George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin, Baron [von] Steuben, 15 March 1780

Philadelphia, Mars 15th 1780


Since the Departure of the last Letter I had the honor to write You, I have not in the least advanced in the Affairs which I had proposed to see brought to a Conclusion. Before it is known whether the Number of Regiments is to be preserved or whether an Incorporation is to take place, it is impossible to make any Calculations for the formation.

I have exerted all the means in my Power to persuade Congress to determine that important Question, & to adopt a system whatever that Your Excellency & the Chiefs of the several Departments might make their Arrangements in Consequence, but it seems that the ill state of our Finances, has stopt all the Wheels of the whole Machine.

The Board of War have given a report, in which the Incorporation of a fourth part is proposed—This report contains the same Plan, which, I beleive, Chancellor Livingston has imparted to Your Excellency. Several Motions have been made, to Consider & determine upon this Object, but hitherto, the decision has been deferred.

The month of March is more than half Spent, & I shudder, my dear General, when I think of the many important Arrangements that are still to be made between this Time & the opening of that Campaign. There is not a Day but I run from the one to the other to make representations to them on the necessity of determining the present Business. The Day before Yesterday, I went to Mr Chr. Livingston, & I declared to him that I was ready to set off for the Army seeing that my presence here was of no kind of use. He requested me to defer my Departure, & communicate my Opinion to the Board of War of the formation of the Army for next Campaign.

As this Object had already taken up my Attention for sometime, & I had Calculated & ballanced the good & Evil that might result from an Incorporation, & being entirely persuaded that such an Operation in the present Crisis, & at the beginning of a Campaign for which We are in general so ill prepared, would be dangerous, I have not hesitated a moment to give my Opinion in writing, I enclose here a Copy of it to Your Excellency.

The Board of War is to send to morrow that Paper to Congress, & I am in Expectation for the Effect it will produce.

You know, my dear General, that I have always wished to See our Regiments stronger, but I believe it will be prudent, to make use in the present Crisis of the simplest means, which is that of leaving the Corps such as they are, & reinforcing them as well as we can.

An Incorporation whatever, will be a General Alteration in the Body of the Army, & that at the Very moment perhaps when it should act.

Besides, as our Army will have this Campaign Such a great Number of Recruits We must be able to rely on Our Officers for the maintaining of good Order among the Troops. And the less is the mass of an Undisciplined Body, the easier it is to him who has the direction of it, to make it act, & restore it to Order, in case of Confusion.

The Vacancies of Subalterns in several Regiments, appear to be one of the motives, which might the most strongly ingage us to an Incorporation. But I believe that the Nomination might be suspended till the End of the Campaign, and as our Companies are not Very Strong, I believe that two Officers for Each will suffice. Provided the Brigadiers take care to send no Officer on furlough during the Campaign, see that none are Improperly Employed out of the Regiment, that the Field Officer’s Company shall have two subalterns, & the other Companies, One when the Captain is present, & two when he is absent. The Officers employed as Quarter Masters & Paymasters, might Even keep the Administration of their Companies, & be only dispensed from the service of the Line.

By these means, the number of 18 or 19 Captains & Subalterns would suffice to do the service of a Regiment, & each Regiment might keep five or six Vacancies.

Besides the numberless Inconveniences which I fear from an Incorporation or Reduction of the Regiments, I find that the proportion which is wished to be Incorporated, is the most difficult Thing to determine.

If We leave that proportion to the Choice of the several states, We shall have Regiments of 600 Men, while others shall consist only of 150—which I consider as the source of all disorders in an Army.

The proportion being fixed—Suppose it to be the fourth part.

It results this Question: How many Regiments is each state to reform? Now for instance

Massachusetts has 15 Regimts
Pennsylvania 11
New Jersey 3
Delaware 1

With such a disproportion I do not see how a fourth part can be reformed, without great difficulty & Confusion.

Such an Alteration requires such Extensive Calculations & such mature Deliberations that We have not time to undertake Either at such an advanced period.

I have received Yesterday the honor of Your Letter of the 6th inst. The post has tarried three Days.

It is with the greatest satisfaction that I see You have Collected the returns of the deficiencies of Men.

I feared the difficulty of this Collection, so much the more as I know the neglect & want of exactness of several Officers on an Object of this Importance of whatever is called Return, & it is with sorrow that I must observe to Your Excellency that the Board of War has not yet received the General Return of January last, & that that of December as well as several of the preceeding Months are Extremely imperfect.

A necessary Calculation has made me ask lately for a Return of Genl Poor’s Brigade at the War Office, & that Brigade has not been carried into any of the General returns, ever since last spring when it joined Genl Sullivan’s Corps.

This object & several others which I Shall Submit to the Consideration of Your Excellency will Engage me to join the Army as soon as possible. I am with the greatest respect Sir Your Excellency’s Most obedient & very humble Servant


DLC: Papers of George Washington.


c.15 March 1780

Proposals for the formation of our Army for the next Campaign.

The distribution of the Number of Men, which Each State is to furnish for next Campaign, permits us to Complete our Regiments of Infantry in the Line, to a Number, indeed, Below the Establishment, but which puts it, however in our Power to form Each Regiment into a Battalion, without changing the Principles of Formation, already Established in the Regulations.

