George Washington Papers

Orderly Book, 12 November 1758

Orderly Book

[12 November 1758]

Camp at Loyall Hannon Novr 12th 1758

Parole Albany

Field Officer for to morrow [ ].

Adjutant for to morrow 1 B. Pensilvs.

As Genl Forbes is Apprehensive that the Stock of flowr at Loyall Hannon may fall Short by each Soldier receivg a pound day it is his orders for the future each Soldier receive ½ lb. flower & ⟨1½⟩ lb. fresh Beef in Lieu of a pound of each day with a proportion of Salt.

A Detachment of 1 Majr 2 Capts 4 Subs. 6 Serjts and 200 Rank and file to parade immediately and to reinforce the Grass Guard Majr Campbell for the Detachmt.

Disposition of the Troops in Case of an alarm upon firing the 2 Alarm Guns all the Troops are to Strike their Tents and repair within the intrenchmts taking their posts as follows 4 Deep the royal Americans to the right of the N. W. Gate Leaving the 3d Ridout—the Highlanders at the left of the Royal Americans leaving 100 Men in the 2d Ridout, the Virginia Troops at the left of the highld⟨s.⟩ Leaving 50 Men in the Raveling.

the Pensilvs. the left at the N. W. Gate the 1st Battn leaving 100 Men in the 1st Ridout. the Marylanders and N. Carolineans with the Lower Countys within the Fort, the Artillery at their posts.

The Sick of the Maryland Hospittall to be brought into the Fort the Artillery Guard to take part of the two Batterys, the out Guards to March in and Join their Corps.

After Orders

1 Colo. 1 Lt Colo. 1 Major 5 Caps. 15 Subs. 20 Serjts 20 Corpls & 400 Private Men to March to morrow morning at reveille beating to the Ground where the Skirmish was this Evening1 and to Carry a proportion of Spades in Order to Enter the Dead Bodies.

A Detachment from the line consisting of 1 Colo. 1 Lt Colo. 1 Majr 10 Capts. 30 Subs. 40 Serjts 40 Corpls & 960 Private Men to March to morrow morning at 8 OClock. For the first Detachmt Colo. Wm Byrd and Lt Colo. Work, Majr Peachy.

For the 2d Detachmt Colo. Armstrong Lt Colo. Mercer Majr Armstrong, the Detachmt that Marches at 8 OClock to take 2 Days provisions.2

1Two contemporary accounts of this skirmish near Loyalhanna are quite different, and both are even more different from GW’s post-Revolutionary recollections of the event both as he recorded them in 1786 and as they were reported subsequently by someone else. And more different still from all of these is the secondhand account recorded in a memoir written by a relative of Capt. Thomas Bullitt. The earliest and briefest of the contemporary accounts is Forbes’s report to Gen. James Abercromby on 17 Nov.: “Two hundred of the ennemy came to attack our live Cattle and horses on the 12th—I sent 500 men to give them chace with as many more to Surround them, there were some killed on both sides, but unfortunately our partys fired upon each other in the dark by which we lost two officers and 38 private kill’d or missing. Wee made three prisoners from whom wee have had the only Intelligence of the Enemys strength, and which if true gives me great hopes” (James, Writings of Forbes description begins Alfred Procter James, ed. Writings of General John Forbes Relating to His Service in North America. Menasha, Wis., 1938. description ends , 255–56).

The Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia) printed an account of the incident on 30 Nov. 1758: “On the 12th Instant, Colonel Washington being out with a scouting Party, fell in with a Number of the Enemy, about three Miles from our Camp, whom he attacked, killed one, took three Prisoners, an Indian Man and Woman, and one Johnson, an Englishman (who, it is said, was carried off by the Indians some time ago from Lancaster County) and obliged the rest to fly: That on hearing the Firing at Loyalhanning, Colonel [George] Mercer, with a Party of Virginians, was sent out to the Assistance of Colonel Washington, who, coming in Sight of our People in the Dusk of the Evening, and seeing them about a Fire the Enemy had been drove from, and the two Indians with them, imagined them to be French; and Colonel Washington being under the same Mistake, unhappily a few Shot were exchanged, by which a Lieutenant, and thirteen or fourteen Virginians, were killed.”

