George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Colonel Timothy Pickering, 14 January 1781

From Colonel Timothy Pickering

Newburgh [N.Y.] Jany 14. 1781.


In a memorandum of your Excellency’s which I recd at Totowa is the following—“Ox teams to be provided & used the next campaign.”1 In a resolution of Congress of the 10th of November is the following paragraph. “That if it be deemed preferable by the commander in chief that a proportion of the public horses should be disposed of for draught oxen, to be provided for the ensuing campaign, he be authorised to direct the quarter master general to effect the same in such manner as may be most beneficial to the public service.”2

The public horses which were old & so worn down as not to be worth recruiting, I ordered to be sold. The proceeds of the sales would not billet the residue for one month; much less enable me to purchase oxen to supply the places of the horses sold. The horses which remain will be barely sufficient for the artillery & amunition & the waggons of officers intitled to carriages seperate from the soldiers. I rather think they will fall short: but this cannot be determined till I receive returns from my deputies.

Unless the public should acquire other funds than I have any conception of, the teams requisite for the army cannot be procured, unless by an assessment on the states capable of furnishing them—or by hire. In the latter way alone will good teams & carriages be obtained. An assessment for general use might bring a competent number of cattle into the field; but probably as unfit for service as the assessed horses sent in the last campaign. Yet, it this ⟨mo⟩ment occurs to me, that one species of assessment would really be beneficial. The New-England states are each very capable of furnishing the ox-teams necessary for their respective quotas of troops: and for their own troops they would naturally make much better provision than for the service in general.

Should your Excellency think proper to direct ox teams to be provided for the troops of other states, I beg leave to inform you that I know of no way to procure them but by hire; and in this way any number may be obtained in Connecticut alone.

The states of New York, New Jersey & pensylvania (the latter especially) have been little used to oxen, and their services would be less grateful to the troops of those states than those of horses. For expeditions where dispatch is necessary, particularly in the heat of summer, horses will be preferable to oxen. If the troops of one or more states (of pensylvania for instance) were furnished with horse teams, they might be taken on special occasions for the service of any other line or for a detachment—their places, while absent, to be supplied by ox teams from those lines which were furnished in such manner with horse teams.

This subject I mentioned in a memorandum left with Mr Humphry’s to be laid before your Excellency.3 Most of the foregoing hints had then occurred to me; & I have since thought it my duty explicitly to suggest them.

In the same memorandum I mentioned the provision of carriages I had thought of for officers, & for the transporting the camp kettles of the troops. The two horse carts or tumbrils for both purposes may be constructed at Fishkill before the opening of the campaign.

By the plan of my department divers officers are intitled to two horse waggons, but none have ever been provided; and many times I have been obliged to furnish a four horse waggon where one with two horses would have answered better, & saved expence.4 I have proposed to build tumbrils instead of waggons, because they will be one third cheaper, may be made with more ease & in much less time, and are vastly more simple in their movement. Colo. Lutterloh (with whom I have often conversed on the subject for a year past) has informed me that the field officers of prince Ferdinand’s army were each furnished with such a tumbril. They must be larger than those used in the artillery.

I made the estimate of regimental waggons on supposition that the states would compleat their quotas of troops to the new establishment.5 Were this done, and the number of carriages allowed by the plan of the Qr Master’s department to be furnished, each regt would have 12 four horse waggons. In my estimate they are reduced to 10 and two tumbrils.6 On a more accurate calculation I am induced to think that four common baggage carts or waggons will carry the tents of the non commissioned officers and privates; to which one may be added for the sick. Two tumbrils (instead of a waggon & tumbril) may suffice for the field officers. They will carry more than the one waggon at present allowed, & be more convenient. If a Colonel has been detached he has (I am told) usually taken his waggon with him, & left his Lt Colo. & Major destitute. With two tumbrils the inconvenience will be remedied. If there be an order to send off the heavy baggage, one of the tumbrils may be loaded & sent away. The same may be done in the case of the captains & subalterns, for whom on the new establishment one waggon cannot possibly answer. The like would be practicable among the General Officers, if allowed two waggons, or one waggon & a tumbril; & less, it clearly appears to me, will not serve them.

Great advantages will result from an intire separation of the officers baggage from the tents of the men. The Waggons appropriated to the latter may be kept unincumbered with chests, benches, tables, &c. &c. and the baggage of the former will be secured from plunder.

With submission to your Excellency’s opinion I think the old tents if made into cases for the camp kettles will not answer your expectations. They have sometimes been made into forage bags: but would not pay for the expence of making them up. Camp kettles ever seemed to me to be a disgusting incumbrance to the troops when they were required to carry them. If covered with close strong cases the difficulty would in a degree be obviated; but then they must be carried at their backs (in the German manner) & each furnished with a leathern belt or sling. If the troops carry their kettles & are attacked on their march, the kettles are of course thrown away. For these reasons I request your Excellency’s attention to the method of carrying the kettles proposed in the memorandum I left with Mr Humphrey’s. One two horse tumbril, about six feet in the body in length, with higher sides than usual (like a coal cart) will carry all the kettles of a regiment, with one small bowl to each, until our kettles can be made with covers.

