Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. V (1776-1777)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. V (1776-1777) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. V (1776-1777).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.
Camp, above Trenton Falls,
I have waited with much impatience to know the determination of Congress on the propositions, made some time in October last, for augmenting our corps of artillery,2 and establishing a corps of engineers. The time is now come, when the first cannot be delayed without the greatest injury to the safety of these States; and, therefore, under the resolution of Congress bearing date the 12th instant, at the repeated instance of Colonel Knox, and by the pressing advice of all the general officers now here, I have ventured to order three battalions of artillery to be immediately recruited. These are two less than Colonel Knox recommends, as you will see by his plan enclosed; but then this scheme comprehends all the United States, whereas some of the States have corps already established, and these three battalions are indispensably necessary for the operations in this quarter, including the northern department.
The pay of our artillerists bearing no proportion to that in the English and French service, the murmuring and dissatisfaction thereby occasioned, the absolute impossibility, as I am told, of getting them upon the old terms, and the unavoidable necessity of obtaining them at all events, have induced me, also by advice, to promise officers and men, that their pay shall be augmented twenty-five per cent, or that their engagements shall become null and void. This may appear to Congress premature and unwarrantable. But, Sir, if they view our situation in the light it strikes their officers, they will be convinced of the utility of the measure, and that the execution could not be delayed till after their meeting at Baltimore. In short, the present exigency of our affairs will not admit of delay, either in council or the field; for well convinced I am, that, if the enemy go into quarters at all, it will be for a short season. But I rather think the design of General Howe is to possess himself of Philadelphia this winter, if possible; and in truth I do not see what is to prevent him, as ten days more will put an end to the existence of our army. That one great point is to keep us as much harassed as possible, with a view to injure the recruiting service and hinder a collection of stores and other necessaries for the next campaign, I am as clear in, as I am of my existence. If, therefore, we have to provide in the short interval and make these great and arduous preparations, every matter that in its nature is self-evident is to be referred to Congress, at the distance of a hundred and thirty or forty miles, so much time must necessary elapse, as to defeat the end in view.
In may be said, that this is an application for powers that are too dangerous to be entrusted. I can only add, that desperate diseases require desperate remedies; and I with truth declare, that I have no lust after power, but I wish with as much fervency as any man upon this wide-extended continent for an opportunity of turning the sword into the ploughshare. But my feelings, as an officer and a man, have been such as to force me to say, that no person ever had a greater choice of difficulties to contend with than I have. It is needless to add, that short enlistments, and a mistaken dependence upon militia, have been the origin of all our misfortunes, and the great accumulation of our debt. We find, Sir, that the enemy are daily gathering strength from the disaffected. This strength, like a snow-ball by rolling, will increase, unless some means can be devised to check effectually the progress of the enemy’s arms. Militia may possibly do it for a little while; but in a little while, also, and the militia of those States, which have been frequently called upon, will not turn out at all; or, if they do, it will be with so much reluctance and sloth, as to amount to the same thing. Instance New Jersey! Witness Pennsylvania! Could any thing but the river Delaware have saved Philadelphia? Can any thing (the exigency of the case indeed may justify it) be more destructive to the recruiting service, than giving ten dollars’ bounty for six weeks’ service of the militia, who come in, you cannot tell how, go, you cannot tell when, and act, you cannot tell where, consume your provisions, exhaust your stores, and leave you at last at a critical moment?
These, Sir, are the men I am to depend upon, ten days hence; this is the basis, on which your cause will and must for ever depend, till you get a large standing army sufficient of itself to oppose the enemy. I therefore beg leave to give it as my humble opinion, that eighty-eight battalions are by no means equal to the opposition you are to make, and that a moment’s time is not to be lost in raising a greater number, not less, in my opinion and the opinion of my officers, than a hundred and ten. It may be urged that it will be found difficult enough to complete the first number. This may be true, and yet the officers of a hundred and ten battalions will recruit many more men, than those of eighty-eight. In my judgment this is not a time to stand upon expense; our funds are not the only object of consideration. The State of New York have added one battalion (I wish they had made it two) to their quota. If any good officers will offer to raise men upon Continental pay and establishment in this quarter, I shall encourage them to do so, and regiment them when they have done it. If Congress disapprove of this proceeding, they will please to signify it, as I mean it for the best. It may be thought that I am going a good deal out of the line of my duty, to adopt these measures, or to advise thus freely. A character to lose, an estate to forfeit, the inestimable blessing of liberty at stake, and a life devoted, must be my excuse.
