Robert Tomes.

Battles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) online

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eral officers were in favor of it, but eleven
opposed it, and the idea was abandoned.
This, no doubt, was a judicious resolve;
for, although the enemy left at Philadel
phia were not greater in number than
Washington s army, now that he was re
inforced by the northern troops, their dis
cipline and condition were much better.
Sir William Howe, too, having concentra
ted his troops within the cit}^, had pro
tected them by skilfully-constructed de
fensive works. His lines on the north
side of Philadelphia stretched from river
to river, and were defended by a chain



[l-AllT II

of fourteen strong redoubts, with here and
there abattis and circular works, while his
flanks were each protected by a river, and
his rear by the junction of two.

General Howe, finding that Washing
ton was not disposed to attack him in his
encampment at Philadelphia, resolved up
on a forward movement himself, hoping,
as he said in his despatch to the British
minister, that it would " be attended with
the success that is due to the activity and
spirit of his majesty s troops." Washing
ton had been well informed of the inten
tions of the enemy, and as early as the
28th of November declared that he would
not be disappointed if they come out
this night or very early in the morning.?
He accordingly wrote to General Greene
(who was now returning from his futile
inarch into New Jersey, where he had ar
rived too late to thwart Cornwallis s ex
pedition against Red-bank), urging him
to push forward the rear brigades with all
despatch, and hasten on himself to the

During this march of Greene, the young
marquis de Lafayette had an opportunity,
for which he was ever eager, of gratifying
his desire for military glory. After his
wound at the battle of the Brandy wine,
he had been conducted to Bethlehem, in
Pennsylvania, where he remained, under
the nursing care of the kindly Moravians,
for nearly two months. While listening
to the sermons of the peace-loving breth
ren, the marquis, with the ardor so natu
ral to youth, was concocting all kinds of
military schemes. He planned a descent
upon the English West-India islands,which
he proposed to attack with the connivance

of the French commander of Martinique,
to whom he wrote, explaining his design.
He also conceived an extensive expedi
tion against the British possessions in the
East Indies, and solicited permission from
the French prime minister to conduct an
American force to the Isle of France.
whence he proposed to strike his great
blow against the English power in the
East. The marquis found the good Mo
ravians as little disposed to concur \\iih
his grand views of stirring up the whole
world to contention as he was to follow
their precepts of universal love. They
ceased not to deplore " his warlike poli
cy," but he continued to indulge in his
martial fancies. They preached peace,
but his voice was " still for war/

Lafayette now became impatient, and
determined, although not yet completely
cured of his wound, to seek an opportu
nity of carrying his martial theories into
practice. When General Greene s trum
pets, therefore, sounded in his ears, he
bade good-by to the peaceful Moravians,
and buckled on his sword again. Greene
welcomed the young marquis, and grati
fied his eagerness for fight, by allowing
him, in accordance with his own request,
to reconnoitre Cornwallis on the earl s re
turn from Red-bank, and to make an at
tack if the circumstances should justify
it. Lafavette accordingly went off in

*- t_/ t-

high spirits, with ten light-horse, about a
hundred and fifty riflemen, and two pick
ets of militia.

Lord Cornwallis was just on the point
of sending his troops across the Delaware
at Gloucester, when Lafayette, in his ea
gerness to reconnoitre, came so close to


the enemy, that he was near being cut off
by a company of dragoons sent to inter
cept him. lie escaped, however, and lived
to engage in a skirmish, and to describe
it, which he did as follows in a letter to
General Washington :

"After having spent," wrote the mar
quis, the most part of the day in making
myself well acquainted with the certainty
of the enemy s motions, I came pretty
late into the Gloucester road, between
the two creeks. I had ten light-horse,
almost one hundred and fifty riflemen, and
two pickets of militia. Colonel Arrnand,
Colonel Lannney, and the chevaliers Du-
plessis and Gimat, were the Frenchmen
with me. A scout of my men, under
Duplessis, went to ascertain how near to
Gloucester were the enemy s first pick
ets; and they found, at the distance of
two miles and a half from that place, a
strong post of three hundred and fifty
Hessians, with fieldpieces, and they en
gaged immediately. As my little recon
noitring-party were all in fine spirits, I
supported them. We pushed the Hes
sians more than half a mile from the place
where their main body had been, and we
made them run very fast. British rein
forcements came twice to them, but, very
far from recovering their ground, they
always retreated. The darkness of the
night prevented us from pursuing our ad
vantage. After standing on the ground
we had gained, I ordered them to return
very slowly to Haddonfield."

