George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General Robert Howe, 25 May 1780

To Major General Robert Howe

Head qrs [Morristown] May 25. 1780

Dear Sir

I have received Your Two favors of the 22d Instant.1 The distresses of the Troops under yr Comd give me great pain and what adds to it is, I have it not in my power to administer to their relief. Our situation here is equally melancholy—for the Troops on several days have been entirely without meat—and at best on half & quarter allowance for a considerable time.2 I very sincerely hope that You will derive support from Connecticut, in consequence of your Letter & the Representation which would be made by Colo. Hay.3 With respect to the Flour ordered to the North River—I find on inquiry, it has been stopped at Springfield for want of the means of transportation. Colo. Stewart the Issuing Commissary set out yesterday to get it in motion again if possible. If this difficulty can be surmounted—a further supply shall be attempted.4 On account of the deranged state of our finance and the total want of money—every thing is almost at a stand.

If You can spare any Men for the purpose—I wish You to employ them in making fascines & Gabions. The nearer they can be made to the River the better. I fear we shall find but a bad account of those which were prepared on the Sound—but even if this should not be the case, we ought to provide a considerable number.5

I thank You for your intelligence. A variety of reports of the same nature with respect to Sir Henry Clintons raising the siege of Charles Town—and returning6 have been received through other Channels. How far they are to be depended on, I can not determine; but it seems beyond doubt that the Enemy are under great anxiety about something. I have had no Official Accounts from Charles Town myself since the 9th of April7—but Letters have been received by Gentlemen from their Friends in the Country as low down ⟨as⟩ the 24th mentioning that the Enemy seemed to be turning the siege into a Blockade.

I am pained to find that the spirit of resigning still prevails in the Massachusetts line. A day scarcely passes without one or more applications on this head. This conduct at this time is very disreputable to those who practice it unless in cases of very pressing necessity—and cannot but be injurious to the service. If the same disposition should continue—when we come to act in the Field—there will not be Officers to command the Men. I wish You to speak to the Brigadiers & Field Officers on the subject who I am persuaded will use their influence to prevent so disagreable & pernicious a practice.8 I am D. Sir with great regard Yr Most Obedt sert

G. Washington

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

1GW is referring to Howe’s first two letters of that date (letter 1; letter 2).

2For recent provision shortages, see Solomon Southwick to GW, 17 May, and notes 1 and 3 to that document.

3See Howe to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., 18 May, and Howe’s two letters of that date to Udny Hay, found at Howe to GW, 22 May (first letter), n.1.

4GW had ordered 150 barrels of flour to King’s Ferry, N.Y., for Howe’s troops (see GW to Howe, 5 May; see also GW to Howe, 1 and 3 June).

5For the construction of siege materials near Long Island Sound in fall 1779, see GW to Howe, 15 May, and notes 4 and 5; see also GW to Hay, 17 May. GW anticipated an assault on New York City with forces expected from France (see GW to Hay, 15 May, and n.2 to that document; Nathanael Greene to GW, 23 May; and GW to William Greene, same date). The Hudson River provided ready transportation for the siege materials. For Howe’s reply to this directive, see his second letter to GW of 31 May.

6Following this word on the draft, Harrison wrote and then crossed out “to New York.”

7Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln, Lt. Col. John Laurens, and Brig. Gen. William Woodford all wrote GW from Charleston, S.C., on 9 April.

8Recent resignation letters from officers in the Massachusetts line included Capt. Peter Page to GW, docketed “resigned 25 May 1780” (ALS, DNA: RG 93, manuscript file no. 2309); Ensign James Webb to GW, 26 May (LS, DNA: RG 93, manuscript file no. 2259); and Lt. John Littlefield to GW, 27 May (ALS, DNA: RG 93, manuscript file no. 2375). For other recent resignation requests, see the editorial note, Officer Resignations, 10 March–10 May.

Maj. William Langborn, Howe’s aide-de-camp, wrote GW’s aide-de-camp Richard Kidder Meade from “Highlands,” N.Y., on 22 May: “I receiv’d your favour, with the discharge of Ensign [Caleb] King, and am again under the disagreeable necessity of enclosing some letters with the Commissions, & Certificat’s of Officers of this Department, which you will be pleas’d to lay before his Excellency for his Determination, thereon—neither the influence of Genl Howe, or any one else can (I believe) retain them in Service” (DLC:GW). Meade replied to Langborn from headquarters at Morristown on 25 May: “By his Excellency’s desire I inclose you Capt. [Peter] Pages Commission with his discharge endorsed—Ensign [Jeduthan] Rawson would also have obtained a discharge had [he] transmitted a certificate from the commanding Officer of the Regt agrreeable to Genl orders—Ensign [John] Starbird wanted the same Certificate & did not send his Commission. Ensign Pages certificates were proper but no Commission accompanied them—I return you their papers, with a request that if they persist in their determination to leave the Army that these defects may be remedied & At the same time you will be pleased to inform these Gentn that the General cannot help expressing his extreme concern at the consequences that must follow such frequent resignations” (DLC:GW).

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