Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. VIII (1779-1780)
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TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS. - 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).
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TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.
Head Quarters,West Point,
As the present campaign is advancing towards a conclusion, and the Counsels of the British Cabinet, so far as they have come to my knowledge, are far from recognising our Independence and pointing to an honorable peace, I have thought it might not be amiss for me to lay before Congress a state of the army (notwithstanding it is frequently transmitted to the Treasury Board, I believe by a return of the muster-Rolls, and to the War Office monthly in a more general view), as it is with Congress to decide on the expediency of making it more respectable, or of fixing its amount to any particular point. The return I have the honor to enclose, is an abstract taken from the muster-Rolls of the Troops of each State in Octor. (South Carolina & Georgia excepted), and contains a compleat view, not only of the whole strength of the forces of each, and of the Independent Corps, &c., at that time, but of the different periods for which they stood engaged. I conceived a return of this sort might be material, and accordingly directed it to be made, the better to enable Congress to govern their views and requisitions to the several States. They will perceive by this, that our whole force, including all sorts of Troops, noncommissioned officers and privates, Drummers and Fifers, supposing every man to have existed and to have been in service at that time, a point however totally inadmissible, amounted to 27,099. That of this number, comprehending 410 Invalids, 14,998 are stated as engaged for the War; that the remainder, by the expiration of Enlistments, will be decreased by the 31st of December 2,051; by the last of March 6,426; by the last of April (including the levies) 8,181; by the last of June 10,158; by the last of Septr. 10,709; and by different periods, I believe shortly after, 12,157.1
As I have observed, it cannot be supposed, that the whole of the Troops borne upon the muster-Rolls were either in service, or really in existence; for it will ever be found, for obvious reasons, that the amount of an army on Paper will greatly exceed its real strength. Hence there are other deductions than those enumerated above, and which must equally operate against the troops of every class; and I must farther beg leave to observe, that, besides these several deductions, there are of necessity very considerable and constant drafts of men from the regiments for artificers, armorers, matrosses, Wagoners, and the Quarter-Master’s Department, &c; so that we cannot estimate our operating force in the Field, with any propriety or justice, by any means as high as it may appear at first view on Paper. This point might be more fully illustrated by referring to the column of present fit for duty, in all general returns, and comparing it with the total amount. Nor is there any reason to expect, that these large and heavy drafts from the regiments will cease; but on the contrary it is much to be feared, from the increased and increasing difficulties in getting men, that they will be still greater.
Having shown what would be the ultimate and greatest possible amount of our force at the several periods above mentioned, according to the abstract of the muster-Rolls for October, supposing every man borne upon them to have been there and that they would remain in service, agreeable to the terms noted in the abstract, which however is by no means supposable, as already observed, I shall take the liberty, with all possible deference, to offer my sentiments on the only mode that appears to me competent, in the present situation of things, to placing and keeping our Battalions on a respectable footing, if Congress judge the measure essential; and I trust, in doing this, it will not be deemed that I have exceeded my duty. If it should, my apology must be that it proceeded from a desire to place the business of raising the Levies, we may have occasion to employ in future, on a more regular and certain system than has been adopted, or at least put in practice; and one by which the public will derive benefits from their service.
In the more early stages of the contest, when men might have been enlisted for the war, no man, as my whole conduct and the uniform tenor of my letters will evince, was ever more opposed to short enlistments than I was; and, while there remained a prospect of obtaining Recruits upon a permanent footing in the first instance, as far as duty and a regard to my station would permit, I urged my sentiments in favor of it. But the prospect of keeping up an army by voluntary enlistments being changed, or at least standing on too precarious and uncertain a footing to depend on for the exigency of our affairs, I took the liberty, in February, 1778, in a particular manner to lay before the Committee of Arrangement, then with the army at Valley Forge, a plan for an annual draft, as the surest and most certain, if not the only means left us, of maintaining the army on a proper and respectable ground. And, more and more confirmed in the propriety of this opinion by the intervention of a variety of circumstances unnecessary to detail, I again took the freedom of urging the plan to the Committee of conference in January last; and having reviewed it in every point of light and found it right, or at least the best that has occurred to me, I hope I shall be excused by Congress in offering it to them, and in time for carrying it into execution for the next year, if they should conceive it necessary for the States to compleat their quotas of troops.
