WASHINGTON, George, President. Letter signed ("G:Washington") as Commander-in-Chief, Continental Army, a circular letter to officials of various New England states, body in the hand of aide-de-camp Robert Hanson Harrison, Cambridge, Mass., 5 December 1775. 12/3 pages, 4to, several tiny rust-spots at right-hand edge, three small marginal nicks.
WASHINGTON'S APPEAL TO THE NEW ENGLAND STATES: "THIS IS NOT A TIME FOR TRIFLING...THE EXIGENCY OF OUR AFFAIRS CALLS ALOUD FOR VIGOROUS EXERTIONS...SOMETHING MUST BE DONE WITHOUT FURTHER DELAY"
A letter written at a crucial stage of Washington's command of the Continental armies and their investment of the British forces in Boston; faced with expiring enlistments, he paints a stark picture of widespread desertion and low enlistments in the new army: "I have of late met with abundant reason, to be convinced of the impracticality of Recruiting this Army to the New establishment [to the strength authorized], in any reasonable time by voluntary Inlistments. The causes of such exceeding great lukewarmness , I shall not undertake to point out; sufficient it is to know, that the fact is so. Many reasons are assigned; one only I shall mention...the present Soldiery are in expectation of drawing from the landed Interest and Farmers, a bounty equal to the Commencement of this Army...Be this as it may, I am satisfied that this is not a time for trifling, and that the Exigency of our Affairs calls aloud for vigorous exertions...By sad experience it is found, that the Connecticut Regiments have deserted the noble cause we are engaged in. Nor have I any reason to believe, that the Forces of New Hampshire, this Government or Rhode Island, will give stronger proofs of their Attachment to it, when the period arrives, when they may claim their Dismission [when enlistments expire]. For after every stimulous in my power and near a month's close endeavour, we have Inlisted [blank] men." While 5000 men are expected by the 10th, to relieve the Connecticut regiments, Washington has heard that these men "are not to be depended upon for more than a few days; as they soon get tired, grow impatient, ungovernable and of course leave the Service. What will be the consequences then, if the greater part of the Army is to be composed of such Men?" Then, Washington concludes: "I have given you a true and impartial State of our Situation," and asks whether "some vigorous measures," should not be adopted "to facilitate the Completion of this army without offering a bounty which Congress have declared against. I have laid the Matter before Congress, but the critical situation of our affairs will not await their deliberation and Recommendation, Something must be done without further delay."
Despite the 17,000 men encamped at Cambridge in November, "underlying difficulties that were to threaten the very existence of the whole army arose out of the impending termination of its period of enlistment. By December 31 the engagement of every man in the camp would expire" (Ward, I:117). The harsh New England winter, food, fuel and clothing shortages and general inactivity amplified the Army's discontent, yet "in spite of all these difficulties, it was Washington's task to disband his old army and create a new one and at the same time to hold the British army where it was" (Ward 1:119). Washington's desperate appeal to New England did not go entirely unanswered, and by February, Washington had the raw material of a new, Continental army: "a medley of old soldiers who had re-enlisted , of raw recruits, and of short-term militia" (Ward, 121). The crisis had been averted, for a time.
This circular letter survives in a number of forms and copies, clearly attesting to Washington's urgent need to dessiminate his appeal as widely as possible (copies are in the Library of Congress (to Jonathan Trumbull), Harvard (to Nicholas Cooke), and other public collections. See Washington, Papers: Revolutionary War Series, ed. Philander D. Chase, vol.2.)
Provenance: Goodspeeds, Boston, ca.1914.