George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General Nathanael Greene, 12 February 1778

To Major General Nathanael Greene

[Valley Forge, 12 February 1778]


The good People of the State of Pennsylvania living in the vicinity of Philadelphia & near the Delaware River having sufferd much by the Enemy carrying off their property without allowing them any Compensation, thereby distressing the Inhabitants—supplying their own Army & enabling them to protract the cruel & unjust war that they are now waging against these States—And whereas by recent intelligence I have reason to expect that they intend making another grand Forage into this Country,1 it is of the utmost Consequence that the Horses Cattle Sheep and Provender within Fifteen or Twenty miles west of the River Delaware between the Schuylkil and the Brandywine be immediately removed, to prevent the Enemy from receiving any benefit therefrom, as well as to supply the present Emergencies of the American Army.

I do therefore Authorise impower & Command you forthwith to take Carry off & secure all such Horses as are suitable for Cavalry or for Draft and all Cattle & Sheep fit for Slaughter together with every kind of Forage that may be found in possession of any of the Inhabitants within the Aforesaid Limits Causing Certificates to be given to each person for the number value & quantity of the horses Cattle Sheep & Provender so taken.

Informing them that notice will be given to the holders of such Certificates by the Commissaries & Quarter master General when & where they may Apply for Payment that they may not be disappointed in calling for their money.

All Officers civil and military, Commissaries, Quarter masters &ca, are hereby Orderd to obey and assist you in this necessary business.

All the Provinder on the Islands between Philadelphia and Chester which may be difficult of Access or too hazardous to attempt carrying off, you will immediately Cause to be destroyed, giving Direction, to the Officer or Officers to whom this Duty is assign’d, to take an account of the Quantity together with the Owners Names, as far as the nature of the Service will admit.2 Given under my hand at head Quarters this 12th day of Feby 1778.

Go: Washington

LS, in Clement Biddle’s writing, PHi: Washington-Biddle Correspondence. The closing is in GW’s hand. At the end of the letter is the following note signed by Greene from “Moorhall” on 12 Feb.: “Colonel Biddle Commissary General of Forage is hereby directed to issue the necessary warrants & Instruction, for the execution of this Service & to superintend the commissaries & Quarter masters.”

Tench Tilghman wrote Biddle from Valley Forge on “Saturday Morning,” 14 Feb.: “Colo. Hamilton has informed Genl Greene of the alarming Situation we are in, in regard to provision and Forage. His Excellency desires that you would extend your Views beyond your present Circle of foraging, and while the Waggons, you carried down, are bringing off what is under the protection of the covering party, that you would send some persons further back, impress every Carriage that can be found and send them forward to Camp loaded with Forage. You will have an opportunity of looking about you in the Country upon the upper parts of Brandy-wine and between that and the Camp and seeing what quantity of Forage is there. But if some is not got in soon, it will come too late as I fear we shall not have a Horse left alive to eat it. You know our distress and I am sure you will endeavour to alleviate it” (PHi: Washington-Biddle Correspondence).

1William Howe’s aide Capt. Friedrich von Muenchhausen wrote in his diary on 11 Feb. that a foraging expedition ordered for that date had been cancelled because of heavy rain (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). Within a few days, however, Howe had ordered the departure from Philadelphia of both foraging and raiding parties. British officer Archibald Robertson wrote that “Several Foraging Partys went out towards Frankfurt, Bustle Town, etc., in February 14th, 16th–19th the three last Days noways mollested” (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 , 163).

Detachments of British light cavalry, meanwhile, took advantage of the weak state of the Pennsylvania militia in the latter half of February to join already active local Loyalists in capturing many militiamen and civilian officials in addition to forage and supplies badly needed by GW’s army. In response to recommendations from the Continental Congress camp committee meeting at Moore Hall, Congress resolved on 27 Feb. to prescribe death for any Loyalists caught raiding within seventy miles of an American general officer and declared in a broadside printed on the same date that “The deluded tools of the enemy, who are committing treason against America would do well to peruse the following Resolution of Congress with attention. They may rest assured, those of them who shall be hardy enough to violate the act, will meet with condign and exemplary punishment whenever they are taken” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 10:204–5, 12:1282; see also the camp committee’s letter of 20 Feb. to Henry Laurens, in DNA:PCC, item 33, and in Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 9:143–46). Congress’s decision on 4 Mar. to allow GW to employ a force of Indians was in part also a response to the activities of Loyalist raiding parties (see GW to a Continental Congress Camp Committee, 29 Jan., n.38). For some accounts of the exploits of British and Loyalist raiding parties in February, see the Pennsylvania Evening Post (Philadelphia), 17, 19 Feb.; 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 , 119–21; 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 , 47–48; Tappert and Doberstein, Muhlenberg Journals description begins Theodore G. Tappert and John W. Doberstein, trans. and eds. The Journals of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg. 3 vols. Philadelphia, 1942–58. description ends , 3:131–32; 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; and Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 1st ser., 6:262–66; see also John Lacey, Jr., to GW, 19 Feb., n.1, and GW to Thomas Wharton, Jr., 23 February.

