George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Board of War, 17 May 1779

From the Board of War

War Office [Philadelphia] May 17. 1779


We have the Honour to transmitt your Excellency Copy of a Letter to Congress from Brigadier General Irvine referred to the Board.1 As we think this like all other Disputes about Rank should go in the usual Line we request your Excellency will be pleased to lay it before a Board of Officers & on your Certificate we will report to Congress. As Col. Magaw who is absent may perhaps be affected by the Enquiry into this Matter we would beg Leave to mention that he is an elder Colonel also than General Hand & we believe Genl Irvine yields the Rank to him—Genl Hand was Lt Col: to the Regt of which Col. Magaw was Major in 1775. We have the Honour to be with the greatest Respect your very obedient Servants

Richard Peters
by order


1The enclosed copy of a letter from Brig. Gen. William Irvine to John Jay, dated 15 May at Philadelphia, reads: “The Honourable Congress having been pleased to promote me to the rank of Brigadier General the 12th Instant—I beg your Excellency’s indulgence a moment to state a claim of Rank. Genl Hand was promoted while I was a Prisoner in Canada–’tho I was an older Colonel, as well by the date of my Commission as by the Arrangement of the State. I believe the Committee of Arrangement last August also thought I had a right to the preference, sundry Brigadiers have been lately appointed, who I conceive I have also a right to the rank of, on every principle. The resolution of Congress of 24th November 1778 I think clearly in my favour—and yet it will not answer any purpose, unless my Commission is antidated. As I am anxious to proceed to Camp, and wish some decision in this matter previous thereto, request your Excellency’s attention” (DLC:GW).

The Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council had in January 1779 recommended the promotion of colonels Robert Magaw and William Irvine to brigadier general, criticizing the promotion of Edward Hand as irregular; but although Congress approved the promotion of Irvine on 12 May, he remained junior to Hand (see GW to Joseph Reed, 9 Feb., n.3). GW wrote to the Board of War on 22 May criticizing Irvine’s claim to seniority, but Irvine refused to back down until a Board of General Officers reviewed the case in July 1780 and decided not to antedate his commission (see GW to a Board of General Officers, 4 July 1780, and General Orders, 7 July 1780, both DLC:GW; and Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 1st ser., 8:409).

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