George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Colonel John Lamb, 28 March 1779

From Colonel John Lamb

Southington [Conn.] 28th March 1779


I am favor’d with, Your Excellency’s Circular Letter, of the 4th Instant; which did not reach my Hands, ’till this Day; or I should have done myself the honor, of Answering it sooner.1

As to the relative rank of myself, with respect, to the other Colonels of Artillery; I believe no dispute, can possibly arise, but between Colonel Crane, and me; What his pretentions are, I know not; But I beg leave to inform Your Excellency, that, I found my claim of seniority, on the Commission, I received from the Continental Congress, appointing me, a Captain of Artillery; which bears date 30th June 1775;2 And is, I conceive, one of the earliest, Commissions, granted by that respectable body, And by a Resolve of theirs, subsequent, thereto, it is determined (if I am not misinformd) that all Officers, in the Continental Army, shall Rank, agreable to the dates of their Commissions, receiv’d from Congress, and not from those granted by their respective States, though of an earlier date;3 On this ground, I mean to rest my claim, not doubting, but the Board of Officers, whom your Excellency may think proper to appoint, will do me strict justice.

In respect to the relative rank, of the Regiments of Artillery; I have always supposed that Colonel Harrisson’s, would rank the first, because it was ordered to be raised, before either of the others;4 As to the claim of Colonel Crane’s Regiment (as the first) I think it is not justly founded; being informed, that the principle, on which they ground their right, is that most of the Old Officers, that were in the Regiment, formerly Commanded by General Knox, are now in Crane’s; And that it is still the same Regiment, and has undergone, no other change, but, that of having another Officer, to Command it; On this principle, the Regiment, I have the honor of Commanding, may with equal propriety, claim the right of seniority; as many Officers, that were in General Knox’s Regiment, are in mine, also; It clearly appears to me, that, on the 31st December 1775 (the day on which the Men’s time of Inlistment, expired) that the Regiment, then under the Command of Genl Knox, was totally annihilated, and existed no longer, as a Regiment; This will more fully appear, from the Resolve of Congress, for raising three Regiments of Continental Artillery; in which nothing is mentioned, respecting, that Regiment; from which, it is evident, that, Congress, did not consider it, as a Regiment, after the date abovementioned; or some Proviso, would have appear’d in the Resolve, in regard to filling it up, by new Inlistments.5 On the whole, I am of opinion, that, as Colonel Crane’s Regiment, and mine, were both ordered to be raised, on the same Day, neither of them can claim priority; And that, the justest, and most eligible mode, to determine it, will be by Lot; which I shall readily consent to, should it meet your Excellency’s approbation.6

I should wish to be possess’d, of a Copy, of Colo. Crane’s claim; and to be present, when the matter, is under the consideration of the board, if the Service will admit of it.7

I have inclosed the Commission, on which I found my Right, to Lt Colo. Stevens (of my Regiment) who will produce it, to the Board of Officers, when they may think proper, to order it.8 I have the honor to be, with the greatest Respect, your Excellency’s Most Obedient Servant

John Lamb

ALS, DLC:GW; copy, NHi: Lamb Papers; LB, NHi: Lamb Papers. Both documents in NHi are dated 12 March and vary in similar fashion from the text of the ALS.

Lamb at this time was on leave with his family in Southington, Connecticut. The family had lived in New York City until August 1776, when citizens began evacuating the city in advance of the impending British attack and occupation. After going first to Stratford, Conn., the family moved in the winter or spring of 1777 to Southington, where it stayed for the remainder of the war (see Leake, Life of John Lamb description begins Isaac Q. Leake. Memoir of the Life and Times of General John Lamb, an Officer of the Revolution, who Commanded the Post at West Point at the Time of Arnold’s Defection, and His Correspondence with Washington, Clinton, Patrick Henry, and Other Distinguished Men of His Time. Albany, 1857. description ends , 147, 152–54, 293).

2Lamb wrote to the New York provincial congress on 2 June 1775, offering his services in “the Artillery Department.” On 17 July 1775, the provincial congress ordered that “Captain John Lamb raise a Company of one hundred men including Officers, to serve in the Continental Army as an Artillery Company” (O’Callaghan and Fernow, N.Y. Documents description begins E. B. O’Callaghan and Berthold Fernow, eds. Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of New-York. 15 vols. Albany, 1853–87. description ends , 1:6, 20). No record has been found of the Continental Congress appointing Lamb a captain of artillery on 30 June 1775.

3Lamb may be referring to the Continental Congress’s resolution of 4 Nov. 1775 stating that “the Officers on the continental establishment shall, when acting in conjunction with officers of equal rank on the provincial establishment, take command of the latter, and also of the Militia; and the Officers of the troops on the provincial establishment shall, when acting in conjunction with officers of the Militia, take command and precedence of the latter of equal rank, notwithstanding prior dates of commissions” (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 , 3:326).

4Congress authorized the raising of Col. Charles Harrison’s artillery regiment on 26 Nov. 1776 (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 , 6:981, 995).

5Henry Knox’s Continental artillery regiment had been superseded by his Continental artillery brigade (also called the Continental corps of artillery) at the end of 1776, not 1775. Congress on 27 Dec. 1776 promoted Knox from colonel to brigadier general and authorized the raising of three regiments of artillery (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 , 6:1043, 1045; see also GW to John Hancock, 20 Dec. 1776, and n.3 to that document, and Hancock to GW, 27 Dec. 1776, and n.1 to that document).

6For the subsequent resolution of this dispute by drawing lots, see Lamb and John Popkin to GW, 26 Aug. 1779, DLC:GW.

7A copy of Col. John Crane’s letter to GW of 16 March concerning his claims is in the Lamb Papers at NHi. For the continuation of Lamb’s dispute with Crane over their relative ranks, see Lamb to GW, 29 May, and 6, 12, and 19 Aug., and GW to Lamb, 13 Aug., all NHi: Lamb Papers.

8The enclosed commission has not been identified.

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