George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Knox, 18 February 1793

From Henry Knox

War department February 18th 1793


In considering the subject of promotion in the Legion of the United States1 the following previous2 questions arise.

First. Shall the Sub Legions be commanded by Brigadiers General or Lieutenant Colonels Commandant?

Secondly. If the latter shall the Lieutenant Colonels be taken from the line of Majors now in service?

Thirdly—If this be decided in the affirmative shall a Brigadier General be appointed in the place of General Putnam and sought for among the Officers of the late army not now in service? or shall he be taken from the Officers at present in service?3

In filling up the vacancies in the Legion the following cases occur.

First. Several derangements of Officers took place during the late War, and by the act of Congress of4 the 7th of August 1782 the officers retiring under that resolution were if again called into service to possess their former rank. the question arises in arranging the relative rank of such Officers with others of the same grade now in service but who continued until they were discharged at the end of the War whether the relative rank which existed at the time of the derangement during the War shall govern? The decision of this question affects a Major and Captain in the legion of the United States who were deranged the 31. December 1780 under the acts of Congress of the 3d and 21st October 1780.5

Another question occurs Is it proper to promote an Officer while under suspension for a given period by a sentence of a Court Martial, or while under an arrest for alledged misdemeanors or Crimes?6

If the promotions take place will it be proper to fill all the vacant Ensigncies.7

The principles of promotion delivered to the Commanding General on the thirteenth day of July last—are herewith submitted together with the formation of the Legion.8

But it appears on experience that it will produce some confusion in the promotion if two Companies shall be transferred from the first and second sub Legions in order to make Room for two Rifle Companies—It is therefore submitted that four Companies in said SubLegions be armed, accoutred, and disciplined as Rifle Companies and that a proportional reduction be made of those intended as Rifle companies; four of whom are to be armed with Muskets. I have the honor to be with the greatest respect Your most obedt servant

H. Knox
secy of war


1For efforts by Knox and Gen. Anthony Wayne to organize the Legion of the United States, see Knox to GW, 29 Sept. 1792, and note 3.

2Knox’s clerk originally wrote “serious” at this place in the LS; Knox crossed out this word and inserted “previous” above the line.

3According to GW’s executive journal, on 20 Feb., GW and Knox “Spent some hours . . . in arranging the promotion of the Officers of the Legion” and made their final decision the next day (JPP, description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends 61–62). For the answers to Knox’s queries, see GW to U.S. Senate, 22 Feb. 1793 (second letter). For Rufus Putnam’s resignation, see Knox to Tobias Lear, 14 Feb., and note 3.

4The remainder of this sentence is in Knox’s writing.

5Due to various legislative acts since 1780, the army’s number of officers, as well as its ranks, had undergone numerous changes, with the most recent attempt at altering the structure of the army coming in December 1792 and January 1793 (Journal of the House description begins The Journal of the House of Representatives: George Washington Administration 1789–1797. Edited by Martin P. Claussen. 9 vols. Wilmington, Del., 1977. description ends , 5:63, 72–73). For the resolutions of 3, 21 Oct. 1780 and 7 Aug. 1782, 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 18:893–98, 959–60, 22:452. On 20 Feb. 1793 John Stagg, Jr., the chief clerk at the War Department, made a “true copy from the records” of GW’s decision: “It is the decision of the President of the United States, that the officers deranged during the late war, prior to the Act of the 7th of August 1782, are not entitled to the benefit of the said act, it being intended to have only a future operation from the 1st of January 1783, and not retrospective” (PHi: Large Miscellaneous Volumes).

6In his letter to Wayne of 16 Feb., Knox expressed his determination to fill officer vacancies as soon as possible but complained that “so many Officers are in arrest that it is difficult to do it with precision” (Knopf, Wayne, description begins Richard C. Knopf, ed. Anthony Wayne, a Name in Arms: Soldier, Diplomat, Defender of Expansion Westward of a Nation; The Wayne-Knox-Pickering-McHenry Correspondence. Pittsburgh, 1960. description ends 189). On 20 Feb., Knox and GW decided “That officers under suspension or in arrest could not be promoted ’till they were releived from it; but that the vacancy should be kept open until the issue was known” (JPP, description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends 61; see also GW to U.S. Senate, 22 Feb. 1793 [second letter]).

7On 22 Feb., GW provisionally appointed a number of ensigns, with their commissions dependent upon a deterioration in relations with the Northwest Indians (GW to U.S. Senate, 22 Feb. [first letter]). However, Wayne continued to press for the activation of his ensigns (Knox to GW, 8 April).

Index Entries