WASHINGTON, George. Letter signed ("G:o Washington") as Commander-in-Chief, Continental Army, to George Clinton, marked "Circular," at top of page 1, Head Quarters, Middle Brook [Morristown, N.J.], 22 May 1779. 1¾ pages, folio, integral blank (detached), small fold separation, marginal tear catching the flourish above the "t" in signature, recipient's docket.
WASHINGTON'S TAKES STOCK OF HIS SHRINKING ARMY, AND PLEADS FOR CRITICAL SUPPLIES AND REINFORCEMENTS
At this date, with summer campaigns likely to be launched, Washington's main force in the Jerseys numbered a mere 7,000 men, half-starved, unpaid, and with uniforms in tatters after a particularly harsh winter encampment. The enlistments of many were about to expire. The northern outposts too were thinly manned, and any spare troops had been sent to aid the Americans besieged in Charleston. Washington's discouragement is palpable: "The situation of our affairs at this period appears to me peculiarly critical...which impels me to take the liberty of addressing you...The state of the army in particular is alarming on several accounts, that of its numbers is not among the least. Our battalions are exceedingly reduced, not only from the natural decay incident to the best composed armies; but from the expiration of the term of service for which a large proportion of the men were engaged. The measures hitherto taken to replace them...have been attended with very partial success..." New troops from Virginia had to send to the south, while another large contingent sent northward. What remains in his command, he observes, is woefully inadequate "compared with the force of the enemy now actually at New York and Rhode Island." This demands "the zealous attention of the different legislatures."
The nation's problems are legion, he reports: "When we consider the rapid decline of our currency, the general temper of the times, the disaffection of a great part of the people, the lethargy that overspreads the rest, the increasing danger to the Southern States, we cannot but dread the consequences of any misfortune in this quarter; and must feel the impolicy of trusting our security, to a want of activity and enterprise in the Enemy."
He warns that the war is not likely to end soon: "in expectation of peace and an opinion of the Enemy's inability to send more troops..., I fear, have had too powerful an influence in our affairs."
In fact, "accounts we receive from Europe uniformly announce vigorous preparations to continue the war, at least another campaign. The debates...in Parliament wear this complexion. The public papers speak confidently of large reinforcements destined for America. The minister...asserts positively that reinforcements will be sent over to Sir Henry Clinton." And, he adds, even if British reinforcements total only 5,000 men, it "will give the Enemy a superiority very dangerous to our safety..."
Washington calls on the states to make "immediate and decisive efforts" to raise more troops "to make our military force more respectable." In closing, he deplores the "want of system, which has prevailed in the clothiers department." This has become "a source of innumerable evils: defective supplies, irregular and unequal issues, great waste loss and expense to the public, general dissatisfaction in the army, much confusion and perplexity," etc. "I have for a long time past most ardently desired to see a reformation," he writes. New resolves of Congress has called on the states to address the issue, so "I take the liberty to press their execution without loss of time. The service suffers amazingly from the disorder in this department...."
The situation was even worse than Washington suspected. The day before, food rations in the Middle Brook camp were exhausted. On the 25th, several Connecticut regiments--10 days behind on rations-- came close to fomenting a general mutiny, a crisis narrowly averted by the quick intercession of key officers (for an account see Freeman, 164-166). Published in Writings, ed. J. C. Fitzpatrick, 15:122-124. Provenance: See note preceding 316.