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MILITARY COMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES.
Examination of Major General Winfield Scott, of the U. S. Army, on
the subject of its reorganization.
WEDNESDAY, January 3, 1854.
Question by Mr. Faulkner, chairman of the committee: What, in your opinion, should be the strength of the army of the United States at this time, in view of our extensive seaboard and foreign frontier; our present and prospective relations with the Indian tribes of the West, and the protection due to our several routes of emigration ?
Answer. The increase in the strength of the army, as provided for in the bill submitted by the War Department, now under consideration by the committee, I deem highly necessary. The bill proposes that there shall be two additional regiments of infantry and two of cavalry. This is, I consider, the minimum force that is essential to be added to the army to protect the frontiers against the hostilities of Indians, the present force on the frontiers being entirely inadequate for that purpose. In Texas, the Indian hostilities have been more destructive than at other points, principally on account of the small force stationed in that country. The troops are constantly engaged in encounters with hostile Indians, and the loss of men, when successful, is always in the inverse ratio of our inferior numbers.
Hence the proposed increase, simply in reference to Indian frontiers, seems to be dictated by considerations both of policy and humanity, in order that adequate protection may be afforded to our border inhabitants without a useless sacrifice of our brave detachments.
The increase proposed, of two regiments of infantry and two of cavalry, organized like the present forces, and characterized by the like zeal and activity, would, in my opinion, give reasonable protection to our frontiers and overland immigrants.
Question by Mr. Faulkner: Is the proposed increase essential to the present exigencies of the country, without any reference to the probabilities of a foreign war?
Answer. This addition has no reference to war with any foreign power. If such event were anticipated, it is presumed that ten or fifteen times as many regiments would be called for.
Question by Mr. Faulkner: How many companies are there at present on the seacoast of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico?
Answer. But twelve—two of which are at Boston ; none east of Boston ; two at New York; none between Boston and New York; two at Old Point Comfort ; two at Charleston ; none on the Savannah ; one at Pensacola ; one at Key West; and none at New Orleans.
Question by Mr. Faulkner: By the bill now before me the artillery has been reduced two regiments. Is it the idea, by this reduction, to confine that corps to duties on the seaboard ?
Answer. The Secretary of War, after a full conference, has allowed me humbly to suggest to the committee (and neither presumes on
more than a suggestion) that that part of the original bill contemplating a reduction in the present artillery be struck out, or that the artillery be left as it is. I would here remark, that it is not intended to withdraw any of the forces from the frontiers until the latter shall be tranquilled. The original bill recommended by the Secretary, provided for four additional regiments of infantry. This number, it is suggested, may be reduced to two if the artillery remain as at present.
Question by Mr. Faulkner: What number of privates and noncommissioned officers should constitute a company in a regiment ?
Answer. The Secretary of War and myself are agreed in suggesting the advantages of a sliding scale, placing it at the discretion of the President to increase and diminish the number of privates in a company to any number between sixty-four and one hundred, according to the varying exigencies of the service.
In the cavalry no more than sixty-four privates to a company, fit for duty and actually present, are necessary; and it is not to be presumed that the President would authorize the increase of a company of cavalry more beyond the minimum than to provide for unavoidable cases of absence. This sliding scale might vary the number of the rank and file a little more than 33 per cent.
One difficulty which this suggestion would obviate is this : We can never bring the numbers per company and consequently not those of the army) up to the full extent. If, for instance, the legal complement be ten thousand men, we can never have on the muster and pay rolls more than eight thousand five hundred. If the legal establishment be limited to twelve thousand men, ten thousand would probably be our nearest approach, and so on.
Under the law, we never can recruit up to the maximum, from the fear that we may exceed it. On any given day the government must always be months behind in its knowledge of the deaths and desertions which have occurred at all the distant posts, and with detachments of recruits in route to join those posts. As we cannot assume an average number of casualties in advance, for they vary exceedingly, we are obliged to fall considerably below in order not to exceed the law by a single man. Hence, under the proposed augmentation and the discretion given to the President, the establishment might be set down at 19,000 privates; yet, for the reasons mentioned, we should never have on the pay-rolls at the same time more than 15,500, and present, fit for duty, 14,800.
A sliding scale, from 64 to 100 privates in a company, qualified to apply only to companies on remote frontiers, has existed since the beginning of General Taylor's administration. We, army officers, are fully persuaded that a similar provision, applicable to all companies, is equally needed, and I cannot foresee any danger of abuse from the grant of the power.
Question by Mr. Faulkner: Does the increase of regiments, as proposed, make any improper increase in the number of officers?
Answer. The bill takes twenty-eight captains from the Quartermaster's department, eight from the Adjutant General's department, and eight from the Subsistence department; it reduces all the captains
and lieutenants in the ordnance and topographical corps, which makes it necessary to transfer these officers to other regiments, which would make no increase of the personnel, but would merely change designations.
Question by Mr. Faulkner: What policy dictates the taking of these officers you have mentioned from the corps stated?
