Lancaster, 27th May 1782.
On the Evening of the 25th Instant I received your Excellency’s Letters of the 4th and 18th Current; as I had to collect the British Captains, Prisoners of War, at this Place and York-Town, it was 10 o’Clock this Morning before I could assemble those Gentlemen together at the drawing of lots, which was done in the Presence of Major Gordon and all the British Captains within the Limits prescribed; the unfortunate Lot has fallen on the Honourable Capt. Charles Asgill, of the Guards; a young Gentleman of seventeen Years of Age; a most amiable Character; the only Son of Sir Charles Asgill, Baronet; Heir to an extensive Fortune; an honourable Title; and of course he has great Interest in the British Court and Armies. The British Officers are highly enraged at the Conduct of Sir Henry Clinton; they have solicited my leave to send an Officer to New-York on this Occasion, or that I would intercede with the Minister of War to grant it. Being fully convinced that no Inconvenience could possibly arise to our Cause from this Indulgence, but on the contrary, good Policy and Humanity dictates the Measure. I was pleased at the Application, and with Cheerfulness have recommended to the Minister of War to grant the Honourable Capt. Ludlow, Son to the Earl of Ludlow, leave to carry the Representations of those unfortunate Officers, who openly declare to have been deserted by their General, and given up to suffer for the Sins of the Guilty. I must here beg to remark, that since my Command at this Place, as far as I have been able to discover, those unfortunate Officers have conducted with great Propriety, and as I sensibly feel for their disagreeable Situation, I hold it as a Part of my Duty to endeavour to alleviate their Distresses by such Indulgences as may not be prejudicial to our Service.
I have received a Letter from Major-General Lincoln, Minister of War, in which he recites a Paragraph in your Excellency’s Letter, directing that Major Woodson, of my Regiment, is to be considered as no longer in Service, and that Major Reid is to be pursued in the Mode pointed out by a Resolution of Congress made and provided in such Cases. Major Woodson’s Case is clear; I am sorry that I cannot say as much in favour of Major Reid’s. Sensible of the approaching Difficulties hanging over that Gentleman and the Officers of the Regiment, which will of course give you Excellency trouble, I must beg your Excellency’s Patience for a Moment until I relate a State of Facts with respect to him.
In November 1780 I was arrested at Major Reid’s Instance, and tried by a General Court-Martial. The Trial was curious, being long and all on one Side, not a Question on the Cross-Examination, or a single Witness brought in favour of the Prisoner, which your Excellency perhaps may remember. I was however acquited. In the course of this Trial, Major Reid opened up such a Scene of Mal-Conduct, that I thought in Justice to the Public I was obliged to bring him to an Account, and as Revenge is sweet, I cannot deny that being another Motive. Major Reid was immediately on my Liberation arrested for the same identical Charges on which I was tried, viz.: "for Disobedience of Orders and un-military Conduct—for defrauding the United States or the Regiment or Part of the Regiment in which I hold a Public Office, and embezzling or mis-applying Public Property—and for un-officer and un-gentleman-like Conduct or Behaviour."
In the Course of Major Reid’s Defence he thought fit to display a Torrent of Eloquence, and amongst other Things he charges all the Officers that were doing Duty with the Regiment in the Year 1780 or 1779 in the most pointed Manner of robbing and cheating the Soldiers; he afterwards charges them individully with Crimes dishonourable to human Nature, &c. &c. &c. too tedious to relate. Those Officers one and all conceiving their public Conduct and Character to be impeached, and no possible Means left them to repair the Injuries by private personal Revenge, immediately stated their Grievances fully to the Honourable Major-Genl Heath, and requested a public Hearing on the Charges exhibited by Major Reid, which his being absent prevented. Positively declaring at the same Time that they never would do Duty with or under him until their own Characters were cleared up. A Copy of this Remonstrance was sent to Major Reid. Public Service unexpectedly called him to Virginia, and the Regiment sent up the Mohawk River. It was in the Course of the Summer however the Lot of the Regiment to move Southward, and to be incorporated in the same Division with Major Reid: The Officers of the Regiment then applied to me in a Body to have him arrested, which I dissuaded them from, observing that those internal Broils were exceedingly prejudicial to the Service, and must of course give your Excellency trouble on such Emergencies. I with much Difficulty prevailed on them to postpone the Arrest; they however addressed Major Reid a second Time, in which they positively declared that they never would do Duty with or under him until the Matter of his Charges were cleared up, unless they should unfortunately fall under his Command in the Course of the Seige, which they possibly might though with Reluctance obey his Commands. Soon after the Seige was over the Troops were sent to their several Destinations, and at the Head of Elk Major Reid was ordered to join his Regiment; he however moved on to Philadelphia, by whose Authority I know not; he remained there for a Month or six Weeks, until the Regiment had got into settled Quarters at this Place; he then passed the Post, calling on Horse back at Lieut. Col. Antill’s Door, and said he was going on Furlough. Col. Antill asked him by whom and for what Time; he said, by the Commander in Chief at Discretion; and in that Manner he was both mustered and returned by Lieut. Col. Antill, which will appear by the Musters and Returns. In February, during my Absence, he came to Lancaster; he called on Major Torrey, and desired him to direct the Adjutant to put him on the Returns as fit for Duty; on which the Officers drew up a Remonstrance, reciting their past Applications, and requested Major Torrey (the then Commanding Officer