Historum - History Forums  

Go Back   Historum - History Forums > World History Forum > American History
Register Forums Blogs Social Groups Mark Forums Read

American History American History Forum - United States, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America


Reply
 
LinkBack Thread Tools Display Modes
Old August 22nd, 2015, 03:08 AM   #1
Historian
 
Joined: Jul 2011
Posts: 5,122
Why were there 3 incompetent commanders in the 1812 invasion of Canada?


How did they get appointed and promoted? Did Madison mess up in putting the wrong generals in charge and using questionable plans? Was the period of peace before the war responsible for political appointments of generals? Was the rest of the officer corp as bad? Were problems with officers one reason Jefferson started West Point?
betgo is offline  
Remove Ads
Old August 22nd, 2015, 07:37 AM   #2
Scholar
 
Joined: Jan 2013
From: Toronto, Canada
Posts: 864

Throughout the war, commanders were appointed almost exclusively for political reasons. This only began to change in 1814.
delta1 is offline  
Old August 22nd, 2015, 04:05 PM   #3

semperpietas's Avatar
Citizen
 
Joined: Jan 2015
From: Arkansas
Posts: 38
Blog Entries: 2

The officer corps wasn't necessarily all bad, but there was plenty of dead weight and holdovers from the peacetime army like Hull and Wilkinson. There were also a fairshare of political appointments like Morgan Lewis, who was a favorite of Secretary of War Armstrong. It often takes a few years for skilled commanders to emerge in a conflict, and it took that long for the likes of Brown, Scott, Gaines, and Macomb to rise up through the ranks of the officer corps.
semperpietas is offline  
Old August 22nd, 2015, 05:15 PM   #4

redcoat's Avatar
Hiding behind the sofa
 
Joined: Nov 2010
From: Stockport Cheshire UK
Posts: 7,145

Quote:
Originally Posted by betgo View Post
How did they get appointed and promoted? Did Madison mess up in putting the wrong generals in charge and using questionable plans? Was the period of peace before the war responsible for political appointments of generals? Was the rest of the officer corp as bad? Were problems with officers one reason Jefferson started West Point?
A major problem was the myth of militia.
In the period after the revolutionary war, the role of the militia in the defeat of the British was overplayed to such an extent that many in the US government though that they could take on regular troops in open battle, and that they would have no difficulty in dealing with the small number of British regulars in Canada.
redcoat is offline  
Old August 22nd, 2015, 06:26 PM   #5

Tercios Espanoles's Avatar
Gonfaloniere
 
Joined: Mar 2014
From: Beneath a cold sun, a grey sun, a Heretic sun...
Posts: 6,422
Blog Entries: 1

Quote:
Originally Posted by semperpietas View Post
The officer corps wasn't necessarily all bad, but there was plenty of dead weight and holdovers from the peacetime army like Hull and Wilkinson. There were also a fairshare of political appointments like Morgan Lewis, who was a favorite of Secretary of War Armstrong. It often takes a few years for skilled commanders to emerge in a conflict, and it took that long for the likes of Brown, Scott, Gaines, and Macomb to rise up through the ranks of the officer corps.
Hull wasn't a holdover from the peacetime army. He hadn't held any military rank since the revolution. He had been Governor of the Michigan Territory and Indian Agent since 1805. When the new "Army of the Northwest" was formed in 1812, Hull was informed by William Eustis that Madison wished him to take command as Brigadier General. Hull refused, but later accepted when another officer chosen fell ill.

This is Winfield Scott's own description of the US Army officer corps just prior to the war:

"The army of that day, including its general staff, the three old and the nine new regiments, presented no pleasing aspect. The old officers had generally sunk into either sloth, ignorance, or habits of intemperate drinking... Many of the appointments were positively bad, and a majority of the remainder indifferent. Party spirit of that day knew no bounds, and of course was blind to policy. Federalists were almost entirely excluded from selection, though great numbers were eager for the field, and in New England and some other states there were but very few educated Republicans; hence the selections from those communities consisted mostly of coarse and ignorant men. In other states, where there was no lack of educated men in the dominant party, the appointments consisted generally of swaggerers, dependents, decayed gentlemen, and others 'fit for nothing else,' which always turned out utterly unfit for any military purposes whatsoever."
Tercios Espanoles is offline  
Old August 22nd, 2015, 06:55 PM   #6
Suspended indefinitely
 
Joined: May 2013
From: Colorado
Posts: 1,696

Quote:
Originally Posted by delta1 View Post
Throughout the war, commanders were appointed almost exclusively for political reasons. This only began to change in 1814.
The officer corp was purged of many Federalist officers by Jefferson in 1801. Meriwether Lewis, President Jefferson's secretary, was tasked with rating each and every officer, using 11 codes. The codes included their political leanings.

This was published in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society vol. 124, no. 2 in April 1980. Theodore Crackel had discovered this before then, but Crackel's work wasn't published until 1987. A link from Monticello: http://www.monticello.org/site/jeffe...eview-officers

Had the officer corp recovered by the War of 1812?

