George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General John Sullivan, 5 July 1777

From Major General John Sullivan

Pompton [N.Y.] July 5th 1777

My Dear General

I do myself The Honor to Inclose your Excellencey a Letter from Doctor Cochran to me with a Copy of my answer; as the Doctors Letter was founded on the Complaint I Sent yr Excellencey I Esteem it my Duty to make it known to your Excellencey1—when Complaints are made to me I must Take notice of them, or I must not; if the former is the Case I must Insist upon his Letters being an Insult of the most Dangerous Tendency—if the Latter is the Case I Should be glad to know it that I may know how to Conduct in future The Complaint of Hazen & Hall was made to me Early when my Division was on the march, I had neither Time or Authority to appoint a Court I at their request wrote yr Excellency Supposing proper order would be given & the Sick which we were then Sending a Second Time would be properly taken care of. if Such an Insult of This kind is to be Suffered by a Major General for attending to & forwarding the Complaint of Two field officers Commanding Regiments I Should wish to Resign my Commission that I may not by an Inconsiderate Act Disgrace the Rank of Myself & other General officers—I would not Trouble your Excellency with this matter did it not appear to me a matter of Importance to others as well as myself—Since my arrival from New England I agreed to meet an officer of Inferiour Rank at a Time & place he was pleased to appoint for doing what he upon the Spot Acknowledged was Strictly my Duty for this I was Blamed by officers of my own Rank & I Expect as they Said That the Subalterns & Sergeants will never call me to Account for Disapproving their Conduct. I am by no means an Enemy to Duels & most Sincerely wish that Congress had Incouraged Instead of prohibiting them but it is a Question well worth Consideration; Whether if I forward a Complaint against a Surgeon of the General Hospital I must fight all the Sons of Esculapius in Camp or bear their Insults. If this is to be the Case I wish to be Dismissed from the Business of my office that I may have the more Liesure on hand for the purpose & Stand in Such a Line as may not Disgrace myself or others Nor be Accused of Establishing a precedent in our Army unknown in others & which would Effectually destroy all Distinction of Rank & Superiority in Commission, I am Exceeding Easy what Steps Mr Cochran may Think proper to pursue or any others that think themselves Injured by My Conduct I am always prepared to Defend myself against personal Attack but I think this an Insult of Such a kind as Deserves a publick Decision. I Therefore Take the freedom to apply to Your Excellencey for that purpose. Dr General I have the Honor to be with much Respect your Excellenceys most obedient Servant

Jno. Sullivan


1The enclosed letters between Sullivan and Dr. John Cochran, the physician and surgeon general of the army in the middle department, concern Cochran’s treatment of some of the sick troops from the regiments of colonels Moses Hazen and Josias Carvel Hall. It is unclear exactly when the matter originated, but on 3 July 1777 Cochran wrote Sullivan that “your Letter of Complaint to General Washington, against the Surgeons of the Genl Hospital is now before me. You charge us with detaining a Number of Sick, belonging to Collo. Hazens Regiment, of refusing to receive them into the Hospital, and of sending them away at nine oClock at Night through the Rain. Whoever gave you this Information is a Stranger to Truth, and it would have been well, had you examined a little more particularly into the State of this Matter, before you had lodged your Complaint; At half an Hour after seven oClock on Sunday Night there came from Collo. Hazens Regiment 25 Sick to be admitted into the Hospital, there was no Return sent with them, nor hand I any Place to accommodate them in, at that unseasonable Hour, and had I not returned them to their Regiment, where I presume they had Tents, they must have lain in the open Feild and perished.

“I ordered the person who came with them, to bring them back in the Morning, with a proper Return signed by the Surgeon and I would procure Waggons to transport them to the General Hospital. They were not returned to me till late the next Evening, when I ordered the person who had the Charge of them to carry them to a Barn over the Mountain which I had occupied for the purpose of an Hospital the Men suffered from being sent at that late Hour, especially as it rained at Times, and the Evening was very damp.

“The Sick of Collo. Hazens and Coll Halls Regiments were recieved, into the Genl Hospital Yesterday, without an orderly Man or Woman sent with them, tho there is a general Order for a proportionable Number of Women from the different Regiments to attend the Sick, when sent to the Hospitals at Black River and Mendham. You may acquaint the Gentlemen Collonels of your Division that I will receive no Sick into the Hospital, without a proper Return of the Mens Names, their Regiments; Companies and Divisions; this is agreeable to General Orders, my Instructions from Congress, the Director General and certainly agreeable to common Sense.

“The Men of Coll Halls regiment were not refused Admittance into the Hospital, by a certain Doctor Draper, as you set forth, because there were no orderly Men sent with them; the Doctor only requested the Serjeant who came with them to see them to the Hospital which he refused, and replied he would be damd if he did. You have pointed out to his Excellency the Regulations of Congress, respecting the Hospital Department and say from such Proceedure, little Benefit has been derived to the Army. I know not what your Ideas of Benefit may be, but give me Leave to assure you that I have received into the Hospital 1100 Sick from the different Regiments since my Arrival in Camp and have disposed of them in such a Manner as I have been directed, and I can aver they have been properly taken Care of.

