George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Steuben, 28 July 1780

From Major General Steuben

Fish Kill [N.Y.] 28th July 1780


Previous to the reception of your two Letters of the [ ] & [ ] Instant1 I had been informed of our disappointment with regard to the Arms expected from France; Mr Izard made no secret of their detention or the cause2—The distress I foresaw this disappointment would bring upon us determind me on a measure for which, if disapproved by your Excellency, I must be answerable. I engaged General Howe to write to the states of Connecticut & Massachusets;3 I wrote myself and engaged also Genls Huntingdon & Patterson to write them, to lend us each 1500 stand of Arms & Accoutrements & to send them on immediately and I have made myself answerable for their return whenever our Arms arrive from France4—these 3000 & what we shall be able to collect from our stores will I hope suffice—I have disarmed all the Waggoners, General & Staff Officers Waiters & indeed every man who will not in a day of Action be in Rank & file this will add a considerable number of Arms.

With regard to the recovery of the Arms carried off it will I fear be difficult if not impossible—it would even be difficult to discover to whom to attribute such unpardonable negligence—The Field Officers were absent & the Regiments commanded sometimes by a Captain sometimes by a Lieut. under these Circumstances what Individual Officer can be made answerable?5

I have as much as circumstances would permit exerted myself to introduce some discipline into this part of the Army which I am sorry to say was almost without—the Recruits are in a train of Exercise & improve, near half of them have served before, but are not much better instructed than the new Recruits.

I have made the necessary Arrangements for the Light Infantry & shall be happy if they meet your Excellencys approbation the Companies are formed agreable to your Excellencys orders. I have myself chosen the Non Commmission’d Officers & Soldiers & even the Arms & I dare flater myself that the Corps will be the admiration of our Allies as well as the terror of our Enemies, there is hardly a man under 20 or above 30 years of Age they are all robust & well made & have indeed a military appearance and as many of the recruits have served before, near two thirds of every Company will be old soldiers I have chosen from each Regiment, besides 3 serjts 2 D. & fifes & 42 Rank & file, 10 Men as a reserve, these are to remain with their Companies & be ready to reinforce or fill up any Vacancies that may happen in the Light Company.6

Massachusets will furnish 16 Companies[;] Connecticut 8[;] New Hampshire 3[;] New York. i.e. Clinton 2.

Clintons cannot furnish more unless reinforced & even if the four Regiments could furnish each one Company one more would still be wanting for the Batn of York & Hampshire, it was for this reason I proposed forming 3 Comps. of State Troops from whom I should have chosen such Officers & Men as had already served but as your Excellency seem desirous that the men Should be under Continental Officers I have alterd my proposition to the Governor who was with me to day. all I could obtain was that Clintons Brigade should be reinforced so as to be able to furnish three Companies & that the State Troops should furnish a Capt. Sub. & as many men as will Compose two compleat Companies these must be taken as one Company but may be afterwards divided7 into two one of which may be commanded by Continental Officers & the other by the State Officers who will be Old Officers who have resign’d & for whom the Governor seems to have a regard.

If your Excellency approves this Arrangement the 3d Batn of Light Infantry will be compleat & equally good with the others—I shall however wait your orders to put it in execution.8 I am with great respect & esteem sir Your Excellencys most Obedt humble servt


LS, DLC:GW; copy, NHi: Steuben Papers. No reply from GW to Steuben has been found.

1Steuben appears to be replying to GW’s letter to him of 22 July. The second letter has not been found; Steuben already had replied to GW’s letter to him of 18 July (see n.3 to that document); he does not appear to have yet received GW’s letter to him of 24 July (see n.6 below).

2A large quantity of muskets from France had been expected in the Continental frigate Alliance, which failed to arrive with the French fleet (see Circular to Connecticut and Massachusetts, 22 July). The Alliance finally arrived on 16 August. A dispute between captains John Paul Jones and Pierre Landais had delayed the frigate’s sailing, and it sailed with fewer arms than expected (see James Bowdoin to GW, 17 Aug.; see also Rochambeau to GW, 21 Aug., and GW to Rochambeau, 26 Aug.).

For Ralph Izard’s arrival in the West Point area of New York, see Robert Howe to GW, 26 July, and n.5 to that document.

3See Howe to GW, this date, postscript, and n.7 to that document.

4In his letter to Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., dated 27 July, Steuben wrote in part: “It is with the greatest pain I inform You that the arms We expected from Franc[e] have not arrived, & that for want of them, the Operations of the Campaign will be stopd, unless Your State, as it always has, will still exert itself to remedy this evil, by lending to the Continent Fifteen hundd Arms with Bayonets & Cartridge boxes Complete” (Zemenszky and Schulmann, Papers of Steuben description begins Edith von Zemenszky, ed., and Robert J. Schulmann, assoc. ed. The Papers of General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, 1777–1794. Millwood, N.Y., 1982. Microfilm. 7 reels. description ends , 2:428). Neither Steuben’s letter nor Brig. Gen. John Paterson’s letter to Massachusetts council president Jeremiah Powell has been identified. For Brig. Gen. Jedediah Huntington’s letter to Trumbull of 26 July seconding the appeal of Maj. Gen. Robert Howe, see Zemenszky and Schulmann, Papers of Steuben description begins Edith von Zemenszky, ed., and Robert J. Schulmann, assoc. ed. The Papers of General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, 1777–1794. Millwood, N.Y., 1982. Microfilm. 7 reels. description ends , 2:425.

5Steuben is referring to the absence of numerous field officers on furlough during the previous winter.

6Steuben evidently had not received GW’s letter to him of 24 July stating that the light infantry companies were to initially number only twenty rank and file.

7The writer inadvertently wrote “diviided” for this word.

8GW ordered the light infantry into the field on 1 Aug. (see the general orders of that date).

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