In surveying the administrative machinery of the British army at the time of the American Revolution, it will be sufficient to examine the English establishment since the Irish establishment was modelled after it on a smaller scale.
According to the constitution, the sovereign could not maintain a standing army without the consent of parliament. Hence the British army had come to have a curious legal status. Technically it was disbanded at the end of each year. That is, for more than three-quarters of a century it had been customary to pass an annual Mutiny Act which not only regulated the execution of martial law but which legalized the existence of a standing army of specified numbers for the period of a year and no longer.1
At the head of the army stood the king as captain general of all the forces both naval and military. It was usual, however, for him to delegate his military powers, in part at least, to some distinguished general as captain general or commander-in-chief. Marlborough, Ormonde, and Cumberland had been thus honored. From 1772 to 1778 the office remained vacant, but from the latter year until 1782, Sir Jeffrey Amherst officiated as commander-in-chief with the title of General on the Staff. He was consulted regarding all important questions of military policy.2
Next in importance to the commander-in-chief was the secretary at war. An exposition of his functions at the outbreak of the Revolution would scarcely apply to him at all times, since exceptional conditions prevailed. Not only did Lord Barrington possess more ability than the average secretary, but owing to the absence of a regular commander-in-chief, he combined many of the duties of that office with his own.
The secretary held a commission from the crown under the sign manual. Therein he was bidden "to observe and follow such Orders and Directions as he should from Time to Time receive from the King or the General of the Forces" i.e., the commander-in-chief.3 Although previous to and during the American War he had usually been a member of parliament, he was rarely a member of the Privy Council and never, it would appear, of the cabinet. Not until after 1783 did he become a minister responsible to parliament. Previous to that date he was responsible to the crown alone.
The duties of the secretary at war were so manifold that only the more important will be referred to. He was charged with framing the articles of war, issued under the sign manual, with publication of the yearly army lists, and with preparation and presentation to the House of Commons of the Army Estimates and the Mutiny Act. To that body he likewise tendered the extraordinary accounts of the paymaster general. He issued royal orders for the payment of the army, supervised the pensioning of officers' widows, and was responsible for the examination of certain army amounts. Any person desiring to act as regimental agent must secure his consent. Regarding military affairs he carried on a considerable correspondence with general and field officers both at home and abroad, with the secretaries of state, and with the other departments. He furnished statistical information relative to the forces to the king, Privy Council, and parliament; and kept engineers' returns, hospital returns, and headquarters records of various kinds. He received petitions upon all sorts of subjects relating to the army; communicated to corps distinctive titles conferred upon them by the king, countersigned military commissions, orders, and warrants of one sort or another, under the sign manual; and exercised more or less control over promotions, appointments, resignations, desertions, exchanges, dismissals, leaves of absence, regimental successions, and the invaliding of soldiers. He furnished the king with special guard service, and sent muster masters upon tours of inspection. He ordered officers to repair to their posts, directed embarkations, issued orders for marching, drafting, recruiting, completing, raising, augmenting, and disbanding regiments. He had general supervision over military hospitals, courts-martial, and foreign troops in English pay. His duties were manifold and the range of his authority wide. The limits to his authority geographically were England and Scotland. Ireland possessed a separate establishment. The limits to his authority administratively were horse and foot. Artillery and engineers fell under the control of the master general of the ordnance, marines under that of the Admiralty, and the militia under that of the lord lieutenants of the counties.
The following example given by Clode, in his Military Forces of the Crown, admirably illustrates the functions of the secretary at war and his relations to other departments: "In 1758 Lieutenant General Bligh was selected to go on foreign service in command of a body of cavalry. Lord Barrington first wrote to him, by the command of the King, that he was appointed to that service. He then wrote to the Commissioners of the Treasury to tell them that five regiments of cavalry were to go on foreign service, that their lordships might give orders to the Victualling Board for a supply of bread and forage. He next sent orders to each regiment to hold themselves in readiness to embark. He then wrote to the Paymaster-General, signifying to him the King's pleasure, that he should issue subsistence to the men, and 12 months' off-reckonings to the Colonels; and, lastly to the Apothecary-General, desiring him to send immediately a supply of medicines for the expedition."4
In 1775 the personnel of the War Office, which was located in Whitehall, was as follows:5
The deputy secretary was responsible "for the execution of the detail of the office business"; and superintended the conduct of all the clerks, messengers, tradesmen, etc. There were ten or eleven clerks under him.
