George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 13 September 1777

To John Hancock

Head Qrs German Town [Pa.] Septr 13: 1777


I have been honoured with your favor of this date.1 I heartily wish the Works on Delaware were compleated, but I think, and in this Opinion my Officers concur, that the service will be injured, if any part of the Continental Troops were now to be employed about ’em. If we should be able to oppose Genl Howe with success in the Feild, the Works will be unnecessary; If not, and he should force us from hence, he will certainly possess himself of ’em. But To prevent his attempting it now, I have directed the Meadows on province Island to be overflowed immediately, and any other Grounds that may be thought necessary for that purpose. The Works have been more peculiarly under the direction of Monsr DuCoudray, and I doubt not he will pay every attention to their completion & security, that the situation of Affairs will admit of. A part of the Militia under Genl Armstrong will be posted along Schuylkill to throw up Redoubts at the different Fords, which will be occasionally occupied, whilst I move to the Other side with the main body of the Army. This disposition appears to me the most eligible from a consideration of all circumstances and better, than if any part of our present force was to be employed at the Forts. If further Reinforcements of the Militia should come in, they perhaps may be more properly assigned to that business than any we now have.

Your letter respecting Genl DeBorre just now came to hand. I shall transmit him a Copy of it and of the Resolution. There can be no Court of inquiry into his conduct at this time; As soon, as the State of the Army will admit, It will be held.2 I have the Honor to be with great respect Sir Your Most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. GW franked the addressed cover of the LS. Congress read this letter on 14 Sept. (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 , 8:740).

1At the end of a resolution of Congress of this date, which was copied and signed by Congress’s secretary Charles Thomson, Hancock wrote and signed a note to GW, dated “In Congress Philada Sepr 13. 1777,” that reads: “Sir I have only time to Transmit you the above resolve.” The resolution reads: “Resolved That general Washington be directed to give the necessary orders for compleating the defences of Delaware river and to employ for that purpose such Officers, engineers and troops as he shall think proper” (DLC:GW; see also ibid., 739).

2Hancock’s second letter to GW of this date reads: “In consequence of some information Congress have received respecting the Conduct of brigadier general Borre, they have come to the enclosed resolve, which I do myself the honour to transmit you, & am to request you’l be pleased to pay immediate attention to it” (LS, DLC:GW). The enclosed resolution of this date, which is signed by Charles Thomson, reads: “Resolved That general Washington be directed to order a court of inquiry into the conduct of brigadier de Borrè since his appointment and that in the meanwhile brigadier de Borrè be recalled from the army” (DLC:GW; see also ibid., 740).

Preudhomme de Borre, the commander of the 2d Maryland Brigade, took command of Sullivan’s division when Sullivan assumed command of the American right wing at the beginning of the engagement on and about Birmingham Hill, and he subsequently was blamed for the division’s disorderly retreat. “Maryd. forces gained no Honor” in the Battle of Brandywine, Maryland delegate Samuel Chase wrote Gov. Thomas Johnson on 12 September. “They were Commanded by Gen. Debore [who was?] ignorant of his Duty” (Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 7:649). Lt. Col. Samuel Smith of the 4th Maryland Regiment says in his autobiographical account that during the retreat from Birmingham Hill, “he retired, almost alone, to the top of a high hill, on which he halted, and collected nearly one thousand men; formed them into Companies; and remained until near sunset. He tendered the command to General De Barre, a French officer, who had commanded the Second Brigade. He declined the offer; and showed some scratches on his cheek, which he said had been done by the English firing fish-hooks, but more probably by the briars” (Smith, “Papers,” description begins “The Papers of General Samuel Smith.” Historical Magazine, and Notes and Queries concerning the Antiquities, History, and Biography of America, 2d ser., 7 (1870): 81–92. description ends 86).

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