WASHINGTON, George (1732-1799). Letter signed ("G:o. Washington") TO LIEUTENANT COLONEL AARON BURR (1756-1836), "at Genl. Putnam's, Peekskill," Head Quarters, Middle Brook, 24 June 1777. 1 page, folio, text in the hand of Tench Tilghmen, small mend to top left-hand corner and left-hand margin, integral address leaf (detached) bears note "care of Genl. Geo. Clinton," most of original red wax seal present though cracked.
WASHINGTON INFORMS THE YOUNG AARON BURR OF HIS PROMOTION "TO A REGIMENT IN THE CONTINENTAL SERVICE"
One of only three war-date letters from Washington to Burr, providing an interesting glimpse of the short but eventful military career of Aaron Burr, a future Vice President, who 27 years later would fatally wound Alexander Hamilton, already serving as Washington's aide-de-camp and secretary at this date. The 20-year old Burr had shone conspicuous bravery on Benedict Arnold's march to Quebec and the unsuccessful siege. In Mid-May he was assigned briefly to Washington's staff. But, as Burr's biographer notes, "there is reason to believe that something happened between Washington and Burr" during that short posting, which might "explain Washington's frequently ungracious treatment of Burr in the years to come. Clearly something in the manner of the young man annoyed the older one" (M. Lomask, Aaron Burr...1756-1805, p.44). Burr then served, again with distinction, as aide to Israel Putnam during the Battle of Long Island. Washington's tone here is formal, as might be expected, but faintly disapproving. "You are hereby appointed Lt. Col. to a Regt. in the Continental Service to be commanded by Col. [William] Malcolm. This Regiment is composed of eight independent Companies, most of which are already raised. As Col. Malcolm goes directly up to draw the Regiment together, I desire you will join him and give him every necessary assistance towards forming the Corps. I have given particular instructions to Col. Malcolm, you are therefore to follow his directions...."
Characteristically, Burr, replying to Washington's letter, failed to express gratitude and instead complained that his promotion was tardy, subjecting him to even younger officers who had received prior appointments. Additionally, Burr wanted to know "if any Misconduct in me" had caused him to be so neglected. Burr's biographer terms the letter "probably the only one of its kind ever sent by a junior officer to George Washington" (Lomask, p.52). Washington did not deign to respond. For Burr's letter of 21 July 1777 see Papers, Rev. War Series, ed. P. Chase, 10:343-344.
Malcolm's regiment was a composite of New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians. Malcolm, a wealthy New York merchant, chose to absent himself for most of the summer, leaving the young Burr as its interim commander. The frosty relations between Washington and Burr led to Burr's later flirtation with members of the Conway Cabal, and in the controversy over Charles Lee's command at Monmouth, Burr unwisely defended the disgraced Lee. In March 1779, Burr resigned and returned to the study of law.
Published in Papers, Rev. War Series, ed. P. Chase, 10:131-132.