George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Colonel William Davies, 20 February 1781

From Colonel William Davies

Chesterfield [Va.] Feby 20. 1781.


I am directed by the board of arrangement to lay the inclosed representation before your Excellency. They are not actuated by any other motives than a regard to their own rights as officers, and the general interest of the service. Upon similar pretensions General Scott might have retired when General Weedon was irregularly placed over his head; and General Muhlenberg, who was in the same circumstance with General Weedon, as far as respected Gene[ral] Woodford’s claim, might with equal propriety have had his years of retirement too. To prevent these unmilitary indulgences, so exceedingly disagreeable to the line, we have been driven to the measures we have adopted, confident of your Excellency’s disapprobation of the attempt of any officer to place himself over the heads of others, after so long and unnecessary an absence, during the most instructive period since the commencement of the war. The reasons of our opposition are more fully expressed in the inclosed representation to Baron Steuben, the General by whose orders we assembled:1 to it we beg leave to refer, trusting that the high rank of General Weedon, so far from authorizing such indulgences, will rather operate against the admission of so dissatisfactory a precedent2—I have the honor to be, sir, with the highest respect, your Excellency’s most obedt humble servt.

William Davies Col. & President


1The enclosed copy of the letter from Davies and twelve other field officers of the Virginia line to Major General Steuben, dated 18 Feb. at Chesterfield, reads: “Justice to ourselves and the officers under our Command has made it the duty of the Field officers, now sitting for the arrangement of the Virginia line, to remonstrate against the return of General Weedon into service. To you who are so well acquainted with the confusion, disgust and resignations, which have followed such irregular and unmilitary indulgences, we are persuaded we need not use many arguments. But as it is our determination to prosecute this matter to full effect, and to forward copies of this representation to Congress, the Commander in chief and commanding General of the southern department, we must beg leave to express our objections more explicitly, and at the same time to assure you, they are not the dictates of personal disrespect to General Weedon, but the result of a clear conviction of the impropriety of his claim, and the injury we sustain by his resumption of Command. Our reasons are:

“1 Because he has been near three years absent from service, enjoying the sweets of domestic life and undisturbed retirement, while the officers, he now claims to command, have undergone all the fatigues and vicissitudes of war, or endured the miseries of a tedious captivity. During this period ⟨t⟩oo, new arrangements and a new mode of di[s]cipline have been established, and a considerable degree of military knowledge acquired by many officers of every rank. We cannot but therefore feel ourselves sensibly hurt with the reflection, that the Virginia line must be supposed to have acquired so little improvement by all the experience and instruction their opportunities offered them, as to make it necessary to call from retirement and place over their heads, an officer who had long left the field, and of course had thrown himself out of that channel of improvement in the art of war, with which not many officers of any rank had too great an a[c]quaintance.

“⟨2⟩ Because we conceive General Weedon’s retireing from service was unjustifiable in itself; and that no good reason can be assigned to vindicate the indulgence he claimed and obtained—If the determination made by the board of General officers against his former claim, and the Congress’s subsequent confirmation of that determination, were right, it is a reasonable presumption that General Weedon was wrong. It must therefore appear strange to all the world, that a particular indulgence injurious to a whole line, should be granted to General Weedon, merely because he had adopted a wrong opinion and was dissatisfied with the adjudication which decided against it. If dissatisfaction with the judgment of a Court is a sufficient justification for an officer’s absence from his duty in the field, an end is put at once to all military order and subordination. The decision against General Weedon was made by the first rank of officers in the army, and approved by the highest authority on the continent, so that one would think of all men he run the least risk of having injustice done him, and of course would have the least reason to be dissatisfied and the least right to the indulgence he claimed. Submision to the decisions of the board and Congress, or a resignation, we conceive, were his only alternatives.

“3 Because it is unequal, cruel and unjust to readmit General Weedon into the army (whose retirement was a volentary act at an early period of the war) while numbers of valuable officers of various ranks, who continued in service long after he had left it, have been, against their consent and without the least hope of ever resuming their command, totally excluded. Their readmision undoubtedly would be founded in much greater justice than that of the General’s could possibly be; and yet every body knows their return into the army can never be accomplished, and would be followed by the total disolution of our line.

