George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Board of War, 21 August 1779

To the Board of War

Head Quarters West point Augt 21 1779


On the 19th I received the Honor of Your Letter of the 9th1 and knowing how very essential harmony is to promote our Affairs and to bring them to a happy conclusion—I was much concerned to find, that there was a cause of difference between You and General Sullivan. I inclose a Copy of a Letter of this date which I have written to Congress in consequence of your Letter upon the subject, in which you will perceive my opinion of your conduct.2 It is much to be wished that Mankind in general were more disposed to accomodate difficulties than they are. In the circumstances of our present Warfare such a disposition is peculiarly necessary—and according to my ideas the Man who endeavours to do this—whether Civil or Miltiary, consults well the interest of his Country. The Obstacles and difficulties which unavoidably occur are more than sufficient of themselves—and should prohibit any measures to encrease them. I have the honor to be with great respect & esteem Gentlemen Yr Most Obedt sert

G. Washington

Df, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1This letter has not been found, but the Board enclosed a copy of Maj. Gen. John Sullivan’s letter to Congress of 26 July and copies of several other letters (see GW to John Jay, this date). The copy of Sullivan’s letter to Congress, docketed “No. 1” and dated 26 July at Wyoming, Pa., reads: “I am sorry to inform Congress that notwithstanding repeated applications to the board of War, to General Washington and the clothier, I have the mortification to find, I shall be obliged to leave this post without the necessary cloathing for the distressed Soldiers, whom I have the honor to command: and I think it exceedingly cruel that those brave fellows who from the nature of the service must necessarily encounter every hardship incident to war should feel the want of cloathing, when those (whose province it is[)] might easily prevent it. I hope that Congress will immediately direct, that a considerable quantity of cloathing be sent to this place by way of Easton, and they may rest assured that in so doing they will contribute to the salvation of many a soldier. The board of War is possessed of a list of such articles as will be most wanting” (DLC:GW).

The likely second enclosure, docketed “No. 2,” was a copy of a letter from Sullivan to Timothy Pickering, member of the Board of War, dated 26 July at Wyoming, Pa., reading: “The board of war in their late letter complain that I had not furnish’d them with the number of troops under my command, and had neglected to make the necessary demand of cloathing for the army intended for the western expedition. I had every assurance that the necessary provision would be made to accommodate the convenience of the army at the time of my appointment to the command, and therefore thought it needless. Early in April I spoke to Gen. Washington on the occasion, and inform’d him that most of the troops were deficient in cloathing; that a clothier ought to be sent forward for the purpose, & urged the necessity of blankets and other cloathing which might arise from accident—Indeed it would have been impossible for me to ascertain the necessary cloathing for an army I had not seen, (I mean such troops that were not immediately under my notice at Easton) as many of them might have been sufficiently supplied for the campaign. The circumstance of neglecting a proper supply to this army affords very sensible mortification, and the wretched condition of many of the Soldiers makes it cruel to exact the necessary duty from them. I have to request of you in a very particular manner to send forward immediately 1000 blankets & 5000 Shirts by the way of Easton, to be sent on to this place, or my troops will suffer too much to undergo the fatigues they are likely to encounter” (DLC:GW).

