George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General William Heath, 5 February 1781

To Major General William Heath

Head Quarters New Windsor Feby 5th 1781

Dear Sir

I have attentively considered the matter in discussion between Col. Pickering and yourself1—You will find my opinion in the following articles:

1st The Staff departments established at Fishkill have always been considered by me as one of the dependencies of West Point—of course subject to the direction and controul of the Officer Commanding there, in the same Manner as the Heads of Departments are to the Commander in Cheif; their obedience being only qualified by the Orders of the Commander in Cheif or by the instructions of their respective Cheifs, in the general distributions of their departments.

2nd Major General Heath therefore had a right to call for returns of the Stores & Issues in the several departments at Fishkill—to enquire into, report, or correct abuses, according to the nature of the case.

3d But Colonel Hazen had not the same right not having had authority for the purpose from Gen. Heath; neither would it have been military to have delegated to him such authority, the principal Officers in the several departments according to the proper and customary line of service, being immediately responsible to General Heath himself.

4th General Heath had a right to give the instructions contained in his Letter of the 4th of Jany to Col. Hazen; and the Officers concerned were bound to comply with them.

5th There was an error in General Heath’s order of the 13th of January, ⟨examined⟩2 by the received rules of military practice and propriety. Its operation would not only have impeded public business, by obliging a multiplicity of little contingent orders for the articles in question to pass thro’ a second channel; but it implied such a diffidence of the principals of the several departments, as was derogatory to them and incompatible with the degree of confidence and consideration, to which their stations entitled them.

The foregoing are my ideas of the points in dispute, but there is perhaps one thing that merits to be enquired into—The power of granting Orders for provision, forage, and fuel may be in the hands of too many persons, so as to be productive of waste & abuse; I am therefore to request you will require the Issuing Commissary at Fishkill to furnish you with an accurate Return of his issues, specifying the persons, their names & offices, on whose orders they are made; and if you find the power too diffused, will restrain it within limits consistent with the spirit of the Resolutions of Congress, and with the regularity & good of the service. I am with great regard Dear Sir Your Most Obedt Servt

Go: Washingto⟨n⟩

LS, in David Humphreys’s writing, MHi: Heath Papers; Df, DLC:GW; copy, enclosed in GW to Timothy Pickering, 10 Feb., DNA: RG 93, manuscript file no. 28937; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1See Heath to GW, 10 (second letter) and 16 Jan.; GW to Heath, 14 and 20 Jan.; and Pickering to GW, 14 Jan. (first letter).

2This portion of the LS is mutilated; this word is supplied from the draft, which is in the writing of GW’s aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton.

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