To Brigadier General James Mitchell Varnum
Head Quarters Middlebrook 14th Febry 1779
I received your favor of the 29th Ultimo.1
It is no easy matter, and always requires great efforts of judgement, to extinguish a general spirit of complaint, without punishing the principal offenders; for soldiers are restrained, more by fear, than by argument; by severe and well timed example,2 than by cool and lenient measures.3
I could wish there were no reasons to suppose that the soldiers have drawn encouragement, from the sentiments, or unguarded expressions of their officers; and that officers having a sense of the duty they owe their country, would endeavour to accommodate the minds of the soldiery to the circumstances of the times. That mutinous spirit which some corps have lately discovered, averse from order, and subordination, must be extinguished4 by every means in our power, and punishments enforced proportionate to the5 nature and consequences of the crime. As in the late case, I will not doubt your exertions, should such licentiousness ever again make its appearance.
The troops which you mentioned,6 have arrived at New-york. I am sir Your most hble servt
LS, in James McHenry’s writing, NhHi: Sullivan Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.
1. Varnum’s letter to GW of 29 Jan. has not been found. For the alleged mutiny that Varnum had reported in that letter and Maj. Gen. John Sullivan’s view that Varnum had exaggerated the incident, see GW to Sullivan, this date; Sullivan to GW, 3 March; and GW to Sullivan and to Varnum, both 19 March; see also Varnum to GW, 9 March.
2. At this place on the draft manuscript, McHenry first wrote “punishment.” He then struck out that word and wrote “examples” above the line.
3. At this place on the draft manuscript, McHenry first wrote “example.” He then struck out that word and wrote “measures.”
4. On the draft manuscript, McHenry rewrote the first part of this sentence, and in so doing, he changed the phrase “should be extinguished” to “must be extinguished.”
5. At this place on the draft manuscript, McHenry wrote and then struck out the word “averse.”
6. At this place on the draft manuscript, McHenry wrote and then struck out the words “embarking at New-port.”