GW does not mention this tragic incident when he writes to Fauquier on 28 Nov. about the success of the campaign except to refer to the “three Prisoners who providentially fell into our hands.” Nor does he allude to it anywhere else in his surviving correspondence. However, nearly thirty years after the event, in 1786, GW wrote, without referring to his papers, an account of this skirmish and its unfortunate aftermath outside the post at Loyalhanna on the evening of 12 Nov. 1758. According to GW’s recollections as set down in his “Remarks” on a few pages of David Humphreys’s proposed biography of Washington, it was he who was sent to rescue Mercer, not Mercer to rescue him. “During the time the Army lay at Loyal haning,” GW wrote probably in August 1786, “a circumstance occurred wch involved the life of G. W. in as much Jeopardy as it had ever been before or since the enemy sent out a large detachment to reconnoitre our Camp, and to ascertain our strength; in consequence of Intelligence that they were within 2 Miles of the Camp. a party commanded by Lt Colo. Mercer of the Virga line (a gallant & good Officer) was sent to dislodge them between whom a severe conflict & hot firing ensued which lasting some time & appearing to approach the Camp it was conceived that our party was yielding the ground upon which G. W. with permission of the Genl called (for dispatch) for Volunteers and immediately marched at their head to sustain, as was conjectured the retireing troops. led on by the firing till he came within less than half a Mile, & it ceasing, he detached Scouts to investigate the cause & to communicate his approach to his friend Colo. Mercer advancing slowly in the meantime—But it being near dusk and the intelligence not having been fully dissiminated among Colo. Mercers Corps, and they taking us, for the enemy who had retreated approaching in another direction commenced a heavy fire upon the releiving party which drew fire in return in spite of all the exertions of the Officers one of whom & several privates were killed and many wounded before a stop could be put to it. to accomplish which G. W. never was in more imminent danger. by being between two fires, knocking up with his sword the presented pieces” (privately owned manuscript).

In May 1818 William Findley published his recollections of a conversation with GW in Philadelphia which included the following paragraph: “Since I am in the way of writing about Washington, I will add one serious scene through which he passed, which is little known, and with which he concluded this conversation. He asked me how near I lived to Layalhana old Fort, and if I knew a run from the Laurel Hill that fell into the creek near it. I told him the distance of my residence, and that I knew the run. He told me that at a considerable distance up that run his life was in as great hazard as ever it had been in war. That he had been ordered to march some troops to reinforce a bullock-guard on their way to the camp—that he marched his party in single file with trailed arms, and sent a runner to inform the British officer in what manner he would meet him. The runner arrived and delivered his message, but he did not know how it was that the British officer paid no attention to it, and the parties met in the dark and fired on each other till they killed thirty of their own men; nor could they be stopped till he had to go in between the fires and threw up the muzzles of their guns with his sword” (Niles’ Register description begins Niles’ Weekly Register. 76 vols. Baltimore, 1811–49. description ends , 1st ser., 14 [9 May 1818], 179–80).

William Marshall Bullitt edited a memoir reportedly left by Thomas Walker Bullitt which includes this account of the tragic encounter: “Two detachments from Colonel Washington’s regiment (one commanded by himself) were out upon the frontiers endeavoring to surprise a detachment of French troops from Fort Duquesne (now Fort Pitt), but instead of falling in with the French, they met themselves (the day being remarkably dark and foggy); each party mistook the other for the enemy, and a very warm fire was immediately commenced on both sides. Captain Bullitt was one of the first who discovered the mistake, and running between the two parties, waving his hat and calling to them, put a stop to the firing. It was thought and said by several of the officers, and among others by Captain Bullitt, that Colonel Washington did not discover his usual activity and presence of mind upon this occasion. This censure thrown by Captain Bullitt upon his superior officer gave rise to a resentment in the mind of General Washington which never subsided” (Bullitt, My Life at Oxmoor description begins Thomas W. Bullitt. My Life at Oxmoor: Life on a Farm in Kentucky before the War. Louisville, Ky., 1911. description ends , 3–4).

According to the newspaper account, and confirmed by Forbes in his letter to Abercromby and by GW in his letter to Fauquier, the three prisoners under questioning revealed that the French garrison at Fort Duquesne was “very scarce of Provisions, as well as weak in Men.” Persuaded of the truth of this report, Forbes moved promptly to mount a rapid march on Fort Duquesne (see Orderly Book, 14 Nov.).

2As soon as he decided to move against Fort Duquesne, Forbes sent Col. John Armstrong ahead with the Pennsylvanians to build the first encampment, or post, for the rest of the army that was to follow (see Bouquet to GW, 16 Nov., n.2).

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