George Washington to the President of Congress– Valley Forge [December 23, 1777]
Sir: Full as I was in my representation of matters in the Commys. department. yesterday, fresh, and more powerful reasons oblige me to add, that I am now convinced, beyond a doubt that unless some great and capital change suddenly takes place in that line, this Army must inevitably be reduced tc one or other of these three things. Starve, dissolve, or disperse, in order to obtain subsistence in the best manner they can; rest assured Sir this is not an exaggerated picture, but that I have abundant reason to support what I see.
Yesterday afternoon receiving information that the Enemy, in force, had left the City, and were advancing towards Derby with apparent design to forage, and draw Subsistance from that part of the Country, I ordered the Troops to be in readiness, that I might give every opposition in my power when, behold! to my great mortification, I was not only informed, but convinced, that the Men were unable to stir on Acct. of Provision, and that~ dangerous Mutiny begun the Night before, and [which] with difficulty was suppressed by the spirited exertion's of some officers was still much to apprehended on acct. of their want of this Article.
This brought forth the only Comy, in the purchasing Line, in this Camp and, with him, this Melancholy and alarming truth; that he had not a sir~ hoof of any kind to Slaughter, and not more than 20. Baralls. of Flour! From hence form an opinion of our Situation when I add, that, he could not~ when to expect any.
All I could do under these circumstances was, to send out a few I _ Parties to watch and harass the Enemy, whilst other Parties were insta detached different ways to collect, if possible, as much Provision as we satisfy the present pressing wants of the Soldiery. But will this answer? Sir: three or four days bad weather would prove our destruction.
What then is to become of the Army this Winter? and if we are as ol without Provisions now, as with it, what is to become of us in the Spr when our force will be collected, with the aid perhaps of Militia, tot advantage of an early campaign before the Enemy can be reinforced? Th' are considerations of great magnitude, meriting the closest attention,' will, when my own reputation is so intimately connected, and to be affected by the event, justifiy my saying that the present Commissaries are by means equal to the execution of the Office or that the disaffection of People is past all belief. The misfortune however does in my opinion. Proceed from both causes, and tho' I have been tender heretofore of givings opinion, or lodging complaints, as the change in that department. took pl contrary to my judgment, and the consequences thereof were predicted;! finding that the inactivity of the Army, whether for want of provisions, Cloaths, or other essentials, is charged to my Acct., not only by the common vulgar, but those in power, it is time to speak plain in exculpation of myself; with truth then I can declare that, no Man, in my opinion, ever had his measures more impeded than I have, by every department of the Army.
Since the Month of July, we have had no assistance from the Quarter Master Genl. and to want of assistance from this department, the Commissary Genl. charges great part of his deficiency; to this I am to add, that notwithstanding it is a standing order (and often repeated) that the Troops shall always have two days Provisions by them, that they may be ready at any sudden call, yet no opportunity has scarce ever yet happened of taking advantage of the Enemy that has not been totally obstructed or greatly impeded on this Acct., and this tho' the great and crying evil is not all. Soap, Vinegar and other Articles allowed by Congress we see none of nor have [we] seen I believe since the battle of brandywine; the first indeed we have now little occasion of few men having more than one Shirt, many only the Moiety of one, and Some none at all; in addition to which as a proof of the little benefit received from a Cloathier Genl., and at the same time 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 confind to Hospitals for want of Shoes, and others in farmers Houses on the same Acct.) we have, by a field return this day made no less than 2000 Men now in Camp unfit for duty because they are bare foot and otherwise naked and by the same return it appears that our whole strength in continental Troops (Including the Eastern Brigades which have joined us since the surrender of Genl. Burgoyne) exclusive of the Maryland Troops sent to Wilmington amount to no more than 2898 In Camp fit for duty. Notwithstanding which, and that, since the 4tl~ Instt. our Numbers fit for duty from the hardships and exposures they have undergone, particularly on Acct. of Blankets (numbers being obliged and do set up all Might by fires, instead of taking comfortable rest in a natural way) have decreased near 2000 Men.
We find Gentlemen without knowing whether the Army was really going into Winter Quarters or not . . . reprobating the measure as much as if they thought Men were made of Stocks or Stones and equally insensible of frost and Snow and moreover, as if they conceived it practicable for an inferior Army under the disadvantages I have described our's to be which. is by no means exagerated to confine a superior one (in all respects well appointed, and provide for a Winters Campaign) within the City of Phila., and cover from depredation and waste the States of Pensa,, Jersey, &cat but what makes this matter still more extraordinary in my eye is, that these very G ntn. who were well apprized of the nakedness of the Troops, from occular demonstration thought their own Soldiers worse clad than others, and advised n~e, near a Month ago, to postpone the execution of a Plan, I was about to adopt (in consequence of a resolve of Congress) for seizing Cloaths, undu strong assurances that an ample supply would be collected in ten days agreeably to a decree of the State, not one Article of which., by the bye, is yet come to hand, should think a Winters Campaign and the covering these States from the Invasion of an Enemy so easy a business. I can assure those Gentlemen that it is a much easier and less distressing thing to draw remonstrances in a comfortable room by a a good fire side than to occupy a cold bleak hill and sleep under frost and Snow without Cloaths or Blanketss; however, although they seem to have little feeling for the naked, and distresssed Solider, I feel superabundantly for them, and from my Soul pity those miseries wch it is neither in my power to relieve or prevent.
