Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO LIEUTENANT-GENERAL GAGE. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. III (1775-1776)
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TO LIEUTENANT-GENERAL GAGE. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. III (1775-1776) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1889). Vol. III (1775-1776).
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TO LIEUTENANT-GENERAL GAGE.
Head-Quarters,Cambridge, 11 August, 1775.
I understand that the officers engaged in the cause of liberty and their country, who by the fortune of war have fallen into your hands, have been thrown indiscriminately into a common gaol appropriated for felons; that no consideration has been had for those of the most respectable rank, when languishing with wounds and sickness; that some have been even amputated in this unworthy situation.
Let your opinion, Sir, of the principle which actuates them be what it may, they suppose they act from the noblest of all principles, a love of freedom and their country. But political principles, I conceive, are foreign to this point. The obligations arising from the rights of humanity and claims of rank are universally binding and extensive, (except in case of retaliation.) These, I should have hoped, would have dictated a more tender treatment of those individuals, whom chance or war had put in your power. Nor can I forbear suggesting its fatal tendency to widen that unhappy breach, which you, and those ministers under whom you act, have repeatedly declared you wished to see for ever closed.
My duty now makes it necessary to apprize you, that, for the future, I shall regulate my conduct towards those gentlemen, who are or may be in our possession, exactly by the rule you shall observe towards those of ours now in your custody.
If severity and hardship mark the line of your conduct, (painful as it may be to me,) your prisoners will feel its effects. But if kindness and humanity are shown to ours, I shall with pleasure consider those in our hands only as unfortunate, and they shall receive from me that treatment to which the unfortunate are ever entitled.
I beg to be favored with an answer as soon as possible, and am, Sir, your very humble servant.1
[1 ]“We sent in yesterday a most serious message to Gage, but I cannot give you a copy without G. Washington’s consent.”—Charles Lee to Robert Morris, 12 August, 1775. The reply was written, save the last paragraph, by General Burgoyne:—
“Boston, 13 August, 1775.
“To the glory of civilized nations, humanity and war have been compatible; and compassion to the subdued is become a general system. Britons ever preeminent in mercy, have outgone common examples, and overlooked the criminal in the captive. Upon these principles your prisoners, whose lives by the law of the land are destined to the cord, have hitherto been treated with care and kindness, and more comfortably lodged than the King’s troops in the hospitals; indiscriminately it is true, for I acknowledge no rank, that is not derived from the King.
“My intelligence from your army would justify severe recrimination. I understand there are of the King’s faithful subjects, taken some time since by the rebels, laboring, like negro slaves, to gain their daily subsistence, or reduced to the wretched alternative, to perish by famine or take arms against their King and country. Those who have made the treatment of the prisoners in my hands, or of your other friends in Boston, a pretence for such measures, found barbarity upon falsehood.
“I would willingly hope, Sir, that the sentiments of liberality, which I have always believed you to possess, will be exerted to correct these misdoings. Be temperate in political disquisition; give free operation to truth, and punish those who deceive and misrepresent; and not only the effects, but the causes, of this unhappy conflict will be removed. Should those, under whose usurped authority you act, control such a disposition, and dare to call severity retaliation, to God, who knows all hearts, be the appeal for the dreadful consequences. I trust that British soldiers, asserting the rights of the state, the laws of the land, the being of the constitution, will meet all events with becoming fortitude. They will court victory with the spirit their cause inspires; and, from the same motive, will find the patience of martyrs under misfortune.
“Till I read your insinuations in regard to ministers, I conceived that I had acted under the King, whose wishes, it is true, as well as those of his ministers, and of every honest man, have been to see this unhappy breach for ever closed; but, unfortunately for both countries, those who long since projected the present crisis, and influence the councils of America, have views very distant from accommodation. I am, Sir, your most obedient humble servant,
“George Washington, Esq.”
“On the day after General Gage’s letter was received, Mr. Reed wrote, by order of the Commander-in-Chief to the Council of Massachusetts, directing rigorous and retaliatory measures to be adopted towards the prisoners, though in a few days the order was revoked, and they were directed to show ‘every indulgence and civility to the prisoners, so long as they demean themselves with decency and good manners. As they have committed no hostility against the people of this country, they have a just claim to mild treatment; and the General does not doubt that your conduct towards them will be such as to compel their grateful acknowledgment that Americans are as merciful as they are brave.’ ”—Reed, Life of Reed, i., 115.