George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Heath, 9 December 1780

From Major General William Heath

Garrison of West Point Decr 9th 1780

Dear General

I am honored with yours of the 8th—The 100 barrells of salted beef, or as many Tierces as will be equal to that quantity, the beef being cheifly in the latter, shall be forwarded to Albany as soon as a vessell can be procured.1

The Invalids of the six months Levies have been discharged, & for some days past six men of those worst cloathed from each regiment This haveing taken off the principle part of those worst clad—I have ordered three from each regiment to be discharged daily; this number shall be increased, or diminishd as your Excellency may think proper.2

Some of the three years men who have one two & three months to serve are almost naked, & unfit for duty they must be cloathed or discharged; which of the two is your Excellencys pleasure.

Some doubts have arisen between the Officers who are allowed to draw two rations, in consequence of a Resolve of Congress and late order of your Excellency; and the Commissaries suppose the extra ration should be drawn on each issuing day, or not at all.3 The Officers suppose the extra ration designed to enable them to live more comfortably & that they may dispose of it for other species of provisions, or vegitables; that if they draw it on every issuing day, a great part of it may be lost, or rendered of little advantage to them; whereas if they can draw it at such times within the month, as might give them an opportunity to exchange it, it would be a real releif to them. I wish to be informed if your Excellency has any objection to the last mode, as it will be the same to the Public, & much more beneficial to the Officers.

Some of the State Clothiers have some articles of Cloathing & Blanketts sent to them by their States; the nakedness of the Troops call loudly for the issue of them—The present injunctions on the Clothiers forbid it.4 Some of the Officers think that by the ordnance of Cloathing, whatever the State Clothier can obtain from his State, is to be distributed to the Troops belonging to the State untill they are supplyed: and in case of a surplusage that the surplusage is to be transfered to the public Stock; that if this is not attended to it will discourage the States from exertions to provide for their own Troops. I have not the ordnance by me, but Genl Huntington thinks such is the tenor of it—Your Excellency can best determine & whether it is to be strictly attended to.

I take the Liberty to inclose Colonel Hazens Arrest of Major Reid.5

Our situation here on account of provisions is really alarming6—totally destitute of Flour except eight barrells which arrived this evening—The want of forrage forbids7 any number of beef Cattle being kept on the Point—The salted meat in the Magazines but a triffle, if necessity should force us to use it—If a severe storm should happen & the river be impassible but three or four days, the Troops must inevitably suffer. I cannot learn that any flour of consequence is coming from any Quarter. Large quantities of meat are putting up at a distance, but unless the season is u⟨n⟩common the time is nigh when it will be very difficult, to tr⟨ans⟩port it to this Post.8

Two Deserters with their arms from Robinsons Corps came up this day. They both assert that the Enemy are short of provissions & fuel—That but few of the Cork Fleet have arrived9—That their ration since the arrival of the Fleet has been reduced & at present is six pounds of bread pr week—Ten ounces of salt beef & one gill of rum pr day.

I have this moment received the enclosed from Colonel Hay, & a few hours since the one from General Clinton10—I request to be informed by the return of the Express, whether the 100 barrells of beef is to be detained, or forwarded without loss of time.11 I have the honor to be With the greatest respect Your Excellencys Most Obedient Servant

W. Heath

LS, DLC:GW; ADfS, MHi: Heath Papers.

Heath later wrote in his memoirs: “On the evening of the 9th, Gen. Varnum and Col. Pickering, arrived at West Point; at this time the troops were without bread, and very uneasy. The next day, 300 barrels of flour arrived” (Wilson, Heath’s Memoirs description begins Rufus Rockwell Wilson, ed. Heath’s Memoirs of the American War. 1798. Reprint. New York, 1904. description ends , 280).

1See GW to Heath, 8 Dec. (see also n.10 below).

2See GW to Heath, 28 Nov., and notes 1 and 2.

3Heath sought clarification of a congressional resolution adopted the previous summer (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 , 17:772–73; Samuel Huntington to GW, 28 Aug., and n.1 to that document; and General Orders, 5 Sept.; see also the general orders for 23 Oct.).

4Clothing problems had plagued Heath (see his first letter to GW, 7 Nov., and n.4; see also James Wilkinson to GW, same date, and GW to Heath, 9 Nov.).

5The enclosure has not been identified, but see James Randolph Reid to GW, 7 Dec., n.2.

Following this paragraph on the draft, Heath wrote and then struck out a paragraph regarding “an application of Mr. [David] Brooks for a Survey on damaged Clothing” (see Heath to GW, 13 Dec., and n.2 to that document).

6See Udny Hay to GW, 23 Nov., and n.1 to that document, and GW to Hay, 27 Nov., and n.4 to that document (see also the source note above).

7The word “fobids” appears on the LS.

8See Ephraim Blaine to GW, 10 Nov., and n.2 to that document.

9For the disjointed arrival of the British supply fleet from Cork, Ireland, see Lafayette to GW, 14 Nov., and n.1 to that document.

10Lt. Col. Udny Hay, New York state agent, had written Heath from Fishkill Landing, N.Y., on this date: “Full provision was ordered to be made as to the article of beef for the Troops in the Northern Department exclusive of G[enera]l Clintons Brigade, I shall send an express to morrow and order a sufficient quantity for them, should therefore be glad you would countermand the order for sending a hundred barrells to Albany especially as they can obtain Casks there for salting on which we cannot” (MHi: Heath Papers). Brig. Gen. James Clinton’s letter has not been identified.

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