Page images
[ocr errors]

nerable part of Washington's position. At this moment a general engagement was deemed unavoidable; but a slight skirmish with the troops under Cornwallis, and the light troops on our left was all that the enemy attempted. Washington's aceount of the affair is thus given on the 10th— I had reason to expect Howe was preparing to give us a general action. On Friday morning his troops appeared on Chesnut Hill; at night they changed their ground. On Sunday from every appearance, there was reason to apprehend an action. About sunset, after various marches and counter marches, they halted, and I still supposed they would attack us in the night, or early the next morning; but in this I was mistaken. On Monday afternoon they filed off, and marched towards Philadelphia. Their loss in skirmishing was not inconsiderable. I sincerely wish they had made an attack, the issue would in all probability, have been happy, for as policy forbad our quitting our posts to attack them.”

In this skirmish, Major Morris, who had borne so conspicuous a part in the dangers and glories of Morgan's rifle regiment in the north, was mortally wounded. His death was deeply deplored by the whole

. army.

It is probable that Sir William Howe was greatly deceived as to the numbers and strength of Wash: ington, which deterred him from risking a general battle ; but though Washington himself wished it, the destitute condition of the greater part of his troops, would have placed them on very unequal grounds, notwithstanding the strength of his position, with the victorious, well-clothed troops of Sir William. His not giving battle was attended with as much advantage to the Americans, as if he had met with a par

tial defeat, inasmuch as it showed him afraid of our strength, and gave to our troops a stronger confidence in themselves. Washington himself was astonished at Sir William's retreat, and observed that it would have been better for him to have fought without victory than thus to declare his inability.”

On the 11th, Washington moved with his army to Swedesford; here in looking about for the most eligible spot for establishing his winter quarters, he selected Valley Forge, about sixteen miles from the comfortable city quarters of his adversary, and in the midst of the richest country of Pennsylvania. This spot possessed every advantage which nature could give it, and it remained only for the Commander in Chief to exert his comprehensive mind in adopting the best means of sheltering his men from the weather. The want of clothing among his troops was so urgent, that he here for the first time made use of the powers vested in him by congress, and issued warrants to the officers to seize whatever they could find useful to the army; and on the 19th, he removed to Valley Forge,

; every step of his soldiers marked by the blood of their naked feet, on the frozen ground. The plan he had chosen for sheltering them, was a novel experiment, and many of his officers at first regarded it as ridiculous and chimerical; but every thing is easy to patient industry and fortitude. In a short time the men felled the trees around them, and erected a town of huts, in which, if they did not enjoy all the comforts of their well housed adversaries, they were at least comfortably sheltered from the inclemencies of the weather, and enured to the hardships of a soldier'slife. Here he employed the winter in endeavouring to teach his soldiers discipline, and to guard them


against the effects of idleness and disease. He seized the present moment to have his whole army inoculated for the small pox, and nearly half his troops had actually gone through this terrible disease, before his enemy knew that such a scheme was in.“ tended. He was himself at all times present to watch and encourage them; and with the most unremitted attention applied himself to the promotion of their comfort in every thing.

Now it was that the change in the Commissariat department began to be severely felt—the soldiers were sometimes for days without a mouthful of bread; and nothing can more clearly demonstrate the fitness of Washington for his great and responsible charge, than the fact of his being able under such circumstances to keep his army together. On the 23d, there was but one purchasing Commissary in his camp, and according to his letter of that date, “ he had not a single hoof of any kind to slaughter, and not more than twenty-five barrels of flour, and could not tell where to expect any. The present commissaries, (he continues) are by no means equal to the execution of the office, or the disaffection of the the people is past all belief. The change in that department took place contrary to my judgment, and the consequences thereof were predicted. No man ever had his measures more impeded than I have, by every department of the army. Since the month of July, we have had no assistance from the Quarter Master General, and to want of assistance from this department, the Commissary General charges great part of his deficiency. We have by a field return this day, no less than 2898 men in camp unfit for duty, because they are barefooted and otherwise naked.

Our whole strength in continental troops, (including the Eastern brigades, which have joined us since the surrender of Burgoyne) exclusive of the Maryland troops sent to Wilmington, is no more than 8200 in camp fit for duty. Since the 4th, our number fit through hardships, particularly on account of blankets, (numbers have been, and still are obliged to sit up all night by fires instead of taking comfortable rest in a common way) have decreased near 2000 men.--Upon the ground of safety and policy, I am obliged to conceal the true state of the army from publick view, and thereby expose myself to detraction and calumny. There is as much to be done in preparing for a campaign, as in the active part of it."

It is hardly credible, and yet such is the fact, that while the army were thus suffering for every article of clothing, packages of them were lying at various places in great abundance; but such was the defect of management, that no teams or means of transportation could be procured, to carry them to Valley Forge.


Events of 1777 continued.-Proceedings of Congress.Resigna

tion of the President.-Henry Laurens appointed President Colonel Wilkinson delivers a message to Congress from General Gates.- Is brevetted a Brigadier General.-General Mifflin resigns as Quarter Master General.-Board of war appointed. Mr.Silas Deane recalled.-General Conway appointed Inspector General.-Discontent of the officers.-Confused state of the finances. Articles of confederation.

It will be recollected that Mr. Peyton Randolph, who had been first elected President of Congress, was prevented from accepting that high and honourble office, by private reasons, which obliged him for a time to absent himself from Congress. It has been hinted that Mr. Hancock was fixed upon as his successor, not so much for his talents and devotion to the cause of independence, as with a view to ensure the fidelity of a man of influence and fortune, who had on several occasions shown a disposition to regulate his political sentiments by the relative strength of the contending parties. He was elected, under the general impression that this gratification of his love of popularity, would fix him in the interests of Corr gress; but it was also hoped and expected, that knowing the preference of that body for Mr. Randolph, delicacy would induce him to resign his seat on the return of that gentleman to the house. In this they were disappointed : Mr. Randolph returned, but Mr. Hancock showed no disposition to give up the honours of his situation; and for the first year no man could have acquitted himself with more satis

« PreviousContinue »