George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Colonel Timothy Pickering, 18 February 1781

From Colonel Timothy Pickering

Newburgh [N.Y.] Feby 18. 1781.


General Knox informed me to-day that no artillery was to go from hence. I had previously ordered 50 draught horses to be impressed for transporting the artillery, amunition & tents.1 I now propose to dispose of them as follows:

For the marquis de la Fayette’s waggon—4.

a baggage tumbril for the artillery officers 3.

three close waggons in which are to be carried from hence eleven horseman’s & 60 common tents—12.

the field officer & captains of artillery two or three—3.

[total:] 22.

These may proceed to morrow for pompton. The residue of the horses & sleighs impressed on this occasion I have ordered to be employed in carrying cloathing & provisions to West point while their forage & the sleighing lasts.

I wrote yesterday morning to Colo. Hughes, desiring him to give the necessary orders to his assistants at the Village & Kings ferry, to impress 25 riding horses for the field & staff officers of the detachment, the whole, if he thought best, on the West side of the river, to save the trouble of crossing. I also desired him to impress ten two horse waggons, & have them at King’s ferry on the 20th to take up the baggage of the officers, & the kettles of the men, as soon as they crossed.2 That number I judged sufficient, supposing the officers would take with them only their blankets, portmanteaus & cooking utensils. Colo. Hughes received these orders, & answered me last evening that they should be executed. I have wrote to him this afternoon, desiring him to send one hundred axes to Major Campbell at the village, to distribute to the detachment when assembled, if they should need them. I have also requested him to examine into the condition of the boats at Kings ferry, & see that they are prepared to transport the troops.3

I have sent orders to Morristown to have 150 common & ten or twelve horseman’s tents put in order immediately. These, with those proposed to be sent from hence will be sufficient for the detachment, allowing seven men one common tent; and four captains & subalterns one horseman’s tent. If there be three officers to a company six will have but one horseman’s tent.

It is proposed to furnish the detachment with 200 narrow axes—130 pick-axes—150 spades, & 250 shovels. By a return received in November there appeared to be enough spades & shovels & 106 picks at philadelphia.4 At the same time there was plenty of good axes at Lancaster, from whence th⟨e⟩ transportation is easy to the Head of Elk. There are also 500 axes at Morristown. But if on my arrival at philadelphia there should be found a deficiency of intrenching tools, it will be practicable to co⟨m⟩plete the requisite number in two or three days.5

I have proposed that the horses going from hence & Kings ferry should be relieved at pompton. That the team⟨s⟩ requisite for the tents at Morristown should be impressed in that neighbourhood, and go as far as Trenton. That the horses and teams impressed at pompton should be relieved about Somerset Court House. But should ther⟨e⟩ chance to be provision teams at Morristown returning to Trenton, they may be detained a day or two to tak⟨e⟩ up the baggage of the detachment, & save any farther impress, except for the close baggage waggons The same may take place from Pompton to Morris town, should there be teams returning from Ringwood That from Buck’s county in pensylvania, teams & horses should be collected sufficient for the baggage of the whole detachment, & rendezvous at Trenton ferry: unless the river should admit of water transportation. That if the whole proceed by land, the Buck’s county teams should be relieved at Chester. That teams should be furnished at Philadelphia for the intrenching tools & whatever may be taken up there—And thus the whole proceed to the Head of Elk.

I have sent Major platt to West point to request of Genl Heath an active officer to serve as quarter master to the detachment.

I have provided two forage masters that have appeared to me as clever as any in the service, to accompany, or rather precede the detachment, to impress teams & forage; and a conductor to attend to the march of the baggage.

The greatest difficulty that I foresee will be in impressing the teams & horses with proper dispatch and punctuality, for want of dragoons.

The time of every impress must be regulated by the orders of the commanding officer of the detachment.

I request your Excellency’s orders relative to any farther arrangement of this business, or alteration of the measures here proposed.6 I am most respectfully your Excellency’s obedt servant

T. Pickering Q.M.G.


On 18 Feb., GW’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman wrote Pickering from headquarters: “The inclosed being of consequence, you will be pleased to dispatch them immediately by Express to Morris Town.

“You mentioned, a day or two ago, that the business of your department rendered your presence necessary in Philada if circumstances would admit of your absence from the Army. His Excellency desires me to inform you, that he has no objection to your going, if you have put all matters in proper train for the moving of the detachment from hence, and that of 250 Men from the Jersey line at Morris Town. His Excelly desires me further to remind you, that if the number of Tents, intreching tools—Axes &ca requisite can be procured at Philada it will be so much the better, as it will save land transportation.

“It may be necessary, for some little time to come, to convey intelligence to and from Philada in the most expeditious manner, and His Excellency, for that reason, requests you to establish a temporary relay of Expresses between this and that place. You will be pleased to inform us of the Stages when they are fixed.

“You will be pleased to give a days notice, previous to your setting out, as there probably will be despatches to send.” Tilghman dated the letter 18 Feb. but wrote in a postscript: “This was intended to have been sent early in the morning—but Mr Laurance affords an opportunity this Evening—The letters need not ⟨go⟩ off to night—but early in the Morning” (DNA: RG 93, manuscript file no. 25416).

1For the orders to carry out these logistics operations, see GW to Pickering, 15 February.

2Pickering’s letter of 17 Feb. to Col. Hugh Hughes, deputy quartermaster general of New York, has not been identified.

3Neither Hughes’s letter to Pickering of 17 Feb. nor Pickering’s letter to Hughes of this date has been identified.

4The return has not been identified.

5Pickering reached Philadelphia on 24 Feb. to seek money from Congress for the quartermaster’s department and to assist “the movement of a detachment of troops under Lafayette” (Pickering and Upham, Life of Pickering description begins Octavius Pickering and Charles W. Upham. The Life of Timothy Pickering. 4 vols. Boston, 1867–73. description ends , 1:276).

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