It is for these reasons therefore I have dwelt upon the Subject, and it adds not a little to my other difficulties, and distress, to find that much more is expected of me than is possible to be performed, and that upon the ground of safety and policy, I am obliged to conceal the true state of the Arm from Public view and therby expose myself to detraction and Calumny. In consequence of undoubted information received from Boston by the commanders of the Continental Army at Cambridge that Genl Gage with a part of his troops purposed the next day to take possession of Bunker's Hill, ~ a promontory just at the entrance of the peninsula of Charlestown, they determined with the advice of the Committee of Safety of the Massachusetts I Province to send a party who might erect some fortifications upon the hill and prevent this design.
Accordingly on the 1 6th of June, orders were issued that a party of about one thousand men should that evening march to Charlestown and entrench upon the hill. About 9 o clock in the evening the detachment marched upon the design to Breed's hill situated on the further part of the peninsula next to Boston, for by a mistake of orders this hill was marked out for the entrench ment instead of the other. As there were many things necessary to be done preparatory to the entrenchments being thrown up which could not be done before lest the enemy should observe them, it was nearly twelve o clock before the work was entered upon, for the clocks in Boston were heard to strike about lo minutes after the men first took their tools into their hands. The work was carried on in every animation and success so that by the dawn pf the day they had nearly completed a small redoubt about eight rods square.
At this time an heavy fire began from 3 men of war, a number of floating batteries and from a fortification of the enemys on Cops hill in Boston directly opposite to our little redoubt. These kept up an incessant shower of shot and bombs, by which one man pretty soon fell. Not discouraged by the melancholly fate of their companion, the soldiers labored indefatigably till they had thrown up a small breastwork extending from the north side of the redoubt . . . to the bottom of the hill but were prevented by the intolerable fire of the enemy from completing them whol[ly] in such a manner as to make them defensible.
Having labored thus between 12 and I o'clock a number of boats and barges filled with soldiers were observed approaching towards Charlestown. These landed their troops at a place called Moretons Point, situated a little to the eastward of our works. The brigade formed upon their landing tho they were something galled by the fire of two small field pieces which we had placed at the end of the entrenchments. They stood thus formed till a second brigade arrived from Boston to join them.
Having sent out large flank guards in order to surround them they began a very slow march towards our lines. At this instant flames and smoke were seen to arise in large clouds from the town of Charlestown [which] had I been set on fire from some of the enemys batterys with a design to favor their attack upon our lines by the smoke which they imagined would have been blown directly that way and thence covered them in their attack, but the wind changing at this instant it was carried another way.
The provincials in the redoubt and the lines reserved their fire till the enemy had come within about lo or 12 yards and then discharged at once upon them. The fire threw their body into very great confusion, and all of them after having kept a fire for some time retreated in very great disorder down to the point where they landed, and there some of them even into their boats.
At this time their officers were observed by spectators on the opposite shore to come there and then use the most passionate gestures and even to push forward the men with their swords. At length by their exertions the toops were again rallied and marched up to the entrenchments. The Americans reserved their fire and a second time put the regulars to flight who once more retreated in precipitation to their boats.
The same or greater exertions were now again observed to be made by their officers, and having formed once more they brought some cannon to bear in such a manner as to rake the inside of the breastwork, and having drove the provincials thence into the redoubt they determined now, it appeared, to make a decisive effort. The fire from the ships and batteries as well as from the cannon in front of their army was redoubled. Innumerable bombs were sent into the fort. The officers behind the army of the regulars were observed to goad forward their men with renewed exertion. The breastwork on the side of the entrenchment without the redoubt was abandoned, the ammunition of the provincials was expended, the enemy advanced on sides of the fort at once and scaled the walls.
Can it be wondered at then that the word was given to retreat? But even this was not done till the redoubt was half filled with regulars, and the provincials had for some time kept up an engagement with the but ends of their muskets which unfortunately were not fixed with bayonets....
With very great signs of exultation the British troops again took posses sion of the hill whither they had fled after their retreat from Concord, and it was expected that they would have prosecuted the advantage which they had gained by marching immediately to Cambridge which was then indeed in an almost defenseless state; they did not however do this, but kept fir~ng with their cannon from the hill and from their ships and batteries across the Neck. The wonder which was excited and the conduct of them soon ceased when a certain account arrived from Boston that of 3 thousand who marched out on the expedition, no less than 15OO, among which were 92 commission officers, were killed and wounded, a more severe blow than the British troops had ever before met with in proportion to the number who were engaged, and the time the engagement lasted from the first fire of the musketry to the last was exactly an hour and an half.