George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Lieutenant Colonel James Innes, 2 January 1778

To Lieutenant Colonel James Innes

[Head Quarters, Valley Forge, 2 January 1778]


The Continental Forces from Virginia being at present in a situation, that requires the exertion of some officer in that state to collect together the reinlisted Soldiers of the old Regiments—as well as the recruits & Draughts intended to compleat those & the six additional Battalions—you are while in Virginia, in aid to any superior officer who may be there with Instructions to pay particular attention to the recruiting officers and those who returned with the reinlisted Soldiers—Hold frequent correspondence with them, & give them such Instructions from time to time as the Interest of the service may appear to you to require. you will endeavour to inform yourself of the nature of the Draught act—and the particular mode pointed out by it to compleat the 15 Regts1—assemble as many of the Draughts as possible and expedite their March to Camp under proper Officers. If it be by any means practicable get the Soldiers Cloathed, in the Uniforms of their respective Regiments—particularly use your every effort with the proper Persons to provide each man with a good Blanket, & Shoes.

A particular resolve of Congress was Passed some time since recommending the different States that proper Officers should be appointed in each, for the purpose, not only, of recruiting Men, but, apprehending Deserters;2 to the latter, I must urge your most active exertions, & if it has not already been done, that you will order proper officers on that duty, without loss of time, to collect such as may not voluntarily have come in, or otherwise be secured. Your own knowledge of this matter will at once strike you with the necessity of paying the utmost attention to it, and relying on your activity, with the aid of others, shall rest satisfied, that some effectual step will be taken.

If any thing material is done by you, in consequence of these Instructions, I shall expect to hear from you. Given at Head Quatrs the 2d Jany 1778.

Df, in Richard Kidder Meade’s writing, DLC:GW; copy, ViHi; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1Although the Virginia house of delegates approved the engrossed bill of “An Act for speedily recruiting the Virginia Regiments on the continental establishment, and for raising additional troops of Volunteers” on 26 Dec. 1777, the house and senate were unable to reach agreement on amendments to the act until 9 Jan., ordering 300 copies of the legislation to be printed on the following day. Among the many provisions of the act was one for drafting into Continental service single men from the local militia, who would “be entitled to a bounty of fifteen dollars, to be paid by this commonwealth, and be compelled to serve one year, or find an able bodied man to serve in his room in one of the said Virginia regiments on continental establishment” (Va. House of Delegates Journal description begins Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia; Begun and Held at the Capitol, in the City of Williamsburg, on Monday, the Twentieth Day of October, in the Year of Our Lord One Thousand Seven Hundred and Seventy-Seven. Richmond, 1827. description ends , Oct. 1777–Jan. 1778 sess., 92, 101–3, 107–8, 112; Hening description begins William Waller Hening, ed. The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619. 13 vols. 1819–23. Reprint. Charlottesville, Va., 1969. description ends , 9:337–49).

Another provision of the act was for the reduction of the Virginia regiments from ten to eight companies each, while “the officers of the reduced companies be provided for, by appointments, to fill up vacancies in the remaining companies, as they shall happen” (Hening description begins William Waller Hening, ed. The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619. 13 vols. 1819–23. Reprint. Charlottesville, Va., 1969. description ends , 9:337). This reduction provoked a protest from the subalterns of the Virginia line, who wrote an undated memorial to GW that was docketed “March or April” but probably was written in January 1778: “The Memorial of the Subalterns of the Virginia line Represents That they are induced by the Orders of the 10th Inst. relative to promotions immediately to lay before your Excellency their just cause of Complaint in the loss of rank they have sustained by the reduction of Virginia regiments from ten to eight companies. They beg leave to observe to your Excellency that on assuming the military Character a Compact was immediately formed between the Officer and his country. His life is perpetually at the service of his country—danger it is his business to court, and fatigue of every kind ’tis his part to bear with patience. On the other hand (exclusive of a scanty and insufficient subsistance, a motive too weak to bring men of Principle into the service) he is entituled to promotion, he has a right on an unexeptionable discharge of his duty to fill up those vacancies which time must ever produce—This right he considers as his absolute property—a right annexed to the service, and of which no power can, justly, devest him, unless by a faulty conduct he discovers an inability to discharge his part of the compact, in which case his punishment is pointed out: it may be a shameful and ignominious dismission from the service attended with eternal disgrace—Yet without any fault on the part of the Officer, without any apparent motive but that paultry consideration of saving America a very few pence this inestimable right, without consulting him, has been wrested from him—His rank, in which the honor of a Soldier is too closely involved to admit of a seperation, is fixed on a basis so extremely uncertain, that he cannot affirm the next moment will not precipitate him (however uncensureable) into a situation which may compel him to quit a service, to which principle, inclination and reason attach him, or to merit that Contempt which a tame submission to his loss of rank must inevitably draw on him.

“We know that the present weak state of regiments may be urged as a reason for reducing the number of Officers, But this weak state is not the fault of the Subaltern—after recruiting his quota, he could not prevent the diminution they may have sustained by the sword of the Enemy, or the diseases of a Camp—How unjust then where he is entirely innocent, to punish him in the most sensible part—to punish him alone—for we cannot so entirely devest ourselves of the feelings natural to Man as not to observe, that it is the Subaltern only whose rank is injured—that he alone is not thought worth the protection of his Country. The Virginia Regiments ’tis said consist of two Companies more than those furnished by any other state—the Consequence of which is that they pay a larger proportion of Officers. But this was known before the Virginia Regiments were raised. The evil might have been at that early time with ease prevented. But the remedy was reserved till it has become worse that the disease—it has been reserved till Subalterns thought themselves entituled to Captainices, and then as if solely to mortify them they are informed that ’tis unjust Virginia should pay an over proportion of Officers. If ’tis only now discovered that too large a Number of officers has been furnished by that State, and if no provision can be made for those who have lost that promotion to which they claim a right, a part of them might be reduced, we should be pained at quitting the service of our Country but could not complain of Injustice. The tenor of our commissions and the spirit of our Constitution place that power in our honorable Congress. But while we preserve our commissions we claim with them and our honor obliges us to insist on holding with them all those rights which were annexed to them when they were first confided to us.

“Nothing but an entire Conviction that it was a duty we owed ourselves which our honor forbid us to dispense with could have induced us at this important period to trouble your Excellency with what concerns subalterns only. In the present situation of Amercan Affairs we do not wish to take up one moment of your Excellencys time. We could only entreat that our Complaints may be considered by your Excellency and if thought just laid before Congress as some less active period when every Grievance of the Army may be examined or when Providence may smile upon our Country and bless our Arms with Victory.

“That God may hasten that period and preserve your Excellency is the fervent prayer of your Memorialists[,] The Subalterns of the Virginia Line” (DLC:GW). No reply from GW has been found.

2GW is referring to a resolve of 31 July 1777 (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 , 8:593–94).

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