Answer. In the army list, under the head of Quartermaster's department twenty-eight captains, and under the head of Adjutant General's department eight captains, and in the Subsistence department eight other captains, are permanently designated as assistants. Many of these officers are peculiarly adapted for the duties appertaining to their positions respectively; but a few not. Those unfitted for their present positions may be admirably adapted to other duties, whilst other officers belonging to regiments may be just the persons, in point of peculiar adaptation, to fill staff positions. The bill, therefore, by destroying the permanency of such designations, gives a choice amongst the whole army for selections and interchanges according to the development of peculiar talents and accomplishments.
These changes of officers meet generally with the approbation of the army. There are many topographical engineers who would, under the bill, be transferred to the corps of engineers, and these, it is presumed, would be content; whilst there are captains and lieutenants of ordnance, as well as of topographical engineers, who would dislike very much a transfer to the artillery or infantry. Some would abhor it. I do not, however, particularly blame them for accidental preferences; but no reform can be effected without offending interests as well as prejudices. I do not admit that a transfer, in any case, could be called a sacrifice. The topographical engineers was, at first, an anomaly. There ought to be but the corps of engineers. The cause for creating the topographical corps was, we wanted additional officers for surveys, for river and harbor improvements, &c., &c., on which they have been employed with great benefit to the country. The engineers proper were then all employed in the construction of permanent fortifications. Now, the engineers proper, like the topographical engineers, are alike employed on these civil works. There is, then, no necessity for two corps. I do not think there is any particular hardship in transferring captains and lieutenants from one branch of the service into another, according to adaptation. All corps in the army are alike respectable. Juniors of the artillery may, among themselves, imagine that the artillery is more respectable than the infantry, for example; or the ordnance officers, that they are better than their brothers of the artillery, &c.; but seniors always parentally rebuke all disparagements of corps and arms of service. Hence we say all are alike useful, respectable, and honorable, and that there is no violation of honor or right in transfers called for by the good of the service. Some staff officers may be afraid they may be sent to distant and disagreeable posts; hence they dislike the contemplated reorganization. The power should nevertheless exist, to send any officer anywhere required by the good of the service. We should have the power of selecting the men who are best qualified for particular duties, from the whole army. All power, no doubt, is liable to abuse;
and this power as little as any. The grounds are small for apprehending mischief. The army, generally, will be glad of the change, and hope it may be made.
Question by Mr. Faulkner: Why do you propose to confine the details for ordnance officers to the artillery ?
Answer. At West Point the graduates who have the highest distinction are generally placed in the engineers, the next in the ordnance, the next in the topographical engineers, and the next in the artillery. None but high graduates are placed in the latter. The ordnance is a scientific corps, and so is the artillery, so that by confining details to the artillery you are sure to get a good ordnance officer. Let it not be understood, however, that all high graduates of the academy prefer the corps in the order mentioned. Some of the finest intellects of that school are now in the infantry—placed in it because they did not excel in particular branches of study-mathematics, mechanical philosophy, &c. One of my aid-de-camps, an infantry officer, was one of the best scholars of his day; but his forte was not the exact sciences.
Question by Mr. Faulkner: What is your opinion of the increase of brigadiers general, provided for by the bill?
Answer. I think they are needed. The considerations which have suggested an increase are these: We have five geographical military departments for the convenience of command, inspections, &c. The country on the Pacific, including Utah, is one; New Mexico the second ; Texas is the third; the country not embraced in those departments, and west of the Mississippi, is the fourth ; and all on this side of the Mississippi is the fifth. The idea is to have a brigadier general for each of those geographical departments; one for the Quartermaster's department, (which would, no doubt, be as at present;) to make the Adjutant General a brigadier general, his rank at present being that of colonel. It is very proper that he should be a brigadier general. The other two the War Department wishes to make inspectors general—not having any direct command of troops, but to make the tour of all the military posts once a year, which would be as much as they could do. They would observe defects, Fants, &c., and report promptly upon them. The bill provides, in addition to the foregoing, for a brigadier general of engineers. These brigadiers are highly necessary to the good of the service. It will be better executed with the increase. Two full regiments have always constituted a brigade in the regular service. With the proposed inerease, the army would consist of nine brigades and a half, besides the engineers. Taking into consideration the proposed distribution of the brigadiers, and supposing each to be constantly in health, the number would be rather below the wants of the service.
Question by Mr. Faulkner: What is your opinion as to the number of Assistant Adjutants General, as contained in the original bill submitted by the department?
Answer. 'I satisfied the Secretary of War that eight Assistant Adjutants General were actually necessary for the exigencies of the service, and he authorized me to suggest to the committee the substitution of eight instead of the seven in the original bill.
Answer. In the army list, under the head of Quartermaster's department twenty-eight captains, and under the head of Adjutant General's department eight captains, and in the Subsistence department eight other captains, are permanently designated as assistants. Many of these officers are peculiarly adapted for the
duties appertaining to their positions respectively; but a few not. Those unfitted for their present positions may be admirably adapted to other duties, whilst other officers belonging to regiments may be just the
persons, in point of peculiar adaptation, to fill staff positions. The bill, therefore, by destroying the permanency of such designations, gives a choice amongst the whole army for selections and interchanges according to the development of peculiar talents and accomplishments.