George Washington Papers

Circular to the Brigade Commanders, 19 March 1778

Circular to the Brigade Commanders

Head Quarters [Valley Forge] 19th March 1778


As it is found necessary for the purpose of establishing uniformity of discipline and manœuvres in the army to appoint an Inspector General—and in order to form a well organised Body of Instructors it is proposed to have Sub-Inspectors to superinted divisions or larger portions of the army according to their number—and Brigade-Inspectors to be charged with the Instruction of Brigades, which last officers are to be chosen in the Brigades respectively.1 I have to desire of yo⟨u⟩ to make choice of a Major from the Regiments under your command, whose activity, Intelligence, Address and decided Taste for this kind of employment, qualify him in a superior degree for the office.

The importance of the object and the little time which remains for executing what is necessary to accomplish it, render every moment precious; you will therefore without loss of time, make the choice and give me notice of it.

The Brigade Inspector retains his rank, but is to be exempt from the duties of the line during the exercise of his office. I am Sir your most Obet Servt

Go: Washington

P.S. As the danger of delay in this business is more to be dreaded than any other inconvenience—if no Major should be present possessing the qualities required, any other officer in whom they are united, and who is ready at once to assume the functions of his office may be taken.

LS, PPIn; LS, NNPM; LS, CSmH; LS, NjMoHP; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. All four LSs are in Richard Kidder Meade’s writing. The LS at CSmH is accompanied by a cover addressed to James Mitchell Varnum at Providence, where according to a docket on the cover it was “Recd 14th April.” It is unlikely, however, that the cover belongs with the letter, as Varnum was at Valley Forge throughout March and April 1778.

1A more detailed exposition of ideas about the office of inspector general may be found in an undated document in Alexander Hamilton’s writing that is filed with some letters dated 1781 in DNA:PCC, item 152. The document is probably a draft for a communication on the subject with the congressional camp committee or with Congress itself. Internal evidence indicates that the document must have been drafted after Steuben’s arrival at camp on 24 Feb. 1778 and before GW’s letter to Peter Scull of this date, probably in early March 1778. After suggesting a staff of one inspector general, six deputy inspectors (only four were finally announced on 19 April), and one inspector for each brigade, the document continues: “The business of the office to form a system of manual and manœuvres—to concert all necessary regulations for the better government and arrangement of the army, in all its departments.

“The exercise of the same of course, to be subordinate to Congress—the board of war and the commander in chief. But the inspector general with the approbation and authority of the Commander in chief to have full power of establishing regulations for manœuvres—camp discipline and every thing relating to the internal police of the army—all kinds of military duty in the field, in camp, in garrison, or in quarters—to define the limits of the several departments, and adopt such amendments and changes as shall seem requisite—Provided no power be exercised to supersede or interfere with any positive instution made, or rules and regulations prescribed by Congress or the Board of War, and provided also that his power do not extend to prescribing rules for the management of the horse and artillery, in any thing that concerns them as distinct separate corps; but only so far as they may be affected under the collective idea of an army—and in their common connexion with it.

“The gentlemen in this department to be considered as the instructors and censors of the army, in every thing connected with discipline and arrangement. They are to superintend the execution of the regulations established; and to see that a due conformity to them is observed throughout the army.

“They are to manœuvre the army agreeable to the rules laid down, under the orders of the generals commanding. The inspector general to exercise the whole under the direction of the commander in chief—his deputies the wings or divisions under the direction of the Lieutenant—or Major Generals commanding them—and the inspectors to exercise the brigades under the direction of their Brigadiers.

“The Inspector General to assist the Quarter Master General, in forming all orders of march—the common order of battle—in choosing and arranging incampments—and in fixing guards &c.

“In action and on marches—the Inspector General to be near the person of the commander in chief. His immediate assistants to be distributed to the different wings or divisions of the army to promote order, and see that all the movements be properly performed. The Brigade inspectors to be with their brigades for the same purposes.

“These outlines of a plan for the office of the Inspector General are upon a larger scale, than is actually practiced in the European armies; but they are adapted to our circumstances, confused and indefinite as every department is, and calling for some general regulating hand.

“The person I would propose, for Inspector General, is the Baron Steuben. I have had much conversation with this gentleman, and believe him to be well qualified for the office. He appears to me to have an accurate knowledge of every part of military discipline and arrangement, and to be a man of sense and judgment.

“Barons Arendt and Holtzendorf appear also to be men of science in their profession—and would make good deputies; but the Inspector General will require for his immediate assistants some men of intelligence and activity, who are Americans; otherwise for want of the language and an acquaintance with the genius of our service and men, he would be involved into difficulties and mistakes, that would defeat the end of the institution. From an ignorance of our tongue, being unable to communicate his ideas, he would be unqualified for the executive duties of his office—and from an ignorance of our present system and the temper of our army, he might be for introducing too violent revolutions, that would neither be practicable nor palatable. These assistants, or some of them should be men of extensive abilities—skilled in the French language, of zeal, activity and decision. I have not sufficient knowledge of our officers to point out those, who best answer this description; but Henley, Lee, Barber and Scull occur to me as men who might be very useful in this line; though I know not, if either of them understands the French language.

“The Brigade-Inspectors should be officers drawn from the Brigade—the best qualified that can be found.

“The Baron Steuben, if appointed, as he has held high rank in the Prussian service, and has been Lieutenant General, in the service of the Margrave De Bade, cannot with propriety accept of less rank, than that of Major General.

“The deputies and Brigade Inspectors should have no increase of rank; but precisely the same which they may have held before their appointment to these offices. Those who are taken from the line should preserve their stations in it and rise in course.

“There are two Gentlemen out of this army, whom I should wish to see introduced into this department; General Cadwallader and Colonel Fleming. The former is a military genius—of a decisive and independent spirit—properly impressed with the necessity of order and discipline and of sufficient vigor to enforce it. He would soon perfect himself in the practical part, and be fit to succeed to the first place in the department. Col: Fleming is an excellent disciplinarian—and from long practice, in the British army, has acquired the necessary knowledge.”

Although GW may have discussed his ideas with camp committee, he did not formally request congressional action until 30 April, long after the arrangement had been put in practice.

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