Day 3, Dec. 15, 1777 — The Continental Army settles down at Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills

On December 15, 1777, the Continental Army has been at Gulph Mills and Rebel Hill for two days, so they are able to settle down and recoup a bit of their strength.  As Dr. Albigence Waldo, Surgeon General to the Army writes of his condition, improved as of the past two days, “Quiet. Eat Pessimmens, found myself better for their Lenient Opperation. Went to a house, poor and small, but good food within – eat too much from being so long Abstemious, thro’ want of palatables. Mankind are never truly thankfull for the Benefits of life, until they have experienc’d the want of them. The Man who has seen misery knows best how to enjoy good. He who is always at ease and has enough of the Blessings of common life is an Impotent Judge of the feelings of the unfortunate….”

Even General Washington seems to have settled down a bit to assess the situation that his army is in and to prepare for the upcoming winter.  A chief concern was where was the army going to spend the winter.  At this time in history, armies did not fight during the winter.   They went to their winter headquarters and resumed fighting in the spring.  The British had taken over Philadelphia and its comforts as the colonies’ largest city, and they were settling into a comfortable winter there.  Many historians believe that General Washington wanted to establish winter quarters at Gulph Mills, but that he deferred to a suggestion of General Anthony Wayne, from Paoli, the only general from the area, to make the quarters further down Gulph Road in Valley Forge.  As South Carolinian Lt. Col. John Laurens, an aide-de-camp to George Washington, wrote,”The precise position is not yet fixed upon, in which our huts are to be constructed; it will probably be determined today; it must be in such a situation as to admit of a bridge of communication over the Schuylkill for the protection of the country we have just left.”

General Washington wrote three letters on December 15, 1777.  A chief concern that he raised was finding or foraging or just out-and-out taking food to feed his army.  Both the British and the Continental Army foraged all over the Delaware Valley area for food.  Washington’s entrance to Gulph Mills was delayed and detoured because they came upon a group of some 4,000 British soldiers led by Lord Cornwallis foraging for food in Gulph Mills.  The British successfully stole some 2,000 sheep and cattle from Gulph Mills’ farmers.  But, they must have met with resistance because Lord Cornwallis called the area “Rebel Hill” because it was full of rebels, or what we call “patriots.”

While many of those living on Rebel Hill supported the Continental Army, the army’s needs made demand on their resources.  Gulph Mills got its name because the area is a gulph between the hills, and because there were many actual mills along the Gulph Creek.  Many patriots made their livings at these various mills where such things as flour, linens, toys, and metal tools and objects were made.  For example, Jonathan Sturgis, who owned the home that served as a picket post during the Valley Forge encampment (and later became the Picket Post Restaurant, now Savona Restaurant), owned the mill directly across from his house on the Gulph Creek.


On December 10, the Continental Congress ordered Washington to forage in all of the areas surrounding his army to get food and resources from the local homes and businesses, including the mills.  His letters show that he and his army had already done that and that some locals were supportive, but some were not.  In any event, he ordered his army to go out and get the resources to support themselves.

(A letter from General Washington to his officers reporting on Congress’ resolution of December 10, 1777)

NEAR THE ENEMY [Headquarters, December 15?, 1777.]
    In Congress, December 10, 1777.

Resolved. That General Washington should for the future, endeavour as much as possible to subsist his Army from such parts of the Country as are in its vicinity and especially from such quarters, as he shall deem most likely to be subjected to the power or depredations of the Enemy, and that he issue orders for such purpose to the Commissaries and Quarter Masters belonging to the Army.

That General Washington be directed to order every kind of Stock and provisions in the Country above mentioned, which may be beneficial to the Army, or serviceable to the Enemy, to be taken from all persons without distinction, leaving such quantities only as he shall judge necessary for the maintenance of their families: The Stock and provisions so taken to be removed to places of security, under the care of proper persons to be appointed.

Extract from the proceedings of Congress.

Sir: You will perceive by the foregoing Extracts, that it is the direction of Congress, that the Army should be subsisted, as far as possible, on provisions to be drawn from such parts of the Country, as are within its vicinity and most exposed to the ravages and incursions of the Enemy. Also, that all stock and provisions which may be liable to fall into the Enemy’s hands and which would be serviceable to them, except such a part as shall be absolutely necessary for the maintenance and support of the families to which they may belong, should be removed to places of security under the care of proper persons.

