George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Nathanael Greene, 26 November 1777

From Major General Nathanael Greene

Haddonfield [N.J.] Novr 26th 4 O’Clock P.M. 1777.

Dr Sir

Your Excellency’s letter of the 25th reached me at this place—I halted the troops on the reciept of it those that had not got into the town—Genl Varnums & Huntington’s Brigades got to this place before the letter came to hand—I am sorry our march will prove a fruitless one—the enemy have drawn themselves down upon the Peninsula of Gloucester—the Ships are drawn up to cover the Troops—there is but one road that leads down to the point, on each side the ground is swampy, & full of thick under brush, that it makes the approaches impracticable almost—these difficulties might have been surmounted, but we could reap no advantage from it—the Shipping being so posted as to cover the Troops and this country is so intersected with creeks, that approaches are rendered extremely difficult, and retreats very dangerous. I should not have halted the troops, but all the Genl Officers were against making an attack the enemy being so securely situated—and so effectually covered by their Shipping.

We have a fine body of troops & in fine spirits & every one appears to wish to come to action: I proposed to the Gentlemen drawing up in front of the enemy & to attack their Picquet and endeavour to draw them out but they were all against it, from the improbability of the enemies coming out. The Marquis with about 400 Militia & the rifle Corps, attacked the enemies Picquet last evening, kill’d about 20 & wounded many more & took about 20 prisoners—the Marquis is charmed with the spirited behaviour of the Militia & Rifle Corps—they drove the enemy above half a mile & kept this ground untill dark—the enemy’s picquet consisted of about 300 & were reinforced during the skirmish—The Marquis is determined to be in the way of danger.1

From the best observations I am able to make & from the best intelligence I can obtain it is uncertain whether any of the enemy have crossed the river, the boats are constantly going but I believe they are transporting stock—there is as many men in the returning boats, as there goes over. by tomorrow it will be reduced to a certainty—I believe the enemy have removed the great Chiveaux de frize—there went up 60 Sail of Vessels this morning. If the obstructions are removed in the river it accounts for the enemies evacuating Carpenters & Province Islands as they are no longer necessary—the prisoners say the enemy are going into Winter quarters as soon as they get up the river.

Inclosed was our order for battle, with a plate agreeing to the order.2

I purpose to leave General Varnums brigade & the rifle corps at this place for a few days, especially the rifle men who cover the country very much—Genl Varnum’s brigade will return to Mount Holly tomorrow or next day. I will make further inquiry respecting the hospitals, & give such directions as appear necessary.3

My division, Huntington’s & Glover’s Brigades, will proceed with all dispat⟨ch⟩ to join your Excellency. I could wish the enemy might leave the Jersies before us. I am your Excellency’s most Obedient Servant

Nath. Greene

LS, DLC:GW; LB, CSmH: Greene Papers. The cover indicates that Greene sent this letter “pr Express.” Greene’s aide-de-camp Ichabod Burnet signed a pass on the cover: “Permit the Bearer to pass.” The mutilated text supplied within angle brackets is from the LB. An extract from this letter was included in GW’s letter to Henry Laurens of 26–27 Nov. (see the source note and note 5 to GW’s letter).

1For Lafayette’s description of the engagement at Gloucester, N.J., see his letter to GW of this date.

2The enclosed undated order of battle (see fig. 3), located in DLC:GW and docketed “Order of Intended Battle against Ld Cornwallis,” reads: “The Following is the order of Battle[:] “General Varnums & General Huntingdons Brigades form the Right wing. General Varnums Brigade on the right of the wing, Huntingdons on the left. The right wing to be commanded by General Varnum. General Muhlenburgs & General Weedons Brigades form the left wing. General Muhlenbergs the left of the left wing & General Weedons the right of the left wing. General Muhlenburg Commands the left wing.

“General Glovers Brigade form the second line. Colo. [Joseph] Haits and Colo. [Benoni] Hathaway’s militia form upon the right flank. Colo. [Joseph] Elles Militia & Morgans light Corps cover the left flank. In posting the Officers in the Regiments The Officers are to be posted with their men without regard to rank there being great Inconveniency resulting in action by the officers being remov’d from their own men.

“In marching to action, the Brigades are to march in Regimental columns. The Officers leading the Regimental columns, are to take special care in advancing that they preserve their proper distances from each other so as to be able to form the line if necessary—A Company to be ⟨detached as an advanced Guard to the heads of the Columns—⟩The Reserves to the wings, to march in Columns in the rear of the center of each Brigade, & to be in readiness to Join for the Support of either Brigades, or to act seperately for the Support of the Brigades from which they were detach’d.

“The Second line to march in Regimental columns in the rear of the center of the first line, about four hundred yards ready to support any part that should be hard prest.

“The Artillery to be immediately under the direction of the Commanding Officers of the Brigades to march, & take part where they direct. The Militia & light troops are to endeavour to gain the flanks of the Enemy, but more especially to prevent them from gaining ours.” The mutilated text in angle brackets is taken from Weedon’s Orderly Book description begins Valley Forge Orderly Book of General George Weedon of the Continental Army under Command of Genl George Washington, in the Campaign of 1777–8: Describing the Events of the Battles of Brandywine, Warren Tavern, Germantown, and Whitemarsh, and of the Camps at Neshaminy, Wilmington, Pennypacker’s Mills, Skippack, Whitemarsh, & Valley Forge. New York, 1902. description ends , 142.

3For GW’s concern about the safety of the troops convalescing in the hospitals at Burlington and Princeton, see his letter to Greene of 25 November.

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