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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).
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TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.
Camp, near Pennibecker’s Mill, 7 October, 1777.
Since I had the honor of addressing you on the 5th, I have obtained a return of our loss in the action on Saturday, by which it appears to be much more considerable than I first apprehended, though I always imagined myself that it was greater than it was generally supposed to be. The copy of the return enclosed will show the amount as it now stands; but I hope many of those who are missing will yet come in. I fear however there are several under that denomination to be added to the number of the slain, as the action was warm in every quarter, from the information of the officers who commanded the different attacks. What loss the enemy sustained, I am not able precisely to ascertain; but from a variety of corresponding accounts of persons, who left the city since, and those of a deserter, it was very considerable. The deserter, who is intelligent, says General Agnew was killed, Sir William Erskine wounded in the head and leg, and that their general loss, in killed and wounded, amounted to near eight hundred. Several reputable persons from the city corroborate this, particularly with respect to General Agnew’s death; some say upwards of two hundred wagons with wounded were carried in after the action, and before they came out; and that it was the common belief there, the enemy had been severely handled.
It is with much chagrin and mortification I add, that every account confirms the opinion I first entertained, that our troops retreated at the instant when victory was declaring herself in our favor. The tumult, disorder, and even despair, which, it seems, had taken place in the British army, were scarcely to be paralleled; and it is said, so strongly did the ideas of a retreat prevail, that Chester was fixed on as their rendezvous. I can discover no other cause for not improving this happy opportunity, than the extreme haziness of the weather.1
My intention is to encamp the army at some suitable place to rest and refresh the men, and recover them from the still remaining effects of that disorder naturally attendant on a retreat. We shall here wait for the reinforcements coming on, and shall then act according to circumstances. General Varnum, with the detachment from Peekskill amounting to about twelve hundred, including officers, would be last night at Coryell’s Ferry. About five hundred militia from Virginia, and two hundred from Maryland, together with Colonel Gibson’s State regiment consisting of two hundred and twenty-six effectives, have already joined the army. Since the action, General Forman’s brigade of Jersey militia has quitted us. The men began to be uneasy at their situation, and desirous to return home; and as, by some intelligence received from General Dickinson, there was reason to imagine there might be a call for their services in the Jerseys, it was thought expedient to gratify their desire.
The state of our water defence on the Delaware is far from being as flattering as could be wished. After some slight opposition from the Jersey militia under General Newcomb, a detachment of the enemy took possession of Billingsport. This perhaps is an event of no material consequence; but it is to be lamented, that many of the officers and seamen on board the galleys have manifested a disposition that does them little honor. Looking upon their situation as desperate, or probably from worse motives, they have been guilty of the most alarming desertions. Two whole crews, including the officers, have deserted to the enemy. I learn however by Captain Brewer, who is this moment arrived here from the fleet, that the accounts they have received from the city, of our late attack, were such as to have produced a favorable change, and to have inspired them with more confidence. I would here observe, that the charge of bad conduct was by no means applicable to the whole; far from it. He further adds, that four of the enemy’s ships made an attempt yesterday morning to weigh the chevaux-de-frise opposite to Billingsport, but were repulsed by our galleys; which has also contributed to raise the spirits of the seamen. Our garrison on Fort Island, consisting of little more than two hundred Continental Troops under Lieutenant-Colonel Smith,1 appear determined to maintain their post to the last extremity.
I beg leave to mention to Congress, that there is a great deficiency of general officers in this army. When the detachment coming from Peekskill joins us, we shall have thirteen brigades. These require as many brigadiers, and six major-generals. Instead of these, we shall have only four major-generals and eleven brigadiers; and the deficiency will be still increased by the death of General Nash, which, from every appearance, is momently to be expected. Geneneral Woodford’s absence, occasioned by his wound, adds to our embarrassments, though it will be but for a time. Under these circumstances, Congress will be sensible that the government of the army cannot go on with that energy, which is essential to its well-being and success. Neither officers nor men will transfer the respect and obedience they pay to a general officer, to a colonel who happens to be appointed to the temporary command of a brigade; nor will he, knowing his authority to be only temporary, be as solicitous to enforce it, as one who is conscious he is to continue in the station he fills. Want of leisure prevents my being more particular at this time; but I shall take the liberty, in a day or two, to point out the troops that are in want of general officers, with my observations on the subject.