2While none of the time spent by GW’s army at Valley Forge was free of hardship, a provision shortage in February 1778 led to what GW called a “fatal crisis” that threatened the continued existence of the army (GW to William Buchanan, 7 February). Poor management of the commissary department and a breakdown of transport, resulting from an insufficiency of wagons and bad weather, combined to bring about a logistical collapse that brought provision supplies almost to a halt. For many days in February bread was scarce in camp, and meat almost nonexistent; in addition, the soldiers of many regiments were dressed literally in rags (see, for example, Boyle, “Angell’s Diary,” description begins Joseph Lee Boyle, ed. “The Israel Angell Diary, 1 October 1777–28 February 1778.” Rhode Island History 58 (2000): 107–38. description ends 129; GW to Thomas Wharton, Jr., 10 Feb., n.2).

The correspondence of GW and many officers and civilian observers reflected a growing belief that the dispersion of the main army was almost inevitable. Brig. Gen. Jedediah Huntington appended a note for Maj. Gen. Stirling to a report of this date from Lt. Col. Caleb North on guards at Valley Forge: “I have nothing to add, my Lord, but that the Camp is in a melancholy Condition for Want of Provisions, and that there is great Danger that the Famine will break up the Army” (DLC:GW). Stirling forwarded it to GW on 13 Feb. with this comment: “I have nothing to add but that the Complaints of the want of provisions and forrage are become universal and Violent, every officer speaks of it with dread of the probable Consequences” (DLC:GW). Brig. Gen. James Mitchell Varnum wrote Greene on this date that “the Situation of the Camp is such, that in all human probability the Army must soon dissolve—Many of the Troops are destitute of Meat, & are several Days in Arrear—The Horses are dying for want of Forage” (DLC:GW). For another report of the dire situation at Valley Forge, see General Orders, 15 Feb., source note.

Aware of the urgency of the situation, GW produced a flurry of correspondence to civil and military officials, urging them to expedite the supply of food to the army however possible (see, for example, GW to Israel Putnam, 6 Feb., to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., 6 Feb., to William Buchanan, 7 Feb., to Peter Colt, 7 Feb., and the letters to state governors listed in GW to Patrick Henry, 19 Feb., n.1). At the same time GW encouraged measures sponsored by others, such as an effort by the Board of War to appoint commissaries to procure food in Pennsylvania, which was doomed to disappointment (see Robert Lettis Hooper, Jr., Nathaniel Falconer, and Jonathan Mifflin, Jr., to GW, 14 Feb., GW’s reply to those officers of 15 Feb., and Jonathan Mifflin, Jr., to GW, 20 February). A reduction of the army ration, suggested by Deputy Commissary General Ephraim Blaine, was also in the offing (see Blaine to GW, 4 Feb., and note 1 of that document; see also another of Blaine’s suggestions in the Proclamation on Cattle, 18 February).

Perhaps the most notable of GW’s measures for the short-term supply of provisions, however, was a grand forage that he ordered to be undertaken under Greene’s command. GW’s instructions to Greene are similar to another letter of 9–12 Feb. to Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne, who was ordered to forage in New Jersey while Greene scoured Pennsylvania; Capt. Henry Lee was to find what he could in Delaware. How much hope GW placed in the forage is not clear; Greene wrote to Wayne on this date referring to an apparently skeptical letter from Lee but noted that “His Excellency thinks we had better make the experiment nevertheless” (Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 2:282).

Col. Israel Angell wrote in his diary on 12 Feb. that “at night we Recd. after orders for a detachment from the army to parade by ten O Clock in the morning. to Consist of one Major General, one Brigadier Genl. three Colo. four Lt. Cols. four Majors 16 Capts, 32 Subs. 32 Serjts 32 Corprols, 16 Drums and fifs, and 1200 privates, to be furnished with hard Bread for Six days” (Boyle, “Angell’s Diary,” description begins Joseph Lee Boyle, ed. “The Israel Angell Diary, 1 October 1777–28 February 1778.” Rhode Island History 58 (2000): 107–38. description ends 129). The troops assigned to the expedition apparently left camp on 13 Feb. (see the general orders of that date).

Greene and Lee appear to have finished their foraging by the end of the month. Greene apparently had some success and reported to Brig. Gen. Henry Knox on 26 Feb. that “the little collections I had made and some others” had “prevented the Army from disbanding” (Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 2:293). Wayne, however, became involved in a number of skirmishes with British detachments that had been sent to ensnare him by Gen. William Howe. Wayne felt compelled to call on Brig. Gen. Casimir Pulaski’s cavalry for assistance and did not draw his activities to a close until March, after his troops had completed a circuit of Philadelphia. For letters relating to the American grand forage, see Greene to GW, 15 (two letters) [1] [2], 16, 17, 18, 20 Feb., GW to Greene, 16, 18 Feb., GW to Henry Lee, Jr., 16, 21, 25 Feb., Lee to GW, 19, 21, 22 Feb., GW to William Smallwood, 16 Feb., Smallwood to GW, 21 Feb., GW to Henry Hollingsworth, 16, 21 Feb., Hollingsworth to GW, 18 Feb., Wayne to GW, 25, 26 Feb., 5, 14 Mar., GW to Wayne, 28 Feb., 2, 12 Mar., John Barry to GW, 26 Feb., Casimir Pulaski to GW, 27, 28 Feb., 3 Mar., GW to Pulaski, 1 Mar., and Ephraim Blaine to GW, 28 Feb.; see also Foraging for Valley Forge by General Anthony Wayne in Salem and Gloucester Counties, New Jersey, with Associated Happenings and Foraging in Salem County for the British Army in Philadelphia by Colonel Mawhood and Major Simcoe 1778 (Woodbury, N.J., 1929).

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