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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 5


Docno: ADMS-06-05-02-0019

Author: Tudor, William
Recipient: Adams, John
Date: 1776-09-23

From William Tudor

[salute] Dear Sir

Every Day more thoroughly convinces me that an absolute Tyranny is essential in the Government of an Army, and that every Man who carries Arms, from the General Officer to the private Centinel, must be content to be a temporary Slave, if he would serve his Country as a Soldier. The Legions of antient Rome and the modern Battalions of Britain have owed their Triumphs principally to this Cause. I not long since pointed out to you the Defects of the present military Code which governs the Army of the united American States. I have only to add that, almost every Villainy and Rascality that can disgrace the Man, the Soldier or the Citizen, is dayly practised without meeting the Punishment they merit. So many of our Officers want Honour, and so many of our Soldiers want Virtue civil, social and military, that Nothing but the severest Punishments will keep both from Practices which must ruin Us. The infamous and cruel Ravages which have been made on the wretched, distress'd Inhabitants of this unfortunate Island by many of our Soldiers, must disgrace, and expose our Army to Detestation. I have heard some Tales of Woe, occasioned by the Robberies of our Army, which would extort Sighs from the Hearts of Tygers.1 It is true some have been detected, but cashiering for an Officer and 39 Lashes for a Private is the extent of Punishment which our present Articles admit of. When Death itself would hardly atone for the Barbarity which in some Instances has been exhibited. Our Men are at present only Robbers, that they will soon be Murderers, unless some are hang'd, I have little Doubt. For God's Sake then give Us a New Set of Articles, that if we cannot reform Men we may at least punish their Crimes.
I do not write you any News because I know every Movement of the Enemy and every Occurrence in our own Army worth sending, is constantly and immediately transmitted to Congress by the General. For this Reason I have not sent You any Account of the shamefull Conduct of some New England Regiments On Sunday the 15th. in their precipitate Retreat, to call it by the { 37 } softest Name. But Nothing else was to have been expected from Regiments commanded by such Officers as those were.2 New England may continue to pour forth her Inhabitants by thousands, but as she sends Men without Commanders, she only sends them to meet Defeat. Our Men will fight if led on by good Officers, and as certainly run away if commanded by Scoundrels. Sunday was an Instance of the last, and the next Day a Confirmation of the first Assertion.3 New England has Men of Sense and Honour who might soon become good Officers, but the Gentlemen there are so totally absorb'd by the Auri sacra fames,4 and the Views of making Fortunes by Privateering, that no other Consideration seems to be attended to.
I had a very narrow Escape from the Enemy on Sunday the 15th. I continued in the City three Hours after they landed, intending if they got Possession of the Town to get over to the Jersey Shore in some Boat. After I found our Men were running before the Enemy I thought it necessary to take Care of Myself, but found it impracticable to cross the North River unless I swam across. I put on by the Side of N. River, and pass'd the Enemy about two Miles from Town within Musquet Shot, but taking into the Woods I got off with the Loss only of a little Baggage. I am with great Respect Dr Sir very truly Yours
