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Chapter 37: Fourth report

Mr. Davis's fourth annual report was presented to Congress December I, 1856.

The actual strength of the army was 15,-- 562. During the year an expedition had been sent to the Indian districts of Minnesota; the Indian difficulties on the Plains had ended, except with the Cheyennes; in Texas and New Mexico Indian outbreaks had been unfrequent, but in Florida the efforts of the Department had been unavailing to effect the removal of the Seminole Indians. General Harney had been sent with a force to protect the citizens of Florida from their ravages.

The Secretary recommended a revision of the policy of locating small military posts in advance of settlement, now that civilization had passed the line of general fertility.

“Assuming,” he wrote) “that the limits of the fertile regions have been sufficiently well ascertained, and that future operations should be made to conform to the character of the country, the true interests of the public service would seem to suggest that instead of dispersing [512] the troops, to form small garrisons at numerous posts where they exhibit weakness to a savage foe. Within the fertile regions a few points accessible by steam-boats or by railways should be maintained, from which strong detachments should annually be sent out into the Indian country during the season when the grass will suffice for the support of the cavalry horses and beasts of draught and burden. These detachments would be available both to hunt and chastise those tribes who had committed depredations, or by passing along the main routes to California, and Oregon and Washington Territories, give the needful protection to emigrants during the season of their transit. Experience has shown that small posts are nearly powerless beyond their own limits. Some of the most flagrant depredations on parties in the vicinity of such military posts, and their inability to pursue and punish the offenders, has tended to bring into disrepute the power and energy of the United States, whose citizens were the victims of predatory attacks. Indeed it is quite supposable that these posts, being fixed points in the routes of the emigrants, afford the Indians the opportunity of observing each train which passes, and thus enable them to determine upon future operations.” Again, with increased and impressive emphasis, the [513] Secretary renewed his plea for increased pay of the army.

More than the usual number of resignations within the past year give evidence of a defective organization, of a policy injurious to professional pride, and of the necessity of increased compensation. While the hard service and frontier stations of the officers of the army require of them sacrifices which no other officers of the Government are called upon to make, the expense of living has been greatly augmented, and their pay is nearly the same as that which was fixed more than fifty years ago. There is surely no economy in a practice which must in the end drive the more active and intellectual from a service which they adorn and in which their country specially requires them, to seek a competent support in some other pursuits. As little does it accord with the spirit of generosity or justice to ask at their hands the sacrifice which so many of them make to professional pride and habitual love for their country's service and their country's flag.

Though special acts have, from time to time, made provisions for the widows and orphans of officers and soldiers of the army who have lost their lives in the discharge of their duty, no such general provisions have been made for the army as those which subsist [514] in relation to the widows of officers and seamen in the navy. If there was ever a just ground for this discrimination it is believed that it no longer exists. While the army has no claim to be paid by its Government for the capture of the public property of an enemy, large sums have from time to time inured to the Government from that source, and the policy which encourages to deeds of daring in naval warfare, by the assurance that the brave sailor who falls in maintaining the honor of his country's flag, leaves in his Government a protector and guardian to the family deprived of his support, is, certainly, in principle and degree, applicable to the soldier who perils his life in the same cause, and, without chance of being enriched by pillage, incurs the hazard of leaving his wife and children to want. I would, therefore, again recommend that such legislation be asked as will place the widows and orphans of officers and soldiers of the army on the same footing, with respect to pensions, as those of the officers and seamen of the navy.

I have brought forward so often the necessity of provision by which disabled officers should be retired from active service that I would be deterred from again repeating it, but for the conviction that it is indispensable to the efficiency of the army, and that each [515] year but renders greater the urgency to the public service resulting from the want of the measures hitherto recommended.

Again, also, he renewed his recommendations for other army reforms, as to staff and regimental officers, the fraudulent enlistment of minors, the need of improved armament for new fortifications, and the propriety and necessity of supplying the militia with only the best and most effective arms.

He recommended a greater concentration of the operation of the Ordnance Department as far as respected arsenals of construction.

“To confine such work to four principal arsenals, one at the North, one at the South of the Atlantic States, and a third in the West, on the Mississippi, at a point convenient to transportation of its product to that river, and a fourth on the Pacific coast, will secure the advantages of greater uniformity and economy in constructing, and at the same time afford practical instruction to the officers and men in all the various duties of this branch of the military service.”

The Secretary made laudatory record of the commission of three military officers whom he had sent to Europe during the war between Russia, France, and England, to collect information that might be useful in our own service. [516]

The work on the military roads in the various Territories had made gratifying progress during the year, as also the surveys of the Northwestern lakes. The progress made in the transcontinental surveys had also been satisfactory, and a brief summary of its work was presented.

The arrival of thirty-two camels in the country since the Secretary's last report was noted, and their acclimation in Texas. “The very intelligent officer who was sent abroad to procure them, and who has remained in charge of them, expresses entire confidence both of their great value for purposes of transportation and of their adaptation to the climate of a large portion of the United States.”

The construction of the Capitol extension had advanced during the preceding year as rapidly as the supply of marble would permit; and equal progress, under similar difficulties, had been made in the construction of the General Post-Office Building.

During the year the territory of Kansas had been the theatre of a desultory war between the emigrants from the North and the South. Mr. Davis thus referred to it:

Since my last report the unhappy condition of affairs in the Territory of Kansas has caused the troops stationed there to be diverted from the campaign in which it was designed [517] to employ them, against the Cheyenne Indians, and devolved upon them the delicate and most ungracious task of intervening to suppress insurrectionary movements by citizens of the United States against the organized government of the Territory. To maintain the supremacy of law, and to sustain the regularly constituted authorities of the Government, they were compelled to take the field against those whom it is their habit to regard not only with feelings of kindness but with protective care. Energy tempered with forbearance and firmness, directed by more than ordinary judgment, has enabled them to check civil strife, and to restore order and tranquillity without shedding one drop of blood. In aid of the civil authorities they have arrested violators of the peace, have expelled lawless bands from the country, and regularly guarding its borders have met and disarmed hordes of men, organized, armed, and equipped, and advancing for aggressive invasion; 1 while the actual use of their uniforms has been reserved until donned against the common enemies of the United States.

1 This clause of the report shows how strong a prejudice the Secretary of War felt against any coercion of States or Territories by the army of the United States.

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