To John Jay
Head Quarters West-point 17th Augt 1779
I inclose your Excellency a list of Officers proposed after examination by General Du Portail for the Companies of sappers and Miners. If Congress approve the nomination I request they will be pleased to direct commissions to be sent as speedily as possible. They ought to be dated the second of August 79.1
By the Regulations for the corps of Engineers, the men to form these companies were for the present to be drawn from the line;2 but the large demands upon it for other purposes in the weak State of our regiments productive of much dissatisfaction to the Officers makes me unwilling to add to the number by drafts for these companies. I have therefore advised General Du Portail to endeavour to recruit in the Country;3 but in Order to [do] this the Authority of Congress will be requisite; and it should if possible be given in such terms as will induce the States to forego the operation of the laws which have been made in most of them for preventing the recruiting of any other corps than those which properly compose their quotas.
Inclosed also is a memorandum of the money for which I have given warrants to Baron De Steuben in the Course of the present year, it amounts to a considerable sum more than his pay established by Congress.4 This is a subject which embarrasses me—It is reasonable that a man devoting his time and services to the public and by General Consent a very useful one—should at least have his expences borne—His established pay is certainly altogether inadequate to this—a large nominal sum goes but a little way. But while there is a sum fixed by Congress, I am certainly not at Liberty to exceed it; and though I have hitherto complied, from the delicacy of a refusal to a foreigner to a man of high rank—to one who is rendering the most indefatigable and benificial services—yet I shall be under the necessity of discontinuing the practice neither could I recommend that a sufficient allowance should be formally determined; for though there may be less reason to expect foreigners than natives to make pecuniary sacrifices, to this Country and though some of them may have no private resources so remote from home, for their support, yet it would be difficult to reconcile our own Officers to a measure which would make so great and palpaple a difference in the Compensation for their respective services—It is true the Baron from the nature of his Office will often have to travel from one part of the Army to another which will occasion extra expence and will justify an extra allowance—It is upon this principle that my last warrant was granted as he was just setting out on a journey to providence.5 But perhaps6 the best mode to enable the Baron or others in his situation to defray their necessary expences in the service may be to invest the Board of War with a discretionary power to grant such sums from time to time as they Judge reasonable and proportioned to the circumstances of the persons and times—I take the liberty to suggest these hints and have only to request that Congress will be pleased to direct some mode in which the difficulties I have pointed out may be remedied, consistent with the good of the service and Justice to individuals.7 I have the honor to be With great Respect Your most Obedt humble Servt
LS, in Caleb Gibbs’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter on 23 Aug. and referred to the Board of Treasury the part of the letter respecting the advance of money to Major General Steuben; the part respecting the corps of sappers and miners was forwarded to the Board of War (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 14:989).
1. GW’s aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton wrote the previous four words.
The enclosure was extracted from that part of the general orders of 2 Aug. pertaining to the nominations for the companies of sappers and miners, and listed the names and ranks of the officers as given in those orders. On the extract, several changes are marked on the document in a different hand: the name “Little” is crossed out in the column of captain-lieutenants and “Cleveland” written in, the names “Cleveland” and “Welch” are crossed out in the column of lieutenants and “welch” written in, and the name “Niven” is written in at the bottom of the column of captains, with the note “⟨vize⟩ Genl W’s Letter” (DNA:PCC, item 147). For the change appointing Moses Cleveland captain lieutenant in the corps of sappers and miners in the place of Andrew Lytle, who had resigned, see General Orders, 31 August. Congress referred these nominations to the Board of War, but the board acted on them only after further prompting from GW, finally sending the recommendations for commissions to Congress on 5 Feb. 1780 (see 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 16:133, and GW to Huntington, 26 Jan. 1780, DNA:PCC, item 152).
The Board may have mistakenly added Capt. Daniel Niven to the list because it overlooked specific instructions in GW’s 26 Jan. 1780 letter asking for the commissions of those officers appointed to the corps of sappers and miners. GW, acting on the recommendation of Brigadier General Duportail, had asked Congress that Niven be commissioned in the corps of engineers instead of the corps of sappers and miners (see GW to Samuel Huntington, that date, DNA:PCC, item 152, and Duportail to GW, 16 Jan. 1780, DLC:GW; see also 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 16:228).
2. For the regulations governing the engineer corps and the corps of sappers and miners, see General Orders, 30–31 July and 2–4 Aug. (see also the Board of War to GW, 1 April). The regulation regarding recruitment of companies of sappers and miners appears in the general orders for 2 August.
4. The enclosed memorandum signed by John Pierce, Jr., deputy paymaster general, and dated “Pay Office” 17 Aug. 1779, reads: “Account of Warrants paid to Baron Steuben by the D. Paymr Genl in the course of the present year—
I believe money was advanced the Baron at Philada but what sum am uncertain” (DNA:PCC, item 152). The warrants issued to Steuben on 14 July, 10 Aug., and 14 Aug. also appear in GW’s warrant book (Revolutionary War Warrant Book 4, 1779–1780, DLC:GW, Ser. 5).
6. Gibbs inadvertently wrote, “prehaps.”
7. The Board of Treasury reported to Congress on this matter on 24 August. The board recommended a resolution authorizing a sum of money for the Board of War to pay such expenses, but, on 7 Sept., Congress referred the report to a committee (see 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 15:1034–35). In February 1780, Congress again considered Steuben’s expenses and in March of that year authorized a payment to defray his expenses (see 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 16:204–205, 215–16, 231–33, 237, 257–58, 364–65).