The likely third enclosure, docketed “No. 3,” was a copy of a letter signed by Richard Peters, “By Order of the Board,” to Sullivan, dated 7 Aug. at the war office, reading: “The Board have recieved information by a private channel that you have publickly censured them in general orders for Negligence in not supplying the army under your command with Cloathing. This is a censure so cruel & unmerited that we can scarcely suppose it possible you should have conveyed it to the Troops: But as there are some expressions in a Letter of yours to Congress, which, tho’ not in so explicit terms, cast reflections upon us, we are led to believe our information is not totally without foundation. Before however we will take it for granted, we think it candid with respect to you, & a piece of Justice due to ourselves, to require of you a copy of any general Order, or other writing affecting us, which you have published to the Army under your Command. If the Fact be as it is alledged to us, we cannot but lament that we should be led to an unprovoked dispute with any Officer: yet we owe it to our public Station as well as our private characters, not to sit easy under a Charge which we are conscious has not the least foundation; and which tends to draw down upon us the resentment of your Troops; and particularly of those who are destitute (tho’ from no fault of ours) of Cloathing & Necessaries. Before thus groundlessly censuring, you should have enquired whether we are answerable that your Army should have its Cloathing: You would on enquiry have found us not responsible that it should. But if you could have discovered our duty to have been the contrary of what we represent, you should then have enquired whether it was in our power to have supp[l]ied your wants? You would have found that the affording of you the supplies was not within our abilities. Your demands for this article were too late and indefinite, had we been obliged to supply them; and yet we can with the utmost truth say, that we used every endeavour with the Clothier here to get linnen cloathing, and every possible exertion was used by him to comply with our orders: But we know he had in store but a trifling part of what your Troops have received, & is now on its way to them: this not being a place where considerable quantities of Cloathing are or ought to be collected; the chief Magazine of Cloathing being at Sprin[g]field, from whence we believed your Army had been supplied in a great degree. We were totally ignorant of even the views of the Expedition, nor did we, or do we now, know either the numbers of the Troops or the corps of which your Army is composed. General Washington called upon us for a specified quantity of Military Stores as a Board of Ordinance, and he also desired we would give orders for a large number of Shoes & two thousand pairs of Overalls without mentioning one other article of Cloathing; He pointed out where they were to be sent [see GW to the Board of War, 22 April and 23 and 27 May; see also Board of War to GW, 24 May]. Your Military Stores are too ample for our Magazines, as we in due time ordered the quantity requested. The Shoes went with the Stores & the overalls your Troops received. The Commander in Chief who knew the nature of the Expedition, and the condition of the Troops going upon it, having asked for no other Cloathing than two thousand pairs of Overalls, we had good reason to conclude that no more was necessary. Have we then not done all we undertook? or were we obliged to undertake more? Yet we have done more out of a desire to forward the public business—We are as much pained as you can be, that there is a single Soldier in your Detachment, or any other part of the Army destitute of any thing his situation requires. But altho’ ours, & the sensibilities of their Officers are rouzed by the wants of the Troops, does it follow that we can, or ought to supply them? It is our duty among other things to superintend the conduct of the officers employed in procuring the supplies for the Army, to hear complaints, and redress or represent greivances, and report or remedy neglects as far as we can: and we should be glad to know wherein we have failed thro’ Negligence or Design in these Matters: But we are not Clothiers, Commissaries, or Quarter Masters. In the Cloathing department however, which has been in a sickly state, we have for some time past given peculiar assistance; and since the distress in the Winter 1778 after which we interposed our Aid to the Department, it is a peice of Justice due to ourselves to say, that we know the Army has suffered less than in any period of the War: and tho’ it was beyond our line of duty, we have by our exertions, with scant Magazines, & tardy Supplies, from causes we cannot command, kept the Army in general from the severe distress they have too often experienced. It would therefore have been more consistant with your Station & much more decent to ours, to have represented the embarrasments which actually exist in the business of supplying the Army, from the Scarcity of Materials and the small value of our Money; than thus cruelly & unjustly to hold us up to your distressed Soldiers, as the unfeeling and negligent Authors of the continuance of their wretchedness. But we will say no more on the Subject at present, as we are determined it shall have a future discussion. Mean time we ask of you as a peice of justice, that if you have published such a Charge against us, you will make our denial of it, as public as your Allegations; and inform the Army that we deem ourselves not answerable for the Supplies, of the want where of you complain: and that we alledge you[r] charge of negligence to be entirely without foundation. Who is right, whether you in your Assertion, or we in our Denial, an examination by proper Authority into our respective duties, and conduct will hereafter make appear” (DLC:GW).

