George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin, Baron [von] Steuben, 28 December 1780

Richmond , December 28th 1780


The more difficult it becomes to recruit our Armies, the more it becomes necessary to redress the Abuses that tend to the diminution of our Battalions.

By Your Excellency’s direction, a Number of those Abuses, such as Small Detachments, Standing Guards &c., have been laid aside in the Northern Army; but here those faults against Military Order Still Subsist, & are carried to a greater Excess in the Virginia Line than in any other.

While this State has but a handful of Troops in the Field, the Country Swarms with Officers & Soldiers, who under different Pretences, never join their Colors, & draw all the while their pay & Rations, commit Excesses thro’ the Country, & render no Kind of Services.

Since the Virginia line has been detached to the southward, it has had no regular formation, nay, I can Even Say it had never had any Since I have been on the Continent. For Your Excellency may well remember, that at Valley Forge, the Brigades of Genls Woodford & Scott were only a Number of Officers & Soldiers thrown confusedly together without any distinction of Regiment or Company.

Hence proceeds the Evil which threatens the ruin of each Military Corps—The Officers do not take care to preserve and keep together their soldiers, & the soldiers scarce know the Officer who commands them.

This neglect on the part of the Officers increased on the Troops Coming to Virginia—The greatest part of them went on furlow to their respective homes, & those who remained with the Troops, gave furlows without discretion to the Non Commissioned Officers & Soldiers.

A great Number of Discharges were given to Men whose Times were not expired, others under pretence of Sickness to Men who could Still have been of Service.

Every Officer thought himself Entitled to dispose of the Men as he pleased & Several were discharged even before they had arrived at the Army. A paper Signed by any Officer, would authorize a Recruit that had received an Enormous bounty, to return unmolested home. These & other abuses of the like kind, have reduced in the Space of four months, the three thousand Eighteen months men that had been raised by the state, to about a Third their number amounting now to scarce a Thousand.

The three thousand Men which the State have now raised, will no doubt meet with the Same fate, if the most efficacious measures are not taken to prevent it.

Wherefore I have proposed to the Government here, the following Arrangement:

The general Rendezvous for the Troops of Virginia to be fixed at Chesterfield Court House, where Colo. Davies is to take command.

The other Rendezvous where the Recruits are to repair immediately from the Counties, to be fixed by the Legislature wherever they Shall think proper, there being however to be no more than six or Eight such places, that the Officers may not be too scattered.

At each place of Rendezvous to be a Captain, two Subalterns & four Serjeants, the Captains to receive their Instructions in writing, wherein will be particularly expressed the age, size &c., of the Recruits he is to receive.

Those recruits to be delivered by a person having authority from the County Lieutenant, with a description in writing as follows:

1. The name of the recruit

2. His age

3. His Size

4. His Trade

5. The place of his birth

6. His place of residence

7. If drafted or enlisted

8. The time of his draft or enlistment

9. The Bounty he has received

And as the State has determined to Supply the recruits with certain Articles of Cloathing, those Articles which the recruits shall bring with them to the rendezvous, are also to be specified here, & the whole signed by the persons who shall deliver the recruits.

When the Officer has accepted the Recruit, he is to give Duplicate receipts to the person who delivers him, one of these receipts to be a Voucher to the County for having delivered the Man, the other to be Sent by the County Lieutenant to the Governor of the state.

From those particular places of Rendezvous, the Captain is to send the Men properly Officered to the general Rendezvous at Chesterfield, where they are to be armed, Equipped, & Sent by Detachments to the Army.

Colo. Davies is to be furnished by Government with the Number each County is to furnish, that he may inform them from time to Time what progress they make in compleating the Quotas assigned them.

By means of this Arrangement I hope that good Order will be introduced in the Collection of the Recruits, & that the Case will no longer be as formerly, when neither Government could know how many Men had been delivered, nor the General how many had been received.

But there is another Precaution to be taken, which requires the interposition of the Authority of Congress, & a positive Order from your Excellency, I mean the restraining the authority which every Officer now has or seems to have, of granting Discharges to Non Commissioned Officers and soldiers. In Services where the Regiments are the Colonel’s property, this Authority may well be given to him, his own Interest will prevent him from being too easy on this Subject. But as the Case is quite different in our Army, I Submit it to Your Excellency whether it would not be proper to allow that right only to the General Officers commanding in the Divisions and Brigades.

It is the Same with furloughs: Almost every Man who obtains one, is a Man lost to his Regiment.

Every Officer thinks he has a right to grant furlows & as there is no prescribed form for passes, any Scrap of paper, with the Signature of an Officer at bottom, authorizes a Soldier to absent himself from his Regiment & wander about the country as he thinks proper.

