George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Arthur Campbell, 13 August 1798

From Arthur Campbell

Washington [County] 13th August 1798


You have spoken, and your Words ought to be heard as the voice of a Father throughout the United States. Thinking in this manner and feeling how incumbent it is upon every person, of every description, to contribute at all times, to his Countrys welfare and especially in a moment like the present, when every thing we hold dear and sacred, is so seriously threatned. Happening to be the senior Field-Officer in the State, I have been in the habit of reflecting on military matters since the Order for eighty thousand Militia, to be in readiness, have been issued: but this year seems to bring the danger nearer by accelerated movements; another Summer may appear, before the eventful crisis will arrive, and probably arrive it will; and it ought now to be calculated on, as one of the distinguishing favours of divine providence, that we have received, so plain a warning of our danger. Therefore if we rightly appreciate the few Months to come, we may be well prepared, to meet the force and extent of the crisis. Next to encouraging unanimity, and a fraternal disposition among ourselves, is the procuring, and distributing a sufficiency of the best kind of Arms and Ammunition. This will give confidence, and you well know that confidence, even with inferior numbers, will perform wonders in the day of trial. This observation may aptly apply to our Voluntiers and the Militia. Veterans we have none. An enthusiasm must be raised, this with the best of Arms, may make new Soldiers do the Work of Veterans. When I speak of the best kind of Arms, I will explain my idea. In Artillery, the new inventions in Great Britain, particularly at Carron Iron Works, ought to be carefully examined and if approved, be substituted in place of the old, unweildy and expensive Guns. The Carronade, if finished in the best manner, at our Founderys, will make our Frigates all at once, equal to second rate Ships of the Line, of the enemy. And with few exceptions, the Horse-Artillery answer for all interior land engagements. Our Mortars, and Howitz may be made, and used on the same principles with the Carronade.

The English Musket, is generally believed to be the best model for small Arms. Allow me to hint, that if our Muskets were made a few inches longer, than formerly, and the Bayonett to assume the form of a Dagger in the blade, and something longer than the old ones, would it not be better?

Last war, I was fully imprest with the defect of our Rifles, without a Bayonet, even in fighting Indians. Surely the Rifle Regiments will readily accept of Rifles, with handsome Spring-bayonets affixed. The Rifle is a favourite Gun with the interior Americans, their predeliction may be improved, so as to make an European foe feel their energy.

Good Gun-powder is a precious article. Let as much as possible, be manufactured in America. Those who are acquainted with the making of powder, say frauds can easily be practised, in making it, and yet it will look well to the eye. Nitre and Sulphur come safer across the Ocean seperately, than when mixed with charcoal, besides the best nitre, and charcoal, can be made in our own Country.1

Communications already transmited, to Colonel Pickering, will further elucidate this subject.2 My zeal may exceed my knowledge, if it has, you will Sir, ascribe it to a good motive, and accept this as a mark of the profound Respect I have long indulged for the Father of his Country.

Arthur Campbell


Arthur Campbell (1742–1811), a native of Augusta County and a former Indian fighter, during the Revolution settled near the Holston River in what had since become Washington County, Virginia. Campbell at this time was county lieutenant and presiding justice of the county court.

1GW responded from Mount Vernon on 8 Sept. to this letter and to the letter that Campbell wrote on 20 July for the Washington County militia: “Sir, Your letter of the 20th of July, in behalf of the Officers of Washington County; and that of the 13th of August have been duly received.

“The lively sensibility expressed by the Officers of the Militia of Washington County through you, as their Organ, on my acceptance of the Appointment to Command the Armies of the United States, cannot fail to make a pleasing impression on my mind: And I beg them to receive my grateful acknowledgments for the confidence they are pleased to place in my exertions to serve our Country at this eventful crisis.

“I trust my fellow citizens will do justice to the motives which have again drawn me into public life at this advanced period, & when I had withdrawn in the fullest hope and confidence that I should pass the remainder of my days in tranquil retirement. But when we are threatned with the loss of every thing which we hold dear as men and as Citizens, no circumstances of personal consideration should, in my opinion, withhold our exertions in the common cause; and I cannot forbear to express the pleasure which I feel on learning that the Officers of the Militia of Washington County know how to appreciate the value of their Independence, and that they are determined to support the Government of their choice against all aggressions. The same spirit, I trust, will not be wanting in every class of our Citizens.

“I thank you, Sir, for the communication of your ideas (under date of the 13th of August) respecting the Provisions which should be made in our Military arrangements ‘to meet the force & extent of the crisis.’

“I am always pleased to receive the opinions and suggestions of those who have employed their thoughts upon subjects which may be useful to our Country, and I am sure that those who know me will do me the justice to believe, that I shall give a due consideration and a proper efficacy so far as is in my power, to whatever may be calculated to promote our common welfare. With very great esteem I am Sir Your Most Obedt Servt Go: Washington” (letterpress copy, DLC:GW).

Campbell’s letter of 20 July, written “in behalf of the Officers of the Militia,” reads: “I would do violence to the emotions of my own mind, to the effusions of the liveliest sensibility of the Officers of the Militia of this County, if I refrained from expressing to you, the joy that overspread all countenances, and filled all our hearts on hearing of your acceptance of the command of our military force. It will be peculiarly consoling, to the Citizens of the United States, at this era of our political existance, when from a variety of untoward circumstances a want of unanimity and concert, are but too evident in our public councils, at a time when we are about to begin an arduous conflict with a people, who have arrived at the heighth of military skill, and who are elated with success. To you therefore we look, as to the Angel of union and concord, to whom the Almighty has given that wisdom which is from above, that will calm the tempest of contending parties, introduce moderation and justice, and unite all in defence of our common Country. It is far from being an agreeable task, to draw our swords against our fellow Men, yea more, our late Allies, and brother republicans. However we can appeal to the great Arbiter of nations that the quarrel is not of our seeking, that peace and independence is the boon we are contented with; but if war, an unprovoked War, must be made on us, we will renounce all former ties, and make known to the World, by decisive acts, that the French people are only in peace friends—When at war enemies. Our Fathers, and some of ourselves have gone thro one ordeal, in the cause of liberty. A second awaits us, and we will try manfully to prepare for the event. This we can do with more confidence, and redoubled zeal, under the auspices of a Commander in Chief—whose principles and integrity, give us grounds of the fullest assurance, that his Countrys independence will never be surrendered, but with his life. And then, like the hero before Quebec, the final adieu, will be I die contented, if America remains free!” (DLC:GW).

2Campbell wrote Pickering on 30 July: “As the making of Gun Powder in our own Country in large quantities, will promote the public service, I will omit offering a further apology, for taking the freedom, to inclose you a few lines wrote in a hurry to the Committee of the Chemical Society in Philadelphia . . .” (MHi: Pickering Papers). On 1 Sept. Pickering forwarded Campbell’s letter of 13 Aug. to GW, with this covering note: “The inclosed from Colo. Campbell recd to-day. He probably mentions a Mr McFarlane, a cannon founder. I have expressed my opinion to Mr McHenry & Mr Stoddert that he should be employed—at least to visit correct & instruct our founders private as well as public. T.P.” (DLC:GW).

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