George Washington Papers

General Orders, 17 August 1777

General Orders

Head Quarters, near the Cross roads [Pa.] August 17th 1777.

Parole: Providence.Countersigns: Newport.

The Commander in Chief is pleased to approve of the following sentences of a General Court Martial held the 14th instant, whereof Col. Spencer was president, and orders them to be put in execution forthwith—viz.—

William Jackson, charged with “Desertion from the 2nd New Jersey regt; and inlisting into a company of artificers”—The Court are of opinion the prisoner is guilty of the charges exhibited against him; But as the prisoner was confined in the main guard-house, at Middlebrook, at the time Thomas Smith was shot, for the offences he is now found guilty of, and was released from confinement in consequence of His Excellency the Commander in Chief’s pardon; they are of opinion he should receive no punishment—They are likewise of opinion he should be sent to the 2nd New-Jersey regiment, to serve the time he inlisted for; and the officer of the company he belongs to, in that regiment, shall settle with Capt. Roe for the bounty the prisoner received from him, and other charges he has against him (if the pay due the prisoner during the time he served in the company of artificers is not sufficient for that purpose) And the money paid by the prisoner’s officer to Capt. Roe shall be stopped out of the prisoner’s wages.

Capt. Holmes,1 of the 4th New Jersey regt charged with “Going into one Palmer’s garden, and tearing cucumbers from the vines, and abusing and striking Doctor Smith” The court having considered the charge and evidence produced to them, are of opinion, that the prisoner took cucumbers from the vines, in Palmer’s garden, and he was justifiable in doing it, as he had leave—They are of opinion the prisoner did strike Doctor Smith: But as he gave the first offence, the Court are of opinion, he deserved the treatment he received.

The Court took into consideration, to what regiment Nathaniel Anster, tried as a soldier of the 5th Pennsylv: regiment, and punished for Desertion from that regt properly belongs, at the request of Capt: Bartholomew of the 5th Pennsylvania regiment and Lieut: Hammitt of Col. Spencer’s regt2—The court having considered the several papers produced to them by each of the claimants, are of opinion, that Nathaniel Anster properly belongs to the 5th Pennsyl. regiment, and that Capt. Bartholomew shall stop out of Ansters wages four dollars per month, until Lieut. Hammitt is fully paid his account against Anster, and pay them to Lieut: Hammitt.

William Rickett of the 12th Pennsylv. Battalion, charged with “being a sleep on his post when over prisoners”—pleaded guilty; and begged for mercy—sentenced to receive thirty nine lashes on his bare back.

Moses Farrell, of the 5th Pennsylv. regt charged with “deserting from the said regiment, inlisting into another corps; after which being taken, deserting again, and persuading an exceeding good soldier to desert with him”—Acquitted of the charges exhibited against him.

Ensign McMichael of Col. Stewart’s regiment charged with “assaulting & striking with his sword,3 William Wright, a centinel in the execution of his duty”—The court, having considered the charge and evidence, are of opinion the prisoner struck William Wright, a Centinel, with his fist, while on his post; but on account of his insolence, and charging the bayonet on the prisoner, they sentence the prisoner to receive a private reprimand from the Colonel of the regiment he belongs to.

The Commander in Chief is anxious to have the ranks of the Pennsylvania field officers adjusted, The board of General officers which was appointed to sit for that purpose the 15th instant, will sit to morrow at Genl Greene’s quarters, at the hour to which they adjourned—The Commander in Chief wishes the board to be as full as possible; and desires the General Officers of the day to attend the board in preference to any other duty.4

General Court-Martials are frequently prevented doing business, by means of the non-attendance of some of the members; which occasions such delays as are greatly injurious to the service. In time to come, if any officer is appointed president of a General Court Martial, and thro’ sickness, or other unavoidable accident, cannot attend, the Brigade Major of the brigade to which he belongs, is to give notice thereof, immediately to the Adjutant General—And if any member is, by the like means, rendered unable to attend, such member is to give immediate notice thereof to the Adjutant of the regiment he belongs to, that another may be returned in his stead: And upon the first appointment of a General Court Martial, each Brigade Major is to return the names of the members, furnished from his brigade, to the Adjutant General, at or before the hour appointed for the sitting of the court.5