Passes of this kind may very easily be, and have too often been Counterfeited by Deserters, I would therefore propose to have forms of passes printed, as well as forms of discharges, as it is practised in almost every Service in Europe.

I could wish that a General Order might determine what Officers are authorized to grant discharges & even furlows, that those Officers might receive a certain Number of printed Copies, & that every other pass or discharge might be declared of no Validity.

I could wish also that it should be published in the Several States as well as at the Army, that every Soldier coming from the Army, either on furlow or discharged if he Stays a Week in a place without producing his discharge or pass to the Magistrate shall be punished as a Deserter, & that if the Magistrate shall find that the discharge or pass is not according to the prescribed form, he Shall cause the Bearer to be Secured, & Send the pass or discharge to the Governor who will transmit it to the general Officer commanding in the Department, that the Officer who gave it may be called to account.

This method of giving printed passes & discharges has been adopted in this State, I inclose to Your Excellency, copies of the models I am getting printed for this purpose. I am with the greatest respect Sir Your Excellency’s most obedient and most humble servant


DLC: Papers of George Washington.


c.28 December 1780

Form of a Discharge

Whereas the Bearer A.B., a [  ] in the [  ] Virginia Regiment of [  ], Capt. J.L.’s Company enlisted/drafted for the County of [  ] has served during [  ] Year, and the Time for which he was enlisted/drafted is now expired: This is to certify that his Regiment and I the undersigned Major/Brigadier General, have granted him his full discharge, and that he has behaved during the Time of his Service, as a brave and faithful soldier. In faith whereof we have signed the present Certificate.

Given at [  ] this [  ] day of [  ] in the Year of our Lord 178[  ] and of our Independence the

N.N. W.W. R.S.
Colo. Commder Major Captain
Lt Colo.
[  ] Virg. Rt


Registered in the N.L.
Books of the Regt Major/ General
T.V. Adjut. Brigadr


Form of a Pass

Whereas the Bearer A. B. a [  ] in the [  ]th Virginia Regiment of [  ], Capt. K.L.’s Company or Troop, has requested a furlough for the purpose of ———; The present Pass has been granted to him for [  ] Days from the date hereof. All Civil and Military Officers are requested to let the Said A.B. pass and repass, on his Way to [  ] and back again to his Regiment, without any hindrance or molestation, he behaving as becometh. The present Pass to be valid no farther than the above mentioned place, and no longer than till the [  ] day of [  ] 178[  ].

Given under my hand, at [  ], this [  ] day of [  ] in the year of our Lord 178[  ], and of our Independence the[  ].

(Signed) N.N.

[  ] Commandant

of the [  ] Virginia Regt.

Registered in the Books of the Regt J.W. Adjut.


c.28 December 1780


There are still existing in the Army so many Abuses, absolutely contrary to the Military constitution; that without a speedy Stop is put to them, it will be impossible ever to Establish any Order or Discipline among the Troops.

I would therefore propose the following Regulations, submitting to his Excellency the Commander in Chief to distinguish such as may be published under his own Authority in General Orders, & such as will require the Sanction & Authority of the Committee of Congress now in Camp.

First—Every Officer or Soldier who Acts contrary to the Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Army establish’d by Congress, shall be tried and punished for Disobedience of Orders.

2nd Every Officer who absents himself from his Regiment without Leave shall be tried and punished; if he remains absent three Weeks, he shall be ordered to Join by a Notification in General Orders And in the Public Newspapers—& in case of his absence three Weeks afterwards such Notification shall be repeated & should he not return in three Weeks from the last Notification, he shall by the Sentence of a Court Martiall be Cashiered & rendered incapable of ever holding a Commission in the Army of the United States.

3d—Every Officer on Furlough who remains absent Ten days longer than the Time allowed him, shall be tried by a Court Martial & in case of his being by Sickness or any other Cause detained from his Regiment Six Weeks above the time allowed in his Furlough, he shall inform the Commanding officer of the Regiment of the Reasons that prevent his returning, in Default of such information, he shall be notified, tried & punished, agreeable to the 2d Article.

4th It being permitted for the Ease & Convenience of the Generals & other Officers of the Army, to take servants from Regiments—many abuses have resulted therefrom—to remedy which the following Regulations are to take place for the future.

Each Major General is permitted to take from the Division he Commands four Men.

Each Brigadier General Three Men.

Each Colonel or Lieut. Colo. Commandant two Men.

