George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Board of War, 2–3 January 1778

To the Board of War

Valley forge January 2[–3] 1778


Your several Letters of the 23d, 24th & 27th Ulto have been recieved.1

Agreable to your request I shall communicate to Genl Howe the information you have recieved respecting Captn Dick and the other American Officers, with your determination to retaliate on an equal number of their Officers, till Captain Dick &c. are relieved from their cruel & unjustifiable treatment.2

It would be a happy circumstance if the Cloathing from Virginia was made up, that it might be delivered to the Troops from thence. I believe there will be little nay none for any Other part of the Army after they are supplied, supposing such to be the wish of the State. Their views do not extend only to such of their Soldiery as are now in Camp, but to their Men in Hospitals and the Recruits or Drafts who will join hereafter; And I am satisfied should any of it be appropriated to the use of others and their own Troops want, there will be disgust and disatisfaction. From the Letters I have received upon the subject, it is particularly mentioned that the Supplies which the State procure are intended for their own men & this is agreable to the Idea entertaind by the Other States.3 The Connecticut Troops now here, have received from thence more Necessaries of an essential nature than their present wants require and these are kept for their future demands. As to Blankets, I really do not know what will be done. Our situation in this instance is peculiarly distressing. I suppose that not less than from 3 to 4000 are now wanted in Camp—Our Sick want—Our Unfortunate men in captivity want. I gave Doctr Shippen an Order some time ago for 400 said to be comeing from the Eastward; Whether they have been received or not, I cannot tell.4 to Relieve in one quarter, is to distress in another, and I do not see that any of those sent from Virginia can be possibly spared from the Troops here.

I have written to Genl Smallwood who is posted at Wilmington respecting the Cattle said to be driven to the marshes in Kent County, & given him direction to inquire into the fact and if found true to pursue proper measures for their removal and security5 which in a letter just recd from him he has prom⟨ised to day.⟩

I hoped before this Congress would have fixed upon a proper person for the Office of adjutant Genl. Till it is done, I do not know how it will be possible to spare Colo. Pickering. I addressed them yesterday upon the subject.

Whether the men from the Eastward, drafted for a short term of service, have received Cloathing is a matter I am not able to determine. I do not apprehend that they have drawn much since they joined this Army, Because the supplies in the Cloathiers hands would not admit of it; nor do I know certainly whether they have had any. As far as it is in my power I shall attend to the prohibition, tho the observance of it will be found easier in Speculation than in practice.

I have given directions to the Commissary & Qr Mr about the Flour & Bread at Elk and hope such measures will be pursued, that they will be with the Army or in the vicinity of it by the time they are wanted.6

The Army being much reduced by Sickness—by the expiration of the time of service of Several of the Troops—by Detachments and other causes, I cannot think it safe to weaken it more, and therefore cannot comply with the requisition for sending Taylors to Lancaster. However, that the Supplies of Cloathing may be forwarded, I have directed a Return to be made of All the Taylors and they will be set to work either in Camp or at some place contiguous to it, as soon as Cloth and other materials arrive.7

January 3d Your Favors of the 28th & 30 Ulto came to hand this Morning. In compliance with the Boards request, I have ordered Colo. Hartleys Regiment to march to York, and in turn shall expect as soon as possible the Detachmt of men, which you mention.8 This measure at the same time, does not appear to me very adviseable, The Army as I have observed before, being greatly reduced & weakened by the term of service of several Regiments being expired and from other causes. It is daily diminishing—On the 31st Decr the Inlistments of near 300 of Colo. Stewarts Regiment ended & they are All gone. Our condition in point of force is far from being the most eligible or respectable, and in case the Enemy should make a General push would be hazardous.

