George Washington Papers

From George Washington to James McHenry, 15 September 1799

To James McHenry

Mount Vernon Septr 15th 1799


Your letter of the 3d instant, with the papers accompanying it, did not get to my hands ’till the 11th—At the same time I received a long letter from Genl Hamilton, with voluminous references, to which he requested my immediate attention, and the communication of my sentiments thereon. These circumstances will account for your not having received an answer before this time.1

The Rules which have been adopted by the President of the U.S. relative to Rank in the Army, point out the mode which must determine the relative Rank of those Officers who have heretofore been in service. The documents in the War Office, and the information obtained from the parties, would enable you to fix the Rank of those Officers, at least as well as I can do it. But to manifest my readiness to comply, so far as is in my power, with any request from your department, I have, in the enclosed list, noted numerically the names of the Lieutenant Colonels & Majors, who have been in service, as they should rank, agreeably to the documents from the War Office, which you forwarded to me, annexed to their names, and in conformity with the Regulations established by the President relative to Rank.2

By these Rules resignation precludes all claim to Rank, and places the party upon a footing with those Officers who have never before been in Service; but where a resignation took place from any cause not affecting the Character of the Officer (as it is presumed is the case with all who are now appointed under this circumstance) it does not, in my opinion, deprive the party of that consideration wh. his having been in service would give, provided he stands on equal ground, in other respects, with those who have never served.

As the Relative Rank of Officers who have not been in service, is to be determined by the Commander in Chief, I shall make the arrangement in the best manner I can, with respect to the Officers in your list who are of this description—But in order to do this with propriety & satisfaction a personal knowledge of the several Officers, or full information of their respective qualifications, talents and merits is necessary. The former I do not possess. The latter I have, respecting most of those who have not been in service, so far as could be ascertained from the documents laid before the Genl Officers in November last from the War Office. But to proceed on this ground alone, and without any document relatively to the Characters of the Officers from Connecticut, North & South Carolina & Georgia (who, you will recollect, were selected with out any agency of mine) and fix the Rank definitively, would be very repugnant to my ideas of propriety and justice—In a word, it wd be little better than to decide their relative Rank by lot. I have tried and tried again to make an arrangement of the Majors who have been in service, and enclose a list of the Result; but it is so unsatisfactory to myself that I request no weight may be given to it farther than it accords with better information & circumstances.

In your letter you have requested that the Relative Rank of the Field officers of the Cavalry, as well as of the 12 Regts of Infantry, should be fixed; but you have not furnished the names of these Officers; and there is one Major wanting, according to your list, to complete the No. for the 12 Regts of Infantry.3

I feel much obliged by your intention of remitting me two months pay; but excepting in cases which may involve me in pecuniary expences, I must beg leave, on the principle I sat out with, to decline the Acceptance of it.

The letters written to you by the Lieutt Colonels & Majors, in answer to your queries, are herewith returned.4 With due consideration I have the honor to be Sir, Yr mo. ob. st


Copy, in Tobias Lear’s hand, DLC:GW; copy, DLC: Hamilton Papers.

2The enclosure, dated 15 Sept., reads: “A List of the Lieutenant Colonels and Majors appointed for the 12 Regiments of Infantry, who have heretofore been in Service, ranked agreeably to the documents from the War Office, and in conformity with the Rules adopted by the President of the United States relative to Rank.

Lieutenant Colonels Majors
No. 1 Josias C. Hall No. 1 David Hopkins
No. 2 William S. Smith No. 2 Wm D. Beale
No. 3 Nathan Rice No. 3 James Armstrong
No. 4 Thomas L. Moore No. 4 William Henderson
No. 5 Aaron Ogden No. 5 Lau[ren]ce Butler
No. 6 Timothy Taylor No. 6 Wm Campbell
No. 7 James Read No. 7 Robt Beale
No. 8 John Smith No. 8 William Shute
No. 9 Thomas Parker No. 9 John Rowe
No. 10 William Bentley No. 10 James Baytop
No. 11 Richd Hannewell No. 11 George Stephenson
No. 12 Rufus Graves

“The Majors in the following list, having never before been in Service, are ranked according to the best judgement I can form, from the information of which I am possessed; and that, as I have mentioned in my letter accompanying this, is so incomplete, from the causes therein stated, that I request no weight may be given to this arrangement farther than it accords with better information and circumstances.