Very great disadvantages have arisen from the variety of sizes & fashions of the boats that were mounted on carriages; and probably not half of them will be fit for service another campaign. Colo. Hughes is procuring lumber that will enable him to build a great number of boats. Those for carriages should be uniform and of the same size, to prevent any confusion or delay in mounting them in the dark; for then any carriage would suit any boat, & take up the first which came to hand. Or if for particular purposes a few boats of one or two more sizes & fashions be thought necessary, they may be so distinct in their forms & sizes as to prevent mistakes in mounting them. Should your Excellency approve of my ideas on this subject, & be pleased to mention the different military purposes for which you judge boats on carriages may be required, I will endeavour to have them constructed accordingly.7 I have the honour to be with great respect your Excellency’s most obedt servant

Tim. Pickering Q.M.G.

ALS, DLC:GW; LB, DNA: RG 93, Records of Quartermaster General Timothy Pickering, 1780–87.

On 18 Jan., Pickering wrote GW’s aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton: “In my conversation with the General about the ox-teams to be provided for the next campaign, I forgot one capital question—At what time shall the teams be ready to join the army? Or rather (as they will be collected at different distances) on what day shall they be engaged to be at any certain Rendezvous? They will have only pasturage for their support, which will not be sufficient till towards the last of May or first of June. As they can only be procured on hire, the later they assemble, consistent with the service, the better. Be pleased to favour me with his Excellency’s determination by Millet” (DLC:GW).

On 21 Jan., Hamilton replied to Pickering that GW “thinks the middle of May will be the proper period for rendezvousing the ox-teams for the next campaign” (DNA: RG 93, manuscript file no. 23633; see also n.7 below).

1This memorandum has not been found.

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 , 18:1046; see also Samuel Huntington to GW, 12 Nov., and n.4 to that document.

3Pickering’s undated memorandum reads: “1. Shall Ox-teams be provided for the heavy baggage of the whole main army? Cavalry & artillery as well as infantry?

“2. If bags for camp kettles are made of the oldest tents, they will soon wear out, & tear with the slightest touch: Major Cogswell & I (before the publication of the Genl Order) had proposed having one two horse waggon so constructed as to carry the kettles of a whole regt.

“3. In the estimate of waggons necessary for a regt it is proposed to seperate the officers baggage wholly from that of the men; & that the numbers stated will be necessary for a regt of infantry on the new arrangement.

“4. It seems clear that one waggon to a general officer is insufficient—But 2 will serve a Major Genl & one 4 horse & 1 two horse waggon a brigadier. For the three field officers of a regt one two horse waggon is added. The number of Captains & subalterns in a regt being 27, besides the staff, 2 close [covered] waggons will be requisite for their baggage.

“If the above disposition is approved it is hoped provision may be made accordingly; but must be set about immediately” (DLC:GW, filed under 14 Jan. 1781; see also the general orders for 9 Jan.).

4For the plan of the quartermaster general’s department passed by Congress on 15 July 1780, 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 , 17:615–35; see also GW to Nathanael Greene, 26 July.

5For the new establishment of the Continental army, see General Orders, 1 November.

6In his undated “Estimate of Waggons for a regiment of infantry under the new establishment of Octr 1780,” Pickering stated the requirements for the baggage of the three field officers as one four-horse “close covered waggon” and one two-horse covered wagon or tumbril; of the nine captains and eighteen subalterns as two four-horse covered wagons; of the regimental staff as one four-horse covered wagon; of the 679 non-commissioned officers and privates as six four-horse open wagons; and for the regiment’s 116 camp kettles and eighteen axes as one two-horse open wagon or tumbril. In total, “a regiment” needed four four-horse covered wagons, a two-horse covered wagon or tumbril, six four-horse open waggons, and a two-horse open wagon or tumbril (DLC:GW, filed under 14 Jan. 1781).

7On 15 Jan., GW’s aide-de-camp David Humphreys began a letter to Pickering: “I have handed your Letter to the General, who is so engaged in making the Dispatches for Col. Laure[n]s who is on the point of setting out for France, that he cannot attend to the subject this Moment. As soon as the present urgent business is finished, he will take up that recommended by you, & wishes Major [Thomas] Coggshall [Cogswell] may be delayed a day or two for this purpose” (DLC:GW; see also GW to John Laurens, 15 Jan., first letter). GW replied verbally to Pickering and later gave him written instructions based on their conversation (see GW to Pickering, 10 Feb.).

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