George Washington Papers
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From George Washington to the Board of War, 23 November 1779

To the Board of War

Head Quarters West point 23d Novemr 1779

Gentlemen

I have been honored with yours of the 12th and 15th instants, in consequence of the latter I dispatched Copies of your letters to Mr Skinner deputy Commissary of prisoners who was not at Elizabeth town to repair thither to take the necessary paroles from Majors General Philips and Riedesel and the Officers accompanying them previous to their going into New York—The paroles taken by Colo. Bland having only extended to their arrival at Elizabeth town, and requiring new ones to be taken there.1

I have also recd Mr Stoddards letters of the 12th and 13th with the Commissions for the Massachusetts line and those for Colonel Warners Regt I have delivered the latter to Capt. Moulton, and have desired Colo. Warner to make no new appointments in future as the proportion of Officers vastly exceeds that of Men.2

In mine of the 19th instant want of time prevented me from answering yours of the 2d and 8th so fully as I wished.3 I think the additional orders to the Commissaries of Hides contained in that of the 2d will remedy the defect which I took the liberty of pointing out, and when the Army is settled in quarters I will call for a Return of the Shoemakers and Taylors Tools in the hands of the Cloathier General4 and will distribute them among the Brigades.

I feel with the Board the inconveniencies arising from any powers having to do with Commissions except Congress. The moment they parted with this Authority I was aware of the consequences which have taken place.5

I think you were right in suspending the filling up those Vacancies you refer to, at least till you could represent the matter to the States concerned, when it appeared to you that the Colonels had not sufficient Grounds for returning the Officers as absent an unwarrantable length of time: And indeed supposing it had been so, they had no right, by any regulations now existing to report their places vacant. Altho’ the States should have the power of nominating for promotions to Vacancies when they really happen, or making new appointments—they have no authority to revoke a Commission once granted. I think Resolves of Congress, similar to the drafts of which you were pleased to transmit me Copies, well calculated for the end proposed.6 For while it is necessary that there should be some established mode of punishing Officers for an unreasonable length of Absence from their duty—the means of depriving them of their Rank should not be too summary.

It would, in my opinion, contribute much to the regularity of promotion, were certified Copies of such arrangements as are fully compleated transmitted to the States to which they respectively belong with Copies also of the principles established for the regulation of promotions: By a strict adherence to these, they could not fail of keeping matters in a proper line.7 I have the honor &.

Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1See GW to John Beatty, 22 Nov., and the notes to that document.

2GW’s letter to Col. Seth Warner, written at West Point on 22 Nov., reads: “By Capt. Moulton you will receive the Commissions for your Regiment. The disproportion of Officers to men is so great and from present prospects so likely to continue so, that I must request you not to make any future new appointments in consequence of Vacancies that may happen” (Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW).

Board of War secretary Benjamin Stoddert had written GW on 13 Nov.: “Least there should be an impropriety in issuing the commissions, forwarded herewith—the board direct me to send them to your Excellency, with a Copy of the arrangement (as made by Col. Warner) agreeably to which they are filled up” (ALS, DLC:GW). The enclosed “Arrangement of Colo. Seth Warners Regiment of Foot in the Service of the United States,” docketed as “Com[mence]d the 12th Nov.,” listed one colonel, one lieutenant colonel, one major, six captains, one captain lieutenant, eight lieutenants, and nine ensigns (DLC:GW).

William Moulton (1754–1831) served as sergeant in the 4th New York Regiment in 1775 and as lieutenant in the 2d New York Regiment before transferring to Warner’s Additional Continental Regiment in November 1776. He became a captain in that regiment in March 1778 and retired from the army in January 1781. For Moulton’s subsequent career, see Neil F. Byl, “William Moulton’s Endless Revolution: Deep-Sea Mutiny and Frontier Politics in the Early American Republic,” Pennsylvania History 69 (2002): 393–428.

3The Board of War’s letter to GW of 2 Nov. has not been found.

5Congress had ordered the Board of War on 25 Jan. to “take into consideration, and report a plan to be observed in issuing military commissions” (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 13:113). The board subsequently issued a lengthy report on 6 March (see 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 13:290–91). Congress then adopted a resolution on 8 March: “That all military commissions be filled up at the war office, and attested by their secretary, and then presented for signing to the President of Congress, who shall sign the same: after signature by the President, they shall be sent back to the war office, and there registered verbatim in a book to be kept for that purpose: after having been examined by the Board, the seal of the Board of War and Ordnance, which the said Board are hereby authorized and directed to provide, shall be affixed to the certificates or attestations of the entries of all such commissions” (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 13:291). A related resolution adopted on the same date reads: “That all appointments of officers in the continental service by the respective states, be, in the first instance, by warrant, certified in such manner as they shall severally direct, to the Board of War, whereupon proper commissions shall be made out in the manner abovementioned” (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 13:291).

6These draft resolutions have not been identified.

7Congress eventually passed a resolution related to promotions on 28 Dec.: “That hereafter all applications for promotion in the army of the United States of America be made to the Board of War, and all applications for promotion in the navy to the Board of Admiralty, and that they report to Congress” (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 15:1414).

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