I shall use every exertion that may be expedient & practicable for subsisting the Army & keeping it together: But I must observe, that this never can be done by coercive means. Supplies of provision and Cloathing must be had in Another way, or it cannot exist. The small seizures that were made of the former, some days ago, in consequence of the most pressing and Urgent necessity—When the alternative was, to do that or dissolve, excited the greatest alarm & uneasiness imaginable, even among some of Our best & Warmest Friends—Such procedures may relieve for an instant—but eventually will prove of the most pernicious consequence—Besides spreading disaffection & jealousy in the people, they never fail even in the most veteran Armies under the most rigid & exact discipline to raise in the Soldiery a disposition to licentiousness—plunder and Robbery, which has ever been found exceedingly difficult to suppress and which has not only proved ruinous to the Inhabitants, but in many instances to Armies themselves.9

I have communicated to the Army the Matters directed in the Resolutions of the 29th Ulto.10 I have the Honor to be Gentn Your Most Obedt sert


Df, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1These letters have not been found.

2See GW to William Howe, 8 Jan., and Howe’s reply of 18 January. Alexander Dick (d. 1785) of Fredericksburg, Va., became captain of a company of Virginia marines in February 1776, and in December of that year the Virginia Navy Board ordered him and his company aboard the privateer brig Mosquetto. After the capture of the Mosquetto by H.M.S. Ariadne off Barbados in June 1777, Dick was committed to Forton prison in Portsmouth, England, in August 1777. Archibald Cary and George Wythe wrote for the Virginia general assembly to Henry Laurens on 12 Jan. 1778 concerning Dick and his fellow prisoners: “when their friends heard last from them [they] were confined close prisoners in Gosport or some other goal, not only destitute of friends, wanting necessaries, suffering grevious hardships, and otherwise cruelly treated, but threatened with a prosecution for treason under the execrable act of parliament made not long since” (DNA:PCC, item 78; see also Dixon and Hunter’s Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg], 27 Nov. 1778). Dick returned from captivity early in 1779 and attempted to secure a commission as a major in the marines, but his resentment at the treatment accorded him by the naval officers under whom he was asked to serve led him to seek employment elsewhere (see Dick to Arthur Lee, 26 May 1779, ViU: Lee Papers). By January 1781 Dick was a major of Virginia state troops, and he served in the Virginia State Garrison Regiment and Col. Charles Dabney’s Virginia State Legion before retiring in January 1783.

5The remainder of this sentence is in GW’s hand.

6Provisions obtained in Maryland, Virginia, and states farther south often were transported by water and deposited at Head of Elk, Maryland. GW’s “directions” have not been found.

7See General Orders, 1 January. The original version of the final paragraph of this letter, with numerous corrections and emendations, is struck out at this place on the draft. It reads: “The service and interest of my Country, I have much at heart, and no man has laboured with more unwearied assiduity to promote these than I have in the present Contest. This I shall continue to do as far as it may be in my power; But I fear the Boards expectations will never be answered in the instance in which they have so particularly recommended my co-operation & Countenance—I mean in the case of Genl Conway. His appointment to the Office of Inspector General, I beleive would have caused no uneasiness—But his promotion to the rank of Major Genl has given much. My exertions to cooperate with him, or any Other Officer to establish discipline shall always be employed; but my feelings & opinion of him will never permit me without the grossest dissimulation, which I abhor & despise, to countenance the man as my Friend, whom I know to be my Enemy, and who has been using every base and insidious art to injure me.”

8These letters have not been found. Hartley’s detachment was intended to escort to York the journals of Congress, which had been buried in the Pennsylvania countryside since September 1777 and only recently recovered (see James Lovell to GW, 31 Dec. 1777, and GW to Lovell, 9 Jan. 1778). The following “Special Orders,” dated 7 Jan. and signed by Adj. Gen. Timothy Pickering, are in Brig. Gen. Edward Hand’s orderly book: “Colo. Hartley’s regiment is to march at 8 o’clock tomorrow for York-Town, & there receive orders from the Board of War” (DNA: RG 93, Orderly Books, 1775–1783, vol. 20).

10GW is referring to the congressional resolutions of 30 Dec. 1777 on one month’s extraordinary pay for the army (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 9:1067–68; see also General Orders, 3 Jan. 1778).

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