George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Armstrong, 11 March 1792

To John Armstrong


Dear Sir,Philad. March 11th 1792

I am persuaded that no one will be more ready than yourself to make the proper allowances for my not having sooner acknowledged the receipt of your friendly letter of the 23d of December, as you there express a conviction that the pressure of my public duties will allow me but very little time to attend to my private correspondences.1 This is literally the truth, and to it must be imputed the lateness as well as the brevity of this letter.

The loss of the brave Officers and men who fell in the late unfortunate affair to the westward, is, I hope, the only one which the Public sustain on the occasion, that can not be readily repaired. The loss of these is not only painful to their friends; but is a subject of serious regret to the Public. It is not, however, our part to despond; we must pursue such measures as appear best calculated to retrieve our misfortune, and give a happy issue to the business. I am sure there never was a people who had more reason to acknowledge a divine interposition in their affairs than those of the United States; and I should be pained to believe that they have forgotten that agency which was so often manifested during our Revolution—or that they failed to consider the omnipotence of that God who is alone able to protect them.

Your friendly wishes for my happiness and prosperity are received with gratitude—and are sincerely reciprocated by Dear Sir, Your affectionate & obed. Servt

Go: Washington


1Armstrong’s letter of 23 Dec. 1791 from Carlisle, Pa., reads: “Nothing but my Sensibility of that pressure of mind you must Sustain from a multiplicity of publick concerns has prevented a much earlier acknowledgment of your very Satisfactory & Obligeing favour with which I was honored in february last. but having always presumed on writing your Excellency a few lines (at certain intervals) my design at present is only to touch the disaster & late loss of our troops in the West—and with you Sir, sincerely condole & regret the hard fate, of so many good Soliders & Citizens, who from their attitude & order of battle had but a small chance to secure e⟨i⟩ther life or honor! poor [Richard] Butler & perhaps other worthy men still alive when the Camp was abandoned—who could doubt, who knows the abilities of the first officers of that Army, that the only successful mode of copeing with Indians in a forrest, had not been preconcerted over & over long before that day—the partial or momentary advantage gain’d by the flanking partys only as I apprehend with Screwed baionets, would easily discover the error of the former Arrangement, but alas it was then too late either to devise a new One, or change the Old for a better. placeing the Militia in a body over the brook, permit me to say, was an unwarrentable Step, where two or three small picquets would have served a better purpose. It seems probable, that too much attachment to regular or military rule, or a too great confidence in the Artillary (which it seems formed part of the lines which had a tendency to render the troops Stationary) must have been the motives which led to the adopted Order of Action, I call it adopted because the General does not speak of having intended any other—whereby we presented a large & visible Object perhaps in close Order too, to an enemy near eno. to destroy, but from their known modes of action, comparatively invisible, whereby we may redily infer that 500 Indians were fully sufficient to do us all the injury we have Sustained, nor can I conceive them to have been many more; but tragical as the event hath been, we have this consolation, that during the action, our Officers And troops, discovered great bravery—and that the loss of a battle is not always the loss of the cause—In vain however may we expect success against our present adversaries without taking a few lessons from them, which I thought Americans had learned long ago; the principles of their military action are rational & therefore often Successful, we must in a great degree take a similar method in order to counteract them.

“As the best of men are liable to mistakes, shall we lay all the blame of this heavy misfortune to the score of natural causes & our half surprized & mangled Army? no verily, for if we do, the last error will be greater than the first—no Sir, the people at large on behalf of whom the Action was brought on, are more essentially to blame and lost the battle! an infatuating Security seemed to pervade the minds of all men amongst us, we pondered not sufficiently the nature & importance of the Object, our lips declared there was no danger—our Creeds announce the universal Superintendance of the Deity, that the events of time & things, are in his hands—we say the Shields that defend the earth, Solely belong to him—and yet on this Occasion we either forgot or impiously neglected him! and I confess myself one of the guilty number—there were no publick adresses made to God on this Occassion, and too probably, but few private ones either. hence it appears that he went not forth with our Army, but was in very deed against us—wisdom appeared to forsake the wise (or those that ought to have been so) and the men of might could not find their hands. whether this defect & others of a Similer nature, may be the radical cause of our misfortunes or not, is best known to God, but reflexion carries us to that quarter & strongly presents them in that view.

“You See, very dear Sir, that whether modeish or otherwise, whether right or wrong—I have no hesitation in commiting myself to you—and am with all the Consideration & regard I am capable of—invariably Yours” (DLC:GW).

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