George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Samuel Huntington, 7 November 1780

To Samuel Huntington

Head Quarters Prackness Novembr 7th 1780


I have been honored with your Excellency’s favor of the 1st Inst. and am happy to find that my appointment of Major General Greene, to the command of the Southern Army, meets the approbation of Congress.1

Congress having been pleased, by their Act of the 21st ulto, to authorise me to direct a mode for compleating, recruiting and supplying the partizan Corps to be commanded by Colo. Armand and Major Lee;2 I beg leave to suggest the propriety of incorporating the remainder of the men of Count Pulaski’s legion, and so many of the Officers as there are Vacancies for, into Colo. Armands Corps, and should there be still a deficiency, that he should be furnished with money and allowed to recruit in the States at large; Major Lee to be furnished with Money also, and allowed the same Liberty in order to compleat his Corps to the new establishment. The purchase of horses should, I think, be left to the commanding Officers of the Corps, because, they being interested in the matter, will be careful to purchase none but such as are able and in every respect qualified for the service, whereas, we have always found that when the business has been intrusted to public Agents, they have made a job of the matter, and have furnished horses not fit for common hacks—Congress, may if they please, limit the prices to a generous allowance in specie or an equivalent in the circulating Medium—The Board of War and Cloathier Genel should be directed to procure regular and full supplies, annually, of the Cloathing allowed to both Officers and men, and of the Arms and Accoutrements for the Horse and foot. Upon this plan, I am of opinion that both Corps may be quickly compleated, and constantly kept upon a respectable footing.3

I do not find any notice taken of the Engineering department, (which includes the Corps of Sappers and Miners), in the establishment of the Army, by the Resolves of the 3d and 21st ulto. The Gentlemen of that department are somewhat uneasy, at seeing no mention made of them in the general establishment, and altho’ I do not imagine that it was the intent of Congress to abolish so necessary and valuable a Military Branch, I could wish, for the satisfaction of the Gentlemen in it, that there might be something more explicit, especially as several of them are Foreigners of distinction, who say that it will have an odd appearance abroad, to see an American Military establishment of which they are part, but not publicly acknowledged.4

By letters from Governor Clinton I find that the enemy have gone off for the present from the Mohawk River, after totally destroying the Country as low down as Schoharie, Those upon the Northern quarter had repassed Lake George, and were again proceeding towards St Johns, but Suddenly returned with a reinforcement, and were, by accounts from Genel Schuyler of the 1st instt assembled in so considerable a force at Ticonderoga, that I have thought proper to send up the remainder of the New York Brigade, from West-Point to Albany, that they may be ready to act as circumstances may require.5 The destruction of the Grain upon the Western Frontier of the State of New York is likely to be attended with the most allarming consequences, in Respect to the formation of Magazines upon the North River. We had prospects of establishing a very considerable Magazine of Flour in that quarter, previous to the late incursion—The settlement of Schoharie only would have delivered 80,000 Bushels of Grain, but that fine district is now totally destroyed. I should view this calamity with less concern, did I see the least prospect of obtaining the necessary supplies of flour from the States of Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, previous to the interruption of transportation by frost and bad roads. This is a matter to which I beg leave to call the most immediate and serious attention of Congress, as without their intervention with those States, and urging, nay insisting upon their furnishing a supply in time to have it brought into the State of Jersey by the latter end of this month, I foresee the distressed situation to which the Troops must be reduced in their Winter Cantonments, more especially those in the vicinity of West-Point, and who will be the greatest part of the Army in this quarter. I have repeatedly written myself to those States, but have received nothing but promises, which I cannot find, from the Commissary, have been complied with.6 some of the Troops in Garrison at West-Point had been lately six days without bread, and were at length obliged to break in upon a small reserve which with much difficulty, I had obtained and ordered to be kept in each work, in case of sudden investiture. I cannot learn that we have at this late period one thousand Barrels of flour between this place and Philadelphia.7

