Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO MAJOR-GENERAL GREENE. 1 - The Writings of George Washington, vol. VIII (1779-1780)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
TO MAJOR-GENERAL GREENE. 1 - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. VIII (1779-1780) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. VIII (1779-1780).
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 MAJOR-GENERAL GREENE.1
West-point, 3 September, 1779.
I have received your letter, of the 29th Ulto. accompanied by those from the General Officers, and have carefully considered their respective contents. The subject is of such a nature, that I should have thought it advisable not to have brought it to a formal investigation; but, since it has been done, I shall give you my opinion now with candor and explicitness.
When you accepted The QuarterMaster-General’s department, and made a reservation of your rank, I considered it as intended to prevent the operation of a certain resolve of Congress, “declaring that no Continental officer should hold more than one commission at a time,” and to obviate any future doubt of your right to resume your proper station in the line, on the resignation of this office. It was not in my opinion understood, that you were to retain an actual permanent command, a proof of which is, that you immediately relinquished your division, and have continued out of command ever since, except upon two occasions of an extraordinary nature and by special appointment. My idea was, that you were to stand precisely upon the same footing, in proportion to your rank, with Quarter-Master-Generals in other services, who, from the best information I have been able to obtain, do not usually exercise a regular lineal command, but are eligible by the officer at the head of the army to occasional commands, either on detachment or in the line, when, in his opinion, it is for the good of the service to employ them in this manner, and it does not interfere with the duties of the department, or with the particular and proper command of other officers. Upon this principle you were appointed to the right wing in the affair of Monmouth, and were sent to take a command under General Sullivan, and both, as far as I have ever heard, were agreeable to the general sense of the army. To attempt a more precise definition of the cases, in which you may be invested with actual command, might only lead to misapprehension, discontent on one side or another, embarrassing discussions, and perhaps confusion.
The military reason, which prevents a Quarter-Master-General from exercising command in ordinary cases, I take to be this, that, whatever may be the fact, the presumption is, that both in action and out of action he has, generally speaking, sufficient employment in the duties of his office, and circumstances alone can decide when these are compatible with actual command.
The good opinion I have of your abilities and qualifications will make me take pleasure to give you opportunities of rendering service and acquiring military honor in the field, as often as it can be done consistently with propriety, the good of the service, and the reasonable pretensions of other officers. The experience you have already had may satisfy you of my disposition. You have participated in the only two transactions of importance, which have happened since your appointment, in which the whole or a considerable portion of the army has been concerned; but I could not undertake to draw any line, which should determine the particular instances.
You ask several questions respecting your conduct in your present department, your manner of entering it, and the services you have rendered. I remember that the proposal for your appointment originated with the Committee of arrangement, and was first suggested to me by them; that, in the conversations I had with you upon the subject, you appeared reluctantly to undertake the office, and, in one of them, offered to discharge the military duties of it without compensation for the space of a year; and I verily believe that a regard to the service, not pecuniary emolument, was the prevailing motive to your acceptance. In my opinion, you have executed the trust with ability and fidelity.
The services you have rendered the army have been important, and such as have gained my entire approbation, which I have not failed to express on more than one occasion to Congress, in strong and explicit terms. The sense of the army on this head, I believe, concurs with mine. I think it not more than justice to you to say, that I am persuaded you have uniformly exerted yourself to second my measures and our operations in general, in the most effectual manner, which the public resources and the circumstances of the times would permit.
But with the fullest allowance for your services, on the most liberal scale of compensation, I cannot but think the construction I have given to your pretensions to command is just and ample. Your own feelings must determine whether it is satisfactory. It corresponds with my sentiments of military propriety, and is, I believe, analogous to the customary practice of armies, which is the best standard in all cases of this kind, so far as it does not contravene any positive constitution. I think, too, it is most agreeable to the sense of a majority of the general officers, whom you have consulted. If it differs from your own, I shall regret what it is not in my power to avoid. I am with great esteem and regard, &c.
[1 ]General Greene had now served as quartermaster-general for more than a year. He had accepted the appointment reluctantly, but had executed its duties with great zeal and ability, encountering obstacles, of no ordinary kind, and rendering services of the utmost importance to the army. He had been in Philadelphia in April, endeavoring to effect some arrangements, with the concurrence of Congress, in relation to the business of his department. He found Congress so dilatory, and apparently so little inclined to second his views and his efforts, that he became weary and disgusted. “I am more and more convinced,” he wrote to General Washington, “that there are measures taken to render the quartermaster’s department odious in the eyes of the people; and, if I have not some satisfaction from the committee of Congress respecting the matter, I shall beg leave to quit the department. I think I shall leave it upon as good a footing as it is possible to put it, under the present difficulties. I am informed General Lincoln’s leg is likely to render him incapable of holding his command at the southward. Should that be, and I leave the department I am now in, I should be happy to obtain it.”—April 22d. General Lincoln had just applied to Congress for permission to retire from the southern command, on account of the unfavorable state of his wound.