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TO THE EARL OF LOUDOUN. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. I (1748-1757) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1889-1893). Vol. I (1748-1757).
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TO THE EARL OF LOUDOUN.
The posture of affairs in this quarter is really melancholy, and the prospect was rendered more gloomy while there appeared no hopes of amendment; but, from the presence of your Lordship at this time in the Dominion, we conceive hopes of seeing these threatening clouds dispelled.
The sums of money, my Lord, which have been granted by this colony to carry on war, have been very considerable; and to reflect to what little purpose is matter of great concern, and will seem surprising to those, who are not acquainted with the causes, and the confusion with which all our affairs have hitherto been conducted, owing to our having no fixed object, or pursuing any regular system, or plan of operation.
As I have studied with attention and care the nature of the service in which we are engaged, have been engaged therein from the beginning of the present broils, and have been an eyewitness to all the movements and various proceedings, I beg leave to offer a concise and candid account of our circumstances to your Lordship; from which many errors may be discovered, that merit redress in a very high degree.
It was not until it was too late, we discovered that the French were on the Ohio; or rather, that we could be persuaded they came there with a design to invade his Majesty’s dominions. Nay, after I was sent out in December, 1753, and brought undoubted testimony even from themselves of their avowed design, it was yet thought a fiction, and a scheme to promote the interest of a private company, even by some who had a share in the government. These unfavorable surmises caused great delay in raising the first men and money, and gave the active enemy time to take possession of the Fork of Ohio (which they now call Duquesne), before we were in sufficient strength to advance thither, which has been the chief source of all our past and present misfortunes. For by this means, (the French getting between us and our Indian allies,) they fixed those in their interests, who were wavering, and obliged the others to neutrality, ’till the unhappy defeat of his (late) Excellency General Braddock.
The troops under Colonel Dunbar going into quarters in July, and the inactivity of the neighbouring colonies, and the incapacity of this, conspired to give the French great room to exult, and the Indians little reason to expect a vigorous offensive war on our side, and induced the other, which promised the greatest show of protection. This is an undeniable fact, and that all of the Indians did not forsake the English interest, ’till three months after the battle of Monongahela, but actually waited to see what measures would be concerted to regain our losses, and afford them the protection we had but too liberally promised.
Virginia, it is true, was not inactive all this time: On the contrary, voted a handsome supply for raising men to carry on the war, or, more properly, to defend herself; matters being reduced to this extremity for want of assistance. But even in this she signally failed, arising, I apprehend, from the following causes:
The men first levied to repel the enemy marched for Ohio the beginning of April, 1754, without tents, without clothes, in short, without any conveniences to shelter them, (in that remarkably cold and wet season,) from the inclemency of the weather, or to make the service tolerably agreeable. In this state did they, notwithstanding, continue, till the battle of the Meadows, in July following, never receiving in all that space any subsistence; and were very often under the greatest straits and difficulties for want of provisions.
These things were productive of great murmurings and discontent, and rendered the service so distasteful to the men, that, not being paid immediately upon coming in, they thought themselves bubbled, and that no reward for their services was ever intended. This caused great desertion; and the deserters, spreading over the country, recounting their sufferings and want of pay, (which rags and poverty sufficiently testified,) fixed in the mind of the populace such horrid impressions of the hardships they had encountered, that no arguments could remove these prejudices, or facilitate the recruiting service.
This put the Assembly upon enacting a law to impress vagrants, which added to our difficulties, for, compelling these abandoned miscreants into the service, they embraced every opportunity to effect their escape, gave a loose to their vicious principles, and invented the most unheard-of stories to palliate desertion and gain compassion; in which they not only succeeded, but obtained protection also. So that it was next to impossible, after this, to apprehend deserters, while the civil officers rather connived at their escape, than aided in securing them.
Thus were affairs situated, when we were ordered, in September, 1755, to recruit our force to twelve hundred men. ’T is easy therefore to conceive, under these circumstances, why we did not fulfil the order, especially when the officers were not sufficiently allowed for this arduous task. We continued, however, using our endeavours until March following, without much success.
