George Washington Papers

General Orders, 20 September 1777

General Orders

Head Quarters [ ] Septr 20th 1777.

Parole: Cambridge.Countersigns: Roxbury. Watertown.

It is with the utmost concern, that the General observes, a continual straggling of soldiers on a march, who rob orchards and commit other disorders; and that many officers pay little or no attention to prevent a practice attended with such mischevious consequences, notwithstanding the orders relative thereto—The officers are reminded that it is their duty, and the General expects, that for the future, they know precisely, the number of men in their division or platoon; and where the time will admit of it, take a list of their names, previous to their marching; and that on a march they frequently look at their division to see if it be in order, and no man missing.

The General has reason to think that many officers neglect to call the rolls of their companies daily, agreeably to former orders, and that many cannot properly account for their absent men. This is a neglect of the most dangerous tendency, and if continued, the army will soon be greatly reduced—The General therefore calls upon all officers, in the most pressing manner, as they regard their duty, and the salvation of their country, to have the rolls called night and morning, and pay the most unremitting attention to prevent a loss of their men.

The General is informed, that vast numbers of men are sent off as guards to the baggage—The Brigadiers and officers commanding brigades are without delay to send proper officers to Reading, or wherever the baggage may be, to reduce those guards and bring with the greatest dispatch to the army, the greater part of them, and those the best men, with the best arms, leaving only so many officers and men as are absolutely necessary to guard the baggage—Col. Polk who commands these guards will see that as few officers and men as possible are left with the baggage1—some officers are also to be sent immediately to Philadelphia to bring away all soldiers which shall be found there.

The officers are also to see, that all soldiers who wait on officers, be armed, and do the duty of soldiers on any emergency, particularly that the fire of so many men be not lost in a day of action.

The waggons are to be kept ready to move on the shortest notice.

Varick transcript, DLC:GW; copy (extract), in Timothy Pickering’s writing, PHi: Washington-Biddle Correspondence. The extract, which is enclosed in Pickering’s letter to Clement Biddle of c.25 Sept., consists of the part of the third paragraph concerning the baggage guards (see note 1). Pickering also enclosed an extract from the general orders for 25 Sept. (see General Orders, that date).

The diary of Lt. James McMichael, who was with the main body of GW’s army, gives this account of the day’s events: “At 4 A.M. marched from the Perkiomen, proceeded down the great road, crossed the Skippack [Creek], and thence to Pauling’s Ford, in Providence township, where we encamped. We had a fair view of the enemy’s encampment, being only separated from us by the Schuylkill and a small hill” ((“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 151–52). Pawling’s Ford was about two miles up the Schuylkill River from Fatland Ford.

1Adj. Gen. Timothy Pickering says in his letter to Clement Biddle of c.25 Sept.: “By the Generals [GW’s] direction I wrote a few days since to Colo. Polk, informing him that the guards he was to keep with the baggage were not to be sufficient to defend it from the enemy but barely to guard it against our own plunderers; the rest of the soldiers to be sent under proper officers to join the army” (PHi:(PHi: Washington-Biddle Correspondence). Thomas Polk (c.1732–1794), a planter and legislator from Mecklenburg County, N.C., served as a colonel in the county militia from December 1775 to April 1776, when he was appointed colonel of the 4th North Carolina Regiment. Polk resigned his commission in June 1778 after failing to obtain promotion to brigadier general. From the summer of 1780 to the spring of 1781 Polk served as commissary of purchases for the southern army and the Salisbury district of North Carolina. Although General Greene conferred the rank of brigadier general on Polk in February 1781, the North Carolina general assembly gave him a commission only as a colonel commandant. GW dined with Polk in Charlotte, N.C., on 28 May 1791 during his southern tour (see Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 6:150).

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