<br /> Lee Letter: n7

Washington and Lee University

Sender: George Washington
Recipient: Richard Henry Lee

Dear Sir:

Dear Sir: Your favor of the first Inst. by Mr. Randolph came safe to hand – the merits of this young Gentleman added to your recommendation, and
my own knowledge of his character induced me to take him into my Family
as an aid de camp in the room of Mr. Mifflin,
whom I have appointed Quarter Master Genel. from a thorough perswasion
of his – Integrity my own experience of his activity – and finally,
because he stands unconnected with either of these Governments; or with
this that, or t’other man; for between you and I there is more in this
than you can easily immagine.

As we have now nearly cornpleated our Lines of Defence, we nothing more, in
my opinion to fear from the
Enemy, provided we can keep our men to their
duty and make them watchful and vigilant; but it is among the most
difficult tasks I ever undertook in my life to induce these people to
believe that there is, or can be, danger till the Bayonet is pushed at
their Breasts; not that it proceeds from any uncommon prowess, but
rather from an unaccountable kind of stupidity in the lower class of
these people which, believe me, prevails but too generally among the
officers of the Massachusets part of the Army
who are nearly of the same kidney with the
Privates, and adds not a little to my difficulties; as there is no such
thing as getting of officers of this stamp to exert themselves in
carrying orders into execution – to curry favor with the men (by whom
they were chosen, and on whose smiles possibly they may think they may
again rely) seems to be one of the principal objects of their

I submit it therefore to your consideration whether there is, or is not, a
propriety in that Resolution of the Congress, which leaves the ultimate
appointment of all officers below the Rank of Generals to the
Governments where the Regiments originated now the Army is become
Continental? – To me it appears improper in two points of view; first,
it is giving that power and weight to an Individual Colony, which
ought, of right, to belong only to the whole,
and next it damps the spirit and ardor of
volunteers from all but the four New England Governments as none but
their people have the least chance of getting into office. – Would it
not be better therefore to have the warrants which the
Commander-in-Chief is authorized to give Pro-tempore, approved or
disapproved, by the Continental Congress, or a Committee of their body,
which I should suppose in any long recess must
always sit? In this case every Gentleman will
stand an equal chance of being promoted according to his merits; in the
other all officers will be confined to the Inhabitants of the 4 New
England Governments which in my opinion is impolitick to a degree. I
have made a pretty good slam among such kind of officers as the
Massachusets Government abound in since I came to this Camp having
Broke one Colo. and two Captains for cowardly behavior in the action on
Bunkers Hill, – two Captains for drawing more provisions and pay than
they had men in their Company – and one for being absent from his Post
when the Enemy appeared there and burnt a House just by it. Besides
these, I have at this time – one Colo., one Major, one Captn., and two
subalterns under arrest for tryal – In short I spare none yet fear it
will not all do as these People seem to be too inattentive to every
thing but their Interest.

I have not been unmindful of that part of your Letter respecting Point
Alderton – before the receipt of it, it had become an object of my
particular enquiry, but the Accts. of its situation differ exceedingly
in respect to the command it has of the ship
channel but my knowledge of this matter would
not have been confined to enquiries only if I had ever been in a
condition, since my arrival here, to have taken possession of such a
Post; but you well know, my good Sir, that it becomes the duty of an
Officer to consider some other matters, as well as a situation, – namely, What number of men are necessary to defend a place – how it
can be supported – and how furnished with ammunition. –