The two officials mentioned above transacted all the business relative to the pensions of the widows of army officers, except the actual payment of the money.
The examiner of army accounts superintended the examination and settlement of all the accounts of the army that came under the cognizance of the War Office. He was not considered subject to the directions of the deputy secretary but only of the secretary at war himself. His assistant besides examining the accounts estimated the sums to be issued on account for various services not borne on the regimental establishment, such as recruiting, extra feed, innkeepers' allowances, etc.
There were, in addition to the aforesaid departmental staff, a messenger, office-keeper, and "necessary woman."
The duties of the paymaster general are suggested by his title. He was the custodian of the moneys voted by parliament for the army, barring artillery and engineers. The office of ordnance, as will presently be shown, possessed its own treasurer and paymaster. In theory the paymaster general had no active control over the funds committed to his charge. He was not entitled to disburse them save on a warrant from the Treasury or the secretary at war.
The method of paying the army was, generally speaking, as follows: Each regiment possessed a civil agent, appointed by the colonel, with power of attorney to transact its financial affairs and under bond.6 At the time of the Revolution, there were no regimental paymasters in the strict sense of the word. The colonel was accustomed to appoint one of the officers to act in that capacity in addition to his other duties. In the payment of the regiment, therefore, the money passed from the paymaster generaI to the agent, from the agent to the regimental paymaster, thence to the captains, who in turn disbursed it to the men. Thus the captains accounted with the regimental paymaster, the regimental paymaster with the agent, the agent with the secretary at war. After the latter had satisfied himself as to the correctness of the agent's accounts through the examiner of army accounts and given the agent a certificate to that effect, the agent was at liberty to close the account with the paymaster general.7
The paymaster general, however, did not confine his attention solely to the paying of the army. He dealt with a great variety of expenditures, ranging from the cost of erecting a new garrison coal yard to subsidies to foreign princes. He also assisted the secretary at war in drawing up the army estimates, arranged with brokers for bills of exchange for the payment of troops abroad, appointed the clothier for the invalids under directions from the Treasury, acted as one of the commissioners of Chelsea Hospital, and was consulted about sundry military matters. His accounts were yearly submitted to parliament by the secretary at war who by subscribing them acknowledged a joint responsibility.
As is well known, the office of paymaster general was extremely lucrative, since its incumbent was accustomed to deduct by way of fees heavy percentages from the moneys which he disbursed. Rosebery in his Life of Chatham terms it "that opulent subordinate office." The paymasters were notoriously corrupt. Everyone recalls how Henry Fox used the public moneys entrusted to him in buying votes and how Richard Rigby, who held the office during the Revolution, barely escaped impeachment for his peculations. In 1781 the department was investigated by a parliamentary commission. It was found that the paymaster was accustomed to submit to the Treasury an estimate of the sums required for the service of the army, and that the Treasury without scrutinizing the necessity or accuracy of the demands was accustomed to pay the money to him. In this way he was able to accumulate large balances from which he calmly pocketed the interest. It was discovered that the yearly balance on his hands amounted to £586,000 and the average monthly to £869,000. Furthermore, on quitting office the paymaster was suffered to retain the use of the balances until his accounts had been finally passed, which was a matter requiring considerable trouble and delay. Thus he enjoyed the use of the public moneys several years after he had ceased to hold office. For example, Henry Fox resigned office in 1765 but by 1780 his accounts were still unaudited. He was thus enabled for fifteen years to draw an income of £25,000 a year from moneys which were not his.8
Organization of the Paymaster General's Office in 1775.9
Deputy Paymaster General - Anthony Sawyer. Accountant - John Powell.
