George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Colonel Rufus Putnam, 30 August 1778

From Colonel Rufus Putnam

Camp White Plains 30th August 1778


Haveing seen a list of the Massachusetts line of Colos. said to be arrangment made by a board of General Officers as they are in future to Rank, together with the Committee of arrangment being arrived in camp, I hope your Excellency will consider as a sufficient apology for my addressing you at this time on the subject of my own Rank.

In your letter of 11th April last you say the “Massachusetts Colonels allow that I have rank in the great line of the army from the date of my Appointment as Colonel of Engineers, but in the line of Massachusetts they contend that I only Rank from the time of my appointment to the command of a Regiment by the state.[”]

However Just the reasoning may appear to some I can by no means consent to it; I have no Idea of Commanding a Colonel of one of the other States who may command a Colonel of the Massachusetts state that (by this rule) will command me, at the same time, should three officers under these Circumstances be ordered on duty together, neither of them could have the command of the whole, because they would be commanded by each other, which would introduce a scene of Confusion and Injure the service—If these gentlemen should admit that in this case the Massachusetts line of Rank should give way to the great line of the army and the Massachusetts line should be held to only when on duty with Massachusetts Officers it would Releave us very little and opens a door for the worst of Consequences,1 as it tends in my opinion to prevent any Regular line of rank ever being established thro’ the army, but admit that this would be a good Rule in future it ought to be Rejected in the present case, for till the Resolve of Congress in 1776, Ordering 88 Battalions to be Raised dureing the war and proportioning the number to each State there was no such thing as a Massachusetts line,2 so far from it that when the Regiments were Raised for the service of the year 1776, there was pains taken to Intermix officers of different States in the same Regiment, and there was no State appointment in the army, wherefore these Gentlemens pretentions to Rank in the Massachusetts line in the present army, cannot arise from their former Rank in that line, because there was no such line, but from their former Rank in the line of the army at large, nothing I think can be more manifest than this and therefore no Reason I presume can be given why in setling the present Massachusetts Line I should not Receive equal advantage from my appointment as Colonel of Engineers, in that line, as in the great Line of the army—According to their Arguments Lt Colo. Shearman of Colo. Webbs Regt shall have no advantage of Rank in the Connecticut Line from the Majority he had in 1776, because he was under a Massachusetts Colonel, nor I from my Lt Colonelcy by reason of my serving that year under a Connecticut Colonel3—The Gentlemen Ranked before me in the list I have seen, and which I think ought not to be, are Colo. Shepard & Colo. Wigglesworth the one is the 3d, the other the 4th, and I am the 5th, in 1775 Colo. Shepard & I were Lt Colos. together, he then out Ranked, and had he Obtained the Regiment Immediately on the Resignation of Colo. Learned he would still commanded ⟨me⟩ but this was not the case;4 if it should be said that his Commanding the Regt before my appointment5, I Answer that I Commanded a Regiment in 1775 after Colo. David Brewer was dismised as long as Colo. Shepard did in 1776 before my Appointment to the Rank of Colonel, and that he did not obtain the Rank of Colonel in the Army, till near three months after I had it—therefore I cannot see the propriety of his being Arranged before me—Colonel Wigglesworth as I am informed was not in the army in 1775 the first I ever heard of him was in 1776 when he Commanded a Regiment of New Levies to the Northward; it is possible If I had Quitted the service in the fall of 1775 that I might have had one of those Regiments, I Knew a Major who was Rejected by the General Officers as a Major in 1775 who obtained one of them, and a Lt a Major in the same Regiment—I speak not this to detract from Colo. Wigglesworth I esteem him much but to shew where this Rule would carry us to if Persued.

My own Pretentions are as follows, I was four years the last war in the Actual service of my Country, the last of which I had an Ensigns Commission, I again entered the service 19th April 1775, from which time ’till the 12th of August 1776 I served as a Lt Colonel, when I was appointed Engineer with the Rank of Colonel in the army.

That under these Circumstances any Gentleman who began his service in 1776 in the manner Colo. Wigglesworth did, should be Arranged before me, I conceive to be very Injurious not only to me but all others in my situation, Exclusive of the Idea of my appointment as Colonel of Engineers.

If this Arrangment is not fully Established I pray your Excellency to take my case into Consideration and order some Measures to be taken for my obtaining Justice,6 I am Your Excellencys Most Obedient Hble Servt

Rufus Putnam

LS, DNA: RG 93, manuscript file no. 2106; ADf, OMC.

1At this point on the draft, Putnam wrote and struck out the following text: “it is in Short prefering State appointment to Continantal and in a degree Reverseing the order of Rank Established by the articels of War Sect. XVIII—which Sais the Continantel Shall Take Rank first althoe of a yonger date when doing duty togather and under Continantal pay and I Suppose it is for the Same Reason they have Ranked Colo. Wigelsworth Before me who had a State Colo. Commision in 1776 Before I had my apointment as Colo. of Engeneere: this arangment Injures not only me But all the othe Massachusetts Field officrs who ware Lieut. Colo. in 1775 and ware appointed to Regimets when I was.”

2Putnam was referring to Congress’s resolution of 16 Sept. 1776 ( 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 , 5:762–63).

3As major of the 26th Continental Regiment, Isaac Sherman served under Col. Loammi Baldwin, while as lieutenant colonel of the 22d Continental Regiment, Putnam served under Col. Samuel Wyllys.

4Ebenezer Learned resigned as colonel of the 3d Continental Regiment in May 1776, but William Shepard was not appointed to succeed him until October of that year.

5Putnam’s draft has the words “alters the case” here.

6On the draft, Putnam continued at this point: “if this arangment is Unalterably Established: Honour the first Prinsible of a Soldier obliges me to ask a discharge which I desire your Exelency will grant or Procure Granted by Congress.” GW evidently submitted Putnam’s claims to a board of general officers. An undated report (docketed in part “Septr 1778”) signed by generals Johann Kalb, Alexander McDougall, Samuel Holden Parsons, William Smallwood, Henry Knox, Enoch Poor, John Paterson, and William Woodford gives their opinion “that as the State of Massachusetts did not arrange the Rank of their Colonels, that Colonel Putnam ought to Stand in the Line of that State according to his continental Commission as Colo. of Engineers in Augt 76; and that Colonel Shephard ought to rank as Colonel from the Resignation of Colonel Learned and that Colo. Wigglesworth ought to be postpond in Rank to them two Gentlemen” (DNA: RG 93, manuscript file no. 2106).

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