George Washington Papers

General Orders, 5 September 1779

General Orders

Head-Quarters Moore’s-House [West Point]
Sunday Septr 5th 1779.

Parole Islington— C. Signs Harlow. Grafton.

A Captain from General Paterson’s brigade and a Subaltern from each of the other Massachusetts brigades are to repair forthwith to Springfield to receive the New-Levies from said State; They will call at Head-Quarters for their orders except the one from General Glover’s brigade who will receive his from the Captain.

At the General Court Martial whereof Coll Marshall is President the 1st instant, Captain Ashmead of the 2nd Pennsylvania regiment was tried for “Disorderly behaviour in the Light-Infantry Camp and refusing to depart from Colonel Butler’s regiment when ordered.”

The Court are unanimously of opinion that Captain Ashmead is not guilty of the charge exhibited against him and do acquit him with honor.

It is with real regret the General finds it out of his power to approve the sentence of the court without contradicting his own judgment; Whatever may have been the Propriety or Impropriety of Colonel Butler’s conduct in refusing Captain Ashmead the command of the Light Infantry Company and puting him in Arrest with the attendant circumstances, on which the General wishes not at present to pass an opinion, Captain Ashmead’s conduct in disobeying the Arrest, coming upon the parade and in defiance of Colonel Butler’s orders to the company, declaring that if any non commissioned officers and privates should disobey him he would confine them for it, and swearing he would have the command, was certainly irregular and disorderly.

Captain Ashmead appears to have carried the principle of a written Arrest too far; for necessity often requires that verbal ones, should be, for the present obligatory and the common practice of Armies justifies them.

If Captain Ashmead conceived himself injured and irregularly deprived of his proper command, the true line of conduct would have been to have demanded justice & reparation, by complaining first to General Wayne and if he did not pay proper attention to it, afterwards to the Commander in Chief.

Open defiance and opposition from an inferior to his superior officer upon a parade must in every well regulated army be deemed a breach of order and discipline.

Captain Ashmead is released from Arrest and to wait further orders for his destination.1

Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

On this date, GW’s secretary Robert Hanson Harrison, at West Point, wrote to Col. James Wood, commander of the 8th Virginia Regiment: “I have received Your Letter and presented it to His Excellency. From your character of Mr Swearingen as an officer the General is unwilling to lose him and from this consideration and the peculiar circumstances of his case, he consents to his absence till December—when he expects he will join this Army without fail. His Excellency requests you will inform him of this and that he must not after such an indulgence entertain an idea either of resigning or remaining a day longer from the duties of Station” (DLC:GW).

Joseph Swearingen (c.1754–1821), of Berkeley County, Va., joined the 12th Virgina Regiment in March 1777. After the regiment’s redisignation as the 8th Virginia Regiment in September 1778, Swearingen became captain lieutenant of the regiment in April 1779. He was taken prisoner at Charleston, S.C., in May 1780. Although he received promotion to captain in February 1781, Swearingen remained a prisoner to the close of the war. On 12 June 1799, John Marshall recommended Swearingen to GW as having maintained “a very high reputation” and proving himself suitable to command a regiment (Papers, Retirement Series, description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series. 4 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1998–99. description ends 4:117).

1Following his court-martial, Capt. Jacob Ashmead seems to have demanded a court-martial of Col. Richard Butler (see Anthony Wayne to GW, 7 Sept., and GW to Wayne, 8 Sept.; for the results of the court-martial, see General Orders, 21 Sept.).

Index Entries