George Washington Papers

Council of War, 8 October 1775

Council of War

[Cambridge, 8 October 1775]

At a Council of War held at Head Quarters October 8th 1775.


  • His Excelly General Washington
  • Majors Genl Ward, Lee, Putnam
  • Brigads. General, Thomas, Spencer, Heath, Sullivan,
    Green, Gates

His Excelly having on the 5th Instt proposed sundry Questions in Writing to each of the Members of the Council now requested their Opinion on the several Matters referred to their Consideration.

1st What Number of Men are sufficient for a Winters Campaign?

Unanimously agreed, that the Army ought not to consist of less than Twenty thousand, three hundred & seventy two Men. And that it will be proper to form it into 26 Regiments (exclusive of Riffle Men & Artillery)—that each Regiment consist of 728 Men Officers included. Each Company to be officerd with 1 Captain 2 Lieuts. 1 Ensign & to contain 4 Sergeants 4 Corporals 2 Drums or Fifes, & 76 Privates. Which Army is deemed sufficient both for offensive & defensive Measures.1

That the Adjutt & Quartermaster of each Regiment have also a Subaltern’s Commission.

2. Can the Pay of the privates be reduced & how much?

Unanimously agreed that the Pay cannot be reduced at present.2

3. What Rations should be allowed the Men, & for such small Articles as the Commisy at Times cannot furnish shall they be compensated in Money or Provisions?

Unanimously agreed that the present Allowance of Provisions ought to stand. And agreed by a Majority that the Compensation be made in Money.3

4. What Regulations are farther necessary for the Government of the Forces?

This Question being so general the Members of the Council were not prepared to give their Sentiments—Whereupon his Excelly desired they would particularly attend to the Articles & Regulations of the Continental Army & suggest such Alterations & Improvements as they should deem necessary.4

5. For how long a Time ought the Men in the present Army (should we set about inlisting them) be engaged.

Unanimously agreed to the 1st Decemr 1776—but to be sooner discharged, if necessary.5

6. What Method would you recommend as most eligible to cloath the new raised Army with a Degree of Decency & Regularity? Would you advise it to be done by the Continent? In that Case would you lower the Mens Wages & make no Deduction for Cloathing or let it stand & make Stoppages? & how much ⅌ Month?

Agreed. That each General Officer cloath a Person according to his own Fancy & Judgment & then the best Dress to be selected as a Model. That the Cloathing be provided by the Continent & paid for by Stoppages of 10/ ⅌ Month.6

7. As there appears to be a great Irregularity in the Manner of paying the Men & much Discontent has prevailed on that Account in what Manner & at what fixed Periods would you advise it to be done under a new Establishment?

The Members of the Council upon this Question were equally divided, viz:

For Payment
Per Month Three Months
Green Gates
Sullivan Spencer
Heath Thomas
Lee Puttnam
Washington Ward7

8. What sized Regimts would you recommend under this Establishment, that is how many Men to a Company? how many Companies to a Regimt & how officer’d.

This Question answered under the 1st.8

9. Is there any Method by which the best of the present Officers in this Army can be chosen without impeding the Inlistment of the Men by such Choice & Preference. Under any complete Establishment even if all the privates in the Army were engaged again many of the present Officers must be discharged as there is an over Proportion; Of Course we ought to retain the best.

This Question being of a very difficult & delicate Nature the several Members requested farther Time to consider it.9

10th Whether it will be adviseable to re-inlist10 any Negroes in the new Army—or whether there be a Distinction between such as are Slaves & those who are free?

Agreed unanimously to reject all Slaves, & by a great Majority to reject Negroes altogether.

D, in Joseph Reed’s writing, DLC:GW; D, in Edmund Randolph’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. GW posed these questions to the general officers in his circular of 5 Oct., except for the part of the third question concerning compensation for rations and the tenth question about reenlisting Negroes. Written replies from three officers have been found: a transcript of John Sullivan’s undated reply (DLC: Peter Force Collection, Sullivan Papers), Nathanael Greene’s undated reply in his writing (DLC:GW), and Horatio Gates’s reply dated 15 Oct. in his writing (ibid.). Varick transcripts of Greene’s and Gates’s replies are also in DLC:GW.

1A computation in the margin adds “Battalion Men 18928” and “Riffle & Artillery Men 1444” for a total of “20372.” Sullivan proposed 18, 148 men in 26 regiments of 698 men each. Greene suggested 13, 130 men in 25 regiments of 526 men each as a defensive army or 38 regiments if offensive action was to be taken. Gates replied that the number of men “will depend in Great Measure upon the Number The Enemy intend to keep in Boston, & upon Bunkers Hill. if They do not by Detachments from thence, Diminish their present Numbers, Lower than Seven Thousand Effective Men, Exclusive of Officers, Seamen & Artillerists; I think Twenty Thousand, (Commission’d, & Non Commission’d Officers Included,) are as few as ought to be Station’d at Cambridge & Roxbury; perhaps a less Number might suffice for Defence at both those Posts, but an Eye to Offence, will most undoubtedly be wide Open to avail ourselves of every possible Advantage, which the Weakness of The Enemy, the Circumstances of the Time, or Our Own Superiority, may Afford—Provision is hereby also made for any new reinforcement The Enemy may receive, and every intelligence from them declares, that they expect This Fall very considerable Assistance, both by Sea, and Land; another powerful reason for keeping up this Number, is, that by the Opening of the Summer, The Army, by The Diligence, & Activity of The Officers, may be made a well Disciplined Body of Troops, & Fit to Execute any Service They may be commanded to perform.”