By the returns given in by the Brigadiers,6 pursuant to the orders of the 13th instant, it appears that many officers are absent without leave—that some have furloughs for sixty days—and others without limitation at all. With respect to those who are absent without leave, the General desires, that the Brigadiers, to whose brigade they belong, will order them to join it immediately, and have a strict enquiry (which is to be reported) into their conduct for so doing: and with respect to unlimited furloughs, or furloughs for sixty days—he desires that no more such be given, without the consent of the Commander in Chief; as there are very few cases that can justify such indulgences in the active part of a campaign—Those who have exceeded the time limited in their furloughs, are also to be ordered to join, and to account satisfactorily for their conduct.

The ground being very wet, the Quarter Master General is to procure as much straw (from which the grain has been threshed) as possible, and distribute the same in the most equal manner among the troops.

A gill of rum, or other spirit is to be issued to day, to each non-commissioned officer, soldier and waggoner.7

Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Brig. Gen. Peter Muhlenberg’s copy of the general orders contains additional text (see notes 2 and 3).

1James Holmes served as a captain in the New Jersey militia from June 1776 to the following November, when he was commissioned a captain in the 4th New Jersey Regiment. Holmes apparently resigned his commission in September 1780.

2Benjamin Bartholomew (1752–1812), who was appointed a first lieutenant in the 4th Pennsylvania Battalion in January 1776, served as a captain in the 5th Pennsylvania Regiment from October 1776 to January 1783, when he retired from the service. John Hammitt served as a first lieutenant in Col. Oliver Spencer’s Additional Continental Regiment from March 1777 to March 1779.

3William McMichael was appointed an ensign in Col. Walter Stewart’s Pennsylvania State Regiment in June 1777. McMichael continued with the regiment after its redesignation as the 13th Pennsylvania Regiment in November 1777 but was dismissed from the service on 11 March 1778 for “ungentlemanlike behaviour” (see General Orders, and GW to George Gibson, both that date, in DLC:GW).

4The board of general officers appointed to settle the ranks of the Continental officers of the Pennsylvania line did not meet until 19 Aug. 1777, when it made the following report to GW: “Upon examining into the Claims of the Field Officers of Pensylvania State, relative to Rank we find they claim precedence upon different principles—some from the time of Appointment, some from the dates of their Commissions—and some from their former Rank—to regulate and settle these different Claims—do justice to Individuals in Pensylvania State and to the Line in general throughout the Army.

“There is no principle so well founded—No principle that will do so little violence to the feelings of Officers No principle that will agree so well with the wishes of the State who appoint, or recommend for Appointment—no principle that seems calculated to preserve Harmony among the Officers, equal to that of giving Rank according to their former standing—unless where persons are promoted upon a principle of merit only—upon this principle we have made, the present Arrangement with respect to relative Rank—confirming to each Officer his Rank and standing in the Regiment but regulating his relation to others in point of precedence, from that standing which he held in the Army before—We have had Retrospect no farther than to the rank they held before their promotion—This mode of settlement seems to agree with the plan of the Council of Safety of Pennsylvania, confirm’d by the supreme executive Council of the same in March last—It is very evident from Enquiry that Appointments took place in the Council of Safety, and also in many other States, according as application was made—those who were in actual service and remote from Government were the last that receiv’d their Appointments—it would be great injustice done to the feelings of those Officers and to their merit that were doing their duty abroad—if they were to be supplanted in their just right because they were unfortunately absent when others applied—We beg leave to recommend this principle to regulate the Rank of the Officers of the Pennsylvania State—and not only them but of the Officers of the States in general.

