George Washington Papers

General Orders, 16 September 1777

General Orders

Head Quarters, at Yellow spring [Pa.]1 Septr 16th 1777.

Parole: Countersign:

Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

Adj. Gen. Timothy Pickering describes the so-called Battle of the Clouds of this date and the subsequent rain-soaked American march from the Admiral Warren Tavern to Yellow Springs in his journal entry for 16 Sept.: “About nine in the morning we were informed that the enemy were advancing towards us. The troops got under arms, and the baggage was sent off. An advanced party of the enemy attacked our picket, just posted (about three hundred strong), who shamefully fled at the first fire. About this time it began to rain. General Scott, with his brigade, was ordered to advance to attack this party of the enemy, or skirmish with another expected in our front. The rain increased. It was now discovered that the ground on which the army was drawn up for battle, particularly the ground where the park of artillery was posted, was not well chosen, as not admitting a chance of saving the cannon, should there be a necessity of retreating. So, after some hesitation, the orders were given to retire to better ground in our rear. Whilst this was performing, the rain poured down vehemently; and, by the time the whole had gained their new ground, the arms were absolutely unfit for action. After remaining here a little while, orders were given to march to the Yellow Springs, there being no prospect of the rain’s ceasing, and our ammunition being in danger of spoiling, which happening, we should have been in a manner defenceless, if the enemy approached us next day. This was the reason, I presume, for the tedious march this night in the rain to Yellow Springs, a distance of [about five] miles. It was eight or nine o’clock before even the horse arrived there. The brooks were swollen with the heavy rain, and Pickering’s Creek up to the horses’ bellies, so that the passage of the artillery and wagons was difficult. The foot passed over, in a single file, on a log laid across as a bridge for foot passengers. To add to the difficulties, the night was dark. The wagons, with the tents, &c., had gone another road, so that even the next day and following night the troops received no benefit from them, a few excepted. However, they made fires in the wood, and the next day looked tolerably comfortable” (Pickering and Upham, Life of Pickering description begins Octavius Pickering and Charles W. Upham. The Life of Timothy Pickering. 4 vols. Boston, 1867–73. description ends , 1:159–60; see also Timothy Pickering to John Pickering, 25 Sept., ibid., 162–65).

Lt. James McMichael of Greene’s division says in his diary entry for 16 Sept. that “intelligence reached camp at 1 P.M., that the enemy were on the march for Swedes Ford, whereupon we proceeded a mile up the road and turning took post on a hill, by which time an attack commenced between our scouting party and that of the enemy. The day being extremely wet the enemy declined to advance. At 3 o’clock [P.M.] we received marching orders and halted at 2 A.M. [on 17 Sept.], but remained under arms until daybreak. The rain fell in torrents for eighteen hours. This march for excessive fatigue, surpassed all I ever experienced.” At noon on 17 Sept., McMichael says in his diary entry for this date, “we marched to the Yellow Springs and encamped in the woods” ((“McMichael’s Diary,” description begins William P. McMichael. “Diary of Lieutenant James McMichael, of the Pennsylvania Line, 1776–1778.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 16 (1892): 129–59. description ends 151).

Howe’s account of the events of this date is contained in his letter to George Germain of 10 Oct. 1777. “The army moved in two columns towards Goshen[ville] on the 16th,” Howe writes, “and intelligence being received upon the march that the enemy was advancing upon the Lancaster road and were within five miles of Goshen, it was immediately determined to push forward the two columns and attack them, Lord Cornwallis to take his route by Goshen Meeting House and Lieutenant-General Knyphausen by the road to Downingstown.

“The two divisions proceeded on their march, but a most violent fall of rain setting in and continuing the whole day and night without intermission made the intended attack impracticable.

“The 1st light infantry at the head of Lord Cornwallis’s column, meeting with a part of the enemy’s advanced guard about a mile beyond Goshen, defeated them, killing twelve and wounding more without the loss of a man.

“Nearly at the same time the chasseurs in front of Lieut.-General Knyphausen’s column fell in with another party, of which they killed an officer and five men and took four officers prisoners, with the loss of three men wounded.

“The enemy, being thus apprized of the approach of the army, marched with the utmost precipitation the whole night of the 16th and got in the morning to the Yellow Springs, having as is since known all their small ammunition damaged by the excessive rain” (Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 14:202–9; see also Muenchhausen, At General Howe’s Side description begins Friedrich von Muenchhausen. At General Howe’s Side, 1776–1778: The Diary of General William Howe’s Aide de Camp, Captain Friedrich von Muenchhausen. Translated by Ernst Kipping. Annotated by Samuel Smith. Monmouth Beach, N.J., 1974. description ends , 32–33; Scull, Montresor Journals description begins G. D. Scull, ed. The Montresor Journals. New York, 1882. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vol. 14. description ends , 452–53; Lydenberg, Robertson Diaries description begins Harry Miller Lydenberg, ed. Archibald Robertson, Lieutenant-General Royal Engineers: His Diaries and Sketches in America, 1762–1780. New York, 1930. description ends , 147–48; Baurmeister, Revolution in America description begins Carl Leopold Baurmeister. Revolution in America: Confidential Letters and Journals, 1776–1784, of Adjutant General Major Baurmeister of the Hessian Forces. Translated and annotated by Bernhard A. Uhlendorf. New Brunswick, N.J., 1957. description ends , 113–14; and Ewald, Diary description begins Johann Ewald. Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal. Translated and edited by Joseph P. Tustin. New Haven and London, 1979. description ends , 88–89).

1Yellow Springs, now called Chester Springs, is in northern Chester County about eight miles west of Valley Forge. A popular mineral bath resort since the 1750s, Yellow Springs served as GW’s headquarters from the evening of 16 Sept. to the morning of 18 September.

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