Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. VI (1777-1778)
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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.
Head-Quarters, near the Gulf,
On Thursday evening I had the honor to receive your favor of the 8th instant. From several letters, which have lately passed between General Howe and myself, I am fully convinced, that any propositions by me to release the Baron St. Ouary from captivity, either by an exchange or on parole, would be unavailing. He has explicitly stated his sentiments, and has declared himself to be utterly against a partial exchange. The situation of the Baron, through the interest and acquaintance of the Marquis de Lafayette with an officer in the guards, is much more comfortable than that of any of our officers, who are prisoners, he being on parole in the city, whilst they are all confined in the State-House. I do not know that it is the practice in Europe not to consider volunteers as prisoners. I am inclined to believe that it is not, and that they are generally held as such, unless the contrary is particularly stipulated by cartel. However this may be, they have been held in the present contest on both sides on the footing of other prisoners, and exchanged as such. Besides this, I fear that a proposition calculated for the peculiar benefit of the Baron, would be ill received by our unhappy officers, who have been much longer in confinement, whose sufferings are far greater than his, and who claim a right to exchange in due course.1
The inquiries, directed in the resolutions contained in your letter of the 30th ultimo, respecting the loss of the forts in the Highlands and of Fort Mifflin, I shall order to be made, as soon as circumstances will admit. These, however, it is probable, will not be effected in a short time, from the situation of our affairs and inevitable necessity. On Thursday morning we marched from our old encampment, and intended to pass the Schuylkill at Madison’s Ford, where a bridge had been laid across the river. When the first division and a part of the second had passed, they found a body of the enemy, consisting, from the best accounts we have been able to obtain, of four thousand men, under Lord Cornwallis, possessing themselves of the heights on both sides of the road leading from the river and the defile called the Gulf, which I presume are well known to some part of your honorable body. This unexpected event obliged such of our troops, as had crossed, to repass, and prevented our getting over till the succeeding night. This manœuvre on the part of the enemy was not in consequence of any information they had of our movement, but was designed to secure the pass whilst they were foraging in the neighboring country. They were met in their advance by General Potter, with part of the Pennsylvania militia, who behaved with bravery and gave them every possible opposition, till he was obliged to retreat from their superior numbers. Had we been an hour sooner, or had the least information of the measure, I am persuaded we should have given his Lordship a fortunate stroke, or obliged him to return without effecting his purpose, or drawn out all General Howe’s force to support him. Our first intelligence was, that it was all out. Lord Cornwallis collected a good deal of forage, and returned to the city the night we passed the river. No discrimination marked his proceedings. All property, whether of friends or foes, that came in their way, was seized and carried off.1
Enclosed is a copy of a letter from General Burgoyne, by which you will perceive he requests leave to embark his troops at Rhode Island, or at some place on the Sound; and, in case this cannot be granted, that he may be allowed, with his suite, to go there and return from thence to England. His first proposition, as I have observed upon a former occasion, is certainly inadmissible, and for reasons obvious to himself. As to the second, which respects the departure of himself and suite, Congress will be pleased to determine upon it and favor me with their sentiments by the first opportunity, that I may know what answer to give him.1 I learn from Mr. Griffin, who has just come from Boston, that this gentleman either holds, or professes to hold, very different ideas of our power from what he formerly entertained; that, without reserve, he has said it would be next to impossible for Britain to succeed in her views, and that he should with freedom declare his sentiments accordingly on his arrival in England; and that he seemed to think the recognition of our independence by the King and Parliament an eligible measure, under a treaty of commerce upon a large and extensive scale. How far these professions are founded in sincerity, it is not easy to determine; but if they are, what a mighty change! While I am on the subject of Mr. Burgoyne and his army, I would submit it to Congress, whether it will not be right and reasonable, that all expenses, incurred on their account for provisions, should be paid and satisfied previously to their embarkation and departure; I mean by an actual deposit of the money. Unless this is done, there will be little reason to suppose, that it will ever be paid. They have failed (that is, the nation) in other instances, as I have been told, after liquidating their accounts and giving the fullest certificates, and we cannot expect they will keep better faith with us than with others. The payment, too, I should apprehend, ought to be in coin, as it will enable us to administer some relief to our unfortunate officers and men who are in captivity.1
December 15th.—Congress seem to have taken for granted a fact, that is really not so. All the forage for the army has been constantly drawn from Bucks and Philadelphia counties, and those parts most contiguous to the city; insomuch that it was nearly exhausted, and entirely so in the country below our camp. From these, too, were obtained all the supplies of flour, that circumstances would admit of. The millers in most instances were unwilling to grind, either from their disaffection or from motives of fear. This made the supplies less than they otherwise might have been, and the quantity, which was drawn from thence was little, besides what the guards, placed at the mills, compelled them to manufacture.1 As to stock, I do not know that much was had from thence, nor do I know that any considerable supply could have been had.
