George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Samuel Huntington, 11 October 1780

To Samuel Huntington

Head Qrs Passaic Falls 11th Oct: 1780.


Three days since, I received your Excellency’s Letter of the 4th with the inclosed resolutions, which, as the Army was in motion to this Post, I had it not in my power to answer before.1

I am much obliged to Congress for the honor they do me by the fresh mark of their attention and confidence conferred upon me in the reference they have been pleased to make. My wish to concur in sentiment with them, and a conviction that there is no time to be lost in carrying the measures relative to the Army into execution, make me reluctantly offer any objections to the plan that has been adopted—but a sense of what I owe to Congress and a regard to consistency will not permit me to suppress the difference of opinion, which happens to exist upon the present occasion, on points that appear to me far from unessential—In expressing it, I can only repeat the ideas which I have more than once taken the liberty to urge.

That there are the most conclusive reasons for reducing the number of Regiments no person acquainted with the situation of our affairs and the state of the Army will deny. A want of Officers independant of other considerations were sufficient to compel us to it. But that the temper of the Army produced by its sufferings requires great caution, in any reforms that are attempted, is a position not less evident than the former. In Services the best established, Where the hands of Government are strengthned, by the strongest interests of the Army to submission, the reducing of its regiments and dismissing a great part of its Officers is always a measure of delicacy & difficulty. In ours, where the Officers are held by the feeblest ties and are mouldering away by dayly resignations—it is peculiarly so—The last reduction occasioned many to quit the Service besides those who were reformed, and left durable seeds of discontent among those who remained2—The general topic of declamation was, that it was as hard as dishonorable for men, who had made every sacrafice to the Service to be turned out of it at the pleasure of those in power without any adequate compensation. In the maturity to which their uneasinesses have now risen from a continuance in misery, they will be still more impatient under an attempt of a similar nature—how far these dispositions may be reasonable I pretend not to decide but in the extremity to which we are arrived policy forbids us to add new irritations—Too many of the Officers wish to get rid of their Commissions; but they are unwilling to be forced into it.

It is not the intention of these remarks to discourage a reform; but to show the necessity of guarding against the ill effects by an ample provision both for the Officers who stay and for those who are reduced. This should be the basis of the plan and without it I apprehend the most mischievous consequences. this would obviate many scruples that will otherwise be found prejudicial in the extreme. I am convinced Congress are not a little straitned in the means of a present provision so ample as to give satisfaction; but this proves the expediency of a future one; and brings me to that which I have so frequently recommended as the most economical, the most politic and the most effectual that could be devised—A half pay for Life. Supported by a prospect of a permanent dependence, the Officers would be tied to the Service and would3 submit to many momentary privations and to the inconveniencies which the situation of public affairs makes unavoidable; this is exemplified in the Pensylvania Officers, who being upon this establishment are so much interested in the Service, that in the course of five Months, there has been only one resignation in that line.

If the objection drawn from the principle of this measure being incompatible with the genious of our government is thought insurmountable—I would propose a substitute less eligible in my opinion, but which may answer the purpose; it is to make the present half pay for Seven years whole pay for the same period to be advanced in two different payments, one half in a year after the conclusion of peace the other half in two years subsequent to the first. It will be well to have it clearly understood that the reduced Officers are to have the depreciation of their pay made good, lest any doubt should arise on this head.

No objection occurs to me, to this measure, except it be thought too great an expence; but in my judgment whatever can give consistency to our military establishment will be ultimately favourable to economy. It is not easy to be conceived except by those who are witnesses to it what an additional waste & consumption of every thing and consequently what an increase of expence, results from the laxness of discipline in the Army—and where the Officers think they are doing the public a favor by holding their Commissions & the men are continually fluctuating it is impossible to maintain discipline. Nothing can be more obvious than that a sound Military establishment and the interests of economy are the same. How much more the purposes of the War will be promoted by it in other respects will not admit of an argument.

