George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General James Mitchell Varnum, 20 March 1778

From Brigadier General James Mitchell Varnum

Camp Valley Forge March 20th 1778.


Upon the pernicious Principle that Officers have a Right to leave the Service when they please I must mention the within mentioned for Discharges,1 And am your Excellency’s most obdt Servant

J. M. Varnum.

ALS, DNA: RG 93, Records Relating to Military Service.

1Varnum enclosed a 20 Mar. letter from Capt. David Smith of the 8th Connecticut Regiment (DNA: RG 93, Records Relating to Military Service). Smith asked Varnum to recommend to GW discharges for Lieutenants Bayze Wells (1744–1814) and William Andrews (Andrus), Jr. (1745–1824), of the 8th Connecticut. The two officers’ resignations were accepted, dated 21 March. Varnum raised another issue when on 17 Mar. he transmitted to GW the resignation of Lt. Thomas Bingham of the same regiment, who had gone home on furlough: “If Officers can, under such Circumstances, send their Commissions to Camp instead of returning to their Duty, & once bring their Application thro’ the usual Channel, I can have no Objection to his being discharged; But otherwise, I must be silent” (DNA: RG 93, manuscript file no. 513). Bingham’s resignation was also accepted. Insight into GW’s views at this time on the rights of officers to leave the service can be gleaned from a correspondence between his aide-de-camp Richard Kidder Meade and Lt. Col. Lott Brewster of the 3d North Carolina Regiment. Meade wrote Brewster on 14 Mar. that when he informed GW of Brewster’s wish to resign, GW replied that the North Carolina officers having agreed to a new arrangement of regiments and officers in Jan. 1778 (see GW to Lachlan McIntosh, 5 Jan., and note 1) “and all those officers necessary to be present with their respective Regts. he will not consent to your going without very sufficient reasons . . . given in writing” (DLC:GW). In a letter of the same date to Meade, Brewster responded that he had not agreed to the arrangement, “as I was not in Camp at the time.” Brewster claimed that he found the service “altogether disagreeable” and that he lacked the “Constitution to stand the fatigue of another Campaign” and reiterated his request for a discharge (DNA: RG 93, manuscript file, no. 14481). A discharge was then issued, but on 15 Mar., Brewster wrote Meade complaining that “the Discharge does not mention that my Reasons are thought Sufficient but that on my insisting for it as my Right it was Granted” and indicating that he would like a more favorable discharge (DNA: RG 93, manuscript file, no. 14499). To this Meade replied on the same day that GW still thought Brewster’s “reasons for leaving the army very insufficient” and would “not grant a different discharge.” Meade explained, “If you will recollect, I told you that the Genl was by no means satisfied with your reasons for leaving the Army, but as he knew of no power that he had to keep an officer contrary to his will, that a discharge should be granted to you, & had that discharge expressed his approbation of the step there must have been an inconsistency in his conduct” (DLC:GW).

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