George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Sullivan, 17 December 1780

To John Sullivan

New Windsor 17th Decr 1780.

⟨Dear Sir,

Your letter of the 9th is safe at hand, & propounds a question respecting promotion which I candidly acknowledge I am puzzled to answer—with satisfaction to myself.1

If in all cases—ours was one Army—or thirteen Armies allied for the common defence, there would be no difficulty in solving your question—but we are occasionally both—and I should not be much out if I was to say—that we are sometimes neither but a compound of both.

If we were considered in every point of view as one Army, lineal promotion, as well from, as to the grade of Colonels, would, undoubtedly, be the most equitable & satisfactory mode of rising; and no possible objection could be made to it by any State, or the Troops of a State Or, if Congress, having regard to the number of Troops which each state is to furnish to the Confederated Army were to allow the number of General Officer’s which should be thought competent thereto—there would be no difficulty here neither; because the promotion would be lineal in each State; & though it might fall hard upon the Colonels of Such States as only furnish one regiment for Continental Service, it would be incidental to their State quotas & must be submited to; as the annexation of their Regiments to other State Troops, also must be, to form Brigades.

But it is our having no fixed principle that, I know of, and sometimes, acting upon one, & then the other of the cases beforementioned (as it happens to suit an individual State, or particular characters) that creates our difficulties & the discontents that prevail.

It is well known, that in the early stages of this War I used every means in my power to destroy all kind of State distinctions, and laboured to have every part & parcel of the Army considered as Continental2—the steps which have led to a different sentimt, & to our present system of politic’s, you are not to be informed of. we must take things as they are.

And therefore, under the ideas that prevail & our general practice; I am, though puzzled, more inclind to let all promotions be lineal, in each State, to the rank of Brigadr inclusive, (where there is more than one Regiment) than to any other mode; because it is more consonant to the expectation of the Army than any other; & because⟩ under it, I believe a New appointed Brigadier from the Southern Troops would, at this day, be disagreeable to an Eastern Brigade—and vice versa.

How far State promotions beyond the rank of Brigadier, are eligable or not, is a matter on which much may be said⟨,⟩ on both sides—On the one hand, it may be urged, that the State which sends more than a Brigade into the Field has as good a right to accompany them with a Major General, as the midling state has to send a Brigadier, or the Smallest a Colonel; because neither has more than its due proportion of Officers—On the other hand, it may be observed that as Officers advance in Rank, & acquire that general knowledge which is necessary to qualify them for extensive command, their feelings are more hurt—and the Service more injured by placing juniors over them than when it happens to inferiors—though the same principle which bars the rise of a Colonel where there is but one Regiment, will apply to a Brigadier where the state only furnishes a Brigade.

At present we want no new Major Generals (having rather a surplusage)—but may not the following expedient in future, at least in a degree, answer the views of all—namely to suffer the larger States to have Major Generals of their own line, proportioned to the number of their Troops—and the other Majr Generals to be promoted from Brigadiers according to seniority—This at the sametime that it yields compliance to the views of the large States, does not preclude the Brigadiers of the smaller from promotion as there must be Major Generals for seperate Commands—for the wings of the Army—&ca which cannot be supplied by the State quota’s of Troops where there is no more than a just proportion of Officers to their Men.

Our present mode of promotion is regimentally to Captains, inclusively, & in the line of the State afterwards—but I am convinced, as well from the reason and justice of the thing, as from several conversations I have held with some of the most judicious Officers of our Army, that it would be more agreeable to it, that all promotions should be lineal instead of Regimental, in every State line; for which reason I shall recommend the measure to Congress, to take place with the new establishment of the Army.3

What I have here said with respect to promotion is general, but there is a case before me in the Jersey line—which makes me wish that Congress would fix their principle. This ⟨State has three Regiments which are to be reduced to two—Dayton is the Senr Colonel, and among the oldest of that rank in the whole Army—A valuable Officer, & does not want to leave the Service. Shreve is the next oldest Colo. in Jersey & will not go out—his character you are as well acquainted with as I am—Ogden is the Youngest, & extremely desirous of staying, but cannot continue if Colo. Dayton remains in Service, in his present rank; the matter therefore (as it is related to me) is brought to this Issue, that Dayton or Ogden is to go out, unless the former can be promoted; which would remove every difficulty, & be agreeable to the prest system of State policy, as there is no Genl Officer in that line; but if the promotion is delayed till after the first of Jany—or in other words till after Dayton or Ogden is deranged, the remedy will come too late. because we shall have sent out a valuable Officer upon half pay—& will, if Dayton is the person that goes, have a person to promote who—but here I drop the curtain. It may Suffice to say, that if the State of New Jersey is to be allowed a Brigr, it ought to be granted them before the first of January, for more reasons than that of œconomy.4

That you may have some data to judge of the propriety of New appointments, I shall take the liberty of observing, that the States from New Hampshire to Pensylvania Inclusively, with Hazens Regimt, make by the last requisition 29 Battalions of Infantry—That three of these Battns according to the present establishmt of the Army, will make as large a Brigade as four of the old—and that, the number of Brigadiers in the States here mention’d, amount, at this time, to no more than Eight—viz.—Starke of N. Hampshire—Glover & Patterson of Massachusetts—Huntington5 of Connecticut—Clinton of New York—& Wayne Hand, & Irvine of Pensylva—& these may be reduced to Seven, if Hand should be placed in the Staff.6

I am most firmly of opinion, that after the States have brought their Troops into the Field, the less they have to do with them, or their supplies of Cloathing &ca &c. the bettr it will be for the commn Interest, for reasons which manifest themselves more and more every day—& for the clearest evidence of public œconomy.7 I am—Dr Sir With much Esteem & Regd Yr Affecte Hble Servt

Go: Washington⟩

ALS (incomplete), NRU; ADfS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Material missing from the ALS is supplied in angle brackets from GW’s draft. Surviving portions of the ALS have been stitched together out of sequence.

2GW’s ideas prevailed during 1776 when the Continental army’s infantry regiments were designated in ordinal sequence from 1st to 27th (see Heitman, Historical Register description begins Francis B. Heitman. Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution, April, 1775, to December, 1783. 1893. Rev. ed. Washington, D.C., 1914. description ends , 22–24).

3See GW to Samuel Huntington, 20–26 December. For the new establishment of the Continental army, see General Orders, 1 November.

4Col. Elias Dayton did not receive promotion to brigadier general until January 1783 (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 , 24:38; see also Taaffe, Washington’s Generals description begins Stephen R. Taaffe. Washington’s Revolutionary War Generals. Norman, Okla., 2019. description ends , 248).

5Mutilation has elided the final letter of this name on the draft.

6Brig. Gen. Edward Hand received appointment as adjutant general (see see GW to Samuel Huntington, 28 Nov. 1780, and n.13).

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