George Washington Papers

General Orders, 18 February 1781

General Orders

[New Windsor] Sunday February 18th 1781.

Parole Countersigns [  ]

At a General court martial of the line held at Westpoint the 21st of December 1780 and continued by adjournments ’till the 8 instant, Colonel Greaton President.

Major James R. Reid was tried on the following charges:

First “Disobedience of Orders and unmilitary conduct”

secondly “Defrauding the United States, or the regiment, or a part of the regiment in which he holds a public office, and embezzling or misapplying public property.”

Thirdly. “Unofficer and ungentlemanlike conduct,” or behavior.1

The Court on consideration of the several charges against Major Reid and the Evidence for and against him are of opinion on the first Charge that Major Reid’s conduct in ordering Serjeants to do the duty of officers of Police is contrary to the Regulations for the order and discipline of the troops.

on the third charge they are of opinion that he has treated Colonel Hazen with much disrespect in Several parts of his conduct in breach of article 5th section 18th of the rules and articles of war2 and that Major Reid’s certificate and Letter to the reverend Mr Powers is not warranted in gentlemanlike behavior, in consequence of the above opinion the court sentence that he be reprimanded by the Commander in Chief in General Orders yet they find him not guilty of either of the other Charges and do acquit him thereof.

The General approves the determination of the court: The appointment of Serjeants to do the duty of officers of police was an unwarrantable departure from the regulations injurious to good order and the service. The inflammatory expressions used by Major Reid against his commanding officer and other instances of disrespect are highly exceptionable—an inferior officer can never be justifiable in attempts to make his commanding officer suspected and odious to his corps.

If there is reason to believe he is guilty of Fraud Injustice or misconduct the regular way of proceeding is by a representation to superior authority—the Certificate and Letter to the Reverend Mr Powers was a piece of indecent Levity towards a man whose function intitled him to respect.3

The General cannot forbear remarking with regret that it is too common for officers on trial to indulge themselves in a vein of invective and abuse as inconsistent with decency as with the respect they owe to themselves and to others. He is sorry that Major Reid has so far forgot himself as to have erred in a more than ordinary degree in this article. The Delicacy of an officer’s character should make him as delicate in expressing his resentment as in defending his honor.

Major Reid is released from arrest.

The Commander in Chief is pleased to accept and approve the report of a Court of enquiry held by order of Major General Heath the 5th instant “To continue the investigation of the conduct of Colonel Bigelow on the 31st of december 1775 in the Attack on the City of Quebec in consequence of aspersions against his Conduct on that day by Colonel Lamb.

Colonel Hazen President.

Lieutenant Colonels Antill Newall and Grosvenor, and Major Trescot members.

The Court report as follows:

“The Court after reading and considering the evidence produced in support of the charge, and those in favor of Colonel Bigelow with his own remarks in justification of his conduct are of opinion that Colonel Bigelow’s Conduct in the Attack on Quebec the 31st of December 1775 is not reprehensible but that his behavior was consistent with the Character of an officer.[”]

Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1For the circumstances leading to Maj. James Randolph Reid’s court-martial, see his letter to GW, 7 Dec. 1780; see also William Heath’s second letter to GW, 18 Dec., n.2.

2Section 18, article 5, of the articles of war reads: “All crimes not capital, and all disorders and neglects which officers and soldiers may be guilty of, to the prejudice of good order and military discipline, though not mentioned in the above articles of war, are to be taken cognizance of by a general or regimental court-martial, according to the nature and degree of the offence, and be punished at their discretion” (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 , 5:807).

3Peter Powers (c.1726–1800), of Hollis, N.H., graduated from Harvard in 1758. In 1764 he became pastor at the Congregational church in the Haverhill, N.H./Newbury, Vt., area, a post he held until 1782. Powers died at Deer Isle, Maine.

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