George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Knox, 3 January 1784

From Henry Knox

West point [N.Y.] 3 January 1784

My dear General.

I did not leave New York untill the 18th ultimo, it being the earliest period that we were able consistent with the wish of Governor Clinton to withdraw the troops from thence. Indeed we then left nearly one hundred men, who are since releived by a company of light infantry, of the regiment retained in Service. In addition to which there is a sub., and about twenty artillery men.1

I have discharged all the troops but those specified in the enclosed return,2 & I beg that your Excellency would accept of my letter to Congress, a copy of which is enclosed, as a report of that business.31 thought it would be best to write particularly to Congress, as it was probable that you were at Mount-Vernon, and it might cause much delay in writing to them through You. I have to request therefore that you will have the goodness to consider this as a private letter.

It having been established, that the objects of the War, being accomplished, and the service at an end, no officer could claim to be in the new arrangement upon the mere principle of seniority. And this was confirmed beyond a doubt by what was understood to be the opinion of the officers, who generally entertained the idea that it was optional with themselves to continue, or not, as suited their circumstances without having their certificates for the ultimate reward of their Services, delayed, or denied. The New Hampshire Officers agreed among themselves who should officer the two companies from that State. The nomination, of the officers for the remaining seven companies from the Massachusetts line were entirely left to the field Officers. And the Artillery officers were taken nearly as they stood upon the list. Were it not for the peculiar situation of the officers, discharged in the midst of a severe season, without pay and in some instances without subsistence Money, I believe the reduction would have been effected with as much facility as any that have preceeded it. The discontents however I beleive have not been great, except in the instance of Colonel Michael Jackson, whose affections, and views, appear to have been fixed to continue in service.4

Whatever may be the sentiments of any person respecting my agency in this necessary business I can truly assert, a regard to the public good, has been my sole object without favor or partiality.

There are two or three officers who have families which from the particular state of their circumstances cannot be removed this Winter—To these I have ordered rations to the first of March, or subsistence money as it may be. And perhaps there are some so infirm, as to be in the same predicament.

I shall expect to hear from Your Excellency respecting the time, and place, at which the general society shall meet in May next, and upon any other subject which you may think proper.5

I beleive I did not mention to your Excellency my idea of the pay for the offices which might be associated vizt The duties of the secretary at War, Master of ordnance and the charge or command of any troops which might be retained in service. It appears to me and I hope that I estimate fairly the expences and trouble, that the pay & emoluments of a Major General, in a seperate department, free of any encumbrances would not be an unreasonable appointment—should Congress think proper, to honor me with an offer of these offices associated together, I should be willing to accept them upon the above terms. But I should do Injustice to myself and family to accept of any employment which would not prevent my involving myself.6

Having brought the affairs here, nearly to a close, I shall soon depart for Boston, for which place Mrs Knox and her little family, set out from New York on the 16th Ultimo.7I should do violence to the dictates of my heart were I to suppress entirely its sensations of affection & gratitude to you for the innumerable instances of your kindness and attention to me, and although I can find no words equal to their warmth I may venture to assure you that they will remain indelibly fixed. I beg you to present my sincere regards, to Mrs Washington and ardent wishes for her health and felicity, and I devoutly pray that the Supreme Being would continue to afford you his efficient protection. I am my dear General Your truly affectionate

H. Knox

ALS, DLC:GW; ADfS, NNGL: Knox Papers.

Maj. Gen. Henry Knox (1750–1806) was GW’s choice to take command of the army in New York when GW departed on 4 Dec. 1783. Knox returned to West Point from New York City with the army on 18 Dec. and in accordance with GW’s instructions continued to disband the army there. By this time he had organized the remnants of GW’s army in a regiment under Col. Henry Jackson and a small corps of artillery, both composed of men of long-term enlistments. On 9 Jan. when Knox set out from West Point for Boston, Colonel Jackson took command at the post. As secretary general of the newly formed Society of the Cincinnati, Knox kept in close touch during the spring with his friend GW who was president of the society.

1In a memorandum written on the back of the return described in note 2, Knox noted that there was left in New York City a subaltern with twenty-one men in addition to a company of Henry Jackson’s regiment.

2The enclosed return dated 4 Jan. reports that there were in Henry Jackson’s infantry regiment 38 officers, 5 on the staff, 67 noncommissioned officers, and 527 rank and file; in the corps of artillery, 13 officers, 25 noncommissioned officers, and 100 rank and file. The copy of the return in the Knox Papers (MHi) reports 12 instead of 13 commissioned officers in the artillery.

3In his letter to the president of the Congress of this date, which he enclosed, Knox reported: “In consequence of directions from His Excellency General Washington the several lines which composed the troops in this quarter are dissolved; and one regiment of infantry, commanded by Brig. Gen. Henry Jackson, and fully officered, consisting of five hundred rank and file, is formed of the men whose times of service do not expire until 1785—and a corps of artillery under the command of Major [Sebastian] Bauman, of about one hundred and twenty. The returns of the troops retained in service, No. 1, are enclosed, specifying the States to which the men belong.

“One company of infantry will be detatched to Springfield [Mass.], as a guard to the valuable public stores deposited at that place. Another company and a small detatchment of artillery will be stationed at New York, at the request and under the orders of His Excellency Governor [George] Clinton, to remain there until the powers of the civil government are fully established. And a detachment of artillery now at Albany and its neighbourhood, are ordered to Fort Schuyler, to guard certain stores which were sent there this Summer past, with an intention of taking possession of the posts on the western lakes, and which it is presumed may be again wanted for the same purpose. The remainder of the infantry and corps of artillery will be stationed in this garrison and its immediate dependencies” (NNGL: Knox Papers).

The remainder of the letter is concerned largely with supplies, arms, and the like. Knox explains that it is on GW’s directions that he continues “to superintend the posts and military affairs of this department until the pleasure of Congress shall be known,” and that he has GW’s permission to leave shortly for New England to attend to his private affairs.

4Knox is referring to his forming of Henry Jackson’s regiment. The regiment was made up of men from New Hampshire and Massachusetts. See note 3. For a sketch of Michael Jackson, see GW to Thomas Mifflin, 19 Jan.1784, n.1.

6Congress made Knox secretary at war on 8 Mar. 1785.

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