George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Henry Laurens, 3–4 August 1778

To Henry Laurens

Head qrs White plains August the 3d[–4] 1778


I do myself the honor of transmitting to Congress a copy of a Letter from General Knox, and of sundry observations and remarks on the Ordnance establishment of the 11th of February, which I received about the time we marched from Valley Forge.1 These would have been transmitted before, had it not been for the moving state of the Army and a variety of other Objects which engrossed my attention. We have found by experience, that some inconveniences have resulted from the Establishment, which I conceive, have proceeded principally from the total independence of the Commissary General of Military stores, on the Commanding Officer of Artillery. It seems some alterations are necessary and what they shall be, Congress will be pleased to determine.

It is not without reluctance that I am constrained, to renew my importunities on the subject of the Committee of Arrangement.2 The present unsettled state of the Army is productive of so much disatisfaction and confusion—and of such a variety of disputes, that almost the whole of my time is now employed, in finding temporary and inadequate expedients to quiet the minds of the Officers and keep business on a tolerable sort of footing. Not an hour passes without New applications and New complaints about rank—and for want of a proper adjustment of this and many other essential points—our Affairs are in a most irksome and injurious train. We can scarcely form a Court Martial—or parade a Detachment in any instance, without a warm discussion on the subject of precedence—and there are several Good Officers now, who are forced to decline duty, to prevent disputes and their being commanded by Others, who upon every principle are their Inferiors; unless their having obtained Commissions before them, from the opportunities they had of making earlier applications from local circumstances, should be considered sufficient to give them a superior claim. There are many other causes of disatisfaction on this head, but I will not enter into a minute relation of them. I sincerely wish, that the Gentlemen appointed or such Others as Congress may think proper to nominate for the occasion, would immediately repair to Camp. The present opportunity is favourable for reducing matters to System and order—and from painful experience I know, there is an absolute necessity for it.

I should also hope, that Congress will excuse me, for mentioning again the necessity there is for appointing some Brigadiers. The Massachussets, by the resignation of General Learned wants One—Pensylvania as General Hand is not here, has but One with the Army—Maryland, which has Two large Brigades in the field, has only General Smallwood and the North Carolina Troops, since the departure of Genl McIntosh, have been without any. As I had taken the liberty upon a former occasion, to offer my sentiments to Congress and their Committees upon this subject, I should not trouble them now, if I was not more & more convinced that the service required promotions in this line.3 The frequent changes which take place among the Officers, where there are no Brigadiers, are attended with great inconvenience and detriment; and they are an effectual bar to the introduction of discipline. In such cases, the Officers know, that their command is but temporary—always liable to cease—and therefore they do not find themselves sufficiently interested to promote order and subordination; nor will the rest look up to them with that respect and deference which are essential. Every day’s experience proves this—and shews beyond question, that the Affairs of a Brigade can never be in a right train without a Brigadier—or some General to direct them. It is certain, these appointments at the first view will add a little to the list of expence, but in the end they will be a great saving—and produce many important advantages.4 We are also a good deal distressed at this time for Major Generals; however, as this arises more from the peculiar circumstances and situation of many, which prevent them from duty in the line, than from a deficiency in the number appointed, I shall not add upon the occasion.

There is another branch of the Army, which in my opinion calls loudly for the appointment of a General Officer—and this is the Cavalry. For want of a proper regulating Head in this Corps, the whole has been in confusion, and of but very little service; whereas, under a right management, it might be most useful. The principal Officers in it do not harmonise, which circumstance with their disputes about rank would, were there no other Objections, effectually prevent the Corps from rendering the Public the services they have a right to expect—and of which it should be capable. To promote any Gentleman now in it to a general command, would not be acquiesced in by the rest—(nor do I know that any of them wish it) and it would encrease their misunderstanding and of course disorder. I mean to draw all the Horse immediately together, when I trust they will be under the direction of a General Officer, appointed by Congress for the purpose. Who he shall be, will remain solely with them to determine. However, I will take the liberty to add, that he should be intelligent—active—attentive; and as far as I can judge, General Cadwalader or General Reed would fill the post with great honor and advantage—tho it would seem from the seat the latter has taken in Congress and from his late appointment to the Council of pensylvania, as if he had declined every military view. The abilities of these Gentlemen, as well as their Attachment are generally known—and I am led to beleive that either would be as acceptable to the Corps, as any person that can be found;5 indeed, I have learnt as much from two of the Colonels.

I have been waiting with the most impatient anxiety to hear of Count D’Estaing’s arrival at Rhode Island, but as yet I have not been so happy. My last intelligence from thence is a Letter from Genl Sullivan dated at 10 OClock in the forenoon of the 27th; when he had no advice of the Fleet. He was in high spirits and from the preparation in which matters were, he entertained the most flattering hopes of success in the intended Enterprize. The Brigades of Varnum and Glover, with Jackson’s detachment would arrive, I expect on the 2d Instant.