“4 Because it appears to us absurd, that General Weedon’s retireing sooner from service, should intitle him to greater indulgencies than if he had continued longer in it; for the same principles, which regulated the dismission of the supernumerary officers at White plains in August 1778, would have been equally applicable to Genrl Weedon, had he continued till that time in the army, or had been looked upon as belonging to it. He was the youngest Brigadier, and, by the reduction of the regiments his brigade became discharged, his command wholly taken away, and himself of course rendered supernumerary: nor has he, in any of the arraingements which have been since made by our line, been considered as an officer belonging to it, nor was there ever an expectation that he would again attempt to take command. Indeed, if any regard is to be had to the number of troops raised by the State, there does not appear to be any necessity for a fourth Brigadier to be added to the three already in service; and much less could there have been any necessity for such addition, previous to the death of General Woodford: and yet General Weedon actually attempted to resume his command prior to that event. In short, we cannot perceive any possible reason, if he is not a resigned officer, why he should not on every account be deemed as one of the supernumeries of the arrangement of 1778, especially as a furlough, whether limited or unlimited, whether obtained from the Commander in chief or any body else, was not, and could not in justice be looked upon, as any exemption from the effects of that arrangement or to entitle an absentee to greater priviledges than an officer in the field had a right to enjoy. Indeed we have great reason to believe that General Weedon himself had at times at least his doubts whether he had a right to resume his command, otherwise we think he would have obtained some seperate Military department where he might have acted free from the embarrassments arising from the interferance of the two General officers, whose claims he had contested. An application for an appointment under the State, which we are informed he made, is, if true, another proof of his sentiments on this head; as it has been the received opinion among us that such an appointment would be incompatible with a Continental commission in our line: Indeed, some of us have heard the same sentiments respecting General Weedon’s at pres⟨ent⟩ expressed at the head quarters of the Northern army, as well as by members of congress in Philadelphia, no body conceiving he would ever offer any pretensions, either to rank or command in the army again.

“5. Because the resolution of Congress, giving him leave to retire was founded upon an ex parte representation from General Weedon, without any hearing on the part of the line, whom it materially affected. The officers had a right to expect some notice of his intended application on this subject to Congress. We conceive this act of neglect on his part a circumstance of complaint on ours, and a forcible objection as well against the propriety of his application, as against the weight and efficacy of the resolution of Congress itself; as we form far higher ideas of the justice of that honorable body, than to conceive they would tolerate any act, to the prejudice of a whole line of officers, through favour to any individual whatever.

“Nor should we have thought it an unnecessary act of cond⟨escen⟩sion in the General on this occasion, to have given us some intimations of his intentions of resuming his former rank and command, and of making application to congress for that purpose.

“6 Because as General Weedon’s return into service appea⟨rs⟩ to have been founded upon the captivity of General Woodfor⟨d⟩ or Scott, or perhaps both, their exchange or that of one of them would on the same principles justify General Weedon’s retirement again; in that state of retirement he might continue for three years longer, and upon the death or recapture or retirement of either of those Generals, he might again resume his rank and command and in six months afterwards the war might end. Such indulgences we cannot but conceive would be sporting with us and the service. It would be no less than authorizing an individual out of service, to take, whenever he chose, that right of promotion, to which the officers, who have faithfully persevered in the field, are justly intitled, as well as to share in all those emoluments which their Country had allotted for them at the end of the war, as the rewards of their toils and dangers.

“7 Because the same reason, which justifies the return of General Weedon into service, would authorize similar claims from Colonel Crawford, Lieutenant Colo. Cropper and others who have been long absent from it. We can have but little hopes of permanent arrangements ever taking place should these irregularities be permitted. Very uncommon merit and eminent services can alone, in our opinion, justify such extraordinary indulgences.

“8. Because, in general, rank and command ought to be the rewards of constant and faithful service; nor should the favours of Congress be intercepted by the intervention of those, who have withdrawn from the fatigues and dangers of the war.

“Upon the whole, should this matter be determined against us, of which we confess we can form no expectation, it must be then presumed that it is consistent with the interest of the army to grant such indulgences, as that with which General Weedon was favoured; and ⟨t⟩hat as a universal dissatisfaction will on this occasion follow such determination against us, each officer of the line may with equal propriety claim the same permission of retireing from the service of his Country, till a change of circumstances shall put it into his power to return to it with propriety.

“This is the first opportunity our dispersed situation has admitted of expressing our sentiments collectively on this subject, which, we assure you, are unanimous.

“We wish not to conceal them from General Weedon, and have therefore sent him a copy of this representation, with this additional resolution that until the propriety and justice of his resuming command shall have been fairly investigated, we shall refuse any orders from him.

“We are happy in this opportunity of tendering our warmest thanks to you for your services to our Country” (DLC:GW). Steuben enclosed the LS of the officers’ representation in his letter to GW of 15 April (both DLC:GW). For the complex dispute among brigadier generals that led to Brig. Gen. George Weedon’s departure from the army, see GW to Henry Laurens, 1 Jan. 1778, and n.8; see also Taaffe, Washington’s Generals description begins Stephen R. Taaffe. Washington’s Revolutionary War Generals. Norman, Okla., 2019. description ends , 149–51.

2GW replied to Davies on 24 March 1781 from headquarters at New Windsor: “I have received your favr of the 20th ulto inclosing a representation signed by you and a number of the Feild Officers of the Virginia line against the readmission of Brigadier Weedon to command in the line of that State—Being a stranger to the transactions which took place at the time General Weedon was thought to have retired from service, I can give no decided opinion upon the propriety of his assertion of his rank or your objections to it. I observe, a Copy of the representation has been also transmitted to Congress—they alone can decide upon the point, as I have lately been informed that General Weedons leave of retirement was founded upon a special Resolve, which, if there was such an one, was never communicated to me” (Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW). For the congressional resolution, see GW to Joseph Jones, 31 May 1780, n.5.

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