George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lieutenant Colonel Aaron Burr, 24 October 1778

From Lieutenant Colonel Aaron Burr

Elizabethtown [N.J.] 24th Oct. 1778.


The excessive heat and occasional fatigues of the preceding campaign, have so impaired my health and constitution as to render me incapable of immediate service. I have, for three months past, taken every advisable step for my recovery, but have the mortification to find, upon my return to duty, a return of sickness, and that every relapse is more dangerous than the former. I have consulted several physicians; they all assure me that a few months retirement and attention to my health are the only probable means to restore it. A conviction of this truth, and of my present inability to discharge the duties of my office, induce me to beg your Excellency’s permission to retire from pay and duty till my health will permit, and the nature of service shall more particularly require my attention, provided such permission can be given without subjecting me to any disadvantage in point of my present rank and command, or any I might acquire during the interval of my absence.

I shall still feel and hold myself liable to [be] called into service at your Excellency’s pleasure, precisely as if in full pay, and barely on furlough; reserving to myself only the privilege of judging of the sufficiency of my health during the present appearance of inactivity. My anxiety to be out of pay arises in no measure from intention or wish to avoid any requisite service. But too great a regard to malicious surmises, and a delicacy perhaps censurable, might otherwise hurry me unnecessarily into service, to the prejudice of my health, and without any advantage to the public, as I have had the misfortune already to experience.

I am encouraged in this proposal by the opinion Lord Stirling has been pleased to express of the justice of my request; the sense your Excellency must entertain of the weak state of the corps in which I have the honour to command, and the present sufficiency of its respective officers. I purpose keeping my quarters at this place until I have the honour of your Excellency’s answer, which I wait with impatience.1 I am, with respect, Your humble servant,

A. Burr

Transcript, DLC: Peter Force Papers.

1GW replied to Burr from Fredericksburg on 26 Oct.: “I have your favr of the 24th: You, in my opinion, carry your Ideas of delicacy too far when you propose to drop your pay while the recovery of your Health necessarily requires your absence from the Service. It is not customary and it would be unjust. You therefore have leave to retire untill your health is so far re-established as to enable you to do your duty. Be pleased to give the Colonel notice of this, that he may know where to call upon you should any unforeseen exigency require it” (Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.).

Burr retained his commission as lieutenant colonel of Col. William Malcom’s Additional Continental Regiment until 25 Feb. 1779, when he wrote GW: “The Reasons I did myself the Honour to mention to your Excellency in a Letter of Septr last, still exist and determine me to resign my Rank and Command in the Army” (ADfS, NjP: Aaron Burr Collection). Burr apparently meant to refer back to his letter to GW of this date.

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