Last edited by newhandle; August 22nd, 2015 at 07:49 PM.
newhandle is offline  
Old August 22nd, 2015, 07:31 PM   #7

semperpietas's Avatar
Citizen
 
Joined: Jan 2015
From: Arkansas
Posts: 38
Blog Entries: 2

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tercios Espanoles View Post
Hull wasn't a holdover from the peacetime army. He hadn't held any military rank since the revolution. He had been Governor of the Michigan Territory and Indian Agent since 1805. When the new "Army of the Northwest" was formed in 1812, Hull was informed by William Eustis that Madison wished him to take command as Brigadier General. Hull refused, but later accepted when another officer chosen fell ill.

This is Winfield Scott's own description of the US Army officer corps just prior to the war:

"The army of that day, including its general staff, the three old and the nine new regiments, presented no pleasing aspect. The old officers had generally sunk into either sloth, ignorance, or habits of intemperate drinking... Many of the appointments were positively bad, and a majority of the remainder indifferent. Party spirit of that day knew no bounds, and of course was blind to policy. Federalists were almost entirely excluded from selection, though great numbers were eager for the field, and in New England and some other states there were but very few educated Republicans; hence the selections from those communities consisted mostly of coarse and ignorant men. In other states, where there was no lack of educated men in the dominant party, the appointments consisted generally of swaggerers, dependents, decayed gentlemen, and others 'fit for nothing else,' which always turned out utterly unfit for any military purposes whatsoever."
Thank you. I wrote Hull when I meant Dearborn. Most of the officer corps who were veterans or had military experience largely dated all the way back to the American Revolutionary War.
semperpietas is offline  
Old August 22nd, 2015, 07:39 PM   #8

semperpietas's Avatar
Citizen
 
Joined: Jan 2015
From: Arkansas
Posts: 38
Blog Entries: 2

Quote:
Originally Posted by newhandle View Post
The officer corp was purged of many Federalist officers by Jefferson in 1801. Meriwether Lewis, President Jefferson's secretary, was tasked with rating each and every officer, using 11 codes. The codes included their political leanings.

This was published in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society vol. 124, no. 2 in April 1980. Theodore Crackel had discovered this before then, but Crackel's work wasn't published until 1987. A link from Monticello: http://www.monticello.org/site/jeffe...eview-officers

Had the officer corp had recovered by the War of 1812?
Wouldn't surprise me in the least. The U.S. Army was so politically inudated that it even affected the adoption of a drill regulation set. The army had in 1811 adopted Colonel Alexander Smyth's Edition of the translation and abridgment of the French Reglement of 1791 as a drill manual for infantry use. Smyth was patronized by the initial American Secretary of War William Eustis. When Armstrong replaced Eustis, he instead preferred the drill manual of William Duane (who he patronized). It too was basically a translation of the French Reglement, but it was apparently very complex and many regular officers preferred Smyth's translation to Duane's. In the end, only four U.S Infantry Regiments used Duane's manual despite its official adoption in 1813, though Duane was more popular with militia regiments.
semperpietas is offline  
Old August 22nd, 2015, 09:53 PM   #9

Tercios Espanoles's Avatar
Gonfaloniere
 
Joined: Mar 2014
From: Beneath a cold sun, a grey sun, a Heretic sun...
Posts: 6,422
Blog Entries: 1

Quote:
Originally Posted by semperpietas View Post
I wrote Hull when I meant Dearborn.
Dearborn's career confuses me, but I don't think he can be considered a holdover from the peacetime army either. He was discharged from the Continental Army in 1783. Between the wars he holds the position of general of militia - which is to say, did nothing - served as secretary of war for several years before the war, then emerges as the senior US Army General in 1812 just prior to the war.

Anyone else smell some shady doings there?
Tercios Espanoles is offline  
Old August 23rd, 2015, 09:17 AM   #10
Historian
 
Joined: Jul 2011
Posts: 5,122

Van Rennselear was a lawyer and politician who inherited 800,000 acres of farm land, maybe the most valuable estate in the country. He was a militia general, but had little military experience or training. Hull was governor of the Michigan territory and had been an officer in the Revolutionary War.

What did they expect putting these guys in charge of invasion forces? Whose idea was it? Wasn't Madison responsible for the bad choices. Were they forced to make political appointments?

I understand that it takes a while during the war to find out who the effective generals are. However, why weren't experienced senior officers from the regular army put in charge?
betgo is offline  
Reply

  Historum > World History Forum > American History

Tags
1812, canada, commanders, incompetent, invasion



Thread Tools
Display Modes


Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
Why Wouldn't Militia Invade Canada in 1812? VM1138 American History 21 October 6th, 2014 06:57 PM
Did other countries than the US go through a series of incompetent commanders betgo War and Military History 13 April 5th, 2012 06:55 PM
Canada won the War of 1812, U.S. historian admits Corto Maltese American History 42 March 1st, 2012 03:38 AM
Invasion of Russia in 1812 - Provoked or not? jeroenrottgering European History 133 June 23rd, 2011 12:57 PM
What if Canada was conquered by the US in 1812? sylla1 Speculative History 7 October 16th, 2010 09:03 AM

Copyright © 2006-2013 Historum. All rights reserved.