George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Smith, 20 October 1777

From Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Smith

[Fort Mifflin, Pa., 20 October 1777]1


I received your Excellencys favor of the 19th in which I observe you have thought proper to send the Baron d’Aranot to take the command of this Garrison.2 There will, therefore, be no further occasion for me here, as the party of Infantry left, of what I brought here, does not now exceed 80 men, which will scarce be a command for Maj. Ballard, and farther draft must be made for the artillery.3 I can no longer be of any service here, as should any accident happen the Baron, Col. Green will take the command. The regiment to which I belong, I am certain must want me much, the Colonel being wounded.4 I shall, therefore, be much obliged to your Excellency if you will recall me. Had it not been for the situation in which the fort was, and the near approach of the enemy, I should have ’eer this asked permision to join my corps. I am much obliged to your Excellency for your favorable opinion. It shall be my study while in the service to merit it.

Yesterday a red hot ball entered our Laboratory, where were to boxes of ammunition (about 30 cartouches) which blew up the barracks, and had it not been for the activity of Capt. Wells, of the 4th Virginia, and Capt. Luct, in putting out the fire, would have done much damage.5 Province Island has been overflowed with very high tide, which most undoubtedly must hinder their works much.6 The Commodore sent proper guards last night, and I believe will continue them. We have nearly completed a redou⟨t⟩ in the centre of our fort for our dernier resort. In case of a storm it will be necessary to have the Barrack Master’s house (without the Garrison) burnt, as it will cover the enemy and intercept the rake of one of our block houses. If your Excellency thinks proper we will burn it. This night we will attempt cutting the banks, indeed with the reinforcement I think the Seige might be raised. I have the honor to be, Your Excellency’s M. O. S.

Copy, DLC: Peter Force Collection.

1Although GW in his reply to this letter of 22 Oct. refers to it as “your Letter of 18th Inst.,” the context of the letter indicates that it was written on 20 Oct. (see notes 2, 5, and 6).

2Smith is referring to GW’s letter to him of 18 October.

3Although Robert Ballard’s commission as lieutenant colonel of the 1st Virginia Regiment was dated 4 Oct. 1777, he apparently did not replace John Green in that position until January 1778.

4Col. Josias Carvil Hall of the 4th Maryland Regiment had been wounded at the Battle of Germantown on 4 October.

5Capt. Lt. Francis Downman says in his journal entry for 19 Oct.: “I went to the batteries this morning and began to fire on the fort [Mifflin]. The rebels opened all their batteries and blockhouses upon us; their grape shot came so thick that we could not stand to our guns. They damaged the middle battery so much that I was obliged to desist altogether from firing from it. One of our shells set fire to a quantity of powder in the fort [Mifflin]” (Whinyates, Services of Francis Downman description begins F. A. Whinyates, ed. The Services of Lieut.-Colonel Francis Downman, R.A., in France, North America, and the West Indies, between the Years 1758 and 1784. Woolwich, England, 1898. description ends , 42).

George Walls (d. 1786) of Berkeley County, Va., became a first lieutenant in the 4th Virginia Regiment in February 1776, and he was promoted to captain in September 1776. In July 1779 Walls was appointed major of Lt. Col. Joseph Crockett’s Western Battalion of Virginia state forces, a position in which he served until the end of the war. The captain who assisted Walls in putting out the fire at Fort Mifflin may be James Lucas (c.1758–1814) of Brunswick County, Va., who had been a captain in the 4th Virginia Regiment since March 1776. Lucas was promoted to major of that regiment in April 1778, and he transferred to the 3d Virginia Regiment in September 1778. After leaving the Continental army in May 1779, Lucas served as colonel of a militia regiment.

6Capt. John Montresor wrote in his journal entry for 18 Oct: “The Tide surprisingly high. . . . The overflow of the meadows is such that the tide is rather over the platform of the right and middle Batteries and Boats pass from Ferry House to Blakely’s” (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 , 467).

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