Computer of Off-reckonings - Charles Bembridge.
Cashier of Half Pay - Robert Randall.
Keeper of the Stores - P. Burrell.
These officers (with the exception of John Powell), assisted by eight clerks, constituted the home pay office. There were eight subordinate paymasters abroad: viz.,
Nova Scotia - G. J. Williams
New York - T. Barrow
Quebec - John Powell
Montreal - Thomas Boone
Minorca - Robert Digby
Louisburg - Peter Elwin
Boston - J. Garnier
The master general of the ordnance was chief of the department of that name. Its business was amphibious in character, pertaining both to the army and the navy. It had charge of arms, ammunition, ordnance, tents, bedding, wagons, the erection of barracks, fortifications, hospitals, and magazines. It provided military prisons, regulated the inspection of arms and accoutrements, was charged with the repair of the royal observatory at Greenwich and the preparation of maps for military purposes. It enjoyed complete control, even to the exclusion of the secretary at war, over artillery, engineers, sappers, pontoonists, and artificers. The master general enjoyed supreme control over the department. He was assisted by a board of five principal officers holding letters patent under the great seal; to wit, the lieutenant general, the clerk of the ordnance, the principal store-keeper, the clerk of the deliveries, and the treasurer-paymaster.10 All warrants from the king, Privy Council, secretaries of state, or (in sea affairs) the board of Admiralty, were directed not to the board but to the master general; and the board carried them into execution pursuant to his orders. It was in fact subordinate to him in every respect except one. He could not order the issue of any money without a debenture signed by three members. If he did not interpose, however, the board was competent to carry on all official business, could make contracts, and direct issue of money and stores. During the absence of the master general or the vacancy of his office, the whole executive power devolved upon it.11
The board commonly met three times a week in winter and twice a week in summer at the Ordnance Office in Westminster. Three officers constituted a quorum. While the master general and the lieutenant general seldom failed to be present, some of the other officers took alternate months of attendance.12
The master general and the board acted in military affairs in response only to orders from the king, Privy Council, or secretaries of state. They could issue no stores, arms, ammunition, or other matériel, nor so much as add a storekeeper to their force of employees, without a proper warrant from one of the above sources. The board was extremely punctilious about such matters. It insisted, furthermore, that no orders for issues should be transmitted to it without previous consultation regarding their nature and amount.13
No department of army administration was so jealous of its prerogatives as the board of ordnance. To other branches of the service it often seemed "obnoxious and obstructive" and to its own employees painfully dilatory. The chief authority on the history of the royal artillery furnishes several homely illustrations of this: "A company in the Bahamas was ordered to be in readiness to return to England, and no clothing was sent to it for the year 1784, as the Board promised to make immediate arrangements for its transport; but 1784 passed, and also 1785, and then 1786, and no transport was forthcoming, nor was any clothing for these three years...A fence happened to require repairs in front of the barracks, and its dangerous state was repeatedly pointed out by the Commandant. But not until years had passed and an officer had killed his horse, and broken his own collar-bone, did any steps occur to the Board to remedy it. Even then, while they were brooding, accidents continued, coming to a climax one night, when the Chaplain in walking home fell in and broke the principal ligament of his leg...A temporary chapel existed in the Warren and...in 1783 the Chaplain applied for a 'cushion & furniture for the pulpit, a surplice, Bible & prayer books, and a few hassocks, those in use having been purchased in 1753.' After waiting patiently for four years, the Chaplain again sent in a demand, stating that it was impossible to use the old ones any longer."14
Excepting the lieutenant general, each of the principal officers had a separate and distinct branch of business committed to his charge.15 The lieutenant general "acted as a sort of adjutant to the Master General, who looked to him for all information connected with the various trains of artillery at the Tower & elsewhere."
The surveyor general, or master surveyor as he was called in his patent, examined the quantity and quality of all stores received into the storehouses and magazines of the department, took "remains," and noted issues and receipts.
