George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major Samuel Jordan Cabell, 26 August 1779

To Major Samuel Jordan Cabell

West point August 26: 1779

Dr Sir

Mr Harrison has laid before me Two Letters, which he had received from you, and also a Certificate signed by Colo. Davies and Generals Muhlenburg and Woodford respecting your right to promotion to a Lieutenant colonelcy.1 I have considered the matter, and, from the high opinion I have of your merit and services, I am sorry to find there are difficulties in your case; and that the principles & practice which have been adopted & pursued in similar instances, will not authorise an allowance of your claim in the extent it is made. The point to which I allude at present; is the date from which you claim to rank. This can not be granted, consistently with the system of Arrangement, though on a large & liberal scale of justice and generosity you might be well entitled to it; and your rank when you are promoted, must be governed by some event posterior to the reduction of the Virginia line at the White plains.2 There is some degree of hardship in the matter; but being the effect of the arrangement, I flatter myself the same zeal which has hitherto marked your conduct & which led you to continue a Major, will induce your chearful acquiescence. I am also concerned that this is not the only difficulty that occurs. It appears to me that it will be an Act of the highest justice, to place the Officers who are prisoners—and who were arranged in the first instance as Supernumerary, in the vacancies as they happened—and before any new promotions. I don’t know how far this may be agreable to your ideas or expectation and that of the line; but it seems to correspond with your Letter of the 17th to Mr Harrison. If this system is practised on which as I have observed appears to be right, besides preserving the claims of the prisoners it will simplify the arrangement of the line—remove innumerable difficulties & put it on the same footing with every other in the Army. Nor would this be attended with any injury to any Officer—as the whole would be promoted at the precise time—or at least would obtain Commissions, giving them rank when their titles accrued—which, besides working no injustice to themselves, would prevent a wrong to the rest of the Army. Under this regulation you will be intitled to the fourth vacant Lieutenant Colonelcy that happens. I have written to Genls Woodford & Muhlenburg and requested them to inform me of the sentiments of the Field Officers present respecting this mode and I have also written to the Board of War for a Copy of the Arrangement made at Middle Brook, which is not only necessary upon this but some other occasions.3 The Lieutenant Cols. who have resigned are those mentioned in the list below.4 I am Sir with great esteem Yr Most Obedt sert

Go: Washington

Df, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1One of these letters from Cabell to Robert Hanson Harrison, dated 17 Aug. at “Rammapau,” N.J., reads: “I am exceedingly sorry that circumstances and the rep⟨eat⟩ed applications of the officers of the Regiment—where the Vacancy happen’d for me—Obliges me to request the favour of you—to lay the Certificate that I obtained respecting my Claim to the rank of Lt Colo. Signed by Colo. Davies, and Countersigned by Genls Woodford & Muhlenberg, before His Excellency, and give me the earliest Notice of the resu⟨lt⟩.

“Since I obtained the Certificate—I am info⟨rmed⟩ Lt Cols. Richardson[,] Ballard—Cropper & Fleming have resigned—which brings me in and leaves Vacancies for the field officers that are prisoners. The Determination of the Board of Field Officers of the Virga Line for Setting and filling the Vacancies of the said Line—as follows—That all Vacancies should be filled as th⟨ey⟩ happened by the Officers present—and in case—The Offic⟨ers⟩ who are now Prisoners, and entitled to Promotion—should be exchanged—the Junior Officers of the same rank (should the Officers so exchanged—express their desire of continuing) ⟨mutilated⟩ Retire—I would have sent you the Arrangement but Colonel Davies’s Absence prevents me—If my applicati⟨on⟩ should be thought just—by His Excellency—I will ⟨consi⟩der it as a particular favour if you will forward my Appointment—I assure you—Sir—It gives me infinite pain, that I am compelled to mention the Subject, at ⟨mutilated⟩ Season—as I would wish to be active—and perhaps it m⟨mutilated⟩ give ⟨mutilated⟩ Excellency some Trouble—No interesting News preval⟨ent⟩ in our Camp—Our Troops are continually employed in procuring Forrage—800 Men are Ordered on a forraging party—thus you see how our time is employed” (DNA, RG 93).

The certificate signed by Col. William Davies and brigadier generals Peter Muhlenberg and William Woodford, dated 19 June at “Camp Smith Clove,” reads: “We do hereby Certify that its our opinion that Major Saml Jordan Cabell of the 10th Virginia regiment is entitled to rank as lieutenant-Colonel from the resignation of Lt Colo. West July 6th 1778, and not from Lt Colonel Richardson, as he was entitled to the rank of Lt Colo. some time before the reduction of regiments took place in the Virginia line.

“The reason of his not being arranged as Lt Colo. at the White plains, was to prevent his being a Supernumerary, as he would have been one of the youngest of that rank, which by the settlement of the Board of Field officers of that line, would have excluded him from the Line, and made him a Supernumerary—in order to prevent which he ⟨illegible⟩ to continue as Major—Capt. Knox of the 8th Virginia regiment was promoted to the rank of Majr upon the principle of Major Cabells being a Lt Colo. and was considered as Major from the above mentioned Date—the resignation of Lieut. Colo. Richardson now makes a Vacancy for him as Lt Colo. in the Virga Line.” A note on the document, in a different hand, reads: “Note—Majr Cabells promotion must be in the 5th Regt vacant by Lt Colo Richardsons resignation.” Harrison docketed the letter: “received—24 at night” (DNA, RG 93).

2For the reduction of the Virginia line to eleven regiments—which took place while the army was encamped at White Plains, N.Y., in the fall of 1778—see GW to Patrick Henry, 7 Oct. 1778, and General Orders, 7 Feb. 1779; see also General Orders, 27 Aug. 1778.

3See GW to William Woodford and Peter Muhlenberg, and GW to the Board of War, both this date. For the arrangement of the Virginia line established at the Middlebrook, N.J., winter encampment, see GW to Muhlenberg, 17 Feb., and GW to Peter Scull, 20 March.

4Following the closing of the letter, Harrison listed the following officers and their dates of resignation: Lt. Cols. Charles Fleming (15 Dec. 1778), Holt Richardson (10 May 1779), Robert Ballard (4 July 1779), John Cropper, and Charles Simms. For the last two, he gave no date of resignation but added the following note: “gone to Philadelphia—whether they will resign or not uncertain.”

Charles Fleming, of Chesterfield County, Va., joined the 7th Virginia Regiment as a captain in February 1776. He became major of the 4th Virginia Regiment in June 1777 and lieutenant colonel of the 3d Virginia Regiment in June 1778. He transferred to the 8th Virginia Regiment in September 1778 and left the army in December 1778.

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