WASHINGTON, GEORGE, President. Autograph letter signed ("Go:Washington") as Commander-in-Chief, to Secretary of War James McHenry, Mount Vernon, 13 May 1799. 6 pages, 4to, on two four-page sheets of wove paper, both with clean partial tear at central fold, last blank page with McHenry's autograph docket: "13 May 1799. Geo Washington Eventual army." Fine condition.
AS WAR WITH FRANCE APPEARS IMMINENT, WASHINGTON ORGANIZES THE ARMY HE WILL LEAD AGAINST AN EXPECTED FRENCH INVASION AND CONSIDERS THE FRENCH ARMY'S STRENGTHS: A SIX-PAGE LETTER
An exceptionally long and detailed letter in which Washington gives careful instructions and advice to McHenry regarding the organization and officering of the American Army which he has left retirement to command in the event of war with France and an expected invasion. In addition, he considers the strength of France's armies and complains he is not being kept abreast of diplomatic developments by President Adams. McHenry, stating that the request had come from President Adams, had asked Washington to suggest Virginians who might command the 24 regiments to be raised in the event of "actual war." Washington replies: "...That no time might be lost in carrying the President's Plan...I have solicited the Aid of General [Daniel] Morgan, [Henry] Lee, & [John] Marshall; & the Colonels [William] Heth & [Edward] Carrington; if other fit and confidential characters should occur...I will speak, or write to them also; for it is on others I must rely. An absence, with short intervals only, of near twenty five years with the consequent changes, has, in great measure, obliterated my former acquaintance with the People of this State; and my knowledge of the rising generation in it (scarcely ever going from home) is very limited indeed. The task I am imposing upon others is delicate, and not of the pleasantest kind...it will be very difficult in such an extensive State as Virginia, to ascertain who would, or would not, accept appointments ...without previous enquiry; and to make this inquiry on the hazardous ground of rejection, involves a round of delicasy; namely to the selected, who may have given his consent; to the selector, who may have asked it; and to the Department that is to approve, or disapprove the measure.
"...Let me ask if there would be any impropriety in a notification from the War Office to the effect that as events may render it exped[ien]t to raise the 24 Regiments; and it having been found from experience that much time (when probably it could be least spared) would be required to Select and organize the Officers therefor[e]; it is requested that all those who are desirous of serving their country on the terms specified in that Act, would, without delay signify the same (producing such recommendations as would bring them forward under favourable auspices)... In a State, spreading over so much ground as Virginia does, it would require much time...to make the Object of Government known, & to carry your plan of apportionment to the parts into effect, by any means much short of the one I have suggested: and if the notice is not general, the selection must, of consequence, be partial. After allowing sufficient time...one might then be able...to select, & form from the materials thus amassed, Officers agreeably to your list, & apportionment to the State; & without I do not see how it can be accomplished in any reasonable time much less efficiently. There may be objections to this mode which do not occur to me; but sure I am, it would be found the most likely mean of producing characters from all parts of the State, or failing therein, of obviating any charge of partiality; for if men will not come forward, when invited, it is their own fault, and not that of Government.
"Under any circumstances, I consider the preparatory measure of the President's to be eligable [sic]; but I am led to believe from his having adopted it, at this time, without any previous intimation thereof (that has come to my knowledge) before he left the Seat of Government, that stronger indications of hostility have been received [from France], than appeared when he went away to have occasioned it; if so, I think it ought to be communicated to me in confidence; for it must not be expected that like a Mercenary, I can quit my family & private concerns at a moments warning. There are many matters necessary for me to settle before I could leave home with any tolerable convenience, and many things, the providing of which would run me to an unnecessary expence, if I am not called to the Field.
"And this conjecture, leads me to the consideration of another matter, of very serious importance. It is well known that the great advantage which the Armies of France have over those they contend with, lyes in the Superiority with which their Artillery is served, and in the skill of their engineers. Let me entreat, therefore, that the most prompt & pointed attention be given to the procuring and instructing men in these sciences. Lamentable indeed must be our case, if we shall have to acquire the knowledge of these arts in the face of an enemy, when that Enemy ought to experience our Skill in the exercise of them. I do not mean to recommend characters as instructors in these branches; but I will mention the names of some who have passed through my mind, & have been recalled to it. Du Portail, Lamoy, Senf, Rivardi, and Latrobe. The last of whom I know nothing of, but have been told that he has knowledge in, & professes to be well acquainted with, the principles of Engineering. I notice these as persons within your reach, in case nothing better can be done.-It is necessary to be provident. Let us not have things to prepare, when they should be in use...." Published in Writings, ed. John C. Fitzpatrick, 37:207-210.