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To George Washington from the Board of War, 8 November 1779

From the Board of War

War Office [Philadelphia] Novr 8. 1779


The Board have been honoured with yours of the 2d instant relative to the Massachussetts Line. The Commns were delayed by some Embarrassments thrown in the Way by the Government of the State who had made Appointments clashing with the Arrangement as made at Camp & as now confirmed by Congress agreeably to a Report of the Board.1 These Difficulties being removed the Commissions are now ready & will be sent to your Excellency immediately.2

Sundry Cases have fallen under the Notice of the Board which render some such Regulation as the enclosed necessary.3 In general we believe Absentees are to blame but two or three Instances have occurred wherein owing to Sickness & unavoidable Accidents they have been perfectly innocent. Yet in these Cases the Colonels have undertaken to return the Places of the absent Officers as vacant & have desired the States to make the Promotions necessary in the supposed Vacancies. The Board have in such Cases refused to issue the Commissions not deeming themselves justified as Guardians of the Rights of the Officers in giving their Sanction to a Proceeding which however well meant may establish disagreeable Precedents. If your Excellency should approve of the enclosed or think of any other Plan we beg you will be pleased to communicate your Sentiments thereon.4

Many Inconveniencies result from the States individually undertaking to make Promotions—which should only be done by the Authority of Congress on a general Scale—as the Governments of the States have too partial a View of the Subject or are perhaps too unacquainted with general Rules to judge well on such Promotions which tho’ not apparently wrong in the Line of the State may either establish Precedents or otherwise affect the general Arrangement. The Governments of the States ought only to fill the lowest Vacancies as they are the best Judges of proper Characters among their Citizens of whom to form Soldiers. But after their Appointment in the first Instance the Gradations should go under continental Authority & by general Regulations. Many of the States are practising under some Resolutions of Congress on the Subject which however they may be construed do not seem to us explicit in the Point. We have the Honour to be with the most perfect Respect & Esteem Your very obedient Servants

Richard Peters
In Behalf of the Board


1See GW’s first letter to John Jay, 5 Aug.; Jay to GW, 15 Sept.; and 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 15:1033.

3The undated enclosure from the Board of War reads: “That all Officers having been indulged with Furloughs and who have not joined their Corps at the expiration of the times limited therein, and all Officers absent without leave shall when practicable so to do, be personally notified and directed by the commanding Officer of the Corps to join their Regiment or Corps in a reasonable time after receipt of such notification, and in case of neglect or refusal so to do, or to give satisfactory reasons for their remaining therefrom, a Court-Martial on proof made of such Notice given and consequent neglect or refusal shall proceed against such Absentee in the same manner as if he were present—And such absence and neglect or refusal to appear, or give satisfactory reasons for their continuance of absence shall be sufficient cause for cashiering by judgment of the Court-Martial the Officer so notified and neglecting or refusing.

“Where from the Want of information of the residence of any absent Officer the commanding Officer of the Corps or regiment shall not have it in his power to send a personal notification he shall publish an order to all absent Officers to join the Corps or Regiment in a specified time in the Newspaper of the State to which such absent Officer or Officers belong, and is or are Inhabitants of. And in case of Neglect or refusal to appear within the time limited (if such time be in the opinion of a Court-Martial reasonable and proper) such Absentees shall be proceeded against in like manner with those receiving personal Notice” (DLC:GW).

4GW did not mention the furlough proposal when he acknowledged receipt of this letter (see GW to the Board of War, 19 Nov.; see also Samuel Huntington to GW, 7 Dec., and General Orders, 14 Dec.).

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