[signed] Wm Tudor
We last Night lost a most intrepid Officer in Major Henley Aid de Camp to Genl. Heath, in a Skirmish at Montresor's Island. He landed with Lt. Col. Jackson of Sargent's Regiment with a small Party, but was not supported, and fell a Sacrifice to the Cowardice of some Poltroons.5 This young Officer is universally lamented he bid fair to have been a great military Character. Col. Jackson was wounded and most of the Party in the Boat kill'd. How many of our best Officers must we lose before we learn to beat the En[emy?][ . . . ] brave are Victims to the Baseness of the Poltroons.6
RC (Adams Papers); addressed: “The Honble. John Adams Esq Member of Congress Philadelphia Free”; docketed: “Tudor Sept 23. 1776 ans. Sept. 26.” Some mutilation.
1. One of the most shocking deeds was the plundering of the property of Lord Stirling, a captive of the British (Washington, Writings, ed. Fitzpatrick, 6:18, 42).
2. Before landing at Kip's Bay (about the foot of what is now 34th St.) on 15 Sept., the British laid down a very heavy raking fire from their warships in the East River. When British soldiers debarked from transports, appearing out of the smoke of the naval guns, Connecticut militia under the command of Col. William Douglas fled { 38 } without firing a shot. Their panic was communicated to Gen. John Fellows' brigade of Massachusetts militia and from them to Gen. Parsons' Connecticut Continental regiments. Gen. Washington, who had ordered Fellows and Parsons to move up to the support of the units stationed along the river, reported later that the two generals did their best to form their men into a holding line but that they could not stop the panic. In late October a court of inquiry examined charges of cowardice against Col. John Tyler of Parsons' brigade, but he was exonerated. Henry P. Johnston, a careful scholar, felt that the fire from the ships could not have been withstood even by veteran troops (Johnston, Campaign around New York and Brooklyn, p. 232–237; Washington, Writings, 6:58; Freeman, Washington, 4:193; Force, Archives, 5th ser., 2:1251–1254). See JA's excoriation of officers in his reply (Diary and Autobiography, 3:438).
3. The Battle of Harlem Heights, fought on 16 Sept. Some of the troops that had fled the day before now fought bravely, including Connecticut troops led by William Douglas (Johnston, Campaign around New York and Brooklyn, p. 246–258).
4. The accursed thirst for gold.
5. Thomas Henly rode in a boat with Lt. Col. Michael Jackson of Paul Dudley Sargent's 16th Continental Infantry. Although Jackson's boat landed on Montressor's (later Randall's) Island, and his men fought, the other five boats fled in the face of fire (Heitman, Register Continental Army, p. 22, 285; Johnston, Campaign around New York and Brooklyn, Part II, p. 99 [this contemporary account confuses Thomas with David Henly]).
6. JA copied his answer to this letter and to Tudor's of 6 Sept. (above) from his Letterbook into his Autobiography (Diary and Autobiography, 3:437–441). The RC has not been found, but a copy of it in Tudor's hand is in MHi:Tudor Papers. The Tudor copy contains the following closing paragraph which is missing from JA's Letterbook:
“Excuse my reminding You of this Peice of Greecian History. I wish all of Ye who are in the Army and are Scholars would frequently contemplate the great Spirits of former Ages, and while your generous Souls catch Fire at the recital of illustrious Actions, would assiduously imitate the great Examples.”

