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General Washington to the President of Congress



[Read 26th.]

Camp above Trenton Falls, December 20th, 1776.

SIR: I have waited with much impatience to know the determinations of Congress on the propositions made some time in October last, for augmenting our corps of Artillery and establishing a corps of Engineers. The time is now come when the first cannot be delayed without the greatest injury to the safety of these States, and therefore, under the resolution of Congress, bearing date the 12th instant, at the repeated instance of Colonel Knox, and by the pressing advice of all the General Officers now here, I have ventured to order three battalions of Artillery to be immediately recruited. These are two less than Colonel Knox recommends, as you will see by his plan enclosed ; but then this scheme comprehends all the United States, whereas some of the States have a corps already established, and these three battalions are indispensably necessary for the operations in this quarter, including the Northern Department.

The pay of our Artillerists bearing no proportion with that in the English or French service, the murmurings and dissatisfaction thereby occasioned, and the absolute impossibility, as I am told, of getting them upon the old terms, and the unavoidable necessity of obtaining them at all events, have induced me (also by advice) to promise officers and men that their pay should be augmented twenty-five per cent., or that their engagements shall become null and void. This may appear to Congress premature and unwarrantable; but, sir, if they view our situation in the light it strikes their officers, they will be convinced of the utility of the measure, and that the execution could not be delayed till after their meeting at Baltimore. In short, the present exigency of our affairs will not admit of delay, either in council or the field; for well convinced I am, that if the enemy go into quarters at all, it will be for a short season; but I rather think the design of General Howe is to possess himself of Philadelphia this winter if possible, and in truth, I do not see what is to prevent him, as ten days more will put an end to the existence of our Army. That one great point is to keep us as much harassed as possible, with a view to injure


the recruiting service, and hinder a collection of stores and other necessaries for the next campaign, I am as clear in as I am of my existence. If, therefore, we have to provide in this short interval, and make these great and arduous preparations, every matter that in its nature is self-evident is to be referred to Congress, at the distance of one hundred and thirty or forty miles, so much time must necessarily elapse as to defeat the end in view.

It may be said that this is an application for powers that are too dangerous to be entrusted. I can only add, that desperate diseases require desperate remedies; and with truth declare, that I have no lust after power, but wish with as much fervency as any man upon this wide-extended Continent for an opportunity of turning the sword into a ploughshare; but my feelings as an officer and a man have been such as to force me to say, that no person ever had a greater choice of difficulties to contend with than I have. It is needless to add, that short inlistments, and a mistaken dependence upon Militia, have been the origin of all our misfortunes, and the great accumulation of our debt.

We find, sir, that the enemy are daily gathering strength from the disaffected. This strength, like a snow-ball by rolling, will increase, unless some means can be devised to check effectually the progress of the enemy' s arms. Militia may possibly do it for a little while; but in a little while also, the Militia of those States which have been frequently called upon, will not turn out at all; or if they do, it will be with so much reluctance and sloth as to amount to the same thing. Instance New-Jersey; witness Pennsylvania. Could any thing but the river Delaware have saved Philadelphia? Can any thing (the exigency of the case, indeed, may justify it) be more destructive to the recruiting service than giving ten dollars bounty for six weeks' service of the Militia, who come in, you cannot tell how, go, you cannot tell when, and act, you cannot tell where, consume your provisions, exhaust your stores, and leave you at last at a critical moment?

These, sir, are the men I am to depend upon ten days hence; this is the basis on which your cause will and must forever depend, till you get a large standing army sufficient of itself to oppose the enemy. I therefore beg leave to give it as my humble opinion, the eighty-eight battalions are by no means equal to the opposition you are to make, and that a moment' s time is not to be lost in raising a greater number, not less, in my opinion, and the opinion of my officers, than one hundred and ten. It may be urged, that it will be found difficult enough to complete the first number. This may be true, and yet the officers of one hundred and ten battalions will recruit many more men than those of eighty-eight. In my judgment, this is not a time to stand upon expense; our funds are [not] the only objects of consideration. The State of New-York have added one (I wish they had made it two) battalions to their quota. If any good officers offer to raise men upon Continental pay and establishment in this quarter, I shall encourage them to do so, and regiment them when they have done it. If Congress disapprove of the proceeding, they will please to signify it, as I mean it for the best.

