George Washington Papers

To George Washington from the Marquis de Brétigney, 1 January 1779

From the Marquis de Brétigney

Philadelphia [1 January 1779]

My General.

I have the honor of presenting to Your Excellency the summary of my plan for raising a french Corps.

I submit it intirely to Your Decision, and it is only in consequence of your intire approbation, that I shall permit myself to take any measures on this subject.1

I have the most violent desire of serving under your orders, and my only means of repairing the misfortunes which I have suffered—is to be able to merit Your Excellencys Esteem. I am respectfully My General Your Excellencys most obedt hble Servt

De Bretigny

Translation, in John Laurens’s writing, DLC:GW; ALS, in French, DLC:GW.

Charles François Sevelinges, the self-styled “marquis” de Brétigney (b. 1754), was born in Soissons, France, and served under the comte d’Artois, purportedly with the rank of lieutenant colonel, from September 1775 until he left for America in 1777. He arrived at Philadelphia by July 1778 after fourteen months of “travelling, imprisonment, [and] misfortunes,” and presented Congress with a plan for the reduction of St. Augustine, Fla., hoping for the rank of brigadier general and command of an independent French corps, which he hoped to lead south; Congress, however, offered only to appoint him lieutenant colonel, a rank which the aggrieved Brétigney claimed left him “rank’d amongst a number of adventurers who appeard to have come here rather to receive money than to be of service in the War” (Brétigney to Henry Laurens, 1 Aug., 22 Oct., 15 Nov. 1778, DNA:PCC, item 78; 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 , 11:837).

Congress commissioned Brétigney a lieutenant and asked him to carry dispatches to D’Estaing in the Caribbean in January 1779, and in April of that year it appointed him to command a corps of French volunteers for the defense of South Carolina (John Jay to GW, 27 Jan. 1779; 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 , 13:102–3, 117, 443–44). Although his corps never amounted to more than a few dozen horsemen, Brétigney remained in the southern department until the end of the war, participating in the Guilford Courthouse campaign in the autumn of 1781.

1Laurens’s translation of Brétigney’s enclosed plan for the “Composition and formation of a french corps” indicated that it would be led by a lieutenant colonel and a major, accompanied by one adjutant and one surgeon. It would consist of one company of grenadiers with 38 men, one company of light infantry with 38 men, and four companies of fusiliers with 48 men each, for a total of 272 men in the regiment. “I require for raising the Corps,” Brétigney continued, “only a Major and four officers. When the first Company shall be complete I may be permitted to name an officer for every twelve Recruits; for that will be nearly the proportion that will exist between the number of officers and that of the Soldiers. so that the State will not be overburthened with too great a number of useless officers.

“The means of recruiting are certainly easy at the present juncture. Boston is full of frenchmen released from New York who could not embark in Ct D’Estaings Squadron. North Carolina has just disbanded a french Corps, the greatest part of which are perishing with misery; there are a great many in the same condition at Baltimore and Williamsburg—lastly in Philadelphia alone I can depend upon upwards of thirty.

“This Corps being once raised, will be easily kept complete, because frenchmen will be readily tempted to serve in a Corps of their own nation and commanded by their Countrymen.

“The same reason will prevent desertion, they will live together, they will rec[e]ive french discipline and manners, will speak their own language, and will think themselves still in the service of their sovereign.

“Doubtless a Corps composed of deserters and Soldiers of different nations, will succeed with difficulty but one composed altogether of the same kind of men—will have two powerful incitements to good conduct—vzt national pride and the desire of distinguishing itself.

“I do not mention either the equipment or discipline of this corps; I am animated with the strongest desire of making myself known—and will use every means to succeed in it.

“My Corps will certainly be complete and in condition to serve by the month of may. I have fixed the number of Soldiers at 248—but very possibly the Regiment may be more numerous—without however increasing the number of Officers which will remain invariable” (DLC:GW).

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