Each Lt Colonel or Major one Man & a second Man who is to be exempted from ordinary Duty but to turn out in Time of Action.

Each Captain two Men to be exempted from ordinary Duty only.

Each Subaltern, one Man who is to Mount Guard with the Officer he serves.

Those Generals and other Officers who are not attached to any particular Division or Brigade, to take their Servants from the Line, agreable to the above proportion.

No Officer in a Civil Department shall be permitted to take a Soldier from any Regiment to serve him—nor is any Colonel or commanding Officer to Suffer a Soldier of their Regt to be detained by any such Officer—those who may be permitted to have Servants from the Line, are to apply to the Quarter Master General who will take them from the Regiments & distribute them to whom he thinks proper.

5th—Great Quantities of Arms & Ammunition have been distroyed, by being in the possession of Men who do not use them in time of Action to prevent this for the future—No Arms, Accoutrements or Ammunition is to be deliverd to those under the following discripton Vizt General & Staff Officers Waiters, Waggoners, Camp Coulour Men, & all who do not bear Arms in time of Action—Such of those as have Arms are immediately to Deliver them up to their Captains who will deliver them to the Conductor that they may be returned to the Field Commissary.

6th—The abolition of standing Guard tho’ of great consequence to the order and Discipline of the Army, has not yet taken place—the Soldiers on these Guards being seperated from their Regts are often employed as servants—they become ignorant of the Service, Loose & destroy their Arms and Cloathing—therefore

For the Future no standing Guard Shall be permitted to any General or other Officer, on any pretense whatsoever—Those Guards which cannot be relieved every 24 hours, must be relieved at least every three days, for which the Inspectors & Majors of Brigade, are to be answerable—all Guards or Piquets for more than three days, shall be called Detachments.

7th The Multiplicity of small Guard for the Stores & Baggage of the Army being unnecessary & diminishing the strength of the Regiments, it will be necessary to repeat the Order given at Smiths Clove the 25th June relative to this Object—it should therefore be ordered that

The Order given at Smiths Clove the 25th June last, relative to the Guards usually furnished for the Quarter M[aster] & other stores, is to be carried into Execution with the greatest rigor, & is to be regarded as a standing order.

8th It being very improper & hurtfull to the service, that Guard should be sent too far from the Corps to which they belong, it is ordered

That the General Officers shall have their Guard from the Divisions and Brigades to which they belong & those who have no Division or Brigade, shall be furnished with a Guard from the Line, by Detail from the Adjutant General.

No General shall take his Guard above Ten Miles from Camp, without the Express leave of the Commander in Chief.

9th Nothing being more Disgracefull to the service, or dangerous for the Army then for the advanced Posts to be surprized by the Enemy, it is necessary that every possible precaution should be taken to prevent an Accident so dishonorable to the Officer who commands at such Post—and as the Instructions given in the Chapter on the service of the Guards in the Regulations is not full & explicit enough, it is thought necessary to add the following Article.

As soon as an Officer commandg a Detatchment, arrives at the Post he is to Occupy, he must endeavour to procure some Inhabitant, on whom he can Depend, to shew him all the Roads, footpaths, & other avenues, leading to the Post, these he must himself reconnoitre, and then determine the Number of Guards necessary for his security, as well in front, as on the flanks & in the Rear of the Post, he must then divide his Detatchment into three parts, one of which must be allways on Guard, another act as Reserve Picquet & the Third be off duty. The part destined for Guard, must be divided into as many Guards, as the Officer may think Necessary, allways observing that the Guards are so proportioned, that one third of each Guard may allways be on Sentry at once.

These Guards must be posted at 3 or 400 paces from the Main Post & the Centinels form a Chain round it, they must be within sight of each other during the Day and within Call during the Night.

The Commanding Officer having himself posted these Guard & Centinels & well instructed the Officers and Serjeants in their Duty, will fix on the Place where he means to defend himself in case of Attack—as a House—a Heighth, or behind some Bridge or Fence, which he will strengthen as much as possible, by an Abbatis, Ditch or anything his Genius may direct him for that purpose.

The Reserve Piquets, are on no Account to stir from the Main post or take off their Accoutrements, but must be ready to parrade under Arms, at any moment of the Day or Night; tho’ during the Day they may be permitted to lay down & sleep—every man must have his Haversack under his head, & if the Post is dangerous his Arms in his hands.

The Reserve will furnish a Guard of a Serjeant and from 6 to 12 Men, to furnish from 2 to 4 Centinels, around the House or wherever they are posted—to give notice of all that approach, or of any Alarm, one of these Sentries must allways be before the Arms.