The Assembly, meeting about that time, came to a resolution of augmenting our numbers to fifteen hundred men, by drafting the militia, (who were to continue in the service until December only,) and by a clause in the act exempting all those, who should pay ten pounds, our numbers were very little increased, one part of the people paying that sum, and many of the poorer sort absconding. This was not the only pernicious clause, for the funds arising from these forfeitures were thrown into the treasury; whereas, had they been deposited in proper hands for recruiting, the money might have turned to good account. But a greater grievance than either of these was restraining the forces from marching out of the colony, or acting offensively, and ordering them to build forts, and garrison them, along our frontiers (of more than three hundred miles in extent.) How equal they or any like number are to the task, and how repugnant a defensive plan is to the true interest and welfare of the colony, I submit to any judge to determine who will consider the following particulars.
First, that erecting forts at greater distances than fifteen or eighteen miles, or a day’s march asunder, and garrisoning them with less than eighty or a hundred men, is not answering the intention; because, if they are at a greater distance from each other, it is inconvenient for the soldiers to scout between, and it gives the enemy full scope to make their incursions without being discovered, until they have fallen on the inhabitants and committed a ravage. And, after they are discovered, the time required in assembling troops from forts more distant, prevents a pursuit being made in time, and allows the enemy to escape without danger into a country so mountainous, and full of swamps [and] hollow ways covered with woods. Then, to garrison them with less than eighty or a hundred men, the number is too small to afford detachments, but what are very liable to be cut off by the enemy, whose numbers in this close country can scarcely be known till they are proved. Indian parties are generally intermixed with some Frenchmen, and are so dexterous at skulking, that their spies, lying about these small forts for some days and taking a prisoner, make certain discoveries of the strength of the garrison; and then, upon observing a scouting party coming out, will first cut it off, and afterwards attempt the fort. Instances of this have lately happened.
Secondly, our frontiers are of such extent, that if the enemy were to make a formidable attack on one side, before the troops on the other could get to their assistance, they might overrun the country; and it is not improbable, if they had a design upon one part, they would make a feint upon the other.
Thirdly, what it must cost the country to build these forts, and to remove stores and provisions into them; and
Fourthly, and lastly where and when this expense will end? For we may be assured, if we do not endeavour to remove the cause, we shall be as liable to the same incursions seven years hence as now; indeed more so. Because, if the French are allowed to possess those lands in peace, they will have the entire command of the Indians, and grow stronger in their alliance; while we, by our defensive schemes and pusillanimous behaviour, will exhaust our treasury, reduce our strength, and become the contempt of these savage nations, who are every day enriching themselves with the plunder and spoils of our people.
It will evidently appear from the whole tenor of my conduct, but more especially from reiterated representations, how strongly I have urged the Governor and Assembly to pursue different measures, and to convince them, by all the reasonings I was capable of offering, of the impossibility of covering so extensive a frontier from Indian incursions, without more force than Virginia can maintain. I have endeavoured to demonstrate, that it would require fewer men to remove the cause, than to prevent the effects, while the cause subsists. This, notwithstanding, as I before observed, was the measure adopted, and the plan under which we have acted for eight months past, with the disagreeable reflection of doing no essential service to our country, nor gaining honor to ourselves, or reputation to our regiment. However, under these disadvantageous restraints I must beg leave to say, that the regiment has not been inactive; on the contrary, it has performed a vast deal of work, and has been very alert in defending the people, which will appear by observing, that, notwithstanding we are more contiguous to the French and their Indian allies, and more exposed to their frequent incursions, than any of the neighbouring colonies, we have not lost half the inhabitants, which others have done, but considerably more soldiers in their defence. For in the course of this campaign, since March, I mean, (as we have had but one constant compaign, and continued scene of action, since we first entered the service), our troops have been engaged in upwards of twenty skirmishes, and we have had near a hundred men killed and wounded—from a small regiment dispersed over the country, and acting upon the defensive, as ours is by order. This, I conceive, will not appear inconsiderable to those, who are in the least degree acquainted with the nature of this service, and the posture of our affairs; however it may seem to chimney-corner politicians, who are thirsting for news, and expecting by every express to hear in what manner Fort Duquesne was taken, and the garrison led away captive by our small numbers; altho’ we are restrained from making the attempt, were our hopes of success ever so rational!