In respect to the first I conceive our defence of this place (point
alderton) must be proportioned to the attack of
Genl. Gage’s whole force, leaving him just enough to man his Lines on
Boston and Charles Town Necks – and with regard to the second, and
most important, as well as alarming object we have only 184 Barls. of
Powder in all (including the late supply from Philadelphia) wch is not
sufficient to give 25 muskets cartridges to each man, and scarcely to
serve the artillery in any brisk action one single
day – Under these circumstances I dare say you
will agree with me, that it would not be very eligible to take a post
30 miles distant (by Land) from this place, when we have already a line
of circumvallation round Boston of at least 10 miles in extant to
defend any part of which may be attacked without our having (if the
Enemy will keep their own Council) an hours previous notice of it; and
that, it would not be prudent in me, to attempt a measure which would
necessarily bring on a consumption of all the ammunition we have,
thereby leaving the Army at the mercy of the Enemy, or to disperse; and
the Country to be ravaged and laid waste at discretion – to you, Sir,
I may Account for my conduct, but I cannot declare the motives of it to
every one, notwithstanding I know by not doing it, that I shall stand
in a very unfavorable light in the opinion of those who expect much,
and will find little done, without understanding or perhaps giving them
selves the trouble of enquiring into the cause. – Such however is the
fate of all those who are obliged to act the part I do, I must
therefore submit to it, under a consciousness of having done my duty to
the best of my abilities.

On Saturday night last we took possession of a Hill
advanced of our Lines, and within point blank shot of the Enemy on
Charles Town neck. – We worked incessantly the whole night with 1200
men, and before morning got an Intrenchment in such forwardness as to
bid defiance to their Cannon; about nine o’clock on Sunday they began a
heavy cannonade which continued through the day without any injury to
our work, and with the loss of four men only two of which were killed
through their own folly – The Insult of the cannonade however we were
obliged to submit to with impunity, not daring to make use of artillery
on acct. of the consumption of powder, except with one nine pounder
placed on a point, with which we silenced, and indeed sunk, one of
their Floating Batteries. –

This move of ours was made to prevent the Enemy from gaining this Hill, and
we thought was giving them a fair challenge to dispute it as we had
been told by various people who had just left Boston, that they were
preparing to come out, but instead of accepting of it, we learn that it
has thrown them into great consternation which might be improved if
we had the means of doing it – Yesterday
afternoon they began a Bombardment without any effect, as yet. –

There has been so many great, and capital errors, and abuses to rectify – so many examples to make – and so little Inclination in the officers
of inferior Rank to contribute their aid to accomplish this work, that
my life has been nothing else (since I came
)but one continued round of
annoyance and fatigue; in short no pecuniary
recompense could induce me to undergo what I
have especially as I expect, by shewing so
little countenance to irregularities and publick
abuses to render myself very obnoxious to a
greater part of these People. – But as I have
already greatly exceeded the bounds of a Letter I will not trouble you
with matters relative to my own feelings.1

As I expect this Letter will meet you in Philadelphia I must request
the favor of you to present my affecte. and respectful
compliments to Doctr. Shippen, his Lady and Family, my Brothers
of the Delegation, and any other enquiring friends – and at the
same time do me the justice to believe that I am with a sincere


1 To this part of the letter Mr. Lee replied as follows: “I am greatly
obliged to you for your favor of August the 29th, and you may be
assured I shall pay great attention to it. When I mentioned securing
the entrance of the harbor of Boston, it was more in the way of
wishing it could be done, than as conceiving it very practicable.
However, the reasons you assign are most conclusive against the
attempt. i assure you, that so far as I can judge from the
conversation of men, instead of there being any, who think you have
not done enough, the wonder seems to be, that you have done so much.
I believe there is not a man of common sense, and who is void of
prejudice, in the world, but greatly approves the
discipline you have introduced into the
camp; since reason and experience join in proving, that, without
discipline, armies are fit only for the
and slaughter of their enemies. Your labors are no
doubt great, both of mind and body; but if the praise of the present
and future times can be any compensation, you will have a plentiful
portion of that. Of one thing you may certainly rest assured, that
the Congress will do every thing in their power to make your most
weighty business easy to you. I think you could not possibly have
appointed a better man to his present office than Mr. Mifflin. He is
a singular man, and you certainly will meet with the applause and
support of all good men by promoting and countenancing real merit and
public virtue, in opposition to all private interests and partial

2 Ford obtained the full text of this letter from Mr. Joseph Packard, jr., of
Baltimore, Md, and notes that R. H. Lee is probably to be held
accountable for the mutilated version of the letter that Sparks used,
as in his life of Richard Henry Lee he omitted nearly all that Sparks
did. The original letter was said to have been in the hands of Mrs.
Ellen La Knapp, of Washington, D.C., in 1892.