The clerk of the ordnance, who was a kind of bookkeeper, recorded and preserved all the vouchers and instruments relative to the proceedings of the department, kept accounts of all the cash and stores belonging thereto, and drew up the annual estimates for parliament and the monthly estimates for the Treasury.
The principal storekeeper was the custodian of the ordnance stores received into and issued out of the Tower.
The clerk of the deliveries superintended and kept an account of the issues of the stores and ordnance. His duties are best illustrated by indicating the process of issuing ordnance stores. When the board proposed to make an issue of stores, it directed the clerk to prepare what was known as a "proportion." This was an instrument, signed by three members of the board, directed to a storekeeper, authorizing him to issue certain stores specified therein. The clerk of the deliveries delivered this warrant to the storekeeper, and on receiving the stores in question, consigned them to the person charged with their receipt. If they consisted of arms or ammunition, he caused the recipient to sign an indent whereby the latter agreed to render an account of them.
The functions of the treasurer-paymaster are implied in his title. He had "to find heavy personal securities" and was "one of the most important officers" of the board.
In addition to the aforesaid officials there were a host of minor functionaries such as clerks of the foundry, recorders, counsels to the ordnance, and "astronomical observators." Moreover, to each important garrison town was assigned a storekeeper, clerk of the survey, and clerk of the check, performing on a smaller scale no doubt the respective duties of the five principal officers.
The personnel of the ordnance department in 1775 was as follows:16
As assistants to the above officers there were some eight clerks.
It should be added that Woolwich Military Academy, established in 1741, also came within the province of the office of ordnance. The purpose of the academy being to train men for the artillery and engineering services, instruction was chiefly devoted to fortification and mathematics. There were, however, classes in arithmetic, writing, French, the classics, drawing, dancing, and fencing. Dr. Pollock was at this time professor of fortification and artillery, while the famous mathematician, Charles Hutton, taught mathematics. The direction of the institution was in the hands of a governor, lieutenant governor, and inspector.
No description of the administration of the army would be complete without reference to the judge advocate general, the apothecary general, and the comptrollers of army accounts.
The judge advocate general was appointed by letters patent under the great seal wherein he was commanded to follow the orders of the king and the commander-in-chief. The foundation of all proceedings by general court-martial was a warrant from the crown countersigned by a secretary of state and "addressed to the Judge Advocate General for the trial of persons at home and to general officers on colonial or foreign stations for the trial of persons abroad." In the first class of cases, the trials were held in the great room of the Horse Guards and the judge advocate general or his deputy attended, sometimes as prosecutor for the crown or the commander-in-chief but more frequently, it seems, as a legal assessor, to observe the proceedings, to ascertain that justice was done to the prisoner, and to assist the court. In the second class of cases, the proceedings were sent home to him for examination. In either instance the judge advocate submitted the sentences with his opinion thereon to the sovereign for confirmation or rejection. He thus acted as a legal adviser to the crown in matters pertaining to military law. He also acted in the same capacity for the commander-in-chief. It was sometimes necessary for the latter to arraign officers or soldiers for offences against the rules and regulations of the army. For him "to suffer a legal defeat" at the hands of a subordinate would have led to an undermining of all military authority. It was consequently of the highest importance for him to have an adviser learned in military law to counsel him and in case of an arraignment to frame the charges so as to obviate the chances of any "possible miscarriage on mere technical or legal grounds." The judge advocate also acted as secretary and legal adviser to the board of general officers as will be indicated later. He had chambers in the Horse Guards. During the American War the post was held by Charles Gould, afterwards known as Sir Charles Gould-Morgan.17
The apothecary general, like the judge advocate general, was a noncombatant officer holding his office by appointment under the sign manual. Under directions from the secretary at war, he supplied the army with medicines, hospital stores, surgical instruments, and the like. Semi-annually he presented a bill to the Treasury, having previously submitted it for approval to the surgeon and physician generals and to the secretary at war, who certified that the medicines specified had been forwarded to their respective destinations.18 During the Revolution the apothecary general was George Garnier.19
The comptrollers of army amounts were two in number. They were appointed under the great seal, and acted under the orders of the Treasury. They were assisted by a staff consisting of a secretary, four clerks, an officekeeper, and a messenger. The secretary likewise acted as secretary to the clothing board. Meeting once a week, the comptrollers audited practically all accounts relating to the army, examined the accounts for subsistence of foreign troops and of moneys paid under treaties with foreign princes, and scrutinized the pay rolls with an eye to frauds and abuses. They also arranged contracts for bread, wood, straw, and provisions for the use of troops on home service. During the greater part of the American Revolution, the comptrollers were Henry Bunbury and Thomas Bowlby and the secretary, Thomas Fauquier.20
In addition to the various officials above-mentioned there were a number of boards concerned with army administration. Regarding the Treasury and Admiralty boards, little need be said at this point, since their connection with the forces will become evident in subsequent chapters. It will be sufficient to state that the former provided the army with food, horses, blankets, camp necessaries, and certain articles of clothing while the latter furnished convoys, controlled the marines, and directed the work of the navy, victualling, and medical boards, whose functions will presently be explained.