The young marquis had only lost one
man killed and six wounded, and was so
charmed with the good conduct of his
troops, that he thus emphatically praised

it in the conclusion of his letter : " I take
the greatest pleasure in letting you know
that the conduct of our soldiers was above
all praise. I never saw men so merry, so
spirited, and so desirous to go on to the
enemy, whatever force they might have,
as that small party, in this little fight."*
When the account of the skirmish was
transmitted to Congress by Washington,
with this acknowledgment of Lafayette s
gallantry " I am convinced he possesses
a large share of that military ardor which
generally characterizes the nobility of his
country" that body appointed the mar
quis to the command of the division in
the continental army lately vacated by
the dismission of General Stephen, of Vir
ginia, who had unfortunately acquired
habits which rendered him unfit for ser
vice, and threw a shade over the bright
reputation of his earlier days.

The movement of General Howe did
not occur quite as soon as was expected,
and it was not until the 4th of December
that word was brought into Washington s
camp atWhitemarsh that the enemy were
about attacking it that night. A detach
ment of one hundred men, under Captain
M Lane, was immediately sent out to re
connoitre. They soon discovered a van
guard of the British on the Germantown
road, and managed to harass and check

its approach during the night.

Dec. 5.

At break of day the next morn
ing, the enemy appeared in full force up
on Che.stnut hill, on the Skippack road,
only three miles from Washington s en
campment. Brigadier-General Irvine was
sent forward with six hundred Pennsyl-

* Sparks.




vaiiia militia, to harass the British light
advanced parties. A skirmish ensued, in
which Irvine was wounded and taken
prisoner, his men having given way after
the first encounter, and left their disabled
commander, with a half-dozen of his sol
diers in the same plight, on the field.
Nothing more occurred during the day,
but General Sir William Howe with his
staff of officers was seen to reconnoitre
the ground.

During the night, the British advanced
still closer, and took a position on the
left, and only a mile from Washington s
encampment. Here they remained for
two days, and then moved a little farther
to the left, with the evident purpose of
provoking battle. Washington, however,
w r as on strong ground, and was not dis
posed to pit his ill-disciplined and suffer
ing troops against the well-conditioned
regulars of General Howe s army, and so
throw away the advantage of his position
on the hazard of an unequal conflict.

Notwithstanding, some skirmishes took
place between the advanced parties of the
two armies. On one occasion, Colonel
Morgan with his rifle-corps, and Colonel
Gist with the Maryland militia, had a
short but hot engagement with the ene
my on Edge hill, in which both parties
suffered severely, but the Americans were
compelled to retreat before the superior
force of their antagonists, after a loss of
nearly fifty killed and wounded. Among
the latter was Major Morris, of Morgan s

On the following day, the manoeuvres

of General Howe induced the
Dec. 8,

Americans to believe that he con-

Dec, 9,

templated a general assault. Washing
ton was not only prepared for him, but,
as he always was on the approach of an
engagement, eager for the attack. He
was constantly on horseback, riding along
his lines, and exhorting his men to duty.
He earnestly entreated them to stand
firm, and to rely mainly upon their bayo
nets to resist the assault of the enemy.
His resolute presence, and earnest though
calmly-spoken words, served to bind each
man in faithful obedience to their great
leader s commands. The day passed, ho \y-
ever, without the occurrence of the ex
pected event.

The next day it was discovered that
the enemy had taken occasion of
the night, after having lit up all
their camp-fires, to retire silently toward
Philadelphia. They had gone too far to
be pursued, and Washington s disappoint
ment at the change in the purpose of
the British is strongly expressed in these
words to the president of Congress : " I
sincerely wish that they had made an at
tack, as the issue in all probability, from
the disposition of our troops and the
strong situation of our camp, would have
been fortunate and happy. At the same
time, I must add that reason, prudence,
and every principle of policy, forbade us
from quitting our post to attack them.
Nothing but success would have justified
the measure, and this could not be ex
pected from their position."

