George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Patrick Henry, 10 December 1777

To Patrick Henry

Head Quarters Whitemarsh [Pa.] 10th Decemr 1777


I was honored with yours of the 22d ulto on Wednesday last,1 but the Situation which the Army has since been in has prevented me from answering it before—Genl Howe had been for some time preparing for a move which every account from the City informed me was intended against this Army. On Thursday Evening he advanced as far as Chesnut Hill and in the Morning he appeared upon the Heights about three Miles in our front. There was a small skirmish between the Enemy’s advanced Corps and the pennsylvania Militia in which Brig. Genl Irvine of that State was unfortunately wounded, thrown from his Horse and taken prisoner.2 Having reconnoitered our Situation all that day, and I suppose not liking the appearance of our right wing, they moved on Friday night about three miles to our left.3 They lay still on Saturday,4 and on sunday about Noon intelligence was brought that they were in full march towards our Camp. As soon as they began to move Colo. Morgan with the light Corps under his command and the Maryland Militia attacked their right flank, and I am informed did them a good deal of damage considering the Number of Men that engaged.5 About sunset they halted again, their left wing being about one mile from our line. From this maneuvre I expected an attack in the Night or by day break and made disposition accordingly. On Monday afternoon they began to move but instead of advancing, they filed off from their right, and the first certain account that I could obtain of their intentions was that they were in full march towards Philada. I immediately dispatched light parties after them, but such was the rapidity of their movement that they could not even come up with their rear.6

I am pleased to hear of the Arrival of Cloathing in Virginia which tho’ not very great will be very acceptable as far as it will go. I beg that whatever you can spare may be immediately sent forward to the Head Quarters of the Army where ever that may be, and I have no doubt but we can get the Cloaths more readily made up by the Taylors of the Army than you can in the Country. I observe that there is a small supply of Cloth suitable for Officers. I should be extremely glad if that could be sent up for the use of those who remain in the feild and not delivered out to those who under various pretences will find means to winter at home. I hope the Gentlemen, who are appointed in your State to make a collection of Cloathing for your Troops will exert themselves, for altho’ large quantities are ordered from Europe, the arrival is so precarious that we ought by no means to put a dependance upon a supply thro’ that channel.

As I have not seen the Director General of the Hospitals since the Rect of your letter, I cannot say what may be his wants in the medicinal way; but I dare to say a supply of any of the capital Articles will be very acceptable to him. I expect him here in a day or two, when you shall hear further from him or me upon the subject.7 I have the honor &c.

Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1The previous Wednesday was 3 December.

2British officer Archibald Robertson describes the British march to Chestnut Hill and the action of Friday, 5 Dec., in his diary: “4th at 8 in the Evening Orders were given to march by 10 o’clock in One Column. . . . About 12 at night the Column was form’d and we began our march towards Chesnut hill. We arrived about 6 o’clock 5th December. We had a few Shots on the march that Wounded 5 or 6 of the Light Infantry.

“At Chesnut hill we had a fine View of the Rebel Encampments about 3 miles Distant on a Ridge of hills lying North of White Marsh 13 Miles from Philadelphia.

“This Camp by the fires Extended between 4 and 5 Miles which they had purposedly illumin’d on hearing our Approach. Their Signal Guns were fired as we got through Beggar’s Town. On Viewing their Camp when Day appeared we found great part of it Abbattisd and a strong Post at White Marsh Church with several Pieces of Cannon that Commanded the Road leading to their Camp across the Plain.

“About 11 o’clock Brigadier General Irwine with about 5 or 600 Pensilvaynia Militia Cross’d under Cover of the Woods and Attack’d the 2d Battalion Light Infantry who immediately drove them back a mile and a half. Irwine was Wounded and taken, also a Captain and several Killed and Wounded. We had very few men Wounded” (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 , 159–60; see also 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 , 108–9; Burgoyne, Diaries of Two Ansbach Jaegers description begins Bruce E. Burgoyne, ed. and trans. Diaries of two Ansbach Jaegers: Lieutenant Heinrich Carl Philipp von Feilitzsch and Lieutenant Christian Friedrich Bartholomai. Bowie, Md., 1997. description ends , 28).

3British major John André discusses the movement of the British troops on Friday, 5 Dec., in his journal entry for that date: “The Rebels still remained on the hills, but appeared to be drawing their force towards their right, on which side we appeared to threaten them. The Commander-in-Chief [William Howe] observing they were not to be attacked with advantage on this side, determined upon a movement towards their left, and at 10 in the evening the Army marched in one Column and came by Cheltenham and Jenkins Town opposite their other flank” (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 , 68).

4Lt. Heinrich Carl Philipp von Feilitzsch of the jägers writes in his journal entry for Saturday, 6 Dec.: “The 6th—We remained where we were but nothing happened. The enemy camp was very secure and well-entrenched” (Burgoyne, Diaries of Two Ansbach Jaegers description begins Bruce E. Burgoyne, ed. and trans. Diaries of two Ansbach Jaegers: Lieutenant Heinrich Carl Philipp von Feilitzsch and Lieutenant Christian Friedrich Bartholomai. Bowie, Md., 1997. description ends , 28).

5For the skirmishes on Sunday, 7 Dec., see General Orders, 8 Dec., and note 1.

6For the British army’s march to Philadelphia on 8 Dec., see William Maxwell to GW, 9 Dec., and note 1.

7William Shippen, Jr., did not go to headquarters as GW expected (see Shippen to GW, 12 Dec.).

Index Entries