George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Steuben, 28 December 1780

From Major General Steuben

Richmond, December 28th 1780


The more difficult it becomes to recruit our Armies, the more it becomes necessary to redress the Abuses that tend to the diminution of our Battalions.

By Your Excellency’s direction, a Number of those Abuses, such as Small Detachments, Standing Guards &c., have been laid aside in the Northern Army; but here, those faults against Military Order Still Subsist, & are carried to a greater Excess in the Virginia Line than in any other.

While this State has but a handful of Troops in the Field, the Country Swarms with Officers & Soldiers, who under different Pretences, never join their Colors, & draw all the while their pay & Rations, commit Excesses thro’ the Country, & render no Kind of Services.

Since the Virginia line has been detached to the southward, it has had no regular formation, nay, I can Even Say it had never had any Since I have been on the Continent, For Your Excellency may well remember, that at Valley Forge, the Brigades of Genls Woodford & Scott were only a Number of Officers & Soldiers thrown confusedly together without any distinction of Regiment or Company.1

Hence proceeds the Evil which threatens the ruin of each Military Corps—The Officers do not take care to preserve and keep together their soldiers, & the soldiers scarce know the Officer who commands them.

This neglect on the part of the Officers increased on the Troops Coming to Virginia—The greatest part of them went on furlow to their respective homes, & those who remained with the Troops, gave furlows without discretion to the Non Commissioned Officers & Soldiers.

A great Number of Discharges were given to Men whose Times were not expired, others under pretence of Sickness to Men who could Still have been of Service.

Every Officer thought himself Entitled to dispose of the Men as he pleased, & Several were discharged even before they had arrived at the Army. A paper Signed by any Officer, would authorize a Recruit that had received an Enormous bounty, to return unmolested, home.

These & other abuses of the like kind, have reduced in the Space of four months, the three thousand Eighteen months men that had been raised by the state, to about a Third their number amounting now to scarce a Thousand.2

The three thousand Men which the State have now raised, will no doubt meet with the Same fate, if the most efficacious measures are not taken to prevent it.3

Wherefore I have proposed to the Government here, the following Arrangement:

The general Rendezvous for the Troops of Virginia to be fixed at Chesterfield Court House, where Colo. Davies is to take command.4

The other Rendezvous where the Recruits are to repair immediately from the Counties, to be fixed by the Legislature wherever they Shall think proper, there being however to be no more than six or Eight such places, that the Officers may not be too scattered.

At each place of Rendezvous to be a Captain, two Subalterns & four Serjeants, the Captains to receive their Instructions in writing, wherein will be particularly expressed the age, size &c., of the Recruits he is to receive.

Those recruits to be delivered by a person having authority from the County Lieutenant, with a description in writing as follows:

  • 1. The name of the recruit
  • 2. His age
  • 3. His Size
  • 4. His Trade
  • 5. The place of his birth
  • 6. His place of residence
  • 7. If drafted or enlisted
  • 8. The time of his draft or enlistment
  • 9. The Bounty he has received

And as the State has determined to Supply the recruits with certain Articles of Cloathing, those Articles which the recruits shall bring with them to the rendezvous, are also to be specified here, & the whole signed by the persons who shall deliver the recruits.

When the Officer has accepted the Recruit, he is to give Duplicate receipts to the person who delivers him, one of these receipts to be a Voucher to the County for having delivered the Man, the other to be Sent by the County Lieutenant to the Governor of the state.

From those particular places of Rendezvous, the Captain is to send the Men properly Officered to the general Rendezvous at Chesterfield, where they are to be armed, Equipped, & Sent by Detachments to the Army.

Colo. Davies is to be furnished by Government with the Number each County is to furnish, that he may inform them from time to Time what progress they make in compleating the Quotas assigned them.

By means of this Arrangement I hope that good Order will be introduced in the Collection of the Recruits, & that the Case will no longer be as formerly, when neither Government could know how many Men had been delivered, nor the General how many had been received.

