« ZurückWeiter »
CHAP. VI. precisely as suggested by the general, and it was 1778. resolved that the several states be required forth
with to fill up by draughts from their militia, or
that should be effectual, their respective battalions of Continental troops; at the same time it was expressly ordered, that no prisoners of war, or deserters from the enemy, should be inlisted, draughted, or returned, to serve in the Continental army.
While congress was deliberating on the reforms proposed, the distresses of the army were approaching their acmé, and its absolute dissolution was threatened. Early in February, the commissaries gave notice that the country, to a great distance, was actually exhausted; and that it would be impracticable to obtain supplies to support the army longer than to the end of that month. Already the scarcity which was threatened began to manifest itself, and the provisions issued were often very bad in quality and insufficient in quantity. More serious apprehensions were entertained that there would be a total failure in the article of flesh than in any other; and as New England was the
great beef country of America, the general turned his eyes to that quarter as the only one which could afford substantial relief.
Not content with the instructions given by the commissary in camp to his assistant in Connecticut, the general addressed him personally, with a strong representation of the
extremity to which they were verging, and con- CHAP. VI. jured him, by every motive which ought to 1778. influence him in his official capacity, by his good wishes to the army and to the cause of his country, to make every possible effort to afford without a moment's loss of time the assistance which was so much needed. As a stimulus to greater exertions, and to assure himself of all the aid which could be derived from the state authorities, he addressed himself at the same time to governor Trumbull of Connecticut, whose ardent co-operation in the public service he had so often experienced, and to whom, after stating the past, and present dangerous condition of the army, he added, “ what is still more distressing, I am assured by colonel Blaine, deputy purchasing commissary in the middle district comprehending the states of Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, that they are nearly exhausted, and that the most vigorous and active exertions on his part will not procure more than sufficient to supply the army during this month, if so long. This being the case, and as any relief that can be obtained from the more southern states will be but partial, trifling, and of a day, we must turn our views to the eastward, and lay our account of support from thence. Without it, we cannot but disband; I must, therefore, sir, entreat you in the most earnest terms, and by that zeal which has eminently distinguished your
CHAP. VI. character in the present arduous struggle, to 1778. give every countenance to the person or persons
employed in the purchasing line in your state, and to urge them to the most vigorous efforts to forward supplies of cattle from time to time, and thereby prevent such a melancholy and alarming catastrophe.”
In the apprehension that the resources of the commissary department would entirely fail still earlier than had been reported, and before the distant supplies he had taken measures to obtain could reach him; and that the enemy designed to make another incursion into the country around Philadelphia, to glean what yet remained in possession of the inhabitants, he detached general Wayne with orders to seize all horses fit for cavalry or for draught, all cattle and sheep fit for slaughter, as well as every species of forage proper for the use of an army, within fifteen miles of the Delaware, between the Schuylkill and the Brandywine. He was also ordered to destroy the forage on the islands between Philadelphia and Chester, which was so much exposed to the enemy, that it would be impracticable to bring it off.
Actuated by motives which have been already stated, the inhabitants endeavoured as much as possible to defeat the object of the foraging party. Their provisions and teams were secreted, and they gave to the country every appearance of having been entirely pillaged of
those articles which could be usefully employed CHAP. VI. for military purposes. Before any sufficient 1778. aid could be furnished by these means, the bread, as well as the meat, was exhausted, and an absolute famine prevailed in camp. have nothing to add, my lord,” said general Huntingdon in his report to lord Stirling, the major general of the day, “but that the
is in a melancholy condition for want of provisions, and that there is great danger that the famine will break up the army.” The report was closed by lord Stirling with saying; “ I have only to add, that the complaints of the want of provisions and forage have become universal and violent. Every officer speaks of it with dread of the probable consequences.”
General Varnum in his report at the same time said, “I must add that the situation of the camp is such, that in all human probability the army must soon dissolve. Many of the troops are destitute of meat, and are several days in arrear. The horses are dying for want of forage. The country in the vicinity of the camp is exhausted. There cannot be a moral certainty of bettering our circumstances while we continue here."
In an emergency so pressing, the commander in chief, who could derive no sort of aid from the commissary department; used every effort to feed his hungry army. General Greene with a strong detachment was ordered out to
CHAP. VI. obtain in the country, by any means whatever,
an immediate supply. Captain Lee, whose sagacity and activity had long engaged parti. cular attention, was detached to the state of Delaware, and the adjacent parts of Maryland; and colonel Tilghman into Jersey. At the same time, letters written by the committee of congress
camp, stating the situation of public affairs, were dispatched to the governors of several states, accompanied with letters from general Washington, urging them to the greatest exertions for his immediate relief. The situation of his army and his own feelings are thus stated in a letter to governor Clinton of New York. “It is with great reluctance, I trouble you upon a subject which does not properly fall within your province; but it is a subject which occasions me more distress than I have felt since the commencement of the war, and which loudly demands the most zealous exertions of every person of weight and authority, who is interested in the success of our affairs....I mean the present dreadful situation of the army for want of provisions and the miserable prospect for the future.
for the future. It is more alarming than' you will probably conceive, for to form a just idea, it were necessary to be on the spot. For some days past, there has been little less than a famine in camp.... a part of the army has been a week without any kind of flesh and the rest three or four days. Naked and