George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Smith, 27 September 1777

From Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Smith

Fort Mifflin [Pa.] 27th Sept. 1777


I last night threw myself into this Garrison, where I am sorry to inform your Excellency that I find every-thing in the utmost Confusion, not as many Cartouches as will last one day, & the very necessary Cartouches for the Block houses not sufficient for an hour: 60 untrained Militia, are all the artillery men in the Fort, the provisions almost out. The Militia refused obedience to Capt. Treat and have under went no sort of training. This day one of the Frigates was taken by the Enemy which effectually cut off our Communication with Trenton.1 As Commodore [ ]2 thinks it will be very imprudent to attempt an attack on her, so well guarded as she is by their batteries, So that the stores I send for by this express, to Trenton must come by land which will take up much time.3 Should the enemy in the mean time make a vigorous attack on the chevaux de frise & the Frigate come down on our backs, when we have no battery & no cover but Pickets, the Fort and Garrison may probably fall in to their hands.4 Gen. Newcomb with 500 Militia is now at Woodberry, I expect they will Garrison Billingsport, we cannot spare time to dismantle it, I am endeavouring to put the Fort into the best posture of defence I can. For which purpose I have drafted 50 of my men to serve the Cannon, Capt. Treat has taken charge of, & if they will give us some time to prepare, we shall be able to make a tolerable defence. I have sent the commissary to provide for us at Gloster5 where I am informed there are some provisions belonging To the Continent.

A Flag just appears from Ld Cornwallis demanding to know why the Commodore wishes to fire on the defenceless inhabitants of the City, that should a repetition of the kind happen, he must expect that he would retaliate on the prisoners in his hands, & further observed the folly of future attempts as he had sufficiently fortified approaches by water to the city, He further added that he still held up the hand of clemency & mercy to all that would submit, and begged we would consider the situation we were in, that in a very few days he would be able to attack with such a formidable force that it would be impossible for us to resist, Capt. Robinson of the Navy for answer informed that Ld Cornwallis must have been misinformed with the intention of the ships being sent up: as the Commanding officer had orders from the Commodore to prevent any works from being thrown up.6 I have the honor to be your Excelly M. O. S.


Transcript, DLC: Samuel Smith Papers.

1The frigate Delaware description begins Delaware Archives. 5 vols. 1911–19. Reprint. New York, 1974. description ends commanded by Capt. Charles Alexander ran aground and was captured after engaging British batteries at Philadelphia. General Howe wrote George Germain on 10 Oct. 1777 that the British batteries at Philadelphia “were unfinished on the 27th [Sept.] when two frigates, a number of galleys, gondolas, and other armed vessels came up from Mud Island and attacked the lower battery of two guns and two howitzers. The largest frigate called the Delaware description begins Delaware Archives. 5 vols. 1911–19. Reprint. New York, 1974. description ends , mounting thirty guns, anchored within five hundred yards of the battery and the other frigate somewhat more distant, the galleys, gondolas, and other vessels taking their respective stations as they could bring their guns to bear. About ten o’clock in the morning they began a heavy cannonade upon the town as well as the battery, but the tide falling the Delaware description begins Delaware Archives. 5 vols. 1911–19. Reprint. New York, 1974. description ends grounded, upon which the four battalion guns of the grenadiers being brought to bear upon her to the greatest advantage, they did such execution in a short time that she struck her colours and was taken possession of by the marine company of grenadiers commanded by Captain Averne [D’Auvergne]” (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; see also 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 , 36; 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 , 459; 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 , 150–51; 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 , 53; and Baurmeister, Revolution in America description begins Carl Leopold Baurmeister. Revolution in America: Confidential Letters and Journals, 1776–1784, of Adjutant General Major Baurmeister of the Hessian Forces. Translated and annotated by Bernhard A. Uhlendorf. New Brunswick, N.J., 1957. description ends , 118).

2Smith is referring to Commo. John Hazelwood.

3Smith on this date wrote to an unnamed “Col. or his deputy”: “I enclose you a return of Cartouches, wanting for use of Fort Mifflin which I now command, the greatest expedition must be used to send them down as we have not now in Garrison more Cartouches than we can expend in one day[.] The service requires your utmost exertions & I make no doubt you will use them, Wagons must be provided as I do not think it will be safe to send by water. To Mantua Creek will be the best place to send it all the Boats being Collected there, the Militia will forward it from there or the Guard must inform us of its arrival” (DLC: Samuel Smith Papers).

4Fort Mifflin had been designed to defend Philadelphia against naval forces coming up the Delaware River but not against an attack coming down the river from the city.

5Gloucester, N.J., is on the Delaware River four miles below Philadelphia.

6Isaiah Robinson of Maryland had been a lieutenant on a Continental sloop before becoming captain of the sloop Sachem in June 1776. In September 1776 Robinson was given command of the Continental brig Andrew Doria, and at this time he was senior Continental navy captain on the Delaware River.

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