George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major Thomas Cogswell, 14 February 1778

From Major Thomas Cogswell

Springfield [Mass.] Febury 14th 1778


in my travels through the different States i found that the recruitting officers from your armey where Enlisting Deserters from Generall Hows and Burgones Armeys and allso Receiveing them as Subtitutes in roome of the inhabitantes for your armey. i have Discovered that there has many Deserted from Mr Burgoyne Armey Sin[c]e he arived at Boston and the Committyes of the Differents Town and Destricts are hireing of them and Returning of them over to the Recruiting officers as mentiond above and by that means the officers means to bee excused from your orders. i am of the openion that if there is Not a Stop put to Such practicess that Before Next June there will bee one Thousand Enlisted that will Leave Mr Burgones Armey and Receive the Differint Bountyes from the Continent and States and then Desert to Generall How: witch has Bean the Case of many of Late and i make no Doute but that Mr Burgoyne would bee glad to Dispose of all his armey in such a manner i Thought it my Duty to give you the Earlyest intelligen[c]e of these peticulars if i have gone out of the Line of my Duty i Big your Excelency Pardon1 I am with Respect your Most obedient Humble Servent

Thomas Cogswell Major


1No reply to this letter has been found, but GW wrote James Bowdoin on 17 and 31 Mar. decrying the practice to which Cogswell had alerted him (see also GW to William Heath, 25 Mar. and 29 April). On 26 Feb., Congress declared that “experience hath proved that no confidence can be placed in prisoners of war or deserters from the enemy, who inlist into the continental army; but many losses and great mischiefs have frequently happened by them,” and accordingly resolved that such enlistments would be prohibited in the future (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 , 10:203; see also GW’s letter to Henry Laurens of 12 Mar. complaining of some implications of the resolution). GW continued, however, to receive reports in the months that followed of the recruitment of deserters and prisoners into the Continental army, particularly in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Maryland (see George Gibson to GW, 24 Mar., and GW to Laurens, 10 April). In addition, to GW’s chagrin some of his French officers demanded to be allowed to enlist prisoners and deserters for their own units and in some cases apparently did so without GW’s approval (see the conclusion of GW’s letter of 29 Jan. to a Continental Congress camp committee, GW to Laurens, 14 Mar., Armand to GW, c.22 Mar., GW to Armand, 25 Mar., and to Casimir Pulaski, 1 May). Although GW repeatedly condemned the enlistment of deserters from the enemy, he eventually came to draw a distinction between British and German recruits. On 9 Aug. 1778 he wrote Henry Laurens suggesting that a corps of German deserters be raised “by way of experiment,” a scheme similar to one that Brig. Gen. George Weedon had proposed to GW on 5 February.

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