“You say the Surgeons have no Medicine, or proper places to take care of the Sick. The Surgeon to Collo: Hazens Regiment was at the Opening of the Campaign furnished with as complete a Medicine Chest, as ever was sent into the Feild, and he like an attentive good Officer left it behind him this Morning in the Feild. I picked it up, and sent it to the Hospital Tents, having no Waggon to bring it on, I hope you will take proper Notice of this Neglect and let the Offender be brought to Justice. Sick Men may be taken Care of in Tents untill they can be conveyed to Hospitals, if proper Attention is paid to them by their Officers or Surgeons.

“I am sorry to inform you that your whole Charge is without Foundation, and you must, either have been imposed on yourself or your Intentions must have militated, against the Reputation of Gentlemen who, I flatter myself, have paid as much Attention to the Duty, of their Department, as any Set of Men in the Army: I would not even except a Major General.

“I must insist that you will write to his Excellency, withdraw your Charge, unsay every Thing you have said, or I will take the necessary Steps to do myself, and the Gentlemen under my Direction that Justice every honest Man has a Right to expect” (DLC:GW).

Sullivan’s reply to Cochran, written at Pompton, N.J., on 5 July 1777, reads: “Your letter of yesterday was delivered me last night; at the contents of which I am much surprized; You say that my letter of complaint against the surgeons of the Hospital is before you & that whoever gave me the information is a stranger to truth & that it would have been well for me to have examined into the matter before I lodged the complaint: If you even read my letter you must have seen that I began it by saying that Cols: Hazen & Hall complained &c. &c. I related the substance of their complaint & added not a word of my own; Except what was founded on that complaint: As for yr advice respecting an Enquiry into the matter before I forwarded the complaint I never once thought it my duty to appoint a Court of enquiry to find out whether I ought to believe the complaint of two field officers, before I sent forward the complaint to the Commander in chief & as I am convinc’d it is no part of my duty I wou’d not wish you to interfere in my department in future, by giving me advice; as I think I know my duty much better than yr Self—I know of no Authority I have to enquire into the truth of complaints ’tis enough for me to hear them & then forward them to Hd Quarters that a proper court may be instituted to enquire into the matter. You say that I pointed out to his Excellency the regulation of congress & observe that little benefit is derived to the army from that procedure; there is no such thing in my letter: I say that we (meaning my own division of which I was then speaking) can derive little benefit from the procedure, if so many well men are to be call’d on to attend the sick: I have not been with the rest of the army & know nothing of their situation nor of the advantages they derived from yr care. It is true I said the regimental Surgeons were not properly furnish’d with medicines or places for the sick; This is undobtedly a fact in General whatever may be the particular case of Col. Hazen’s regiment or Surgeon I was too well acquainted with the resolutions of Congress to charge this as a fault to the surgeons of the G: Hosp⟨ital⟩ nor is there anything in my letter that looks like it. You say my charge is without foundation & that I must either have been imposed on myself or my design must have militated against gentlemen, who have paid as much attention to the duty of their department as any sett of men in the army not even excepting a Major General: When I began my letter by mentioning the complainants it is very surprizing that you shoud suppose I had an intention to injure the reputation of the surgeons of the Genl Hospital. nor Can I conceive that a charge made against one of them is to affect the whole: I woud & shou’d be very sorry if it did for some of them stand very high in my esteem & I believe will never give just cause for a charge against them; While others may be liable to censure. If I am the Major General you alluded to in yr comparison, I must tell you that you or they have not yet had it in your power to serve the American cause either in or out of the field, so much as myself. this is a fact known to Whole Colonies in America and your running the Parralell only shews yr ignorance of the fact you speak of. You insist upon my writing to His Excellency; withdrawing the charge & unsaying everything I have said or you will take the necessary steps to do yr self & the Gentlemen under yr direction Justice: As to unsaying anything I have said or withdrawing the charge depend upon it I will not; If what you say afterward is intended as a threat I assure you Sir that it is so long since I have learnt to despise threats & threatners that I shall take no farther notice of it than to inform you that Dr Cochran or any other Persons who think themselves injur’d by me cannot find me at any time unprepared to defend myself or punish any insult that may be Offer’d me. I am exceeding sorry to say that yr letter is calculated to insult me for doing what I know is my duty. I am therefore determined to know whether an Officer in your Station can be countenanced in insulting an Officer in my Station for handing forward a complaint to his Excellency made to me by two field Officers: I never before knew or even thought that Surgeons of the General Hospital were not as liable to be complain’d off as others & even if those complaints were groundless that they shou’d take the same means of redress after tryall as other Officers I promise you that whenever a complaint is made to me against them I shall not think their Persons or Character too Sacred to bring them to Tryall & to punish them if properly condemned: Upon the whole I think the good of the service wou’d be So materially injur’d if I did not take proper notice of this surprizing procedure that I hold my self obliged to take the most effectual means of fixing the proper line between Officers & their Power in the several departments: In the mean time I wou’d not wish to prevent you from pursuing any steps you may have in view: Whatever they may be ’tis impossible they can give the least Trouble to Yr Hum: Servt . . . P:S: Whether there is any foundation for the complaints made, you will soon know” (DLC:GW). At Sullivan’s direction a court of inquiry on 6 July investigated the hospital’s treatment of the sick (see Sullivan to GW, 10 July 1777).

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