George Washington Papers

General Orders, 8 December 1777

General Orders

Head Quarters, White Marsh [Pa.] Decr 8th 1777.

Parole Lexington.C. Signs Bunker Hill. Stillwater.

The Commander in Chief returns his warmest thanks to Col. Morgan, and the officers and men of his intrepid corps, for their gallant behaviour in the several skirmishes with the enemy yesterday—He hopes the most spirited conduct will distinguish the whole army, and gain them a just title to the praises of their country, and the glory due to brave men—They will remember, that they are engaged in the cause of humanity and of freedom, and that the period is probably at hand, when, by their noble and generous exertions, the Liberties & Independence of America shall be firmly established.

The General with pleasure has been informed that the Militia of Maryland under Colonel Gist, shewed in yesterday’s skirmishes a spirit becoming freemen, and which claims his sincere acknowledgements.1

The enemy remaining quiet, the officers are to be particularly attentive that the men draw and cook their provisions, that they may be ever ready for service.

Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1GW also discusses this skirmish in his letters to John Clark, Jr., 9 Dec., and to Henry Laurens and to Patrick Henry, both 10 December. The most detailed American account of the engagement of 7 Dec. and the events leading up to it is contained in Pennsylvania militia major general John Armstrong’s letter to Pennsylvania supreme executive council president Thomas Wharton, Jr., of 7–9 Dec.: “The Enemy, in full Force, has now been three days on Chestnut Hill, their left near the Wissahekin & the right extending to the head of Jermantown, this position guarded on both wings was not thought so elligible as cou’d be wished for an attack on our part.

“On Friday last [5 Dec.], none of the Army (except the Horse) moved, but the Militia only intended to annoy them on the march, for this purpose General Potter, with part of his Brigade, by the way of Barren Hill Church for the Enemies Left. Genl Irwin, with six hundred of his, went on a different direction, only to send them out in small partys & give some instructions, but before he had thought proper to disperse his men they fell in with a body of the Enemy, & a warm Scirmish ensued for the space of twenty minutes, a few of ours behaved pritty well, killed & wounded some of the Enemy, amongst the latter was a Baron Knight, whos name the informer cou’d not give, but we have lost the use of our good officer & friend Gl. Irwin, three of his fingers being shot off he fell from his Horse, and none of his men gave him the least assistance, being at that time broke and runing, as did the greater part of them very early. Some of Potters had a short Scirmish, soon repulsed, but killed one & brought off his Sword. The lines maned almost day & night—The bagage, &c., being hastily sent off, some hundred of the troops have followed it under the pretext of getting necessarys.

“At 12 last night the Enemy moved toward our left & the York road, & this afternoon the general attack was expected. Gen’l Potter, with his whole Brigade & the best of our militia, was order’d to a certain woods—a part of the Enemies rear who first discover’d ours, attacked & soon dispersed them, they say by falling into bad ground—five came in wounded, & some few, I presume, are prisoners—part of Morgans light troops were also engaged & repulsed by superior numbers. Tomorrow morning, most probably, the general affair comes on, if not this night; the Express shall remain until farther” (Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 1st ser., 6:70–72). Wharton also received accounts of the action in letters from Elias Boudinot of 9 Dec. and Joseph Reed of 10 Dec. (see 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 , 1:350–53).

John Laurens described the engagement in a letter to his father Henry Laurens on 10 Dec., which reads in part: “In the morning of the 7th, at five o’clock, the enemy filed off by their right—a party of them halted near Jenkin’s town; by their movements it appeared they were endeavouring to turn our left—we changed our disposition in consequence, and upon hearing they were advancing in two columns, [Col. Daniel] Morgan’s corps and the Maryland militia [under Col. Mordecai Gist] were ordered to harrass their right flank; there was some very smart firing in consequence, between Morgan’s and the British light infantry; the latter having made an imprudent use of their extraordinary allowance of rum, suffered, and every man that appeared would have been killed or taken, if the rifle men had been armed with bayonets. . . . The loss of Morgan’s rifle-men was 27 killed and wounded—among the latter is the brave Major [Joseph] Morris—what the enemy lost in the several skirmishes is not known. Col. Morgan, who has no need of boasting to establish the reputation of his corps, says, the British light infantry lost a great many in their skirmish with him” (Laurens Papers description begins Philip M. Hamer et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Laurens. 16 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003. description ends , 12:136–40). Laurens’s letter was printed in the Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser (Lancaster) on 17 Dec., the Maryland Gazette (Annapolis) on 25 Dec., Dixon & Hunter’s Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg) on 26 Dec. 1777, and the South-Carolina and American General Gazette (Charleston) on 29 Jan. 1778.

Hessian officer Johann Ewald gives an account of the day’s events in his journal: “On the 7th the army passed Germantown, crossed the road to Frankford, and entered York Road, where it separated into two columns. The right column consisted of the English under Lord Cornwallis, and the left one of the Hessians under General Knyphausen. The light infantry formed the advanced guard of the right column, and the Jäger Corps the advanced guard of the left column, while the Queen’s Rangers covered the left flank. The march proceeded toward the enemy’s left, which stood on Abington Hill. The light infantry fell into an ambuscade which the American Colonel Morgan and his corps of riflemen had laid in a marshy wood, through which over fifty men and three officers were killed.

“In the vicinity of Edge Hill the Jäger Corps ran into an enemy post, which withdrew toward a wooded height. The advanced guard followed them and the Corps deployed at once. We arrived in the flank and rear of an enemy corps of two thousand men consisting of New Englanders and riflemen, which was thrown into great disorder and shot up so severely that a colonel, ten officers, and a large number of men were killed, wounded, or captured. The Jäger Corps had four dead and eleven wounded. The enemy was pursued up to the front of his army. Meanwhile, the Commanding General [William Howe] had reconnoitered the enemy position and found it unassailable” (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 , 109).

General Howe gave similar figures for British casualties in his report to Lord George Germain of 13 Dec.: “Not judging it advisable to attack the enemy’s right, the army having remained in the same position during the 6th marched at one o’clock in the morning of the 7th, the van and main body commanded as before, to take post on Edge Hill one mile distant from the enemy’s left. A corps of one thousand men composed of riflemen and other troops from the enemy’s northern army were found by the vanguard posted on this hill with cannon. Lord Cornwallis immediately attacked with the 1st light infantry, supported by the 33rd regiment, and defeated this body with a considerable loss of officers and men, their cannon narrowly escaping. The thickness of the wood where the rebels were posted, concealing them from the view of the light infantry, occasioned a loss of one officer killed, three wounded, and between twenty and thirty men killed and wounded from their first fire.

“Major-General [Charles] Grey with his brigade, light infantry of the Guards, Queen’s rangers, Hessian and Anspach chasseurs, took post upon the left in front of the enemy’s centre. A detachment to harass this corps was immediately routed by the general’s advanced guard composed of his light troops, with a loss to the enemy of fifty men killed and wounded. . . . The enemy’s camp being as strong on their centre and left as upon the right, their seeming determination to hold this position, and unwilling to expose the troops longer to the weather in this inclement season without tents or baggage of any kind for officers or men, I returned on the 8th to this place” (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 , 14:272–73; see also André, Journal description begins John André. Major André’s Journal: Operations of the British Army under Lieutenant Generals Sir William Howe and Sir Henry Clinton, June 1777 to November 1778. 1930. Reprint. New York, 1968. description ends , 68–70). British officer Archibald Robertson reported British losses in the skirmish to be “1 Officer Killed and 2 Wounded and about 40 men Killed and Wounded” (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 , 160).

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