G. Washington Twice Signed 4 Page Detailed Troops Letter, "supposing all the men alive, 142 engaged for the War", Evokes Henry "Lighthorse" Lee, Hazen, Webb, Lamb, 1780, Superb!
GEORGE WASHINGTON. Manuscript Letter Signed, "Go: Washington", then again as "GW-n", at postscript, 4pp bifolium, 8.25" x 13", Morristown, February 20, 1780. Body of letter written by Robert Hanson Harrison (1745-1790). Docketing to page 4. Silked; small losses along horizontal folds obscuring some words; mild toning.
This important letter details the number of men in the Continental Army from Pennsylvania to help the state’s President of the Supreme Executive Council (governor) determine how many men he needed to recruit to comply with a recent resolution of the Continental Congress.
From November 1779 to June 1780, George Washington and the Continental Army spent their second winter at Morristown, New Jersey. Beyond even Valley Forge, this was the harshest winter of the eighteenth century. It snowed twenty-eight times during the encampment, compounding the misery caused by shortages of food, shoes, blankets et al. In mid-December, he sent a circular letter to several governors informing them that the Army would “infallibly disband in a fortnight” without relief. Washington had to confiscate grain and cattle from nearby farms to prevent his troops from starving. He somehow managed to keep his men together, though they remained cold, hungry, disgruntled, and in danger of a British attack.
During the encampment, two months before this letter, Benedict Arnold was court-martialed and tried for abuse of his power for financial gain. In the spring, regiments from the Connecticut Line in the camp mutinied; although quickly suppressed, this demonstrated the demoralized state of the Army. In May, the Marquis de Lafayette rejoined Washington at Morristown after successfully persuading the King Louis XVI of France to support the Revolution and pledge another French fleet. And early in 1780, Alexander Hamilton again met and began a courtship of his future wife Elizabeth Schuyler at Morristown; they married in December of 1780.
The letter, to Gov. Joseph Reed, in full, with page breaks added for ease of reading, "Your Excellency will have received I make no doubt, a copy of an Act of Congress of the 9th Inst. establishing the quotas of non commissioned Officers & privates to be furnished by the Respective States for the ensuing Campaign, and directing the Men in the Additional Corps the Guards, Artillery & Horse and the Regimented Artificers in the departments of the Quarter Master General and Commissary General of Military Stores as well as those of the Battallions in the State lines, whose times of service do not expire before the last of September next, to be counted as part of the Quotas of the States to which they respectively belong. The Quota of the State of Pennsylvania is fixed at 4855, and I have now the honor to inclose your Excellency a Special Return of the Non Commissioned Officers and privates in her ten Battallions with this army, and of the men belonging to her in the German Battallion, Spencers, Hazens & Webbs Regiments, Lamb’s & Proctors Regiments of Artillery & Jones’s & Coron’s Companies, Artillery Artificers Lee’s Partizan Corps & Vonheer’s Marachausse’ Troop designating in a particular manner, the proportion
<2> engaged for the War, and by Monthly Columns the period when and in what proportion the Service of the Rest will expire. Your Excellency will observe by the Act, that the men whose Engagements expire before the last of September, as I have already taken the liberty to mention, are not to be counted as part of the 4855 and therefore, according to the Return inclosed the deficiency to be raised is 1422. There are however a few corps besides those I have mentioned, not acting immediately with this part of the Army, in which there may be some men belonging to the State, and I consider it as an unlucky circumstance that I have not such Returns of them in my possession as will ascertain the point and the credit to which the State might be entitled in consequence. I expect returns of those Corps in the course of a few days, when, if there are any men in them belonging to the State, I shall take the earliest occasion to communicate it and their number. I have thought it more adviseable to transmit the present Return than to delay it, till those of every little detached Corps could be collected, as the want of those, admitting there should be a few men in them belonging
