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General Washington' s orders to General Putnam



SIR: It was with no small degree of concern I perceived yesterday a scattering, unmeaning, and wasteful fire, from our people at the enemy; a kind of fire that tended to disgrace our own men as soldiers, and to render our defence contemptible in the eyes of the enemy. No one good consequence can attend such irregularities, but several bad ones will inevitably follow from it. Had it not been for this unsoldier-like and disorderly practice, we have the greatest reason imaginable to believe that numbers of deserters would have left the enemy' s Army last year; but fear prevented them from approaching our lines then, and must forever continue to operate in like manner whilst every soldier conceives himself at liberty to fire when and at what he pleases. This is not the only nor the greatest evil resulting from the practice: for, as we do not know the hour of the enemy' s approach to our lines, but have every reason to apprehend that it will be sudden and violent whenever attempted, we shall have our men so scattered, and, more than probable, without ammunition, that the consequences must prove fatal to us; besides this, there will be no possibility of distinguishing between a real and false alarm.

I must, therefore, sir, in earnest terms, desire you to call the Colonels and Commanding Officers of corps, without loss of time, before you, and let them afterwards do the same by their respective officers; and charge them, in express and positive terms, to stop these irregularities, as they value the good of the service, their own honour, and the safety of the Army, which, under God, depends wholly upon the good order and government that is observed in it.

At the same time I would have you form a proper line of defence round your encampment and works, on the most advantageous ground. Your guards which compose this, are to be particularly instructed in their duty; and a Brigadier of the day to remain constantly upon the lines, that he may be upon the spot to command, and see that orders are executed. Field-Officers should also be appointed to go the rounds and report the situation of the guards. No person to be allowed to pass beyond the guards without special order in writing.

By restraining the loose, disorderly, and unsoldier-like firing before mentioned, I do not mean to discourage partisan and scouting parties; on the contrary, I wish to see a spirit of this sort prevailing, under proper regulations, and officers, either commissioned or non-commissioned, (as cases shall require,) to be directed by yourself, or licensed by the Brigadier of the day, upon the spot, to be sent upon this service. Such skirmishing as may be effected in this manner will be agreeable to the rules of propriety, and may be attended with salutary effects, inasmuch as it will inure the troops to fatigue and danger; will harass the enemy; may make prisoners, and prevent their parties from getting the horses and cattle from the interior parts of the Island, which are objects of infinite importance to us, especially the two last.

All the men not upon duty are to be compelled to remain


in or near their respective camps or quarters, that they may turn out at a moment' s warning, nothing being more probable than that the enemy will allow little enough time to prepare for the attack.

The officers also are to exert themselves to the utmost to prevent every kind of abuse to private property, or to bring every offender to the punishment he deserves. Shameful it is to find that those men who have come hither in defence of the rights of mankind, should turn invaders of it, by destroying the substance of their friends.

The burning of houses, where the apparent good of the service is not promoted by it, and the pillaging of them, at all times and upon all occasions, is to be discountenanced, and punished with the utmost severity. In short, it is to be hoped that men who have property of their own, and a regard for the rights of others, will shudder at the thought of rendering any man' s situation, to whose protection he had come, more insufferable than his open and avowed enemy would make it, when, by duty and every rule of humanity, they ought to aid, and not oppress, the distressed in their habitations.

The distinction between a well-regulated army and a mob, is the good order and discipline of the first, and the licentious and disorderly behaviour of the latter. Men, therefore, who are not employed as mere hirelings, but have stepped forth in defence of everything that is dear and valuable, not only to themselves but to posterity, should take uncommon pains to conduct themselves with uncommon propriety and good order, as their honour, reputation, &c˙, call loudly upon them for it.

The wood next Red Hook should be well attended to. Put some of the most disorderly riflemen into it. The Militia, or the most indifferent troops, (those I mean least tutored and seen least service,) will do for the interior works; whilst your best men should at all hazards prevent the enemy' s passing the wood and approaching your works. The woods should be secured by abatis, &c˙, where necessary, to make the enemy' s approach as difficult as possible. Traps and ambuscades should be laid for their parties, if you find they are sent out after cattle, &c.

Given under my hand, at Head Quarters, this 25th day of August, 1776.