ADJUTANTS. From the time of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714), the adjutants in the British army began to assume more important duties at both the regimental level and higher up the chain of command. The regimental adjutant was an all-purpose staff officer who managed the unit's paperwork and served in the field as a principal assistant to the regimental major, who was the operations officer. On higher staffs the adjutant stayed at the general's elbow and saw that orders were properly recorded and transmitted through the aides de camp; he was also charged with the supervision of outposts and with security. The adjutants "not only controlled the personnel administration of the units, but much of their prestige was attributable to the fact that they were the staff officers through whom most of the general orders were issued" (Hittle, p. 138). Armies had only one adjutant-general at a time; the officer holding the comparable post in other major field commands was known as a deputy adjutant-general, and his immediate subordinate would be an assistant deputy adjutant-general.
As part of his preparations for the 1776 campaign, Sir William Howe appointed Lieutenant Colonel James Paterson of the Sixty-third Regiment as the first full adjutant general of British forces in North America, at Halifax on 18 April 1776. Paterson superceded, in rank and scope of authority, Major Stephen Kemble, who had acted as deputy adjutant-general of British forces in North America since 7 August 1772. But Kemble continued to superintend the paperwork of the army massing for the expedition against New York City (including for a time its German mercenaries). Sir Henry Clinton named his aide, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Rawdon-Hastings, as adjutant-general of the British army at New York on 15 June 1778. Kemble, whose only sister, Margaret, married Major General Thomas Gage, had served with the army at Boston and remained as deputy adjutant-general under Howe and his successor, Sir Henry Clinton, until 23 October 1779. Kemble was succeeded as deputy adjutant-general by Captain John André, Clinton's aide, now promoted to major, who had been running the British spy networks around New York City. André performed so well during the Charleston Campaign in the summer of 1780 that Clinton promoted him after returning to New York. Clinton also left in André's hands the responsibility of continuing to negotiate with Benedict Arnold. Adjutant General Baurmeister of the Hessian forces left the valuable Journals so often cited in accounts of the Revolution.
The Continental Army adopted the British staff system. Washington appointed Horatio Gates, the army's senior brigadier general, as its first adjutant-general on 17 June 1775, an indication of the importance the commander-in-chief attached to the post. Gates had experience in the British army as a staff officer, and he began the herculean task of bringing order to the army's paperwork, including gathering vital information about how many soldiers were present with the main army, how many were absent on other military or support missions, and how many were sick or otherwise unable to perform any military duty. When Gates stepped down in March 1776, he was succeeded by Colonel Joseph Reed, Washington's former military secretary and an important Patriot leader in Pennsylvania in his own right, who served through the 1776 campaign. Colonel Timothy Pickering of Massachusetts was adjutant-general for most of the 1777 campaign, and was followed by Alexander Scammell, colonel of the Third New Hampshire Regiment. Brigadier General Edward Hand of Pennsylvania was adjutantgeneral for the last three years of the war.
Hittle, J. D. The Military Staff, Its History and Development. 3rd ed. Harrisburg, Penn.: Stackpole Books, 1961.
revised by Harold E. Selesky