George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General John Armstrong, 23 December 1777

From Major General John Armstrong

Camp near Bartholemews [Pa.] Decemr 23d 1777.


I received your Excellys Favour this Afternoon & shall as far as in my Power endeavour to obey your Commands.1 Upon conferring with Persons who have the best Opportunities of knowing the Circumstances of the Country between this & Philada I am of Opinion that instead of there being a Surplus beyond the Wants of the Inhabitants they will have great Difficulty to reach the Spring with the little Stock left. The long Residence of our Army in these Parts has made every kind of Provision so scarce that I have found the utmost Difficulty to procure sufficient for the Troops I have. As to what may remain between the old Camp & Philada I believe your Excelly will not think there can be any Gleaning after British Troops. Upon the whole I am so well satisfied that nothing beneficial can possibly arise from the Search, that unless the Orders are renewed after this Information, I shall not proceed. In that Case I shall use my best Endeavours tho’ without the least Hope of Success.

I have given the necessary Orders for the Troops to collect as early as possible at a Rendezvous in order to proceed to the Enemys Lines, which I hope will have the desired Effect. The late Arrival of the Express & the Darkness of the Night added to the State of their Provisions will prevent their March untill the Morning, but I shall proceed with all Expedition after they are put in Motion & hope it will answer your Purpose.

Your Excellys Situation, at such a Time with the Enemy plundering before your Camp & destitute of Bread gives me the greatest Concern, & the greater as I can do so little for your Relief. The only Dependance I had for my Troops after this fatiguing March was a Load of Flour about Midway between us—this I have ordered to be forwarded to you, & shall leave no Efforts untried to procure as much more as possible. The Arrival of the Bullocks which pass’d me yesterday will I hope relieve you in the Article of Meat. I have not spared any fat Cattle within my Reach tho I am well assured many of them are designed for the particular Use of the Owners & only kept till this Time for Want of Salt. From my own Observation supported by the Judgment of all those with whom I have conversed I do not find the least Prospect of obtaining Flour in this Part of the Country I would not have your Excelly therefore depend upon any Supply from this Quarter as I am well satisfied you would be disappointed—Even the Support of the Militia must soon fail if the Commissy Genl cannot extend his Views to us—There are few Cattle left & what Wheat remains is not threshed. I am with great Respect & Regard Your Excellys most Obedt & very Hbble Servt

John Armstrong


1This letter has not been found, but Armstrong’s orders of this date to Pennsylvania militia colonel John Lacey, partly printed in a manuscript dealer’s catalog, may reflect its contents: “In pursuance of Orders I have received this Evening from his Excelly. General Washington—you are to march your Battalion tomorrow Morning at 5 o’Clock to the lower End of Germantown where you will be joined by other Troops & receive farther Orders. One Axe is to be taken along by each Company & all the Provision they have dress’d. No Waggons or Baggage. Each Man takes his Blanket. You are to leave a small Guard at your Camp to take Care of any Prisoners you may have & your Baggage. If you overtake any Persons going, or meet any coming from Town send them back with a few Men to your present Camp. I . . . approve of what you have done . . . have the Salt forwarded here as soon as possible. . . . It may not be amiss if you have one Empty Waggon in yr. Rear. Set out one hour before day” (Joseph Rubinfine, The American Revolution [1997], list 136).

Col. John Bull, who also commanded a militia regiment under Armstrong, wrote a postscript to his letter to Pennsylvania supreme executive council president Thomas Wharton, Jr., of 6:00 a.m., 24 Dec.: “By Certain Inteligence Just Recd from Head Quarters the Enemy are in a Large Body in Chester County, with Gen’l How at their Head, In Consequence of which, I am this moment to March to Germantown, or Below Towards the Enemy, with 6 Riegts. of Militia” (Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 1st ser., 6:128–29). Bull’s troops threatened the British lines at Philadelphia on the evening of 24 December. In the report that Bull wrote to Wharton at 7:00 a.m. on 25 Dec., he says: “I have been with the Brigade Down to the Enemies Lines on the three most publick Roads, in Three small collumns, taking the Center on ye Germantown Road my Self, Coll. [Edward] Antes [Antill], with two Battns on ye Ridge Road, and Coll. [John] Lacy, of Bucks, with 2 Battns on or near ye frankfort Road, and marched them all Within Musquet Shot of the Enemies Lines, and Between third and fourth street Continued on the Right of the Germantown. I drew up my little Division and haveng Our Two Twelve Pounders, with 2 comps of artilery, I rather strechd my orders by Sending them 8 well diracted Cannon Ball, Which no Doubt Took Place near ye Church. It would have given your Excy. Pleasure to Se the Countenance of the Generality of my officers and many of the men, Who I am convinced I Could have Led up to their Redoubts, which would have done no more than alarm them, Which was all I was Directed to Do, In order to Call their attention from Plundering Chester County. We Wish’d them a Merry Crismes by causeing them to Beat to arms and fire their Cannon from the Lines from all Qurs., their Ball Raked our Little Parade both on Right and Left, but without the Least Damage. We brought of one Prisoner, some of their Horses, &c.” (Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 1st ser., 6:133–34). An account apparently based on Bull’s letter appeared in the 31 Dec. issue of the Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser (Lancaster).

British, Loyalist, and Hessian sources largely agree with Bull’s account. The 27 Dec. issue of James Humphreys, Jr.’s Loyalist Pennsylvania Ledger: or the Philadelphia Market-Day Advertiser says that on the night of 24 Dec. “a large party of the rebels had the impudence to come down and fire a few cannon shot at one of the lower redoubts, but finding a different reception than they could have wished, immediately made off again. A short time after another party, ’tis said about two thousand, with three field pieces, marched in order down the Falls road, looked at the lines, and without firing a gun marched back again.” British engineer Archibald Robertson gives a similar account in his journal entry for that date: “At Dusk in the Evening a Party of Rebels came the German Town Road with Two Pieces of Cannon and fired 5 Shot over our lines into the Town. Our Field Pieces return’d some shot and the Rebels retired. The Troops within the lines kept Allert all night” (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 , 162). Hessian staff officer Carl Leopold Baurmeister writes in his diary that at about 6:30 p.m. on 24 Dec., “the rebels attempted to attack our redoubts. While they approached by two routes from Germantown, several row galleys sought to approach our frigates. But after a few cannon shot from the 5th Redoubt and the Camilla frigate, everything became quiet again” (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 , 148; 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 , 46; Döhla, Hessian Diary description begins Johann Conrad Döhla. A Hessian Diary of the American Revolution. Translated and edited by Bruce E. Burgoyne. Norman, Okla., and London, 1990. description ends , 63).

Index Entries