While our Army is experiencing almost daily want, that of the enemy at New York is deriving ample supplies from a trade with the adjacent States of New York—New Jersey and Connecticut, which has, by degrees, become so common, that it is hardly thought a Crime, It is true there are in those States, Laws imposing a penalty upon this criminal commerce but it is either so light or so little attended to, that it does not prevent the practice. The Marketts of New York are so well supplied, that a great number of mouths, which would otherwise be fed from the public Magazines, are now supported upon the fresh Meats and flour of the Country, by which means, the enemy have been often enabled to bear the disappointments of the arrival of their provision Fleets, without much inconvenience, and if report be true, they would, at this very time, experience distress, for want of their long expected Irish Fleet, if the resources of the Country were effectually cut off from them.8 This cannot be done by military measures alone, except in case of Blockade or Seige, and much less will it be in my power to do it, with our Army, in the weak state it is verging to.

I believe that most nations make it capital for their subjects to furnish their enemy’s with provisions and Military Stores during a War, was this done by the several States, and the laws put rigidly in execution in a few instances, the practice would be stopped—Without something of the kind, the enemy will, while they have a species of money of superior value to ours, find little difficulty of making up the losses which they every now and then meet with at sea, and which would very much embarrass their operations, had they no immediate mode of making good the deficiency.

I have the pleasure to inform Congress, that at the late meeting of the respective Commissaries, the exchanges of about one hundred and forty of our Officers and all our privates in New York, amounting to 476, were effected, Among the former are Major General Lincoln. Brigr Generals Thompson, Waterbury and Du Portail and Lt Colo. Laurens.9 Sir Henry Clinton having made a proposal of exchanging a further number of the Convention Officers, without attaching Men to them, I have acceded to it; by which we shall liberate all our Officers in this quarter, except one Brigr General (Irvine) Nine Colonels—one Captain—and thirty nine Lieutenants.10 An offer is made by Sir Henry Clinton to exchange all those for a division of the Convention Troops, by Composition, where Rank will not apply—to this I have refused to accede except Lieut. General Burgoyne is made an object. If they will agree to this, he alone will liberate nearly the whole of them. They have further proposed a general exchange of the Convention Troops, Officers and men, for our prisoners of War to the Southward. I have not thought proper to enter at all upon the business of southern prisoners, because I have but a very imperfect state of them, and because I perceive, by the powers granted to Major General Greene, that he is at Liberty to negociate the exchanges of prisoners in that quarter.11

I have no further certain accounts of the embarkation mentioned in mine of the 4th inst. but I have still reason to think that such a measure is in contemplation.12 I have the honor to be With the greatest respect your Excellency’s Most Obedt humbe servt

Go: Washington

P.S. I have Just received the inclosed extract from Genl Heath it is the latest account from the Northward and serves to show the small dependence which ought to be placed upon provisions from that quarter.13

LS, in Caleb Gibbs’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; copy (extract), MdAA. The extract contains the fourth paragraph of the LS from “The destruction of the Grain” to the close. Congress read GW’s letter on 13 Nov. and referred it to “a committee of three” (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 , 18:1049). Huntington acknowledged this letter when he wrote GW on 12 Nov., postscript.

2See 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 , 18:960; see also General Orders, 1 November.

3See GW to Armand, 5 Nov., and the source note to that document.

4Congress subsequently addressed the engineering officers (see Huntington to GW, 16 Nov.; see also Officers among the Sappers and Miners, 19 Dec.).

Lieutenant Colonel Gouvion wrote GW from the bridge at Totowa on 9 Nov.: “in the Construction of the Works at dobbs’s fery I have So much experienced the utility of the few men now composing the Corps of Sappers and miners, and in this moment they are So usefull at West point, that I can’t but regret that the Officers had no other encouragement but the Continental Bounty to propose to the men Willing to inlist themselves in the Corps. and that they have been in the impossibility of filling up the companies.

“the only Way to have the three companies complete is to include them in the quota of three different States Such as massachusets Bay, connecticut and pennsilvania, I propose those three States because the greatest part of the men now composing the corps Belongs to them. the officers and men of each company ought to be intitled to all the Benefits to which the troops of that State are intitled; the companies Should consist of the Same number of officers and men determined by a former resolution of the honourable congress.

