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Letter from Henry Knox, March 27, 1781

TRANSCRIPT GLC 2437.05.176
Henry Knox. Letter (fragment): New Windsor, to George Washington,1781 March 27. 4 p. + addr.

New Windsor, 27 March 1781

[inserted - different hand: To Washington]


There being no established principles to govern the appointments to the vacancies of officers in the Artillery Force doubts have arisen, since the last regulation of the Army whether the right of appointment is in Congress as generally has been the case hitherto or in the States on which the regiment of artillery are apportion’d as part of their quarters – This uncertainty has operated to the prejudice of the Service by keeping vacant many second Lieutenancies which are highly necessary to be fill’d Now as there is a great deficiency of officers of that rank

The regiments of Artillery having different origins the appointments of course have been derived from different authorities. Colonels Lambe & Cranes regiments were rais’d and the officers appointed, by virtue of power given by your Excellency in December 1776. – Colonel Harrison’s regiment was rais’d and appointed by the State of Virginia, under the authority of Congress – Colonel Procters, was originally rais’d by Pennsylvania as a State regiment, and afterwards taken upon the Continental establishment by a resolve of Congress.

The new appointments, which have taken place since the swift formation of the regiments, [2] have been made by Congress in consequence of the request and certificates of the officers commanding regiments, countersigned by the General officer commanding the Corps.

The promotions have been regimental to and including the rank of Captains, and to field officers in the line of the Corps at large. It is this principle which connects the regiments of Artillery and forms them into one Corps, and which if taken away will reduce it to so many distinct regiments independent of each other, without cement or any other quality which will enhance its utility and reputation.

[struck: It is apparent] If the States interfere in the appointments, it is apparent the connection between the different regiments will be destroyed, for the same power which has a right to appoint, will claim a right to promote in case of vacancies. one is the consequences of the other. the distinction between the right of appointment and promotion is too much to be observed or rather it cannot be made.

We have the experience of our own Service, in addition to that of others, that rank is esteem’d an unalienable right, and the acquisition of it, [strike-out] the highest reward of military virtue [3] The principles of promotion therefore, ought to be fixd and certain, and so clean as not to be liable to be misunderstood.

The Artillery being compos’d of troops from different States, no one State can have the Direction of the promotion of the whole, or even a part, as a single promotion must affect [strike-out] the [inserted: whole] line [strike-out] Congress only [strike-out][inserted: with propriety] can [strike-out] [inserted: make with propriety] appointments and promotions, with Artillery [struck: propriety].

The qualifications requisite for an officer of artillery being matterially different from those for an officer of Infantry, great care ought to be taken <?> none we appointed last June has posses a proper proportion of the knowledge of [inserted: the] Mathematics and other a necessary abilities for the nature of the Service. It is from the talents of the officers of artillery improv’d by experience, that America may expect to desine an essential part of the Military character

That the greatest caution should be showed in making the appointments I would humbly – [4] propose that they should originate with the Colonel of the regiments, who [struck: should] shall certify that the person recommended appears posses’d of a proper proportion of mathematical knowledge, and such other qualifications to make a good officer of Artillery. And that this certificate should be [strike-out] countersigned by the General officer Command<ing> the Artillery and by him [struck: enclosed to the Congress] [inserted: transmitted] to Congress.

That the promotions should be regimental to Captains [struck: inclusive]; & to seet’d offc’rs in the line of the Corps at large. And that the principles of the appointments and promotions be ensues’d in the most expedient terms –

I am persuaded that unless the honourable Congress [inserted: immediately] establish a system for the appointments and promotion of Artillery the Corps will soon be involved into the utmost confusion – The best of the officers [struck: finding] seeing the uncertainty of promotion will be disgusted and leave the service, – and the present State of the Artillery which has [struck: taken years to effect will; inserted: been the Work of years] may be ruined in an hour by the premature promotion of an

[end of letter fragment]

To His Exy. Gen. Washington
27 March 1781.