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I HAVE spent an hour this morning in the congregation of the dead. I took a walk into the Potter's field, a burying ground between the new stone prison and the hospital, and I never in my whole life was affected with so much melancholy. The graves of the soldiers, who have been buried in this ground from the hospital and bettering house during the course of the last summer, fall and winter, dead of the smallpox and camp diseases, are enough to make the heart of stone to melt away. The sexton told me that upwards of two thousand soldiers had been buried there, and by the appearance of the graves and trenches, it most probable to me, he speaks within bounds. To what causes this plague is to be attributed I Don't know. It seems to me that the want of tents, clothes, soap, vegetables, vinegar, vaults, &c., cannot account for it all. Oat meal and peas are a great preservative of our enemies. Our frying pans and gridirons slay more than the sword. Discipline, discipline is the great thing wanted. There can be no order nor cleanliness in an army without discipline. We have at last determined on a plan for the sick, and have called into the service the best abilities in physic and chirurgery that the continent affords. I pray God it may have its desired effect, and that the lives and health of the soldiers\may be saved by it. Disease has destroyed ten men for us, where the sword of the enemy has killed one.
I Upon my return from my pensive, melancholy walk, I heard a piece of disagreeable news. That the ship Morris, Captain Anderson, from Nantes, with cannon, arms, gun-locks, powder, &c., was chased into Delaware Bay by two or three men of war ; that she defended herself manfully against their boats and barges, but finding no possibility of getting clear, she ran aground. The crew and two French gentlemen passengers got on shore, but the Captain, determined to disappoint his enemy in part, laid a train and blew up the ship, and lost his own life, unfortunately, in the explosion. I regret the loss of so brave a man much more than that of the ship and cargo. The people are fishing in order to have what they can, and I hope they will save the cannon. The French gentle men, it is said, have brought despatches from France to the Congress. I hope this is true. If it is, I will let you know the substance of it, if I may be permitted to disclose it.
- John Adams
- Letters of John Adams, Addressed to His Wife. Edited by His Grandson, Charles Francis Adams, Volume I, 1841