George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General Horatio Gates, 21 May 1779

To Major General Horatio Gates

Head Quarters Middle Brook May 21st 1779


I am duly favored with your letter of the 7th. Immediately on the receipt of it, I forwarded the inclosed packet to Congress and seconded your application.1 I have since learnt though not from authority that a supply of money must have reached you ere this. I am equally concerned and alarmed at the dangerous spirit which has appeared in the troops under your command from the unfortunate causes you mention; but I have no doubt of your utmost exertions, so far as depends on you to pacify and prevent a return. Discontents are too prevailing throughout the army and unhappily the remedies are hard to be found.

When I received your letter of the 12th of April, I lost no time in communicating the contents to Congress and urging a supply2—I am sorry it did not procure more speedy relief—But our finances are so miserably embarrassed, that the complaints and distresses for want of money are universal—I know not where they will end.

I was induced to believe as well from your two letters of the forementioned date from the reports of the Commissary, that though your magazines were low, you would not be driven to the extremity which you have lately experienced—I am again encouraged to hope, that your distress was owing to a temporary cause which being removed will restore things, in this respect into a proper channel. I send you an extract of a letter of the 10th instant to this effect from Mr Flint who is the Commissary’s principal assistant here.3 I have written to Mr Wadsworth on the subject.4

The order of General Sullivan respecting deficiencies of rations and the consequent practice of paying for them where the substituted articles have not been supplied are very unlucky circumstances. We cannot too cautiously avoid increasing the expenditures of Public money—The General seems to have mistaken the spirit of the resolve on which he founds his order, which appears to me to have been only meant to authorise the commanding officer to change from time to time the component parts of a ration, substituting plentiful articles for those which were scarce—and rather intended to exclude than allow pecuniary compensation.5 At this distance and in the present temper of your troops, I could not venture to prescribe a precise and positive line of conduct in this case, and must content myself with recommending it to you to bring the matter back as speedily as possible to its proper footing of which you now have my sentiments. The mode I leave wholly to your discretion, as it may require address and management. Perhaps it will be best to pay the certificates already given and to put a stop to them in future. I inclose you a copy of the resolve in question. I am Sir Your Most Obedt hum. Servant

Go: Washington

P.S. I send you an extract of a letter from Mr Mason of the 17th respecting a descent of the Enemy at Portsmouth in Virginia—I had had some account of it before, which added that they were marching toward Suffolk.6 I have received advice of the capture of a Vessel laden with rice from South Carolina to Boston—This is an unlucky event.7

LS, in Richard Kidder Meade’s writing, NHi: Gates Papers; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 154; copy, DNA:PCC, item 171; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. This letter probably was not sent until 22 May; see note 6.

1See GW to John Jay, 17 May (second letter).

4No letters from GW to Jeremiah Wadsworth on this subject have been found.

5For Maj. Gen. John Sullivan’s orders on rations, see Gates to GW, 7 May, n.2. He had founded those orders on a resolve of Congress of 26 Aug. 1778, which stated that “the Commander in Chief of the armies of the United States shall, in the army under his immediate command, and the commander of a separate department shall, in the army under his command, settle and determine according to circumstances, the ration to be issued to the troops, from time to time, giving an over proportion of a plentiful article in lieu and in full satisfaction of such as are scarce or not to be had, and which have been heretofore deemed part of the ration, reporting, from time to time, to the Board of War, the alterations and regulations by them respectively made in this respect” (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 , 11:838).

6GW enclosed an extract of a letter of 17 May from Thomson Mason to John Jay, which Jay enclosed in his letter to GW of 22 May (see n.1 to that document). That would indicate that GW did not send this letter to Gates until 22 May at the earliest. For the British raid on Portsmouth, Va., and its vicinity, see William Maxwell to GW, 3 May, n.2.

Index Entries