George Washington Papers

General Orders, 12 December 1777

General Orders

Head Quarters, Sweede’s Ford [Pa.] Decr 12th 1777.

Parole.C. Signs

A careful subaltern from each brigade is to repair this day to the last encampment of the army,1 to collect and take care of the sick and conduct them to Reading—These officers are to apply to the regimental Surgeons for information where to find the sick of their brigades—Every motive of duty and humanity requires the most exact attention to this order—Drs Draper and Campbell, at Mr West’s will give assistance to the subalterns.2

The Commander in Chief, with great pleasure, expresses his approbation, of the behaviour of the Pennsylvania Militia yesterday, under Genl Potter, in the vigorous opposition they made to a body of the enemy on the other side Schuylkill.3

Daniel Clymer Esqr: is appointed Deputy Commissary of prisoners, to act in the absence of the Commissary General of prisoners.4

Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1GW is referring to the Continental army’s encampment at Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania.

2George Draper of Prince William County, Va., served as a junior surgeon in the general hospital from April 1777 to October 1780 and as a physician and surgeon from 1780 to 1782. George W. Campbell (1758–1818) of Hunterdon County, N.J., was a surgeon’s mate from April 1777 to June 1780, and he was promoted to hospital physician and surgeon in September 1781. William West (1724–1782), a prominent Philadelphia merchant and a manager of the Pennsylvania Hospital, immigrated to America from Ireland about 1750. During the next decade he engaged in the Indian trade and represented Cumberland County in the Pennsylvania general assembly. During the Revolutionary War he and his nephew William West, Jr. (d. 1795), were involved in the West Indies trade. West owned a plantation in Whitemarsh Township, Philadelphia County, “just beyond the 13 mile stone, on the [Philadelphia to] Bethlehem road, adjoining the Church lot, known by the name of Whitemarsh Church.” The 300–acre farm included 70 acres of woodlands, five orchards, and a “large brick mansion-house, with a fine well in a back cellar, and a pump in the yard, a large barn, and convenient stabling for 12 horses, a waggon-house, cow-house, smoke-house, and a stone building that will serve either for a tenant’s house, or a granary” (Pennsylvania Gazette, [Philadelphia], 26 Feb. 1783). GW’s aide-de-camp John Fitzgerald issued the following order regarding the timber on West’s property on 25 Dec. 1777: “His Excellency the Commander in Chief having granted a protection for Mr West’s Woodland when the Army encamp’d at this place—He is further pleas’d to direct that such parties of the Standing Army or Militia as may from time to time Encamp at or near Church Hill, Cut no Wood belonging to Mr West, but Supply themselves out of the Woods adjoining to his Land. Given at White Marsh Decr 25th 1777 by order of his Excellency” (PHi: Society Collection).

3Potter gave an account of this skirmish in the letter that he wrote to Pennsylvania supreme executive council president Thomas Wharton, Jr., from Chester, Pa., on 15 Dec.: “Last Thursday [11 Dec.] the enemy march out of the City [Philadelphia] with a desine to Furridge; but it was Nessecerey to drive me out of the way; my advancd picquet fired on them at the Bridge; another party of one Hundred attacted them at the Black Hors. I was enCamped on Charles Thomson’s place, where I staeconed two Regments who attacted the enemy with Viger. On the next Hill, I staeconed three Regments, letting the first line Know, that when they were over powered, the must Retreat and form behind the sacond line, and in that maner we formed and Retreated for four miles; and on every Hill we disputed the matter with them. My people Behaved well, espealy three Regements, Commanded by the Cols Chambers, Murrey and Leacey. His Excellency Returned us thanks in public orders;—But the cumplement would have Been mutch more substantale had the Valant Generil Solovan Covered my Retreat with two Devissions of the Army, he had in my Reare; the front of them was about one half mill in my Rear, but he gave orders for them to Retreat and join the army, who were on the other side of the Schuylkill, about one mile and a Half off from me; thus the enemy Got leave to plunder the Countrey, Whech the have dun without parsiality or favour to any, leaving none of the Nesscereys of life Behind them that the conveniantly could Carrey or destroy. My loss in this Action I am not able to Assartain as yet; it is not so mutch as might be expected. The Killed don’t exceed 5 or 6; taken prisners about 20; wounded about 20; with us the enemy acknowledged the got the worst of this Action; there light hors Suffered mutch, for they Charged us. . . . P.S. His Excellancey [GW] was not with the Army when this unlucky neglact hapned; the army was on there march, and he had not come from his Quarters at Whit Marsh” (Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 1st ser., 6:97–98; see also Kirkland, Letters on the American Revolution description begins Frederic R. Kirkland, ed. Letters on the American Revolution in the Library at “Karolfred.” 2 vols. Philadelphia and New York, 1941–52. description ends , 1: 48–49).

Maj. Gen. Johann Kalb, who was with Sullivan’s division of the army, confirms Potter’s account in a letter to the comte de Broglie of 12–17 Dec.: “On the 11th of December we broke camp, to take up a position on the right bank of the Schuylkill, six miles in advance. Two divisions of the right wing had already passed our pontoon bridge at Matson’s Ford, when suddenly an intrenched camp was seen there, from which the enemy had assailed and cannonaded the militia marching in the front. The great distance made it impossible that General Howe should have been informed of our movements in time to have thrown his main body in our way. It was clear that this was only a strong detachment, which had ventured out in search of provisions. Instead, however, of falling upon the enemy and engaging him, or making a détour, General Sullivan, who commanded our right wing, retreated across the bridge, and ordered it to be taken down, abandoning the militia to their fate. Thus we remained on the left bank, at Swedes Ford, three miles above, where we constructed a new bridge, no better than the old one. Before the day was over we learned that the hostile corps numbered but two thousand men, and made off in the utmost haste” (Kapp, Life of Kalb description begins Friedrich Kapp. The Life of John Kalb: Major-General in the Revolutionary Army. New York, 1884. description ends , 135–36). For other descriptions of this skirmish, see Theodorick Bland to GW, 11 Dec., and note 2, and GW to Henry Laurens, 14–15 Dec., and note 4; John Laurens to Henry Laurens, 23 Dec., in Laurens Papers description begins Philip M. Hamer et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Laurens. 16 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003. description ends , 12:189–91; Elbridge Gerry to James Warren, 12 Dec., and Cornelius Harnett’s letters to Thomas Burke and to William Wilkinson, both 16 Dec., in Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 8:403–6, 424–27; Joseph Reed to Thomas Wharton, Jr., 13 Dec., in Reed, Joseph Reed description begins William B. Reed. Life and Correspondence of Joseph Reed, Military Secretary of Washington, at Cambridge; Adjutant-General of the Continental Army; Member of the Congress of the United States; and President of the Executive Council of the State of Pennsylvania. 2 vols. Philadelphia, 1847. description ends , 1:354–55.

4GW signed a pass for Clymer at Valley Forge on 2 Jan. 1778: “Daniel Clymer Esqr. Deputy Commissary General of Prisoners has permission to pass to Philadelphia with Twelve Head of Cattle, Thirty two Barrels of Flour and a parcel of Baggage for the Use of the American prisoners there” (PHi: Clymer MSS).

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