George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Lieutenant General John Burgoyne, 11 March 1778

To Lieutenant General John Burgoyne

Head Qrs [Valley Forge] Pensylvania
Mar. 11th 1778.


I was only two days since honored with your very obliging Letter of the 11th of February.1

Your indulgent opinion of my character, and the polite terms in which you are pleased to express it, are peculiarly flattering; and I take pleasure in the oppertunity you have afforded me of assuring you, that far from suffering the views of national opposition to be imbittered and debased by personal animosity, I am ever ready to do justice to the merit of the Gentn & soldier—and to esteem, where esteem is due, however the idea of a public enemy may interpose—You will not think it the language of unmeaning ceremony if I add, that sentiments of personal respect, in the present instance, are reciprocal.

Viewing you in the light of an officer contending against what I conceive to be the rights of my Country, the reverses of fortune you experienced in the Field, cannot be unacceptable to me; but, abstracted from considerations of national advantage, I can sincerely sympathize with your feelings as a Soldier—the unavoidable difficulties of whose situation forbid his success, and as a man—whose lot combines the calamity of ill health, the anxieties of captivity, and the painful sensibility for a reputation, exposed where he most values it, to the assaults of malice & detraction.

As your Aid de Camp went directly on to Congress—the business of your Letter to me had been decided before it came to hand.2 I am happy, that their chearful acquiescence with your request prevented the necessity of my intervention; and wishing you a safe and agreeable passage with a perfect restoration of your health, I have the honor to be very respectfully Sir Yr Most Obedt Sert

Go: Washington

ALS, PWacD: Sol Feinstone Collection, on deposit PPAmP; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

Upon his return to Great Britain, Burgoyne read this letter to Parliament in his answer to a question, “By what means, and upon what condition I am in person here?” and the letter was published in the Gentleman’s Magazine, and Historical Chronicle, 48 (1778): 251–52.

1This letter has not been found.

2Burgoyne’s aide-de-camp was Richard Rich Wilford, who had been commissioned a lieutenant in the 2d Regiment of Foot in December 1771. Wilford arrived at York, Pa., by 26 Feb. 1778, and on 27 Feb. he requested “the Permission of the Congress, to carry the Duplicates of the Papers I have had the Honor to deliver to You, to Genl Washington, & from him to General Howe” (DNA:PCC, item 57). Among the papers Wilford carried were two letters from Burgoyne to Henry Laurens, dated 11 Feb. (both DNA:PCC, item 57). In the first, which Wilford delivered immediately, Burgoyne responded in detail to the congressional resolution of 8 Jan. suspending the departure of the Convention troops (for which, 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 , 10:29–35) and asked that the suspension be lifted. In the second, which Wilford delivered on 1 Mar., Burgoyne, citing ill health, requested leave to depart for England with selected officers and servants in the event that Congress denied the plea of his first letter. On 2 Mar., Congress refused “to recede from their resolves of the 8th day of January last,” but on the next day Congress did grant him leave to embark with most of those for whom he had requested that privilege. It also directed on 3 Mar. “That Lieutenant Wilford be permitted to deliver to the Board of War duplicates of the papers by him presented to Congress, and that the Board be directed to forward them to General Washington, to be transmitted by a flag to General Howe, without delay, but that Lieutenant Wilford be not permitted personally to convey the duplicates either to General Washington or General Howe” (ibid., 216, 218). Wilford was a career soldier who rose to the rank of general and commanded the 7th Dragoon Guards, 1813–22.

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