It may be thought I am going a good deal out of the line of my duty to adopt these measures, or to advise thus freely. A character to lose, an estate to forfeit, the inestimable blessing of liberty at stake, and a life devoted, must be my excuse.

I have heard nothing of the Light-Horse from Virginia, nor the regiment from the Eastern Shore. I wish to know what troops are to act in the different departments, and to have those from the southward designed for this place ordered on as fast as they shall be raised. The route should be pointed out by which they are to march; assistant Commissaries and Quartermasters upon the communication to supply their wants; the first or second officer of each battalion to forward them, and the other to come on, receive, and form them at their place of destination. Unless this is immediately set about, the campaign, if it should be closed, will be opened in the spring, before we have any men in the field. Every exertion should be used to procure tents. A Clothier-General should be appointed without loss of time for supplying the Army with every article in that way; he should be a man of business and abilities. A Commissary of Prisoners must be appointed to attend the Army; for want of an officer of this kind, the exchange of prisoners has


been conducted in a most shameful and injurious manner. We have had them from all quarters pushed into our camps at the most critical junctures, and without the least previous notice. We have had them traveling through the different States, in all directions, by certificates from Committees, without any kind of control; and have had instances of some going into the enemy' s camp without my privity or knowledge, after passing in the manner before mentioned. There may be other officers necessary, which I don' t recollect at this time, and which, when thought of, must be provided; for this, sir, you may rely on, that the commanding officer, under the present establishment, is obliged to attend to the business of so many different departments, as to render it impossible to conduct that of his own with the attention necessary; than which nothing can be more injurious.

In a former letter I intimated my opinion of the necessity of having a Brigadier for every three regiments, and a Major-General to every three brigades, at most. I think no time is to be lost in making the appointments, that the arrangements may be consequent. This will not only aid the recruiting service, but will be the readiest means of forming and disciplining the Army afterwards, which in the short time we have to do it is of amazing consequence. I have laboured, ever since I have been in the service, to discourage all kinds of local attachments and distinctions of country, denominating the whole by the greater name of American; but I found it impossible to overcome prejudices; and under the new establishment, I conceive it best to stir up an emulation; in order to do which, would it not be better for each State to furnish, though not to appoint, their own Brigadiers? This, if known to be part of the establishment, might prevent a good deal of contention and jealousy; and would, I believe, be the means of promotions going forward with more satisfaction, and quiet the higher officers.

Whilst I am speaking of promotions, I cannot help giving it as my opinion, that, if Congress thinks proper to confirm what I have done with respect to the corps of Artillery, that Colonel Knox, at present at the head of that department, (but who, without promotion, will resign,) ought to be appointed to the command of it, with the rank and pay of Brigadier. I have also to mention, that for want of some establishment in the department of Engineers, agreeable to the plan laid before Congress in October last, Colonel Putnam, who was at the head of it, has quitted, and taken a regiment in the State of Massachusetts. I know of no other man tolerably well qualified for the conducting of that business. None of the French gentlemen, whom I have seen with appointments in that way, appear to me to know any thing of the matter. There is one in Philadelphia, who, I am told, is clever; but him I have never seen. I must also once more beg leave to mention to Congress the expediency of letting promotions be in a regimental line. The want of this has already driven some of the best officers that were in your Army, out of the service. From repeated and strict inquiry, I am convinced you can adopt no mode of promotion that will be better received, or that will give more general satisfaction. I wish, therefore, to have it announced.

