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Letter from General Washington to the President of Congress



[Read May 14, 1776. Referred to Mr˙ Livingston, Mr˙ Jefferson, and Mr˙ J˙ Adams.]

New-York, May 11, 1776.

SIR: I am now to acknowledge the receipt of your favours of the 4th and 7th instant, with their several enclosures, and am exceedingly glad that, before the resolution respecting Lieutenant-Colonel Ogden came to hand, I had ordered him to join his regiment, and had quelled a disagreeable spirit, both of mutiny and desertion, which had taken place, and seemed to be rising to a great degree in consequence of it. In order to effect it, I had the regiment paraded, and ordering two more at the same time under arms, convinced them of their error and ill-conduct, and obtained a promise for their good behaviour in future; to such of them as had absconded I gave pardons, on their assurances to return to their duty again.

In my letter of the 5th instant, which I had the honour of addressing you, I mentioned to Congress the refractory and mutinous conduct of Lieutenant Grover, of the Second Regiment, and laid before them a copy of the proceedings of a Court-Martial upon him, and of his defence, with a view that such measures might be adopted as they should think adequate to his crime. I would now beg leave to inform them that since then he has appeared sensible of his misconduct, and having made a written acknowledgment of his offence, and begged pardon for it, (as by the enclosed copy will appear,
) I thought it best to release him from his confinement, and have ordered him to join his regiment, which I hope will meet their approbation, and render any determination as to him unnecessary; observing, at the same time, that I have endeavoured, and I flatter myself not ineffectually, to support their authority and a due subordination in the Army. I have found it of importance and highly expedient to yield many points in fact, without seeming to have done it, and this to avoid bringing on a too frequent discussion of matters which, in a political view, ought to be kept a little behind the curtain, and not be made too much the subjects of disquisition. Time only can eradicate and overcome customs and prejudices of long standing; they must be got the better of by slow and gradual advances.

I would here take occasion to suggest to Congress (not wishing or meaning of myself to assume the smallest degree of power in any instance) the propriety and necessity of having their sentiments respecting the filling up of vacancies, and issuing commissions to officers, especially to those under the rank of field officers. Had I literally complied with the directions given upon this subject when I first engaged in the service, and which I conceived to be superseded by a subsequent resolve for forming the Army upon the present establishment, I must have employed one clerk for no other business than issuing warrants of appointment, and giving information to Congress for their confirmation or refusal. It being evident, from the necessity of the thing, that there will be frequent changes and vacancies in office, from death and a variety of other causes, I now submit it to them, and pray their direction, whether I am to pursue that mode, and all the ceremonies attending it, or to be at liberty to fill up and grant commissions at once to such as may be fit and proper persons to succeed.

When I came from Cambridge, I left instructions with Colonel Knox, of the Artillery Regiment, for the regulation of his conduct; and among other things, directed him immediately to send forward to this place Lieutenant-Colonel Burbeck, who, notwithstanding he received orders for that purpose, has refused to come, considering himself, as he says in his answer to Colonel Knox, (copies of which I have enclosed,) bound, in point of generosity, to stay in the service of the Province; though I am told by Colonel Knox that some of the members of the General Court, on hearing


of the matter, informed him that they did not consider him as engaged to them, and that he had no just pretext (or his refusal. I thought it right to lay this matter before Congress, and submit it to them, whether Colonel Burbeck, who will or will not serve the Continent, or go to this or that place, as it may suit his convenience and square with his pretended notions of generosity, should be longer continued in office.

Before I have done, with the utmost deference and respect I would beg leave to remind Congress of my former letters and applications respecting the appointment of proper persons to superintend and take direction of such prisoners as have already fallen and will fall into our hands in the course of the war, being fully convinced that if there were persons appointed for, and who would take the whole management of them under their care, that the Continent would save a considerable sum of money by it, and the prisoners be better treated and provided with real necessaries than what they now are; and shall take the liberty to add, that it appears to me a matter of much importance, and worthy of consideration, that particular and proper places of security should be fixed on and established, in the interior parts of the different Governments, for their reception. Such establishments are agreeable to the practice and usage of the English and other nations, and are founded on principles of necessity and publick utility. The advantages which will arise from them are obvious and many. I shall only mention two or three: they will tend much to prevent escapes, which are difficult to effect when the publick is once advertised that the prisoners are restrained to a few stated and well-known places, and not permitted to go from thence; and the more ingenious among them from disseminating and spreading their artful and pernicious intrigues and opinions throughout the country, which would influence the weaker and wavering part of mankind, and meet with but too favourable a hearing; further, it will be less in their power to join and assist our enemies in cases of invasion, and will give us an opportunity always to know, from the returns of those appointed to superintend them, what number we have in possession, the force sufficient to check and suppress their hostile views in times of emergency, and the expenses necessary for their maintenance and support. Many other reasons might be adduced to prove the necessity and expediency of the measure. I shall only subjoin one more, and then have done on the subject; which is, that many of the towns where prisoners have been already sent, not having convenience for, or the means of keeping them, complain they are burdensome, and have become careless, inattentive, and altogether indifferent whether they escape or not; and those of them that are restricted to a closer confinement, (the limits of jail,) neglected, and not treated with that care and regard which Congress wish.

I have not received further intelligence of the German troops since my letter of the 7th instant, covering Mr˙ Gushing' s despatches; but lest the account of their coming should be true, may it not be advisable and good policy to raise some companies of our Germans to send among them when they arrive, for exciting a spirit of disaffection and desertion? If a few sensible trusty fellows could get with them, I should think they would have great weight and influence with the common soldiery, who certainly have no enmity towards us, having received no injury nor cause of quarrel from us. The measure having occurred, and appearing to me expedient, I thought it prudent to mention it for the consideration of Congress.

Having received a letter from General Ward, advising that Congress have accepted his resignation, and praying to be relieved, and it being necessary that a General officer should be sent to take the command of the troops at Boston, especially if the Army should arrive which is talked of, and which some consider as a probable event, I must beg leave to recommend to Congress the appointment of some Brigadier-Generals, not having more here, nor so many at this time, than are essential to the government and conducting the forces and works that are carrying on. Generals Sullivan and Thompson being ordered to Canada, I cannot spare one more General officer from hence without injuring the service greatly, and leaving the Army here without a sufficient number.

Having frequent applications from the Committee of Safety and others, about an exchange of prisoners, and not


having authority to pursue any mode in this instance than that marked out by a resolve of Congress some considerable time ago, I hope they will pardon me when I wish them to take under consideration such parts of my letter of the 22d ultimo as relates to this subject, and for their determination upon it. I shall then have it in my power to give explicit and satisfactory answers to those who shall apply.

I am, sir, with sentiments of the greatest esteem and regard, your most obedient servant,


To the President of Congress.