George Washington Papers

Remarks to Continental Congress Committee of Conference, 23–31 January 1779

Remarks for the Continental Congress Committee of Conference

[23–31 Jan. 1779]

Memorandums.

In consequence of the opinion of the Committee on the three plans submitted to them, some time ago, for the operations of the next Campaign, I have countermanded the orders which were given for the intended Expedition to Niagara but do not know upon what ground my Conduct will stand justified, as there are Resolves of Congress directing the necessary preparations for the enterprize and nothing will appear to contradict them.1

Investing the Officer at the head of the Artillery Corps with sufficient powers, and placing the Business of the Ordnance department upon some precise and fixed footing are matters of exceeding great importance and ought not to be delayed a moment.2

As General McIntosh will, more than probably, have occasion for the Aid of Militia in his operations to the Westward next Campaign, through what Channel and by what authority is he, or I, to apply for them? to what States are these applications to be made, and in what proportion?3

I am apprehensive the public is much burthened with an unnecessary expence in the appointment of Barrack Masters—This is a matter worthy of enquiry—The Barrack Master General might be called upon to furnish a list of all those appointed by or under him, designating their pay and duty, and the Quarter Master Genl will then be able to judge of their usefulness or how far the States can be eased of the Burthen.4

The Issuing Commissary’s department I am informed is under the same circumstances of the Hospital, with respect to districts and merits the same kind of releif[.]5 The arrangement of the Army is by no means perfected nor do I know certainly in whose hands the necessary Business is; but it is a work of such importance that no delay can be admitted.

The appointing of Brigadiers to the Vacant Brigades is expedient and advisable in every Sense. Giving a general command of the Horse if the four Regiments are to be kept up is also highly necessary.6 And determining which State Brig. Genl Hand is to belong, is also a matter of some consequence, as neither Pennsylvania nor N. Carolina will own him, and he is at present kept upon a detached command till something can be decided.7

What can or ought to be done as matters are circumstanced with the independant Corps of Pulaski and Armand? They are very expensive—troublesome to the Inhabitants and dissatisfied in themselves—and yet a very great difficulty occurs in blending them together or discharging them, on account of the Officers.

Count Pulaski’s wishes will appear by his letter—As will also Colo. Armand’s.8

The same difficulties are incident to the Case of Capt. Fowler (should he receive a military appointment in our Army) as have been pointed out in other instances.9

Will the Committee take any Steps, or give any advice on the letter of Colo. Gibson?10

It would be no small satisfaction to me to be informed of the Views of Congress respecting General Heath. At present he and myself are rather in an awkward situation for want of knowing the precise Ideas of Congress in respect to his being superseded in the command at Boston.11

Would there be any impropriety in continuing the present Committee of Conference for the purpose of corresponding with the Commander in Chief after his Return to Camp, that the Business for which they were appointed may go forward and be brought to a speedier decision than by the usual mode.12

Papers relative to the late Qr Mr Generals department what is to be done with them?13

D, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169. This undated document apparently was written between 23 Jan., the date of George Gibson’s letter to GW that is mentioned in the tenth paragraph, and 31 Jan., the date on which the committee of conference acted on that letter (see Gibson to GW, 23 Jan., source note).

1GW is referring to the three strategic alternatives for the campaign of 1779 that he had discussed in his letter to the committee of conference of 13 Jan.: (1) attacking the British garrisons at New York and Newport, (2) mounting an expedition against Niagara, and (3) remaining on the defensive except for small Indian expeditions. Congress had agreed on 5 Dec. 1778 to a committee report that, among other things, directed GW to prepare for a Niagara expedition “with all convenient Speed” (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 , 12:1191). For the laying aside of that expedition, see GW to Philip Schuyler, 18 January.

2For Brig. Gen. Henry Knox’s views on the ordnance department, see his second letter to GW of 30 Dec. 1778. For GW’s previous introduction of this matter to the committee of conference, see his memorandum to the committee of 8 Jan., enclosed in his letter to the committee of that date, and GW to Knox, 14 January. GW and Knox discussed the ordnance department with the committee of conference on 31 Jan. (see Alexander Hamilton to Knox, 30 Jan., in Knox to GW, 28 Jan., source note), and GW further expressed his views on the subject in his letter to the committee of 2 February. The new arrangement of the ordnance department, which Congress approved on 18 Feb., put the department under the direction of the commanding officer of the artillery corps, as Knox wished (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 , 13:201–6).

