George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Colonel Timothy Pickering, 1 January 1781

To Colonel Timothy Pickering

[New Windsor, 1 Jan. 1781]


The tranquility of winter quarters and the important change about to take place in our Military establishment offer a favourable opportunity to introduce system and order into the Army:1 and to effect a reformation of the abuses, which may have imperceptably crept into the several departments. That our circumstances require parsimony in the distribution of public stores, and the strictest attention to their preservation when dilivered is too obvious to need proof—I shall only observe, that all the support I can give to the accomplishment of these purposes shall be afforded, from duty & inclination, to the utmost of my power.

With a view to these objects I am to desire you will without loss of time, closely inspect the administration of the different branches of your department—to discover where they are susceptible of alterations for the better—to detect and rectify any mismanagement or disorder which may exist, and to establish more method than has been hitherto practicable in an Army always fluctuating and too constantly in motion. By consulting with some of the most judicious officers, who are properly impressed with the necessity of oeconomy, you may derive lights, which will enable you to regulate the issues of Camp equipage and other Articles, so as to prevent a great part of the waste and loss, sustained by the public, from carelessness in the soldiery, sometimes knavery under specious colourings, and from inattention in Officers.

In the British service the different species of camp-necessaries as well as clothing, are issued to last for determinate periods, and only the clearest evidence of their being lost in action or by unavoidable accident can exempt the Corps or the individual to whom they have been delivered, from paying for them by stoppages. Regulations of the same kind obtain in other services.

Regimental tools, and all sorts of public property are distributed and accounted for in like manner. The sooner therefore you can digest a plan for placing this matter in our army upon a similar footing, the better—The public has a right to expect it, and it is my wish justice may be done to the public.

It is unnecessary, I am persuaded for me to add, that this is the season for making the requisite provision of tents—camp kettles and other articles for the next campaign—preparing boats and Waggons &c. Congress by their resolution of the 3rd and 21st of last october have fixed the number of continental Troops:2 but allowance should be made in your arrangments, for the occasional aid of Militia and other casualties.

Among the many things that demand your particular attention & regulation, I know of none, that on a superficial view seems to do it more than the corps of Artificers. In general, though they receive high wages, as far as they have come under my observation they appear to work little; and the Officers to have forgotten the end of their appointment and to have assumed the appearances and pretensions of officers of the line instead of accommodating themselves to the spirit of their stations. This disposition ought to be discouraged. Every proper check should also be given to their manner of drawing provision, by confining as far as it can be done, the right of giving orders for the several detachments to a common head. Given at Head Quarters New Windsor January 1st 1781.

Go: Washington

LS, in David Humphreys’s writing, enclosed in GW to Pickering, 10 Feb., DNA: RG 93, manuscript file no. 25385; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

On 3 Jan., GW’s aide-de-camp David Humphreys wrote Pickering from headquarters at New Windsor: “I am commanded by His Excellency to inform you that there is a considerable quantity of Flour now at Ringwood, which it is of the last importance to have thrown into the Garrison of West Point, before the Roads become impassable—He requests you therefore to have every means made use of for bringing it forward without a moment’s loss of time, by impressing teams, or any other Mode which you think will be most effectual.

“In the Commissary’s Return of Provisions issued at the several Posts, the General observes, that there are forty Batteau-men who draw at Fish Kill, exclusive of all the Boatmen at Fish Kill Landing—He wishes to have an investigation into the matter, and that they may be employed, in the proper service for which they were designed.

“I enclose you a Receipt for two Boats, which were left at Brunswick, and which His Excellency desires may be brought to Kings Ferry without loss of time, on Carriages—There is also one Flat-bottomed Boat at the two Bridges, which is to be brought on: It is his request that you will be pleased to give such Orders to Your Agents, or take such other Measures as will not fail to have these Boats transported to Kings Ferry at as early a period as may be with convenience” (DNA: RG 93, manuscript file no. 26033; “Acted upon” is written on the docket).

1For the the new arrangement, or organization, of the Continental army, see Israel Angell to GW, this date, n.1.

2The new arrangement fixed the maximum strength of the Continental army at four regiments of cavalry, or legionary corps; four regiments of artillery; forty-nine regiments of infantry provided by the states; the 2d Canadian Regiment; two partisan corps; and one regiment of artificers. See General Orders, 1 Nov. 1780.

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