George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Alexander McDougall, 14 May 1779

From Major General Alexander McDougall

Head Quarters Pecks-Kill May 14th 1779


The Subject of this Address, will be confined to the Bay Line. On Receipt of your Excellency’s Letter, on that Head,1 I furnish’d a Copy of it to the commanding Officers of Brigades—The Committee of Field Officers from each, were instructed to report on the different Matters contained in the Columns of the Inclosure No. 1. in order to give a clear view of the Rights and Pretensions of all, the Field Officers and Senior Captains. But the Committee went so far, as to give the Proceedings the air of a Determination, which I did not intend: When they had finish’d I publish’d an order, a Copy of which I have the Honor to inclose.2

The Objections made to the Arrangment of the Colonels, are only by Colonels Marshall and Bigelow—The first claims a Rank, which is not given him as Colonel of State Troops, doing Duty in Boston; under the late Resolve of Congress, on Report of General Officers at the Plains;3 but I think his Claim does not reach the Case—The Idea of the General Officers was to do justice to Officers of State Regiments who did Duty with the Army in the Field against the Enemy—Colonel Bigelow alledges, that Colonel Vose, with whom he disputes Rank, was not intitled to a Regiment, till General Patterson’s Promotion, which took place the 21st of February 1777—This is true; but what standing either of them was in, then, I am not warranted to assert.

No Objection has been made to the Order of Lieutenant Colonels.

Major Hull objects to that of the Majors, as appears by his Letter to the Commander in chief;4 but have not been furnish’d with his Claims, altho I have desired them to be sent here or to Head Quarters.

Captains Keith5 and Wiley, object to Captain Pettingill’s being placed before them, on the Ground of their Certificate herewith transmitted—and all the other senior Captains, are uneasy from a Report and apprehension, that the Council of the Bay, intend to promote Pettingill to the Majority of Wesson’s, which I fear will do Injury to the Service if it takes Place.

Brigade Major Harwood of Nixon’s stands high in the List of Captains, and is desirous of coming into the Line—Mr Bannister Major of Brigade to late Learned’s is not taken into the Line; and by the late Resolve of Congress, he must quit the Service unless he has his Rank in the Line.6 I fear this last Designation of Majors of Brigade, to be of the Line, will not opperate as favorable to the Service, as is expected—It will not here, for very few will undertake it.

In comparing the arrangment you were pleas’d to transmit me, with those lately brought in, from the several Regiments; I find Serjeants promoted, while Officers are returned, supernumerary—And several in the former, not in the latter; and others in these not in those. By officers being returned supernumerary; and others moved up to Vacancies, which were the Right of the former, and Promotions, Questions will arise, at what Time their Commissions should be dated—These Difficulties I conceive will retard the compleating the Commissions of many Officers of the Regiments, and will require some Rules which will apply to all—And Powers are necessary to determine Disputes on Points which I find cannot otherwise be settled, which induce me to detain the Arrangment till I have your further Orders. I have the Honor to be Your Excellency’s humble servant

Alexr McDougall

P.S. As the Troops at Providence, are not under my orders, I have inclosed the last Arrangments of those Corps.7

LS, DNA: RG 93, manuscript file no. 2087; ADf, CSmH.

2The “Inclosure No. 1” and the “order,” which McDougall omitted to enclose in this letter and instead enclosed in his letter to GW of 18 May, have not been identified.

4Maj. William Hull had written to GW from Phillipsburg, N.J., on 28 April: “Major Genl McDougall has transmitted me the Arrangement of the Feild Officers of the Massachusetts Line, made by a Board of Feild Officers appointed from that Line. Your Excellency doubtless remembers, that a Board was appointed at Valley-Forge, composed of all the Genl Officers of the Line for the above Purpose—In that Arrangement, I was the third Major—This Committee without knowing my Pretensions, and taking them totally wrong, have made me the fifth.

“If the Determination of the first military Board on the Continent is not to be esteemed conclusive, I think that of a Board of Feild Officers personally interested in the Event, ought to be deem’d of little Validity” (DNA: RG 93, manuscript file no. 2088). No reply from GW to Hull’s letter has been found.

5James Keith (1751–1829), of Easton, Mass., was appointed a captain in Col. Paul Dudley Sargent’s Massachusetts Regiment in July 1775, and he became a captain in the 16th Continental Infantry Regiment in January 1776. Keith was appointed a captain in the 8th Massachusetts Regiment in January 1777, and he was promoted to major in the place of William Hull in March 1780, with a commission dating from August 1779. Keith was discharged in October 1782 following a court-martial that found him guilty of improperly appointing a military guard (see General Orders, 1 Oct. 1782, DLC:GW). Keith wrote to GW on 10 Feb. 1785 seeking to have this sentence erased from his record, but GW, though sympathetic, refused to intervene (see Papers, Confederation Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1992–97. description ends , 2:359–60, 404).

6Seth Banister (1739–1819) had served in 1775 as an adjutant in Col. Ebenezer Learned’s Massachusetts Regiment, and in 1776 he served as an adjutant in Learned’s 3d Continental Infantry Regiment. Banister was commissioned a first lieutenant in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment in January 1777, serving as regimental paymaster, and he was promoted to captain in April 1778, serving as brigade major until July 1779. He left the army in January 1783. McDougall is referring to a resolve of Congress of 18 Feb. 1779 establishing regulations on brigade majors (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 , 13:197–98).

7The enclosed arrangements have not been identified.

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