General Howe s reason for not making
the attack was equally well founded. He
saw that the American army was too
strongly posted, and feared lest the issue
which Washington anticipated would be


59 .

so happy and fortunate to the Americans,
should prove quite the reverse to the

There seemed little prospect now of
further active hostilities during the pres

ent campaign, and Washington was anx
iously considering how to dispose of his
army for the rest of the winter. The
great question with all was, " Where to
look for winter-quarters ?"


The Question of Winter-Quarters. Valley Forge selected by Washington. Description of Valley Forge. Motives for
the Selection. The Winter of 1777- 78. Destitution of the Army. A Day of Praise and Thanksgiving. Construc
tion of lints. Rewards of Labor. Hunger and Cold. Remissness of Congress. The Commissariat Department in
Fault. Not a Hoof. Twelve Thousand Hungry Men. No Soap. No Shirts to wash. The Soldiers harefoot and
naked. No Blankets: no Sleep. Cry of the Destitute: "No Pay, no Clothes, no Provisions, no Rum!" Famine,
Disease, and Death. Washington still hopeful. Washington in Prayer. He rebukes the Interincddlers of Pennsyl
vania. Occasional Murmurs and Disobedience. Coercive Measures. Their Danger. Resistance of the Inhabitants.
Putrid Camp-Fever. Dissolution of the Army imminent.


THE question of a proper place
for winter-quarters for his army was
submitted by Washington, with his usual
modest regard for the opinion of his mili
tary associates, to a council of war. The
officers, however, differed widely in their
views. Some were in favor of quarter
ing the troops at Wilmington ; some were
for cantoning them in the valley of Tre-
dj fme, a few miles west of the Schuylkill
river while others argued in favor of sta
tioning them in a line from Reading to
Lancaster. Such was the diversity of
opinions, that Washington, as frequently
happened, was left to decide the matter
according to his own judgment. He de
termined to winter the army in Valley

Valley Forge is a small and shallow
valley in Chester county, Pennsylvania,
about twenty miles from Philadelphia,
formed between some rugged hills con

taining!; iron-ore, from the working of

tj / o

which it derived its name. It is situated
on the western bank of the Schuylkill
river. There is now a town of some im
portance on the site of the old camping-
ground, but during the Revolution there
were only a few scattered settlers on the
banks of the little stream which flows
through the bottom of the valley. On
the sides of the hills Washington now
proposed to encamp his troops, and there
winter them in huts to be built out of
the forest-timber growing wildly about,
and having their interstices filled with
clay from the untilled soil. The motive
which governed the commander-in-chief
in selecting this position was explained
by him in the following order to his ar
my previous to taking up his march :
" The general," he said, " ardently wish
es it were now in his power to conduct
the troops into the best winter-quarters.



[PART n.

But where are these to be found ? Should
we retire to the interior parts of the state,
we should find them crowded with virtu
ous citizens who, sacrificing their all, have
left Philadelphia, and fled thither for pro
tection. To their distresses, humanity for
bids us to add. This is not all : we should
leave a large extent of fertile country to
be despoiled and ravaged by the enemy."
Washington believed Valley Forge to
be the position which would enable his
army to inflict the least distress and give
the most security ; and there w 7 e must
make ourselves," he said, " the best shel
ter in our power." While the huts were
yet unbuilt, Washington, conscious of the
trials to which his badly-clothed troops,
unprovided with shelter in the midst of
winter, would be subjected, expresses, in
an appeal to their fortitude, the hope that
" the officers and soldiers, with one heart
and one mind, will resolve to surmount
every difficulty, with a fortitude and pa
tience becoming their profession, and the
sacred cause in which they are engaged.
He himself," adds the general, " will share
in the hardships and partake of every

Never was human endurance more se
verely tasked than in the trials of the
whole American army during the hard
winter of 1777-78. When the
troops moved from Whitemarsh
to Valley Forge, they were already so des
titute of shoes and stockings, that their
footsteps might be tracked in blood on
the hard, frozen ground. It seemed al
most mockery that on the very day be
fore the army entered the valley which
was destined to be the scene of so much

Dec. 11.

suffering, was that which, in ac-

Dec, IS.

