George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Continental Congress Committee of Conference, 8 January 1779

To the Continental Congress Committee of Conference

Philadelphia 8th January 1779


As the Resolve of Congress appointing you a Committee to confer with me extends the object of the conference to the general operations of the next Campaign,1 I have taken the liberty to throw together a few imperfect Minutes of those Heads which will require your attention—These Minutes only comprehend general Ideas upon which the several points may be taken up; but in the course of the conference, as far as may rest with me to do it, I shall be ready to give a detail of any particulars which may be deemed necessary.2 I have the honor to be with the greatest Respect Gentn Your most obt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; ADfS, DLC:GW; two Varick transcripts, DLC:GW. GW addressed the cover of the LS.

1See 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 , 12:1250.

2The enclosed memorandum of this date, written by Alexander Hamilton and signed by GW, reads: “The first and great object is to recruit the Army.

“1st By inlisting all the men now in it during the war, who are engaged for any term short of that; for this purpose no bounty should be spared.

“2dly By drafting upon some such plan as was recommended to the Committee at Valley forge last february.

“The next object is.

“To fix some ideas respecting the Northern preparations, concerning which the Commander in Chief now finds himself in a dilemma—and respecting the operations of the next campaign in general, in order that measures may be taken systematically—The following questions on which the foregoing will depend ought to be considered and decided.

“1st If the enemy retain their present force at New York and Rhode Island, can we assemble a sufficient force and means to expel them?

“2dly If we cannot, can we make a successful attempt against Niagara and keep a sufficient force at the same time on the sea board to keep the Enemy within bounds?

“3dly Are our finances equal to eventual preparations for both these objects?

“If the first is determined in the affirmative, and the enemy keep possession, we ought to direct almost our whole force and exertions to that point, and for the security of our frontiers, endeavour to make some expedition against Detroit and the Indian settlements by way of diversion—Our preparations ought then to be adapted to this plan, and if we cannot conveniently unite our preparations for this object with an expedition against Niagara we ought to renounce the latter.

“If the first question is answered negatively and the second affirmatively, and if it is judged expedient to make such an attempt, our preparations ought to have reference principally thereto, and we must content ourselves with a merely defensive conduct elsewhere, and should study œconomy as much as possible. It is in vain to attempt things which are more the objects of desire than attainment. Every undertaking must be, at least ought to, be, regulated by the state of our finances, the prospect of our supplies and the probability of success. Without this disappointment, disgrace and an increase of debt will ensue on our part—exultation and renewed hope on that of the enemy. To determine therefore what we can undertake—the state of the army the prospect of recruiting it—paying, cloathing and feeding it—the providing the necessary apparatus for offensive operations—all these matters ought to be well and maturely considered. On them every thing must depend; and however reluctantly we yield—they will compel us to conform to them, or by attempting impossibilities we shall ruin our affairs.

“If the third question is answered affirmatively, which it is much to be feared cannot be done—then eventual preparations ought to be made for both. We shall then be best able to act according to future circumstances; for though it will be impossible to unite both objects in the execution; yet in the event of the enemy’s leaving these states, we should be ready to strike an important blow for the effectual security of our frontiers and for opening a door to a further progress into Canada.

“From the investigation of these points—another question may possibly result.

“Will not the situation of our affairs, on account of the depreciated condition of our currency, deficiency of bread—scarcity of forage—the exhausted state of our resources in the middle department and the general distress of the inhabitants—render it adviseable for the main body of the army to lie quiet in some favourable position for confining, as much as possible, the enemy to their present posts (adopting at the same time the best means in our power to scourge the indians and prevent their depredations) in order to save expences—avoid new emissions recruit our finances and give a proper tone to our money for more vigourous measures hereafter?

“In determining a plan of operations for next campaign, much will depend on the prospect of European affairs—what we have to expect from our friends—what they will expect from us—and what the enemy will probably be able to do. These points should be well weighed and every information concentered to throw light upon them. But upon the whole—it will be the safest and most prudent way to suppose the worst and prepare for it.

“It is scarcely necessary to say, that the providing ample supplies of arms cloaths and ordnance stores is essential; and that an uncertain dependence on them may not only be hurtful but ruinous—Their importance demands that every possible expedient should be without delay adopted towards obtaining these articles in due season, for the purposes of next campaign.

“Heavy cannon for the posts in the Highlands for battering, and for vessels if offensive measures are to be persued must be immediately provided and in considerable quantity. Large mortars with a sufficient apparatus will also be wanted.

“The completing the arrangement of the army without further delay is a matter of great importance, whatever may be our plan—The want of this is the source of infinite dissatisfaction to the Commander in Chief.

“The want of Brigadiers is a material inconvenience and hath been the cause of much relaxation of discipline, discontent and loss in several instances.

“The Ordnance department seems to require some important alterations—General Knox’s representation transmitted to Congress in July or August last, and his letter and memorial of the [ ] Ulto copy of which is annexed, show that he finds himself under embarrassments of a disagreeable nature from the present form of it.

“The Cloathing department appears to be altogether unsettled and confused and requires immediate attention, for the purposes both of regular issues to the army and of saving to the public. There are too many persons concerned in that business and acting independent of each other to have it well conducted. The army is now greatly deficient in the articles of blankets and hats, and shoes, or soon will be, as these last are in constant demand—They might, I should conceive be contracted for by means of the hides, in great abundance.

“The Hospital is in some respects, in my judgment, upon an improper establishment, and might be altered for the better. I mean that part of it which appoints Subdirectors, surgeons &c. for different districts, which necessarily must be attended with one or the other of these disadvantages: either that a competent number must be appointed in each district to serve the purposes of the whole army, in case the theatre of war should happen to be there; which must be a great unnecessary burthen to the public, or these Gentlemen must be occasionally removed from one district to another, which is productive of an interference of authority and jealousies and disputes very injurious to the service. It appears to me, that there is no occasion for allotting those departments which are under one general director into districts—Tis true, that wherever there are troops, there must be surgeons and Hospital stores; but these can be sent by the Director General as exigences may require and proportioned to the particular exigency; whereas by being made stationary, they become inadequate to the duty in one case, and sinecures in the other.

“From the beginning of the war, there has been a constant disagreement between the Hospital & Regimental surgeons, in which, more than probably, both have been wrong. But I cannot help thinking, if a little more latitude were granted to the Regimental surgeons, under the inspection of the Director General, or rather Surgeon General of the flying hospital, that great good would result from it. As far as I can judge, much expence has been incurred—many lives have been lost and many desertions occasioned, by removing men from Camp, which the means of taking care of them in their regiments might have prevented—It often happens, that the seed of dangerous disorders are sown, by removing the sick at improper times and in unfavorable weather, which might be avoided by keeping them in camp, if they could have the necessary assistance there; but which under the present arrangement are unavoidable.

“The immediate establishment of the Inspectorship on some definitive plan, that the benefits of it may be fully derived towards the next campaign, is a matter of the utmost importance.

“It is also very interesting that the Engineering department should be arranged upon some fixed and explicit footing.

“The situation of the officers of the army in the present depreciated state of the paper currency and the consequent high prices of every necessary is so singularly hard, that the bare mention of their case is sufficient to bring it home to the attention and feeling of every man of reflection and will leave no doubt of the necessity of applying a remedy the most speedy and effectual” (DLC:GW).

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