I cannot however omit this opportunity of recommending General McDougall to their notice. This gentleman, from the time of his appointment as brigadier, from his abilities, military knowledge, and approved bravery, has every claim to promotion. If I mistake not, he was passed over in the last appointments of major-generals, and younger officers preferred before him; but his disinterested attachment to the service prevented his acting in the manner, that is customary in like circumstances. This, I think, gives him a peculiar title to esteem, and concurs with the opinion I have of his value as an officer, to make me wish it may appear advisable to Congress to promote him to one of the vacancies. It would be well the intended inquiry into the conduct of General St. Clair could be brought to a speedy issue; and, if he is acquitted to the satisfaction of Congress, that, as his general character as an officer is good, he may be again restored to the service.
By a letter this evening received from Colonel Hawkes Hay of Haverstraw, dated the 5th, at four o’clock in the afternoon, four ships of war, a considerable number of armed vessels, eight transports, and forty flat-bottomed boats, arrived that morning in the bay opposite that place, and were landing troops at Verplanck’s Point. Their number and design were not known. I have the honor to be, &c.
P. S. Enclosed you will find a copy of a letter from Colo. Mifflin containing an account of the action of the 4th as mentioned by the British officers in Philadelphia. I would beg leave to observe that I think Miss Leonard’s name should not be mentioned.1
[1 ]General Washington wrote on the 7th, to Governor Trumbull:—“Having obtained information of the situation of the enemy, we determined to endeavor to do something by way of surprise. We accordingly marched all night, and reached the town by break of day. We attacked them upon two quarters, upon both of which we were successful. But the morning was so exceedingly foggy, that we could not see the confusion the enemy were in, and the advantage we had gained; and, fearing to push too far through a strong village, we retired, after an engagement of two hours, bringing off all our artillery with us. We did not know, till after the affair was over, how near we were to gaining a complete victory; but we have since learnt from deserters and others, who have come out, that preparations were making to retreat to Chester. While the action lasted, it was pretty severe. Our loss will amount, in killed and wounded, to upwards of three hundred.” This estimate of the loss was founded on loose returns. In writing to his brother, on the 17th of October, General Washington described the loss as being about one thousand men, in killed, wounded, and missing. General Howe, in his official despatch, stated the American loss to be between two and three hundred killed, about six hundred wounded, and upwards of four hundred taken. This is doubtless an exaggeration.
[1 ]On September 23d Washington appointed Baron d’Arendt to the command of Fort Island. “It is of the utmost importance,” he wrote, “to prevent the enemy’s land forces and fleet from forming a junction, which it is almost morally certain they will attempt by seizing on Fort Island below Philadelphia, if it is possible, and thereby gain the navigation of the Delaware by weighing and removing the chevaux-de-frise, which have been sunk for that purpose. This post (Fort Island), if maintained, will be of the last consequence, and will effectually hinder them from union. . . . The defence is extremely interesting to the United States.” Illness prevented the Baron’s accepting the appointment, and the command devolved upon Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel Smith.
[1 ]“We shall have a large reinforcement from the Northward and Southward in a day, or two, and you may assure the officers of the Army and Navy that no time shall be lost in following our Blow effectually and thereby giving relief to all our posts. I think this may be so much sooner effected by keeping our whole force together and acting powerfully with them, that I shall pursue that Course rather than detach a part to operate against their detachments. For you must be very sensible that if their Main Body is defeated their small parties must fall of course. I beg you will communicate this letter to the Gentlemen of the Navy and let them see how much depends upon their brave opposition to the last moment.”—Washington to Lieutenant-Colonel Smith, 7 October, 1777.