George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Officers of the 4th Continental Light Dragoon Regiment, 15 August 1777

To Officers of the 4th Continental Light Dragoon Regiment

Camp at the Cross Roads [Pa.] Augt 15. 1777.


In answer to your respective Letters without date, but presented to me yesterday, you will please to be inform’d

First, that the pay of the Horse Officers was fixed in December last, and at the same Rates now existing.

Secondly, that I am not conscious of ever having said, or done any thing that coud lead to a belief, that the Rank of a Lieutt of Horse was to be equal to a Captain of foot, for the obvious reasons, that neither justice, or usage, would authorise it.

How it came to pass then, that you shoud conceive yourselves entitled to the Rank and pay of such Officer is neither my business, nor Inclination to enquire into—this however I shall add. That if your respective application’s to resign, is the effect of hasty resolutions, you may take till to morrow to reconsider & recall your Letters. But if on the other hand you shd then be in the same Mind, I shall be ready to receive your Commissions if they have been deliver’d, or give dismissions if they have not.

Your Wishes to resign at such a period as this (after time is allowed for reconsideration) will be sufficient evidence with me, that it is a disinclination to the Service, & not the mere disappointment of Rank and pay, that Causes it; and therefore, it may be unnecessary for me to add, that any future application from either of you to get into the Continental Service will be improper, &, as far as it is in my power to make it so, unavailing. I am Gentn Yr Most Obt Sert

Go: Washington

ADfS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. In the bottom left-hand corner of the draft GW wrote: “To Lieutts Bird, Dorsey, Craig Moore and Gray, of Colo. Moylans light Dragoons.”

The recipients of this letter, five lieutenants in Colo. Stephen Moylan’s 4th Continental Light Dragoon Regiment, William Bird, John Craig, Richard Dorsey, George Gray, and Nicholas Ruxton Moore, had written similar letters of resignation to GW, all without date. Lt. William Bird’s letter typifies the sentiments expressed by all: “At the Time of my accepting a Lieutenancy in Col. Moylan’s Regiment of Light Dragoons, he informed me the Establishment settled by your Excellency made the Pay and Rank equal to that of a Captain of Foot, which induced me to decline a Compy of Foot in Favor of the Lieutenancy in his Regt preferring that service by which I am deprived of so much Rank, that I cannot think consistent with my Honor, of continuing under the present Establishment of the Horse—I have waited on Coll Moylan for Redress but have not obtain’d any. I therefore beg your Excellency will accept of this as my Resignation which will much oblige” (DLC:GW). The letters from the four other officers are also in DLC:GW.

After receiving GW’s letter of this date the five officers on 17 Aug. wrote a joint letter to GW: “We must acknowledge our being deeply affected with the Thoughts of having incurr’d your Excellencie’s Displeasure; which we find to be the Case, by what your Excellency is pleased to say in Answer to our Resignations: We beg leave to assure your Excellency that Disinclination to the Service has not in the least Degree influenced our Conduct: We intered the Army from no other Motive than a Desire of serving our Country, & wou’d wish to continue in it, did not the Honor of a Soldier protest against it. We freely confess to your Excellency that we were rather hasty in giving in our Resignations at this Crisis. the same Motives, which have hitherto influenced our Conduct, urge us now to serve till the End of the present Campaign, at which Period, we beg leave to notify our Intentions of resigning. The inclosed we hope will convince your Excellency that we were induced to believe our Rank & Pay, as Lieutenants of Horse, wou’d be equal to that of a Captain of Foot—Wishing to stand fair in your Excellency’s good Opinion—We remain with the greatest Respect Your Excellency’s most Obedient Humble Servants” ( LS, DLC:GW;). In a letter of the same date GW wrote to the officers once again: “I have just receiv’d your Letter of this date with the inclosed Certificates justifying your pretensions to the Rank you mention—I must repeat to you that I am entirely ignorant of the means by which such an Idea was propagat’d nor did I ever see any reason why superior Rank should be given to Officers of Cavalry but where Commissions are equal the Command should be ascertain’d by Priority of date. I shall never wish to Influence any Gentlemen to serve in this Army, if I have reason to believe they cannot do it consistent with that strict Notion of Honor which should be the invariable rule of conduct for every Officer; but am of Opinion, nevertheless, that a Resignation in this part of a Campaign can only be warranted by treatment which would be disgracefull to bear, & therefore that your Resolution not to resign, at least, ’till the end of the Campaign must meet the approbation of all who wish to see you act with propriety” ( Df, DLC:GW. ). William Bird and John Craig (1750–1829) had been commissioned lieutenants in the 2d Pennsylvania Regiment in January 1776 before transferring to the 4th Continental Light Dragoon Regiment in January 1777. Both men eventually were promoted to captain. Richard Dorsey (1754–1829) had been appointed a lieutenant in a regiment of Maryland flying camp in December 1776 and a lieutenant in Moylan’s dragoons in January 1777. Dorsey resigned from the Continental army in mid-April 1778, and one month later he became captain of an independent company of Maryland artillery. Dorsey’s artillery company was taken into the 1st Continental Artillery Regiment in late May 1778, and Dorsey was captured at the Battle of Camden in August 1780. Dorsey was not exchanged until the end of the war, and he was breveted major in September 1783. George Gray (1745–1823) of Virginia had been appointed an ensign in the 3d Virginia Regiment in May 1776. He was commissioned a lieutenant in Moylan’s regiment in January 1777 and was promoted to captain the following December. Gray resigned from the army in May 1779. Nicholas Ruxton Moore (d. 1816) had been appointed a lieutenant in a company of Maryland artillery in March 1776. He became a lieutenant in Moylan’s regiment in February 1777 and was promoted to captain in March 1778. Moore resigned from the army in December 1778.

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