George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Lieutenant Colonel Eleazer Oswald, 14 October 1778

To Lieutenant Colonel Eleazer Oswald

Head Quarters Fredericksburg October 14th 1778


I received your letter of the 4th at Fish Kill1—On my return to this place, I immediately sent for you to have some matters explained, concerning which you appear to have adopted an erroneous idea—But to my surprise, I found you were gone to Philadelphia.

You say you think you have a right to a sight of the report of the board of General officers on which the plan adopted by the Committee of arrang<ement> was founded; and declare your opinion, that both this and the subsequent report of another Board which settled the rank of the field officers of Artillery ought to have been inserted at large in general orders—These papers are neither of them in my possession; but as well as I recollect, they were not only substantially but almost literrally published in the General orders of the [ ]—in the first instance in the shape of a report of the Committee, in the last with scarcely any change of form.2 But if you have any scruples on the subject, you can easily remove them by applying to the Committee of arrangement who have the original papers, and who, I dare say, will readily communicate them.

It is not for me to enter into the merits of the principles on which the decision you complain of was founded. It is only to be lamented, that no mode which can be invented to adjust competitions about rank will satisfy all the parties. But unless decisions once formed be adhered to there will never be any thing but confusion and discontent in the army. I must always regret when a good officer leaves the service, but as you are determined to do it—I shall not refuse to accept your resignation.

You are acquainted, with the forms used upon these occasions—and that it will be necessary to produce a certificate of a settlement of accounts and your commission either to be retained or cancelled by an indorsement. I am Sir Your most hume servt.

Df, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The text within angle brackets is taken from the Varick transcript.

1Oswald had written GW on 4 Oct. from Fredericksburg: “By the Decision of the Board of General Officers, convened the 15th ultimo, for determining the Rank of the Field Officers of Artillery, I am compelled to quit the Army, after having served, I flatter myself, with some Degree of Reputation, from the Commencement of the War to the present Hour. The Chagrin and Mortification I feel on being obliged to retire from the Field at this Period, can be known only to an injured and disinterested Soldier.

“Injustice has been done me: But I do not appeal for Redress; because, I was under the disagreeable Necessity of consenting to preclude myself from an Appeal to any other Board, before an Investigation of our Claims could take place. The Imprudence of relinquishing so inestimable a Privilege is now but too obvious.

“The Rule adopted by the Committee of Arrangement (they say) is founded upon the Report made by a Board of General Officers of the whole Line. I believed that this Report, from the Character of those that made it, must have been agreeable to Reason & Justice, and seeing that the other Officers had agreed to be determined by it, as I knew my Pretensions to be well founded, I agreed also to abide by it, not doubting but Justice would have been done me—But, as I conceive I have been injured, and have not seen that Report of the General Officers, I think I have a Right to the Sight & Examination of it, that I may be satisfied that it is really founded in Justice & Propriety, and also that the Resolutions of the Committee of Arrangement are supported by it—And if there should be a Failure in either of these Respects, I conceive I have a right to redress from Congress from which I never meant to preclude myself.

“If the established Principle which was recommended by the Committee of Arrangement, for deciding Disputes about Rank, and inserted in general Orders of the 9th ultimo, has been adhered to in the Admission of one Plea, it has been discarded in another. Colo. Harrison and Lieut. Colonel Carrington stood on one Ground—Colonel Lamb and myself stood on opposite Ground. Colonel Lamb has the Precedence; But I am deprived of my Right which makes the Injury done me appear the more pointed & evident.

“The Resolutions of the Committee of Arrangement, appear to me obscure & ambigious, if not contradictory—nor can I find from them any Rule by which the Board have determind my Case—And I think both the Report of the Board of General Officers of the whole Line and the System on which the Board (who settled the Rank of the Artillery) have proceeded ought to have been inserted at large in general Orders, for the Satisfaction of all the Officers concerned. The Board have, justly I think, admitted Colonel Lamb’s Claim of Precedence to Colonel Harrison—But mine, which by the same Rule, was, at least, as well founded, they have rejected, and degraded me, by placing before me a Gentleman, whose first Commission was inferior to mine, and of a much later Date.

“It is with Reluctance that I trouble your Excellency upon the Occasion, but as I can no longer serve with Honor, I must request your Excellency to consider this as a Resignation of my Command in the Corps of Artillery” (ALS, DLC:GW). Oswald is referring to the board of general officers report published in the general orders of 15 Sept. that ranked him second to Edward Carrington among the artillery lieutenant colonels. Oswald also refers to the resolutions of the Continental Congress committee of arrangement that were published in the general orders for 9 Sept. and to the report of the board of general officers of 7 Sept. that is in note 1 to that document.

2GW is referring to the general orders of 9 and 15 September.

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