George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Henry Laurens, 8–14 February 1778

To Henry Laurens

Valley Forge February the 8[–14]th 1778


I have been duly honored with your Favor of the 3d Instant and with its Inclosure.

As General McDougal’s late severe illness and present feeble state will not permit him to proceed on the intended incursion into Canada, Baron de Kalb will follow the Marquiss agreable to his wish and the direction of Congress.

According to the promise contained in my last, I take the liberty of transmitting you Copies of such Letters, as have lately passed between General Howe & myself.

Feby 12th Since writing the above, I have received an other Letter from General Howe of the 5th Instant, Copy of which and of my Answer you have also inclosed.1 By these you will perceive, that he has proposed a General exchange of prisoners, and that I have acceded to it. I have written to Mr Boudinot, Commissary in this line, requiring his return to Camp, and shall give him directions to pursue the most speedy measures for accomplishing this business, so interesting to the unhappy Officers and Men in General How’s hands—and to the cause of Humanity.2 There are some other matters, as you will discover, which I could not enter upon.

The situation of the Affairs of the Army has not till lately made it convenient to go into the inquiry, directed by the Resolve of the 28th of November, of the losses of the Forts, Montgomery and Clinton in the state of New York, and of Fort Mifflin on Delaware. With respect to the two former, it happens that almost all the principal Officers acting in that Quarter, were in some way or other so far concerned in the affair, as to make them improper for prosecuting the inquiry. I therefore propose to send Officers from this Army: If his health will permit, I should wish General McDougal to preside. His thorough knowledge of those posts and all their connexions qualifies him in a peculiar manner for the purpose. I have written to him on the subject.3

With respect to Fort Mifflin, the inquiry involves very extensive considerations and more or less affects almost all the Genl Officers in this Army, whose advice and concurrence in the measures taken, make them in some degree parties. The mode in my opinion, most unexceptionable to be pursued is for Congress, to authorise a Committee of their own body, or to delegate any other persons they may chuse to intrust, not connected with the Operations of this Army, to go into the business.4

Feby 14th Your several Favors of the 7th & that of the 8th Inst. were duly received yesterday evening.

As soon as circumstances will admit I shall appoint a Court Martial in the case directed, and shall notify the parties concerned of the same.5

The Oath which Congress have prescribed to be taken by the Officers of the Army, I shall publish in General Orders, and the mode how it is to be done with directions about the Certificates.6

I shall extend Lt Colo. Dyer’s Furlough to the first of April as required.7 I have the Honor to be with great respect Sir, Your Most Obedient Servant

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; copy, ScHi: Henry Laurens Papers; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter on 17 Feb. and referred it to a committee composed of Elbridge Gerry, Thomas McKean, and William Ellery (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 , 10:179).

1According to the docket of the LS, GW enclosed copies of his letters to Gen. William Howe of 8, 20, 30 Jan., and 10 Feb. 1778 and copies of Howe’s letters to GW of 8, 18, 19 Jan., and 5 Feb. 1778.

2Alexander Hamilton wrote Elias Boudinot for GW on 9 Feb.: “General Howe has just made a proposition, towards a general exchange of prisoners, or rather has acceded to our former propositions on that subject. His Excellency commands me to inform you of this and to desire your immediate attendance at Camp, which is indispensably necessary” (DLC:GW).

3Laurens sent GW a copy of the resolve directing an inquiry into the losses of these forts and, implicitly, the conduct of Maj. Gen. Israel Putnam, on 30 Nov. 1777 (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 , 9:975–76). GW wrote Maj. Gen. Alexander McDougall on 12 Feb., asking him to preside over the court of inquiry, and McDougall reluctantly accepted the duty in his letter of 17 February. McDougall’s deputies as appointed by GW in March were Brig. Gen. Jedediah Huntington and Col. Edward Wigglesworth (see GW to McDougall, 16 Mar., to Putnam, 16 Mar., and to McDougall, Huntington, and Wigglesworth, 17 March). On 17 Aug., after consideration of the report from the court of inquiry that GW had forwarded to Laurens on 18 June, Congress resolved “that those posts were lost, not from any fault, misconduct, or negligence, of the commanding officers, but solely through the want of an adequate force under their command to maintain and defend them” (ibid., 11:803–4).

4Congress did not appoint a committee to investigate further the loss of Fort Mifflin, Pa., in November 1777.

5The letter of 7 Feb. to which GW refers was written by Laurens for the Continental Congress evacuation committee appointed to investigate the loss of Forts Independence and Ticonderoga.

6On 8 Feb., Laurens sent GW a copy of a resolution of 3 Feb. requiring all officers of the army and navy as well as men “holding any civil office of trust” or “having the disposal of public money” to take an “oath or affirmation” to the United States (ibid., 10:114–18). The new oath was not published in general orders until 7 May.

7Lt. Col. Thomas Dyer, already on a six-week furlough, had requested Congress 20 Jan. to permit his resignation because of ill health, but on 5 Feb., Congress resolved instead “That General Washington be directed to extend Lieutenant Colonel Dyer’s furlow to the first of April; and if, at that time, he shall not have recovered his health, so as to be able to take the field, that his resignation be accepted.” Dyer decided to resign despite the extension (ibid., 98, 127; see also Laurens Papers description begins Philip M. Hamer et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Laurens. 16 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003. description ends , 12:427).

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