Want to save this letter now that you've found it?
It's easy - just create your own collection of letters after signing up for a free account.
My Dear Father :
I wish it were in my power to enter properly into the different subjects which compose your letter of the 20th . In my present circumstances I must content myself with writing you a short and hasty epistle. The particulars of the aifair alluded to by the Chevalier de Failly, I took it for granted you would have received in your official letter, and therefore regretted the less my want of time to inform you properly of it. The matter was in brief as follows : when we march'd from Whitemarah Camp, and were in the act of crossing the Schuylkil, we received intelligence that the enemy were advancing on this side of the river; infact a ravaging party of four thousand under the command of Lord Cornwallis had pass'd the river and were driving Potter's Militia before them. Two regiments of this corps, however, are said to have conducted themselves extremely well and to have given the enemy no small annoyance as they advanced. General Sullivan was Major Gen'l of the day and consequently conducted the march.
His division and part of Wayne's had cross'd the river; being uncertain as to the number of the enemy, and dreading their advance in force. When part of the army should be on one side of the river and part on the other he order'd those troops to recross and our bridge to be render'd impassible.
Notice of this was sent to the Commander in Chief, and when he arrived parties of the enemy were seen on the commanding heights on this side of the river. There was a pause for some time and consultation what was to be done; parties of horse in the mean time were detached to gain certain intelligence of the enemy's number and designs.
It was considered that our army was near a river to which it had march'd by a narrow road, on each side of which thick woods render'd it impossible for the army to display itself; and that if sir Wm Howe sh'd keep up a show on the opposite side Schuylkil, and at the same time march in force from Philadelphia upon us, we must in these circumstances inevitably be ruined. Some pronounced hastily that the enemy had received intelligence of our march, although the resolution had been taken in council only the night before, and that they were prepared to oppose our passage. Gen'l Washington who never since I have been in his family has pass'd a false judgment on such points, gave it as his opinion that the party in view were foragers ; that the meeting was accidental, but, how ever, the enemy might avail themselves of this unexpected discovery, and might draw as much advantage from it as if the rencounter had been premeditated.
The intelligence was received that the enemy were retiring in great haste, but it did not appear satisfactory, and the army was ordered to march to the Swedes Ford three or four miles higher up the river and encamp with the right to the Schuylkil. The next morning the want of provisions I could weep tears of blood when I say it the want of provisions render'd it impossible to march. We did not march till the evening of that day. Our ancient bridge, an infamous construction which in many parts obliged the men to march by Indian file, was restored, and a bridge of waggons made over the Swedes Ford, but fence-rails from necessity being substituted to plank, and furnishing a very unstable footing, this last served to cross a trifling number of troops. As the event turn'd out Gen'l Sullivan's retrograde movement was unspeakably unlucky. If we had persevered in crossing in the first instance, or if we had even crossed in the evening of the first day, the flower of the British army must have fallen a sacrifice to superior numbers.
Among the parties of horse that were out upon this occasion a small detachment of Bland's Regiment composed of trumpeter, farrier, and whatever could be collected for the moment, their Col. at their head, charged a serjeant and guard of Hessians and took them all prisoners.
On the 19th inst. we march'd from the Gulph to this camp, head quarters at the Valley forge.
On the 22 nd at night we received intelligence of a large foraging party of the enemy having pass'd the Schuylkil. Last evening the 22 d Gen'l Potter wrote us that General Howe is with the foragers, from whence we conclude that the greatest part of his army is with him. They encamped on the other side of Derby last night will you believe it starving in a plentiful country. The utmost we could do was to dispatch small parties draughted from each brigade last night, and to take extraordinary means for furnishing the army with provisions to enable a more respectable force to inarch to the enemy. L'd Stirling's Division march cl to-day in order to cover the country and observe the enemy's motions till something more effectual can be done.
I have inquired whence this defect in the Commissariat Department arises; but this must be defer'd till I next have the pleasure of writing to you. I have barely time to repeat my prayers for your speedy recovery, and the assurances of the boundless love of your
Enclosed are letters of thanks, one in French and an attempt at one in English, by way of translation, from L* Col. Fleury. By the bye my military title is L* Colonel.
- John Laurens
- Army Correspondence of Colonel John Laurens in the Years 1777 - 78