3GW and Congress subsequently agreed to restrict the number of militia used on the planned Indian expedition in order to minimize the expense involved in calling out and supplying them and to avoid the problems often caused by their lack of military discipline and experience (see GW to Lachlan McIntosh, 15 Feb., and GW to Horatio Gates, 6 March). For GW’s efforts to obtain limited numbers of Pennsylvania and New York militia for the expedition, see his letters to James Potter of 2 March, Joseph Reed of 3 March, and George Clinton of 4 March.

4In a letter to Q.M. Gen. Nathanael Greene dated 25 Jan. at Philadelphia, Continental barrackmaster general Isaac Melcher sought to delineate the jurisdictional lines between their departments in order “to prevent future Misunderstandings.” Undoubtedly aware of GW’s views expressed here, Melcher also told Greene that “it is my opinion no barrack master ought to be kept in pay where there are no Barracks except on some particular occasions, where troops are quartered in a town and in that case only so long as is necessary” (Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 3:185). Greene, who also was in Philadelphia at this time, apparently did not reply to Melcher in writing. On 26 May, Congress directed Melcher to dismiss all of his deputies except those at Philadelphia and Charlottesville, Va., and on 20 Jan. 1780 Congress abolished what remained of the barrackmaster general’s department (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 , 14:645, 16:76).

5For GW’s previously expressed views on the arrangement of the hospital department, see his memorandum to the committee of conference of 8 Jan., enclosed in his letter to the committee of that date. For Congress’s subsequent action regarding the assignments of issuing commissaries, see John Jay to GW, 19 March.

6Although no new commander of the Continental corps of light dragoons was ever named after Brigadier General Pulaski resigned that position in March 1778, the corps’ four regiments continued to exist, operating independently for the most part without any real brigade organization.

7This dispute was resolved on 11 May 1779, when Congress accepted a committee report which declared that although Edward Hand had been nominated by the North Carolina delegation when Congress had promoted him to brigadier general on 1 April 1777, he must be considered part of Pennsylvania’s quota of general officers by virtue of his being a Pennsylvania inhabitant (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 , 14:577–78; see also Joseph Reed to William Irvine, 16 Nov. 1778, in Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 11:123, and Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council, State of the General Officers of Pennsylvania, c.20 Jan. 1779, DNA:PCC, item 69).

8The letter from Pulaski to which GW refers has not been identified. The letter from Armand mentioned here probably is the one that Armand wrote to GW on 20 Jan., but it could be Armand’s undated letter to James Duane that Duane enclosed in his letter to GW of 28 January. For Congress’s subsequent action regarding Pulaski’s Legion and Armand’s partisan corps, see John Jay to GW, 5 February.

9Alexander Fowler (d. 1806), who had served as a British army officer from 1757 to 1775, wrote John Jay on 18 Jan. 1779, enclosing a memorial to Congress of that date, in which he offered his services in any capacity that Congress thought useful (DNA:PCC, item 78). Congress read Fowler’s letter and memorial the following day and referred them to the committee of conference (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 , 13:79). On 11 Feb., Fowler was nominated in Congress to be an army auditor, and nine days later he was so elected (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 , 13:177, 217). Fowler served as auditor for the western department stationed at Fort Pitt at least until 1781, when he brought charges of misconduct against the departmental commander, Col. Daniel Brodhead. Fowler subsequently became a merchant in Pittsburgh, where he lived for the remainder of his life.

