Thomas Jefferson Papers

Steuben’s Plan for Preventing Desertion, [December] 1780

Steuben’s Plan for Preventing Desertion

[Without place or date] In a long war the difficulty and expense of raising men increases, and “every possible means should be employed for the preservation of the Men after they are raised.” The incomplete state of the regiments obliges one regiment to be shifted into another, destroying the attachment between officers and men “which is necessary for their preservation.” The officers, “disgusted at the instability and smallness of their Commands,” become careless of the welfare of their men and allow them to absent themselves when well and take no pains for their recovery when sick. Discharges from the army have no prescribed form and are not printed. “It is more than probable that many have been Counterfeited by Deserters.” To prevent abuses the following suggestions are submitted: “That the County Lieutenants be Charged to make the Strictest Enquiry” concerning all men who return home before the expiration of their term of draft and to have deserters punished—but not by serving in the army, it being “disgraceful to the service to have Malefactors sent to Serve in the Ranks with those who defend their Country”; that those who have written discharges be required to produce them to the county lieutenant, who, if the draftee has no infirmity, will send the discharge to the Governor who will send it to the officer responsible, in order that the person may be punished; that forms of discharge and furlough be printed and no officer “under a Certain Rank should be authorized to grant them”; that a returned soldier be required to report to the county lieutenant in 8 days, otherwise taken up as a deserter; that the county lieutenant make regular reports to the Governor of all persons returned from service.

MS (NHi); 3 p.

This document certainly belongs in the sequence of Steuben’s letters to TJ advising reforms in the organization of the army and was probably enclosed in his letter of 18 Dec., q.v.; see also Steuben’s letters of 9, 16, and 28 Dec. On 13 Jan. 1781 Greene wrote to Steuben: “I intirely approve of your forms for furloughs and discharges; but wish you to consult with Colonel Davis upon the subject, who is a man of great observation and has had long experience respecting the abuses prevailing in the Army and State, in this matter, after which you will follow your own judgment and get some blanks printed as soon as possible” (NHi).

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