One of the most important bodies dealing with the administration of the army was the board of general officers, which was selected by the king to advise him, the commander-in-chief, and the secretary at war upon sundry military questions. It was composed of some thirty members, five of whom constituted a quorum.21 The eldest member present acted as president while the judge advocate general served as secretary, notifying members regarding meetings and reporting those absent, who in cases of flagrant neglect were liable to the royal displeasure. The board, which assembled in the great room of the Horse Guards, did not sit regularly but only as often as the king required. Its opinions, signed by all present affirmative as well as negative, were transmitted to the secretary at war, who laid them before the king. Until approved by a sign manual warrant they possessed no validity.22 According to the patent creating it, the board was "to hear, examine, and determine all such information and complaints as should be brought before them by the King, the Captain-General of the Forces, or the Secretary at War, as well touching the ranks of all Regiments as the dates of all Commissions, and of the misbehaviour or misdemeanor of any Officer, Half-pay Officer, or Soldier, or of any abuses which were or should be committed in anywise relating to the Forces, to redress Grievances, irregularities, and other ill practices that had been or should be committed amongst them, and to refer all such matters as they should think proper to Court Martial, etc., and the said General Officers are to make such observations as may be necessary in the course of their proceedings of anything that may occur to them which will tend to the advantage of the Service;..."23
Another board, which was chosen annually by the board of general officers and which was subject to the orders of the king, the commander-in-chief, and the Treasury, was the clothing board. It consisted of from fifteen to twenty general officers, three of whom constituted a quorum. Its business was to inspect and seal patterns of army clothing. At the first yearly meeting it inspected and sealed patterns for all regiments then on the establishment, excepting the artillery and engineers, whose clothing was regulated by the ordnance department. In case additional regiments were subsequently raised, it met again to perform the same service for them. It possessed no authority to make contracts for clothing - a matter for which the colonels and regimental agents were responsible - but it was charged with the duty of examining and approving such contracts and of inspecting the clothing thereby provided. In case of disputes with the contractors regarding the quality of clothing, the board and the contractors each chose a referee, and if the referees failed to agree, they (the referees) chose an umpire whose decision was final. The board possessed a president and permanent secretary, who was also secretary to the comptrollers of army accounts. Assisted by several clerks, he made entries of the assignments and accounts and probably kept the minutes.24
Mention should likewise be made of the board of commissioners of Chelsea Hospital. This institution, founded by Charles II in 1682, might be called the old soldiers' home of the British army. Originally intended to accommodate all pensioned soldiers, it was soon found to be too small owing to the increasing size of the army. The question then arose as to who should have the privilege of residing there. Naturally the choice fell upon the oldest and most infirm pensioners. These so-called in-pensioners were boarded and lodged with an allowance of 8d. per week as pocket money. The out- pensioners were granted £7 12s. 6d. a year in lieu of residence at the hospital. The institution itself was maintained by a tax levied upon the pay of the army and by parliamentary supplies. The board of commissioners by which it was governed was appointed by the crown, and consisted of the president of the council, the first lord of the Treasury, the secretaries of state, the paymaster general, the comptrollers of