Although Fowler had retired from the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot in October 1775 as a lieutenant, he presented himself to the Americans as a captain, probably on the grounds that he had been the regiment’s senior lieutenant at the time of his retirement and believed that he had been unfairly denied promotion. Fowler says in his memorial to Congress that he had resigned his commission in the British army because he had been severely persecuted by his superiors for his outspoken advocacy of the American cause, beginning in 1773 while he was stationed with his regiment in Philadelphia. Accompanying his regiment to Boston in the fall of 1774, Fowler was tried and convicted by court-martial there on 25 Sept. 1775 of behaving “in a Manner Unbecoming the character of an Officer and a Gentleman, by Exhibiting, frivolous, Malicious, Wicked and ill grounded charges” against Capt. Benjamin Charnock Payne of the 18th Regiment “before a General Court Martial” (Stevens, Howe’s Orderly Book, 96–97). Gen. Thomas Gage approved but remitted the court’s sentence of being discharged from the service. After his retirement two weeks later, Fowler went to England, where he tried unsuccessfully to sue General Gage for £5,000 sterling in damages. On 6 Aug. 1778 Fowler petitioned the American commissioners in Paris to help him obtain passage to America for himself and his wife (see Franklin Papers description begins William B. Willcox et al., eds. The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. 40 vols. to date. New Haven, 1959—. description ends , 27:221–24). The commissioners provided that assistance in a letter of 22 Aug. 1778 addressed to Thomas Read or any other captain of any vessel bound to America (see Franklin Papers description begins William B. Willcox et al., eds. The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. 40 vols. to date. New Haven, 1959—. description ends , 27:286–87). The Fowlers arrived at Marblehead, Mass., on 20 Nov. 1778 and at Philadelphia on 1 Jan. 1779.

10See George Gibson to GW, this date, and the source note to that document.

11Apparently receiving no clear guidance regarding Maj. Gen. William Heath from Congress over the next two months, GW finally wrote Heath on 26 March directing him to join the main army (see also Heath to GW, 22 Feb. and 11 March). After considerable delay, Heath arrived at GW’s headquarters at New Windsor, N.Y., on 21 June, and two days later he took command of a division in the Hudson Highlands (see Wilson, Heath’s Memoirs, 218, and General Orders, 23 June, DLC:GW). Although Heath was nominated in Congress on 8 April to be a member of the Board of War and was elected to the board by Congress on 22 June, he declined to serve and remained on active duty in the army (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 , 13:430, 14:757, 893).

12GW also proposed this arrangement in his second letter to John Jay of 29 Jan., and Jay gave his personal approval in his letter to GW of 31 January.

13In response to Congress’s resolution of 11 June 1778 directing GW to order an inquiry into the conduct of former quartermaster general Thomas Mifflin and the officers who had served under him in the quartermaster department, GW had done little or nothing beyond giving Mifflin leave from the army in June 1778 to prepare his defense (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 , 11:591–92, and GW to Henry Laurens, 15 June 1778). However, evidence of misconduct in the quartermaster department had been discovered by a committee of three delegates—Gouverneur Morris, Joseph Reed, and John Witherspoon—to whom Congress on 17 Aug. 1778 had referred three letters that Mifflin had written to the president of Congress, Henry Laurens, on 10, 11, and 17 Aug. 1778 (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 , 11:802). The committee reported to Congress on 23 Jan. 1779 that “during their consideration of this matter, information was given to them, supported by sundry affidavits, from which it appears probable that during the winter 1777, and the spring 1778 … sundry brigades of waggons in the public service were sent to New Windsor, Newburg, Hartford, and Boston, with flour and iron on private accounts, and brought back private property; that it also appears probable from said affidavits, that the said flour and iron had been taken as for public use at the regulated prices then fixed by law; and that the waggons during such transportation, were subsisted at the different posts on the public forage; that Colonel Robert Lettis Hooper, then and now deputy quarter master general, appears to have been the principal director of the said waggons at that time.” The committee presented Congress with the affidavits and minutes of its proceedings and recommended that GW be directed to proceed with the inquiry in accordance with the resolution of 11 June 1778. Congress agreed to the report and ordered that it and the accompanying affidavits and minutes be sent to GW (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 , 13:106–7). GW continued to defer action on the inquiry until Congress’s acceptance of Mifflin’s resignation from the army on 25 Feb. provided a reason to drop the matter entirely (see GW to John Jay, 26 Feb.).

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