George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Thomas Wharton, Jr., 7 March 1778

To Thomas Wharton, Jr.

Valley Forge 7th March 1778


There is nothing I have more at Heart than1 to discharge the great Duties incumbent on me with the strictist Attention to the ease & Convenience of the People, every Instance therefore, of Hardship or oppression exercised by the Officers of any Department under my immediate Controul gives me the most sensible concern, & should be immediately punished if Complaints were properly made & supported. That there has been some Foundation for such Complaints & that they have affected the Service I cannot doubt from the great delay and Backwardness of the people in forwarding Supplies and affording the means of Transportation. Until the late waggon Law of this State was passed,2 there being no means of procuring the Service of the Inhabitants but by Milatary compulsion, Quarter Masters and Commissaries from the Necessity of the case seem to have been justified in impressing, tho’ in many instances prehaps it has been done with Circumstances of Terror & hardship which they ought to have avoided: But when the Legislature had by a Law made an Arrangment & put this important Service under the Care of their own Officers, It was my full Determination, by every means in my power, to support the Law that had passed & avail myself of the Resources of the State in the Mode pointed out, under a full Confidence, that the Wisdom & Forecast which had marked out such a Plan would be accompanied with proportionate Zeal & Efficacy to carry it into execution. Prehaps, Sir, I am not sufficiently informed to Judge properly where the present Defect lays, & therefore avoid imputing Blame to any, but I would wish you & the Gentlemen in Authority with you to be assured, that nothing would give me more Satisfaction than to see the Powers of the Goverment so effectual for the Supply & Accomodation of the Army, as to take away not only the Necessity but even Pretence of using any other than the Ordinary Civil Authority, Give me leave further to remark, that the Army seems to have a peculiar Claim to the Exertions of the Gentlemen of this State, to make its present Situation as convenient as possible, as it was greatly owing to their apprehensions & Anxieties, expressed in a Memorial to Congress,3 that the present Position was had, where with unparallel’d Patience they have gone thr’o a severe & inclement Winter, unprovided with any of those Conveniences & Comforts which are usually the Soldiers lot after the Duty of the Field is over.

This will be delivered you by the Dept. Quatr Master General Lutterloh whose Expectations of waggons for the Transportation of Supplies to Camp as well as ordinary Camp Duty have by no means been so fully Answered as he expected.4 To what cause this Disappointment is owing you will doubtless discover upon Conference with him, & if it shall appear to proceed from the Misconduct of any Officer accountable to me, I beg you will furnish me with Proof of such Male practices that I may apply a suitable Remedy. But if our difficulties flow from a defective Execution of the Law of the State I trust your publick Spirit & Regard to the great Cause in which we are engaged will induce you to Strengthen what may be found weak & quicken what may be found languid & Sluggish.5

The Necessities of the Service, Sir, are great, the Duty required I acknowledge is burthensome & difficult at this inclement season—but it cannot be dispensed with: The Army & the Country have a Mutual Dependence upon each other, & it is of the last importance that their Several duties should be so regulated & inforced as to produce not only the greatest Harmony & good understanding, but the truest happiness & Comfort to each; depending therefore upon a due & early Attention to this important Business & ⟨promising myself no small Relief from our present Difficulties I remain Sir with due Respect & Regard &c. &c.

Go: Washington⟩6

P.S. Since writing the foregoing, I have Received a Letter from Colo. Gibson at Lancaster, dated the 2d Inst.—Extract of which, with his Order to the Quarter Master and the Answer, I inclose, to shew how much we are distressed even in small matters;7 but our sufferings in Camp for want of Forage & Waggons tis beyond all description.8

Go: W——n

LS, in Caleb Gibbs’s writing, owned (1970) by Mr. John F. Reed, King of Prussia, Pa.; DfS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. GW made some minor changes and added the postscript on the draft, which is in Joseph Reed’s writing.

1Gibbs inadvertently wrote “that” on the LS.

2For discussion of the Pennsylvania wagon law passed on 2 Jan., see GW to George Gibson, 7 Mar., and note 1 to that document.

3For a discussion of the Pennsylvania memorial, see Henry Laurens to GW, 20 Dec. 1777, and note 2 to that document; for the text of the memorial, see Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 1st ser., 6:104–5.

