A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.
Adams Family Papers : An Electronic Archive
Next Page
Previous Page

John Adams autobiography, part 1, "John Adams," through 1776
sheet 51 of 53, 29 September - 2 October 1776

of some part of New England, but seldom any thing of the Kind about any other Part of the Continent.
You complain of the popular Plan of raising the new Army. But if you make the plan as unpopular, as you please, you will not mend the matter. If you leave the Appointment of Officers to the General, or to the Congress, it will not be so well done, as if left to the Assemblies. The true cause of the Want of good Officers in the Army is not, because the Appointment is left to the Assemblies, but because such officers in sufficient Numbers are not in America. Without materials the best Workmen can do nothing. Time, Study and Experience alone, must make a sufficient number of able Officers.
I wish We had a military Accademy, and should be obliged to you for a Plan of such an Institution. The Expence would be a trifle, no object at all, with me.
This day I had the honor of making a motion for the Appointment of a Committee to consider of a Plan for the Establishment of a military Accademy, in the Army. The Committee was appointed and your Servant was one. Write me your Sentiments upon the Subject.
John Adams to Colonel Hitchcock

Dear Sir

Yours of September the 9th. was duely received.  [illegible The measure of a Standing Army, is at length resolved on. You have seen the plan. How do you like it? I wish it was liable to fewer objections Exceptions, but We must be content to crawl into the right Way, by degrees. This was the best that We could obtain, at present. I am extreamly sorry, to learn, that the Troops have been disheartened. But this despondency of Spirit, was the natural Effect, of the Retreats you have made, one after another. When the Men saw your General Officers, taken in a trap,

upon Long Island, and the Army obliged to abandon that important Post, in consequence of that Ambuscade, and the City of New York, evacuated in Consequence of the Retreat from Long Island, the firmest Army in the World, would have been seized, in similar Circumstances, with more or less of a Panick. But your men will now recover their Spirits in a short time.
There is a Way, of introducing Discipline into the most irregular Army, and of inspiring Courage into the most pusillanimous Collection of Men.
Your Army, Sir, give me leave to say, has been ill managed in two most essential points. The first is, in neglecting to train your Regiments and Brigades to the manual Exercises and the Manoeuvres. Nothing inspires the Men with military pride and Ambition (for even the Men must have Ambition) like calling them together every day, and making them appear as well as they can. By living much together, and moving in concert, they acquire a confidence in themselves, and in each other. By being exposed to the Inspection, and Observations of each other, they become ambitious of appearing as clean and neat as they can, which as well as the Exercise preserves their health and hardens their Bodies against diseases. But instead of these martial, manly and elegant Exercises, they have been kept constantly at Work in digging Trenches in the Earth; which keeps them constantly dirty, and not having Wives, Mothers, Sisters or Daughters, as they used to have at home to take care of them and keep them clean, they gradually loose their Perspiration and their health.
Another particular, which is absolutely necessary to introduce military Ardour into a new raised Army, has been totally neglected. Such an Army should be governed with caution and circumspection, I agree. It should act chiefly upon the defensive, and no decisive Battle should be hazarded. But still an enterprizing Spirit should be encouraged.Favourable Opportunities should be watched, and Parties should

be ordered out upon little excursions and expeditions: and in this manner Officers and Men should be permitted to acquire fame and honor in the Army, which will soon give them a real fondness for fighting. They will love the Sport. But instead of this, every Spark of an enterprizing Spirit in the Army, seems to have been carefully extinguished.
Our inevitable destruction will be the Consequence, if these faults are not amended. I rejoiced to hear of the Attempt, upon Montresors Island: but am vexed and mortified, at its shameful Issue. I am more humiliated still to learn, that the Enterprize was not renewed. If there had been Officers or Men, who would have undertaken the Expedition, a second, a third or a fiftieth time, I would have had that Island, if it had cost me, half my Army. Pray inform me what Officers and Men were sent upon that Attempt. It is said, there was shameful Cowardice. If any Officer was guilty of it, I sincerely hope he will be punished with death. This most infamous and detestable Crime, must never be forgiven in an Officer. Punishments as well as rewards will be necessary to Government, as long as fear, as well as hope, is a natural Passion in the human Breast.
Colonel Hitchcock.
John Adams to General Parsons

My dear Sir

Your Letter from Long Island of the 29th. of August, has not been answered. I was very much obliged to You, for it: because it contained Intelligence of a transaction, about which, We were left very much in the dark, at that time, and indeed to this hour, are not so well informed as We should be. I think, Sir, that the Enemy, by landing upon that Island, put it compleatly in our Power to have broke their plans, for this Campaign, and to have defended New York. But there are strong Marks of

Negligence, Indolence, Presumption, and Incapacity on our Side, by which scandalous Attributes We lost that Island wholly, and Manhattan Island nearly. I am happy to hear your Behaviour commended. But, Sir, it is manifest that our Officers were not acquainted with the Ground; that they had never reconnoitred the Enemy; that they had neither Spies, Sentries, nor Guards placed as they ought to have been; and that they had been shamefully remiss in Obtaining Intelligence, of the Numbers and Motions of the Enemy, as well as of the nature of the Ground.
I have read, somewhere or other that a Commander, who is surprized in the night, though guilty of an egregious fault, may yet plead something in Excuse: but, in point of discipline, for a General to be surprized by an Enemy, just under his nose, in open day and caught in a State of wanton Security, from an overweening presumption in his own Strength, is a crime of so capital a nature, as to admit of neither Alleviation nor Pardon. Ancient Generals have been nailed to Gibbets alive, for such crimes.
Be this as it may, I think the Enemy have reached their Ne plus, for this Year. I have drawn this Conclusion from the Example of Hannibal, whose Conquests changed the face and fortune of the War. According to Montesquieu, so long as he kept his whole Army together, he always defeated the Romans: but when he was obliged to put Garrisons into Cities, to defend his Allies, to besiege Strong holds, or prevent their being besieged, he then found himself too weak, and lost a great part of his Army by piece meal. Conquests are easily made, because We atchieve them with our whole force: they are retained with difficulty because We defend them, with only a part of our forces.
Howe, with his whole Army could easily take Possession of

Cite web page as: John Adams autobiography, part 1, "John Adams," through 1776, sheet 51 of 53 [electronic edition]. Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive. Massachusetts Historical Society. http://www.masshist.org/digitaladams/
Original manuscript: Adams, John. John Adams autobiography, part 1, "John Adams," through 1776. Part 1 is comprised of 53 sheets and 1 insertion; 210 pages total. Original manuscript from the Adams Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.
Source of transcription: Butterfield, L.H., ed. Diary and Autobiography of John Adams. Vol. 3. Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1961.
Next Page
Previous Page