Dec. 19.

cordance with the appointment
of Congress, was to be kept as " a day of
praise and thanksgiving." The army halt
ed, and the solemnities of the day being
reverentially observed by every officer
and soldier, the whole body of
troops, on the following morn
ing, resumed the march to Valley Forge,
where they arrived the same day.

The troops were at once scattered over
the rugged hills, and, being divided into
parties of twelve men each, were busily
occupied in constructing those rude huts
which were to be their only shelter from
the severity of a North American winter.
The very orders of the army, giving uni
formity to misery, show the hard neces
sities to which all alike were now com
pelled to submit. The huts were to be
fourteen feet by six; the sides, ends, and
roofs, to be made with logs ; the roofs to
be made tight with split slabs, or in some
other way; the sides to be made tight
with clay ; a fireplace to be made of wood,
and secured with clay on the inside, eigh
teen inches thick ; the fireplace to be in
the rear of the hut ; the door to be in
the end next the street; the doors to be
made of split oak-slabs, unless boards could
be procured ; the side-walls to be six and
a half feet high. One such hut was ap
portioned to each twelve soldiers, while
no person under the rank of a field-officer
was entitled to the privilege of a hut io
himself. The whole were to be arranged,
as is usual with an encampment, in regu
lar streets.

Should necessity alone not prove a suf
ficient stimulus to labor, the soldiers were



encouraged " to industry and art" by the
promise of a reward of twelve dollars to
the party in each regiment which should
finish its hut in " the quickest and most
workmanlike manner." And, as boards
for the covering of the huts were difficult
to be got, a provocative to the exercise
of ingenuity was offered in the prize of a
hundred dollars to any officer or soldier
who, in the opinion of three gentlemen
appointed to be judges, should devise a
substitute equally good, but cheaper, and
more quickly made.

With a little ingenuity and much labo
rious perseverance, it was found practi
cable to raise huts ; but there were other
necessities which no industry or skill of
the soldier could provide or power of en
durance surmount. The men must be
fed and clothed. Hunger and cold are
too severely extortionate to be resisted
by any conscientous appeals to the vir
tue of self-denial. Congress, by some un
wise changes, had so completely disorgan
ized the commissariat department, that it
failed almost entirely in providing for the
wants of the army. Colonel Joseph Tru in-
bull, who had been appointed commissary-
general by Washington, resigned at the
beginning of the year, in consequence of
the officious meddling of Congress with
the department, and ever since the com
missariat had been at the mercy of im
provident folly and cunning dishonesty.
" I do not know/ wrote the Commander-
in-chief, " from what cause this alarming
deficiency, or rather total failure of sup
plies, arises." Again, he says : " Unless
some great and capital change takes place
in that line, this army must be inevitably

reduced to one or other of these three
things starve, dissolve, or disperse, in
order to obtain subsistence in the best
manner they can."

But few days had passed in Valley
Forge when this " melancholy and alarm
ing truth" was discovered, that the com
missary in the camp had not " a single
hoof of any kind to slaughter, and not
more than twenty-five barrels of flour"
to feed some twelve thousand hungry
men ! " The soap, vinegar, and other ar
ticles," wrote Washington, " allowed by
Congress, we see none of, nor have we
seen them, I believe, since the battle of
Brandywine. The first, indeed, we have
now little occasion for ; few men having
more than one shirt, many only the moi
ety of one, and some none at all. In ad
dition to which, as a proof of the little
benefit received from a clothier-general,
and as a further proof of the inability of
an army, under the circumstances of this,
to perform the common duties of soldiers
(besides a number of men confined to hos
pitals for want of shoes, and others in
farmers houses on the same account), we
have, by a field-return this day made, no
less than two thousand eight hundred
and ninety-eight men now in camp unfit
for duty, because they are barefoot and
otherwise naked."