The next things, I shall beg leave to mention, are our military laws and regulations.
The first men raised, if I rightly remember, were under no law; if any, the military1 law, which was next of kin to it. But under this we remained a short time, and, instilling notions into the soldiers, who knew no better, that they were governed by the articles of war, we felt little inconveniences; and the next campaign we were joined by the regulars, and made subject to their laws. After the regulars left us, the Assembly, as I before mentioned, passed an act in September following to raise twelve hundred men, and, in order (I suppose) to improve upon the act of Parliament, prepared a military code of their own, but such a one as no military discipline could be preserved by while it existed. This being represented by the most pressing and repeated remonstrances, induced the Assembly to pass a bill in October following, for one year only, making mutiny and desertion death, but took no cognizance of many other crimes, equally punishable by act of Parliament. So that no officer, or soldier, accused of cowardice, holding correspondence with the enemy, quitting a post, or sleeping upon it, and many other crimes of a capital dye, or pernicious tendency, could be legally tried. Neither was there any provision made for quartering or billeting of soldiers, impressing wagons, &c., &c.
But that which contributed the most towards rendering this law inconvenient and absurd, and at the same time to demonstrate that the Assembly fully intended to prevent any enterprise of their troops out of the colony, was a clause forbidding any courtsmartial to sit out of it; by which means all proceedings held at Fort Cumberland (in Maryland) were illegal, and we were obliged to remove to Virginia for trial of offenders, or act contrary to law, and be open to prosecution. How then were we to behave upon a march perhaps fifty, eighty, or a hundred miles distant? These circumstances concurring to render the law ineffectual, induced me again to recommend an amendment, which I did with all the force and energy of argument I was master of. But no regard has hitherto been paid to my remonstrances. To what cause it is owing, I know not, unless to short sittings and hurry of business; for I can conceive of no reason upon earth, why the Assembly should be against instituting rules for the regulation of their forces, which long experience in established armies has fully evinced the necessity of. But, to cut short the account, we are under no government at all, to speak properly. Indeed, there is a jumble of laws that have little meaning or design in them, but to conspire to make the command intricate, precarious in supporting authority, and not to offend the civil powers, who, [are] tenacious of liberty, and prone to censure and condemn all proceedings not strictly lawful, not considering what cases may arise to render them necessary.
Another grievance, which this act subjects us to, is the method prescribed to pay for deserters. Many of our deserters are apprehended in Maryland and Pennsylvania, and, for the sake of reward, are brought to the regiment; instead thereof they receive certificate only, that they are entitled to two hundred weight of tobacco. This certificate is to be given into a Court of Claims, they refer it to the Assembly; and there it may lie perhaps two or three years before it is paid. This causes great dissatisfaction, and the ill-disposed to aid, rather than prevent, the escape of soldiers.
No regular provision is established for the maimed and wounded, which is a discouraging reflection, and grievously complained of. The soldiers justly observe, that the result of bravery is often a broken leg, arm, or incurable wound; and when they are disabled, and no longer fit for service, they are discharged, and reduced to the necessity of begging from door to door, or perish thro’ indigence. It is true, no instance of this kind hath yet appeared; on the contrary, the Assembly have dealt generously by those unfortunate soldiers, who have met with this fate. But then, this provision is not established, nor in any wise compulsory, and a man may suffer in the interval of their sitting.
After giving this short and genuine account of our military laws, and then observing that these laws are expired, I conceive there need but few arguments to prove the difficulty of keeping soldiers under proper discipline, who know they are not (legally) punishable for the most atrocious crimes. When this happens to be the case, as it is ours at present, how is it to be wondered at, if mutiny, desertion, and all other irregularities should creep into the camp, or garrison, more especially if we consider that hard duty, want of clothes and almost every necessary that renders a soldier’s life comfortable and easy, are strong incentives,—and, to go further, when these in themselves intolerable grievances are set to view in the most glaring point of light by a person, who, lost to all sense of honor and virtue, (and building, I am sorry to say, upon a proclamation inviting the deserters from the Virginia Regiment to enlist into the Royal American Regiment,) hath made use of every artifice to represent the fatigues and hardships of this service, and the ease and conveniences of the other, to seduce them from their duty?