I have heard nothing of the light-horse from Virginia, nor of the regiment from the Eastern Shore.1 I wish to know what troops are to act in the different departments, and to have those from the southward, designed for this place, ordered on as fast as they shall be raised. The route should be pointed out by which they are to march; assistant commissaries and quartermasters stationed upon the communication, to supply their wants; the first or second officer of each battalion should forward them, and the other should come on, receive, and form them at their place of destination. Unless this is immediately set about, the campaign, if it should be closed, will be opened in the spring before we have any men in the field. Every exertion should be used to procure tents; a clothier-general should be appointed without loss of time for supplying the army with every article in that way; he should be a man of business and abilities. A commissary of prisoners must be appointed to attend the army; for want of an officer of this kind, the exchange of prisoners has been conducted in a most shameful and injurious manner. We have had them from all quarters pushed into our camps at the most critical junctures, and without the least previous notice. We have had them travelling through the different States in all directions by certificates from committees, without any kind of control; and have had instances of some going into the enemy’s camp without my privity or knowledge, after passing in the manner before mentioned. There may be other officers necessary, whom I do not recollect at this time, and who, when thought of, must be provided; for this, Sir, you may rely on, that the commanding officer, under the present establishment, is obliged to attend to the business of so many different departments, as to render it impossible to conduct that of his own with the attention necessary; than which nothing can be more injurious.
In a former letter, I intimated my opinion of the necessity of having a brigadier for every three regiments, and a major-general to every three brigades, at most. I think no time is to be lost in making the appointments, that the arrangements may be consequent. This will not only aid the recruiting service, but will be the readiest means of forming and disciplining the army afterwards, which, in the short time we have to do it, is of amazing consequence. I have labored, ever since I have been in the service, to discourage all kinds of local attachments and distinctions of country, denominating the whole by the greater name of American, but I have found it impossible to overcome prejudices; and, under the new establishment, I conceive it best to stir up an emulation; in order to do which, would it not be better for each State to furnish, though not to appoint, their own brigadiers? This, if known to be part of the establishment, might prevent a good deal of contention and jealousy; and would, I believe, be the means of promotions going forward with more satisfaction, and quiet the higher officers.
Whilst I am speaking of promotions, I cannot help giving it as my opinion, that, if Congress think proper to confirm what I have done with respect to the corps of artillery, Colonel Knox, at present at the head of that department (but who, without promotion, will resign), ought to be appointed to the command of it, with the rank and pay of brigadier. I have also to mention, that, for want of some establishment in the department of engineers agreeably to the plan laid before Congress in October last, Colonel Putnam, who was at head of it, has quitted, and taken a regiment in the State of Massachusetts. I know of no other man tolerably well qualified for the conducting of that business. None of the French gentlemen, whom I have seen with appointments in that way, appear to me to know any thing of the matter. There is one in Philadelphia, who, I am told, is clever; but him I have never seen. I must also once more beg leave to mention to Congress the expediency of letting promotions be in a regimental line. The want of this has already driven some of the best officers, that were in your army, out of the service. From repeated and strict inquiry I am convinced, that you can adopt no mode of promotion that will be better received, or that will give more general satisfaction. I wish therefore to have it announced.
The casting of cannon is a matter, that ought not to be one moment delayed; and, therefore, I shall send Colonel Knox to put this in train, as also to have travelling-carriages and shot provided, and laboratories established, one in Hartford, and another in York. Magazines of provisions should also be laid in. These I shall fix with the commissary. As our great loss last year proceeded from a want of teams, I shall direct the quartermaster-general to furnish a certain number to each regiment to answer the common purposes thereof, that the army may be enabled to remove from place to place differently from what we have done, or could do, this campaign. Ammunition-carts, and proper carts for intrenching tools, should also be provided, and I shall direct about them accordingly. Above all, a store of small arms should be provided, or men will be of little use. The consumption and waste of these, this year, have been great. Militia and Flying-Camp men coming in without them were obliged to be furnished, or become useless. Many of these threw their arms away; some lost them, whilst others deserted, and took them away. In a word, although I used every precaution to preserve them, the loss has been great; and this will for ever be the case, in such a mixed and irregular army as ours has been.
