Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. VI (1777-1778)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. VI (1777-1778) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. VI (1777-1778).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.
Camp, nearPottsgrove, 23 September, 1777.
I have not had the honor of addressing you since your adjournment to Lancaster, and I sincerely wish that my first Letter was upon a more agreeable subject.1 The Enemy, by a variety of perplexing manœuvres thro’ a Country from which I could not derive the least intelligence (being to a man disaffected), contrived to pass the Schuylkill last night at the Fatland and other fords in the neighborhood of it. They marched immediately towards Philadelphia, and I imagine their advanced parties will be near that City to-night. They had so far got the start before I recd. certain intelligence that any considerable number had crossed, that I found it in vain to think of overtaking their Rear, with Troops harassed as ours had been with constant marching since the Battle of Brandywine; and therefore concluded, by the advice of all the gen’l officers, to march from this place tomorrow morning towards Philadelphia, and on the Way endeavor to form a junction with the Continental Troops under General McDougall, from Peekskill, and the Jersey militia under Genl Dickinson, both of whom are, I hope, on this side of the Delaware.2 I am also obliged to wait for Genl Wayne and Genl Smallwood, who were left upon the other side of Schuylkill, in hopes of falling upon the Enemy’s Rear; but they have eluded them as well as us.
When I last recrossed the Schuylkill, it was with a firm intent of giving the Enemy Battle wherever I should meet them; and accordingly advanced as far as the Warren Tavern upon the Lancaster Road, near which place the two armies were upon the point of coming to a General Engagement, but were prevented by a most violent flood of Rain, which continued all the day and following night.1 When it held up, we had the mortification to find that our ammunition, which had been compleated to forty rounds a man, was entirely ruined; and in that Situation we had nothing left for it but to find out a strong piece of Ground, which we could easily maintain till we could get the Arms put in order, and a Recruit of Ammunition. Before this could be fully effected, the Enemy marched from their position near the White Horse Tavern, down the Road leading to the Swedes’ Ford. I immediately crossed the Schuylkill above them, and threw myself full in their front, hoping to meet them in their passage, or soon after they had passed the river. The day before yesterday they were again in motion, and marched rapidly up the road leading towards Reading. This induced me to believe that they had two objects in View, one to get round the right of the Army, the other perhaps to detach parties to Reading, where we had considerable quantities of military Stores. To frustrate those intentions, I moved the army up on this side of the River to this place, determined to keep pace with them; but early this morning I recd. intelligence, that they had crossed the fords below.1 Why I did not follow immediately, I have mentioned in the former part of my letter; but the strongest reason against being able to make a forced march is the want of shoes. Messieurs Carroll, Chase, and Penn, who were some days with the army, can inform Congress in how deplorable a situation the Troops are, for want of that necessary article. At least one thousand men are bare-footed, and have performed the marches in that condition. I was told of a great number of shoes in the hands of private people in Philadelphia, and sent down to secure them; but I doubt the Approach of the Enemy will prevent it.
I have planned a method of throwing a Garrison into Fort Mifflin. If it succeeds, and they, with the assistance of the Ships and Galleys, should keep the obstructions in the River, Genl Howe’s situation in Philadelphia will not be the most agreeable; for if his supplies can be stopped by Water, it may be easily done by land. To do both shall be my utmost endeavor; and I am not yet without hope, that the acquisition of Philadelphia may, instead of his good fortune, prove his Ruin. General St. Clair, who has been constantly with the Army for some time past, can give you many pieces of information, which may have escaped me, and therefore I refer you to him for many particulars. * * *1
[1 ]When the enemy approached Philadelphia, September 18th, Congress adjourned to Lancaster, in Pennsylvania, where they assembled on the 27th. The same day they adjourned to York beyond the Susquehanna, in which place they met on the 30th, and continued there till the British evacuated Philadelphia.
[2 ]This is not a strictly accurate account of the decision of the council as entered upon the minutes; for it was unanimously determined that “from the present state of the army, it would not be advisable to advance upon the enemy, but remain upon this ground or in the neighborhood till the detachments and expected re-inforcements come up.”
[1 ]“On the 17th, in the morning, intelligence was brought that the enemy were advancing, upon which the army were paraded, and a disposition made to receive them, the picketts had exchanged a few shots, when a violent shower of rain, which continued all the day and the following night prevented all further operations.”—Washington’s Statement to Council of Officers, 23 September, 1777. Pickering states that the picket, “just posted (about three hundred strong), shamefully fled at the first fire,” and orders were given to march to Yellow Springs, a tedious march of about ten miles over bad roads.
[1 ]“On the night of the 20th the army decamped and marched up to the Trap, and on the 21st to within four miles of Pottsgrove, the enemy’s van then being at French’s Creek upon the west side of the Schuylkill. In the night of the 22d, advice was received that the enemy had crossed Schuylkill at Gordon’s Ford, below us, but the account was again contradicted; but in the morning of the 23d certain accounts came to hand that they really had crossed in large numbers, and were moving towards Philadelphia.”—Washington’s Statement to Council of Officers, 23 September, 1777.
[1 ]“The action which happened on the 11th near Chadsford, on the Brandywine, you will have heard of. I have not time to give you the particulars. A contrariety of Intelligence, in a critical and important point, contributed greatly if it did not entirely bring on the misfortunes of that day. The action however was warm and I am convinced, the Enemy’s loss was considerable and much superior to ours. After this affair and refreshing our Troops a few days, I determined to try a second action. For this purpose, I advanced with the Army as soon as it was in a situation and was pushing to gain the grounds on their left. I believe we should have effected it, and if not a general attack would have been made on their Front, had not my views unfortunately been totally frustrated by a most severe rain which came on, the day preceeding that of the intended action. This obliged us to change our Rout, and continuing with great violence till late in the night, rendered our Arms unfit for use and destroyed almost all the ammunition in the men’s pouches, who were out and exposed during the whole time. Genl. Howe in two days after fell down towards Schuylkill near the Valley forge. We did the same, and passed with the main body of the Army above, and marching down, took post in his Front, while a part of our Force was left to hang on his Rear. In this situation matters remained a day or two when the Enemy extended themselves up the river, as if they meant to turn our Right and, countermarching in the night crossed some miles below us; The River being fordable in almost every part. They have advanced towards the city, and were from the last advices at and about Germantown. It is probable some of their Parties have entered the city and their whole Army may, if they incline to do it, without our being able to prevent them. Here I must remark, that our distress for want of shoes, is almost beyond conception and that from this circumstance our operations and pursuit have been impracticable. I am taking every measure to obtain a supply, and I hope to be able to move in a short time especially when we are joined by some Reinforcements that are coming on, and that under the favor of heaven, our affairs will assume a more agreeable aspect, than they now have.”—Washington to Brigadier-General Nelson, 27 September, 1777.