<3> to the State can make no material difference with respect to the deficiency to be levied, and as the postponing the business on that account would interfere essentially with the views of Congress and indeed intirely defeat them, as to the time assigned for the Recruits taking the Field. I would observe before I conclude that the Return transmitted bears the fullest number of men under every description that the State can have in the Ten Battallions and other Corps, which it comprehends and they would most probably be found, if an [?] inspection would take place, to fall a good deal short of the complement, as there is always a material difference between an army on paper and it’s real efficient strength. A comparative view of the Total amount of an army borne upon every general Return, and of the Column of present fit for duty & the absentees that can be satisfactorily accounted for demonstrates this beyond question. P.S. By a Common Regimental Return in December the 8 Pennysilvania (Brodhead’s not
<4> in the State transmitted) amounted in the Whole to 189 non Commissioned Officers & privates & Morehead’s Independent Corps to 18th; but how their Inlistments stand I cannot precisely tell. I have been informed however that they are generally for limited & short periods. / According to an Abstract Return obtained from the Quarter Master General in October The Total of the German Battallion would be 208, out of which number the Inlistments of 66 expire before September. Those will be then, supposing all the men alive, 142 engaged for the War; but I cannot determine what proportion of those belong to Pennsilvania or Maryland. / By a [?] the Pennsilvania part of the German Battallion just now received from the Board of War, there were 116 men in it when it was given in last year, enlisted for the War, belonging to Pennsilva."
In February 1778, the Continental Congress had authorized the first Continental Army draft. It applied to eleven of the thirteen states, excepting South Carolina and Georgia. The act called for a nine-month levy to fill quotas, and Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and North Carolina instituted a draft among their state militias to fill their quotas for the Continental Army. General George Washington continued calling for a long-term draft.
On February 9, 1780, the Continental Congress passed a resolution, “That for the ensuing campaign the states be respectively required to furnish, by draught or otherwise, on or before the first day of April next, their respective deficiencies of the number of thirty-five thousand two hundred and eleven men, exclusive of commissioned officers, which Congress deem necessary for the service of the present year.” Pennsylvania’s quota of 4,855 was the third largest, behind only Massachusetts and Virginia, each at 6,070. Georgia was the only state with no quota. All men currently in the army whose term of service did not expire before September 30, 1780, would count toward the state’s quota, reducing the number they would have to draft.
The resolution required the commander in chief to “transmit to the several states accurate returns of the troops now in service belonging or credited to their respective quotas.” In obedience to the resolution, Washington sent this letter acknowledging Pennsylvania’s 3,433 men in the Continental Army, leaving a deficit of 1,422 to be raised. Washington acknowledged that there may be additional men in detached units that would be counted, adding a postscript on 116 soldiers from the German Battalion and an undetermined number from Daniel Brodhead’s 8th Pennsylvania Regiment and Samuel Morehead’s Independent Corps, who were in the Western Department garrisoned Fort Pitt and other posts.
Except in Massachusetts, the conscription effort produced poor results, and the strength of the Continental Army steadily diminished from 1779 to 1783. Pennsylvania passed a Militia Act in March 1780, which required all white men between the ages of 18 and 53 capable of bearing arms to serve two months of militia duty on a rotating basis.
Joseph Reed (1741-1785) was born in New Jersey and moved with his family to Philadelphia. He attended the Philadelphia Academy (later University of Pennsylvania) and graduated from the College of New Jersey (Princeton University) in 1757. He studied the law under Richard Stockton and then in the Middle Temple in London. Returning to Philadelphia, he established a successful law practice. In October 1775, he suggested the design for the First Navy Flag for the Continental Navy. He began his military service as Adjutant-General of the Continental Army and a confidant of General Washington. As a member of the Continental Congress in 1778, Reed was one of the Pennsylvania signers of the Articles of Confederation. He served as President of the Supreme Executive Council of the state (in effect, governor) from December 1778 to November 1781. In that position he oversaw the abolition of slavery in the state and the awarding of lifetime “half-pay” to Revolutionary War soldiers. After a trip to England in 1784 in hopes of improving his health, Reed returned to Philadelphia, where he died at the age of 43.
Provenance: John Gribbel Collection, Parke Bernet, January 22-24, 1941, lot 733.
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