George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Henry Laurens, 1 January 1778

To Henry Laurens

Head Quarters Valley Forge 1st Jany 1778

Sir

I have been duly honored with your several favors of the 23d 24th and 25th ulto with the enclosures to which they allude.1

In my letters of the 22d and 23d of last month, I mentioned the difficulties which the Service laboured under for want of a Qr Masr Genl and as I am induced to beleive that a new nomination has not been made since Genl Mifflins resignation, because Congress could not fix upon any person in their opinions fully qualified to fill that important office, I thought it my duty, to endeavour to find out a Gentleman, who I could venture to recommend, either from my own particular knowledge or from that of others. That my enquiries might be more extensive, I occasionally mentioned the matter to the General and Feild Officers, and desired them, if any persons came within their Idea as proper, that they would mention them to me, that I might upon their comparative merits fix upon the most deserving.

Several of the Officers, from the Northward, spoke of the uncommon activity and exertions of Colo. Hay Deputy Qr Masr General in that department. Hearing him so well spoken of, I enquired very particularly of most of those who had served there the last Campaign, and of Generals Sullivan and Wayne who had served in that Country the two preceding ones in times of uncommon difficulty. They confirmed the favorable report of the others, and went so far as to say, that without disparagement to any Gentleman, they thought him the best qualified of any man upon the Continent for the office in question. Upon this universal concurrence of all parties, I think I may venture to recommend Colonel Hay to the consideration of Congress, and if, upon further inquiry, they should find him answer the high character which he bears, I hope no time may be lost in appointing him, provided some other has not already been the object of their choice. I will just add that Colo. Hay’s pretensions in right of seniority intitle him to notice.2

You must be fully sensible that very little time is left between this and the opening of the next Campaign for the provision of Feild Equipage, Carriages, Horses and many other articles essentially necessary, towards which I cannot find that any Steps have yet been taken.

In my last I also took occasion to mention, that by Colo. pickerings appointment to the Board of War, I expected he would soon be called upon to take his Seat.3 In a letter from the Secretary of the 24th ulto I am desired to permit him to retire and nominate an Adjt General pro tempore.4 But as there is no person upon the spot that I can with propriety ask to accept of the place pro tem I am obliged to detain him, and am under the necessity for that reason of urging a new appointment as speedily as possible. I have taken the same methods of endeavouring to find out a person qualified for an Adjutant General, that I did for that of Qr Mr General. But I cannot say that I have recd any account sufficiently satisfactory to determine me in favor of any particular person. I will just recite the Names that have been mentioned to me, which are Colonels Lee and Scammel of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Colonels Innes and Davies of Virginia, and Major Scull of Pennsylvania. The four first are well known to many Gentlemen of Congress and Major Scull is warmly recommended by General St Clair.5

The Enemy returned into Philada on sunday last, having made a considerable Hay Forage, which appeared to be their only intention. As they kept themselves in close order, and in such a position that no attack could be made upon them to advantage, I could do no more than extend light parties along their front, and keep them from plundering the inhabitants and carrying off Cattle and Horses, which had the desired effect.6

I have the pleasure to inform you that a Vessel has fallen into Genl Smallwoods hands near Wilmington, I hope she will prove a valuable prize. You have the particulars in the inclosed extract of his letter.7

Before this reaches you, you will have recd a letter from Genl Weedon, in which he has stated his objections to Genl Woodford’s taking rank of him. Genl Muhlenberg is gone to Virginia, and I therefore cannot say that would have been his objections, but I imagine they are founded upon the same Reasons as those of Genl Weedon: And you may perceive by the inclosed Copy of Genl Waynes letter to me, that he does not think that the rank of Colonel, which Genl Woodford held at the time of his resignation could operate in his favor upon his appointment to the Rank of Brig: General. I could therefore wish that Congress, as they now have the matter fully before them, would proceed to the final settlement of the relative Rank of the Brigadiers.8 I have recd information that the Militia of Jersey have taken possession of another of the Enemy’s Vessels which ran in ground upon their shore. I have reason to beleive the fact is so, but I have it not from full authority.9 I have the Honor to be with the greatest Respect Sir Yr most obt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, MiU-C: Schoff Collection; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The last two sentences of the LS do not appear on the draft. Congress read this letter on 5 January (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 10:18).

1Tilghman wrote and then struck out the following passage at this place on the draft: “I must beg the particular and immediate attention of Congress to a matter of the utmost importance to the Army, and which I fear has been too long delayed—I mean the appointment of a Quarter Master General. Since General Mifflin’s indisposition obliged him to quit the feild in July last, I have experienced the greatest difficulties and inconveniences for want of a person of activity and authority at the head of that department. Upon General Mifflin’s resignation and I can only account for its not having been filled up since his resignation.” The beginning of the next paragraph was then written between the lines of the struck-out portion.