of the Regiment) to arrest him for un-officer and un-gentleman-like Conduct and Behaviour; as soon as this came to Major Reid’s Ears, he ordered the Adjutant to return him sick present, which was also done, and he remained in that Character at this Place for about sixty Days, constantly attending Balls, Assemblies, Routs, and every other public Amusement, and then left the Town. On my Arrival here on the 24th of March I could find no authentic Account whatever of Major Reid, more than it had been reported by himself, that he had your Excellency’s Leave of Absence at Discretion; and was still returned in that Manner; he has been frequently called on for a Copy of his Furlough, which he has not though fit to furnish. On the 6th of April I received a formal spirited Application from the Officers of the Regiment to arrest Major Reid on the Charges aforesaid. On the 13th of April, at the Muster by Col. Stewart, the Time directed by your Excellency’s Orders of the 10th of January last, elapsed, I mustered him Absent without Leave; and on or about the 14th of May he came to Lancaster; attempted to make some slight Apologies to me for his Conduct, and wished me to interfere in settling Harmony, and promoting Unanimity amongst the Officers of the Regiment. I shewed him the last Requisition of the Officers to have him arrested; I recommended a Meeting of them, by which he might know their unalterable Sentiments. I, at his Request, delayed the Execution of my Duty in arresting him until To-day, when he called at my Quarters, and informed me, that he had no Prospect of settling with the Officers; that he did not care how soon he was arrested, as their was a Court-Martial sitting at Carlisle before which he should be ready to take his Trial; in reply to Major Reid I told him that as far as I understood the Matter the Officers wished to have him tried by a Court-Martial composed of the Army at large, similar to the one before whom their Characters were defamed; that I myself had no Objection to his being tried by the Court at Carlisle, or any other Place. I have since called the Officers together, and mentioned this Matter to them, and they insist on Major Reid being tried by a Court-Martial of the Army at large, assigning for Reasons that it was before such a Court that their Characters were defamed, and the Court-Martial at Carlisle is composed of the Officers of the Pennsylvania Line only, of the State to which Major Reid belongs. Altho’ I have been tedious in this Narrative, yet I could not say less, to give your Excellency a general and particular Idea of the Matter.
The Case is shortly thus, Major Reid has thought fit to endeavour to traduce the Characters of the Officers of the Regiment, by leaving their Names on Record for the Examination of Posterity with the Epithets of Thieves, Robbers and every Thing that is infamous and dishonourable; those Gentlemen conceive that no Personal Satisfaction whatever could place their Characters in the same Point of Light that they stood in before Major Reid’s unwarranted Calumny, consequently they are determined to have a Public Hearing to be on Record also, to clear up their Characters; for which purpose they have been pressing Major Reid for this fourteen Months to prosecute them, and make good if he can his Assertions and Allegations; his refusing to do it, and his offering himself to do Duty with those very Men who he has openly charged with every Thing infamous, they conceive amongst other Things to be un-officer and un-gentleman like Conduct in him, and are cooly determined that as long as a Drop of Blood runs in the Veins of Twenty-four Officers united in this Matter, they never will, be the Consequence what it may, do Duty in the same Corps with Major Reid. That as soon as his Trial is over they will individually insist on Courts Martial for the Justification of their own Conduct.
As your Excellency was pleased to direct that every possible Tenderness should be shewn to the unfortunate Officer whose Lot it should be to suffer on this Occasion, I have in Consequence of a Joint Application by Capt. Asgill and Major Gordon, permitted the latter to accompany the former to Philadelphia, where he will of course receive and follow the Orders of the Minister of War.
Since I wrote the above Majr Gordon has furnished me with an Original Letter of which the inclosed is a Copy, by which you will see we have a Subaltern Officer and unconditional Prisoner of War at Winchester Barracks. I have also just received Information that Lieut. Turner, of the 3rd Brigade of Genl Skinner’s New-Jersey Volunteers is in York Goal—but as those Informations did not come to Hand before the Lots were drawn, and my Letters wrote to your Excellency and the Minister of War on the Subject, and as I judge no Inconveniency can possibly arise to us by sending on Capt. Asgill, to Philadelphia, which will naturally tend to keep up the Hue and Cry, and of course foment the present Dissentions amongst our Enemies, I have sent him under guard as directed. Those Officers above-mentioned are not only of the Description which your Excellency wishes, and at first ordered, but in another Point of View are proper Subjects for Example, been Traitors to America, and having taken refuge with the Enemy, and by us in Arms. It have fallen to my Lot to superintend this melancholy disagreeable Duty, I must confess I have been most sensible affected with it, and [do] most sincerely wish that the Information here given may operate in favour of Youth, Innocence, and Honour. I have the Honour to be your Excelency’s most obedt and most devoted humble Servent
DLC: Papers of George Washington.
Winchester Barrack 8th May 1782
I have the honour to inform you that I am Ensgn and Qr Master of the South Carolina Rangers, and do Remain as a Prisoner of War since the 23d Aprile 1781. and as I and the Southern Prisoner are Destitute of all manner of necessaries whos. Casses are Real Deplorable that you would be pleased for to represent our Cituation to the Commander in Chief at New york So as We may be Supplied from thence in Cloathing and Money and in So doing I Remain Dr Sr Your most & most H. Sert
Kenneth McCallum Ensgn
and Qm S. Carolina Rangers