George Washington Papers

Circular to the States, 29 December 1777

Circular to the States

Head Quarters Valley Forge Decr 29th 1777


I take the liberty of transmitting you the inclosed Return, which contains a State of such of the New York Regiments, as are in the Army immediately under my command.1 By this you will discover how deficient—how exceedingly short they are of the compliment of Men, which of right according to the establishment they ought to have. This information I have thought it my duty to lay before you, that it may have that attention which its importance demands; and in full hope, the most early and vigorous measures will be adopted not only to make the regiments more respectable but compleat. The expediency and necessity of this procedure are too obvious to need arguments. Should we have a respectable force to commence an early Campaign with, before the Enemy are reinforced, I trust we shall have an opportunity of striking a favorable and an happy stroke; But if we should be obliged to defer it, It will not be easy to describe with any degree of precision what disagreable consequences may result from It. We may rest assured, that Britain will strain every nerve to send from home and abroad, as early as possible, all the Troops it shall be in her Power to raise or procure. Her views and schemes for subjugating these States and bringing ’em under her despotic rule will be unceasing and unremitted. Nor should we in my opinion, turn our expectations to, or have the least dependance on the intervention of a Foreign War. Our wishes on this Head have been disappointed hitherto,2 and I do not know that we have a right to promise ourselves from any intelligence that has been received, bearing the marks of authority that there is any certain prospect of one. However, be this as it may, our reliance should be wholly on our own strength and exertions. If in addition to these, there should be aid derived from a War between the Enemy and any of the European Powers, our situation will be so much the better—If not our efforts and exertions will have been the more necessary and indispensable. For my own part I should be happy if the idea of a Foreign rupture should be thrown entirely out of our Scale of politics, and that it may have not the least weight in our Public measures. No bad effects could flow from it, but on the contrary many of a salutary nature. At the same time I do not mean that such an Idea ought to be discouraged among the people at large because the event is probable.3

There is one thing more to which I would take the liberty of soliciting your most serious and constant attention, to wit, the cloathing of your Troops and the procuring of every possible supply in your Power for that end. If the several States exert themselves in future, in this Instance, and I trust they will, I hope that the supplies they will be able to furnish in aid of those, which Congress may immediately import themselves, will be equal and competent to every demand. If they do not, I fear—I am satisfied the Troops will never be in a situation to answer the Public expectation and perform the duties required of them. No pains—no efforts on the part of the States can be too great for this purpose. It is not easy to give you a just and accurate Idea of the sufferings of the Army at large—of the loss of Men on this account. Were they to be minutely detailed, your feelings would be wounded, and the relation would probably be not received without a degree of doubt and discredit. We had in Camp on the 23d Inst. by a Field return then taken, not less than 2898 Men unfit for duty by reason of their being bare foot and otherwise naked.4 Besides this number sufficiently distressing of itself, there are many others detained in Hospitals and crouded in Farmers Houses for the same causes. In a most particular manner I flatter myself the care and attention of the States will be directed to the supply of Shoes—Stockings and Blankets, as their expenditure from the common operations and accidents of War is far greater than that of any other Articles. In a word the United and respective exertions of the States cannot be too great—too vigorous in this interesting work, and we shall never have a fair and just prospect for success till our Troops (Officers and Men) are better provided than they are or have been.5

The return transmitted comprehends only such Troops of your State, as are at this Camp. I imagine all the regiments stand nearly upon the same footing in point of deficiency, and from it you will be able to form a pretty just estimate of the Men that will be necessary to fill the whole.6

Before I conclude, I would also add, that it will be essential to inoculate the recruits or Levies as fast as they are raised, that their earliest services may be had. Should this be postponed, the work will be to do most probably at an interesting and critical period and when their aid may be very materially wanted.7 I have the honor to be with great respect Sir your most Obet Servt

Go: Washington

P.s. We have taken Post here as the most convenient place to restrain the ravages of the Enemy, and are busily employed in erecting Huts.

LS, addressed to George Clinton, in Richard Kidder Meade’s writing, NHi: George and Martha Washington Papers; LS, addressed to Nicholas Cooke, PAeTPM; LS, addressed to Thomas Johnson, MdAA; LS, addressed to the Massachusetts council, M-Ar; LS, addressed to the New Hampshire general assembly, NNGL; LB, addressed to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr, Ct: Trumbull Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. GW signed the cover of the LS addressed to Clinton; the LS addressed to the Massachusetts council is docketed: “In Council Jany 22d 1778 Read & sent down. Jno Avery Dy secy.” There are many textual variations in the different copies of this circular; the most significant variations are noted below. No copy of the circular sent to Gov. Richard Caswell of North Carolina has been found (see Caswell to GW, 15 Feb. 1778).

