<br /> Lee Letter: n63

Washington and Lee University

Sender: George Washington
Recipient: Richard Henry Lee

Dear Sir:

A few days ago I received your favor of the 26th. Ulto. inclosing
one from Colo. Spotswood,1 for which I thank
you. The reputation which this Gentleman had acquired, of being an
attentive Officer and good disciplinarian, was justly founded, and I
considered his leaving the Army a loss to the service. The supposed
death of his Brother, it is natural to believe, had a painful influence
upon his mind; but he had long before been very uneasy in his
situation, on account of the determination in the case between him and
Colo. McClanachan2 [and I am persuaded he was
only prevented from quitting the line in consequence, thro’ my
means].3 My regard for Colo. Spotswood and
the opinion I entertain of him as an Officer, would induce me to
interest myself in his favor, where ever I could with propriety. In the
present instance however I cannot, because I think I should do an
injury to the Officers of the Virginia line (if not to those of the
line at large) and because I am convinced his promotion would excite
infinite discontents and produce many resignations. When he left Camp
in the Month of October, he made a surrender of his Commission to me,
according to the then prevailing custom. This was accepted and a New
arrangement took place among the Field Officers. After this, I could
not suppose him to continue in the line, and to attempt to recall the
rise of the Officers, to give him a place again, would be to attempt an
impossibility. No reasoning upon the subject would be sufficient to get
them to consent to it. With respect to the report of the Board of
General Officers, to which you allude, you will excuse me when I say,
in my opinion it will not apply. The case there was, that sundry
inferior Officers or juniors of the same rank, from local circumstances
and the opportunities of application obtained from the Committees or
Councils of the States, in whom the power of appointing Officers to the
Army for 1777 was vested, New commissions prior in date to those
granted afterwards to their seniors, and in consequence claimed a right
to rank before them. The Board determined their claims unjust and that
the rank which the Officers immediately held before their new
Commissions, should govern, as it did not appear that the Councils
intended to supercede the Senior Officers; but here, there had been no
interruption or relinquishment of the right to rank by resignation,
surrender of commissions, or any other act of the parties. Nor could I
ever think that Colo. Spotswood had cause to complain of the decision
on the point in question, between him and Colo. McClanachan. It was
founded on the practice, which had commonly prevailed, I believe
universally, in like cases. Vizt. That when State Officers became
Continental they should rank with respect to each other, according to
their State precedence. This principle appeared to be just, and I am
certain, was the only one that could be adopted to give general
satisfaction. As many of our Regiments in the first instance, and
particularly those from Virginia, were raised by the States without any
order by Congress, a contrary rule would have involved great
inconveniences and would have proved an effectual bar to many valuable
Officers coming into service. I have not the most distant suspicion
that Colo. Spotswood is influenced in his wishes, upon the president
occasion, in the smallest degree by any considerations arising from the
half-pay establishment. I am convinced that he is not; Nor do I believe
that any Officer will impute a matter of the sort to him, or object to
his being reintroduced into the line, from motives of personal dislike.
They will oppose it as an injury to their rights.

I thank you much for your Congratulations. The prospect we have before us
is extremely pleasing, and such as promises a glorious and happy issue
to all our Struggles. Success in the intended enterprise against Rhode
Island would operate powerfully, I should suppose, upon the minds of
the British Nation and to bring matters to a conclusion. [I wait
impatiently to hear from thence.]

I am, etc.4

Notes:

1 Col. Alexander Spotswood, of the Second Virginia Regiment. He had resigned
in October, 1777.

2 Col. Alexander McClanachan, of the Seventh Virginia Regiment. He had
resigned in May, 1778.

3 Brackets in original.

4 The draft is in the writing of Robert Hanson Harrison. The final sentence
within the brackets is in the writing of Washington. This letter is
printed in the Memoir of the Life of Richard Henry
Lee and His Correspondence
, vol. 2, p. 2.2, under date of Aug.
10, 1778, and with a few verbal variations of small consequence.