If We put Each Regiment on the Footing of 317 fighting Men, Exclusive of the Commissd Officers, Drummers, & Fifers, & divide Each into Nine Companies, then Each Company will Consist of 35 Men under Arms, including the Serjeant Major & Quarter Mr Serjeant, & A Brigade of four Regiments will be Composed of 1268 fighting Men, & the 15 Brigades now at the Grand Army, will make a Body of Infantry, of 18703 men under Arms.

According to this Calculation, We shall have about 3000 Infantry, more than We had last Campaign, tho’ We had then the Brigades of Virginia & that of No. Carolina, which are now at the Southward.

We have nothing to do then but to Collect our Recruits, as Quick as Possible, to make our Regiments Equal; to Exercise the Troops, & to fill in some Regiments some Vacancies of Subalterns in order to have the number of Officers necessary for the service.

We shall then avoid Every Kind of reform & Incorporation which would unavoidably occasion a great deal of Discontent in number of Officers, who on account of their personal merit, & the Effectual Services they have rendered their Country ought not to be Exposed to those Disagreements.

Besides, Every Incorporation requires necessarily a New Formation which could not be arranged without Employing a Vast deal of Time; it is, one might say, a new Creation, rendered more difficult by the disputes about Rank & seniority, to which such Arrangements are always subjected.

When I examine scrupulously the motives which can induce us to lessen the number of our Regiments, I find none strong enough to balance the Inconveniencies, which will necessarily result from it.

The Season is already so far advanced that We scarce have Time enough to collect our Recruits, to Exercise them, & to form our battalions & Companies for the service of the next Campaign.

At a time when a Thousand important Objects take up the Attention of Congress & the Commander in Chief they will be incessantly troubled with Endless Representations if an Incorporation Should take place.

Several other difficulties which I could specify, will unavoidably arise, instead of this, if We leave for the present Campaign, the Army on the ancient footing, we shall have Time Enough to make a better calculated Plan, to lessen the number of the Regiments, & render them more formidable, which Plan might be put into Execution at the End of the Campaign.

With regard to the Additional Regiments I think that in granting them leave & money to recruit about 300 Men, they might be preserved on the same footing as those belonging to particular States.

Colo. Gist’s Regiment is joined to the Virginia Division, it wants, to be Completed, 164 Recruits which might be Enlisted in that state. Those of Colol Webb, Sherburne & spencer want in all 289 Recruits to be on the footing of the others—These might be levied in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and New England.

Colo. Jackson’s Regiment had at the last Review, the complete Number of 317 Men & does not want to be recruited.

The only Difficulty lies with Colonel Hazen’s Regiment, who insist on a particular Agreemt made with Congress, whereby his Regiment is to Consist of 20 Companies, of which he has however given up Two, So that his Regiment composed of Eighteen Companies, would make Exactly a double one. He is provided with Field Officers, & even with Captains, in Consequence of this formation, but he wants subalterns & Privates—His Regiment is partly Composed of Canadians as well Officers as Soldiers—These have a right to claim the Protection of the United states, however difficult it may be to satisfy all their Pretensions—What I might propose on this Object would be to Incorporate Colo. Livingston’s Regiment, as the weakest & mostly composed of Canadians, with that of Colo. Hazen

Colo. Hazen returns his Regiment 400 men
Colo. Livingston his 103
In all 503

Colo. Hazen Should then be ordered to divide his Regiment into 18 Companies each of 28 Men, which would make the Number of 504 Men & to form it into 2 Battalions.

With regard to the Cavalry, my opinion is that as in the present Circumstances, it is impossible to put those Regiments on the footing of the 1st Establishment, it is however necessary to determine their number & formation.

I propose then, the same means as for the formation of the Infantry, i.e. without incorporating or reforming Regiments, or Even Changing the ancient formation, but only lessening the number of Men & Horses in Each Regiment, that the Totality of our Cavalry may not Exceed the number of 1000 Horses.

The Corps of Cavalry which we have at present, are Four Regiments of Horse, The Corps of Light Horse under Major Lee, & the Maréchaussée.

Each Regiment should then be completed to the Number of 204 Men, well mounted, including the NonCommissioned Officers & Trumpetters.

Each Regiment might be divided into Three Squadron, Each Squadron to Consist of 68 Horse.

Each squadron should then be divided into 2 Companies, Each Company to Consist of 34 Men, including the NonCommissioned Officers & Trumpeters.

Each Company ought to have six Supernumeraries on Foot, Consequently, Each Regimt should consist of 204 Horse, & 228 Men on foot.

Major Lee’s should still Consist of 150 Horse, as it does now, his Infantry should only be completed.

The Maréchaussée ought to remain on the first Establishment of Forty Horse.

With regard to Colonel Armand’s Legion it ought to be left to the discretion of General Lincoln to put it on the footing he shall think most Conducive to the Good of the services.

Thus the Cavalry without the above mentioned Legion will not Exceed the Number of 1006 Horses, in the Northern & Southern Armies.

I cannot, however, forbear observing that as long as our Cavalry have no Carbines, to guard themselves in their Quarters, I wish Each Regiment should be joined by 150 Foot, otherwise it will never be in our Power to Employ our Cavalry on the Lines, & We Shall be obliged to place them behind our Camps, where they will be always of very little Service.

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