From The American Biography; containing Biographical Sketches of the Officers of the Revolution, and of the Principal Statesmen of that Period. To which are added the Life and Character of Benedict Arnold, and the Narrative of Major Andre. Compiled from Authentic Sources; anonymous; Wheeling: Printed and Published for F. Kenyon, 1833; pp. 217-218.
American Military Officers.
Major-General in the American Army
General Thomas Conway was born in Ireland, and went with his parents to France, at the age of six years, and was from his youth, educated to the profession of arms. He had obtained considerable reputation as a military officer, and as a man of sound understanding and judgment. He arrived from France with ample recommendations, and congress appointed him a brigadier-general in May, 1777. He soon became conspicuously inimical to general Washington, and sought occasions to traduce his character. In this he found support from a faction in congress, who were desirous that the commander-in-chief should be superseded. The congress not long after elected general Conway to the office of inspector-general to our army, with the rank of major general, though he had insulted the commander-in-chief, and justified himself in doing so. This gave umbrage to the brigadiers over whom he was promoted, and they remonstrated to congress against the proceeding, as implicating their honor and character. Conway, now smarting under the imputation of having instigated a hostile faction against the illustrious Washington, and being extremely unpopular among the officers in general, and finding his situation did not accord with his feelings and views, resigned his commission, without having commenced the duties of inspector. He was believed to be an unprincipled intriguer, and after his resignation, his calumny and detraction of the commander-in-chief, and army generally, were exercised with unrestrained virulence and outrage.
No man was more zealously engaged in the scheme of elevating general Gates to the station of commander-in-chief. His vile insinuations and direct assertions, in the public newspapers, and in private conversations, relative to the incapacity of Washington to conduct the operations of the army, received countenance from 218 several members of congress, who were induced to declare their want of confidence in him, and the affair assumed an aspect threatening the most disastrous consequences. Conway maintained a correspondence with general Gates on the subject, and in one of his letters he thus expresses himself: “Heaven has been determined to save your country, or a weak general and bad counsellors would have ruined it.” He was himself at that time one of the counsellors against whom he so basely inveighs. Envy and malice ever are attendant on exalted genius and merit. But the delusion was of short continuance: the name of Washington proved unassailable, and the base intrigue of Conway recoiled with bitterness on his own head. — Thacher’s Military Journal.
General Cadwallader, of Pennsylvania, indignant at the attempt to vilify the character of Washington, resolved to avenge himself on the aggressor in personal combat. The particulars of this meeting are given in the biography of general Cadwallader. — General Conway, conceiving his wound to be mortal, and believing death to be near, acted honorably in addressing to general Washington, whom he had perfidiously slandered, the following letter of apology:
Philadelphia, Feb. 23, 1778.
Sir — I find myself just able to hold my pen during a few minutes, and take this opportunity of expressing my sincere grief for having done, written or said any thing disagreeable to your excellency. My career will soon be over; therefore, justice and truth prompt me to declare my last sentiments. You are, in my eyes, the great and good man. May you long enjoy the love, esteem, and veneration of these states, whose liberties you have asserted by your virtues. I am, with the greatest respect,
Your excellency’s most obedient and humble servant,