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5th Quartermaster General

Mr. Samuel Hodgdon

Quartermaster General | March 1791 - April 1792

5th Quartermaster Commandant - Samuel HodgdonMr. Samuel Hodgdon was born in Boston on September 3, 1745, but after the Revolution settled in Philadelphia, where he became well known as a public official and business man. During the war he had held various posts. In 1776 he was a Lieutenant in the Marines. In 1777, while occupying the post of Captain of artillery, he was made principal field commissary of military stores, serving in both capacities under Brig. Gen. Henry Knox, who, fourteen years later, was Secretary of War when Hodgdon was appointed Quartermaster General.

Hodgdon apparently carried out the duties of field commissary satisfactorily, for in 1780, upon the recommendation of the Board of War, the Continental Congress appointed him deputy commissary general, and the next year promoted him to the post of commissary general of military stores. He also served as an assistant to the Quartermaster General, Thomas Pickering.

In the spring of 1783, when it became obvious that the war was finally drawing to a close and that both their departments faced eventual abolishment, Hodgdon and Pickering decided to enter business. On May 10 they formed a partnership as commission merchants under the name of "Pickering and Hodgdon." Though this lasted only five years, they were associated in various enterprises, including land speculation, over a much longer period. Pickering appears to have had a high regard for Hodgdon's business ability, for he named him as his agent to settle his Quartermaster General accounts.

The post of commissary general of military stores was abolished July 20, 1785, and Hodgdon was out of public office, but only temporarily. His old friend. Henry Knox, was named secretary of war and 1788 Hodgdon was back on his old job, though this time under the lesser title of commissary of military stores.

Hodgdon was nominated for the position of Quartermaster General by President Washington and confirmed by the Senate, becoming the first appointed by the president. He also was the first civilian to be named to the post. There had been no Quartermaster General for six years, that position and the Quartermaster Department had been abolished by Congress on July 25, 1785. On March 4, 1791, he became Quartermaster of the army being raised for General St. Clair's expedition into the Western frontier.

Hodgdon's lack of first-hand knowledge of the frontier was illustrated by the fact that the pack saddles he supplied from the East were too large to fit the smaller-sized horses of the western country. Moreover, the Quartermaster failed to provide bells or hobbles, seemingly unaware that unbelled and unhobbled animals, when turned out to graze on the frontier, would wander off and be lost. His inexperience with frontier conditions was further revealed by the fact that he procured fewer than a hundred axes, all of poor quality, and only one grindstone for an army proceeding into a wilderness where a road had to be cleared for the artillery and forts had to be erected.

In accepting his appointment, Hodgdon had promised to conduct the business of his office economically, and he did just that, but unfortunately his economy in the procurement of supplies was at the expense of quality. Many of the items he forwarded were obtained from the surplus stock of the Revolutionary War and were urgently in need of repair. Not only quality but quantity was lacking in the supplies forwarded.

Following the overwhelming defeat of his forces less than a month later, the expedition leader, General St. Clair, held Hodgdon largely responsible for the entire fiasco.A Congressional committee appointed to investigate St Clair's defeat admitted that Congress had delayed too long in passing the bill for the protection of the frontier and then had not allowed sufficient time for recruiting and disciplining an army for such an expedition. However, in its report on May 8, 1792, it laid the burden of blame for failure of the expedition upon "the delays consequent upon the gross and various mismanagements and neglects in the Quartermaster's and contractor's departments," and exonerated completely the commander-in-chief. Although at the request of Knox and Hodgdon the committee re-examined its report early the next year, it concluded that its original findings justified.

At that point the investigation took a strange turn, Congress voted down a motion to consider the Committee's findings, issued no official report and abruptly dropped the entire matter to the dismay of General St. Clair, who wanted to clear his name.

It was unjust to place upon Hodgdon such a large share of the blame for the failure of an expedition that was both ill planned and ill executed. Hodgdon was unwise the ways of the frontier, he carried his economy measures too far, and his long-delayed arrival camp was inexcusable, it is doubtful if the most efficient Quartermaster could have changed the final outcome in view of the untrained and undisciplined character of the troops on the expedition, the lack of judgment exhibited by St. Clair in pursuing a campaign so late in the season, and the crowning failure security measures, which permitted a surprise to overwhelm his force.

Hodgdon served as Quartermaster General until April 19, 1792. Hodgdon was replaced by James O'Hara as Quartermaster General under the new arrangements made to retrieve the prestige of the army on the frontier, and he resumed his old post in charge of military stores.

O'Hara respected Hodgdon's business ability, since he appointed him his deputy in charge of Quartermaster accounts at Philadelphia because of his industry and knowledge. Washington apparently did not lose faith in Hodgdon, as he reappointed him in 1794 under the new title of superintendent of military stores an office which he filled for many years and continued to hold until Jefferson was elected President in 1800. Thereafter he pursued a successful business career, which culminated in his selection to the presidency of a trust and insurance firm, the Pennsylvania Company, in 1813. He died in Philadelphia on June 9, 1824, at the age of seventy-eight.

This page was last updated on: December 13, 2023