In reasoning upon the measure of a future provision I have heard Gentlemen object the want of it in some foreign Armies, without adverting to the difference of circumstances. The Military state holds the first rank in most of the Countries of Europe and is the road to honor & emolument—the establishment is permanent, and whatever be an Officer’s provision it is for life—and he has a profession for life—He has future as well as present motives of military honor & preferment—He is attached to the Service by the spirit of the Government—By education and in most cases by early habit; his present condition if not splendid is comfortable, Pensions—distinctions—and particular priviledges are commonly his rewards in retirement. In the case of the American Officers the Military character has been suddenly taken up and is to end with the War.

The number of Regiments fixed upon by Congress is that which I should have wished; but I think the agregate number of men too small. Should the Regiments be compleated, making the usual deductions for casualties and not counting upon the three Regiments of South Carolina & Georgia we should not have in the Infantry above 18000 fighting men rank & file; from wch when we should have taken the garrison of West point and the different garrisons for the frontier, there would remain a force not equal even to a vigorous defensive; Intirely unequal to a decisive co-operation with our Allies, should their efforts next campaign be directed this way, as we have reason to hope—I confess too that I do not expect the States will complete their regiments at whatever point they may be placed; if they are any thing near being full they will be apt to think the difference not material, without considering that what may be small in their quota will be very considerable in the aggregate of deficiencies, in a force originally calculated too low for our exigencies.

The enemy’s whole embodied force of Infantry in these States (with out speaking of the occasional aids of Militia) on a moderate estimate must amount to between Eighteen and twenty thousand fighting men—We ought on no scale of reasoning to have less than an equal number in the field (exclusive of all garrisons) for a vigorous defensive—Let us then state our Armies in the field at—18000 R. & file[;] West point for complt. secur[it]y req[uire]s—2500[;] Fort Schuyler fort Pitt & other frontier Posts requires—1500[; total] 22000.

By this calculation two and twenty thousand fighting men appear to be necessary on a defensive plan, to have which our total number must be thirty thousand rank & file. The Waggoners—Workmen at factories—Waiters—men for other extra Services—Sick &ca on an average make at least a fourth of the total numbers; which Congress may see by recurring to the returns of the Army from time to time.

Much less should we hesitate to exert ourselves to have this number, if we have any thoughts of recovering what we have lost. As to the abilities of the Country to maintain them, I am of opinion, they will be found adequate; and that they will be less strained, than they have heretofore been from the necessity we have been so frequently under of recurring to the aid of Militia.

It is my duty also to inform Congress that in the late conference with the French General & Admiral—though I could not give assurances, I was obliged to give an opinion of the force we might have the next campaign; and I stated the Army in this quarter at fifteen thousand operative Continental Troops, wch will greatly exceed that which we should have by the proposed arrangement for it would not give us above Eleven. On this idea of fifteen thousand a memorial with a plan for next campaign has been transmitted to the Court of France.4

I would therefore beg leave to propose that each Regiment of Infantry should consist of One Colonel—where the present Colonels are continued, or One Lieutt Colonel Commandant[;] Two Majors—a first & Second.[;] Nine Captains[;] Twenty two Subalterns[;] 1 Surgeon[;] 1 Mate[;] 1 Sergeant Major[;] 1 Qr Mr Sergeant[;] 45 Sergeants[;] 1 Drum Major[;] 1 Fife Major[;] 10 Drums[;] 10 Fifers[;] 612 Rank and file[.] Fifty Regiments at 612 rank and file each will amount to 30,600 rank & file, the force I have stated to be requisite.

The number of Officers to a regiment by our present establishment has been found insufficient. It is not only inconvenient and productive of irregularity in our formation and Manreuvres; but the number taken for the different Offices of the Staff leaves the regiments destitute of Field Officers and the Companies so unprovided that they are obliged to be entrusted to the care of Sergeants and Corporals which soon ruins them. To obviate this I ask three field Officers to a Regimt, &, besides a Captain and two Subalterns to do the duties of each Company, three Supernumerary Subalterns as Paymaster—Adjutant & Quarter Master and one to reside in the State as a recruiting Officer—Officers continually employed in this way to improve every opportunity that offered would engage men; while those who were occasionally detached for a short space of time would do nothing. I ask one Drum and fife extraordinary to attend this Officer. The Supernumeraries to rank & rise in the Regiment with the other Officers. Three field Officers will be thought necessary, when we consider the great proportion employed as Adjutant General—Inspectors—Brigade Majrs—Waggon Master—Superintendents of Hospitals &ca—In addition to which I would also propose a field Officer to reside in each State where the number of its regiments exceed two & a Captain where it does not to direct the recruiting Service and transact all business for the line to which he belongs with the State—which I think would be a very useful institution.