That part of the detatchment off Duty may undress and repose themselves they must Cook for the Guards & Piquets & fetch the Wood & Water necessary for the Post—but they must not do this before Roll Call in the Morning, when the Commanding Officer receives the Reports of all the Guards—If the Post is near the Enemy this part of the Detatchment must not undress during the Night.

As Guards form a Chain of Sentinels round the Post, no soldier must pass the Chain, without a NonCommissioned Officer, nor any Stranger be permitted to enter without being conducted to and examin’d by the Commanding Officer.

After Roll Call in the Evening, no Soldier must be permitted to go more than 40 paces from the Place of Arms—the Officers it is expected always remain with their men.

As soon as a Centinel perceives the Enemy, he must fire his piece, to Alarm the other Guards & the Main Body—the Guards immediately parrade & follow the Rules prescribed in the Regulations. The Piquet parrades immediately, & the other part joins it as fast as they can get ready.

The Commanding Officer will immediately detatch one third of the Piquet, with orders to March towards the Guard attacked & lay in Ambuscade behind some house, Barn, or in a Wood on the Road leading from them to the Main Post, & when the Guard attacked retreats in, followed by the Enemy, they must fall in the Rear of the Enemy & keep up a Scattered fire—this Manoeuvre especially in the Night, will not fail to discourage the Enemy & Cause a failure of their Enterprize.

The Guards are in every respect to observe the Rules laid down in the Regulations.

The part on Guard is to be relieved by the part off Duty, & the relieved Guard takes the Reserve piquet.

No part of the Service is more important, nor more neglected than that of Guards—notwithstanding the Duties are so particularly described in the Regulations—It is very seldom a Guard turns out for a General Officer or Officer of the Day, & even when they turn out, they are seldom or ever Drawn up in the order prescribed—therefore for the Future the Generals & Field officers of the Day, are ordered to pay the greatest attention that the service of the Guards is performed strictly conformable to the Regulations—for which purpose they must Visit the Guards and Centinels at different hours & Arrest or Confine any Officer or Noncommissioned Officer whose Guard is not already parraded in order at his arrival.

A Guard which is surprized by an Officer of the Day, may with the same Facility be surprized by the Enemy if the Centinel before the Guard house is not sufficient, the officer must place others who can see round the Environs of the Post and give Notice of all that Approach.

For the most Effectual preservation of the Arms, Accoutrements and Amunition—each Regiment shall be charged with the arms &c. now in their possession, agreeable to the Return made at the last Inspection, & for the future none of those Articles shall be drawn from the Field Commissary but by Returns signed by the Inspector of the Division, or in his absence by the Major of Brigade doing his Duty And the Inspector & Major of Brigade will pay the Strictest Attention that the Regulations with respect to this object are strictly carried into execution, examining and comparing the Regimental Returns as with those of the Conductors.

In the Returns of the Army a great number of Men are reckoned, who have been sick, or otherwise absent a long time, without any account of their having been sent to their Regiments.

Orders must be given to the officers superintending the Hospitals, to send their Returns regularly every month, & the Majors of Brigade must take an extract account of those of their Brigade returned in the several Hospitals, to compare with the Returns at the Inspection.

For those men who are sick in the Country at private houses, Certificate must be produced, every two Months, signed by a Justice of the Peace, & without such Certificate, the Men must no longer be returned, tho’ the Regt may Keep an account of them, that they may be reclaimed if every they are found.

The Army even at this day, is more reduced, by a considerable number of Men being permitted to retire on furlough & extra service, I would therefore recommend the following Regulations.

That after the 1st of May until the Campaign closes, no officer sh[all] have leave of absence, for more than 8 Days unless by permission from the Commander in Chief, or officer commanding at a separate Post; & that no noncommissioned officer or Soldier be furloughd during the abovesaid time, unless by his Major General or Officer commanding at a separate post, and that for only six days on the most special account—That during the Army’s continua[nce] in winter Quarters, not more than Six men of an hundred be absent on furlough at the same time; these to have leave of absence from the Officer commanding the Regiment to which they belong.

That every Officer, noncommissoned & Soldier now on furlough, or on the recruiting service, be ordered to join their respective Corps, against the first of June the Commanding officers of Regiments to be answerable that they be notified of the order.

Notwithstanding the General order lately issued, respecting men on extra service many are still improperly absent; it is therefore ordered, that they join against the first of June; the commanding officers of the Regt to which they respectively belong, to be answerable that they are notified of the order—It is also ordered that for the future, none be suffered to go on such employ, except by order of the Commander in Chief, officer Commanding at a separate Post or the Quarter Master General.


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