I confess I have felt myself greatly embarrassed with respect to a vigorous exercise of military power. An ill-placed humanity, perhaps, and a reluctance to give distress, may have restrained me too far; but these were not all, I have been well aware of the prevalent jealousy of military power, and that this has been considered as an evil, much to be apprehended, even by the best and most sensible among us. Under this idea, I have been cautious, and wished to avoid as much as possible any act that might increase it. However, Congress may be assured, that no exertions of mine, as far as circumstances will admit, shall be wanting to provide our own troops with supplies on the one hand, and to prevent the enemy from getting them on the other. At the same time they must be apprized, that many obstacles have arisen to render the former more precarious and difficult than they usually were, from a change in the commissary’s department, at a very critical and interesting period. I should be happy, if the civil authority in the several States, through the recommendations of Congress, or their own mere will, seeing the necessity of supporting the army, would always adopt the most spirited measures, suited to the end. The people at large are governed much by custom. To acts of legislation or civil authority they have ever been taught to yield a willing obedience, without reasoning about their propriety; on those of military power, whether immediate or derived originally from another source, they have ever looked with a jealous and suspicious eye. I have the honor to be, &c.
[1 ]In their resolve, respecting the Baron St. Ouary, Congress designated him as “a gallant gentleman from France, engaged as a volunteer in the service of the United States, and lately by the fortune of war made prisoner by the British.” They instructed General Washington to apply for his release, on the ground that volunteers were not to be regarded as prisoners of war; but, if General Howe should not accede to this doctrine, then an enlargement by exchange or on parole was to be solicited for the Baron St. Ouary.—Journals, December 3d.
[1 ]John Laurens in a letter to his father gives an account of this day’s movements: “When we marched from Whitemarsh Camp and were in the act of crossing the Schuylkill, we received intelligence that the enemy were advancing on this side of the river; in fact a ravaging party of four thousand under the command of Lord Cornwallis had passed the river and were driving Potter’s militia before them. Two regiments of this corps, however, are said to have conducted themselves extremely well, and to have given the enemy no small annoyance as they advanced. General Sullivan was Major General of the day, and consequently conducted the march. His division and part of Wayne’s had crossed the river; being uncertain as to the number of the enemy, and dreading their advance in force, when part of the army should be on one side of the river and part on the other, he ordered those troops to recross and our bridge to be rendered impassable. Notice of this was sent to the Commander in chief, and when he arrived, parties of the enemy were seen on the commanding heights on this side of the river. There was a pause for some time and consultation what was to be done; parties of horse in the meantime were detached to gain certain intelligence of the enemy’s numbers and designs. . . . Some pronounced hastily that the enemy had received intelligence of our march, although the resolution had been taken in council only the night before, and that they were prepared to oppose our passage. Genl. Washington, who never since I have been in his family, has passed a false judgment on such points, gave it as his opinion that the party in view were foragers; that the meeting was accidental, but, however, the enemy might avail themselves of this unexpected discovery, and might draw as much advantage from it as if the rencounter had been premeditated. The intelligence was received that the enemy were retiring in great haste, but it did not appear satisfactory, and the army was ordered to march to Swedes Ford, three or four miles higher up the river and encamp with the right to the Schuylkill. The next morning the want of provisions—I could weep tears of blood when I say it—the want of provisions rendered it impossible to march. We did not march till the evening of that day. Our ancient bridge, an infamous construction, which in many parts obliged the men to march by Indian file, was restored, and a bridge of waggons made over the Swedes Ford, but fence-rails from necessity being substituted to plank, and furnishing a very unstable footing. This last served to cross a trifling number of troops. As the event turned out, Genl. Sullivan’s retrograde movement was unspeakably unlucky. If we had persevered in crossing in the first instance, or if we had even crossed in the evening of the first day, the flower of the British army must have fallen a sacrifice to superior numbers.”—23 December, 1777.