“Relative Rank of Majors who have never before been in service.

No. 1 William Wilcox
2 John Adlum
3 Jabez Huntington
4 John Walker
5 Isaac Winslow
6 Cornelius Lynde
7 John Ripley
8 William Jones
9 Henry M. Rutledge
10 Alexr D. Moore
11 Willm Brickell
12 Timothy Darling

Signed Go. Washington”

(copy, DLC:GW).

GW wrote McHenry on 15 Oct.: “Sir In the extracts from the Books & documents in the War Office, which were sent to me when you requested that I would fix the relative rank of the Field Officers of the 12 Regiments, Colo. Parker is stated to have been an older Captain in the Revolutionary war, than Colo. Bentley—and they were accordingly marked by me in that Order—vizt Parker the 9th and Bentley the 10th Lieutt Colonel.

“I have since been informed that Colo. Parker says he was a younger Captain than Bentley, and that the error in the statement from the War Office arose from there having been another Captain from Virginia of the name of Thomas Parker, which must have been mistaken for him; and he is very desireous that the error should be rectified lest it should be thought that his taking rank of Colo. Bentley proceded from misrepresentation on his part. You will therefore be pleased to make the alteration accordingly if it should not have been discovered & rectified already. With due consideration I have the honor to be Sir Yr mo. ob. St G. Wn” (Df, DLC:GW).

3GW received letters from two captains both in the 8th Regiment of the New Army, about their seniority in rank. Capt. Henry Piercy wrote on 7 Nov. from “Camp near Harpers Ferry”: “As the Rank of the Officers of the eighth Regimt of Infantry to which I belong, has been a matter that has engaged our attention, and being informed that the Rank will in a short time be permanently fixd, I have taken the liberty of addressing you on the subject, with respect to my claim. I enterd the Army of the United States early in the revolutionary war as Second Lieutenant in march 1777 was promoted to first Lieuten. and Served as Such untill the conclusian of peace in 1783. At the close of the War I gat a Birvet of Captains Commission. I have also been inform’d that the Officers will retain the Rank they held in the late war—Under these circumstances I beg leave to refer the matter to your consideration” (DLC:GW).

Capt. Edmund H. Taylor wrote on the same day from the same place: “The Rank of the Officers of the Eighth Regiment of Infantry to which I belong, having for sometime engaged our attention, as in all probability it will shortly be fixed. From the present list of the Officers of the Regiment and their Rank (which I am informed is only a temporary arrangement) Captains Thornton and Henry are placed before me; the former of those Gentlemen never served in the American army, until he received his present appointment, and the latter only as a Lieutenant in the Revolutionary War, (and resigned as I am informed before the conclusion) and was appointed to his present command two Months after myself. I have taken the liberty to lay before you my claim to take Rank of those Gentlemen; having served in every Volunteer expedition from the State of Kentucky against the Indians from the year ’90 until I obtained an appointment in the Western Army, where I served for a considerable time. From these considerations I am persuaded that you will think with me that I ought in justice to take Rank of the Gentlemen before mentioned” (DLC:GW).

Tobias Lear gave this reply from Mount Vernon on 12 Nov. to both men: “Your letter of the 7th inst. to the Commander in Chief, has been duly received; and in obedience to his orders I have to inform you that, in conformity with the resolution which he adopted when he accepted the command of the Army, he avoids entering into any details of the military arrangements, unless where particular circumstances urge his attention, in cases which require a prompt execution. He therefore, at present, declines giving any opinion on the subject of Rank mentioned in your letter; knowing that it will be established upon well grounded principles, in which due respect will be paid to former standing and services, as well as to the respective merits and qualifications of the Officers” (DLC:GW).

4McHenry enclosed these letters, which have not been found, in his letter to GW of 3 September.

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