As the Army was encamped and there was no good prospect of a sudden removal, I judged it adviseable to send Genl Greene to the Eastward on Wednesday last;6 being fully persuaded his services, as well in the Quartermaster line as in the field, would be of material importance in the expedition against the Enemy in that Quarter. He is intimately acquainted with the whole of that Country—and besides he has an extensive interest and influence in it. And in justice to General Greene, I take occasion to observe, that the public is much indebted to him for his judicious management and active exertions in his present department. When he entered upon it, he found it in a most confused—distracted and destitute state. This by his conduct and industry has undergone a very happy change—and such as enabled us with great facility, to make a sudden move with the whole Army & baggage from Valley forge in pursuit of the Enemy—and to perform a march to this place. In a word he has given the most general satisfaction and his affairs carry much the face of method and System. I also consider it as an act of justice, to speak of the conduct of Colo. Wadsworth, Commissary General. He has been indefatigable in his exertions to provide for the Army and since his appointment our supplies of provision have been good and ample.

August 4th. At 7 OClock in the Evening yesterday, I received the inclosed Letter from Genl Sullivan, with one addressed to myself, a Copy of which I do myself the pleasure of forwarding.7 I am exceedingly happy in the Count’s arrival—and that things wear so pleasing an aspect.

There is another subject, on which I must take the liberty of addressing Congress, which is that of the Cloathier’s department. I am perfectly satisfied, that unless this very important and interesting Office is put under better regulations—and under a different Head, than it now is, the Army will never be cloathed. Mr Mease is by no means fit for the business. It is a work of immense difficulty to get him to Camp upon any occasion—and no order can retain him there sufficiently long—either to answer the demands of the Troops, or to acquire more than a very slight and imperfect knowledge of them. This of itself according to my ideas, would make him highly culpable—but there are other circumstances. He is charged with inactivity, in not pursuing the best and all the means that present themselves, to provide Cloathing. His Agents too, who have been with the Army—from inability or a want of industry—or proper instructions from their principal, have been very incompetent to the purposes of their appointment. Besides these objections, Mr Mease unhappily is represented to be of a very unaccomodating cast of temper, and his general deportment towards the Officers who have had to transact business with him, has rendered him exceedingly obnoxious. The constant and daily complaints against him, make it my indispensible duty to mention these points—and it is the more so, as I believe both Officers and Men, particularly the latter, have suffered greater inconveniences and distresses, than Soldiers ever did before for want of Cloathing; and that this has not flowed more from a real scarcity of Articles—than a want of proper exertion and provident management to procure them. It is essential that something should be done and immediately, to place the department on a better footing. We have now a great many men entirely destitute of Shirts and Breeches and I suppose not less than a fourth or fifth of the whole here, who are without Shoes. From the deficiences in this line numbers of desertions have proceeded—not to mention deaths, and what is still worse, the Troops which remain and see themselves in rags want that spirit and pride necessary to constitute the Soldier.8

I have been informed by Several Officers and by such as I can depend on, that many of the late Draughts are willing and desirous of enlisting during the War.9 I do not conceive myself at liberty to give direction on the point and therefore submit it to Congress to decide. However, if they can be engaged for the usual bounties allowed by the Continent, after proper precautions are taken to prevent fraud, I think the measure will be expedient. It is true our Affairs have an agreable aspect at present—but the War may continue and we want men. A third of the time of some them, and a half in the case of others, is already expired; and as they will rise in their views and become more difficult in proportion as their service draws to a conclusion, if the step is considered adviseable, the sooner we attempt to enlist—the better in all probability will the work succeed. I have the Honor to be with great respect & esteem Sir Your Most Obedt servant

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, ScHi: Henry Laurens Papers; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; copy (extract), CtHi: Jeremiah Wadsworth Papers; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The LS is docketed in part, “read 10”; see 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 , 11:767–68. The extract, which is composed of the sentences praising Nathanael Greene and Jeremiah Wadsworth, was sent by Roger Alden to Wadsworth, 28 July 1789 (CtHi).

1See Henry Knox to GW, 15 June, and note 2 to that document. For the ordnance establishment of 11 Feb., see 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 , 10:144–50.

2For GW’s earlier request that the committee of arrangement repair to camp, see his letter to Laurens of 7 July.

3GW had previously urged the prompt appointment of general officers in his letter to Laurens of 24 March.

4The remainder of this paragraph is not on the draft, although the draft seems to be marked for text to be inserted.

5On the draft, the remainder of this paragraph is in GW’s writing.

6The previous Wednesday was 29 July.

7GW enclosed Maj. Gen. John Sullivan’s letter to Laurens of 1 Aug. (DNA:PCC, item 160; see also Hammond, Sullivan Papers description begins Otis G. Hammond, ed. Letters and Papers of Major-General John Sullivan, Continental Army. 3 vols. Concord, 1930-39. In Collections of the New Hampshire Historical Society, vols. 13–15. description ends , 2:165–67) and a copy of Sullivan’s letter to himself of the same date.

8On Clothier General James Mease’s absence from camp, see GW to Mease, 17 April, 16 May, and 18 June, n.2; and Mease to GW, 23 May. The congressional committee to which this paragraph was referred reported on 19 Aug., proposing resolutions that would have returned responsibility for clothing supply to the states and suspended Mease pending a court of inquiry. Consideration of the report was postponed. Another committee was created in October, but no final action was taken until 23 March 1779 when Congress restructured the clothier’s department ( 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 , 11:812–13, 12:983, 996–97, 14:353–60).

9GW was referring to the troops raised in accordance with Congress’s resolution of 26 Feb., directing the states to draft troops for nine months’ service to complete their Continental regiments ( 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 , 10:199–203).

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