George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Stirling, 26 February 1779

From Major General Stirling

Middle Brook Febr. 26th 1779


Haveing Carefully perused the two plans for the disipline of the Army which your Excellency was pleased to refer to me I am of opinion that they are Materially the Same, both founded on the most approved Systems now in Use in Europe, and will I think well Answer the purposes of the American Army, the Gentlemen have both had brevity and Simplicity in Veiw.1 The Baron Stuben in some Instances has been rather too Short, for example, he often Speaks of the Oblique Step, but never describes the execution of it;2 the other Gentleman does describe it, but in a Way that is not Clear to me; the Baron in one of his plates, delineates the Serpentine March but never describes it; nor the necessity, and very great Use there is in Changeing the direction of the Line of March of the open Column by degrees and not Suddenly in Sharp Angles.3 The other Gentleman has described the former under the title of Simeons March and the latter he has beautifully and Mathematically demonstrated under the term of the pivot Man’s Conversing along the Arc of a Small Circle, while the Wheeling file moves along the Circumferrence of a larger One. there is a Mistake in the drawing of this Manuvre in one of his plates which I have Corrected in a peice I had Added. there are many Valuable, things in the latter performance which Might with great advantage be ingrafted on the Barons, especially if they were rid of some foreignisms which are quite New to an American Ear, and then if the Baron was in some places a little more explanatory it would be as Complete a System of Military disipline as the Army Could require. I would recommend that both Systems be put into the hands of Baron Stuben who will be best able to Judge what will be most proper to incorporate with His own plan. I have the honor to be your Excellency’s Most Humble Servant



Stirling’s remarks of c.10 March on the second part of Steuben’s military regulations manuscript reads:

“Of the Manner of laying out an Encampment.

“Art. 1 The Quarter Masters Detachment consisting of the Pioneers and Camp Colour Men, will render this proposed Detachment unnecessary—The Camp Colour Men should be furnished with a small Colour on which is marked the number of the Regiment and Compy. They are very useful in laying out the Camp; and being fixed on the right or left of the Ground of the Companies, as the order of March requires, facilitate the forming on the Parade when the Troops come to enter the Encampment.

“Of the Baggage.

“The Escort in my Opinion should not be allowed to march with the Waggons, especially when near an Ennemy; they should march in perfect Order, in two or more Divisions according to Circumstances, and the Situation of the Ennemy, in Front, Rear, or on the flank of the Column of Waggons. marching in the disorderly manner they sometimes do dispersed along the whole Line of Waggons exposes the Baggage exceedingly, and puts it in the Power of a very small Party to destroy it entirely.

Regulations for Cleanliness &ca

“Art. 14 This I take rather to be the Duty of the Quarter[master] than the Adjutant.

“Art. 16th It should not be left to the Discretion of the Sentnell to order the Alarm to be Beaten—It is indeed a thing that should be done verry seldom; and in order to render it as little necessary as possible the Men should frequently be made to turn out and form on the Parade, or at the alarm Posts, as the Case may be, both by Day and Night without Beat of Drum, The Officers exerting themselves to prevent Noise, and to form them with Alertness.

“Soldiers Baggage.

“One or two black Stocks and two pair of Shoes should be added to the List.

“Of the different Beats of the Drum.

“When a Part only of the Army is to march The Assembly is to beat instead of the General, and is the Signal for that part to strike their Tents and prepare for the March—On the second Beating of the Assembly they are to repair to the Colours.

“The Arms and Accoutrements should be marked with the Number of the respective Regiments and Companies; besides which there should be some private mark to ascertain to whom they have been delivered individually, to prevent the Mens changing them amongst themselves.

“The Plan of Encampment is a very convenient One, but it is necessary that the Tents should [be] all of one Size—If some of them are larger than usual as has been the Case with Us, the Intervals between the Tents are filled up and the Men in attempting to pass through tear and destroy them exceedingly—a great Number of Tents were, last Campaign, from this very Circumstance rendered entirely Useless” (AD, DLC:GW). For GW’s remarks on the second part of Steuben’s manuscript, see GW to Steuben, 11 March, and n.1 to that document.

1Stirling is referring to the first part of Steuben’s military regulations manuscript, which deals with drill instructions. The other plan of discipline reviewed by Stirling has not been identified.

2GW also noted this omission in the remarks that he enclosed in his letter to Steuben of this date (see n.1 to that document). The oblique step is explained in chapter 5 of Steuben’s Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States.

3Stirling is referring to plate IV for Steuben’s regulations, entitled “A close column changing the direction of its march,” which is described in chapter 10, article 2 of the published volume.

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