Description

    George Washington Manuscript Letter Signed "G:o Washington," one page, 8" x 13". Head Quarters, February 26, 1780. This letter is published in Fitzpatrick's The Writings of George Washington which identifies the writer of the text as Alexander Hamilton, Washington's secretary and aide-de-camp and future secretary of the treasury. Integral leaf addressed by Hamilton: "Major General Greene/ Q.M.G.," franked "Public Service." In full, "In answer to your note on the subject of Col [Clement] Biddles letter. I can only say that I have already recommended his waiting upon the Legislature [of New Jersey] and I still think he will have it in his power to make representations for the good of the service; but though I wish the measure to take place, I would not press it or do violence to the scruples which I cannot but acknowledge are natural in Col Biddies situation. But if he cannot reconcile it to his feelings to go - I shall be glad some other mode may be fallen upon to give the assembly the necessary information and excite to those exertions which the exigency of our affairs requires." Clement Biddle had been appointed by General Nathanael Greene his aide-de-camp in November 1776. On July 1, 1777, General Washington announced the appointment of Biddle as Commissary General of Forage for the main army, putting him in charge of the supply of grain. By late 1779, credit and impressment were the only means by which the animals of the army could be fed. To move the troops into winter quarters at Morris Town, New Jersey, in November 1779, Washington had authorized the impressment of forage as the army marched through New York and New Jersey. The supply situation continued to deteriorate. Biddle had no more hay, and on February 24, 1780, he informed General Greene that the grain in magazines (military warehouses) also would soon be exhausted. By order of Congress, he had neither money nor authority to purchase forage. New Jersey passed an act to provide provisions and forage for the use of the army in its state and appointed purchasing agents in the various counties, naming Azariah Dunham as superintendent. Informed of the situation, General Washington directed Biddle to obtain an accurate account of purchases from Dunham and, if the supply was not sufficient, he was to lay before the New Jersey Legislature the state of the magazines and the need to supply forage until navigation and the condition of the roads permitted bringing forage from the south. In this letter, General Washington informs General Greene of the situation.

    On March 6, 1780, nine days later, Washington wrote to the President of Congress, in part, "I find myself under the necessity of transmitting to Your Excellency the Copy of a letter I received Yesterday from the Quarter Master General, pointing out afresh the distresses of his department...I do not know what can or will be done to give relief; but from all I hear and all I see, things really appear to me in this department to be in a very alarming train, and to threaten the most interesting and fatal consequences. The inclosure No 2 (a Copy of a letter of the 24th Ulto. from Colo Biddle to the Quarter Master Genl.) will shew too how we are, and are like to be distressed on account of forage. In consequence of this representation, I prevailed on Colo Biddle as the most eligible plan that occur'd to me, to wait on the Assembly at Trenton and to lay our difficulties and apprehensions on this head before them but what they will or can do I cannot determine. I am very apprehensive that we shall experience great difficulties for want of proper supplies." Congress still had no money for forage. The Journals of the Continental Congress reported on March 7, 1780, that "the Treasurer of the United States...appears to be possessed of about 1,000,000 of dollars only." On May 16, 1780, Col. Biddle wrote to Gen. Washington, advising him that he had resigned the office of Commissary General of Forage to devote his attention to his neglected business affairs with the Treasury Board. Washington wrote at once to the Treasury Board that Biddle's services were so essential that it would be better to defer the settlement of his accounts. The forage problem continued. Congress directed the Quartermaster General to apply to the executives of the states nearest the encampment of the main army to furnish such quantities of forage as would enable him to form magazines for the use of the army. It also ordered him to call on the more distant states to furnish intermediate posts with forage for transporting provisions and stores to the army. Later in 1780, when Washington's army arrived at its winter quarters in New Windsor, New York, the horses of the Artillery and of the spare ammunition wagons were sent to Pennsylvania. The assistant deputy quartermasters there were told to sell old and worn-out horses and provide for the other horses or prevail on the farmers to take care of them. The rest of the army's horses were sent to the western counties of Massachusetts and Connecticut. Congress never found a satisfactory solution to the problem of forage supply for the Continental Army. Luckily, British General Cornwallis supplied the answer: on October 19, 1781, he surrendered to General Washington and the war was over. Washington's quill pen didn't work too well on the "G", then dripped on the "W". This historic letter has been professionally strengthened on verso at edges and folds with tissue and is in fine condition.


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