George Washington Papers

From George Washington to William Buchanan, 7 February 1778

To William Buchanan

Head Quarters Valley Forge 7th Feby 1778


The occasional deficiences in the Article of provisions, which we have often severely felt, seem now on the point of resolving themselves into this fatal crisis—total want and a dissolution of the Army. Mr Blaine informs me, in the most decisive terms, that he has not the least prospect of answering the demands of the army, within his district, more than a month longer, at the extremity. the expectations, he has from other quarters, appear to be altogether vague and precarious; and from any thing, I can see, we have every reason to apprehend the most ruinous consequences.

The spirit of desertion among the soldery never before rose to such a threatening height, as at the present time1—The murmurs on account of Provisions are become universal, and what may ensue, if a better prospect does not speedily open, I dread to conjecture. I pretend not to assign the causes of the distress, we experience, in this particular, nor do I wish, to throw out the least imputation of blame, upon any person. I only mean to represent our affairs as they are, that necessity may be proprerely felt, of exerting the utmost care and activity, to prevent the mischeifs; which I cannot forbear anticipating, with inexpressible concern. I am Sir Your most obedt servant

Go: Washington

P.S. I shall be glad to have from you a just state of what we have to expect, at the expiration of this month and in the course of the ensuing spring.2

Df, in Caleb Gibbs’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1William Howe’s aide Captain Muenchhausen wrote in his diary on 8 Feb. that “The last 10 or 12 days the rebels have been deserting more than ever before. Last night two of their officers and seven rank and file came in.” On 27 Jan. he wrote that “On the average, six deserters have come to us daily” (Muenchhausen, At General Howe’s Side description begins Friedrich von Muenchhausen. At General Howe’s Side, 1776–1778: The Diary of General William Howe’s Aide de Camp, Captain Friedrich von Muenchhausen. Translated by Ernst Kipping. Annotated by Samuel Smith. Monmouth Beach, N.J., 1974. description ends , 47). Lt. Samuel Armstrong of the 8th Massachusetts Regiment recorded on 3 Feb., however, that desertion was a problem not unique to the American army: “This morning it was Said there was 3 of our men deserted to the Enemy & that they were deserting from the Enemy very fast and also from our army” (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 263; see also Whinyates, Services of Francis Downman description begins F. A. Whinyates, ed. The Services of Lieut.-Colonel Francis Downman, R.A., in France, North America, and the West Indies, between the Years 1758 and 1784. Woolwich, England, 1898. description ends , 56).

2Buchanan’s efforts continued to dissatisfy GW. Ephraim Blaine wrote Buchanan on 18 Feb.: “the army [is] reduced to Quarter allowance of beef and an hourly appearance of Mutiny with the soldiers in two Brigades, those Circumstances making his Excellency the most unhappy man in the world, was obliged to appear upon every Complaint three or four times a day at Head Quarters his insisting to know the reason why more regular supplies was not laid in to support the army—what provisions you had made for the ensuing campaign, how you had ordered Your supplies from the Eastern and Southern states—those Questions I cou’d not be particular in answering but Assured him I believed you had taken every method to lay up large Magazines of salted of provisions & to have them forwarded to the grand army, then what Magazines had I laid up in my district gave him for answer but a very few days supply of Beef and Pork, but a great Plenty of Flour, am sorry on many Accounts you have not given More Attendance at Head Quarters and been here with the Committee of Congress Certain it wou’d have been a great advantage to your department the Genl refflects your not being here oftner” (Ephraim Blaine Papers, DLC: Peter Force Collection).

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