Regarding the Teaching of Artillery & Engineering Principles at West Point

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CollectionMassachusetts Historical Society: John Adams Papers view image
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Date October 8, 1796
Author Name James McHenry (primary) Location: War Office
Recipient Name George Washington (primary)
Summary Refers to incident at West Point which resulted in a court of inquiry for the commandant and the resignation of a subordinate officer; McHenry notes the trouble to which he has gone to conciliate the various parties. Apparently matters involves the suitability of the commandant to instruct other officers in gunnery and fortification, and whether this should even be a requirement of the office. Discusses pros and cons of plan for training companies of artillerists and engineers there, then sending these companies out to their parent regiments to train the rest. Lays out proposal for the augmentation of garrisons, the precise training of officers and instructors, and the dissemination of their knowledge to the greater body of the troops.
Document Format Letterbook Copy
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Content Notes [not available]
Related Persons/Groups George Washington; James McHenry; garrison; commandant; Captain Wadsworth; Lieutenant Colonel Rochefontaine; officers; instructor; Colonel Mentges; professor; artillerist; corps; engineers; ;
Related Places War Office; West Point; seaboard; forts; France; Governor's Island; Mud Island; Baltimore; Norfolk; Charleston; ;
Keywords materials; court of inquiry; annex letters; scientific knowledge; practical knowledge; discipline; gunnery; fortification; principal school; level of improvement; expense; exchanges; transportation; works; theory; practice; teaching; regulations; artillery schools; mathematics; geometery; statical mechanics; design; rotation; written report; examination; ;
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6

W. Hawkins appears to me to possess the necessary feelings and character for such a mission if he will undertake it, and should you approve may be spoken to on the subject.-


War Office October 8, 1796.

Sir,
The situation of the garrison at West point has for some time past attracted a considerable share of my attention. I had scarcely entered upon the duties of my office before I discovered those materials that soon after gave occasion to the Court of enquiry upon the Commandant and produced the resignation of Captain Wadsworth, a very valuable Officer, which followed that event. You will perceive in the annexed letters from and to that gentleman and Lt Col Rochefontaine an evidence of the anxiety which I have experienced, and the mild means that I have employed to conciliate parties and restore harmony to the Corps.
It may be said, generally speaking, that the Officers at West point are of opinion that the Commandant does not possess a sufficiency of scientific or practical knowledge in his profession to enable him to be of much use to them as an Instructor. This is a painful insinuation that I am unwilling to admit. I have however so far regarded it as to send Colonel Mentges to inspect and muster the men, and report the actual state of discipline and improvement, and I am sorry to add that there is but too much correspondence between his opinions and theirs.
Ought this coincidence in Opinion to fix the charge of ignorance in his profession upon the Commandant. May not his Officers have viewed him through the medium of an inveterate prejudice and Colonel Mentges formed his judgment upon too slight observations? Perhaps too, it ought not to be expected, that the head of a Corps should act the part of a professor or give lectures to his Officers on the principles of
--Ereeves 18:02, 3 February 2012 (EST)
7 151

of Gunnery and Fortification. Be this as it may, it is at least to be acquitted that he has not been happy enough to satisfy them or the Inspector that he understands the pratical part of the Artillerist.
What can be done in this situation of things, that may restore to the Commandant, the confidence of the Officers which he has lost, and at the same time, not retard this improvement?
To separate the Corps into parts or to detach from West point, Companies to garrison the most important forts on the Sea Board is perhaps the most expedient to accomplish both purposes.
By an arrangement of this kind the principal school might still be at West point, from which plave and instructed company couls be sent to relieve of Company less instructed, till the whole by that means, were brought to the same level of improvement. Agreeably also to his plan the Corps might be united at particular times to acquire or to practice what could not be so well practised or acquired in a State of disjunction.
One objection to such an arangement as this is, the expence the public will incur in making these exchanges. I would submit, however, whether this expence of transportation will not be more than countervailed by the immediate satisfaction it would produce in the Corps, and the saving to be derived from the detachments improving or keeping those works in repair which have drawn considerable obligations from the United States to erect, and which if neglected must fall into ruin. Further this would put our most important harbours more out of the reach of Insult than they are at present.
But to give a certain degree of perfection to the Corps; or to enable the Officers to become skillful Artillerists and Engineers, it may be necessary, in addition to furnishing them with proper Masters, that rules should be laid down relative to their instruction in the theory and practice. As yet there is no System for either, and of course every thing must tend to confusion. The hours for teaching the
--Ereeves 06:14, 13 February 2012 (EST)