The casting of cannon is a matter that ought not to be one moment delayed; and, therefore, I shall send Colonel Knox to put this in a train, as also to have travelling-carriages and shot provided. Elaboratories to be established, one in Hartford, and another in York. Magazines of provisions should also be laid in. These I shall fix with the Commissary. As our great loss last year proceeded from a want of teams, I shall direct the Quartermaster-General to furnish a certain number to each regiment to answer the common purposes thereof, that the Army may be enabled to remove from place to place differently from what we have done, or could do, this campaign. Ammunition carts, and proper carts for intrenching tools, should also be provided; and I shall direct about them accordingly. Above all, a store of small-arms should be provided, or men will be of little use. The consumption and waste of these, this year, have been great; Militia, Flying-Camp men, &c˙, coming in without, were obliged to be furnished, or become useless. Many of these threw their arms away, some lost them, whilst others deserted, and took them away. In a word, although I used every precaution to preserve them, the loss has been great; and this will forever be the case, in such a mixed and irregular army as ours has been.


If no part of the troops already embarked at New-York has appeared in Virginia, their destination doubtless must be to some other quarter; and that State must, I should think, be freed from any invasion, if General Howe can be effectually opposed in this. I therefore enclose a memorandum, given me by Brigadier Stephen , of Virginia, which Congress will please to adopt in the whole, in part, or reject, as may be consistent with their plans and intelligence.

That division of the Army late under the command of General Lee, now General Sullivan, is just upon the point of joining us. A strange kind of fatality has attended it. They had orders on the 17th of November to join, now more than a month. General Gates, with four Eastern regiments, are also near at hand; three others from those States were coming on, by his order, by the way of Peekskill, and had joined General Heath, whom I had ordered on with Parsons' s brigade, to join me, leaving Clinton' s brigade, and some Militia that were at forts Montgomery and Constitution, to guard those important passes of the Highlands. But the Convention of the State of New-York, seeming to be much alarmed at Heath' s coming away, a fleet appearing off New-London, and some part of the enemy' s troops retiring towards Brunswick, induced me to countermand the order for the march of Parsons' s brigade, and to direct the three regiments from Ticonderoga to halt at Morristown, in Jersey, (where I understand about eight hundred Militia had collected,) in order to inspirit the inhabitants, and, as far as possible, cover that part of the country. I shall send General Maxwell this day to take the command of them, and if to be done, to harass and annoy the enemy in their quarters, and cut off their convoys. The care and vigilance which were used in securing the boats on this river has hitherto baffled every attempt of the enemy to cross; but, from concurring reports and appearances, they are waiting for ice to afford them a passage.

Since writing the foregoing, I have received a letter from Governour Cooke, of Rhode-Island, of which the enclosed is a copy . Previous to this, and immediately upon the first intelligence obtained of a fleet' s going through the Sound, I despatched orders to Generals Spencer and Arnold to proceed without the least delay to the eastward. The first, I presume, is gone; the latter, not getting my letter till he came to a place called Easton, was, by advice of General Gates, who also met my letter at the same place, induced to come on hither before he proceeded to the eastward. Most of our Brigadiers are laid up. Not one has come on with the division under General Sullivan, but are left sick at different places on the road.

By accounts from the eastward, a large body of men had assembled in Rhode-Island from the States of Massachusetts and Connecticut. I presume (but I have no advice of it) that the Militia ordered from the first to rendezvous at Danbury, six thousand in number, under the command of Major-General Lincoln, for supplying the place of the disbanded men of that State in the Continental Army, will now be ordered to Rhode-Island. In speaking of General Lincoln, I should not do him justice were I not to add, that he is a gentleman well worthy of notice in the military line. He commanded the Militia from Massachusetts last summer, or fall rather, and much to my satisfaction, having proved himself, on all occasions, an active, spirited, sensible man. I do not know whether it is his wish to remain in the military line, or whether, if he should, any thing under the rank he now holds in the State he comes from would satisfy him. How far an appointment of this kind might offend the Continental Brigadiers, I cannot undertake to say; many there are over whom he ought not to be placed, but I know of no way to discriminate. Brigadier Read, of New-Hampshire, does not, I presume, mean to continue in service. He ought not, as I am told, by the severity of the small-pox, he is become both blind and deaf.

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


P˙ S. Generals Gates and Sullivan have this instant come in. By them I learn that few or no men are recruited out of the regiments coming on with them. There is very little reason to expect that these regiments will be prevailed upon to continue after their term of service expires. If Militia then do not come in, the consequences are but too evident.