“the Soldiers who have been drafted from the different Regts of the massachusset Bay, connecticut and pennsilvania Lines into the Corps of Sappers ought to be Keept in it and make part of the companies, those drafted from the Regts of the other States ought to Stay in the companies as Supernumeraries, and included as absent on command in the Returns of the regts they Belong to. it Should be injurious to the good of the Service to order those men to their regts because having acquired Some instruction they can be of more utility in the Corps of Sappers than anywhere else” (ALS, DLC:GW; see also GW’s second letter to Huntington, 26 Jan.; William McMurray et al. to GW, 26 May; and General Orders, 12 Aug.).

6For example, see GW to Joseph Reed, 1 October.

7Charles Stewart, commissary general of issues, wrote Nathaniel Stevens, deputy commissary general of issues, from camp, presumably Preakness, on this date following a consultation with GW regarding the flour supply. Stewart related to Stevens that “about seventy barrels of Flour for your use” had been sent yesterday and “are by this time at King[’s] Ferry unless something very extraordinary has happened on the way to detain them. We have not an ounce of Flour in the Magazine here. the Troops only served for this day.

“Mr Gamble is gone to Morris Town in order to forward to this Place and Kings Ferry what Flour may be there I suppose from five to six hundred barrels. A third of what there is will be hurried on for the use of the Troops at West Point and the Quarter Master General is collecting Teams to send to Morris Town for it I am of opinion if you do not want before what was sent on yesterday reaches you that you will not want again, untill this becomes General which God forbid should happen.

“The failure of Flour in your State will be most sensibly felt His Excellency is now writing to Congress on the subject of supplys and I suppose is perfectly acquainted with the loss of Wheat on the Frontiers of N. York State on which Colo. Hay had so much dependence—The Quantity of Rum at Springfield falls far short of my expectations however I wish it was got on to West Point. We have not a drop here except three Hogsheads received from you lately which will not give a gill ⅌ man to the Army now here.

“We every day expect Colo. Blaine here & when he comes no doubt the affair of Salting Provisions will be settled and I suppose a large Magazine laid up in your quarter when doubtless the greatest part of the Army will quarter this Winter.

“I have heard nothing from Mr Ladwick but expect the Ovens are finished and Baking going on. You will find great saving by this method and everything you can do to forward it you will do.

“Your Messenger has been detained to day in order that I might know your dependence on us for Flour. I hope some will drop in from your State to keep along untill a quantity arrives from the Southward & in the mean time depend on a share whilst we have a barrel left” (MHi: Heath Papers). For Christopher Ludwick, director of baking for the Continental army, and the ovens at West Point, see GW to Nathanael Greene, 12 Oct., found at Greene to GW, 13 Oct., source note; and William Heath to GW, 18 November.

Stevens enclosed a copy of Stewart’s letter when he wrote Maj. Gen. William Heath from Fishkill, N.Y., on 9 November. Stevens added that “according to the present appearances I expect we shall soon have a tolerable supply of flour, or at least much better than we have had of late. …

“N.B. I inclose you a copy of the latest General orders respecting the Issue of Vegitables &c.

“The Seventy barrels of flour mentioned in Colonel Stewarts Letter had not ar[r]ived at Kings ferry this morning, My Assistant there has particular orders to send it to the Fort soon as possible” (MHi: Heath Papers). Heath replied to Stevens from West Point on 11 Nov.: “I am happy to find our prospects growing every Day more agreable, His Excellency General Washington writes me that he has Signified to Congress the necessity of this Post being Supplied with a Sufficient Store of Flour from the Southward to last the Winter. hope we shall receive it, but we must not in the least remit our exertions to obtain all we possibly can from this State and constantly urge the necessity of its being forwarded before the river is Frozen” (MHi: Heath Papers; see also GW to Heath, 9 Nov.).

8A British supply fleet arrived from Cork, Ireland, shortly before 15 Nov. (see Lafayette to GW, 14 Nov., and n.1 to that document).

9For the likely source of this information, see GW to Abraham Skinner, 8 November.

10For a similar report, see GW to the Board of War, this date.

11For the powers Congress gave Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene as southern commander, see 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 , 18:994–95; see also GW to Huntington, 22 Oct., n.3, and Greene to GW, 3 Nov., and n.2 to that document.

12See GW to Huntington, 4 Nov., and n.1 to that document.

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