George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Heath, 2 March 1781

From Major General William Heath

West point, March 2. 1781.

My dear General,

The inclosed was put into my hand the last evening.1 Although the field Officers who were appointed to command the detachment which marched on the 19th ulto were appointed in my orders, yet as they were those your Excellency was pleased to name in your letter of the 17th I am induced to communicate the inclosed to you.2 I have learnt that the officers of the other lines have thought themselves equally hurt. As the affair is laid open, I cannot smother my own feelings, which have been exceedingly wounded under some considerations on this occasion. I never will admit an idea to enter my breast, that it is possible for any officer, especially a foreigner to have the interest or honor of my country more at heart than I have; and if the conduct of my General in any instance should discover that he placed less confidence in me, it cannot fail to make a painful impression.3 I have the honor to be, With the most inviolable attachment, And perfect respect, Your Excellency’s Most obedient servant

W. Heath

LS, DLC:GW; ADfS, MHi: Heath Papers. For the delivery of this letter and its enclosure, see Heath to William Colfax, 4 March, found at GW to Heath, 3 March, source note.

1Signed at West Point on 27 Feb. by seven Massachusetts Continental officers (Lt. Col. James Mellen, Lt. Col. Ezra Newhall, and five majors), the enclosure reads: “We esteem it an invaluable priviledge we may freely open our minds to our superior Officers on matters which we Think nearly concern us.

“We have been for a number of years in the army, have endeavored to acquire a share of military knowledge, & flatter ourselves we have not been intirely unservicable in diciplining & training our men to arms & inuring them to war.

“In times of difficulty & distress we have been call’d to, & used our every exertion to encourage them to undergo with patience, extremities of want, hunger, & nakedness, & perhaps have been instrumental in preventing an almost total disolution of the line.

“We flatter ourselves we have gain’d & possess the affections of our Soldiery, we have certainly so much confidence in them, that we are willing to accompany them not only on tours of honor, but with them to encounter, fatigue, and danger, & which we think we have a right to expect. but we are very sorry to have so far lost the confidence of our General Officers, that when a considerable more than one half of our men have been detail’d for command, one field officer only from the line has been permitted to attend them, while nine, remain to endure the sensible mortification of commanding between them a less number, the greater part of which are on detach’d & extra service.

“[T]hings thus circumstanced must pointedly wound the feelings of a military character as they do certainly, most sensibly ours” (DLC:GW).

2The detachment marched for Virginia (see GW to Heath, 17 Feb.; see also Heath to GW, same date [second letter], and n.2).

3GW replied to Heath on 21 March with an explanation as to why “the peculiar situation of the Army” led to Lieutenant Colonel Gimat and Maj. William Galvan being chosen “to accompany the Detachmt” (MHi: Heath Papers).

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