[1 ]“As to General Burgoyne’s request to me to permit him to depart before his army, I did not think myself authorized to grant it, before I consulted Congress, to whom I transmitted a copy of his letter. I shall give him an answer, as soon as I know their determination. I think it would have been highly improper to have allowed him the liberty of visiting your seaport towns. A man of his sagacity and penetration would make many observations upon situations, etc., that might prove detrimental to us in future. . . . Whenever you have occasion for directions in any matters respecting General Burgoyne and his troops, it will be best for you to write fully to Congress upon the subject, as they alone must determine in all cases which refer to them.”—Washington to General Heath, 17 December, 1777.
[1 ]By the Vth Article of the Convention the British troops on their march to Boston were to be supplied with provisions, “by General Gates’ orders, at the same rate of rations as the troops of his own army.” But Gates was paying for his supplies in paper money, worth at this time only about one third of its nominal or specie value; and the justice of Washington’s suggestion to exact full payment in coin for what the British consumed, may with reason be questioned. Congress was already considering the question raised by Washington in his letter of November 1st, (pp. 164, 165 of this volume), and on the 19th of December ordered “that the accounts of all provisions and other necessaries which already have been, or which hereafter may be supplied by the public to prisoners in the power of these States, shall be discharged by either receiving from the British Commissary of prisoners, or any of his agents, provisions or other necessaries, equal in quality and kind to what have been supplied, or the amount thereof in gold and silver, at the rate of 4s. 6d for every dollar of the currency of these States: and that all these accounts be liquidated and discharged, previous to the release of any prisoners to whom provisions or other necessaries shall have been supplied.” Heath, pressed for money, had asked Burgoyne to settle the accounts for November, and had agreed to accept Continental money; but before a settlement was had, he received this resolution of Congress, which he at once communicated to Burgoyne. The British general naturally thought “it was a little extraordinary that we should refuse our own currency, and further added that it was hard, since it was notorious that a Guinea might be exchanged for twelve or fourteen dollars through the country.”—Heath to the President of Congress, 5 January, 1778. And two weeks later he told the Continental Commissary “that the demanding hard money was so extraordinary that he imagined Great Britain would not hesitate at paying thirty thousand pounds sterling to publish such a procedure to the world.”—Heath to the President of Congress, 18 January, 1778. He claimed the Convention was infringed by such a demand, contrary alike to the pledge of the public faith, and to general justice implied in the dealings of the most hostile nations, and appealed to Howe. The result was that Howe acceded to an exchange of prisoners, but Washington found himself hampered later by this resolve of December 19th.—Washington to Howe, 10 February, 1778; Washington to the President of Congress, 8 March, 1778.
[1 ]“By virtue of the power and direction to me especially given, I hereby enjoin and require all persons residing within seventy miles of my Head Quarters to thresh one half their grain by the first day of February and the other half by the first day of March next ensuing, on pain in case of failure of having all that shall remain in sheaves, after the periods above mentioned, seized by the Commissaries & Quarter Masters of the army and paid for as straw.”—Proclamation, 20 December, 1777.