FORT LEE, Va. (April 15, 2010)- For more than four decades during the last century, Maj. Gen. Thomas Sidney Jesup served as the quartermaster general of the Army. Known as the “Father of the Quartermaster Corps,” he was also a man of unshakable character and integrity. He had a habit of doing the right thing because it was the right thing to do.
As a brand new lieutenant in 1809, Jesup was appointed brigade quartermaster on the Mississippi frontier, under the command of Brig. Gen. James Wilkinson. Wilkinson had a somewhat unsavory reputation. And it was perhaps inevitable that the principled young lieutenant would eventually clash with his rather unscrupulous commander. That’s exactly what happened in the summer of 1811.
While stationed at a cantonment in Baton Rouge, La., Jesup got permission from Secretary of War William Eustis to come to Washington to settle his quartermaster accounts. However, by the time he actually arrived in the nation’s capitol months later, Jesup was informed by a War Department accountant that he would be personally charged for an item that should have been charged to Wilkerson.
The sum in question only amounted to $79. Still, Jesup was incensed. Why should a junior officer be forced to pay for a senior officer’s wasteful excesses – even if the latter happened to be a commanding general? Knowing this to be unfair, he referred the matter directly to the secretary of war. Eustis must have been impressed with Jesup’s logic, tenacity and fundamental honesty, for he quickly sided in his favor.
Years later, when Jesup was appointed quartermaster general of the Army, he drafted a code of conduct for the quartermaster department that adhered to the highest standard of integrity and accountability. Until the day he died – some 42 years later – he encouraged others, through precept and example, to follow those same high standards.