George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Jean-Baptiste Ternant, 29 August 1778

From Jean-Baptiste Ternant

White plains August 29th 1778


When I accepted of the military offices proposed to me in this army, & undertook to discharge the duties of them as a volunteer, besides other motives, I had two chief objects in view: 1º to try my own self & learn from experience what I could not get with certainty from Theorical speculations, 2º to give your Excellency an opportunity of judging of my military abilities, talents &c.—how Satisfactory to you, & favorable to me this last object has been, I cannot tell, your approbation or censure about my operations having not yet come to my Knowledge—As for the first object, experience has fully Satisfied my wish, & from that experience I will draw & expose my reasons to your Excelly—I have acted four months as an Inspector, & six weeks as Dy Qr Mr Gl for the field operations with numberless difficulties to encounter, & no other means to enforce obedience to my orders but reasoning, persuasion & patience—with Those means alone, I undertook the task, & directed all my efforts towards the greatest advantage of the army—but notwithstanding my utmost exertions, I could not be half So usefull as I might have been, had I been supplied with the proper means—Those means I have fully explained several times to the heads of the departments I acted in, with their approbation & promise of taking the necessary steps, to put things on a proper footing—Without expatiating anew upon those means, I shall only mention one that seems to me indispensable: It is rank—The nature of the offices either of Inspector or Dy Qr Mr Gl for the field operations, considering, the strong exclusive prejudices of this army in favor of rank, requires inevitably a military man, invested of course with a rank superior, at least to that of his subalterns in the departments, to discharge the duties of them with any honor or satisfaction to himself, & real benefit to the service—The means mentioned before of reasoning & persuasion, which ought to be sacred in every matter either public or private, are, however, too slow & too often ineffectual for military purposes of detail, where punctuality, celerity & exactness are requisite—nothing but military authority founded upon the principles cherished in an army, I mean those of rank, can command that respect & implicit obedience to orders, which is the very soul of discipline, the criterium of all warlike operations—nay, that military authority is even necessary to give weight & consideration to reasoning & persuasion—many a times I found the first useless & the second impracticable in the discharge of my duties meerely for want of that support—I dont say that to set up any claim to a rank which my services may not perhaps deserve, but to show the impropriety of keeping any longer in the exercice of such important offices, & particularly of the last, which could be of infinite service to the army & to your Excelleny’s operations, a man destitute of the necessary means for the discharge of them: Indeed, the more I think on this subject, the greater the task appears to me, & the more I doubt of my being adequate to it—Tho’ I was persuaded to the contrary by the heads of these departments; however from the inaction your Excelly has left me in, for some time, I am induced to think that you dont coincide with them in opinion—In this last case I’ll beg earnestly of your Excelly a candid & friendly advise of desisting from my present pursuit—the great veneration I have for your public & private virtues, the high opinion I entertain of your military character, & the preference, I make it a rule, to give to the public good over mine, will always render welcome to me, any advise of the kind—I would only require at the same time, a testimony of my having behaved in the exercice of the offices entrusted to me, as a wellmeaning member of These communities, who has used his utmost exertions, both in & out of action, to be usefull; in order that after having retired to a private & rural life no body might question the uprightness of my public one in the army—if on the contrary your Excelly has formed a Judgement more advantageous of my abilities than I imagine, & should think proper to continue me in the exercice of these or one of these offices, I hope you’ll consider of the indispensable necessity of my being supplied with rank by commission, & such other means as will enable me to do the greatest good in my power—meanwhile I’ll beg leave of your Excelly to attend for a few days to my private affairs in Philadelphia. I have the honor to be with respect your Excellency’s most obedient & humble servant

John Ternant


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