The plan I would propose is, that each State be informed by Congress annually of the real deficiency of its Troops, and called upon to make it up, or such less specific number as Congress may think proper, by a draft; That the men drafted join the army by the 1st of January, and serve till the 1st of January in the succeeding year; That from the time the drafts join the army, the officers of the States from which they come, be authorized and directed to use their endeavors to enlist them for the war, under the bounties to the officers themselves and the recruits granted by the act of the 23d of January last, viz., Ten Dollars to the officers for each recruit, and two hundred to the recruits themselves; That all State, County, & Town bounties to drafts, if practicable, be entirely abolished, on account of the uneasiness and disorders they create among the soldiery, the desertions they produce, and for other reasons, which will readily occur; That, on or before the 1st of October annually, an abstract or return similar to the present one, be transmitted to Congress, to enable them to make their requisitions to each State with certainty and precision. This I would propose as a general plan to be pursued; and I am persuaded that this, or one nearly similar to it, will be found the best now in our power, as it will be attended with the least expense to the Public, will place the service on the footing of order and certainty, and will be the only one that can advance the general interest to any great extent. If the plan is established, besides placing the service on the footing of more order and certainty, than it will ever otherwise have, we shall, I should hope, by the exertions of the officers be able to increase the number of our Troops on permanent engagements for the war; especially if we should be so fortunate as to be in a condition to hold out to the drafts, that would engage, a certainty of their receiving the bounty Cloathing stipulated by the Public to be furnished to the Troops, and which is so essential to the interest of both. Cloathing is now become a superior temptation—and if we were in circumstances to hold it out, and the drafts were sure that they would obtain it, as they enlisted and that it would be regularly furnished as it became due—there are good grounds to believe from what has been experienced, and the reports of the Officers that many would readily engage for the War. From these considerations and as it is so highly essential to the advancement of the Public interest, both as we regard the issue of the contest—and œconomy in men and money,—I would hope, that every practicable measure will be pursued to get ample and compleat supplies of Cloathing. And I will take the liberty to add, that the diminution of the Army, by the expiration of the inlistments of a part of the Troops, according to the foregoing state, should not in my opinion, lessen the calculations and estimates of supplies, in any degree; but that they should be made under the idea of the whole of the Battalions being complete. When this is done, events may, and some probably will occur, by which the supplies, as they do not depend upon internal manufactures may be diminished—and scarcely any can arise which can make them burthensome on our hands. A want will and must from the nature of things, be attended with very injurious consequences at least—A full quantity with none at all, but with almost innumerable interesting benefits. Besides the prospect we should have of gaining Recruits for the War by having good supplies of Cloathing, which as already observed, is become a first inducement to service—We shall as has ever been the case be obliged to make some issues to the drafts—as well from principles of humanity—as to get their service. I have been thus long on the subject of ample supplies of Cloathing, as it is scarcely to be conceived the distresses and disadvantages—that flow from a deficiency. For instance nothing can be more injurious or discouraging, than our having only four thousand nine hundred Blankets to distribute to the whole Army—and so of many other articles in but little better proportion.
The advantages of a well-digested, general, and uniform system for levying and bringing them to the army at a particular time to serve to a fixed period are obvious. We may then form our plans of operation with some degree of certainty, and determine with more propriety and exactness on what we may or may not be able to do; and the periods for joining and serving, which I have taken the liberty to mention, appear to me the most proper for a variety of considerations. It being in January when it is proposed that the recruits shall join, and when the Enemy cannot operate, they will get seasoned and accustomed in some measure to a camp life, before the Campaign opens, and will have four or five months to acquire discipline and some knowledge of manœuvres without interruption; and their service being extended to the same time in the succeeding Year, the Public will have all the benefits that can be derived from their aid for a whole campaign. According to the plan on which the business has been conducted, the Public incurs a very heavy expense, on account of recruits (all that the one proposed is liable to), and scarcely receives any benefit from them. The Levies, that have been raised, have come to the army so irregularly, that the aid they were intended to give has never been received, or at least but to a very limited and partial extent; and the time, for which they were engaged, has been spent in gaining a seasoning to camp and discipline, when they ought to have been in the field; or they must have been sent there raw and untutored, (a circumstance, which may lead in some critical moment before an Enemy to most fatal consequences,) and the greater part of it has been spent in Winter Quarter. The abstract with its remarks will show Congress when the recruits for this campaign joined, and of what little importance their aid could have been, if the Enemy had not been prevented by the occurrence of a variety of distant events, as providential as they were fortunate for us, from pursuing the vigorous measures there was but too much reason to believe they would have otherwise been capable of, and on which it seemed they had determined. I am, Sir, &c.
P. S. From several parts of my letter Congress will conclude, that it must have been intended to have reached them before this. The fact was so the greater part of it having been drafted early in Septr.—but unfortunately from the dispersed situation of the Troops—I could not obtain the Abstract of the Muster Rolls, to shew their state, with any degree of precision, till within these four days.—
[1 ]The troops from the several States enlisted for different periods of time.