army accounts, and the governor and lieutenant governor of the hospital. The commissioners acted under instructions issued from time to time by the crown in the form of royal warrants under the sign manual. As a rule they met monthly in the hospital chambers in Whitehall. Besides regulating the affairs of the hospital, they determined the eligibility of soldiers recommended to the Chelsea Pension. In this they were guided largely by their own judgment, since no fixed regulations regarding the qualifications necessary to secure the pension were issued by the crown until 1783. The personnel of the hospital, besides the in-pensioners, consisted of a staff of doctors and numerous household servants.25
In addition to the aforesaid boards, there were three others which were incidentally concerned with the army. These were the navy board, the victualling board, and the board of sick and wounded seamen (later known as the medical board), each of which was subordinate to the Admiralty. The first provided transports for troops and clothing; the second stocked the transports with provisions; and the third controlled some of the military prisons.26
Such in outline was the administrative system - if one may call it a system - of the British army. It was characterized by overlapping, duplication, and decentralization of authority. "What a hopeless organization for war," exclaims Fortescue. If the lack of efficiency was painfully evident when the various boards and departments were called upon to administer the affairs of a small army in time of peace, the reader can imagine the situation when they were obliged to manage the business of several armies in time of war, operating at a distance of three thousand miles in the vast and sparsely settled provinces of America. No doubt the clumsy and antiquated machinery of army administration in London was partly responsible for the failure of British arms in the American Revolution.
1Maitland, Constitutional History, pp. 328-329, 447-448.
2Fortescue, IV, 80. The commander-in-chief held his appointment under the great seal. See also W.O. 1:616, passim; Cal. H.O. Papers, II, No. 379; Correspondence of Geo. III with Lord North, passim.
3W.O. 25:37, p. 1. Complete text given in appendix to this chapter.
5Court and City Register, 1775.
6H. B. Thompson, Military Forces of Great Britain, pp. 172-173.
7Clode, II, Ch. XXIII.
8See the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 9th Reports of Commissioners of Accounts in 38-39 Commons Journal. Cf. Belcher, I, 286; Fortescue, III, 511.
9Court and City Register, 1775.
10Cal. H.O. Papers, I, no. 670, 1160; III, no. 1621.
1140 Commons Journal, p. 113; Farrow, Military Encyclopedia, "Ordnance."
1221st Report, Finance Committee, 1797, p. 429.
13Cal. H.O. Papers, 1773-1775, passim. For example of a royal sign manual order to the board, see the appendix to this chapter.
14Duncan, History of R. A., II, 11. Cf. ibid., I, 335.
1512th Report of Commissioners of Acts, 40 Commons Journal, pp. 113-114; Duncan, History of R. A., I, 17-19.
16Court and City Register, 1775.
17Clode, II, Ch. XXVII; 36th Report, Finance Committee, 1798; Court and City Register, 1775-1783.
18Cal. Treas. Bks., 1742-1745, p. 319; 19th Report, Finance Committee, 1797, pp. 372, 374.
19Court and City Register, 1775-1783. Garnier seems to have performed the duties of the office through two deputies, John Truesdale and Joseph Partridge. T. 29:45, p. 394.
2019th and 22d Reports, Finance Committee, 1798; Report on Land Forces, 1746; Report on Army Extras, 1778; W.O. 25:37 (warrant of appointment); Court and City Register, 1775-1783.
21Clode, II, 724.
22Simes, Military Guide, I, 344.
23Clode, I, 724.
24W.O. 7:27, passim; 35th Report, Finance Committee, 1797-1798, p. 669; Clode, I, 107-108.
2534th Report, Finance Committee, 1798; Clode, II, 540-544; Court and City Register, 1775-1783.
2617th, 32d, and 33d Reports, Finance Committee, 1797-1798; Admiralty: Minutes of Navy, Victualling, and Medical Boards. These boards are sometimes referred to as the navy commissioners, victualling commissioners, and commissioners of sick and wounded seamen.