George Washington Papers

From George Washington to James McHenry, 7 July 1799

To James McHenry

Mount Vernon July 7th 1799


I have considered, with attention, the Rules adopted by the President of the U.S. relative to rank & promotion in the Army, which were enclosed in your letter of the 2d inst. wherein you request me to suggest any alterations which may appear proper, to make them more perfect. These Rules meet my full approbatn, and I see no inconvenience that can arise from the establishment of them unless it be in the following clause—“Provided always that Colonels who were deranged shall take rank of Lieutenant Colonels who served to the end of the War.” You will recollect, that, before the close of the Revolutionary War, the title of Colonel was abolished in the American Army, to obviate some difficulties which arose in the exchange of prisoners, and that the title of Lieutenant Colonel Commandant was substituted in its place, to which rank was attached all the command, privileges and dignity which before appertained to that of Colonel. Now, may there not have been some persons at the close of the war, ranking as Lieutenant Colonels, who before held the Rank of Colonel, and who were older officers in that Rank than some who were deranged? If this should be the case difficulties may arise. You, having the dates of Commissions &c. to refer to, are better able to judge than I am, how far this may operate in the present case, and what attention it deserves. I therefore submit it to your considerations.1 Agreeably to your request, I return the Rules which you forwarded to me, and I have the honor to be with due consideration Sir Yr Mo. Ob. St

Df, in Tobias Lear’s hand, DLC:GW.

1McHenry wrote to GW from the War Department in Philadelphia on 2 July: “If you find any thing to alter or propose which will make the enclosed Regulations more perspicuous or perfect, I wish you mention it, and return them as soon as possible” (DLC:GW). The copy of the “enclosed Regulations” that Lear made for GW reads: “The following Rules have been adopted by the President of the United States relative to Rank and Promotion in the Army.


“The Field Officers of the twelve Regiments of Infantry raised in pursuance of the Act of the 16th of July 1798 who served in the regular Army during the late war and continued therein to the end thereof shall take Rank of all others of the same Grade who were not in service or who were deranged in pursuance of any Resolution of Congress—their relative Rank with each other to be the same as at the end of the war. Those Officers who have been deranged in pursuance of any resolution of Congress to take Rank next after those who continued to the expiration of the war—their relative Rank with each other to be agreeably to their respective Grades and dates of Commission.

“Provided always that Colonels who were deranged shall take rank of Lieutenant Colonels who served to the end of the War—Lieutenant Colonels of Majors—Majors of Captains &ca. Officers who have served in the Army or Levies since the peace and have been disbanded to take rank next after the Officers deranged during the late War. Resignations shall preclude all claim to Rank. The Rank of those Officers who have not been in service shall be determined by the Commander in Chief.


“The Captains and Subalterns in the Cavalry, Artillery and Infantry shall rise regimentally to the Rank of Major inclusive. Promotions from the Rank of Major to that of Lieut. Colonel shall be in the line of the Army—provided however that the said promotions in the Cavalry, Artillery and Infantry shall be confined to their respective lines. On a vacancy happening, the Senior Officer of the next inferior Grade in ordinary cases shall be considered as the most proper person to fill the same. But in cases of extraordinary Merit, Officers altho’ not senior in Rank may be appointed to fill vacancies” (DLC:GW). On 3 Sept. McHenry sent another copy of these regulations to take effect on that date, with one alteration in what is here the second paragraph under “Rank”: Inserted after the words “Provided always that Colonels” are the words “and Lieutenant Colonels Commandants.”

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