Want of clothing may be esteemed another principal grievance, which our soldiers have labored under. In the first twelve months of their service they received no clothing; but in March, 1754, they were presented each with a suit made of thin, sleazy cloth without lining, and flannel waistcoats of an inferior sort. After that no others were sent for (and two pence stoppages drawn from every man’s pay, recruits not excepted,) until repeated complaints and remonstrances from me, enforced in June last by a representation of many gentlemen of the Assembly, (who had formed an association, and saw the disagreeable situation of the soldiers,) induced the Committee, to whom those addresses were presented, to send for clothing, &c. These were to have been here by the middle of October, but no advice is received of them yet, which gives the soldiers some pretence to suspect they are deceived. And it is owing to this irregular pay, and the causes aforementioned, that their late disobedience ought to be ascribed. For I can truly say, and confidently assert, that no soldiers ever were under better command than these were before.
Perhaps it may be asked, by gentlemen not thoroughly acquainted with the nature of our service, why the officers do not see that their men’s pay is more properly applied? In answer I must beg leave to observe, that, after the soldiers have appropriated a part for purchasing reasonable and fit necessaries, the remainder is barely sufficient to keep them in shoes, owing, in the first place, to the very great consumption the service occasions, and, in the next, to the exorbitant price, which this article bears. I have known a soldier go upon command with a new pair of shoes, which shoes perhaps have stood from seven shillings and sixpence to ten shillings, and return back without any; so much do they wear in wading creeks, fording rivers, clambering mountains covered with rocks, &c.
As great a grievance as any I have mentioned is yet unnoticed, i. e., the militia under their present regulation. A representation of this matter comes better and more properly from others; yet my zeal for the service and my interest in the welfare of my country, have influenced me to touch slightly on some things relative to their conduct, as I cannot enter deeply into the causes that produce them.
The difficulties and delays in collecting the militia in time of danger, are so prejudicial, that the enemy has every opportunity to plunder, kill, scalp, and escape, before they appear. The want of orders, regularity and obedience prevents any good effects which their assistance and force might otherwise have. For every petty person must assume command, direct and advise (and must be caressed) or otherwise takes huff, thinks his wisdom and merit slighted, and makes off in high indignation and contempt of the laws.
The expence of supporting them is, make the best of it, burthensome; but where there are instances of a captain, Lieutenant and ensign going upon duty (together with two or three sergeants and six or eight men) at a time, the disproportion of officers and men is so remarkable as to need no other proof of the injustice.
Their waste of provisions is unaccountable, following no method in serving a certain quota to each man. Mention a stated allowance, and you offer an affront; and they would rather starve than carry provisions on their backs as other soldiers do. But heedless and prodigal, they regale on the best, without regarding expence or the oppression they spread to gratify their humor.
When they come into service it is with the utmost difficulty they are prevailed upon to take measures for self-defence, much less for the protection of the inhabitants; But indolent and careless, and always unguarded, are liable to be surprized. By this means Voss’s fort was taken (and the garrison destroyed), and Dickinson’s was on the point of sharing the same fate!
To set forth all the reasons that can contribute to render the militia of little use, and to point out all the causes which combine to make our service infinitely hard and disagreeable, would swell these observations into a volume, and require time, and a more able pen than mine. But there are yet some things that require to be spoken of—the ill-judged economy that is shown in raising of men. We are either insensible of danger, till it breaks upon our heads, or else, thro’ mistaken notions of economy, evade the expence, till the blow is struck, and then run into an extreme of raising militia. These, after an age, as it were, is spent in assembling them, come up, make a noise for a time, oppress the inhabitants, and then return, leaving the frontiers unguarded as before. And this plan is pursued, notwithstanding former experience convinces us, if reason did not, that the French and Indians are watching their opportunity, when we are lulled into fatal security, unprepared to resist an attack, to muster their forces to invade the country, and by ravaging one part terrify another, and then retreat when our militia assemble, repeating the stroke as soon as they are dispersed, sending down parties in the intermedium to discover our motions, procure intelligence, and sometimes to divert our troops. Such an invasion we may expect in March, if measures to prevent it are neglected, as they hitherto have been.
