George Washington, Letter, Signed, Military Interest


Washington Responds With Tact and Sensitivity

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George Washington wrote this letter in response to a letter written to Major General Alexander McDougall (possibly in the hand of David Humphreys, aide de camp to Washington’s headquarters staff), and concerns McDougall’s request that Washington reject the application of a leave of absence for Major General William Heath, against whom McDougall wished to defend himself against charges of insubordination.

It reads, in full:

Major General Heath has made no application for leave of absence. The other parts of your Letter, of this date I shall be better able to decide upon when the reasons and charges, which are proposed as the subject of another letter, are exhibited.
I am Sir
Your very hum. Servt.
Go: Washington

Washington, Commander in Chief of the American forces, responds to a letter written by Major General McDougall of the same day, in which McDougall requests that Washington not approve Major General William Heath’s application for a leave of absence. The reason for McDougall’s request is that Heath had him arrested for insubordination and McDougall wanted the opportunity to defend himself. However, that opportunity would be significantly delayed if Heath were absent on leave. In this letter, Washington claims that Heath has not applied for leave and that he will not comment further on McDougall’s claims until he is fully informed of the details of the charges made by Heath.

Heath and McDougall had engaged in a longstanding dispute over military decisions that dated back to 1776, which came to a head in 1782 when Heath had taken command of fortifications at West Point. McDougall criticized Heath’s methods of command and attacked him in public. As a result, Heath placed McDougall under arrest for seven charges for conduct unbecoming an officer. McDougall faced a court-martial in which he defended himself. The court-martial, lasting for three months, acquitted McDougall of six of the seven charges. Washington subsequently reprimanded McDougall for his public criticism of a fellow officer, but, due to his fondness for the major general, he later offered McDougall another command.

Washington set up headquarters in Newburgh, New York on March 31, 1782, one day before he wrote this letter to McDougall. Washington’s headquarters were in Hasbrouck House, which overlooked the Hudson River. He lived there while he was in command of the Continental Army from April 1782 until August 1783. Newburgh was chosen for its comparatively safe location north of the strategically important West Point. The 7,000 troops under Washington’s command camped near what is today known as Vails Gate, a few miles to the southwest of Hasbrouck House.

This brief letter shows Washington’s keen sense of tact in dealing with a sensitive situation involving one of his favorite officers. Washington was willing to let the court-martial of McDougall proceed and abide by the findings regardless of his fondness for the Major General. ┬áIt is accompanied by an engraving of David Humphreys by G. Parker.

Professional restoration on verso to one separation at horizontal fold which crossed some text. All other horizontal folds professionally reinforced on verso. Moderate edgewear along top margin likewise repaired. Scattered, damp staining and foxing.

George Washington. Letter Signed (“Go: Washington”). One page, 8.5″ x 13.5″, “Head Quarters, Newburg” (New York); April 1, 1782.