George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Smith, 9 October 1777

From Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Smith

Fort Mifflin [Pa.] 9th October 1777


I Receiv’d your Excellencys Letter of the 7th and have read it to the Officers of the Navy which assists not a little to keep up their Spirits. Yesterday a large Scow was brought down the Schuylkil which we secur’d, after wounding One of their Men. Our Intelligence informs that Six Boats were ready to come down from the lower ferry and in the evening we heard that a large Body with 20 ps. of Artillery and Boats on Carriages from the City were marching down to Webbs ferry,1 in consequence of these Accounts the Commodore sent some arm’d Boats & Gundolas in the mouth of the Schuylkil, who discovered the enemy at work along the bank. The Boats kept up a fire on them all night, in the morning they opened a small Battery and fir’d briskly for Some time. The Commodore intends attacking them at high Water and try if possible to silence them.2 They will answer two purposes by erecting Batteries so as to keep the Gallies out of Schuylkil, One, that in case your Excellency defeats them they may have a safer retreat by Webbs ferry on a bridge of boats than any other, or they may bring over their Artillery and annoy us much in the fort, indeed it will be impossible for us to live in it, I shall in that case be oblig’d to cover my men, & shou’d they keep up their fire at night it will oblige us to sleep in the open Air, which will soon destroy my small party, I have already Sent away 6 Men and one Officer Sick, and this day shall send off 12 Men & 2 officers Sick. besides this we have 7 More in Garrison unfit for duty, however if they keep their men in the Marshes two or three Days, they must in this weather become equally sickly. From the Number of the Enemy we saw on the Shore, I am of Opinion they have at least 750 Men, perhaps 1000 with them. I have now 200 Effective Men in Garrison. The Number of wounded in last Saturdays engagement, by every Account we can get from the City exceed 1200.3 I have the honor to be your Excellencys Most Obedt Hum. Servt

Sam Smith

LS, DLC:GW. GW’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman wrote the following notes on the manuscript below Smith’s signature: “Write to Newcombe to take Boats out of the Creeks—Advise Col. Smith to build Cover for the men under the East Face of the Fort” (see GW to Smith, 11 Oct.).

1The lower ferry was Gray’s Ferry. Webb’s Ferry crossed the Schuylkill River near its mouth, connecting Province Island with a road leading south from Philadelphia. The British erected a small battery at the ferry on 8 Oct. as a first step toward building batteries on Province Island and adjacent Carpenter’s Island to fire on Fort Mifflin about six hundred yards off shore.

2Capt. John Montresor of the British army wrote in his journal entry for 8 Oct. that “this night at Sundown we made a Battery of No. 2 Medium 12s at the N. side of the mouth of Schuylkill; before it was finished 3 rebel Galleys came to their usual station at the mouth and hearing our workmen fired grape 3 inch shot, which we did not return, until our Battery was completed.” On 9 Oct. Montresor wrote: “Nine Rebel Galleys attacked our Battery of 2 medium 12 pounders but were beaten back. We lost one Grenadier killed, three wounded and a waggoner and two Horses killed” (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 , 463–64).

3For a discussion of the British casualties at the Battle of Germantown on 4 Oct., see GW to Hancock, 5 Oct., n.9.

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