But there is another Precaution to be taken, which requires the interposition of the Authority of Congress, & a positive Order from your Excellency. I mean the restraining the authority which every Officer now has or seems to have, of granting Discharges to Non Commissioned Officers and soldiers. In Services where the Regiments are the Colonel’s property, this Authority may well be given to him, his own Interest will prevent him from being too easy on the Subject. But as the Case is quite different in our Army, I Submit it to Your Excellency whether it would not be proper to allow that right only to the General Officers commanding in the Divisions and Brigades.

It is the Same with furloughs: Almost every Man who obtains one, is a Man lost to his Regiment.

Every Officer thinks he has a right to grant furlows, & as there is no prescribed form for passes, any Scrap of paper, with the Signature of an Officer at bottom, authorizes a Soldier to absent himself from his Regiment & wander about the Country as he thinks proper.

Passes of this kind may very easily be, and have too often been Counterfeited by Deserters, I would therefore propose to have forms of passes printed, as well as forms of discharges, as it is practised in almost every Service in Europe.

I could wish that a General Order might determine what Officers are authorized to grant discharges & even furlows, that those Officers might receive a certain Number of printed Copies, & that every other pass or discharge might be declared of no Validity.

I could wish also that it should be published in the Several states as well as at the Army, that every Soldier coming from the Army, either on furlow or discharged if he Stays a Week in a place without producing his discharge or pass to the Magistrate shall be punished as a Deserter, & that if the Magistrate Shall find that the discharge or pass is not according to the prescribed form, he Shall cause the Bearer to be Secured, & Send the pass or discharge to the Governor who will transmit it to the general Officer commanding in the Department, that the Officer who gave it may be called to account.

This method of giving printed passes & discharges has been adopted in this state, I inclose to Your Excellency, copies of the models I am getting printed for this purpose.5 I am with the greatest respect sir Your Excellency’s most obedient and most humble servant


LS, DLC:GW; LB, NHi: Steuben Papers.

1For the transfer of the Virginia regiments to the southern department, see GW to Samuel Huntington, 29 Nov. 1779, source note.

3For this act of the Virginia legislature to raise 3,000 troops, see Steuben to GW, 17 Dec., n.9.

Steuben also wrote Virginia governor Thomas Jefferson from Richmond on 28 Dec.: “I am informed that the Bill which passed the House of Delegates for compleating their Regiments on the new Establishment has limitted the number to 3000—by far too small a number for the end proposed—but even supposing it sufficient to compleat their Regiments in the first instance, yet from the natural casualties attending every body of Men the numbers will be constantly diminishing from the first moment they enter the Field and at the end of the Campaign, without reckoning on any Loss by Action the Regiments will be reduced one third. This is the number generally allowed when the Mens Inlistments are permanent but the Dimunition will be much greater in your Line from the short periods for which many of the Men are and will be Engaged.” Steuben then advised appropriate measures for recruiting officers, bounties, and clothing before he continued: “There are in this as in every other State a great number of young fellows strolling about the Country, out of all manner of Employ who with proper management might be Inlisted in this manner for very moderate Sums, but who if left to the time of a general Draft will as I before observed hold themselves back till the Bounties are raised to an Enormous height. For my part I am perswaded that if the Officers are properly distributed in the State and provided with the necessary Money and Cloathing a sufficient number of Recruits may be picked up in the Course of the Year to replace the defficiencies arising in each Regiment whereby an immense expense will be saved to the State and the Inhabitants in a great measure relieved from the great inconv[en]ience of frequent Drafts” (Jefferson Papers description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 41 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950–. description ends , 4:244–45).

4Chesterfield, also known as Chesterfield Court House, already had served as a rendezvous for recruits (see Peter Muhlenberg to GW, 8 May, n.5).

5Steuben enclosed “Form of a Discharge” and “Form of a Pass” for use in Virginia (DLC:GW, filed under December 1780).

GW sent Steuben’s recommendation for printed forms to Congress (see his letter to Huntington, 3 Feb. 1781, DNA:PCC, item 152; see also GW to Steuben, 6 Feb. 1781, DLC:GW).

Index Entries