George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 19 September 1777

To John Hancock

Parkers Ford—on Schuylkill [Pa.]1
Septr 19: 1777 ¾ after 5. P.M.


I was honoured this Morning with your Favors of the 17th & 18th, with their Inclosures. I am much obliged to Congress for the late instance of their Confidence, expressed in their Resolution of the 17th, and shall be happy if my conduct in discharging the Objects, they had in view should be such as to meet their approbation.

I am now repassing the Schuylkill at Parkers Ford, with the Main body of the Army, which I hope will be over in an hour or Two though the water is deep & rapid. Genl Wayne with the Division under his command is in the Rear of the Enemy, and will be joined to Morrow or next day, I expect, by Genl Smallwood and Colo. Gist with their Corps. As soon as the Troops have crossed the River, I shall march them as expeditiously as possible towards Fat Land—Sweds & the Other Fords, where it is most probable the Enemy will attempt to pass. When I left German Town with the Army, I hoped, I should have had an Opportunity of attacking them either in Front or on their Flank with a prospect of success—But unhappily a variety of Causes have concurred to prevent it. Our March in the first place was greatly impeded thro the want of provissions, which delayed us so long, that the Enemy were apprized of our Motions and gained the Grounds near the White Horse Tavern with a part of their army—turning our right Flank, whilst Another part composing the Main body were more advanced towards our Left. We should have disappointed them in their design by getting on their Left, but unfortunately, the Heavy Rain which fell that Evening2 & in the course of the night, totally unfitted our Guns for service and destroyed nearly the Whole of the Ammunition with which the Army had been compleated a day or Two before, amounting to Forty Rounds per Man. At first I expected, that the loss was by no means so considerable and intended to file off3 with the Troops a few Miles to replace it & clean their arms, & then to proceed on my original plans but upon examination found it, as I have mentioned, and that we had not a sufficient supply with us to furnish the Men with the necessary Complemen⟨t.⟩ In this situation it was judged necessary that we should proceed as far as Reading Furnace for the Security of the Army. Owing to these Acciden⟨ts⟩ particularly the latter Matters have not been conducted, as I intended & wished, and the Enemy have had an Opportunity of making their Advances without being attacked. I Yet hope, from the present State of the River, that I shall be down in time to give them a meeting, and if unfortunately they should gain Philadelphia, that it will not be without loss. I have the honor to be with great respect Sir Your Most Obedt Servant

Go: Washington

N.B. The Main body of the Enemy afterwards moved towards the White Horse & took their Rout down the Road from thence. I should have advised you this Morning by Express of the Enemy’s advance & situation—had not Colo. Hamilton informed me that he had written you on the Subject.4

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, NjP:De Coppet Collection; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The LS is unaddressed. Harrison addressed the draft: “To Honble Henry Laurens &c. &c.,” and he docketed it: “To Congress 19 Sepr 1777.” The Varick transcript is addressed: “To the Honble John Hancock Esqr. President of Congress.” The postscript is not included on the draft or the Varick transcript. Congress read this letter on 1 Oct. (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 , 8:756).

1Parker’s Ford is about four miles down the Schuylkill River from Pottstown.

2The draft reads: “on Tuesday evening.” The previous Tuesday was 16 September.

3The draft reads: “only to file off.”

4For Hamilton’s two letters to Hancock of 18 Sept., in which he warned that “if Congress have not yet left Philadelphia, they ought to do it immediately without fail,” see Syrett, Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 1:326–28. Most members of Congress left the city by the following day.

British engineer Archibald Robertson says in his diary entry for 18 Sept. that “3 Companys of 1st Light Infantry went about 3½ miles on to a Place call’d Valley Forge where they took possession of a very considerable Magazine of Flour and many other Stores they remain’d there.” In his entry for 19 Sept. Robertson writes that he “went to Valley Forge with Sir William [Howe]. An Alarm was given that the Light Infantry at the Forge were Attack’d and like to be Surrounded. Two Regiments moved from the line to Support them, but the Rebels had filed off to the left without Attempting anything. 1st Battalion Light Infantry and 2 Battalions Grenadiers went there in the Afternoon. Sir William went this night to reconnoitre Fatland Ford. A Negro pass’d over and return’d with only one Shot fired. If Troops had been near a Crossing could have been Effected” (Lydenberg, Robertson Diaries description begins Harry Miller Lydenberg, ed. Archibald Robertson, Lieutenant-General Royal Engineers: His Diaries and Sketches in America, 1762–1780. New York, 1930. description ends , 148; see also Howe to Germain, 10 Oct. 1777, in Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 14:202–9; 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 , 34; Scull, Montresor Journals description begins G. D. Scull, ed. The Montresor Journals. New York, 1882. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vol. 14. description ends , 454–55; André, Journal description begins John André. Major André’s Journal: Operations of the British Army under Lieutenant Generals Sir William Howe and Sir Henry Clinton, June 1777 to November 1778. 1930. Reprint. New York, 1968. description ends , 49; and Ewald, Diary description begins Johann Ewald. Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal. Translated and edited by Joseph P. Tustin. New Haven and London, 1979. description ends , 90).

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