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.
On Saturday evening I had the honor to receive your favor of the 17th instant, with its enclosures. The next day I wrote to General Burgoyne upon the subject of his application, and transmitted to him a copy of the resolution of Congress founded thereon. That the matter might not be delayed, I despatched my letter by the express, who brought yours, he having informed me, that you expected he would be sent with it.
It is with infinite pain and concern, that I transmit to Congress the enclosed copies of sundry letters respecting the state of the commissary’s department. In these, matters are not exaggerated. I do not know from what cause this alarming deficiency, or rather total failure of supplies, arises; but, unless more vigorous exertions and better regulations take place in that line immediately, this army must dissolve. I have done all in my power, by remonstrating, by writing, by ordering the commissaries on this head, from time to time; but without any good effect, or obtaining more than a present scanty relief. Owing to this, the march of the army has been delayed, upon more than one interesting occasion, in the course of the present campaign; and had a body of the enemy crossed the Schuylkill this morning, as I had reason to expect, from the intelligence I received at four o’clock last night, the divisions which I ordered to be in readiness to march and meet them could not have moved. It is unnecessary for me to add more upon the subject. I refer Congress to the copies, by one of which they will perceive, how very unfavorable also our prospect is of having any considerable supplies of salt provisions for the ensuing year.1
I would also take the liberty of reminding Congress of the necessity of filling, as soon as possible, the offices of quartermaster and adjutant general. These posts are of infinite importance, and without appointments to them it will be impossible to conduct the affairs of the army. The first office is now suffering much for want of a head to direct the great business of it; and the latter will be in the same predicament, in the course of a few days, by the departure of Colonel Pickering, who, since his appointment to the Board of War, has been waiting only for a successor.1
Three o’clock, P. M.—Just as I was about to conclude my letter, your favor of the 20th came to hand. It would give me infinite pleasure to afford protection to every individual, and to every spot of ground, in the whole of the United States. Nothing is more my wish; but this is not possible with our present force. In all wars, from the nature of things, individuals and particular places must be exposed. It has ever been and ever will be the case, and we have only to pity and to regret the misfortune of those, who from their situation are subject to ravage and depredation. These facts are obvious to all; and if that system of conduct is pursued by an army, which is most likely to give the most extensive security, it is all that can be done or expected from it.
I assure you, Sir, no circumstance in the course of the present contest, or in my whole life, has employed more of my reflection or consideration, than in what manner to effect this, and to dispose of the army during the winter. Viewing the subject in any point of light, there was a choice of difficulties. If keeping the field was thought of,—the naked condition of the troops and the feelings of humanity opposed the measure; if returning to the towns in the interior parts of the State, which consistently with the preservation of the troops, from their necessitous circumstances, might have been justifiable,—the measure was found inexpedient, because it would have exposed and left uncovered a large extent of country; if cantoning the troops in several places, divided and distant from each other,—then there was a probability of their being cut off, and but little prospect of their giving security to any part. Under these embarrassments, I determined to take post near this place, as the best calculated in my judgment to secure the army, to protect our stores, and cover the country; and for this purpose we are beginning to hut, and shall endeavor to accomplish it as expeditiously as possible.
I have also, from a desire of preventing the enemy from an intercourse with the Delaware State, and from making incursions there, detached General Smallwood with the Maryland forces to take post at Wilmington, which I had strong reason to believe the enemy intended. This however I cannot but consider as hazardous, and shall be happy if it does not turn out so. I have it also in contemplation to throw a bridge over the Schuylkill near this place, as soon as it is practicable; by means of which I hope we shall be able in a great measure, with the aid of the militia, to check the excursions of the enemy’s parties on the other side.
As to Jersey, I am sensible of her sufferings and exertions in the present contest, and there is no State to which I would more willingly extend protection; but, as I have observed, it is not in my power to give it, in that degree, which seems to be wished and expected. I cannot divide the army (not superior, when collected, from sickness and other causes equally painful, to the enemy’s force,) into detachments, contrary to every military principle, and to our own experience of the dangers that would attend it. If this is done, I cannot be answerable for the consequences. My feelings lead strongly to universal relief, but I have not the power to afford it; nevertheless, it has been and is still my intention, as soon as I have formed and secured this camp, to detach a small force to aid and countenance their militia. This is all, it appears to me, that can be done; and I hope the apprehensions in that quarter for the greater part will prove rather imaginary than well grounded, though I confess there are strong reasons to conclude, that the enemy will not be remiss in their acts of violence and injury there or any where else. I have the honor to be, &c.
[1 ]Extracts from two letters, received on the 22d of December, will be enough to show the grounds upon which this statement is made. “I received an order,” writes General Huntington, “to hold my brigade in readiness to march. Fighting will be by far preferable to starving. My brigade are out of provisions, nor can the commissary obtain any meat. I am exceedingly unhappy in being the bearer of complaints to Head-Quarters. I have used every argument my imagination can invent to make the soldiers easy, but I despair of being able to do it much longer.” The next is from General Varnum. “According to the saying of Solomon, hunger will break through a stone-wall. It is therefore 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 entirely without meat. The men must be supplied, or they cannot be commanded. The complaints are too urgent to pass unnoticed. 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 necessaries of life, your final disappointment will be great in proportion to the patience, which now astonishes every man of human feeling.”
[1 ]In a letter to Congress, dated October 8th, General Mifflin had tendered the resignation of his commissions of major-general and quartermaster-general, on the ground of ill-health. His commission of quartermaster was accepted on the 7th of November, but the rank and commission of major-general, without the pay annexed to the office, was continued to him; and at the same time he was chosen a member of the new Board of War, which was constituted of persons not in Congress. This Board, by its first organization, was to consist of three members. The persons chosen were General Mifflin, Colonel Pickering, and Colonel Harrison. Before it went into operation, the Board was enlarged to five members, and, Harrison having declined the appointment, General Gates, Joseph Trumbull, and Richard Peters were chosen in addition to Mifflin and Pickering. On recommendation of Mifflin, Gates was made president of the Board, and recalled from his command in the northern department to fill that station. The salary of each member was two thousand dollars a year. The Board were intrusted with extensive powers, but they were obliged to sit in the place where Congress was held. All their proceedings were to be inspected by Congress or a committee once a month, and free access to the records was to be allowed at all times to any member of Congress.—Journals, October 17th; November 7th, 27th.