George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lewis Nicola, 31 October 1780

Philada 31 Octob. 1780


I am sorry to be under the necessity of calling off your Excellencies attention from matters of moment to listen to a difference between the gentlemen of the medical department & me, but the good of the service, by a preservation of proper discipline, requires I should state facts & request your directions.

Some time since a refusal from the doctors of the hospital to receive some sick soldiers, sent there by my order, in consequence of a request from the doctor attending the hospital in the barracks, was productive of a general court martial, the proceedings of which, I am informed are now before you.

About the 19th of this month I thought it necessary, as there was an alteration in the department, to remend the doctors that the time for making the returns to the adjutant genl, agreable to your orders transmitted to me by him, was approaching, I therefore wrote a note to Dr Shippen requesting he would direct the return to be sent to me, & in future by the 20 or 21 of each month that I might forward it by the following post. The post day arrived without my hearing any thing from the doctor or receiving the return; being engaged that morning by letters & other business I desired the doctor of the Invalid regt to call at the hospital for it, he informed me Dr Berry, the principal of the hospital, had taken it to town; I delayed sending my letter to the post as long as possible & was obliged to send it without the return, I continued in daily expectation of receiving it ’till the 27th when I wrote to Dr Berry, a copy of my letter accompanies this, No. 1 & received the answer No. 2. Greatly surprised at the purport of it, & thinking it a duty incumbent on me to support the dignity & authority of my station, I wrote No. 3 to the doctor & sent it by Lt Pugh, to whom I gave written instructions No 4. On his return he informed me the doctor accepted the arrest.

In the afternoon Dr Jackson came to me & told me it was not the custom for the doctors to make returns to the Superintending officer, but that the hospital books were open to his perusal & he might make his return from them. I replied this was quite new to me, that Dr Smith, predecessor to Dr Berry, & Dr Otto made their returns, that if Dr Shippen or Dr Berry had informed me this was the usual method I should not have made any objection, as it was a matter of indifference to me how I received the necessary information provided I was enabled to comply with the orders of my superiors. Had this been the only point in controversy between the doctors & me you should not have been troubled with it, tho from the best information I can procure from Col. Humpton & other officers & doctors, I find the above is not the most usual method & Doctor Jackson has since owned he spoke only from the practice in the hospital he attended.

Forty years service as an officer has not only informed me that every person in military employment is bound to obey orders, but has convinced me of the necessity of the regulation, & that it is adopted in all armies in Europe. If the person receiving the order thinks himself injured he has a right to complain, before the execution thereof, if time, and the presence of authority superior to that of the person issuing the order, permits, if not he is to obey & seek redress afterwards. I am fully satisfied that in Europe every officer commanding in camp, garrison or post has a right to know the strength & circumstances of every body & thing military in the place, this the good of the service often requires, but no event rendering such information necessary since the command here has devolved on me as senior officer, I never required returns from any department, being averse to giving trouble from no other motive than a wanton display of authority; but this right being now contested, I think it requisite, for the preservation of discipline, the point should be determined.

In all new institutions precedents should be carefully attended to, as bad customs may acquire sanction by practice. Obedience to orders from my superiors, as well as enforcing obedience to such as I conceive necessary is, from long practice become habitual to me, wherefore you may be assured I shall comply, with due submission to your determination in both points of controversy between me & the gentlemen of the faculty. Permit me to assure your Excellency that I am with respect Sr Your most obed. Servt.

Lewis Nicola Col. Inv.

DLC: Papers of George Washington.


No. 1

Barracks 27-28 October 1780 27 Octr 1780


I expected the return of the sick would agreeable to Orders have been sent to me last tuesday to be forwarded to Head Quarters, but was disappointed nor have I reced it since. must therefore request it be sent to me immediately, & one every month in such time that it may be sent by the 1st post after the 20th as his Excellency requires their being returned to Adjutant Genls Office by the 25th of every Month, I am Sir your most Obedt Servt

Lewis Nicola Col. Invds

Supt of Hospitals

To Doctor Berrey

or Senr Doctor attendg the Hospital at the Bettering House.


Philada Octr 27th 1780


I have receivd your letter of this day, & beg leave to inform You I am too well acquainted with that line of my duty to delay making returns to the Officer who has a right to demand them.

To Superior Authority on my own departmt & orders of Congress I hold myself amenable, but am entirely ignorant of all Orders which oblige me to make a return to You, or any other Superintendent Officer whatever. With due respect I remain sir your most obedt.

B. Berrey P. & S.

No. 3

Barracks 28th Oct. 1780


I reced yours of yesterday date & own I read it with astonishment as I cannot conceive how you coud refuse Obedience to an order your predecessors have complied with for years past.

You say you are too well acquainted with the line of your duty, to delay making returns to the Officer, who has a right to demand them. I am sorry to say, Your Conduct evinces the contrary, & that I am necessitated to inform You the superintendg officer has a right to inspect into every thing relating to the Hospital under his care; medicament & aliment for the sick Excepted; & to demand returns of the sick, & the Officer commands at any post where an Hospital is, has a right to order returns to be made to him, of the State thereof, whenever he thinks necessary, as well as of every other department under his command.

As Field Officer superintendg the Hospital, in this State, I demand a return of the Hospital under Your Care to be made to me this day; & as Commanding Officer, I order Your Complyance with the above. Lt Pugh the bearer has orders in case of refusal, to put you under Arrest, & as from the Stile, & purport of your letter, I have reason to suppose You will not submit to the Arrest; he is directed & authorized by Me, to compel You thereto by force, to bring You to the barracks a prisoner, & confine You in an Officers Room, under the care of one or more Sentries, if necessary.

Nothing but the obligation I am under to preserve discipline would induce me to go to this Extremity, & I hope Your Complyance with the first or second of these directions & orders, will render the last unnecessary, which will give much Satisfaction to Sir, your humble Servant

Lewis Nicola Col. of Inv. Commy

To Doctor Berrey

No. 4

Barracks Octr 28. 1780


You are hereby directed to go to the House of Dr Berrey, Senior docter of the Hospital in the Bettering House, & deliver to him the open letter herewith given to You, requiring his making a return to me this day of the sick under his Care should he refuse,You are to put him under Arrest, requiring him to remain a Prisoner in his house without going therefrom unless by permission from me or any other Officer that may succeed me in the command of this post, In case he refuses to accept this Arrest, You are with military force if necessary, to bring him up to the Barracks, & confine him in the Room prepared for Capt. Reily, under the Care of such Sentries, as You may think necessary.

You are to proceed in this business with as much decency & politeness; as the nature thereof will admit, & not proceed to the last Extremity, unless compelld thereto by a repeated refusal on the Doctor’s part, to comply with the Order for the return, or to submit to the Arrest in his own House.

Lewis Nicola Col. Inv. Commy.

To Lt Pugh Adjnt to the Invd Regt

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