George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Nathanael Greene, 15 February 1778

From Major General Nathanael Greene

Head Quarters Spring field Meeting House [Pa.]
Feb. 15. 1778.


We are in want of some of the Deputy Q. M. Generals to conduct the business of that department—please to send us one—I receivd two Letters from Col. Biddle—he has got but few Waggons—The Inhabitants conceal them the Col. complains bitterly of the disaffection of the people—I sent out a great number of small parties to collect the Cattle Horses &c. &c. yesterday but the collection was inconsiderable, the Country is very much draind—The Inhabitants cry out and beset me from all quarters—but like Pharoh I harden my heart—Two men were taken up carrying provisions into the Enemy yesterday morning—I gave them an hundred each by way of Example—I have sent of[f] all the Cattle Sheep and Horses—I will send on the forage and all further collections that may be made as fast as possible—I determin to forage the Country very bare—nothing shall be left unattempted.1

As Provision will be scarse especially of the meat kind, if the Commisaries could purchase a quantity of Sugar—the troops with Wheat might make a fermity2—a diet that would contribute to their health—be palatable and nourishing to the troops—I think it would be a very good substitute for meat—and not much more expensive if any.

Lt. Col. Ballard was out on the forageing business yesterday down about Darby and got intelligence of the Enemies Bridge being removd and that it was with difficulty they relevd their Guards being some hours about it—He solicited a party to attempt the Guard—upon his earnest entreaty I granted his request—Inclosed is his report—by which you will see the attempt was unsuccessful.3

I hope the Committee of Congress wont loos Sight of Col. Cox—there is no man will serve their purpose better—Your Excellency may remember I mentiond Mr Lott for that department please to name him to the Committee4—I am with great respect your Excellencies most Obedient Servant

Nath. Greene

ALS, DLC:GW; copy, CSmH: Greene Papers.

1For information on Greene’s foraging expedition, see GW’s letter to him of 12 Feb. and note 2 of that document.

2Frumenty was a popular food dish, made primarily from boiled, cracked wheat.

3William Howe’s aide Captain Muenchhausen wrote in his diary on 12 Feb. that “Whenever there is a very heavy rain we are forced to dismantle the upper bridge across the Schuylkill [at Middle Ferry], by which we have communication with a command in a redoubt on the other side. The command is then relieved by some large boats. The sudden heavy rain caused us to dismantle the bridge yesterday” (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. Col. Robert Ballard’s letter to Greene, dated “Sunday Morning,” 15 Feb., reads: “I am sorry to inform that my Scheme has prov’d ineffectual, the enemy had by some means got knowledge of our march, indeed we saw a light horse man ride on to give the news when we had approach’d within about 500 yds, we then push’d on as hard as possible but found them secur’d in the Stone house, they began a very heavy fire before we got within 100 yds, which was very warmly returnd on our parts ’till we got within 50 yds, but conceiving it impracticable to force them out of the house, I ordered my Men to retreat. They behav’d exceeding brave & wou’d I believe have attempted Staving the Doors. Major Cabbles party who went on the lower side next the Schuykill fell in with a small party he thinks he killd Several of them.

“The poor fellows are exceeding fatigued & woud be glad of Some Whiskey I directed the Officer of each respective corps to make out a return for Whiskey. Many of them say they haven’t had a mouth full of meat this 4 days—I am so worsted I cannot wait on you at your Quarters.

“My party met with but little loss. 4 or 5 Slightly wounded & I believe 1 or 2 killed” (DLC:GW). Greene reported on 17 Feb. that none of Ballard’s men had been killed and only five “slightly wounded.”

Muenchhausen recorded Ballard’s attack in his diary on this date: “Upon hearing that our bridge across the Schuylkill had not yet been reconstructed, General Wayne, who had taken a position in the region of Darby . . . made a plan to seize our picket that was posted on the other side of the river in a weak redoubt. He attacked it at three o’clock this morning with 200 men. After a small-arms fire of about a quarter of an hour, they retreated, after they lost a few dead and several wounded; we had only a few slightly wounded” (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 , 48). Lt. Johann Ernst Prechtel of the Anspach Regiment also wrote about the skirmish in his diary on this date: “At three o’clock this morning the watch at the defensive positions across the Schuylkill, under the command of the following officers: Grenadier Captain von Ellrodt, 1st Lieutenant von Keller, of the von Eyb Regiment, and 1st Lieutenant von Reitzenstein, of the von Voir Regiment, was attacked by the enemy. The fighting lasted three-quarters of an hour. The watch, which consisted primarily of Ansbachers, held the positions so bravely, that the enemy had to retreat” (Prechtel, Diary description begins Johann Ernst Prechtel. A Hessian Officer’s Diary of the American Revolution. Translated and edited by Bruce E. Burgoyne. Bowie, Md., 1994. description ends , 131–32). Hessian captain Johann Ewald gave another account of the engagement, misdating it 16 Feb. and claiming that “The Americans had ten killed and seven badly wounded left on the spot. Among the latter was a French officer. On our side, only one was killed and three wounded” (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 , 120).

4Greene probably was recommending Abraham Lott and John Cox, Jr., as deputies in the quartermaster department. Cox was named assistant quartermaster general on the same day that Greene became quartermaster general (see General Orders, 24 March).

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