JOHN ARMSTRONG, JR.: WAR OF 1812
Later blamed for the capture and burning of Washington, Armstrong urges
measures to strengthen the defenses of New York City.
Manuscript Letter signed: "John Armstrong", 1p, 7½x9½. Headquarters, New York,
1812 October 13. To Major General Henry Dearborn, Commanding at Green Bush
(N.Y.). In full: "The Government having reason to believe that an
attack on this place is meditated by the enemy & having given their orders
accordingly, it becomes necessary that Major Bomford should return as early as
possible to his post near this City. Let me request an order from you to this
effect. I have the honor to be, General, with great respect, Your most Obedient
Servant". JOHN ARMSTRONG, JR. (1758-1843) fought with distinction in
the Revolutionary War and, along with his father, represented Pennsylvania in
the Continental Congress (1787-1788). He was US Minister to France
(1803-1810). When a new war with Britain broke out in 1812, Armstrong
was commissioned a Brigadier General and charged with the defense of New York
City. In that capacity, he signed this letter requesting the redeployment of
ordnance and seacoast fortification expert Major Bomford to help strengthen the
City's defenses. Later that year, President Madison dismissed William Eustis and
named John Armstrong his successor as Secretary of War. Armstrong is
credited with measures which improved discipline and morale in the American
army, but his tendency to issue orders to subordinate commanders without regard
to the chain of command angered both President Madison and many generals. (He
earned a Presidential reprimand for appointing Andrew Jackson to a
command.) When British forces seized and burned Washington, D.C. in 1814,
Armstrong was blamed for this debacle, as he had waited until the last minute to
mobilize local militia for the city's defense. He was dismissed from office and
replaced by one of his chief critics, future President James Monroe. HENRY
DEARBORN (1751-1829) was another capable Revolutionary War officer who
proved overmatched in the War of 1812. In the intervening years, he had
served in Congress (1793-1797) and as President Jefferson's Secretary of War.
Commissioned a Major General in 1812, charged with defending the northern
frontier from British attack, Dearborn proved a reluctant combatant, slow to
organize defense, inept in organizing forces (including Armstrong's) for an
invasion of Canada, and even the signatory of an unauthorized cease-fire
agreement with the Governor General of Canada. President Madison eventually
accepted his request to resign. Dearborn later served as Minister to Portugal.
GEORGE BOMFORD (1780-1840) was assigned to the Army Corps of Engineers
upon his graduation from West Point (1805). For the next three years, he
assisted in construction of New York's harbor defenses. Unlike Armstrong and
Dearborn, he emerged from the War of 1812 with his reputation enhanced, with the
rank of Lieutenant Colonel. One of his contributions was design of an effective
new heavy cannon, known as a Columbiad. He rose to head the army's ordnance
department by 1832. Closely trimmed at left and right edges, which have been
strengthened with an inlay. The inlay at left edge obscures docketing on verso.
Otherwise, fine condition.
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BRIGADIER GENERAL JOHN ARMSTRONG JR.
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