2Sullivan thought that “an attempt to reduce the wages at this time, will probably prevent the raising of another army, and when it is considered that the men in general find their own arms, and all find their own clothing, and enlist without a bounty, I cannot suppose the wages unreasonable.” Greene said that “a sudden Reduction would impede the filling the Regiments to such a Degree as would possibly weaken the Lines at the Expiration of the old Establishments; The People have not as yet felt the Necessity of entering the Service for the Support of themselves & Families; They will consequently refuse inlisting for a Time with the View of reducing the Congress to the Necessity of raising the Wages.” Gates agreed that “the pay of The Privates had better be continued as at present established.”

3Although GW did not include the question of compensation in his circular, Sullivan suggested paying the men weekly for unfurnished articles, and Gates urged that the soldiers be compensated with other articles. Greene did not comment on this matter in his written reply.

4Sullivan proposed “that a general Court Martial have power to punish atrocious offenders who may come into the camp and behave disorderly; and all such as may be guilty of stealing, & purloining from the army—That persons convicted of holding correspondence with or giving intelligence to the enemy be punished with death—That Adjutants be appointed to each Brigade—That in case of death or resignation of any officer, the officers are to rise in their own corps, and keep the command in the respective Regiments, or companies to which they belong.” Greene replied: “As to Appointments, a Provost Martial is wantd; As to martial Laws, Treason against the united Colonies, committed in the Army, should be clearly designated, & the Punishment express’d.” Gates thought that “the Army ought to be so regulated, that every Non Commission’d Officer and Soldier be provided with good and sufficient Clothing, as well for Winter as Summer, Substantial and Complete Arms, Accoutrements, as Follows, a Powder horn a bag for Buck Shot, a Tin Cannister to hold Thirty Six Cartridges of Powder and Ball with a Leather Strap to Sling it across the Shoulder, a Cartridge Box to contain Twenty Three Cartridges or thereabouts, & every Soldier, without exception, should have a Bayonet. Much regulation is wanted in the Continental Articles of War, as in many Instances they have been found to give too Discretionary a power to the Members who compose Genl Courts Martial, a very Flagrant instance having happen’d lately in the trial of Lieut. Colo. Abijah Brown. A Provost Martial should without delay be appointed.”

5Sullivan argued for a shorter term of enlistment: “As the army is principally composed of husbandmen, and their business comes on about the first of April, none of those would incline to enlist for a longer time, as tarrying one month longer would as effectually defeat the farming business for the year ensuing, as if they were to engage for a year—And as an army may easily be engaged before that time for the ensuing summer, I recommend that they be enlisted until the first of April—and no longer.” Greene and Gates favored one-year terms. “Every Contract,” Greene explained, “should be fixed and certain in all its parts; & Men esteem Confinement (of which the Service Partakes) with out any fixed Period to its Duration, a boundless Gulph, where the fruitful Imagination creates ten Thousand nameless Horrors; They will therefore startle at visionary Ills, supposing their Enlistments be during the Pleasure of the Congress, not considering that the Importance of the Contest should bannish every private Consideration wch may rise in Competition with the public Good.”

6Sullivan, Greene, and Gates agreed that stoppages should be made in some form. “The wages ought to stand,” said Sullivan, “and if a uniform be agreed upon, the men should have liberty to procure it for themselves, provided they do it seasonably, and to the acceptance of their officers—But as many of them will not be able to do this, the continent should provide for them, and stop it out of their wages—The same method ought to be pursued, if common clothing only is required, as many of them will be unable to procure the necessary articles.” Greene recommended that “the Cloathing should be procured by the Continent, & delivered to the Men at Prime Cost & Charges, to be pay’d for by Monthly Deductions, each Deduction amounting to Twelve Shillings Lawful Money.” Gates supported the idea of choosing a model of dress. “As to Cloathing,” he wrote, “I am confident it might be so made, and contrived that by throwing off the Coat, or outer Garment, The Waistcoat would answer sufficiently for the Heat of the Summer. Indian Stockings, & warm wollen Breeches, made strong by being doubled upon the Seams would be best in this Climate. it would be proper for a Pattern dress to be exhibited. let each General Officer produce a Soldier dress’d to His Fancy, from those, the best might be adopted.”

7Gates suggested that “the Soldiers should be paid regularly every Two Months, which will keep so much in Arrear, as will provide such necessarys as they immediately want, & in many instances prevent Desertion.” Greene argued that monthly payments were “the best calculated to quiet the Minds of the Soldiery, who must frequently contribute to the Support of their Families.” Sullivan said that “as some new recruits must be raised, and as these recruits will not probably have money to provide themselves for the campaign; and as no bounty money is to be given them, I recommend that they receive one month’s advanced wages, and the residue at the expiration of their term.”

8Gates advocated the arrangement adopted by the council of war: 8 companies to a regiment and 90 officers and men to a company. Greene proposed 8 smaller companies for each regiment. His figures are incomplete, but they indicate that he intended to put about 65 officers and men in each company. Sullivan suggested that each regiment have 10 companies, including 2 of light infantry, and each company have 67 officers and men.

9Greene confessed: “It is a matter of great Delicacy, & to accomplish it with Propriety, I feel the Want of military Knowledge.” He advised that GW choose field officers based on recommendations from the brigadier generals and company officers on recommendations from the brigadiers and regimental commanders. Gates simply said that GW should select the fittest officers for the different ranks with the assistance of the general officers. Sullivan hoped that it would not be necessary to choose: “The officers in my brigade, who are most averse to doing duty, and least able to endure fatigue, having signified their intention to leave the service, and the best officers inclining to tarry, I am of opinion that the most worthy and resolute officers in the whole army will remain in the service, which will supercede the necessity of selecting the best for the winter campaign. But in case more than is requisite should incline to stay, when the names of the whole are given in; some method may be hit upon to get rid of those supernumerary officers, without impeding the enlistment of the men.”

10Randolph’s copy reads “inlist.”

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