George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Charles Lee, 13 April 1778

From Major General Charles Lee

York [Pa.] April the 13th 1778

Dr General

I have reason to hope that the Congress will unembarrass the negotiation of the Commissioners with respect to a general exchange of Prisoners of all matter which I myself think foreign to the purpose, and that I shall be soon at liberty to take an active post—but I cou’d wish that They wou’d be a little more expeditious—tho We cannot expect expedition from democratic councils—it is a curse annex’d to the blessing—I perhaps ought to make an apology to you for a liberty I have taken, but if it is view’d in a proper point of view—I am in hopes it can neither be consider’d a step of indelicacy towards you, nor by General Howe as any violation of the parole I have given You must know that it has long been the object of my studies, how to form an army in the most simple manner possible—I once wrote a treatise tho I did not publish it, for the use of the Militia of England—by reading Machiavely institutions and Martial Saxe1 I have taken it into my head that I understand it better than almost any Man living—in short I am mounted on a hobby horse of my own training and it runs away with me indeed I am so infatuated with it—that I cannot forbear boasting its excellencies on all occasions, to Friends or Enemies—you must excuse me therefore if I cou’d not refrain from recommending the Beast to some Members of the Congress2—God bless You, My Dr General and make you happy—for I am most sincerely and affectionately Yours

Charles Lee

inclos’d are two notes—for two of my particular friends—which I intreat you will forward by the first flag of Truce.


1Lee probably is referring to Machiavelli’s L’arte della guerra (Florence, 1521), with many translations as Art of War, possibly to Military Institutions of Vegetius (London, 1767), a translation of Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, Epitoma rei militaris; and probably to Maurice, comte de Saxe, Mes rêveries, ou Mémoires sur l’art de la guerre (1757), which had appeared in at least three English editions before 1778. Lee might also have seen Field Marshal Count Saxe’s Plan for New-Modelling the French Army, Reviving Its Discipline, and Improving Its Exercise (London, 1753) and other works by Saxe.

2Lee probably is referring to “A Plan for the Formation of the Army in the least Expensive Manner possible, and at the Same Time for rendering their Manœuvres so little Complex that all the Essentials may be learnt, and practised in a few Weeks” (DNA:PCC, item 60).

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