4GW inserted the name “Lutterloh” and the words “by no means” on the draft. Henry Emanuel Lutterloh did not deliver the letter and enclosure personally but sent them by express. On 8 Mar. the state wagon master general, James Young, wrote Pennsylvania secretary of state Timothy Matlack: “This goes by Express from Coll Lutterloh with letters from his Excellency Genl Washington to Council. Colll Lutterloh has represented to me by orders of his Excellency that not any Waggons can be had from Philada Chester nor Bucks Conties, I have therefore directed their Quotas to be sent from Lancaster Berks & Northn Counties. As the Army is in great Want of Waggons, I beg leave to propose to Council that they would please to order a Number of Waggons to go from York & Cumberland Counties to the Camp, & there to remain until reliev’d by others from said Counties” (PHarH: Records of Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary Governments, 1775–1790; see also Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 1st ser., 6:343, and Lutterloh to Wharton, 9 Mar., ibid., 348–49). Lutterloh explained his actions in a letter to GW, c.16 March.

5The Pennsylvania supreme executive council read this letter on 9 Mar. and “Ordered, That extracts from the joint Representations of the Council & General Assembly to Congress of the 6th instant & of a Letter of the——instant, in reply to his Letter & such remarks as may further explain these extracts” (PHarH: Records of Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary Governments, 1775–1790; see also Pa. Col. Records description begins Colonial Records of Pennsylvania. 16 vols. Harrisburg, 1840–53. description ends , 11:436). For the extracts, see Wharton to GW, 10 Mar., n.1.

6The bracketed text, which is missing on the LS, is supplied from the draft.

7For the enclosures, see George Gibson to GW, 2 Mar., and note 1 to that document.

8For an overview of the army’s situation in this regard, see Commissary General of Forage Clement Biddle’s report of 5 Mar. to one of GW’s aides (probably Tench Tilghman, who docketed that letter). Having examined materials sent him by GW’s order, Biddle was “too well convinced that the Horses of the Army have sufferd greatly for want of proper Supplies of Forage.” He pointed out that he had foreseen the shortage of wagons as long ago as December, when “it was expected a large proportion could be drawn from the Army when they should have completed their Huts—however my supply in the mean time was not one fourth the necessary number & when the Teams were called in from the Regiments I did not get Ten fit for Service.” In late January 260 wagons were requested from Pennsylvania’s state government: “about Ten Days ago between Twenty & thirty came from Northampton, made one Trip for Provisions to Elk and then deserted loosing several Horses & Drivers in crossing the Schuylkil.” Although a few more wagons had come in since that time, Biddle had “not received one Team of the 150” that he needed “& those before employ’d have been detaind from bringing Supplies by the extreme bad roads & distance they have to hawl the Forage.” Having tried to bring in provisions by boat from magazines up the Schuylkill with little success, Biddle “was in a great measure confined to the environs of the Camp for what I was to collect and when I extended my Orders, found many Obstructions instead of Assistance by the number of Purchasers who I could not controul.” In spite of these obstacles, Biddle expressed optimism about the future, writing that “The greatest difficulty will be to supply the Army for ten Days to come in which time the roads may be expected to be passable & some fresh waggons arrive—For this Supply we must depend much on the Schuylkil.” Thereafter, Biddle wrote, “Unless the weather should be very unfavorable I trust there will be a tollerable supply by the Boats, by the waggons now out & those coming from the State.” However, to assist his mission, Biddle requested “that his Excellency will give me an order to take, by my Agents, all the hay Straw & Grain for Forage (avoiding the wheat purchased by or for the Commissary) that can be spared without distressing the Farmers within a certain distance on each side Schuylkil upwards—The want of money I request may be considerd when the paymaster General receives a supply” (DLC:GW). Another letter, from Wagon Master General James Thompson, probably to Biddle, of 2 Mar., gave examples of horses suffering from lack of provision and concluded that “every effort for the Supplying the Armey with Horses is useless untill some better provision is made for the Support of them” (DLC:GW). That conclusion was also supported by a “Return of the Contl Horses now with the Army,” 4 Mar., which showed 151 of 408 horses “Unfit for service” (DLC:GW).

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