George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Heath, 16 January 1781

From Major General William Heath

West Point Jany 16th 1781

Dear General

I have been honored with yours of the 14th inst., to which I shall pay due attention.1 With respect to that part of your Excellencys letter, which refers to Fish Kill; I scarsely know how to express myself. I am ever exceedingly cautious, not to invade the jurisdiction of others, neither do I choose to have my own infringed. I did not seek the Command at Fish Kill; but as Your Excellency was pleased, & that repeatedly, to declare it rested in me, it became my duty to excercise it.2 I therefore attempted to discharge the trust reposed in me—if I have been wrong I stand ready to be corrected; if my conduct has been consonant to the established rules of discipline, I expect to be supported—I take the liberty to enclose coppy of my Instructions to Colonel Hazen, & of my orders of the 13th3—I have endeavoured carefully to inform myself of my Duty. I think I know it. unless the doctrine that the Q.M. Generals Department, is not subject to the Command of the Military be true. In a Military Command I conceive there must be one head, or Commander in Chief—supreme over all Departments; the Officers commanding at seperate Posts subordinate to him; if the Commander in Chief has the command of the Q.M.G. & his Department, the Commanding Officer at every Post, has command of those Officers of the Staff Department, stationed at the Post, for the purpose of supplying it; & from hence I conclude, that if Your Excellency has the Command of the Q.M.G., Colonel Hazen who is Your Representative at Fish Kill, has command of the A.Q.M. at that Post; if this is denied the Military can have no jurisdict⟨ion⟩ over the Staff, from the Q.M.G., to the Q. Master of a Brigade, and will not this be imperium in imperio, & a two head⟨ed⟩ Monster whose Offspring must be confussion & disorder. That there is a Resolve of Congress, impowering the Deputies & Assistants of the Q.M.G. to draw provissions on the⟨ir⟩ own order is true, & without it they & the public service would suffer greatly, as at Danbury, Litchfield, Hartford and many other places, where the public service requires branches of the Q. Masters Department to be stationed without any Military Officer, but can this be supposed to exempt the Staff Department from the rules & regulations of the Army, or of any part of it, or at any Post where an Officer commands; if in one instance, why not in all? I thought my Instructions, & order, altho simply expressed, to be founded on principles of reason & of right; I think so still, & altho in obedience, to your pleasure signifyed in your letter of yesterday,4 I have suspended the order of the 13th—I still retain my own opinion of having done my duty, in justice to myself & every Officer in the Army, to the principles of Discipline & Military propriety, I cannot myself rescind, what I have so done; & it is a matter in which if I have acted with propriety, Your Excellencys command is equally concerned; & I now request your opinion whether my conduct has in this particular been right or wrong.

I am this moment honored with yours of this date—A number of boats returned here the last evening with flour; they will be sent up the river again, but it would be much better, & less fatigueing to the men to bring it from a distance in sail Craft—The men are exceedingly fatigued when they return.

The public service is much injured on account of the want of paper—The Muster Rolls, Pay Rolls, & reports cannot be made out for want of it—and I am this day told that the Officers have been obliged to cut the leaves out of the Company books, untill few are left.5 I have the honor to be with the greatest respect Your Excellencys Most Obedient Servant

W. Heath

LS, DLC:GW; ADfS, MHi: Heath Papers.

2Heath had questioned GW on this subject, and GW confirmed his command over the post at Fishkill, N.Y. (see Heath’s second letter to GW, 10 Jan., and GW’s second letter to Heath, 12 Jan.).

3The enclosed garrison orders of 13 Jan. are in DLC:GW. For the text of the orders, see Timothy Pickering’s first letter to GW of 14 Jan., n.1.

The enclosed copy of Heath’s letter to Col. Moses Hazen, dated 4 Jan., reads: “As Fishkill is considered as one of the dependencies of my Command, and as you have been ordered with your Regiment to do the duties at that post, I wish your very particular attention to all Such matters as properly fall under your Command, and that you will from time to time endeavour to reform such abuses, if any there Should be, as fall under your Cognizance, and report all others, that I may redress them myself, or represent them to His Excellency the Commander in chief as the case may be, Any Magazine of Public Stores, and the large Branches of the respective Departments, of the Quarter Master General, Commissary General, or the General Hospital, you will not interfere with, but the Assistant Q.M., who is Specially to Serve that post, the Asst Commissary of Issues, the Forage Master, and Barrack Master of the Post, are Subject to your Command, and orders, Observing always, not to Command them in any matters repugnant to the orders of His Excellency the Commander in Chief, myself, the principals of the Department to Which they respectively belong, or the Established regulations of the Army, Please as Soon as may be, to furnish me with a return of the number of rooms in the Barracks, and by whom Occupied, and by whose order, please also to inform me the number of Persons who draw provisions and Forage from the Issuing Store at Fishkill, exclusive of the Hospital, whether there are any women and Children who draw provisions, how many and by whose orders, be very carefull to inspect the provision returns, When there is Rum in Store, it is to be Issued only Strictly conformable to the order of his Excellency the Commander in Chief of the 28th of august last, I must request your particular attention to the provost, that the prisoners may be kept in Safe custody, and escapes prevented, You will please to Send your weekly returns Seasonably on Thursdays, with a report of occurrences” (DLC:GW; see also General Orders, 28 Aug. 1780).

5GW acknowledged this letter when he wrote Heath on 19 Jan., and he replied to Heath at length the next day.

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