Revolutionary War-dated LS signed “Go: Washington,” one page, 7.5 x 12.25, January 26, 1780. Letter to Major Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Cogswell, written in the hand of his aide-de-camp Robert Hanson Harrison and signed at the conclusion by General Washington. In full: "About [blank] days ago I received your letter of the 27th of last month. In answer I must take occasion to assure you, that you are mistaken if you suppose, either a predilection for Major Hull or the circumstance of his having served of late more immediately under my command than you have done, influenced me in any degree in the opinion which you saw. Considerations like those had no part in the business. I viewed the matter in question between you and that Gentleman on a more liberal and extensive ground, and I see no reason to alter in the least, the sentiments I then delivered; and were you to examine the subject dispassionately, I think, you would find the reasonings were right and that you have no just claim to your present pretentions. At the same time I repeat, that I had no intention in what I said to detract from your merit as an officer, or to give a preference to Major Hull on that score." Archivally mounted, cloth-matted, and framed with a portrait behind UV-protective acrylic to an overall size of 21.5 x 20. In very good to fine condition, with two areas of light toning, and splitting to the intersecting folds.
As commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, Washington writes Cogswell explaining the circumstances surrounding his disputed promotion of Lieutenant Colonel William Hull, of the Third Massachusetts Regiment, who was promoted from major in August 1779 by Washington himself. Washington’s addressee, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Cogswell, of the Fifteenth Massachusetts Regiment, was promoted from major in November 1779 by the State of Massachusetts. Apparently, the timing of the promotions was a cause of concern to Cogswell, who felt slighted, pointing to the fact that he had been appointed a captain by the state before Hull in 1775.
General Washington had written at length to Major General William Heath on the subject in December, explaining that the promotions were justified based on the existence of two conflicting methods of appointment: the appointment of officers by the governments of the several states by Congress’s resolution of September 16, 1776; and the appointment of officers by Washington himself, who was supplied blank commissions to be filled in by him with the names of officers he felt were qualified by Congress’s resolution of December 27, 1776.
Washington further noted the delicacy of the matter and that the Cogswell-Hull case would result in a multitude of similar claims. Washington then provided ample detail of rank dispute, and the overall ramifications of a reversal of his action in appointing Major Hull rather than Major Cogswell to Col. Jackson’s Regiment: 'In a word, policy at least, required a strict adherence to the arrangement and the principles of promotion established, and there has been no injustice done Major Cogswell…I am sure you can scarcely render any more essential service than prevailing on the Honourable Assembly to preserve the Arrangement inviolate and to pursue the Rules of promotion which have been established.' Washington summed up the situation: 'Our Commission system unfortunately, is very complex, and unless the States will be accurate and adhere to the principles of promotion, which is enjoined and explicitly required by the Act of the 28th of June Last, we shall always be in troubled water and the service embarrassed with unhappy feuds.' A fascinating letter exhibiting the kind of petty and embarrassing feuds within the Continental Army that absorbed Washington's time, requiring his skills of diplomatic mediation.
Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.