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Chapter 35: Mr. Davis's Second report.

Mr. Davis opened his second report as Secretary of War (presented to Congress December 4, 1854), with the gratifying announcement that the difference between the authorized and actual strength of the army was fast disappearing under the operation of the law (passed at his urgent recommendation in August) “to increase the pay of the rank and file of the army and to encourage enlistments.” The actual strength was I, 745, against an authorized strength of 14,216.

After tersely describing the distribution of the force, he proceeded to report the military operations of the past year. The Seminole Indians still occupied Southern Florida, owing to the failure of all efforts by the Interior Department to dislodge them, but active measures had been taken to reduce them. By opening roads, by the use of boats adapted to the navigation of the lakes, swamps, and bayous, which had hitherto enabled the Indians to elude pursuit, the Department was acquiring an accurate knowledge of the country, [495] and by cutting off their trade was inspiring the Indians with a conviction of their inability to escape from, or resist the power of, the United States.

In other departments there had been repeated collisions between Indians and our troops — in Texas (with the Sioux), in New Mexico, on the Pacific coast, and on the Plains, showing the insufficiency of small posts, the deplorable inadequacy of our military force, and the absolute necessity of the increase which the Secretary had urgently recommended in his first report.

Presenting the statistics of the five military departments into which the territory of the United States was divided, the Secretary showed the inadequacy of the standing army, never exceeding I i,000 men, to protect a seaboard and foreign frontier of more than 10,000 miles, an Indian frontier and routes through the Indian country of more than 8,000 miles, and an Indian population of more than 400,000, of whom, probably one-half, or 40,000 warriors, are inimical, and only wait the opportunity to become active enemies.1 Again the Secretary urged an increase of [496] the small regular army. The progress of settlement involved a possibility of further collisions with the Indians; for, as our population pressed westward from the Missouri, it forced the savage tribes into narrower limits and an unproductive region, which not only enabled bands hitherto separate to combine for war, but provoked it by diminishing their ability to live by the precarious products of the chase. Recent experience of Indian war showed that an increase in our army would be a measure of economy. The cost of the war with the Sac and Fox Indians, in 1832, amounted to more than three millions of dollars; the definite appropriations for the suppression of Indian hostilities, from 1836 to 1841, inclusive, amounted to more than eighteen millions of dollars. Within the last few years large appropriations had been made for the same object in Texas, New Mexico, Utah, California, and Oregon. The aggregate of such appropriations for the last twenty-two years, independent of the regular army, was estimated at more than thirty millions of dollars, a sum sufficient to have maintained, during the whole period, the adequate military force asked for in his first report. This vast sum, also, was independent of the expenditure for property destroyed, compensation to the suffering inhabitants, and did [497] not include the destruction of private property, nor the losses consequent upon the interruption of agriculture and of the progress of settlement. If, in 1831, a small mounted force had been at the disposal of the War Department, the Black Hawk war might have been prevented; in 1836, if a few additional companies had been sent to Florida, the Seminole war would not have occurred.

The Secretary again earnestly urged the justice of increase in the compensation of the officers of the army, whose pay had been fixed more than forty years before, when money had a much higher value as measured by the price of food. He also advocated the proposal of additional legislation which should place the widows and orphans of the officers and soldiers of the army on an equality with the officers and soldiers of the navy.

In urging the increase of the army the Secretary wrote:

The Secretary is authorized to call out the militia to repel invasion and suppress insurrection. These are the emergencies for which it was deemed proper to confer upon the Executive the power to call citizens from their homes and ordinary avocations, and these are the great occasions on which they may be justly expected to make all the personal sacrifices which the safety of their country may [498] require. It is in this view that we habitually and securely look to the militia as our reliance for national defence. It was not the design of the Constitution and laws to enable the President to raise and maintain a standing army, and yet this would be the practical effect of a power at his discretion to call out the militia into service and employ them for the ordinary duty of preserving order in the Indian Territory. The abuse to which such a power, if it were possessed, would be subject sufficiently attests the wisdom of our forefathers in not conferring it, and must remove far from us any desire to possess it. If this view of the subject be correct, it follows that the Executive must look to the army, properly authorized by law to preserve peace among the Indian tribes, and to give that protection to pioneer settlements which interest, humanity, and duty alike demand.

He made a strong argument for a needed revision of our military legislation in regard to rank and command, as well as to organization, showing a thorough knowledge of the subject and a masterful grasp of the needs of the army as well as of the organization of the armies of Europe. As the suggestions for reform and the arguments in their favor would interest to-day only military students, I must content myself with a reference [499] to the original report (Report of the Secretary of War, 2d Session, 33d Congress, Ex. Doc., No. I, 1854). He called the attention of Congress to the condition of coast defences, to the needs of material modifications in the armament of troops owing to recent inventions, and reported the results of his inquiries into the systems used by the light troops of other countries; urged further legislation for the sale of useless military sites, a reform in the methods of sales of military reservations to prevent combinations among bidders against the interest of the Government; various improvements in the system of distributing military funds, and the progress of various public undertakings intrusted to the War Department, among them roads in the course of construction in Minnesota, the survey of the northern and northwestern lakes, the explorations and surveys for a transcontinental railroad, an exploration of the plains of Los Angeles and the waters of the bay of San Francisco, and to determine where there was a practical route for a railroad through the mountain passes of the Sierra Nevada and Coast range, which extend from the sea-coast to Point Conception, and the works connected with the Capitol extension and the water supply of Washington City. [500]

As in his first report, every operation or need of the army and of the War Department was presented with a lucidity of style and statement that made his official communications models of what State papers should be, and necessarily increased his reputation as a far-seeing and able Minister.

His care extended to the utmost parts of the United States. General George W. Jones, of Dubuque, Ia., says:

In 1853 or 1854, while I was in the Senate of the United States, Colonel Long of the Engineer Corps came to Dubuque to inspect the improvement of the harbor, under an appropriation I had procured.

He was applied to by Mr. Charles Gregoire, my wife's brother, for a change in its construction.

He declined to make the change asked for, but advised Mr. Gregoire to get me to ask the Secretary of War, Mr. Davis, to authorize the change in the survey.

Before I left home Mr. Gregoire came to me, and submitted to me the plans and maps of the harbor improvement. I took them with me, and showed them to Secretary Davis, who at once consented to the change, and hence is the city of Dubuque indebted to that Secretary for the present superior ice harbor, the very best on the river, anywhere [501] between St. Paul and New Orleans, that I know of.

The fortifications of Portland harbor perplexed him greatly, on account of the difficulty of finding a secure and permanent foundation for the forts.

1 During this year Lieutenant Gunnison, who was sent with an expedition across to Salt Lake, was waylaid by the Indians and murdered. His young wife recovered his mutilated remains. He was a brilliant officer,

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