George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Henry Laurens, 23 January 1778

To Henry Laurens

Head Quarters [Valley Forge] 23d Jany 1778


Inclosed you will receive Copies of Letters in favor of Messieurs de la Neuville from the Marechal Merlet and the Marquiss de Bouillej to me, together with a certificate signed by the Baron de Wurmser—all my knowledge of these Officers who are sollicitous of employment in the American Service, is derived from these papers and what I have seen of them during their short Stay in Camp—their manners and appearance create a prepossession in their favor and seem to confirm the recommendations which they bring.1 I have the honor to be Sir Your most obedt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in John Laurens’s writing, OClWHi; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1The enclosures have not been identified. GW wrote Laurens again on 7 May from Valley Forge: “Under cover with this you will receive a copy of a letter which I wrote the 23d of January, and of two letters of recommendation delivered me by the Chevalier de la neuville, which I transmit you at the request of that Gentleman, the original packet, having as he informs me miscarried” (Df, DLC:GW).

Louis-Pierre Penot Lombart, chevalier de La Neuville (b. 1744), a major in the French army, and his brother, René-Hippolyte Penot Lombart de Noirmont de La Neuville (1750–1792), a French army captain, arrived together in America in September 1777. On 14 May, Congress considered the recommendations of the elder La Neuville and appointed him inspector general to the northern army (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 , 11:498–500). On 14 Oct. 1778 Congress granted him the brevet rank of brigadier general to date from August, despite the objections of GW, who had grown suspicious of the pretensions of the two brothers (see GW to Henry Laurens and Gouverneur Morris, both 24 July, and ibid., 12:1010). The elder La Neuville resigned his commission by the end of 1778 and returned to France with Lafayette in February 1779. His younger brother served as an aide-de-camp to Maj. Gen. Thomas Conway from December 1777 to April 1778, after which he was deputy inspector to the northern army before receiving the brevet rank of major from Congress in July of that year. Noirmont de La Neuville was promoted to lieutenant colonel in October 1779 and resigned in January 1781. He resumed his military career after his return to France but perished in the massacres of September 1792 (see the certificate of service that GW wrote for Noirment de La Neuville on 1 Oct. 1779, DLC:GW). The brothers’ uncle Louis-Mathieu de Merlet (b. 1715) had a long career in the French army after his first commission as lieutenant in 1733; his most recent appointment as maréchal de camp came in 1770, and he eventually attained the rank of lieutenant general. François-Claude-Amour, marquis de Bouillé (1739–1800), served with distinction in Europe during the Seven Years’ War. He was appointed governor of the island of Guadeloupe in 1768, and in 1777 he became governor-general of Martinique. His capture of the British island of Dominica in September 1778 earned him an appointment as maréchal de camp, and similar feats in 1781–82 resulted in his promotion to the rank of lieutenant general. He subsequently served in a number of diplomatic posts before commanding the French army of the Meuse, Sarre, and Moselle in 1789. An ardent royalist, Bouillé plotted for Louis XVI’s escape from France in 1791 and emigrated after the king’s arrest at Varennes. Baron Dagobert Siegmund von Wurmser, an Alsatian noble, served in the French and Austrian armies, commanding an Austrian hussar regiment in 1773 and winning promotion to lieutenant general in 1778. At the end of his career, he commanded armies against the French Convention and Directory, finally surrendering Mantua to Napoleon in 1797.

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