<br /> Lee Letter: n211

Washington and Lee University

Sender: George Washington
Recipient: Richard Henry Lee

Dear Sir:

The report of Genl. Conways promotion was so prevalent, and came from such
authority, among others from Baron Kalb, who told me, that by some
members of Congress he was informed it either had, or would take place,
that I had not a single doubt remaining upon my mind of the Fact. what
I said in my last, was with no design to injure General Conway, nor
with a view to serve any individual, I then said, and still think, it
would have an exceeding bad tendency; not, as I before observed, that I
had formed my opinion from anything I had heard, because to this moment
I have not exchanged directly, or indirectly, a single word with any
Brigadier in the service on the subject, but from the nature of the
case, well knowing that all officers are apt to entertain as high an
opinion of their own merits as they deserve, and few of them are
actuated by such pure and dis’interested motives as to submit to what
they conceive a slight, in wch. light the promotion of a younger
officer over them undoubtedly would be considered. These, and these
only, were my motives for the letter I wrote you. how far he is
qualified to discharge the duties of Adjutant Genl in case the present
Gentn.1 is appointed to, and accepts any
other office, you can judge almost as well of as I. He must, no doubt,
be well acquainted with the detail duty of an army from the length of
his Services; but then he is a bad scribe, which however may in some
measure be remedied by good assistants (which he or any other Adjutant
Genl. must have), what weight there may be, in his being a Foreigner,
you can judge as well of as I can. There is a Gentn., if Colo.
Pickering should go out of the office, who I am told is well qualified
to supply his place, he was formerly Deputy Adjn. Genl. to the Northern
army, and of the name of Flemming, 2 he had
been an officer in the British Service, well acquainted with detail
duty, and a good disciplinarian. He was in very bad health at the time
Genl. Gates left that office; which was, I believe, the principal
reason why he was not thought of as a successor; that he was not,
caused his resignation. The part he has acted since, and his political
Sentiments, can be known perhaps with precission from the
Representatives of New York, where he formerly resided, and those of
Jersey, where he is at present a resident; and in whose Treasury, I
understand, he has imbarked his all. a good security if true.

The three Gentn.3 you have in contemplation for
constituting a Board of War (not from your own body) are, in my
judgment, equal to any you could make choice of. They want, what is not
to be found among a people unused to war, a competent knowledge of the
business; but they have a large share of understanding, great
application, and as much experience in the business as any I know,
having had as good opportunities of seeing, and feeling our wants as
any among us. at the same time men of unquestionable attachment and
Integrity. The advantages of having able members solely confined to
this department are too obvious and important; and the benefits to
myself and the army at large, too diffusive and extensive, to suffer
local conveniences to interfere; for which reason if Messrs. Harrison
and Pickering should Incline to accept the appointment, it will meet
with my ready concurrance.

I congratulate you most sincerely on the important events to the northward;
but cannot help complaining, most bitterly, of Genl. Gatcs’s neglect in
not giving me the earliest authentic advice of it; as an affair of that
magnitude might, and indeed did, give an important turn to our
operations in this Quarter, at least in our designs, but which, for
want of confirmation, we began to doubt the propriety of, from the time
I wrote Congress on the 18th. (Inclosing the first acct. I had of the
surrender, wch. was not altogether authentic) till the 26th. I heard
not a tittle more of it (and actually began to doubt the truth of it),
nor have I to this moment recd. the least advice of this Important
transaction from General Gates. I wish Sir, the Situation of your
Troops in this Quarter, and our Force, could give you well grounded
hopes of a similar event; but as this will shortly become the subject
of a Letter to Congress, I shall not inlarge upon it at present, in
this.

Although the Surrender of General Burgoyne is a great, and glorious event,
highly honourable to our arms, and to those who were immediately
opposed to him. and although I am perfectly well satisfied that the
critical situation in wch. Genl. Gates was likely to be thrown (by the
approach of General Clinton up the No. River) would not allow him to
insist upon a more perfect Surrender; I am nevertheless convinced, that
this event will not equal our expectations; and that, without great
precaution, and very delicate management, we shall have all these men,
if not the officers, opposed to us in the spring. without the necessary
precautions (as I have just observed) I think this will happen; and
unless great delicacy is used in the precautions, a plea will be given
them, and they will justify, a breach of the Covenant on their part, do
they not declare (many of them) that no faith is to be held with
Rebels? did not the English do the very thing I am now suspecting them
of, after the Convention of Closter Seven,4
upon changing their commander? will they hold better faith with us than
they did with the French? I am persuaded, myself, that they will not,
and yet, I do not see how it is to be prevented, without a direct
violation of the articles ourselves, or, by attempting to guard against
the evil, give them a plea of justification on theirs.

It is reported among us that Genl. Mifflin has resigned his offices in this
army, the truth you must know. It is also said, that Baron Kalb is
desirous of going into that Department, being the one he has been
regularly trained in for a number of years in the French Service,
whether, admitting this to be the case, as it is a department not only
of great trust, but through whose hands much of the Public Money is to
pass Congress would choose to Intrust the Baron is left to themselves
to determine; certain it is a knowing man will be much wanted, and as
certain it is, I know of none such among ourselves.

I am etc.5

Notes:

1 Col. Timothy Pickering.

2 Col. Edward Fleming (Flemming). He was deputy adjutant general, Northern
Department, from August, 1775, to June, 1776.

3 Joseph Reed, Timothy Pickering, and Robert Hanson Harrison.

4 The Convention of Closter Seven with the French in 1757.

5 The text is from the print in The Century Magazine,
March, 1911.

Richard Henry Lee’s letter, to which this is a reply, has already been
referred to. (See note 71 to Washington’s letter to Richard Henry
Lee, Oct. 17, 1777, vol. 9, p. 389.)