George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General Nathanael Greene, 24 February 1779

To Major General Nathanael Greene

[Middlebrook, 24 Feb. 1779]


I have given the Commissary General orders to lay in a Magazine of four Months provisions for twelve hundred Men at Fort Pitt; and another of the like quantity for one thousand Men at Sunbury, both to be formed by the first day of May next and exclusive of the quantities necessary for the subsistence of the Troops in those quarters. I have directed him if possible, to draw his supplies for Pittsburg from the Frontiers of Virginia, and those for Sunbury from the West side of Susquehannah.1 You will consult with him and afford him the necessary aid respecting the transportation.

You will endeavour to obtain as soon as possible, and in as secret a manner as the nature of the case will admit, a list of all the Vessels from the Falls of Susquehannah (above Harris’s Ferry)2 to Wyoming, estimating the number of Men and quantity of provisions they are capable of carrying, and distinguishing public from private property, and those which may suit the upper, narrower and shallower parts3 from such as are adapted to the lower, wider and deeper parts.

You will please to furnish me with a Return of all the Stores which shall be in your department on the first day of every Month—and the places where they are—to be made as soon after that day as the particular Return from your Deputies can be collected and drawn into a General one. You will cause the same to be done by the Commissary of Forage in his department.4

I take occasion, in this place, to repeat the verbal instructions given you in Philada for countermanding the orders you may have issued in consequence of former instructions to you of the 15th December last, except so far as relates to an Indian Expedition upon a smaller scale, preparations for which are to be prosecuted agreeable to the directions which shall be recieved for that purpose from Major Genl Schuyler.5 Though you are to proceed no further in providing Materials for the Vessels of force, the Articles which may be already procured6 are to be carefully deposited for future use in such manner as will best secure them from waste and loss.7 Given at Head Quarters Middle Brook this 24th Feby 1779.

Go: Washington

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, PPAmP: Nathanael Greene Papers; Df, DLC:GW; copy (extract), enclosed in GW to John Jay, 15 Aug. 1779, DNA:PCC, item 166; copy (extract), DNA:PCC, item 169; copy (extract), PWacD: Sol Feinstone Collection, on deposit at PPAmP; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The extracts in DNA:PCC each consist of the first paragraph of the letter and the first sentence of its last paragraph. The extract in the Sol Feinstone Collection consists of only the letter’s first paragraph.

1See GW to Jeremiah Wadsworth, 12 and 14 February.

2The site of Harris’s Ferry is part of present-day Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

3At this place on the draft manuscript, Alexander Hamilton, who prepared the draft, included the words “of the River.”

4GW’s instructions concerning monthly returns prompted Greene to issue a circular letter to deputy quartermaster generals on 26 Feb. (see Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 3:308–9).

5What appears to be a written version of GW’s verbal instructions to Greene on this subject is contained in an unsigned document addressed to Greene, dated 17 Feb. at Raritan, N.J., that is in the Greene Papers at PPAmP. The document, which is in Greene’s writing, reads: “It has been determind by a Committee of Congress appointed to confer with me upon the practicabillity of carrying on a Canada expedition that it is not in our power to procecute it with a prospect of success; and therefore the preparations are to be discontinueed. You will countermand all the orders you may have given in consequence of mine given to you at the Rarotan the 15th of December past. But nevertheless as the preparations have gone great lengths towards providing materials for the Battaeus and Gallies—You will still go on with them and complete a sufficent Number of Battauex for the original plan of the expedition and have all the Materials provided for the Gallies agreea[ble] to the Invoice made out by Major Benjamin Eyres except such articles as I have marked against—take this and deposit them at Albany by the middle or last of April.

“This order is not meant that any measures should be taken for providing any Timber or Pla[n]k for the Gallies or have any men held in pay to be in readiness to build them.” At the end of the manuscript text, Greene wrote and then struck out the following sentence: “It is meant to include the Ship Chandlers Stores Iron Work & Gunners Stores” (see also Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 3:270–71, n.1).

6At this place on the draft manuscript, Hamilton wrote “provided” rather than “procured.”

7This subject had been discussed the previous day in an exchange of letters between Greene and GW’s aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton, both of whom were at Middlebrook on that date. Hamilton began the 23 Feb. exchange by writing to Greene: “The General has given me some memorandums for instructions to you on the subject of the Northern preparations—He is however undecided on one point—How far the preparation for vessels ought to be pushed—It was his wish when the resolution to discontinue the former plan was taken to stop the provision for the vessels as well as other matters; and he is only induced to depart from this idea in consideration that a part of the materials have been already provided—It seems necessary to understand more clearly from you how far this business has gone; what quantity of materials are provided and actually providing—for how many vessels and of what kind—You can’t I know determine this matter precisely; but from the orders you have given and the reports you have received you may do it so far as may be sufficient to answer the purpose. The General’s idea is to stop as short as possible without leaving what is in hand incomplete. Be pleased to favour me with an answer by the bearer; and to make it as particular as you can” (PPAmP: Nathanael Greene Papers).

Greene replied to Hamilton on the same date: “from what His Excellency said to me in Philadelphia respecting the Battauex, of the probabillity of their being wanted for another purpose; and the desire he had to take advantage of the Enemy to the Northerd if a change of circumstances should put it in his power; and from the little additional expence that will be incurd in completeing the Batteaux seeing the preparations have gone so far I have been inducd to suffer Mr Lewis to go on with the finishing the Boats without taking any steps which will increase the expen[s]es.

“There is bought for the Gallies part of the Riging and Sails. Some part of the Iron work is made and now makeing. There is some of the Articles bought under the head of Gunnery but what I am not well informd. However I beleive there is no provision made for the Gallies; but that can be sold without much if any loss should the General think it advisable.

“I will wait upon the General either this Evening or tomorrow morning and will satisfy him in any other points of which he may wish to be informd” (DNA:PCC, item 173). For the building of boats at Albany under the supervision of Col. Morgan Lewis, see GW to Philip Schuyler, 16 Feb., and the excerpt from Greene to Lewis, 17 Feb., that is quoted in n.1 to that document.

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