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Browsing: Diary of John Adams, Volume 3

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John Adams to Colonel Hitchcock

[salute] Dear Sir

Yours of September the 9th. was duely received.10 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 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 { 443 } 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 { 444 } 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.

[addrLine] Colonel Hitchcock.

Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2014.
http://www.masshist.org/apde2/