If no part of the troops already embarked at New York has appeared in Virginia, their destination doubtless must be to some other quarter; and that State must, I should think, be freed from any invasion, if General Howe can be effectually opposed in this. I therefore enclose a memorandum, given me by Brigadier Stephen of Virginia, which Congress will please to adopt in the whole, in part, or reject, as may be consistent with their plans and intelligence.
That division of the army, lately under the command of General Lee, now of General Sullivan, is just upon the point of joining us. A strange kind of fatality has attended it. They had orders on the 17th of November to join, now more than a month. General Gates, with four eastern regiments, is also near at hand; three others from those States were coming on, by his order, by the way of Peekskill, and had joined General Heath, whom I had ordered on with Parsons’s brigade, to join me, leaving Clinton’s brigade and some militia, that were at Forts Montgomery and Constitution, to guard these important passes of the Highlands. But the Convention of the State of New York seemed to be much alarmed at Heath’s coming away, a fleet appearing off New London, and some part of the enemy’s troops retiring towards Brunswic, induced me to countermand the order for the march of Parsons’s brigade, and to direct the three regiments from Ticonderoga to halt at Morristown in New Jersey (where I understand about eight hundred militia had collected), in order to inspirit the inhabitants, and, as far as possible, to cover that part of the country. I shall send General Maxwell this day to take the command of them, and, if to be done, to harass and annoy the enemy in their quarters, and cut off their convoys. The care and vigilance, which were used in securing the boats on this river, have hitherto baffled every attempt of the enemy to cross; but, from concurring reports and appearances, they are waiting for ice to afford them a passage.
Since writing the foregoing I have received a letter from Governor Cooke of Rhode Island, of which the enclosed is a copy.1 Previous to this, and immediately upon the first intelligence obtained of a fleet’s going through the Sound, I despatched orders to Generals Spencer and Arnold to proceed without delay to the eastward. The first I presume is gone. The latter, not getting my letter till he came to a place called Easton, was, by advice of General Gates, who also met my letter at the same place, induced to come on hither before he proceeded to the eastward. Most of our brigadiers are laid up. Not one has come on with the division under General Sullivan, but they are left sick at different places on the road.
By accounts from the eastward, a large body of men had assembled in Rhode Island from the States of Massachusetts and Connecticut. I presume, but I have no advice of it, that the militia ordered from the first to rendezvous at Danbury, six thousand in number, under the command of Major-General Lincoln, for supplying the place of the disbanded men of that State in the Continental army, will now be ordered to Rhode Island. In speaking of General Lincoln, I should not do him justice, were I not to add, that he is a gentleman well worthy of notice in the military line. He commanded the militia from Massachusetts last summer, or fall rather, and much to my satisfaction, having proved himself on all occasions an active, spirited, sensible man. I do not know whether it is his wish to remain in the military line, or whether, if he should, any thing under the rank he now holds in the State he comes from would satisfy him. How far an appointment of this kind might offend the Continental brigadiers, I cannot undertake to say; many there are, over whom he ought not to be placed; but I know of no way to discriminate. Brigadier Reed of New Hampshire does not, I presume, mean to continue in the service; he ought not, as I am told, by the severity of the smallpox, he is become both blind and deaf. I have the honor to be, &c.
P. S. Generals Gates and Sullivan have this instant come in. By them I learn, that few or no men are recruited out of the regiments coming on with them, and that there is very little reason to expect, that these regiments will be prevailed upon to continue after their term of service expires. If militia then do not come in, the consequences are but too evident.1
[2 ]Vol. IV., 476.
[1 ]The eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay.
[1 ]Governor Cooke wrote on the 8th that 78 British ships of war and transports had entered the harbor of Newport on the 7th; that Rhode Island had been evacuated with the loss of about 20 heavy cannon; that eight thousand of the enemy had landed and were marching upon Newport, Howland’s and Bristol Ferry. Washington replied that he could not afford any assistance, and believed that the enemy would confine themselves to the island.
[1 ]Read in Congress December 26th.