George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John Hanson, 19 December 1781

Philadelphia. 19th Dec. 1781.


I have the honor of enclosing a Report of the Secretary at War on a letter from Brigadier Genl Irvine at Fort Pitt, which Congress have referred to your Excellency to take order upon. With sentiments of the highest respect and esteem, I have the honor to be Sir, your Excellency’s Most obedt humble Servt

John Hanson Presidt

DLC: Papers of George Washington.


Fort Pitt December 3d 1781


Agreeable to the directions of Congress, I have Arranged the Troops here, in such a manner as to retain no more officers than sufficient for the number of Men, The whole are now Reformed into four Companies, Viz. The 7th Virginia Regiment Commanded by Colonel Gibson into two, and the late 8th Pennsylvania, also into two, the latter I have stiled a Detachment from the Penna line—and have directed the Supernumerary Officers to repair forthwith to Join their Respective Regiments in the Line.

I have dismissed several Civil Staff Officers the only one retained is Mr Saml Semple, who has been doing the duty of Quartermaster ever since Mr Duncan was put under Arrest. I am of opinion some person to Act in that Department is indispensibly necessary, And having no cause to fault Mr Semple’s conduct, have continued him untill the pleasure of Congress is known—I am sorry to inform the Honble the Congess that General Clarkes Expedition has failed—He got no farther than the Rapids of the Ohio, from whence a number of his Men have returned here, several of his Detached partys are killed or taken, particularly a Colonel Lochrey, who with about one hundred Men all Volunteers, except a Company Commanded by Captain Stokely & were raised by Pennsylvania for the defence of Westmoreland County—This party in their way down after the main body, were ambuscaded at the Mouth of the Miami River—and tis said were all Cut to pieces—These misfortunes have thrown the people of this Country into great consternation, specially, of Westmoreland County, where the loss of so many of their best Men, has thined and weakened their frontier exceedingly. Many are preparing to retreat to the East side of the Mountain early in the Spring—It is a prevailing opinion, (and I fear too well founded) that the Savages and British at Detroit will be so elated with the miscarriage of General Clarke & others, that they will in all probability Visit this Post, or at least harrass the whole Frontier country in the Spring, I assure your Excellency we are Ill provided for their reception, Fort Pitt is a heap of Ruins, it never was tenable when in best repair. There is a much better position about four miles down the river, at the Mouth of Shirtus Creek, where a Redoubt could be built at a small expence, I am certain much smaller than to repair Fort Pitt, beside there are many advantages attending keeping a Garrison there, which gives it a preferrence to this plan.

As I believe Reformations, & arranging the Troops were the first Objects Congress had in View by sending me here, that being now nearly accomplished, and little danger to be apprehended of an Attack during the winter, I request Congress will be pleased to permit me to go down the country, as far as Carlisle, for the Months of January & February—If that Honble body think proper to continue me in this Command I will return in March, or as soon as they please to direct.

However I flatter myself they will not insist on my continuance without allowing me a few more Regular Troops, If I had 500 in addition to the few here, I could probably with the aid of the Militia, afford effectual support to the Country, by being able to Act on the defensive, but I am persuaded it would answer a much better purpose if we could Act offensively. There is great necessity in my opinion for speedily adopting some regular plan for Action, or this Country had better be entirely evacuated and given up at once, as there is at present but small prospect of saving the few Troops & Stores that are here—should the Enemy push us in April—I think proper measures could be better concerted by my being present either with Congress or General Washington, as there are many things which on such occasions can not be so well committed to paper—However shall submit to the pleasure of Congress & in the mean time wait here for their Orders which I beg by the return of the Express, who I have directed to wait your Excellencys Commands. I have the honour to be With perfect Respect Sir Your Excellencys Most Obedient Humble Servant

Wm Irvine


War Office 18th Decr 1781


Upon reading General Irvine’s Letter referred I find it his Opinion that Fort Pitt should be given up and a redoubt built at the mouth of Shirtus Creek four Miles down the Ohio and the garrison moved to that post this Opinion he supports by shewing that Fort Pitt is now a heap of ruins that it never was tenable when in best repair that the position at the mouth of the Shirtus Creek is much stronger ground & that Works might be erected there with less expence than would again repair Fort Pitt. Although these reasons are very forcible yet I doubt whether they would justify a removal of the Garrison at present.

For Pitt stands at the confluence of the Alleghany and Monongahela Rivers is commanded on the North by a rising ground, about one hundred & fifty yards distant & from a Heighth on the South side of the Monongahala distant about five or six hundred yards hence it is that it has been represented as untenable—it has been held against a long & most violent attack of small Arms and therefore nothing is to be apprehended but from a Cannonade & Bombardment should the Enemy thus attempt it, probably it would fall and so would any Work we should build—If there is any real danger of an attack in the spring as early as April as General Irvine supposes it will be impossible this Winter to erect such Works with the few Men in that part of the Country as will answer the purpose intended—for if it is attempted at the Mouth of the Creek the Timber & even the Earth must be brought a considerable distance—If therefore we should attempt a new Work & neglect the old one and the Enemy make the attempt in the spring it is more than probable they would find the old Work out of repair the new one unfinished & the Garrison divided.

There are other bad consequences that would attend a removal of the Garrison at this season, a very considerable settlement which was planted under cover from an expectation of support from the garrison would be left unprotected for it will be impossible for them to provide shelter for themselves at any other place at this late season of the Year.

Besides, if the Garrison should be removed it will have an appearance of retiring & giving up a part of the country we have long held tho’ in fact it is not so for the two Posts are nearly in the same latitude.

Should it be found necessary to abandon Fort Pitt in the Spring—I think policy will hint the propriety of establishing a new Work some where up the Alleghany—by this we shall extend our possessions, cover the Settlements in our rear and command the rRiver which leads into the Enemys Country & affords them now an easy conveyance to our frontiers.

If Congress should be of opinion that the Garrison of Fort Pitt should not be removed this Winter I think General Irvine should be Instructed immediately to employ the Garrison in repairing the Old Fort and the Block house on the rising ground which commands it & when he has made the necessary arrangements he should be permitted to return to Congress that the benefit of his advice may be had in digesting measures necessary for the security of our Frontiers. I have the honor to be Your Excellencys Most Obedt Servt

B. Lincoln

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