“We beg leave to observe that we do not think ourselves authoriz’d to establish this Regulation—because some have receiv’d their commissions from Congress—which in this establishment have not their Rank agreable to their claim—among others Colonel [Joseph] Wood, but whether he was promoted upon a principle of merit, or receiv’d his appointment—by misrepresenting his claim to Congress, we cannot pretend to be judges—but as many deserving officers conceive themselves injur’d by Colo. Wood’s extraordinary promotion, we beg leave to recommend this establishment unless the Congress feel themselves under some obligations to Colonel Wood for special services.

“To avoid the confusion that must necessarily exist from the present state of the Commissions, as they have been granted—we beg leave to recommend to your Excellency if the Hon’ble the Congress establish this arrangement to call in all the Commissions of the Field Officers of the Pennsylvania State and that each receive a new Commission agreable to their Claim from their former Rank and right of promotion—This will do justice to the Officers in the Pennsylvania State and to the Army in general” (DLC:GW). The report also contains a table listing the names, ranks, and dates of commissions for the field officers of the twelve Pennsylvania Continental regiments. Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene, the board’s president, added the following note to the report before signing it: “N.B. The Board are of opinion that Colo. Stewards Regiment should be annexed to the pennsylvania line and form the thirteenth Regiment” (DLC:GW). GW’s aide-de-camp Robert Hanson Harrison wrote the following note on the back of the report: “N.B.—12th Novr 1777—The Congress agreed to the Principle adopted by the Board of Officers in this instance—Vizt Resolve in President’s Letter of the 13 & 14 Nov. 1777—And the Old Commissions of the Pennsylvania Officers were called in & New Ones granted according to this Arrangement—Vizt President’s Letter 13 Novr 1777–2 page.” A copy of the report that GW enclosed in his letter to Henry Laurens of 10 Nov. 1777 is in DNA:PCC, item 152. The board consisted of major generals Nathanael Greene, Lord Stirling, and Adam Stephen and brigadier generals William Maxwell, Henry Knox, Peter Muhlenberg, George Weedon, Anthony Wayne, and William Woodford.

5Brig. Gen. Peter Muhlenberg’s copy of the general orders contains the following text at the end of this paragraph: “The Genl Court Martial wch was ordered to set to-day is to set tomorrow at 9 o’clock in the morning at the usual place” (“Muhlenberg’s Orderly Book,” description begins “Orderly Book of Gen. John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg, March 26–December 20, 1777.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 33 (1909): 257–78, 454–74; 34 (1910): 21–40, 166–89, 336–60, 438–77; 35 (1911): 59–89, 156–87, 290–303. description ends 34:356).

6Adj. Gen. Timothy Pickering on this date wrote to Maj. Gen. John Sullivan requesting returns of his division: “His Excellency Genl Washington earnestly desires that regular weekly returns may be made of every division & corps of the army. I recd a return of your division dated the 7th instant, but it shewed only the force of each brigade: The Commander in Chief wishes to have the returns more particular; and that the strength of each regiment may also appear in the returns. You will be pleased to give your orders accordingly” (Hammond, Sullivan Papers description begins Otis G. Hammond, ed. Letters and Papers of Major-General John Sullivan, Continental Army. 3 vols. Concord, 1930-39. In Collections of the New Hampshire Historical Society, vols. 13–15. description ends , 1:433).

7Brig. Gen. Peter Muhlenberg’s copy of the general orders contains the following text at the end of this paragraph: “The Genl Court Martial which was ordered to set this day is to set tomorrow Morning at the Usual place” (“Muhlenberg’s Orderly Book,” description begins “Orderly Book of Gen. John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg, March 26–December 20, 1777.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 33 (1909): 257–78, 454–74; 34 (1910): 21–40, 166–89, 336–60, 438–77; 35 (1911): 59–89, 156–87, 290–303. description ends 34:357).

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