George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 25 August 1777

To John Hancock

Wilmington [Del.] 25 Augt 1777. 6 oClock P.M.


The inclosed intelligence has just come to my hands.1 Genl Green’s and Genl Stephen’s divisions are within a few2 Miles of this place, I shall order them to march immediately here.3 The two other divisions halted this day at Derby to refresh themselves, but they will come on as expeditiously as possible. There are about five hundred4 pennsylvania Militia at Chester and Marcus Hook that are armed, there are a number5 more unarmed. I have ordered all the armed immediately down. I do not know what Number of Militia of this State are yet collected, but I am told they turn out with great Alacrity.6

There are a quantity of public and private Stores at the Head of Elk, which I am afraid will fall into the Enemy’s hands if they advance quickly, among others there is a considerable parcel of Salt. Every attempt will be made to save that.

When I get my force collected, I shall dispose of it in the most advantagious manner in my power. To this End I purpose to view the Grounds towards the Enemy in the Morning. I am yet a stranger to them.7 I have the Honor to be Sir Yr most obt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. GW franked the addressed cover of the LS. Congress read this letter on 26 Aug. (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 8:675).

1The enclosed letter from Henry Hollingsworth to John McKinly, which was written at “Eleven OClock A.M.” on this date from Head of Elk, Md., reads: “Mr Brown just arrived Express from Elk ferry, who declares he saw a large number of Troops land & form in the field above Mr Thos Savins, which in his Opinion was in number not less than Two Thousand; they are Still landing from all the Ships so that I suppose the whole will be landed by this Evening. . . . [P.S.] The Bearer Mr Levi Hollingsworth I refer you to for particulars” (DNA:PCC, item 152).

2At this place on the draft, Tilghman first wrote “two.” He then struck out that word and wrote “a few” above the line.

3At this place on the draft, Tilghman first wrote: “and take possession of the most advantagious Grounds in front of the Enemy.” He then struck out that phrase and wrote “here” above the line. Lt. James McMichael of Greene’s division says in his diary entry for 26 Aug.: “At 4 A.M. we marched from our encampment to Brandywine Bridge, near Wilmington, when turning N.N.W. we proceeded a few miles and encamped near the east bank of the creek” ((“McMichael’s Diary,” description begins William P. McMichael. “Diary of Lieutenant James McMichael, of the Pennsylvania Line, 1776–1778.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 16 (1892): 129–59. description ends 148; see also “Old Virginia Line,” description begins Lyon G. Tyler. “The Old Virginia Line in the Middle States during the American Revolution.” Tyler’s Quarterly Historical and Genealogical Magazine 12 (1930–31): 1–43, 90–141, 198–203, 283–89. description ends 288).

4At this place on the draft, Tilghman first wrote “a thousand.” He then struck out those words and wrote “five hundred” above the line.

5At this place on the draft, Tilghman first wrote “as many.” He then struck out those words and wrote “a number” above the line.

6At this place on the draft, Tilghman wrote and then struck out the following sentences: “As they assemble, I shall post them. I shall view the Grounds toward Christiana Bridge tomorrow Morning: You shall have every piece of intelligence that comes as fast [as] it arrives.”

7Howe’s aide-de-camp Captain Muenchhausen says in his diary entry for 1 Sept. that Louis-Augustus, baron d’Uecktritz, a lieutenant in Armand’s partisan corps who was captured by the British near Head of Elk on that date, gave his captors the following intelligence: “After Washington received the news that we [Howe’s army] had landed at Elk Ferry on August 25, he called his generals to a council of war. The French generals and also two German colonels, both colonels being very highly regarded by Washington, especially Armand, urged an immediate attack on us before we could recover from the long voyage. They figured that we would have many sick, and that we would not be able to use our cavalry nor our artillery because of sick horses.

“They pointed out that in any event Washington would soon be compelled to engage us. The Germans would quit the [Continental] army, as they had already threatened to do, should Washington withdraw and yield to us Philadelphia and the regions where most of them have their homes. Now, that they have all sorts of advantages, is the time to attack us, and, it is hoped, defeat us.

“It was also brought out in the council of war that, if General Howe was an expert at his trade, they would soon have to deal with three corps, those of Burgoyne and Clinton, in addition to Howe’s.

“Contrary to this view, the American General whose opinion Washington finally backed, maintained that it would be much better to remain in the hills [back of Wilmington] until they had reliable information as to whether Howe was headed for Lancaster or Philadelphia. Others argued against a battle but recommended a plan designed to slow us down and diminish our strength continuously by small skirmishes and harassments. In short, the objective should be to prolong the war because of the belief that England could not, and would not, continue such a costly war much longer.

“Furthermore, there was some reason to believe that various situations in Europe would very soon lead to war between England and France. It was alleged that, as far as this campaign is concerned, there was nothing to fear from Burgoyne after his last defeat, and that General Clinton is not as strong as he is reputed to be, and cannot put a sizable force into the field without endangering the security of New York.

“After the council of war, Washington left with his escort and supposedly rode toward our position” (Muenchhausen, At General Howe’s Side description begins Friedrich von Muenchhausen. At General Howe’s Side, 1776–1778: The Diary of General William Howe’s Aide de Camp, Captain Friedrich von Muenchhausen. Translated by Ernst Kipping. Annotated by Samuel Smith. Monmouth Beach, N.J., 1974. description ends , 27). For GW’s reconnaissance of Howe’s army on 26–27 Aug., see GW to Hancock, 27 Aug., n.1. The accuracy of Uecktritz’s account cannot be determined fully because no proceedings have been found for any American councils of war between 25 and 31 August. Armand was French, not German as Uecktritz erroneously indicates. The other colonel to whom Uecktritz refers may be Arendt. The two French generals probably were Lafayette and Du Coudray.

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