George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Knox, 2 March 1792

From Henry Knox

War-department, March 2d 1792.


I have the honor respectfully to submit to your view the following facts and circumstances relative to the promotion shortly to take place in the first and second regiments, in order to enable you to make such determination as may best promote the public interests.

The idea is submitted that the Lieutenant Colonel Commandant will be promoted to a brigadier.1

If this promotion should take place, the office of lieutenant colonel commandant of the first and second regiments will both be vacant.

Major Hamtramck, the senior major, has been considered as an excellent disciplinarian—The only circumstances which appear to impair his right to promotion are—

First—His expedition against the Vermilion Towns in the fall of 1790, which did not appear to have such a result as to mark the commandant with any eclat, or as possessing uncommon talents. It has been alledged that the militia were disorderly, which is probably well founded.

Secondly. His retreat on the 4th of November last, when advanced seven miles from Fort Jefferson towards the army. It appears, on2 hearing of the defeat he had a council with a few of his officers—detached an officer and forty men to meet the flying troops—and then returned, with the regiment under his command, to Fort Jefferson.3

It is to be understood, that the first regiment had not any provisions, and that there were none at the fort, and this is given as one of the execuses for this retreat.

It is to be considered, how far these two circumstances, in which Major Hamtramck is placed, indicate him as a proper person to be promoted to the command of the first regiment.

others will consist of nearly one thousand non commissioned and privates.

Major Zeigler is the second major—While the major’s fitness as a captain, and even a major, is conceded, it is very questionable whether he has talents sufficient to command a regiment of the magnitude proposed—He has lately had some disagreement with Mr Hodgdon, the quarter master general, relatively to a payment which he ordered, and which Mr Hodgdon refused—The major has offered to resign.4

The major seems to have mistaken his situation greatly—By being in the accidental command of Fort Washington, he fancies himself the commanding general. An officer is arrested and a court martial is ordered, and sentences the officer to be cashiered—The officer fears the sentence of the court, and offers to resign, and the major accepts the commission. This he had no right to do, as the articles of war are explicit on the point, and which articles were in the major’s possession.

Were the service to be bettered by the major’s resignation, it might be well to accept it—But, the next in command is, major Call, who it is presumed cannot be promoted with the imputations against him.5

Hamtramck, Zeigler and Call, are all the majors in service, the majorities of the second regiment are all vacant.

If Hamtramck should be promoted, then there would be four vacant majorities to be filled in the first and second regiments.

The four oldest captains of the first regiment are—

Strong—a plain, brave, man, but without any considerable abilities.

Smith—brother to Col. William S. Smith—brave, but not very attentive.

Asheton—a plain, brave, man.

Beatty—a plain, modest, brave, man—brother to Col: Beatty.6

It is to be observed, that these officers are entitled to promotion, by the right of seniority, according to the principles fixed in 1786, and re-established since the present government.

The captains of the second regiment are older officers of the late war—But, having come into service under the Act of March 3d, 1791 are to be considered as junior in the present arrangement7—while the captains of the second acted seperately from the captains of the first, the disagreeable sensations occasioned by reversing the former rank, would not be so lively, as when those, who were formerly junior, shall be promoted over their heads in the same regiment—It is therefore submitted, that as many of the captains be promoted to majorities, in the new regiments, as may be consistently with the other general principles which will govern in the appointments.

While this arrangement will be a sort of accommodation, soothing to the captains of the second regiment, it is presumed that they will make as suitable majors as may elsewhere be found.

But, a difficulty will still remain, by major Zeigler not being promoted—All the officers who are retained by that circumstance will consider themselves as injured, and they will probably resign, and perhaps the captains of the second regiment, if, a new person should be brought in, over their heads—It will be perceived that this measure will affect every officer in both regiments, and in some sort, be a breach of an implied contract on the part of the public.

This circumstance is to be weighed and balanced against a commander being placed at the head of the regiment, whose heart should be sound and brave, but whose head and talents would not promise much.

L, NNGL: Knox Papers.

1GW had appointed James Wilkinson lieutenant colonel in command of the 2d Infantry Regiment on 22 Oct. 1791 (see Henry Knox to GW, 22 Sept. 1791 [second letter], note 2).

2The copyist of this letter mistakenly wrote “an” on the manuscript page.

3For John Francis Hamtramck’s diversionary expedition up the Wabash River in the fall of 1790 and his controversial actions during and shortly after St. Clair’s defeat in November 1791, see Jefferson to GW, 29 Aug. 1790, n.1, William Darke to GW, 9–10 Nov. 1791, source note and note 5, and John Hurt to GW, 1 Jan. 1792.

4Maj. David Zeigler (d. 1811) of the 1st Infantry Regiment was highly critical of Samuel Hodgdon’s performance as quartermaster general during St. Clair’s campaign (see St. Clair, Narrative, description begins Arthur St. Clair. A Narrative of the Manner in Which the Campaign against the Indians, in the Year One Thousand Seven Hundred and Ninety-one, Was Conducted, under the Command of Major General St. Clair . . .. Philadelphia, 1812. description ends 206–11). On 29 Mar. 1792 Knox sent Tobias Lear “Major Zeigler’s letter offering his resignation” for submission to the president and two letters from James Wilkinson on the subject (DLC:GW). The original letter of resignation has not been identified. GW’s message to the Senate of 9 April states that Zeigler resigned on 5 March. Zeigler’s letter to Wilkinson of 11 Mar. apparently covered his commission, which he relinquished in order to avoid serving under Hodgdon and to return to Pennsylvania to settle his accounts with that state (see copies of Zeigler to Wilkinson, 9, 11 Mar., NNGL: Knox Papers).

5For a report of the intemperance of Maj. Richard Call (d. 1792), the commander of the federal troops in Georgia, see James Seagrove to GW, 5 July 1792. See also GW to Knox, 19 Aug. 1792.

6For the promotions of captains David Strong, John Smith, and Joseph Asheton to the rank of major in the 2d Regiment and of Capt. Erkuries (Erskurius) Beatty as a major in the 1st Regiment in place of Zeigler, see GW to the U.S. Senate, 9 April. Beatty resigned his commission in November 1792.

7For “An Act for raising and adding another Regiment to the Military Establishment of the United States, and for making farther provision for the protection of the frontiers,” see 1 Stat. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 222–24.

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