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Letter from General Washington to the President of Congress



[Read August 8, 1776.]

New York, August 7, 1776.

SIR: In my letter of the 5th, which I had the honour of addressing you, I begged leave to recall the attention of Congress to the absolute necessity there is for appointing more General Officers, promising, at the same time, by the first opportunity, to give my sentiments more at large upon the subject.

Confident I am that the postponing this measure has not proceeded from motives of frugality, otherwise I should take the liberty of attempting to prove that we put too much to the hazard by such a saving. I am but too well apprized of the difficulties that occur in the choice. They are, I acknowledge, great; but at the same time it must be allowed that they are of such a nature as to present themselves whenever the subject is thought of. Time, on the one hand, does not remove them; on the other, delays may be productive of fatal consequences.

This Army, though far short as yet of the numbers intended by Congress, is by much too unwieldy for the command of any one man, without several Major-Generals to assist. For it is to be observed, that a Brigadier-General at the head of his brigade is no more than a Colonel at the head of a regiment, except that he acts upon a larger scale. Officers of more general command are at all times wanted for the good order and government of an army, especially


when the army is composed chiefly of raw troops; but in an action, they are indispensably necessary. At present there is but one Major-General for this whole department and the Flying Camp; whereas, at this place alone, less than three cannot discharge the duties with that regularity there ought to be.

If these Major-Generals are appointed, as undoubtedly they will, out of the present Brigadiers, you will want for this place three Brigadiers at least. The Northern Department will require one, if not two, (as General Thompson is a prisoner, and the Baron Woedtke reported to be dead, or in a state not much better,) there being at present only one Brigadier (Arnold) in all that department. For the Eastern Governments there ought to be one, or a Major-General, to superintend the regiments there, and to prevent impositions that might otherwise be practised. These make the number wanted to be six or seven; and who are to be appointed, Congress can best judge. To make Brigadiers of the oldest Colonels would be the least exceptionable way; but it is much to be questioned whether by that mode the ablest men would be appointed to office. And I would observe, though the rank of the Colonels of the Eastern Governments was settled at Cambridge last year, it only respected themselves, and is still open as to officers of other Governments. To pick a Colonel here and a Colonel there through the Army, according to the opinion entertained of their abilities, would no doubt be the means of making a better choice, and nominating the fittest persons; but then their senior officers would get disgusted, and more than probable, with their connexions, quit the service. That might prove fatal at this time.

To appoint gentlemen as Brigadiers that had not served in the Army, (in this part of it at least,) would not wound any one in particular, but hurt the whole equally, and must be considered in a very discouraging light to every officer of merit. View the matter, therefore, in any point of light, you will see there are inconveniences on the one hand, and difficulties on the other, which ought to be avoided. Would they be remedied by appointing the oldest Colonels from each State? If this mode should be thought expedient, the enclosed list gives the names of the Colonels from New Hampshire to Pennsylvania inclusive, specifying those who rank first, as I am told, in the several Colony lists.

I have transmitted a copy of a letter from Mr˙ John Glover, setting forth the nature and grounds of a dispute between him and a Mr˙ Bradford, respecting their agency. Not conceiving myself authorized, nor having the smallest inclination, to interfere in any degree in the matter, it is referred to Congress, who will determine, and give direction upon it in such manner as they shall judge best. I will only observe, that Mr˙ Glover was recommended to me as a proper person for an Agent when we first fitted out armed vessels, and was accordingly appointed one, and, so far as I know, discharged his office with fidelity and industry.

I received, yesterday evening, a letter from General Schuyler, containing Lieutenant McMichael' s report, who had been sent a scout to Oswego. A copy of the report I have enclosed for the information of Congress, lest General Schuyler should have omitted it in his letter which accompanies this. He was at the German Flats when he wrote, which was the 2d instant, and the treaty with the Indians not begun, nor had the whole expected then arrived; but of these things he will have advised you more fully, I make no doubt.

The Paymaster informs me he received a supply of money yesterday. It came very seasonably, for the application and clamours of the troops had become incessant and distressing beyond measure. There is now two months' pay due them.

I have the honour to be, with great esteem, your most obedient servant,

To the Hon˙ John Hancock, &c.