1839, General Macomb made a treaty with the leading chief of the Seminoles, whereby hostilities were to cease, (58) but after a lapse of two months another massacre (59) lighted the conflagration for the third time. The Indians took to their fastnesses in inaccessible swamps, (60) and it was only the system of summer campaigns instituted by Colonel Worth, which destroyed the crops and other subsistence, that eventually compelled them to sue for peace. On August 14, 1842, official announcement was made that "hostilities with the Indians in Florida have ceased."

During this war the efforts of the Government to economize were defeated by the persistency with which State militia was forced upon it, sometimes without authority of law. (61) Suffice to say that from 1835 to 1842 no less than 48, 152 volunteers and militia were in service, (62) apart from 12,539 regulars, (63) thus making a total of 60,091, and the war expenditures during those seven years for the land forces amounted to no less than $69,751,611.50. (64)

To appreciate properly the excessive cost of short-sighted military legislation, it must be borne in mind that this war teaches some valuable lessons, viz.:

"First. That its expense was tripled, if not quadrupled, by that feature of the law of 1821 which gave the President, in times of emergency, no discretion to increase the enlisted men of the Army.

"Second. That, as in every previous war, after successfully employing for short periods of service militia and volunteers, and exhausting their enthusiasm, Congress found it more humane and economical to continue hostilities with regular troops, enlisted for the period of five years.

"Third. That for want of a well-defined peace organization, a nation of 17,000,000 of people contended for seven years with 1,200 warriors and finally closed the struggle without accomplishing the forcible emigration of the Indians, which was the original and sole cause of the war." (65)

Nine days after the termination of hostilities the Army was forth with reduced from 12,539 officers and men to 8,613 (66) without disbanding any of the regiments. (67) Had Congress applied the same wise method to the expansion of the Army at the beginning of the war which it did to its reduction at the end, the struggle would never have been protracted for seven years and the loss in lives and money would have been many times less.

Continue on Page: 2 for Footnotes: 1-67


Website: The History
Article Name: Military Policy From the Close of the War of 1812 to The Beginning of the Mexican War
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: From my collection of Books: The Military Unpreparedness of the United States- A History of American Land Forces from Colonial Times until June 1, 1915. By Frederic Louis Huidekoper; Publisher: The Macmillan Company-New York 1916
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