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To John Jay from John Sullivan, 21 July 1779

From John Sullivan

Head Quarters, Wyoming, July 21st. 79


I have hitherto delayed troubling congress with any accounts from this quarter, from a hope, that before this time I should have been able to have given them more favourable accounts from this quarter, than is now in my power. My duty to the publick & regard to my own reputation, compel me to State to congress the reasons of the army under my command being so long delayed at this post, without advancing into the enemy’s country.1 In order to which I must beg leave to observe, that in April last it was agreed, the army should be put in motion the fifteenth of May and rendesvouz at Easton on the twentieth, & to proceed immediately on the expedition, the necessary preparations were to be made in the Quarter Master & Commissary departments by the time prefix’d, so that no delay should take place in carrying on an expedition, the success of which seemed in a great measure to depend on secrecy & dispatch. I immediately detach’d parties to clear a road from Easton to Wyoming which was done in season & might have been done sooner, had not the backwardness of affairs in other quarters oblig’d me to hold great part of the army at Easton to prevent the unnecessary consumption of stores destin’d for the expedition. I must here observe that the plan for carrying on the expedition was not agreable to my mind nor were the number of men destined for it, sufficient in my opinion to ensure success. This Congress will see by the enclos’d copies of my letters to General Washington. Number 1 & 2 which eventually had no other effect than to alter the rout of Genl. Clinton’s detachment from Mohawk river to Susquehannah.2

I had early in April enquired from the heads of the Qr.Master and Commissary department & receiv’d ev’ry possible assurance that ev’ry thing would be in a perfect state of readiness upon my arrival at this post. But on my arrival at Easton I was inform’d by Genl. Hand3 who then commanded here, that there was not the least prospect of the booty or stores being in readiness in season; upon which I halted the army at Easton, sending forward only such corps as were necessary to defend this post & to assist in forwarding the stores— I remain’d at Easton until I was asham’d, & then receiving some flattering letters proceeded on to this post, where I have remain’d without having it in my power to advance toward the enemy. To prove this clearly to Congress I enclose a return of provisions (Number 3) made me in April which were said to be deposited on the Susquehannah & would be at Kelso’s ferry so as to be transported here by the time prefix’d (the notes at the bottom of the return will shew what we now have on hand & of what quality) & here permit me to observe that near one half the flour and more than two thirds of the live stock mention’d, I have caus’d to be procur’d from Easton, fearing to meet with those dissapointments I have too often experienced. The Inspector of provision is now on the ground by order of the board of war inspecting the provisions & his regard to truth must oblige him on his return to report to Congress that of the salted meat on hand, there is not a single pound fit to be eaten, even at this day ’tho ev’ry measure has been taken to preserve it, that possibly could be devised. I also enclose Congress a list of articles in the Quarter-Master department (Number 4) which were to have been procur’d, with notes thereon of what have been receiv’d; upon examining which returns, Congress will be at no loss to account for the delay of this army— I requested Comy. Blaine4 to forward a thousand head of cattle; some few more than Two hundred arriv’d & about One hundred & fifty more having arriv’d at Sunbury were left, being too poor to walk & many of them unable to stand. Three hundred of our horses came in with Colo: Copperthwait5 on the 20th. Instant & there is not a Sufficiency of those & no packsaddles for one half we have. I enclose a letter from Majr. Clayburn of the 19th. of May to shew that the boats were then unbuilt which were to have brought the provision to this post by the 20th., & to shew that the first boats were, upon the presumption of others being procured, order’d not to return; but the small number of boats which have been procured has occasion’d those boats to be sent down the river four times since. The other copies of letters number’d from 5 to 10 inclusively, shew the steps which have been taken to procure provisions, will point out the deficiencies & shew the mortifying necessity I have been under ^of remaining^ in a state of inactivity at this post, & will shew that we are now bringing on packhorses from Carlisle, flour destin’d for the use of this army, & which ought to have been here the 20th of May last— I beg leave to assure Congress that those deficiences did not arise from want of proper & repeated application, nor has a single step been left untried, which was possible for me or the army under my command to take for procuring & forwarding the store. Having been taught by repeated dissapointments to be cautious, I early gave orders to Genl Clinton to supply his troops with three months provisions, & wrote Govr. Clinton for his assistance in April last, this has been done & they are supplied. I have procur’d provision from Easton & other places, which, with what is now on its way from Sunbury (which will be here on Sunday) will enable us to move the beginning of next week— But in order to avoid censure in case of misfortune, I must beg Congress to recur to the reasonings in my letters to Genl. Washington respecting the numbers necessary to ensure success & then to examine the enclos’d return of the forces here— They now stand at Two thousand & three hundred & twelve rank and file only. General Washington in consequence of my letters wrote the Executive council of Pensylvania for rangers & riflemen—they engag’d seven hundred & twenty & the president frequently wrote me that they would be ready in season,6 not a man of them has join’d us, nor are any about to do it; the reason assign’d by them, is, that the Quarter master gave such extravagant prices to boatmen, that they all enlisted into the boat service—but this is evidently a mistake for we have not a hundred boatmen engag’d for the army & but forty two pack horses & men, so that I must Draughted for boatmen & pack horsemen, near nine hundred— This will reduce my numbers to fourteen hundred & twelve;—then I must deduct for drivers of cattle & for the artillery, one hundred & fifty, for the garrison one hundred, which leaves me eleven hundred & sixty two;—from these I deduct the officers waiters & managers of Bat-horses Two hundred & twenty four; this reduces me to nine hundred & thirty eight, & more than a third of them without a shirt to their backs. This is a force with which I am to advance against an enemy allow’d to be Two thousand strong & who have certainly been lately reinforce’d with seven hundred British troops from Canada. I need not mention to Congress that it is easy for the enemy to act with their whole force against either part of our army before the junction is form’d & that common prudence will direct to it. I have therefore nothing to rely on but the ardour & well known bravery of my troops which I trust will surmount all opposition. But should a defeat take place & the ruin of the army be the consequence, whether I do or do not perish in the action, I call upon the members of Congress to witness to the world that I early foresaw & foretold the danger & used ev’ry means in my power, to procure a force sufficient to ensure success but failed to obtain it. I have the honor to be with the highest respect, Sir, Your most obedient & very hble Servant