2When Congress accepted Thomas Mifflin’s resignation as quartermaster general on 7 Nov. 1777, Mifflin delegated responsibility for the office to Deputy Quartermaster General Henry Emanuel Lutterloh. Congress did not take up GW’s recommendation of Udny Hay, and the army would remain without a quartermaster general until Nathanael Greene’s appointment on 2 Mar. 1778 (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 10:210–11). In a 10 Jan. postscript to a letter to his son John Laurens of 8 Jan., Henry Laurens wrote: “I am just returned from a large Company where I heard a discussion I should say such a discussion on the necessity of appointing a Quarter Master General & the recommendations of your friend [GW] & his opinions treated with so much indiscreet freedom & Levity as affected me exceedingly & convinced me that your suspicions of a baneful influence are not Ill founded. It would give me too much pain to repeat the Comparison drawn or rather the parallel between de Arendt & Hay” (Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 8:549). In his second letter to Laurens of 2 Jan., GW hinted that Arendt might have made a better choice for inspector general than Thomas Conway.

3GW is referring to his letter to Laurens of 22 December. Pickering did not leave Valley Forge until 30 Jan., arriving in York on 4 February.

4This letter has not been found.

5Congress appointed Col. Alexander Scammell adjutant general on 5 January (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 10:21).

6The previous Sunday was 28 Dec. 1777. For the British foraging expedition, see John Clark, Jr.’s letter to GW of that date.

7Smallwood wrote GW on 30 Dec. 1777 about the capture of the brig Symmetry.

8On 22 Feb. 1777 Congress, in determining the rank of the brigadier generals, had resolved that William Woodford not be allowed to rank according to the date of his former commission as colonel, which he had resigned, meaning that he would rank behind George Weedon, Peter Muhlenberg, and Charles Scott (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 7:141–42; see also GW to Woodford, 3 Mar. 1777). On 29 Nov., Congress instructed GW to “regulate the rank of Major General Arnold and Brigadiers General Woodford and Scott, agreeable to the resolution of Congress of the 12th of Novr instant, confirming the principle adopted by the board of general officers on the 19th August, for settling the rank and precedence of officers” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 9:981; see also ibid., 896). On 22 Dec., GW wrote Laurens pointing out that the congressional resolution of 12 Nov., which related to the rank of Pennsylvania field officers, did not seem to apply in Woodford’s case and asked for a specific statement on Woodford’s status. Surprised by the violent opposition (emanating primarily from Weedon) to Woodford’s claim, GW wrote Laurens again on 26 Dec. asking that Congress defer its decision until GW was able to collect the written opinions of the interested parties. On 27 Dec., GW requested a letter from Anthony Wayne stating the claims of each of the officers involved; Wayne wrote the letter on the following day, and GW enclosed it in this letter of 1 Jan. 1778 to Laurens (see also Weedon to Laurens, 29 Dec. 1777, Laurens Papers description begins Philip M. Hamer et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Laurens. 16 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003. description ends , 12:219–20).

GW informed Weedon on 10 Feb. 1778 that the committee of Congress then at Valley Forge was under direction to settle his and Woodford’s rank, but on 21 Feb., in response to a letter from Woodford of 19 Feb. in which he sought to expedite a decision by asking permission to resign, GW wrote Woodford that the congressional committee considered itself incompetent to judge the affair and had determined to refer it to a board of general officers whose decision would be final (an undated “State of Facts relative to the claims of Brigadiers General Mulenburgh Weedon Woodford & Scott,” signed by the latter three men and with an appended note by Francis Dana requesting the opinion of the board of general officers on behalf of the camp committee, is filed in DLC:GW under February 1778. See also GW’s letter of 1 Mar. to the committee asking for a restatement of their position; their statement of the following day, in which they laid out their view of the dispute and requested the opinion of a board of general officers, is in Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 9:197–99). GW offered to convene the board despite the absence from camp of many of the general officers, and Woodford replied on 21 Feb. expressing his desire that the board be convened.

The board of general officers assembled on 4 March. While refusing to rule in the matter, they did recommend that Congress decide in Woodford’s favor (see Board of Officers to GW, 4 March). The congressional committee referred the board’s decision back to Congress, which resolved on 19 Mar. “That General Washington call in and cancel the commissions of Brigadiers Woodford, Muhlenberg, Scott and Weedon; and that new commissions be granted them; and that they rank in future agreeable to the following arrangement, Woodford, Muhlenberg, Scott, Weedon” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 10:269). Despite letters from GW of 15 and 29 Mar. urging him to accept the decision, Weedon decided to leave the service (see also Weedon to GW, 30 Mar., 13 April 1778, Muhlenberg to GW, and GW to Muhlenberg, 10 April 1778).

Filed in DLC:GW at the end of December 1777 are two documents in the hand of Robert Hanson Harrison that apparently were written to help GW make sense of this controversy. The first document is a one-page list of congressional resolutions on rank docketed “Genl Woodford—Muhlenberg &c. State of rank”; the other is a sheet listing major and brigadier generals by rank according to various resolutions, with one sentence written by Tench Tilghman, and docketed “paper respecting rank & Appointments.”

9Capt. James Watt of the British armed ship Delaware wrote in his ship’s journal for 29 Dec. that “PM Two Briggs & a Scooner part of the Fleet that was aforaging not being able to get up to Town were caught in the Ice, & and drifting up & down with the Tide two days were set aShore near—Glouster and burned by the Rebels” (Naval Documents description begins William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. 11 vols. to date. Washington, D.C., 1964—. description ends , 10:827; see also Scull, Montresor Journals description begins G. D. Scull, ed. The Montresor Journals. New York, 1882. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vol. 14. description ends , 480).

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