Docno: ADMS-06-05-02-0020

Author: Adams, John
Recipient: Warren, James
Date: 1776-09-25

To James Warren

[salute] Dr sir

This Express carries a new Plan of an Army.1 I hope the General Court without one Moments delay will Send Commissions to whole Corps of their Officers, either by Expresses or Committees to New York and Ticonderoga, that as many Men may be inlisted without delay as possible. It may be best to send a Committee with full Powers to each Place. There is no Time to be lost. I inclose you a sett of Articles as lately amended.2 Discipline I hope will be introduced at last. I am
[signed] John Adams
RC (MHi:Warren-Adams Coll.); docketed: “Mr J. Adams. Lettr Sep. 25. 1776.”
1. Well briefed by military correspondents on the inadequacy of congressional bounties and the instability resulting from short enlistments, JA, according to his later account, had taken the responsibility for a new plan, which the congress debated at length and adopted with amendments on 16 Sept. (Diary and Autobiography, 3:434; JCC, 5:762–763). The monetary bounty was raised from $10 to $20 and land grants ranging from 100 acres for soldiers to 500 acres for colonels were offered for the first time by the congress. To obtain these benefits, men had to enlist for { 39 } the duration of the war. The new plan also provided for quotas of battalions for each state, ranging from 1 or 2 from the smallest states to 12 and 15 from the largest.
2. On 14 June the congress assigned the task of revising the Articles of War to the Committee on Spies, of which JA was a member. The original report to the congress is not in the hand of any member of the committee, nor in the hand of Timothy Pickering, as Worthington Ford believed, but the hand makes little difference (PCC, No. 27, f. 5–44; JCC, 5:807; for the progress of the committee's report through the congress, see vol. 4:19–20). The report was largely copied from the British Articles of War, with such modifications as circumstances required. JA claimed in one instance that he and Jefferson bore the brunt of the work of revision; in another, that the work was all his (Diary and Autobiography, 3:409–410, 434). In any case, he knew where to look for guidance. He declared that the committee could do no better than to follow the British example, which was based on Roman rules: “I was therefore for reporting the British Articles of War, totidem verbis” (same, 3:409–410). References to the king were replaced by mention of the congress; references to places in the British empire where the rules would differ were omitted; and provisions on billeting, commandeering of wagons, and behavior in foreign parts (with one exception, noted below) were dropped (Rules and Articles for the Better Government of His Majesty's Horse and Foot Guards and All Other His Majesty's Forces . . ., London, 1771, in Anno Regni Georgii II [III] Regis . . . Undecimo at the Parliament Begun . . . in . . . 1768, London, 1771, p. 139–206).
The revision of the American articles was stimulated by a letter from Joseph Reed of 25 July delivered to the congress by JA's friend William Tudor (Force, Archives, 5th ser., 1:576). Reed noted that punishments were too mild, that crimes such as drunkenness or sleeping on guard and desertion were capital offenses in all but the American army. For such crimes, 39 lashes were contemptible as a deterrent. For the crime of deserting one unit and joining another to obtain an additional bounty, Reed recommended not less than one hundred lashes. Tudor brought proposals as well, but what they were is unknown; perhaps he reiterated the suggestions he had made nearly a year earlier that were not adopted in the revision of November of 1775, such as the death penalty for several crimes and one hundred lashes for others. He complained in letters to JA of desertion, plundering, seditious speech, and mutiny. Tudor was well aware of the greater severity of British regulations (to JA, 6 and 23 Sept., above).
The revision of the Articles of War adopted by the congress on 20 September 1776 (JCC, 5:788–807) repeated, usually verbatim, the 69 articles adopted in June 1775 (same, 2:111–122) and added 33 more, some of them from the revisions of November 1775 (same, 3:331–334). But with few exceptions the articles in all versions drew upon the British. The difference in the 1776 revision was wholesale verbatim borrowing not only of the language of the articles, but also of the entire scheme of arrangement. Americans took over the grouping of the articles under numbered sections, failing only to use the section titles of the British. The copying was so slavish that the committee report neglected to specify in several instances whether a court martial was regimental or not. For example, under Sect. XIII, Arts. 1, 2, 4, and 5 required simply “a court martial,” although the equivalent articles in 1775 (Arts. XVI, XVII, XIX, XX) specified a regimental one; and Art. 6, which now permitted the death penalty, again required “a court martial” instead of the general court martial specified in 1775 (Art. XXI). The omissions were of some consequence because Tudor had earlier sought to have the distinction carefully maintained. Another instance of unreflective copying occurred in Sect. XIII, Art. 17, which referred to American forces “employed in foreign parts,” a scarcely appropriate qualification.
The only significant provisions that the committee did not take from the British were in Arts. 6 and 22 under Sect. XIV. The first called for punishment of those refusing to give evidence in a court martial, and the other, for the publication of the names of officers cashiered for cowardice or fraud and the ostracizing by fellow officers of such miscreants.
The more thorough adoption of the Brit• { 40 } ish code brought changes and additions in 1776 that fall into three categories: those providing for increased severity of punishment, greater protection for civilians from plunder and wanton destruction of property, and more careful administrative procedures. Death as a possible penalty was listed in nine additional instances. The limit on lashes was raised from 39 to 100, as critics had suggested. A new punishment, meted out to officers and commissaries for fraud in mustering, was denial of any future office or employment under the United States. The conditions under which the dates of officers' commissions affected their rank and under which militia officers were subordinate to regular officers were clarified, as were those for enlistment and discharge. The holding of courts martial was more carefully regulated, and for the first time mention was made of the duties of the judge advocate.
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/