George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Board of War, 5 September 1780

To the Board of War

Head qrs near Hackinsec Bridge [N.J.] Septr 5: 1780


I have received Mr Stoddart’s Letter of the 28th of August, with a Copy of the Resolution of the 12th, to which it refers.1 I see, for the reasons mentioned, that there will be a good deal of difficulty in making out the List of the Officers directed by the Act—and I am sorry that I have it not in my power to give the Board the assistance I could wish; but such as I can render they shall most readily receive. I would however, previous to my interfering in this business in any degree, beg leave to suggest to them that it appears to me necessary, that it should be clearly and explicitly understood by the Board, which seems not to be the case by their Letter, what Officers are to be the Objects of their Report. If these are not designated, it may lead to injustice, which though eventually redressed, would nevertheless in the first instance excite great complaint and confusion. If the point should be left subject to various constructions and interpretations, this must be the consequence, as we may easily conclude from ⟨the⟩ very different conduct & treatment, which ha⟨v⟩e been adopted by the different states and still prevail in many instances, with respect to the Officers & Corps which the Board mention. Indeed the present is a matter of a delicate nature—and it is to be wished for the sake of harmony—that it could be so settled, that All the Officers who are to have the depreciation of their pay made up, could be described in One general arrangement. The mentioning of one set & postponing Another, though a provision should be afterwards made for them & equally intended when that for Others was determined, is the source of uneasiness and of apprehensions that discriminations will obtain injurious to the latter.

Whether Aids de Camp & Secretaries2 who have not Regimental Commissions or Appointments should be part of the Officers, who are to be under the Board’s consideration, is a question I can not determine; but they are certainly as much Officers in the line of the Army as any Others and equally entitled to this just compensation, which I should also suppose must be the case, with respect to Officers of every description whether military or Staff, who have served for a standing fixed pay—which has not been encreased from time to time as the depreciation encreased. The doubt with the Board with respect to Aids cannot extend against the equity of their claim, but only I presume, whether they are to be Objects of their Report—or are to come under the consideration of any other body—or of the Committee proposed by the Act of the 10th of April.3 I have the Honor to be With great respect Gentn

P.S. The Board’s Letter of the 25th Ulto came to hand the 2d Inst., with Commissions only for Moylan’s & Webb’s Regmts.4

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

The Board of War replied to GW from Philadelphia on 12 Oct.: “The Board have been prevented by divers causes from answering your Excellency’s letter of the 5th of September last, relative to the Officers not belonging to the quota of any State to whom Congress mean to make up the depreciation of their pay. However just it may be, either at this time, or hereafter for Congress to take into their consideration the several descriptions of persons not immediately military, mentioned in your Excellency’s letter, it does not appear that it is any part of the business now entrusted to us to interfere in any matters relative to their claims. We have transmitted for your Excellency’s consideration copies of both the resolutions of Congress on which our former letter was grounded. The words of the last are—‘That the Board of War be directed to report to Congress a list of the Officers not belonging to the quota of any State, with an account of the ballance due to each to make their pay good for past services agreeable to the resolution of the 10th of April last.’ The words of the resolution of the 10th of April are, ‘That Congress will make good to the Line of the Army, and the Independent Corps thereof the deficiency of their pay occasioned by the depreciation.’ We therefore concieve that the words ‘the Line of the Army and the Independent Corps thereof,’ are descriptive of our present business and clearly designate the persons who are to be returned to Congress excluding by the strongest implication the staff and all others whose offices are not wholly military. We beg Leave therefore to submit to your Excellency’s Consideration whether it will not be best to return all such Officers as either explicitly are comprehended, or by any construction can be supposed to fall under the words of the resolution, leaving the Claims of the others to be hereafter discussed either on their own representations, or in any other way by which they can with propriety be brought before Congress—Should your Excellency coincide with us in Opinion we beg the Favour of you to direct Returns to be Transmitted as early as possible of the Officers whose Cases fall within our Ideas of the Construction of the Resolutions of Congress above stated” (LS, DLC:GW; docketed as received on 20 Oct. “at evening”).

GW replied to the Board of War from headquarters at Preakness on 21 Oct.: “Did the resolution of Congress of the 10th of April appear to me intirely without ambiguity or doubt, I should not hesitate to comply with the request of your letter of the 12th—But as in my opinion it admits different constructions, motives of delicacy restrain me from adopting one rather than another. What is meant by the line of the army has never been precisely defined or understood—the phrase has been used in different senses—sometimes it has been applied to the aggregate of the state-lines, sometimes to the whole army as composed of corps—the cavalry artillery and independent corps included, and sometimes it has been applied as comprehending not only all the corps, but every officer having military rank. If the Board will be pleased to specify their own construction of it, the returns shall be immediately forwarded.

“I inclose a commission to Capt. Gillman of the New Hampshire line, which by the certificate from Colonel Scammel accompanying it appears to have been misdated; being the 12th of September 78 instead of the first of June preceding. The rectifying this mistake will affect no other officer in that line” (Df, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; the enclosures have not been identified).

The Board of War replied to GW from Philadelphia on 31 Oct.: “The Board have been honoured with your Letter desiring their Ideas of the Meaning of the Words the Line of the Army in the Resolution of Congress of the 10th April last. We beg leave to inform your Excellency that we understand the phrase in its greatest Latitude comprehending all Officers of the Army holding military Rank.

“The Commission of Capt. Gilman is directed to be altered agreeably to your Excellency’s Desire” (ALS, DLC:GW). GW replied to the board on 7 Nov. that he had ordered the preparation of returns (DLC:GW).

2GW interlineated the previous two words on the draft.

3For this congressional resolution, 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 , 16:344–45; see also Samuel Huntington to GW, 18 April, and General Orders, 30 April.

4For the board’s letter to GW dated 25 Aug., see Board of War to GW, 14 Aug., source note. GW’s secretary Robert Hanson Harrison wrote the board on 29 Aug. “that the Officers of Moylans—Webbs & Jackson’s Regiments are very importunate about their Commissions” (DLC:GW). Commissions subsequently arrived for Col. Henry Jackson’s Additional Continental Regiment (see GW to the Board of War, 12 Oct., n.4).

Lt. Col. Ebenezer Huntington had written Col. Samuel Blachley Webb from camp at Tappan on 19 Aug.: “The officers of your Regt feel [e]very uneasiness at the neglect of the Board of War, in not forwarding the commissions agreeable to the Arrangement long since sent on. His Excellency has wrote them once or twice about it.—Day before yesterday I had an Interview with him, stated the disagreeable situation of the Regt, but more particularly of myself in having the Command of the Regt, and having my Reputation at Stake for their good conduct; when we have not Officers enough to attend to the Police of it.—He said he was sensible of their Situation, & would immediately write the Board of War on the Subject” (Ford, Webb Correspondence and Journals description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed. Correspondence and Journals of Samuel Blachley Webb. 3 vols. New York, 1893–94. description ends , 2:279–80, square brackets in source).

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