George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Henry Knox, 19 July 1793

From Henry Knox

War Department July 19. 1793.

On the 3d of November 1783 all the troops of the late war were discharged1 excepting the few mentioned in the Act of that date, & all the rank of the Officers accordingly ceased to have any further operation.2

But subsequent to this period new troops were raised by virtue of several resolves & acts of Congress and it has been decided that Officers of the same grades should take rank in the present army according to their appointments under the said several Acts of Congress, the relative rank of the late war notwithstanding; that is, that a Captain appointed under the resolves of Congress in 1785, should take rank of a Captain appointed by virtue of any subsequent resolve or act of Congress, although the latter had been senior during the late war—This was essential to give each Officer confidence in his rank, otherwise he would be always liable to be superceded in his grade by the introduction of the officers of the late war.3

On February 20th 1793 the President of the United States decided that the Officers now in service who were deranged prior to the resolve of the 7th of August 1782 could not be entitled to any benefits of the said Resolve,4 which is as follows.

“Resolved, That the Officers retiring under the foregoing resolutions, & not employed in the Staff Departments as aforesaid, shall, until called into service with their proper command, be entitled to all the emoluments, to which the Officers are entitled, who retired under the resolutions of the 3d and 21st of October 1780: that the said Officers shall retain their rank in the army and be called into the service from time to time according to seniority, in case of deficiencies of Officers, upon the principles of the foregoing resolutions.”5

Hence the following case arises—A Captain who was deranged on the first of January 1781, and appointed a Captain under the Acts of Congress of the 4th of March 1791,6 but in pursuance of the decision of the President of the 20th of February, acts junior to all the Captains of the late war—but the question arises, is he also junior to all the Captain Lieutenants, Lieutenants, and Ensigns of the late war? or in other words, did the Officers who were deranged prior to the said 7th of August 1782, lose all benefits in case of a reappointment, from their former rank?7

This case is humbly stated for the consideration and decision of the President of the United States.

H. Knox
secy of war

LS, DLC:GW; LB, DLC:GW; copy, PHi: Wayne Papers.

1The copy at the PHi has the additional phrase “or were deranged.”

2The actual date of the congressional proclamation to which Knox refers is 18 Oct. 1783, and it reads: “And it is our will and pleasure, that such part of the federal armies as stands engaged to serve during the war, and as by our Acts of the 26 day of May, the 11 day of June, the 9 day August, and the 26 day of September last, were furloughed, shall, from and after the third day of November next, be absolutely discharged by virtue of this our proclamation, from the said service: and we do also declare, that the further services in the field, of the officers who are deranged and on furlough, in consequence of our aforesaid Acts, can now be dispensed with, and they have our full permission to retire from service, without being longer liable from their present engagements, to be called into command” (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 , 25:703). For the acts mentioned in this proclamation, see ibid., 24:364–65, 390, 496, 25:620–22.

3On the various problems of rank within the U.S. Army, see Knox to GW, 18 Feb. 1793 (first letter), and notes 3, 5. For the congressional resolves of 1, 7, 12 April 1785, see ibid., 28:223–24, 239–41, 247–48.

4For the exact wording of GW’s decision, see note 5 of Knox to GW, 18 Feb. 1793 (first letter).

5For the respective resolutions of 3 Oct. 1780, 21 Oct. 1780, and 7 Aug. 1782, see ibid., 18:893–97, 958–61; 22:452.

6For “An Act for raising and adding another Regiment to the Military Establishment of the United States, and for making farther provision for the protection of the frontiers,” of 3 Mar. 1791, see 1 Stat., 222–25.

7GW’s opinion was “that where two persons who had held the same grade in the former army came into service together in the same grades, that he who had been the oldest formerly, should take rank of the other now” (JPP description begins Dorothy Twohig, ed. The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793–1797. Charlottesville, Va., 1981. description ends , 204).

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