Instead of Regiments of Cavalry, I would recommend Legionary Corps which should consist of four Troops of Mounted Dragoons of 60 each—240. Two of dismounted [Dragoons] at [60 each]—120[; total] 360—with the same number of Comd & Non Comd Officers as at present.

To make the Regiments larger will be attended with an excessive expence to purchase the horses in the first instance and to subsist them afterwards—And I think the augmentation though it would be useful, not essential. I prefer Legionary Corps because the kind of Service we have for horse almost constantly requires the aid of Infantry; in quarters, as they are commonly obliged to be remote from the Army for the benefit of forage it is indispensable for their security; and to attach to them Infantry drawn from the Regiments has many inconveniencies.

Besides the four Regiments I cannot forbear recommending that two partizan Corps may be kept up Commanded by Colo. Armand and Major Lee. Tho’ in general I dislike independant Corps, I think a Partizan Corps with an Army useful in many respects—Its name and destination stimulate to enterprize; and the two Officers I have mentioned have the best claims to public attention. Colonel Armand is an Officer of great merit wch added to his being a foreigner—to his rank in life—and to the sacrafices of property he has made renders it a point of delicacy as well as justice to continue to him the means of serving honorably. Major Lee has rendered such distinguished Services and possesses so many Talents for Commanding a Corps of this nature—he deserves so much credit for the perfection in which he has kept his Corps—as well as for the handsome exploits he has performed, that it would be a loss to the Service and a discouragement to merit to reduce him. And I do not see how he can be introduced into one of the Regiments in a manner satisfactory to himself and which will enable him to be equally useful, without giving too much disgust to the whole line of the Cavalry. The Partizan Corps may consist of three Troops of Mounted Dragoons of fifty each—150. 3 [Troops] of dismted [Dragoons]—50 ea. 150[; total] 300.

I would only propose one alteration in the proposed arrangement of the Artillery, which is to have ten companies instead of Nine—The numerous demands of the Service have made the establishment of Companies hitherto not too great; and it would be injurious to diminish them materially. Nine Companies would be an irregular formation for a battalion of Artillery—and eight would be much too few: this makes me wish they may be fixed at Ten. The formation of nine Companies in the Infantry is with a view to one light Company to act seperately.

I sincerely wish Congress had been pleased to make no alternative in the term of Service but had confined it to the War, by inlistment draft or, assessment as might be found necessary. On the footing upon which their requisition now stands we shall be certain of getting very few men for the War; and must continue to feel all the evils of temporary engagements. In the present humour of the States, I should entertain the most flattering hopes that they would enter upon vigorous measures to raise an army for the War, if Congress appeared decided on the point; but if they hold up a different idea as admissible, it will be again concluded, that they do not consider an Army for the War as essential; & this will encourage the opposition of Men of narrow, interested & feeble tempers, and enable them to defeat the primary object of the resolution. Indeed if the mode by inlistment is the only one made use of to procure the men, it must necessarily fail.

In my letter of the 20th of August I say “any period short of a year is inadmissible”;5 but all my observations tend to prove the pernicious operation of engaging Men for any term short of the War, and the alternative is only on the supposition that the other should on experiment be found impracticable—But I regard it as the highest importance, that the experiment should first be fairly tried—the alternative, if absolutely necessary, can be substituted hereafter—The encouragemt to the Officer & the bounty to the recruit are both too small in the present state of things unless the latter could be in specie, which it is probable would have a powerful influence—In case of recruits made in Camp no bounty is specified; it will be necessary here as well as in the Country, with this additional reason that a recruit made in the Army will be more valuable than one made in the Country.