Jno. Sullivan

His Excellency John Jay Esqr.

LS, DNA: PCC, item 160, 249–54 (EJ: 13125); enclosures, item 160, 255–93. Endorsed by Charles Thomson: “. . . Read 26. Copies ordered / for Genl. Washington”; by a clerk: “(Copied).” Enclosures: Sullivan to Washington, 16 Apr. 1779, DLC: Washington Papers, series 4, and 29 Apr. 1779; return of provisions, April 1779, not located; list of articles to be procured by the quartermaster, 2 Mar. 1779; list of stores received at Wyoming, 21 July 1779; Major Richard Claiborne to Edward Hand, 19 May 1779; ranks of troops at Wyoming, 22 July 1779; Lieutenant Colonel Adam Hudley to Sullivan, 2 July 1779; Edward Hand to Sullivan, 6 June, 13 July, and 14 July 1779; Alexander Steel to Sullivan, 15 July 1779. As endorsed, copies were sent to Washington (DLC: Washington Papers, series 4); the part concerning troops promised by Pennsylvania was sent to the president and council of Pennsylvania (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1904–37) description ends , 14: 887). LbkC, MHi (EJ: 5346).

1In order to end Indian raids on the northern frontier, Major General Sullivan was put in charge of a campaign against the Indians. He joined the main body of the expedition at Easton, Pa., on 7 May 1779, but he did not get his troops under way until 18 June, and it was 10 Aug. before they reached Tioga, Pa., where they joined Brigadier General James Clinton’s smaller force. This sluggish progress annoyed Washington and provoked a round of correspondence, of which the above is an example. The expedition, however, did eventually accomplish its purpose, because the combined army routed the Indians and their Loyalist allies at Newtown on 29 Aug. and then burned towns, destroyed crops, and permanently eliminated the military capability of the Iroquois.

2James Clinton, by now a brigadier general, led a 1,500-man column south from the Mohawk Valley and joined Sullivan at Tioga.

3Brigadier General Edward Hand (1744–1802) of Pennsylvania.

4Ephraim Blaine, deputy commissary general of purchases for the Continental army.

5Colonel Joseph Cowperthwait of Philadelphia, 2nd Brigade of the Pennsylvania militia. Pa. Archives, 5th Series, 5 (1853): 32.

6Washington addressed the Pennsylvania government on this subject in a letter of 20 May 1779 and informed Sullivan about it on 28 May. GWF description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, D.C., 1931–44) description ends , 15: 109–10, 171–73.

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