George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Heath, 1 January 1781

From Major General William Heath

Garrison West Point Jany 1st 1781

Dear General

The last evening I was honored with yours of yesterday,1 the rank of the Massachusett’s regiments, I am inform’d has been altercated, and the mode of decission not fully determined—The Question has been whether the regiments shall retain their former rank, or be numbered anew, and take rank conformable to the rank of the Officers who are now to command them. The Ten Regiments are commanded by the several Colonels and Lt Colonel Commandants as specifyed on the enclosed List2—As soon as I can obtain the List of the Field Officers & rank of the Connecticutt Regiments, will forward them.

Yesterday Lt Edes of the Guard Boats deliverd the articles enumerated on the enclosed Inventory, which were left in his hands by Colonel Humphries3 Lt Edes informs me, that there was a report below, that the Party were made Prisoners on York Island—that it was said the party consisted, of a Colonel, Captain, Two Subalterns, Two Voluntiers & twenty four men; if this account be true, the whole were made Prisoners.4

Enclosed are the returns of the Officers belonging to Colonel Livingston & Spencers regiments.5 Enclosed is also a letter I received from Lt Colonel Hull, which does honor to Capt. Pritchard.6

About 8 oClock the last evening I received another Express from Lt Colonel Hull, dated at half past one oClock P.M., giveing an account, that he had just received intelligence from Captain Pritchard, that the Enemy were again out about 100 Infantry & 50 horse, who were advanceing towards him, Lt Colonel Hull was marching with his Main body to support Captain Pritchard, and had sent off an Express to the Commanding Officer of the New Hampshire Line, which has been held in the most perfect readiness, to march on the shortest notice; so that we may every moment expect to hear something interesting from that Quarter.7

The new regiments will this day form conformable to orders.8 With Compliments of the Season—I have the honor to be With the greatest respect Your Excellencys Most Obedt Servant

W. Heath

LS, DLC:GW; ADfS, MHi: Heath Papers. GW replied to Heath on this date.

1On 31 Dec. 1780, GW wrote Heath from New Windsor: “I have not Brigaded the Troops in this day’s orders, because I was uncertain whether the Regiments of Massachusetts bay take their numbers from the Rank & Seniority of the Colonels—or from the former number of the Regiments—please to satisfy me in this point, by giving me the list of the Colonels, & number of the Regiments they respectively command” (ALS, MHi: Heath Papers).

2Heath enclosed an undated “List of the names of Officers Commanding the Regiments in the Massachusetts Line 1 [John] Greaton 2 [William] Shepard 3 [Rufus] Putnam 4 M[ichael] Jackson 5 H[enry] Jackson 6 [Joseph] Vose 7 [Benjamin] Tupper 8 [Ebenezer] Sprout 9 [John] Brooks 10 [Calvin] Smith” (DLC:GW; see also General Orders, 1 Nov. 1780, n.5, and the general orders for 8 Jan. 1781). The numbers refer to the seniority of the colonels; Sproat, Brooks, and Smith were lieutenant colonels commandant.

3The enclosed inventory has not been identified. The copy retained by Heath reads: “Garrison Westpoint Decr 31st 1780[.] Recd from Lieut. Joseph Edes, Said to belong to Colo. Humphries, and left by him in the hand of Lt Edes—One prospective Glass[,] One pr Silver Spurs[,] Razor case, and three razors[,] Two Shirts[,] one Stock[,] one pair Stockings[,] One blue and white Cotten handkerchief[,] One napkin and Two loose papers[.] The above articles forwarded to Head Quarters—Jany 1st 178[1]” (MHi: Heath Papers).

4No participants became enemy prisoners during the unsuccessful mission of GW’s aide-de-camp David Humphreys and his small detachment to surprize and capture British general Henry Clinton or German lieutenant general Wilhelm von Knyphausen (see GW to Humphreys, 23 Dec. 1780).

5These returns have not been identified. GW requested the returns in his letter to Heath of 25 Dec. 1780.

