George Washington Papers

General Orders, 17 December 1777

General Orders

Head Quarters, at the Gulph [Pa.] Decr 17th 1777.

Parole Warwick.C. Signs Woodbridge. Winchester.

The Commander in Chief with the highest satisfaction expresses his thanks to the officers and soldiers for the fortitude and patience with which they have sustained the fatigues of the Campaign—Altho’ in some instances we unfortunately failed, yet upon the whole Heaven hath smiled on our Arms and crowned them with signal success; and we may upon the best grounds conclude, that by a spirited continuance of the measures necessary for our defence we shall finally obtain the end of our Warfare—Independence—Liberty and Peace—These are blessings worth contending for at every hazard—But we hazard nothing. The power of America alone, duly exerted, would have nothing to dread from the force of Britain—Yet we stand not wholly upon our ground—France yields us every aid we ask, and there are reasons to believe the period is not very distant, when she will take a more active part, by declaring war against the British Crown. Every motive therefore, irresistably urges us—nay commands us, to a firm and manly perseverance in our opposition to our cruel oppressors—to slight difficulties—endure hardships, and contemn every danger—The General ardently wishes, it were now in his power, to conduct the troops into the best winter quarters—But where are these to be found? Should we retire to the interior parts of the State, we should find them crowded with virtuous citizens, who, sacrificing their all, have left Philadelphia and fled thither for protection. To their distresses humanity forbids us to add—This is not all, we should leave a vast extent of fertile country to be despoiled and ravaged by the enemy, from which they would draw vast supplies, and where many of our firm friends would be exposed to all the miseries of the most insulting and wanton depredation—A train of evils might be enumerated, but these will suffice—These considerations make it indispensibly necessary for the army to take such a position, as will enable it most effectually to prevent distress & to give the most extensive security; and in that position we must make ourselves the best shelter in our power—With activity and diligence Huts may be erected that will be warm and dry—In these the troops will be compact, more secure against surprises than if in a divided state and at hand to protect the country. These cogent reasons have determined the General to take post in the neighbourhood of this camp; and influenced by them, he persuades himself, that the officers and soldiers, with one heart, and one mind, will resolve to surmount every difficulty, with a fortitude and patience, becoming their profession, and the sacred cause in which they are engaged: He himself will share in the hardship, and partake of every inconvenience.

Tomorrow being the day set apart by the Honorable Congress for public Thanksgiving and Praise; and duty calling us devoutely to express our grateful acknowledgements to God for the manifold blessings he has granted us—The General directs that the army remain in it’s present quarters, and that the Chaplains perform divine service with their several Corps and brigades—And earnestly exhorts, all officers and soldiers, whose absence is not indispensibly necessary, to attend with reverence the solemnities of the day.1

Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The first paragraph of these general orders was printed in the Pennsylvania Packet or the General Advertiser (Lancaster) on 7 Jan. 1778 and in the Providence Gazette; and Country Journal on 17 January. The complete orders were printed in the Connecticut Courant and Hartford Weekly Intelligencer on 20 Jan. 1778.

1For Congress’s resolution of 7 Nov. setting aside a day of thanksgiving and praise, see Laurens to GW, that date, n.2. Lt. Col. Henry Dearborn gives in his journal an account of how he celebrated the day of thanksgiving: “18th the weather still Remains uncomfortable—this is Thanksgiving Day thro the whole Continent of America—but god knows We have very Little to keep it with this being the third Day we have been without flouer or bread—& are Living on a high uncultivated hill, in huts & tents Laying on the Cold Ground, upon the whole I think all we have to be thankful for is that we are alive & not in the Grave with many of our friends—we had for thanksgiving breakfast some Exceeding Poor beef which has been boil.d & Now warm.d in an old short handled frying Pan in which we ware Obliged to Eat it haveing No other Platter—I Dined & sup.d at Genrl. [John] Sulivans to Day & so Ended thanksgiving” (Brown and Peckham, Dearborn Journals description begins Lloyd A. Brown and Howard H. Peckham, eds. Revolutionary War Journals of Henry Dearborn, 1775–1783. 1939. Reprint. New York, 1971. description ends , 118). Another contemporary account confirms the troops’ discontent at the time: “Thick Clouday Weather. We had neither Bread nor meat ’till just before night when we had some fresh Beef, without any Bread or flour, The Beef wou’d have Answer’d to have made Minced Pis if it cou’d been made tender Enough, but it seem’d Mr. Commissary did not intend that we Shou’d keep a Day of rejoicing—but however we Sent out a Scout for some fowls and by Night he Return’d with one Dozn: we distributed five of them among our fellow sufferers three we Roasted two we boil’d and Borrowed a few Potatoes[.] upon these we Supp’d without any Bread or anything Stronger than Water to drink!” (Boyle, “Armstrong’s Diary,” description begins Joseph Lee Boyle. “From Saratoga to Valley Forge: The Diary of Lt. Samuel Armstrong.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 121 (1997): 237–70. description ends 257).

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