The likely fourth enclosure, docketed “No. 4,” was a copy of a letter signed by Pickering, “⟨by⟩ Order,” to John Jay, dated 4 Aug. at the war office, reading: “Major General Sullivan having, in a way of complaint, informed Congress that, notwithstanding his repeated applications, the Board had not supplied the necessary Cloathing for the Troops under his command; and his Letter on the Subject being referred to the Board: We beg leave to state the mode of his application, and what supplies we have sent him. On the 11th of May we received a letter from Genl Sullivan requesting us to supply Coll Spencer’s & Malcolm’s combined regiments with cloathing agreeable to the returns he transmitted. We the same day gave Orders for that purpose. In the same letter he expresses his ‘hope that a proper supply of Cloathing of all kinds may be sent on by the Susquehannah, with a proper person to deal them out, a very considerable quantity of Shoes will be wanting, & also plenty of light cloathing’—The same day we wrote an answer to him, informing him that we had no light cloathing on hand (having just sent the whole to Camp) but had given Orders for the purchase of Linnen requisite for Spencer’s regiment, which should be made and forwarded without delay: adding that such regiments as we knew were going on the Expedition had been furnished with necessary Cloathing. When we considered the nature of the Expedition, and the general terms of this Application, we did not know how to answer the demand, we could not see the necessity or propriety of encumbering his Army with a general cloathing store. On the 23d of May Genl Washington desired us to send 2000 pairs of Overalls to Genl Sullivans Army; and on the 9th of June they were dispatched accordingly; as the materials were only then making up it was not possible to send them sooner. Before this His Excellency had desired that eight or ten thousand pairs of Shoes might be prep⟨ared for this ex⟩pedition [see GW to the Board of War, 22 April]. Orders were immediately givin for the purpose⟨. In consequence⟩ whereof 7420 pairs were sent (of which we ⟨informed the commander in chief in due time [see Board of War to GW, 24 May]) for that⟩ Army at large⟨; besides which, more than six hundred pairs were delivered out⟩ to Coll Proctors and the 11th Pensylvania regiments after the Expedition was formed. These Shoes and Overalls were all the articles in the Cloathing Department which the Commander in Chief has ever desired us to send to Genl Sullivans Army. Nevertheless, receiving afterwards his farther (the Genls) complaints of the distress of the Troops under his command for want of Cloathing, especially Shirts (without mentioning any quantity) we ordered a futher supply to be sent [t]o him of 1000 pairs of Overalls, 1000 hunting Shirts, & 2000 body Shirts. These were sent off the 20th ulto and could not have arrived when Genl Sullivan wrote the before mentioned Letter to Congress. He has now made a Demand of 1000 blankets & 5000 Shirts—which at present ’tis not possible to Comply with. Could we have formed any certain Judgment of the quantity of Cloathing requisite for Genl Sullivans Army we should have spared no pains to supply it; but all his information was very general; we had complied with every requisition from the Commander in Chief; and were for a long time utterly ignorant of the Corps destined for the Indian Expedition, excepting those three before named. Moreover Genl Sullivans demands being usually on a large Scale, we deemed some Caution necessary in granting him Supplies. He asked for 1000 spare Muskets at a time we had but a single one in store. We communicated the Matter to Genl Washington: at the same time informing him that ⟨we⟩ had some time before ordered 200 stands of spare arms & accoutrements compleat for the Troops under Genl Sullivan [see Board of War to GW, 24 May]; & these His Excellency, in his answer, judged adequate to the Service [see GW to the Board of War, 27 May]. From this View of the Matter we humbly conceive it will appear that the Board were not i⟨n⟩ fault if Genl Sullivan has not been supplied with the necessary Cloathing for the Troops under his Command.” A note written on the manuscript after the closing reads: “We have since ordered 1000 more Body Shirts to be sent to Easton & if possible sent on to Genl Sullivan’s Army” (DLC: GW). The text in angle brackets, where the copy in DLC:GW is mutilated or obscured, is taken from the original manuscript in DNA:PCC, item 147.

2See GW to John Jay, this date. The words, “and how little you deserved General Sullivan’s censure,” are crossed out at the end of this sentence.

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