George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Horatio Gates, 29 April 1778

From Major General Horatio Gates

War Office York Town [Pa.] 29th April 1778


The Board have been favoured with your Excellency’s Letter of the 27th instant relative to the Laboratory at Lebanon. It has been with no small Concern that we have percieved the Affairs in the Commissary General’s Department exceedingly deranged. We cannot find any Neglect in the Gentleman at the Head of it as we believe him to be an active & good Officer. But the same Discontents & Misfortunes which have pervaded almost every other Corps have prevailed in the Regiment of Artificers. The Board have used every Endeavor to remedy the Disorders & hope Things are getting up in that Department. Unfortunately Col: Flower has been for a long time indisposed & most of the Officers have taken little Pains to reinlist the Men. A Mr Sweers who the Board found possessed of Orders from General Knox as the next in the Department is found to be inadequate to the Task ’tho’ he will be useful in a more confined Branch of the Business. He was appointed Deputy Commissary General but must be prevailed on to resign or be removed.1 As to the making Musket Cartridges the enclosed Papers will give your Excellency the latest Accounts we have on that Subject. The Men are hired by the Day & are of Course under little Command. But it is imagined they are sufficient to make up as soon as it can be wanted all the Lead we have.2 By the Returns formerly sent you it will be seen that our Stock of this Article is distressingly low & very small Additions have been made since. The Board have written repeatedly & pressingly to every State in the Confederacy desiring Loans or Purchases to be made, but have reaped but a small Harvest from all their Endeavours. There were at Springfield about twenty five Tons of Lead, but the Board hear General Knox ordered fifteen Tons of it to Lebanon at which Place there are cast into Ball about fifteen Tons. There are at the Head of Elk & at this Place about ten Tons which is all we know of within our Reach at present. One hundred Waggons are gone to the Southward for Military Stores & Cloathing & we have Expectations of some Lead by their Return. We have given every Encouragement to the Opening & working a valuable Mine on the Juniata in this State which from present Appearances is sufficient to supply all America—But there are some Disputes about the Property which we fear will embarrass Matters much.3

The Reparation of Arms has gone on but very slow. Complaints are made that they cannot get Workmen & they wish for Drafts from the Army of the Propriety of which your Excellency is the best Judge. Mr Butler the former Superintendant is removed & the Board have appointed William Henry Esq. of Lancaster Superintendant of Arms & Acoutrements.4 This Gentleman in the Course of the Winter with very little Assistance from us has repaired more Arms & procured more Acoutrements on the best Construction than the whole of those employed in the Commissy Genl or Armourers Departments put together. Our Hopes are strongly built on this Gentleman tho’ his Appointment is rather late. But the Defects in this Branch among others were long ago represented to Congress who were tardy in acting upon the Bussiness. We shall be greatly disstressed too for Want of Acoutrements. We have given repeated Spurs to the People employed in this Branch who have by no Means done what they might. A Pattern of a Cartridge Cannister made of thin rolled Iron is obtained & sent & the Board propose contracting for a large Number of them to supply the Want of Cartouch Boxes of which however as many as possible will be made.5 We could wish the Board of Ordinance at Camp had undertaken the Duty assigned them6 as they are on the Spot & will render great Assistance to this Board who will cordially cooperate with them for the Good of the Service. We have given Orders & sent a Pattern of a Cartouch Box to a Person in Connecticut for the making up a large Number of Acoutrements, besides which we have applied to the Governments of every State to establish Factories for Shoes & Acoutrements equal to the Demand from the Troops of their respective Quotas.7 The Board have stated to your Excellency the real Situation of Matters that you may be acquainted with every Expectation we have & favour us with any of your Thoughts on the Subject as we shall be happy to do everything to put our Affairs in the best Train possible. I have the Honour to be with great Respect your very obed. Humble Servant

Horatio Gates president

P.S. It appears by the Returns that (including those at Camp) there are one Million of Musket Cartridges already made & filled.

LS, DLC:GW. The letter is docketed in part, “ansd 1st May.”

1Cornelius Sweers was investigated for fraud later this year (see Joseph Watkins to GW, 9 April, n.3).

2Gates enclosed a “List of Men employed in the Laboratory Lead Furnace and Magazine at Lebanon from Feby 3d to April 15th 1778” (DLC:GW). The document gives the names, ages, and dates of “entry” for forty-two men employed at the laboratory; reports that the magazine employed Joseph Fry “and on an average 6 Men out of the above List, but in future it will take at least 8”; and lists eight additional men employed at the lead furnace. Gates probably also enclosed Commissary of Ordnance Joseph Watkins’s letter of 16 April to Commissary General of Military Stores Benjamin Flower, explaining his conduct of the laboratories. Watkins claimed that the shortage of musket cartridges could be “justly attributed” to the “Disappointment of a supply of Men and want of Money.” He also asserted that the current production was “between 6 & 7 Thousand Musket Cartridges fit for Camp” per day and that the laboratory at Lebanon had produced 424,272 “Musket Cartridges with 3 Buck Shot in each” since 3 Feb. (DLC:GW).

3Gates is referring to the mining operation being organized by Daniel Roberdeau (see General Orders, 26 April, n.2). Roberdeau’s works were located nine miles from the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River (Roberdeau to John Jay, 30 June 1779, DNA:PCC, item 78).

4For discussion of the appointment of Henry, see Lachlan McIntosh to GW, 26 April, and note 4.

5The pattern for the iron canister was probably similar to the tin canister described by Gates in a circular letter of 28 Mar. to the state governors, in which he asserted that canisters were preferable to cartridge boxes because “they will infallibly secure the Cartridges from Rain, & their weight is so trifling as to be of no burthen to the soldiers” and because leather was scarce (see Gates to Nicholas Cooke, 28 Mar., R-Ar; see also N.C. State Records description begins Walter Clark, ed. The State Records of North Carolina. 16 vols., numbered 11-26. Winston and Goldsboro, N.C., 1895–1907. description ends , 13:75–77, and Hastings, Clinton Papers description begins Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds. Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777–1795, 1801–1804. 10 vols. 1899–1914. Reprint. New York, 1973. description ends , 3:91–93).

6In the resolutions of 11 Feb. reorganizing the commissary of military stores, Congress had provided that “The commanding officer of artillery, for the time being, in the grand army, with the chief engineer, commissary of artillery, and eldest colonel of artillery in camp, or such of them as are present with the army, shall be a subordinate board of ordnance, under the direction of the Commander in Chief or the Board of War and Ordnance, for transacting all business of the ordnance department, necessary to be done in the field, and to have the care of all ordnance and stores at camp” (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 , 10:148).

7The circular letter to the governors of 28 Mar. cited in note 5 also enclosed copies of a congressional resolution of 19 Mar. recommending that each state appoint suitable persons “to get made, with all possible despatch . . . compleat setts of accoutrements” for their troops (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 , 10:270).

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