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Short Rounds

Paying Jacob Brown, 1820

In 1820 the senior-most officer in the U.S. Army was Major General Jacob Brown. Born in Pennsylvania in 1775, Brown had been raised as a Quaker. In 1790 he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and became a teacher. Eight years later he relocated to upstate New York. Despite his Quaker background, Brown became active in the militia while developing various business interests.

By the outbreak of the War of 1812, Brown had grown rich and had also risen to brigadier general in the New York militia. Unlike most militia officers, he was attentive to his duties and knew them as well as any regular. Initially called to active duty as a militia officer, he proved extremely effective in the field, organizing the defense of the Great Lakes region, and defeated a British amphibious attack on Sackett's Harbor (May 29, 1813), where he displayed a knack for getting the most out of often unreliable militiamen. As a reward for his excellent service, on July 19, 1813, Brown was commissioned a brigadier general in the Regular Army. He next commanded a brigade in the Northern Army, operating against Montreal with some success. But the campaign, under the overall command of the inept and pusillanimous Maj. Gen. James Wilkinson was a failure. As Brown was, in the words of one historian, the only “general who had emerged from the Canadian operations with an enhanced reputation,” he was promoted to major general on January 24, 1814, and given command of Wilkinson’s army, which in fact numbered only some 3,000-3,500 troops (this was a war fought with small forces). Rather than make another stab at Montreal, Brown focused his attention on the Niagara area. There, in July he undertook an offensive, capturing Fort Erie on Lake Ontario (July 3rd) and then advanced to defeat the British at Chippewa (July 5th), where a young brigadier named Winfield Scott made a notably impressive assault. But in the bloody clash at Lundy's Lane (July 25th), he was twice wounded. With Scott also wounded, the battle, although a draw, essentially put an end to the American drive into Canada. By mid-September all of Brown’s gains had been lost

Despite the reverse, on November 3, 1814, Congress passed a special resolution to honor Brown and his troops.

That the thanks of Congress be, and they are hereby, presented to Major-General BROWN, and, through him, to the officers and men of the Regular Army and of the militia under his command, for their gallantry and good conduct in the successive battles of Chippewa, Niagara, and Erie, in Upper Canada, in which British veteran troops were beaten and repulsed by equal or inferior numbers: and that the President of the United States be requested to cause a gold medal to be struck emblematical of these triumphs and presented to Major-General BROWN.

In the aftermath of the war, Brown emerged as the senior-most officer in the army. Naturally, this exalted rank and status “commanded” excellent pay and perquisites. In 1820, Brown’s compensaton from Uncle Sam can be summariezed as

Pay $2,400
Allowances c. 3,500 Subsistence, quarters, forage,
& fuel allowances
Travel c. 400 As incurred

Now this was a lot of money. Using the Consumer Price Index, Brown’s $2,400 a year base pay is only a little more than $43,800. But the CPI is notoriously unreliable when comparing the value of money over such a long period. It’s based on a “shopping basket” of standard goodies, and frankly much of what folks spent their money on back in 1820, like food and clothing, is today comparatively cheap. A better measure is the “Unskilled Wage Scale,” that is, a comparison based on what might be termed the “minimum wage” of the times. On that basis, Brown’s base pay would be equal to about $586,000 today, a heck of a difference.

In addition, as the senior officer in the army, Brown was permitted to have a small staff of four soldiers who served as secretaries, orderlies, and servants, plus officers as aides-de-camp. The four soldier-servants each received a sergeant’s annual pay, $163, for a total of $652 a year, plus their basic subsistence and quarters allowances. The aides, whose rank varied depending upon whom the general appointed, received their base pay plus the usual allowances for quarters, forage, subsistence, and fuel, and also a daily bonus of $1.00 plus one extra ration

In 1821 Congress promoted Brown to “Commanding General,” with command authority. Working with Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, and with strong support from most of the senior Regulars, Brown began to institute some badly needed reforms, and even appointed a commission to consider how best to restructure the militia, but political opposition and deteriorating health prevented any serious progress. Brown died on active duty on February 24, l828.

FootNote: Those interested in the career of Maj. Gen. Brown are advised to read Sword of the Border: Major General Jacob Jennings Brown, 1775-1828 by John D. Morris (Kent, Oh.: Kent State University Press, 2000)

 

". . . The Prime Minister Would Like to See You"

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Christmas of 1941 was a grim one in Washington, as all across the country,

Nevertheless, as well as various members of the Roosevelt family, the White House was hosting Winston Churchill and a number of other British dignitaries, and the President’s advisor and general factotum Harry Hopkins and his family, who were actually virtually permanent residents of the executive mansion.

Now Hopkins had a nine year old daughter, Diana.

Very late on Christmas Eve, when pretty much everyone had gone to bed, one of her parents knocked at the door of Diana Hopkins’ room and said, “Diana, the Prime Minister would like to see you.”

Rather frightened, she made her way to Churchill’s quarters.

When she was introduced to Churchill’s room, the Prime Minister, sitting up in bed in his dressing gown explained that he had summoned her because he was “a lonely grandfather who needs a little girl to hug” on Christmas Eve.

 

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