George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Board of War, 14 September 1778

To the Board of War

Head Qrs White plains Septr 14: 1778


On sunday night I had the honor to receive your favors of the 5th & 7th Instant, with the papers to which they refer.1

It gave me great pleasure to find, that we were on so respectable a footing in the General articles of Cloathing, and I would fain hope, if we can once get the Troops tolerably supplied, that we shall in future, by proper & timely exertions always keep them well and suitably provided.2 I have written to Mess. Otis & Andrews urging the necessity of the strictest attention to the points severally enjoined them—and also to General Heath, to give every possible assistance to have the Cloathing forwarded, under the care of proper persons to be employed for the purpose.3 For want of a regulation of this sort, It has come on, when it came at all, in the strangest manner; and the loss I am persuaded has been immense. I have also written to General Greene requesting that he will use his endeavours to expedite the Transportation.4 The deficiency in Hats, besides taking off much from the appearance of the Men, will be an essential want, in case they cannot be procured. I do not know how good or extensive the Boards prospects may be of obtaining supplies at philadelphia, and from the southern States; but I should think, if the order to the Agents in this instance as well as for Blankets—Stockings and Shoes, was enlarged, no injury would arise from it, as the demand is almost constant.5 And here I will take occasion to submit to the Boards consideration, whether it will not be greatly to the advantage of the States, to enter into Contracts for the Article of Shoes. It appears to me, that this would produce not only large & certain supplies but such as would be good. I have been told that A Mr Henry in Lancaster would contract for a considerable number and so of others in Jersey and I dare say there are persons in every State, who would engage in the business—and that it might be conducted by an easy and profitable barter of Hides for Shoes, compared to the prices usually paid and the waste of the former. The Board’s idea of having all the new Cloathing delivered at one time is certainly right—and the measure will be attended with many valuable consequences. I also think the depositing of the old in proper places of security a beneficial expedient.6 With respect to overalls, Woollen ones for the Winter and Linnen of a proper quality for the Summer, in my opinion, are much to be desired for the Troops. They look well and neat and in the summer at least they will remove the difficulty of furnishing Stockings; In the winter, both Overalls and Stockings should be provided if it can be done, as is the case in the British Army—but if it can not, Socks made out of the Old Cloaths, might in some degree answer as a substitute for the latter. I perceive the Board have directed Overalls instead of Breeches as far as the quantity & quality of the Cloth to be made up will admit—This I wish them to make a standing rule. I have desired Mr Otis & Andrews to make a distinction in the Cloaths for the Sergeants—to let them be superior in quality to that of the Soldiers—and to be more in the Style of Officers. For want of this and some encouraging designating marks, we have been very deficient in this useful & essential order of men in our Army. I have also suggested to them, that the Drummers & fifers should be uniformed differently from the Soldiers of their Regiment. The Board I observe have not considered themselves at liberty to direct the purchase of Mittens. These in case of a late Campaign or a Winter expedition will be of great service—and I would recommend the procuring a good many.7

I do not find from the Invoice nor from the Copies of the Letters which the Board have been pleased to transmit me, that there is any provision of Cloathing for the Officers.8 I wish some measures could be pursued for this purpose. At present, it is with infinite difficulty that an Officer can procure necessaries to make him appear decent—and when he can, it is at the expence of all his pay.9

I would also take the liberty to mention to the Board, that we are in great want of Cartouch Boxes. At this time we have many Men without any—and a large proportion of those we have in use, serve but for little more than to spoil ammunition. This is an object worthy of consideration—and I am well persuaded the waste of Cartridges in the course of a Campaign, independent of their utility, and the inconveniences experienced for want of them, is equal nearly in value to the sum necessary to procure a competent supply. The Board are acquainted with the best patterns and the quality of the leather of which they ought to be made; and I trust they will direct the most expeditious measures to be pursued for furnishing the Army with them.

The prisoners confined in Easton jail, were committed by an Officer who had the charge of conducting a party to Valley forge, for mutinous conduct and attempting to escape, as he reported to me.10 If they could be employed at philadelphia or about the River defences, it would be the best way of disposing of them. To bring them to the Army—would be to afford them an opportunity of deserting with their arms and cloathing—and perhaps of seducing many others. I have the Honor &c.


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

1The board’s letters to GW of 5 and 7 Sept. have not been found. According to the board’s report to Congress on clothing, 5 Oct., the letter of 5 Sept. was “giving him the state of our cloathing, & making some proposals for the regular & economical distribution of it” (DNA:PCC, item 147). The preceding Sunday was 13 September.

2Harrison wrote a sentence here that was later stricken from the draft: “Your letters to Messrs Otis and Andrews & to Mr Fletcher contain very useful and ⟨material⟩ directions—and my only concern is that the Board did not take the matter up a little sooner.”

5In the board’s report on clothing of 5 Oct., they wrote that in consequence of the preceding passage, “we on the 22d directed them [Otis & Andrews] to purchase 10,000 hats[,] 30,000 pr hose[,] 20,000 pr shoes including the former orders. … The 5000 blankets before ordered we judged sufficient” (DNA:PCC, item 147).

6At this point on the draft, Harrison continued with text that was struck out: “yet I am not certain of the operation it may have on the minds of the soldiery as they will consider both their property.”

7The board on 22 Sept. ordered Otis & Andrews to purchase 20,000 pairs of mittens (Board of War report to Congress on clothing, 5 Oct., DNA:PCC, item 147).

8These items have not been identified.

9Harrison’s draft continued at this point with text that was stricken: “Hence there arises a sort of unconsequential feeling—a want of proper pride—an indifference to the service—and in fine a disposition, at least, to resign his Commission. I will not enlarge upon this Head—or the propriety of Cloathing and the enormous charges which attend the getting it, If Cloathing could be furnished them in an easy way & on tolerable terms, I am certain, the public would derive advantages from it. I have the Honor &c. Go: Washington.”

10GW was probably referring to the imprisonment in April of men being marched to the main army by Col. David Henley (see GW to Heath, 29 April).

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