George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Heath, 18 January 1781

From Major General William Heath

West Point Jany 18, 1781

Dear General

Yesterday afternoon I received the enclosed from Colonel Hull—The News papers are sent up by the Bearer.1

It gives me pain so frequently to represent to your Excellency our wants, but necessity compels me. No beef Cattle have arrived since I had the honor last to write you on that head,2 nor do I hear of any comeing—The beef salted in bulk is all gone—Yesterday the Commissary began to issue the corned barrell beef (a few days will exhaust the whole of it[)]. nothing remains after that but the Irish beef and even if that could be broken in upon, is but a triffle. I some days since wrote Colonel Blaine, Colo. Hay, & Mr Stevens our situation, and urged that if beef Cattle could not be obtained, the beef salted in bulk at Fish Kill, the Landing, & Poughkeepsie, should be forwarded;3 such of those Gentelemen as I have received answers from, have advised the sending boats up the river, to fetch down the beef from Poughkeepsie[.]4 orders have been given for the purpose, but I am informed that it is impossible for boats to get up the river as far as Poughkeepsie. this will render it indispensibly necessary, that the Q. Master should immediately have recourse to land transportation; at least to such place, or places, as the river is yet open, from which the boats may take it to the Fort;5 the waggons should also convey, what will be necessary for the Connecticutt & New Hampshire Lines immediately to them they all at present depend on the Magazines here, as do all the other Posts below. I directed the Commissary at Kings Ferry to draw his flour from Ringwood, which would save a considerable length of transportation;6 inclosed is a line I have this morning received from him.7 I have enjoyned the utmost attention, & every exertion on the Commissary, & G[arrison] Q.M. to draw in supplies; but circumscribed as they are, both as to place and powers; but little can be done by them, we must depend on those who have greater powers, and without whose uncommon exertions at this time a time of extreme distress here is not far distant. as Your Excellency has the returns before You, it is almost needless to observe, that the whole of the salted beef in Colonel Hays hands, is but about sixteen days subsistance for the Troops. The ration cannot be diminished—there is at present great complaints of its scantiness since the salt meat has been issuing, & representations from the Officers of several Brigades, that the pound of salted meat, which in general is exceedingly lean, consequently a large proportion of bone, is not sufficient to subsist the Troops—The pound of fresh beef usually issued has been cooked in soup, which has afforded much more nourishment, than can be derived from the pound of salt meat.

The Troops suffer exceedingly on account of the want of rum, be the duty, or fatigue what it may, not a drop of rum can be issued to them, altho a quantity has for some time been laying at Claverack. I have the honor to be With the greatest respect Your Excellencys most Obedient Servant

W. Heath

LS, DLC:GW; ADfS, MHi: Heath Papers; copy (extract), Ct: Trumbull Papers. The extract consists of the second paragraph.

1The enclosed letter from Lt. Col. William Hull to Heath, dated 16 Jan. at “G. Smiths Crompond [N.Y.]” at 2:00 P.M., reads in part: “I send you herewith the York Papers as late as the 12th int. Colo. Tilghman has been polite enough to send me the Philedelphia Papers and requested me to send him the York Papers.

“Must therefore request, as soon as is convenient, that they may be sent to Head Quarters.

“I have pretty good Authority to inform you, that last Friday or Saturday, three Regiments went across to the Jersies, that all their Shipping are collected in the North River, that three or four Nights ago, no Light was permitted to be seen in the City after six oClock, and that an Expedition is in Contemplation” (DLC:GW). The specific New York newspapers have not been identified.

3See Heath to Nathaniel Stevens, 11 Jan. (MHi: Heath Papers), and to Ephraim Blaine, 15 Jan. (DLC: Ephraim Blaine Papers). Heath’s letter to Lt. Col. Udny Hay has not been identified but was dated 15 Jan. (see n.4 below).

4Neither Blaine’s nor Stevens’s responses have been identified. On 19 Jan., Hay replied to Heath’s letter of 15 Jan., advising him that the commissaries were packing beef at Poughkeepsie and would send it down to West Point as soon as road conditions allowed and the quartermaster provided teams (see MHi: Heath Papers).

5Heath refers to Fort Clinton at West Point.

6Heath’s directions to David Pye, assistant commissary of issues at King’s Ferry, N.Y., have not been identified.

7The enclosed letter from George Knox, writing for Pye, to Heath, dated 17 Jan. at King’s Ferry, reads: “I take the freedom to acquaint you that we are intirely out of every article of provision—It was not in Mr Pyes power to procure teams to go to Ringwood on account of the roads being so very bad nor is it in our power to get any beef unless from west Point as the receiver of Cattle in Fish Kill has not one beast on hand & informs me he dont know when he will have any—So our whole Dependance at present is on your honor—if there is any rum come to hand hope you wont forget us” (DLC:GW).

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