George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Henry Laurens, 12 September 1778

To Henry Laurens

Head Quarters White plains Septr 12 1778


I do myself the honor of returning to Congress the report of their Committee on the subject of an Inspectorship, transmitted in your Letter of the 20th Ulto, which was not received till the 31st—with such observations as have occurred to me, in considering the matter, and which I have made with a freedom, that I trust will be agreable to Congress.1 I wish it had been in my power to have returned it before; but the intervention of a variety of other important business from time to time, obliged me to postpone a conclusion upon the points till yesterday. I have already, in a Letter of the 26th of July, delivered my sentiments upon the consequences that would attend the Baron Steuben’s being appointed to an actual and permanent command in the line and therefore, and I will not trouble Congress with a repetition of them; however, I will take the liberty to add, that I am more and more convinced, that what I then said upon the occasion was well founded; and that I am certain such a measure will produce at least, infinite discontents and disquietudes among the General Officers.

I have also had the Honor to receive your favor of the 5th Inst., with the several papers to which it refers. These shall have my attention as far as practicable. I hope all the Confederal troops are on the march from Philadelphia—and if they are not, that immediate orders will be given for their joining the Army.

The Inclosed copy of a Letter from General Sullivan of the 10th Instant, will inform Congress, that the Enemy have not relinquished their burning plans, and that in this way they have destroyed several Houses—Stores and Vessels at and near Bedford. I was advised on Wednesday night, that a body of them, consisting of four or five Thousand, under General Grey had made a landing in that quarter, and were intrenching.2 In consequence of this, and from an apprehension that General Clinton might possibly mean to operate at the Eastward and form some project in concert with Lord Howe against the Count d’Estaing’s Squadron, I determined to move the troops from this ground to a Rear position, better calculated to afford support to the Works on the North river, in case an attempt should be made against them, and at the same time more convenient for forwarding Detachments to the Eastward, if the Enemy point their operations that way. I was the more induced to come to this determination, as most of the accounts from New York seemed to lead to a belief, as they still do, that a considerable movement was & is in contemplation, if not an entire evacuation of the City, and this by water. Besides these reasons, the principal Objects for taking post here do not now exist. One was to create every possible jealousy, in favor of the expedition against Rhode Island; another—the consuming the forage within its vicinity and towards Kings bridge &c. The former is now over—and the latter in a great degree accomplished. I have the Honor to be with great respect & esteem sir Your Most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. This letter was read in Congress on 14 Sept., and its enclosures were referred to committees on 15 Sept. (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 , 12:913–14).

1The copy of the report that GW returned here has not been identified, but the draft of his observations, which is in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing with one phrase added by GW, includes the texts of the thirteen resolves (DLC:GW; for the report, see also 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 , 11:819–23). The undated observations sent to Congress, which are in Tench Tilghman’s writing, read as follows: “Observation on 1st Resolve. This seems to imply that a new Officer shall be created for this special purpose, on whom, the Rank, Pay and Rations of Major General shall be conferred as appendages of the office. But it would be preferable, when circumstances will permit, to take the Inspector General from the officers already in the line of the Army, and to give it the more weight and respect, it would be proper to appoint him from among the Major Generals. This however can only apply in future appointments, as Baron Steuben has already been elected to the office, and his Talents and services give him a title to continue in it.

“Observation on 2d Resolve The first period of this Resolve is unexceptionable, and comprehends all the objects of the Inspectorship, consistent with the present establishment of the Army. From the beginning of the second period vizt ‘that he shall also review &c.’ to the end of the third paragraph concluding with these words ‘the means of redress’ all the duties of the Muster Master are delineated with some additions relating to the [‘]inspection of Tents and Camp equipage’ and ‘advising in what manner deficiences in the Articles of Cloathing, Arms, Accoutrements, Tents and Camp utensils may be supplied and future loss as much as possible prevented’ and reporting to the Commander in Chief ‘any error or defect which appears in the administration or discipline of the troops with the means of redress.’ Either the department of Muster Master must be abolished, or that part of the establishmt for the Inspectorate must be abridged, for to have two departments with precisely the same duties and objects, would be irregular and inconsistent. But it might answer good purposes to invest the inspector with some occasional powers of a similar kind, which may be an inducement to the Muster Masters to execute their office with the greater circumspection and exactness, in order to which, instead of that part of the Resolve before described, I would propose the following ‘That the Inspector and his Assistants shall review the Troops at such times and places and receive such returns for that purpose, as the Commander in Chief or Commanding Officer in the department shall direct, at which reviews, he or they shall inspect the number and condition of the Men—their discipline and exercise, and the state of their Arms, accoutrements and Cloaths, observing what of these Articles have been lost or spoiled since the last review, and, as near as possible, by what means, and reporting the same with the deficiencies and neglects to the Commmander in Chief and to the Board of War.’

“The fourth paragraph is not agreeable to practice, nor is there any necessity for it.

“The fifth paragraph needs no alteration, But the sixth is entirely improper. Troops should never be under Arms but with the knowledge and authority of the commander in Chief, or of the Officer immediately commanding the Corps to be under Arms. A contrariety of orders and Views might otherwise frequently ensue; and it would also be derogatory to the Officers commanding Wings—divisions and Brigades, and make them but little more than Cyphers, to have their Men subject to be ordered under Arms, whenever it shall be the pleasure of the Inspector General and his Assistants.

