WASHINGTON, George. Autograph letter signed ("Go: Washington") as Commander-in-Chief, Continental Army, to Benjamin Lincoln, VALLEY FORGE, 7 May 1778. 1 page, 4to, integral addres leaf with address in Washington's hand, recipient's docket; neatly silked, tiny hole in upper right corner, small seal tear, parts of blank margin of address leaf clipped, otherwise in excellent condition.
FROM THE VALLEY FORGE ENCAMPMENT, WASHINGTON SENDS GIFTS FROM THE MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE TO BENJAMIN LINCOLN AND BENEDICT ARNOLD
Writing near the end of the grim six-month encampment at Valley Forge, Washington had only recently defused a bitter controversy over ranks and promotions in which both Arnold and Lincoln had nearly resigned their commissions. Only Washington's personal intercession had prevailed. Perhaps as a reward for their remaining in the service, he passes on--with a little diplomatic flattery--gifts sent from France by the Marquis de Lafayette: "A Gentleman of France having, obligingly, sent me three sets of Epaulets & sword knotts, two of them professedly to be disposed of to any friend I should choose. I take the liberty of presenting them to you and Genl. Arnold, as a testimony of my sincere regard, and approbation of your conduct. Nothing would give me more pleasure than to hear of your perfect recovery..."
Lincoln (1733-1810) first distinguished himself in Washington's eyes during the Battle of New York, where the commander thought him "an abler and more industrious man than his great bulk and his loose jowl would indicate" (Freeman, 5:385B). But when Congress commissioned Lincoln and four others Major Generals in February 1778, Arnold (1741-1801) went into a rage, telling Washington that Congress must have intended this slight as "a very civil way of requesting my resignation" (Boatner, 27). All five men were less senior, and, Arnold felt, less qualified. Washington agreed and asked Congress to promote Arnold to the same rank as the five, backdating the appointment to have it precede Lincoln's and the others. Congress gave him the rank, but not the seniority, thereby sowing another of the bitter seeds that would bear fruit in Arnold's treason at West Point in 1780.
Both Lincoln and Arnold were recovering from serious wounds sustained in the Battle of Saratoga the previous October. In September, Congress named Lincoln head of the Southern Department, but he was forced to surrender Charleston in May 1780. Exchanged for two British generals five months later, he returned in time to fight with Washington at Yorktown in September 1781. Earlier that same month, Arnold, now a Brigadier General in the British Army, led a rag-tag band of deserters and loyalists in a diversionary raid on New London, Connecticut. After the war Lincoln served as Secretary of War (1781-1783), and in 1786 led the troops that put down Shays Rebellion.
Jealous subordinates were only one of Washington's worries at Valley Forge. Of the 10,000 troops he brought into camp in December 1777, 2500 were dead by the time he wrote this letter. While his troops endured the winter in makeshift huts, with minimal food and clothing, "sunshine patriots" in Philadelphia and New York were making a profit selling provisions to the British occupation forces. Things were beginning to improve, however, with the arrival of spring. France was now firmly allied to the American rebels, and the winter work of Lafayette and Von Steuben had forged the Continentals into a powerful, disciplined fighting force.
Letters from the legendarily difficult Valley Forge encampment are increasingly scarce; one dated 15 January to Henry Knox was sold at Christie's, 24 May 2002, $65,000; another to R.H. Lee dated 25 May 1778 was part of the Forbes Collection, sold here 27 March 2002 ($170,000). Published (from the nearly identical letter to Arnold) in Writings, 11:359).