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First Army Chief of Ordnance Defends Separate Ordnance Department in a Very Modern Essay against Military Waste, with two related documents
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The Idea that an Army shall be entitled to receive whatever may be called for, is monstrous, and is what the Resources of no Nation can support.

Colonel Wadsworth provides a lengthy critique of a Senate bill to combine the Ordnance and Artillery departments. He insists on the need to maintain uniformity in arms manufacture and the necessity to control the flow of supplies. Many of his arguments about the tendency to waste in military expenditures resonate with modern critiques.

DECIUS WADSWORTH. Autograph Document Signed, critique of Senate bill to combine Ordnance and Artillery departments, ca. 1821. 7 pp., 8½ x 12½ in.
[with] DECIUS WADSWORTH, Autograph Document Signed, proposal regarding Ordnance Department, ca. 1821. 3 pp., 8 x 10 in. #23067.04
[with] [JAMES MADISON]. An act for the better regulation of the Ordnance Department, passed by Congress, February 8, 1815, signed in type by President James Madison, Speaker of the House Langdon Cheves, and Senate President pro tem John Gaillard. 2 pp., 7⅞ x 9⅝ in.

Inventory #23067.03       Price: $1,000

Excerpts from Wadsworth’s 1821 Critique of Senate Bill:

I am entirely opposed to this Plan … This Department, on its present Footing, is a powerful Engine to control and check the extravagant Issues and wasteful Expenditures of Stores by the Army… The Controul exercised over the Army by this Department… gives umbrage to the officers, because they have never been accustomed to any thing of the kind, yet it is essentially necessary that this Controul be preserved.” (p1)

Each succeeding Secretary of War, entered into Office with new Plans in view in Relation to the artillery and arms … the first Step usually was to abolish as far as was practicable what had been done by his Predecessors. He seldom remained long enough in office to bring his Plans to Maturity, and what he had commenced remained to be overthrown by his Successor. For about thirty years we have been employed in Relation to our artillery in doing and undoing, incurring endless Expences to little or no Purpose.” (p2)

Heavy Guns of large Calibers have some Advantages over the lighter, by producing more powerful Effects. They have also their Disadvantages, in impeding the rapid Movements of an Army and retarding its operations. There is Room for the Exercise of a sound Discretion and deliberate Judgment aided by Study and Experience, in deciding upon the Calibers best adapted to the general Purposes of Service … It was never expected by me at least, that the Secretary of War should interfere in these Details after the Institution of an Ordnance Department, the chief of which, according to my Ideas, should be held responsible to the Nation… for the Efficiency of the Means provided under his Direction for the national Defence.” (p3)

The great Mass of an Army consists of Men of such Dispositions that if they obtain more than they actually need of military supplies the Surplus will be wasted. Besides, whatever is redundant tends directly to impede the Movements of an Army and obstruct its operations, and will be abandoned without much scruple.” (p5)

The Idea that an Army shall be entitled to receive whatever may be called for, is monstrous, and is what the Resources of no Nation can support.” (p6)

Decius Wadsworth (1768-1821) was born in Connecticut and graduated from Yale University in 1785. President George Washington appointed him as a captain in the Artillerist and Engineer Corps in 1794. Promoted to major in 1800, he supervised the rebuilding of Fort Nelson in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1802 and served as acting Superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy from 1803 to 1805. In 1812, he became the first Commissary General (later Chief) for the newly formed United States Army Ordnance Department. In 1817, he developed a cipher system based on a design by Thomas Jefferson that was improved and used until the end of World War II. Wadsworth resigned due to illness in June 1821.

Historical Background

Just before the War of 1812 began, Congress organized the Ordnance Department as a distinct branch of the Army. Colonel Decius Wadsworth became the first Commissary General of Ordnance.

During the War of 1812, Wadsworth streamlined the management of ordnance materiel and drew on the best West Point graduates to staff the armories at Springfield and Harpers Ferry and the growing number of arsenals. They conducted industrial experiments in metallurgy, chemistry, and allied engineering fields, which encouraged technological innovations. On February 15, 1815, Congress passed and President James Madison signed An Act for the better regulation of the Ordnance Department, which staffed the department more fully with 44 officers and as many men as the Colonel deemed necessary. The Department standardized weapons and rationalized the procurement and delivery of ordnance and related materials.

On March 2, 1821, despite Wadsworth’s objections, President James Monroe signed An Act to reduce and fix the military peace establishment of the United States, which merged the Ordnance Department into the Artillery Department. (In April 1832, the separate department was reestablished.)

Excerpts From second part of Wadsworth’s proposal, suggesting an alternative section to a Congressional bill to merge Ordnance into the Artillery Department:

the following … will be better as obviating much Dispute and Uncertainty respecting the Duties Functions and Prerogatives of the Ordnance Department…

Sec 2. And be it further enacted, That the Corps of Ordnance shall be retained in Service, on the same Footing as is provided by the Act of Congress of the 8. Feby 1815, reducing the Number of its Officers to 1. Colonel 1 Lieut Colonel one Major 6 Captains 6 first 6 second and 6 third Lieutenants” (p1)

It is important to have it distinctly understood and expressed that the Act of Feby 8 1815 shall remain unrepealed, and that any changes made at present extend no further than to reduce the Numbers of the Officers or Men. The Reason is that the principal Duties of the Ordnance Department are stated and defined by the said Act of Feby 1815, and Authority is vested in the Colonel of Ordnance to make Purchases and Contracts under the Direction of the Secretary of War, and the Chief of the Department was intended by that Act to be made responsible for the Administration of the Department. By repealing that Act his Responsibility would cease” (p3)

Excerpt from the 1815 Act:

it shall be the duty of the colonel of the ordnance department to direct the inspection and proving of all pieces of ordnance, cannon balls, shot, shells, small arms, and sidearms, and equipments, procured for the use of the armies of the United States; and to direct the construction of all cannon and carriages, and every implement and apparatus for ordnance, and all ammunition wagons, travelling forges, and artificers’ wagons; the inspection and proving of powder, and the preparation of all kinds of ammunition and ordnance stores. And it shall also be the duty of the colonel, or senior officer of the ordnance department, to make all estimates, and, under the direction of the secretary for the department of war, to make contracts and purchases, for procuring the necessary supplies of arms, equipments, ordnance, and ordnance stores … That to ensure system and uniformity in the different public armories, they are hereby placed under the direction of the ordnance department.


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