“Observation on 3d Resolve It is not essential there should be an Assist Inspector General unless to act in a separate department, where there is a large body of Troops employed. But as this is a contingent service, the appointments to answer it may be occasional—The Inspector General, with a proper Number of Subinspectors, will suffice with the main Army; and in case of the Absence or removal of the Inspector General, the oldest subinspector may officiate. When an assistant Inspector General may be necessary, he should be taken from the line of Brigadiers, and may be only temporary. A multiplication of Rank & Offices should, in every case, be avoided as much as possible.

“Observation on 4th Resolve The number of Inspectors should have relation to the distributions of the Army into brigades—divisions—Wings and lines. Each Brigade will require a Brigade Inspector, and besides these, it may suffice to have a subinspector for the light Troops, another for the Cavalry and three others for the three Grand divisions of the Army—vizt the Right and Left Wings and the second line. The number can be increased hereafter if found necessary.

“Instead of the words ‘relative to the discipline, order and exercise, [’] the words ‘relative to the department’ will be more precise and definite.

“Observation on 5 th Resolve This Regulation will be extremely proper with these alterations—that he shall be one of the Majors in the Brigade, and instead of doing duty in the line in time of Action, that he shall assist the Brigadier by executing his orders for performing the necessary maneuvres of the Brigade.

“In order that the Gentlemen at present officiating in the capacity of Brigade Majors, who have no other existence in the line of the Army, may not be thrown out of employ, they may remain in character of Aides de Camp to their respective Brigadiers with their present Rank, Pay and Rations.

“Observation on 6th Resolve This is a proper Regulation—under the restrictions contained in the observations on Resolve No. 5. and securing to the Aides to the Brigadiers, their right of succession and promotion in their Regiments as usual.

“Observation on 7th Resolve. In time of action, the Inspectors may be as usefully employed as at other times, by assisting in the execution of the field Maneuvres; and it seems more advancive of the service, that they should act in this Capacity, than that they should be invested with actual command in the line. When circumstances will permit, it may be allowable for them to hold commands; but it should not be made a general principle. And the priviledge should only extend to those, the nature of whose appointment would otherwise intitle them to it.

“It should be clearly expressed, that the Officers appointed in the Inspectorship from the line, should retain their Rank and places in the Corps, and their right of succession and promotion in the same manner as if they had not assumed the Office.

“The present allowance to the sub and Brigade Inspectors is deemed sufficient. The Inspector Genl may receive in addition to the pay of his Rank [ ] Dollars per month, and the Asst Inspector General when there is a necessity for one [ ] Dollars.

“Observations on 8th Resolve The Inspector Generals assistants shall also be subject to the Officers commanding Divisions and Brigades to which they are attached, under the principles established. All Regulations ought to be finally ratified by Congress, till which however, from the exigency of the service, they might be practiced upon as temporary expedients liable to be rejected, altered, amended or confirmed as Congress shall judge proper.

“Observation on 9th Resolve The whole of this Resolve had better be omitted—Some parts of it are exceptionable and the whole too much in detail. The part that is not exceptionable is rather an object of military arrangement with the Officer commanding the Troops, than of a particular act of State.

“Observation on 10 Resolve. This Resolve had better be omitted. It would establish a species of inquisition, which would render the Office and person exercising it odious, and would serve to renew and keep alive a number of complaints and quarrels, which would otherwise be buried in oblivion. It is unnecessary, because there are ample means already provided by the constitution of the Army for hearing complaints and redressing grievances.

“11th Resolve. This needs no comment.

“12th Resolve See Remarks on 3d Resolve.

“Observation on 13 Resolve It is expedient that there should be a power in the Commander in Chief or Officer commanding in a separate department to increase or diminish the number of subinspectors, as the exigency of the service shall require.

“General observations.

“In general it may be remarked, that this plan of the Inspectorship is upon too extensive a scale and comprehends powers so numerous and enlarged, as will naturally expose it to the jealousy and disapprobation of the Army, and will be really injurious to the Rights of the superior Officers in general. It extends to almost every part of the arrangement, management and government of troops, except in the actual operations in the Field: and by giving a legislative authority to the Inspector General, in forming Rules and Regulations for the Army, and an executive authority to him and his assistants to carry the same into practice, independent on every officer in the Army but the commander in chief, throws almost the whole administration into their hands. This not only places the other Officers on a very unimportant footing; but subverts the fundamental principle on which all military establishments turn. Agreeable to this principle a Colonel is supreme in his Regiment and responsible for its discipline, order, equipment &ca. A Brigadier in his Brigade in like manner, and so upwards. particular Officers and sets of Officers may be appointed in aid of these, but they must be subordinate and dependant—Thus the Adjutant charged with the detail &ca of the Regiment is subordinate to his Colonel. By the same Rule the Brigade Inspector should be dependant on his Brigadier, the subinspector to his Major General or the Officer commanding the division to which he is attached. If this is not the Case, the authority of these Officers in their respective Corps is reduced to a shadow and no man of spirit will continue in the service.

“The Rules and Regulations established in the first instance with the approbation of the Commander in Chief are binding in the whole Army. The particular Officers commanding Divisions Brigades &ca are answerable for the execution of them within the limits of their respective commands. The Inspector General is to see that the principles laid down are adhered to—to point out any neglects or deviations he may perceive—and if they are not rectified to make report to the Commandr in Chief. This principle is to pervade the whole department, but in a manner consistent with the Rights and powers of other Officers” (DNA:PCC, item 152).

2The previous Wednesday was 9 September. The information may have come in John Sullivan’s letter to GW of 6 Sept., which has not been found (see Sullivan to William Heath, 6 Sept., in 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 , 2:310, and GW to Sullivan, 9 Sept.).

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