George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Henry Laurens, 16 August 1778

To Henry Laurens

Head quarters White plains August 16th: 1778


I take the liberty, by the conveyance now offered me by Captain Riley, to transmit to Congress the proceedings of the Court Martial in the case of Major General Lee.1

The Inclosed papers comprehend a request by General phillips, for an Officer to go to Canada by way of the Lakes, on the subject of Cloathing for the Convention Troops. I do not conceive myself at liberty to answer General Heath upon the point, who referred it to me, and request that Congress will favor me with their direction as soon as they conveniently can, that I may enable him to satisfye General phillips respecting it.2

I have not received a single tittle of Intelligence from Rhode Island, since General Sullivan’s Letter of the 10th, a Copy of which I transmitted in mine of the 13th. I am extremely anxious to hear from thence—and of Count D’Estaing’s safe arrival in port. The moment I do, I shall do my self the honor to advise Congress. I have the Honor to be with the greatest respect & esteem sir Yr Most Obedt servant

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter on 21 Aug. and referred the second paragraph to a committee of Samuel Chase, William Duer, and Richard Henry Lee. The enclosed court-martial proceedings were laid on the table to be considered on 26 August. 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 , 11:824–25.

1GW may have been referring to Capt. John Reily (1752–1810) of the 3d Pennsylvania Regiment. Reily, a lawyer who was commissioned a lieutenant of the 12th Pennsylvania Regiment in October 1776, was severely wounded during a skirmish at Bonhamtown, N.J., on 15 April 1777, and although he was promoted to captain in May of that year, he evidently was not completely fit for active duty thereafter. Reily became a captain of the 3d Pennsylvania Regiment in July 1778, but he seems not to have performed any duties at this time. In July 1780 Reily’s commander brought him up on charges for failure to join the regiment, and shortly thereafter, in August 1780, Reily was transferred to the Invalid Regiment, where he served as captain until the end of the war. The enclosed court-martial proceedings have not been identified, but the full proceedings were published at Philadelphia (see Lee Papers description begins [Charles Lee]. The Lee Papers. 4 vols. New York, 1872-75. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vols. 4–7. description ends , 3:1–208). An undated retained document in GW’s writing lists the charges and sentence of the court: “Charges agt Majr Genl Lee. First, For disobedience of Orders in not attacking the Enemy on the 28th of June agreeable to repeated Instructions.

“Secondly—For misbehaviour before the Enemy on the same day, by making an unnecessary, disorderly & shameful Retreat.

“Thirdly—For disrespect to the commander in chief in two Letters dated the 1st of July & the 28th of June.

“Judgement of the Court. The Court having considered the first charge against Majr Genl Lee the evidence and his defence, are of opinion that he is guilty of disobedience of Orders, in not attacking the enemy on the 28th of June agreeable to repeated Instructions, being a breach of the latter part of Article 5th Section 2d of the Articles of War.

“The Court having considered the second charge against Major Genl Lee the evidence and his defence are of opinion he is guilty of misbehaviour before the enemy on the 28th of June by making an unnecessary, and in some few instances a disorderly retreat being a breach of the 13th Article of the 13th Section of the Articles War.

“The Court having considered the third charge against Majr Genl Lee are of opinion that he is guilty of disrespect to the Commander in chief in two Letters dated the 1st of July & 28th of June being a breach of the 2d Article Sectn 2d of the Articles of War.

“The Court do sentence Majr Genl Lee to be suspended from any Command in the Armies of the united States of North America for the Term of Twelve Months” (DLC:GW).

2GW enclosed an extract of Maj. Gen. William Heath’s letter to him of 6 Aug. and a copy of British major general William Phillips’s letter to Heath of 29 July (both DNA:PCC, item 152).

Index Entries