6Lt Col. William Hull wrote Heath on 30 Dec. from “Danforths” near Pine’s Bridge in Westchester County, N.Y.: “Last Evening a Detachment from Colo. Delanceys Corps consisting of about a hundred Foot & Fifty Horse marched as far as North Castle, where they made a short halt for Refreshment, and this Morning at day light proceeded to Bedford new Purchase for the Purpose of collecting the Cattle from that Quarter—Capt. Prichard who had taken a Position near Middle Patten[t], having Intelligence of this Movement, marched early in the Morning and at Sunrise met their Van at the above mentioned Place—A Skirmish ensued, and the Enimy finding themselves opposed by Troops who preserved their Order, immediately began their Retreat—This Company being joined by a Party of Millitia, pressed hard on their Rear, kept up a constant Fire, and obliged them to retreat with great Rapidity—The Pursuit was continued as far as Youngs, when our Troops being so inferior in Numbers, and a large Part of them destitute of Shoes, and much fatigued, it was thought adviseable to desist—Capt. Prichard informs me the Enimys Loss to his Knowledge was one killed and several wounded, which they carried off in a Waggon, which they took from an Inhabitant.

“Altho’ a Number of his Company had Balls thro’ their Ca[r]touch Boxes & Cloaths, yet fortunately not a Man was hurt—They retook four Oxen and between thirty and forty Sheep—The Enimy’s Stock of Plunder, which was the Object of the Expedition, was eight or ten Head of Cattle.

“Their Plan was to have collected the Cattle from North-Castle, Bedford & the Middle Patten[t] and returned by the Way of Kingstreet, and the Inhabitants inform me that the Activity and good Conduct of Capt. Prichard saved them at least a Hundred Head—They set Fire to a Number of Houses in Bedford New Purchase but all were happily extinguished—Their darling Passion for Plunder, was as far gratified as their host would admit—Altho’ I am happy that the principal Object of their Expedition has been defeated, yet I feel exceedingly mortified, that neither Capt. Prichard, or the Parties of Observation which I had sent below, gave me such seasonable Intelligence, as rendered it possible to come up with them with the main Body.

“This however is not imputable to any Neglect, but to an unfortunate Concurrence of Circumstances.

“It was Nine OClock this Morning, before I was advised of the Excursion, on which all the troops wer⟨e⟩ ordered to assemble at Pines Bridge, from whence I marched to the Road leading from North Castle to Youngs—On my Arrival to the Road near Shapaquaw [Chappauqua] Meeting House, the Enimy had past more than two Hours, and having Intelligence that Capt. Prichard was retiring, I imagined a Pursuit would be fruitless—Had I received early Intelligence of this Movement, by a rapid March, I could hav⟨e⟩ thrown my Detachment in their Front, or at least o⟨n⟩ their right Flank with the most perfect Safety, and should [have] been able, in all probability, to have given a much better Account of them.

“It is unnecessary to mention the Conduct of Capt. Prichard, his Company, or the Millitia who mustered on the Occasion, in Terms of Commendation, as the Relation of Facts, places it in an honorable Point of View” (MHi: Heath Papers). The enclosed version of the letter has not been identified.

Thomas Pritchard (Prichard; 1752–1795) of Medford, Mass., served as a sergeant in the Lexington alarm of April 1775 and that same month enlisted as a sergeant in Col. Thomas Gardner’s Massachusetts Regiment. In January 1776 he joined the 5th Continental Regiment as an ensign and became a second lieutenant the following August. In January 1777, Pritchard received a commission as a first lieutenant in the newly organized 3d Massachusetts Regiment. He became a captain lieutenant in January 1779 and a captain in March 1780. He left the army in June 1783.

7Both Pritchard’s report to Hull, dated 31 Dec. at Bedford, N.Y., and Hull’s letter to Heath written at Pine’s Bridge on the same date are in MHi: Heath Papers.

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