I must confess also it would have given me infinite pleasure that Congress had thought proper to take the reduction and incorporation of the Regiments under their own direction. The mode of leaving it to the States is contrary to my Sentiments, because it is an adherence to the State system, and because I fear it will be productive of great confusion and discontent and it is requisite the business in contemplation should be conducted with the greatest circumspection. I fear also the professing to select the Officers retained in Service will give disgust—both to those who go & to those who remain; the former will be sent away under the public stigma of inferior merit and the latter will feel no pleasure in a present preference, when they reflect that at some future period they may experience a similar fate—I barely mention this as I am perswaded Congress did not advert to the operation of the expressions made use of, and will readily alter them.

I beg leave to remark before I conclude, that if Congress should be pleased to reconsider their resolutions—it will be of the greatest moment that the number of men and term for wch they are to be raised should be first determined and the requisitions transmitted to the several States.6 In this article time presses; the others may be examined more at leizure, though it is very necessary the whole should be put into execution as speedily as possible. To accelerate the business I have directed, agreeable to the tenor of the resolution returns to be immediately made which shall be without delay transmitted to the States to show them at one view the force they have & the deficiencies for which they will have to provide, the moment they know the quotas respectively required of them.7 With the highest respect & esteem—I have the honr to be Yr Excellency’s Most Obt & Hble Servt

Go: Washington

P.S. In the establishment I submit, I mention two Subalterns to each Company; as we have few Ensigns, they must in general be both Lieutenants but in future appointments, there ought to be one Lieutenant and one Ensign as heretofore.

Congress will herewith receive a list of the Officers in New Hampshire—Massachusetts—Connecticut—New York New Jersey—Pensylvania & Maryland line (previous to its marching to the Southward)8—Also in Crane’s & Lamb’s Artillery—Sheldons Horse—and in Hazens—Sherburne’s—Spencers & Livingstons Regiments who have actually had their resignations entered at Head Qrs in the course of this year, and who in general urged their necessities when they applied on the subject—and insisted, notwithstanding every perswasion to induce their continuance, that their circumstances would not admit of their remaining in Service longer.9 Besides these resignations there are a great many of which I have no certain account as the Officers being permitted to go home on furlough in the course of the Winter, have never rejoined the Army, and have only sent messages or written to their regimental Officers that their own distresses and those of their families would not permit their return. As to the resignations which may have taken place in the Virginia line and the other Troops at the Southward since they were acting in that quarter—I have no account of them; but I make no doubt that many have happened. All these serve to show the necessity of some more competent establishment than the present one—and I hold it my duty to mention, from the accts I daily receive, unless this is the case, that I have strong reasons to believe we shall not be able to retain after the end of the Campaign, as many Officers, especially in some lines, as will be even sufficient for common duties when in Quarters. If matters fortunately should not proceed to the lengths my fears forebode, yet Congress will be sensible at the first view, of the injuries and great inconveniencies which must attend such a continual change of Officers & consequent promotions which are and will be inevitable.

After having exhibited this view of the present state of the Army it is almost needless to add, that excepting in the rank of Field Officers and a very few Captains we shall have new Officers to provide rather than old ones to disband at the reduction of Regiments—and where they are to be had I know not—no disposition having been discovered of late to enter the Service—Congress have little to apprehend therefore on acct of the expence of supernumerary Officers when this event takes place. I am &ca

G. W——n

ALS, DNA:PCC, item 152; DfS, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. GW’s aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton primarily wrote the draft, which has numerous emendations, but GW’s secretary Robert Hanson Harrison wrote the second paragraph in the postscript. GW wrote the final paragraph in the draft’s postscript, as well as a closing, before adding his signature. Congress read this letter on 16 Oct. and referred it to the committee considering GW’s letter to Huntington dated 20 Aug. along “with the late plan for new arrangement of the army” (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 , 18:931).

1GW’s army marched from Tappan to Totowa between 6 and 9 Oct. (see the general orders for that date range: Oct. 6, 7, 8, 9; see also Huntington to GW, 26 Oct., n.1).

2For this earlier congressional reform of the Continental army, see General Orders, 7 June 1778.

3GW interlineated the previous seven words on the draft.

8The Maryland division had marched for the southern department in the spring (see Huntington to GW, 6 April, n.2).

9GW enclosed “Resignations of Officers received & entered at Head Qrs since the 1st of January 1780” with 153 names (DNA:PCC, item 152; see also Officer Resignations, 10 March–10 May, editorial note, following GW to Robert Howe, 30 March).

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