GW sent similar letters to George Read of Delaware and Thomas Wharton, Jr., of Pennsylvania on 19 Jan. 1778.

1The circular letter printed here was addressed to New York governor George Clinton. The first sentence of the other letters differs only in the name of the state, except for the one to Maryland governor Thomas Johnson, which reads: “Genl Smallwood will, by this Conveyance, transmit you a Return of Seven of the Maryland Regiments. The eighth, which was composed of part of the German Battalion and part of Rawlins’s Regiment, is in the same situation in point of numbers.”

The returns, which GW demanded in the general orders of 25 Dec. and enclosed in the circular letters, have not been identified, except for one memorandum in MdAA that was enclosed in the letter to Thomas Johnson. Gov. George Clinton’s papers include a “Return of the numbers wanting to compleat the continental troops as taken from the returns of the muster master general for the month of December 1777,” which gives the number of troops needed to complete the quotas of eleven states: Connecticut, 1,609; Delaware, 431; Massachusetts, 4,670; Maryland, 3,520; New Hampshire, 1,649; New Jersey, 1,705; New York, 1,397; North Carolina, 5,044; Pennsylvania, 4,791; Rhode Island, 758; and Virginia, 4,932. In all, 30,506 troops were needed to bring the Continental army up to the full strength recommended by the Continental Congress (Hastings, Clinton Papers, 2:619).

2The letters sent to Nicholas Cooke, the New Hampshire general assembly, and Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., read “and perhaps it may long be the case” instead of the rest of the sentence as given here.

3The last five words of this sentence do not appear on the draft or the letters addressed to the Massachusetts council, Thomas Johnson, and Jonathan Trumbull, Sr.

4For this return, which GW also mentioned in his letter to Patrick Henry of 27 Dec., see GW to Henry Laurens, 23 Dec., n.2.

5The wording of this paragraph in the letterbook copy of the circular letter addressed to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., is substantially different from the text of the other letters: “your ready exertions to relieve the distresses of your Troops for cloathing, have given me the highest satisfaction. At the same time, knowing how exceedingly the service has been injured, how that every measure will be pursued that circumstances will admit, to keep them supplied from time to time—No pains, no efforts can be too great for this purpose—The Articles of Shoes, Stockings and Blankets demand the most particular attention, as the expenditure of them from the operations and common accidents of War we find to be greater than of any other articles. I assure you, Sir, it is not easy to give you a just and accurate idea of the sufferings of the Troops at large—Were they to be minutely detailed, the relation so unexpected—so contrary to the common opinion of people distant from the Army, would scarcely be thought credible. I fear I shall wound your feelings by telling you, that by a Field Return on the 23d inst. we had in Camp, not less than 2,898 men unfit for duty, by reason of their being barefoot and otherwise naked—Besides these, there are many others detained at the Hospitals and in Farmers Houses for the same causes. I will no longer dwell upon the melancholy subject, being firmly convinced, that your views and most studious care will be employed to render the situation of the Troops, both officers & Privates comfortable in future. If the several States direct their attention to this indispensibly essential object, as I trust they will, I have the most sanguine hopes, that their supplies, with those immediately imported by Congress themselves, will be equal to every demand.”

The text of the postscript, with some minor variations in wording, is inserted into the text at the end of this paragraph in all of the circular letters except those addressed to George Clinton and Jonathan Trumbull, Sr. On the draft, which is in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, the passage originally was written as a postscript, but Harrison later added a symbol indicating that it should be placed here. The draft contains an additional sentence at the end of this passage that also appears in the letters to Thomas Johnson, the Massachusetts council, and the New Hampshire general assembly: “This circumstance renders it the more material, that the Supplies should be greater and more immediate than If the Men were in warm comfortable Houses.”

6This paragraph does not appear in the letters addressed to Nicholas Cooke, Thomas Johnson, and the New Hampshire general assembly.

7The LS addressed to Nicholas Cooke contains an additional sentence at this place in the text: “I would further observe, that the condition of your Troops at present, from the Cloathing you have already furnished them and a quantity obtained in Jersey is tolerably good & perhaps the best of any in the Army.”

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