George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General Horatio Gates, 6 March 1778

To Major General Horatio Gates

Head Quarters Valley Forge 6th March 1778


As the Season approaches fast when we may expect to draw together a considerable reinforcement to the Army, I cannot help having apprehensions that we shall be at a loss for Arms and Accoutrements for them. The last Returns that I obtained from the Commissaries on this side the North River were very imperfect, as the Stores were then on the remove from Bethlehem and Allen Town to Lebanon and Carlisle, nor have I recd a regular Return from the Eastward for some time past. I am therefore much at a loss how to form a judgment, with any degree of accuracy, of the number that may be depended upon by the opening of the Campaign. You will oblige me by ordering an abstract to be taken from the latest returns and sent to me. The number of Arms in the different Elaboratories wanting repair are very great, but I am fearful that there is neglect in the Armourers department, owing to the inactivity of the person at the Head of that branch, who I am told is almost superannuated.1

As the neighbourhood of Philada is the place where the Army will rendezvous in the Spring, I think it will be necessary to draw the Arms from all our remote Magazines to those in our Rear, and I have for this Reason desired Genl Knox to send all the new ones (except those wanted for the Recruits) from the Eastward to this State, and to have the old repaired with the greatest industry.2 I do not know whether we have any public Arms to the Southward, but if we have, I think they ought for the same Reason to be brought forward in time. even from Charles Town.3

The State of Virginia has voted a very considerable number of Men, who are to serve for six Month, and it is more than probable, that if other States should find it difficult to procure their quota of continental Troops that they may adopt similar expedients.4 I take it for granted that they will all depend upon the public magazines for Arms, and it will be a mortifying and discouraging circumstance should we not be able to supply them.

I am also apprehensive that the scarcity of leather will occasion a scarcity of Accoutrements. From what the Commissary of Hydes informed me some time ago, his prospects of dressed leather are distant, he having put out a great quantity to be tanned which will not be fit for service untill next Fall.5

The Cartouch Boxes made in this Country are generally very bad, and I see little chance of their being made substantial and fit to turn the Weather untill we can bring our manufacture of leather to a greater perfection, which is only to be done by letting it lay much longer in the Vatts than we can afford under our present wants.6 Military accoutrements of the leather kind are said to come exceedingly cheap and good from France and I would therefore suggest the propriety of ordering a quantity from thence, if it should not have been already done.7 The Hydes of the Cattle killed in the Army might then be in a manner totally applied to procuring Shoes for them,8 by making contracts to exchange one for the other. Had not this method been fallen upon, the Soldiers must have been rendered totally unfit for service, as they could not get supplied upon any other terms, but in a very small degree. I have very little doubt but contracts of this kind may be so extended as to procure a constant supply of good shoes for the whole Army.9 This is a matter worthy of the attention of the Board, as we have suffered more for the want of Shoes than for any other Article10 & those imported from France affording little more than a days wear. I have the honor to be &c.

Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. GW added some text to the draft (see notes 3 and 10).

1The public armorer, Thomas Butler, was dismissed in April.

3The words “even from Charles Town” are in GW’s writing.

4Clauses of the recent Virginia recruiting act, a copy of which was enclosed to GW by Patrick Henry on 28 Jan., offered a bounty of $10 to each volunteer who would agree to serve with GW’s army for six months, up to a total of ten regiments (Hening, description begins William Waller Hening, ed. The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619. 13 vols. 1819–23. Reprint. Charlottesville, Va., 1969. description ends 9:345–48).

5This statement from Commissary of Hides George Ewing has not been identified, but for discussion of his tanning arrangements, see Ewing’s Report on Hides, 2 Dec. 1777.

6On 28 Mar. when the Board of War transmitted to the various state governors a resolution regarding reinforcement of the army, Gates advised each governor, “The recommendation to provide Cartridge boxes, & tin Cannisters for Cartridges, is given because of the almost total want of them in the public stores, & the impossibility of Making a number in any degree equal to the demands of the Army, in the public Manufactories, where the workmen are few, & it is impossible to increase them” (Horatio Gates to Nicholas Cooke, 28 Mar., R-Ar; see also Hastings, Clinton Papers description begins Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds. Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777–1795, 1801–1804. 10 vols. 1899–1914. Reprint. New York, 1973. description ends , 3:92, and N.C. State Records description begins Walter Clark, ed. The State Records of North Carolina. 16 vols., numbered 11-26. Winston and Goldsboro, N.C., 1895–1907. description ends , 13:76).

7At this place on the draft, Tilghman wrote and then crossed out the following text: “I am in hopes that we shall be able to keep the Army constantly shod by exchanging Hides for Shoes. The army contracts of this kind are ordered extended.”

8At this point on the draft, Tilghman wrote and struck out the clause “which is the only method that I can see of keeping them continually shod.”

9For a dissenting view on the success of this expedient, see William Smallwood to GW, 27 February.

10The remaining text is in GW’s writing.

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