George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General Thomas Conway, 5 November 1777

From Brigadier General Thomas Conway

Camp [Whitemarsh, Pa.] the 5th November 1777


I Wrote to General Gates by Major troop the 9th or 10th of Last Month from reading.1 after congratulating him upon his success at the Northward, and returning him thanks for the civility he had shew’d to my Brother in Law, I gave him an account of the operations of this army. i Spoke my mind freely, I found fault with several Measures pursued in this army; but I Will venture to say that in my Whole Letter the paragraph of Which you are pleas’d to send me a copy can not be found. my opinion of you sir without flattery or envy is as follows: you are a Brave man, an honest Man, a patriot, and a Man of great sense. your modesty is such, that although your advice in council is commonly sound and proper, you have often been influenc’d by men who Were not equal to you in point of experience, Knowledge or judgment.

these are my sentiments; i have express’d them in private conversation with some General officers, and in particular to General Mifflinn at reading before Doctor craigg. I think they Will be found such in my Letter to General Gates. I Believe i can attest that the expression Weak General has not slipped from my penn2 however if it has, this Weakness by my Very Letter can not be explain’d otherwise even by the most Malicious people than an excess of Modesty on your side and a confidence in Men who are Much inferior to you in point of judgment and Knowledge. i Defy the most Keen and inveterate Detractors to make it appear that i levell’d at your Bravery honesty, honour, patriotism or judgment of which I have the highest sense.

correspondence between General oficers in all army’s is encourag’d rather than Discountenanc’d, because from this intercourse of ideas something usefull might arise. although this inquisition in Letters from particular to particular will be a proceeding in this country of which there are few instances in Despotick and tyrannical Governments, still in order that the Least suspicion should not remain in your Excellency’s Mind about my Way of thinking, I am willing that my original Letter to General Gates should be handed to you. this I trust will convince you of my Way of thinking. I Know Sir that several unfavourable hints have been Given to you about me, that i have been reported by some of your aid De Camps as the author of some Discourses Which i never utter’d.3 these advices never gave me the Least uneasiness, because I Was conscious to myself that I never said any thing but What I could Mentionn to your self. I have an account to give of my Conduct in france Where I am the only Collonel on this continent in actual service. I mean to Write an impartial account of the operations Which I saw During this campaign. this account Will be such that i am sure you Will acknowledge to be true. and I pledge my Word of a Gentleman and of an officer that I Will Write nothing in that account but What i Will impart to you before I leave this continent. I am sir With Respect Your Excellency’s humble servt

T. Conway


1This letter, which Horatio Gates apparently returned to Conway in late January 1778, has not been found (see Gates to GW, 23 Jan. 1778). Maj. Gen. Thomas Mifflin on 28 Nov. wrote to Gates from Reading, Pa., that “An extract from General Conway’s letter to you has been procured, and sent to head-quarters. The extract was a collection of just sentiments; yet such as should not have been entrusted to any of your family. General Washington enclosed it to General Conway without remarks. It was supported, and the freedom of the sentiment was not apologized for; on the contrary, although some reflections were made on some people, yet the practice was pleaded boldly, and no satisfaction given. My dear General, take care of your sincerity and frank disposition; they cannot injure yourself, but may injure some of your best friends” (Nolan, George Washington and the Town of Reading description begins J. Bennett Nolan. George Washington and the Town of Reading in Pennsylvania. Reading, Pa., 1931. description ends , 72–73).

2On 23 Jan. 1778 Gates also denied to GW that the paragraph in question accurately represented what Conway had written.

3Neither the subject of nor the sources of information about Conway’s “Discourses” have been determined.

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