The want of tools occasions insurmountable difficulties in carrying on our works, either offensive or defensive. Cartridge-paper is an article not to be met with in Virginia. And now, before I sum up the whole, I must beg leave to add, my unwearied endeavours are inadequately rewarded. The orders I receive are full of ambiguity. I am left, like a wanderer in a wilderness, to proceed at hazard. I am answerable for consequences, and blamed, without the privilege of defence. This, my Lord, I beg leave to declare to your Lordship, is at present my situation. Therefore, it is not to be wondered at, if, under such peculiar circumstances, I should be sicken’d in a service, which promises so little of a soldier’s reward. I have long been satisfied of the impossibility of continuing in this service, without loss of honor. Indeed, I was fully convinced of it before I accepted the command the second time, (seeing the cloudy prospect that stood before me;) and did for this reason reject the offer, (until I was ashamed any longer to refuse,) not caring to expose my character to public censure. But the solicitations of the country overcame my objections, and induced me to accept it.
Another reason of late has continued me in the service until now, and that is, the dawn of hope that arose, when I heard your Lordship was destined by his Majesty for the important command of his armies in America, and appointed to the government of his dominion of Virginia. Hence it was, that I drew my hopes, and fondly pronounced your Lordship our patron. Altho’ I had not the honor to be known to your Lordship, your Lordship’s name was familiar to my ear, on account of the important services performed to his Majesty in other parts of the world. Do not think, my Lord, that I am going to flatter; notwithstanding I have exalted sentiments of your Lordship’s character and respect your rank, it is not my intention to adulate. My nature is open and honest and free from guile!
We have, my Lord, ever since our defeat at the Meadows, and behaviour under his Excellency General Braddock, been tantalized, nay, bid to expect most sanguinely a better establishment, and have waited in tedious expectation of seeing this accomplished. The Assembly, it is true, have, I believe, done every thing in their power to bring this about; first, by soliciting his Honor, the Lieutenant-Governor, to address his Majesty; and next, by addressing his Majesty themselves in favor of their regiment. What success these addresses have met with, I am yet a stranger to.
With regard to myself, I cannot forbear adding, that, had his Excellency General Braddock survived his unfortunate defeat, I should have met with preferment agreeable to my wishes. I had his promise to that purpose, and I believe that gentleman was too sincere and generous to make unmeaning offers, where no favors were asked. General Shirley was not unkind in his promises, but he has gone to England. I do not know, my Lord, in what light this short and disinterested relation may be received by your Lordship; but with the utmost candor and submission it is offered. It contains no misrepresentations, nor aggravated relation of facts, nor unjust reflections.
Virginia is a country young in war, and, till the breaking out of these disturbances, has remained in the most profound and tranquil peace, never studying war nor warfare. It is not, therefore, to be imagined, that she can fall into proper measures at once. All that can be expected at her hands she cheerfully offers,—the sinews of war,—and these only want your Lordship’s ability and experience to be properly applied and directed.
It is for this reason I have presumed to lay this information before your Lordship, that, if there be any thing in it which appears worthy of redress, and your Lordship will condescend to point out the way it may be obtained.
And now, my Lord, how to apologize to your Lordship, for assuming a freedom, which must (at any rate) give you trouble, I know not, unless an affectionate zeal to serve my country, steady attachment to her interests, the honor of arms, and crying grievances she is struggling under, will plead an excuse, till I am so happy as to have an opportunity of testifying in person how much I admire your Lordship’s character, and with what profound respect I have the honor to be, &c.1
[1 ]Sparks very properly suggests that this word should be militia.
[1 ]Mr. Cunningham, aid-de-camp to Lord Loudoun, acknowledged the receipt of this letter on the 27th of February, and added: “His Lordship seems very much pleased with the accounts you have given him of the situation of affairs to the southward.”