Thousands of the soldiers were without
blankets, and many kept cowering and
awake the whole night about the camp-
fires, for fear lest, if they went to sleep,
they might be frozen for want of cover
ing. It was with the greatest difficulty
that a sufficient number of men coul.l be
found in a condition fit to perform the




ordinary routine of camp-duty ; and men
able-bodied but naked, were often obliged,
when ordered out, to borrow clothes from
those who happened to have any. One
of the foreign officers, while walking with
Washington through the encampment,
looked with such alarm upon the miser
able soldiers (as their famished frames,
scantily covered with a dirty blanket,
slunk in the wintry air from hut to hut),
and heard with such dismay, through the
open crevices between the logs of their
wretched dwellings, the woful cry, " No
pay, no clothes, no provisions, no rum!"
that he despaired of the independence of
the country.

u The unfortunate soldiers," declared
Lafayette, " were in want of everything ;
they had neither coats nor hats, shirts
nor shoes. Their feet and legs froze till
the>/ became black, and it ivas often necessary
to amputate them. From want of money,
the officers could obtain neither provis
ions nor any means of transport ; the colo
nels were often reduced to two rations,
and sometimes even to one. The army
frequently remained a whole day without
any provisions whatever!"

Washington now found himself encum
bered with a great mass of starving men,
so weakened by famine and pinched by
the winter s cold, that they were capable
of little beyond that last effort of nature,
crying for a supply of the necessities for
its existence. Ever on the alert for the
performance of his duty as a military com
mander, Washington, hearing of a move
ment of the British, would have sent out
a force to check it. He according;! v or-


dered some of his- troops to be ready to

march : when from General Huntininlon,


who commanded one division, came a let
ter, saying : " I received an order to hold
my brigade in readiness to march. Fight
ing will be far preferable to starving. My
brigade are out of provisions, nor can the
commissary obtain any meat. I am ex
ceedingly unhappy in being the bearer
of complaints to headquarters. I have
used every argument my imagination can
invent to make the soldiers easy, but I
despair of being able to do it much long

From General Varnum, too, came a let
ter. " According to the saying of Solo
mon," wrote the general, " hunger will
break through a stone-wall. It is there
fore a very pleasing circumstance to the
division under my command, that there
is a probability of their marching. Three
days successively we have been destitute
of bread ; two days we have been entire
ly without meat. The men must be sup
plied, or they can not be commanded.
The complaints are too urgent to pass un
noticed. It is with pain that I mention
this distress. I know it will make your
excellency unhappy ; but, if you expect
the exertion of virtuous principles, while
your troops are deprived of the necessa
ries of life, your final disappointment will
be great in proportion to the patience
which now astonishes every man of hu
man feeling."

Washington, always trustful in the ho
liness of his cause, never despaired of its
ultimate triumph. We can readily be
lieve that, in these times of trial, with the
piety which never forsook him in adver-
,sitv or prosperity, he often on his knees

^ 1 1 / /



implored in prayer the mercy of God up
on his suffering troops. It is recorded by
a contemporary witness that, on one oc
casion, while .strolling along the stream
which flowed through the bottom of the
valley, he heard a voice, as of one in sup
plication and prayer, coining out of a se
cluded spot. On approaching the place,
Washington s horse was found tied near
by. The intruder immediately turned his
steps homeward ; and, as he told his wife
what he had seen, he said, with a burst
of tears, " If there is any one on this earth
whom the Lord will listen to, it is George

The commander-in-chief would, howev
er, have been more or less than human,
if his patience had not been disturbed by
the officious intermeddling of the Penn
sylvania legislature with his plans, and
its censorious strictures in a " Remon
strance" against his conduct. " We find
gentlemen," said Washington, " without
knowing whether the army was really
going into winter-quarters or not (for I
am sure no resolution of mine would war
rant the remonstrance), reprobating the
measure as much as if they thought the
soldiers were made of stocks or stones,
and equally insensible of frost and snow ;
and moreover, as if they conceived it ea
sily practicable for an inferior army, un
der the disadvantages I have described
ours to be, which are by no means exag
gerated, to confine a superior one, in all
respects well appointed and provided for
a winter s campaign, within the city of
Philadelphia, and to cover from depreda
tion and waste the states of Pennsylvania


Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 77 of 126)