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From George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, 26 December 1779

To Thomas Jefferson

Head qrs Morris Town Decr the 26 1779


On the 13th Instant I had the honor to receive your Excellency’s Letter of the 28th Ulto with a Copy of the Resolution of the Assembly to which it refers. The proceeding is founded in a generous & just liberality with respect to the Officers & Soldiers who had not been provided for by the Act alluded to—and will I hope at least have a happy operation in alleviating their distresses which were exceedingly great if in nothing more.

I transmit your Excellency the best state I am able to give of the Virginia Troops.1 I have no return by me of Baylors Horse2—nor of the New Levies gone & going to the Southward with Genl Scott.3 A Return however of the former agreeable to the Resolution of Congress of the 15 of March4 has been transmitted, as I have been informed, to the Honourble the Bd of War—and also of Harrison’s Regiment of Artillery.5 I have never received a Return of the New Levies; nor have I had one of Bland’s Regiment since the Middle of summer [so] that I cannot give your Excellency the information I could wish with respect to them. The Returns of Gibsons Regiment & of Heaths & OHara’s Companies Stationed at Fort pitt are Old—& as they do not contain a state of the Mens Inlistments—they may convey a very imperfect idea of their strength at this time & it is probable they have undergone or may soon suffer great diminutions.6 Besides the Corps mentioned by your Excellency I believe there are some Virginians in Moylan’s Dragoons—and I have written to him to make me a Return which I shall take the earliest occasion to transmit after it is received.7 At present the Regiment is quartered at a considerable distance from hence. Your Excellency will I am persuaded, have often reflected upon the inconveniences of short & temporary Inlistments—The State of the Virginia Troops now forwarded will place the disadvantages and impolicy of the measure in a very striking light and shew how difficult at least it is for us—to provide for any military arrangements and operations—either offensive or defensive—with a tolerable prospect of success. This unhappily has been pretty much the case through the whole of the Contest—and it would give me great pleasure as I am sure it would You—if I could tell You—that this State of the Virginia line—was not a pretty just picture & representation of the State of the rest of the Army.

Your Excellency it is probable will have heard before this reaches You, that the Virginia Troops are on their march for the Southward, in consequence of the pressing situation of affairs in that quarter—and from the apprehension that they may become more so.8 The Troops had marched two or three days before the receipt of Your Letter, which circumstance left it only in my power to transmit an Extract of it, with the recruiting Commissions to General Woodford. This I did and requested him to nominate such Officers as he should deem best qualified to answer your Excellency’s views of reinlisting the Men. The Sub Inspector would be the proper Officer to review & receive the Men who reinlist; but as Congress have determined that it will not be worth while for the Troops to proceed whose services will expire by the last of March and as the Sub Inspector will go on with the Others I desired Genl Woodford to appoint One of the Officers who would be left with these, to act in his stead.9 Indeed Any of the Old Troops that can be reengaged, will be liable to little if any objection—as they are very generally a fine body of Men—the difficulty will be to bring them to reinlist and not in passing them. It is probable the Men who do not proceed to the southward will remain at Trenton or philadelphia. How the attempts to reengage them will succeed I am not able to determine.

I beg leave to refer Your Excellency to the Letter I had the honor of writing You the 23d Ulto, on the subject of prisoners of War & their treatmt[.] I have not heard the least complaint since on this head—and I should hope there will be none. Your Letter to Genl Phillips was transmitted10—and besides this the Enemy must have seen the public prints, in which the reasons for remanding Govr Hamilton &c. were fully assigned. They can never make, I should think—his obstinacy and refusal to comply with a common & invariable condition of parole either expressed or implied—a ground for imposing hardships upon any of our Officers. In this contest, I believe the condition required of Govr Hamilton has been always expressed in paroles taken by the Enemy. I have the Honor to be with sentiments of great respect & esteem Yr Excellency’s Most Obedt st


The Returns inclosed are The Virginia Infantry (including the two State Regs.) serving with the main Army, specifying the terms of service of the men.11

Return of Harrisons Artillery. specifying d[itt]o.12

Return of 9th Regt and two Independent Companies at Fort Pitt.13

Df, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s and Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Tilghman drafted only the postscript. The number “26” is written over “18” on the docket of the draft and indicates an earlier composition than its final date. Further support for this contention comes from the draft of GW’s letter to Jefferson of 16 Feb. 1780, where the earlier communication is referred to as “my Letter of the 18th of December” (DLC:GW).

1GW describes the unfound enclosures in the postscript of this letter. The substance of these returns allowed Jefferson to compile undated aggregated tables (see “State of the Virginia forces in the Continental army as by return Oct. 1779 … Returns from Genl Washington signed Edwd Carrington Dec. 26. 1779” in DLC: Thomas Jefferson Papers; see also Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 3:155, and notes 6, 11, and 12 below).

3See GW to Charles Scott, 14 Dec., and n.1 to that document.

4See JCC, description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends 13:317–18; see also John Jay to GW, 15 March.

5See GW to Charles Harrison, 7 Dec., and n.6 to that document.

6Jefferson eventually presented information on the Virginians in these three commands stationed at Fort Pitt (see n.1 above). Col. George Gibson’s regiment totaled 280 men as of November; Capt. Henry Heth’s company totaled 50 as of that same month; and Capt. James O’Hara’s company totaled 32 men as of April. These figures included men “present fit for duty,” men “sick present,” men “on Command,” and men “on Furlough.”

7See GW to Stephen Moylan, 25 Dec., postscript. In his letter to Jefferson of 16 Feb. 1780, GW reported that Moylan’s return for his cavalry regiment showed “Sixty three Non Commissioned Officers & privates in it, who belong to Virginia. Of this number Two only are inlisted for the War—and the service of the Rest will expire in December next” (DLC:GW).

8For GW’s decision to send the Virginia line to reinforce the southern department, see his letter to Samuel Huntington, 29 Nov., and the source note to that document.

10GW is referring to a letter that Jefferson wrote Maj. Gen. William Phillips from Williamsburg on 2 Oct. to address complaints in the handling of Henry Hamilton and Convention Army prisoners (see Jefferson Papers, description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends 3:97–99). Jefferson apparently enclosed this letter to Phillips when he wrote GW on 2 October.

11Jefferson eventually prepared a table headed “Return of the infantry of the state of Virga serving with the main army includg the 1st & 2d state regimts” (see n.1 above). The table showed 1,456 troops enlisted “for the war” and the numbers of troops whose terms of service would expire in each month between December 1779 and December 1782. The table delineated slightly more than 3,000 Virginia troops.

12Jefferson eventually prepared a table headed “Colonel Harrison’s regimt of artillery” (see n.1 above). The table showed 81 troops enlisted “for the war” and the numbers of troops whose terms of service would expire in each month during 1780. The number of Virginians in Col. Charles Harrison’s regiment totaled 214.

13See n.6 above.

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