You are therefore, forthwith and upon all future occasions, to comply with their views, as far as it may be in your power, and in a particular manner, you are to exert yourself to draw from the Counties of Bucks, Philadelphia and Chester every Species of provision you possibly can. You will also extend your care to such parts of Jersey, as are near the City of Philadelphia, and in like manner to the Counties in the Delaware State, and to obtain from these several places all the Supplies you can. Besides drawing provisions, you are to remove from such parts of all the before mentioned Counties as may be subject to the depredations of the Enemy, the Stock and Grain of every kind which would be Serviceable to them, to places of security under the restriction and exception above mentioned; keeping a just and exact account of the number, quantity, quality and value, and of the persons to whom they belonged, in order that the owners may be paid a reasonable and equitable compensation for the same. These duties are important and interesting, and it is expected will have your pointed attention, as a regular discharge of them will not only contribute to the more easy support of our own Troops, aid our supplies from the more interior parts of the Country, but also will distress the Enemy, and prevent that injurious and pernicious intercourse too prevalent between them and a number of disaffected Inhabitants. I am &ca.

To the President of Congress

December 15. (attached to General Washington’s letter dated December 14)

Your Favor of the 11th Current,24 with its Inclosure came to hand Yesterday. Congress seem to have taken for granted a Fact, that is really not so. All the Forage for the Army has been constantly drawn from Bucks and Philadelphia Counties and those parts most contiguous to the City, insomuch that it was nearly exhausted and intirely so in the Country below our Camp. From these too, were obtained all the Supplies of flour that circumstances would admit of. The Millers, in most instances, were unwilling to grind, either from their disaffection or from motives of fear. This made the supplies less than they otherwise might have been, and the Quantity which was drawn from thence, was little besides what the Guards, placed at the Mills, compelled them to manufacture. As to Stock, I do not know that much was had from thence, nor do I know that any considerable supply could have been had. I confess, I have felt myself greatly embarrassed with respect to a vigorous exercise of Military power. An Ill placed humanity perhaps and a reluctance to give distress may have restrained me too far. But these were not all. I have been well aware of the prevalent jealousy of military power, and that this has been considered as an

[Note:This letter was one of December 12, a copy of which is entered in the “President’s Letter Book” in the Papers of the Continental Congress . The resolve alluded to is that (December 10) directing the removal of all stock and provisions beyond the reach of the enemy. ]

Evil much to be apprehended even by the best and most sensible among us. Under this Idea, I have been cautious and wished to avoid as much as possible any Act that might improve it. However Congress may be assured, that no exertions of mine as far as circumstances will admit shall be wanting to provide our own Troops with Supplies on the one hand, and to prevent the Enemy from them on the other. At the same time they must be apprized, that many Obstacles have arisen to render the former more precarious and difficult than they usually were from a change in the Commissary’s department at a very critical and interesting period. I should be happy, if the Civil Authority in the Several States thro’ the recommendations of Congress, or their own mere will, seeing the necessity of supporting the Army, would always adopt the most spirited measures, suited to the end. The people at large are governed much by Custom. To Acts of Legislation or Civil Authority they have been ever taught to yield a willing obedience without reasoning about their propriety. On those of Military power, whether immediate or derived originally from another Source, they have ever looked with a jealous and suspicious Eye.

To GOVERNOR JONATHAN TRUMBULL Head Quarters, Gulf Mill, December 15, 1777.

Sir: I have the honor of yours of the 2d Instt. I am much obliged for the attention you have paid to my requests thro’ Genl. Putnam, and I shall ever acknowledge the readiness with which you have Always afforded any assistance from your State, when demanded immediately by myself. I was never consulted in the least upon the Rhode Island expedition, and I cannot therefore pretend to say who were or who were not to blame; but it undoubtedly cost the Public, an enormous sum to little or no purpose.

I observe by the Copy of your letter to Congress, that your State had fallen upon means to supply your troops with Cloathing, I must earnestly beg that it may be sent on to Camp as fast as it is collected. To cover the Country more effectually we shall be obliged to lay in a Manner in the Field the whole Winter, and except the Men are warmly clad they must suffer much.

Among the troops of your State there are 363 drafts whose time of Service will expire with this Month. This deduction, with the former deficiency of the Regiments, will reduce them exceedingly low and as I have represented this Matter to Congress very fully I hope they have before this time urged to the States the necessity which there is of filling their Regiments this Winter. But lest they should not have done it, I beg leave to urge the matter to your immediate consideration. Recruits for the War ought by all means, to be obtained if possible; but if that cannot be done, drafts for one year at least should be called out without delay; and I hope that as many as are now upon the point of going home, will be immediately reinstated. We must expect to loose a considerable number of Men by sickness and otherways, in the course of the Winter and if we cannot take the field in the Spring with a superior or at least an equal force with the Enemy, we shall have laboured thro’ the preceeding Campaigns to little purpose.

You can read more about these momentous six days in my novel, Becoming Valley Forge, and my nonfiction ebook, Six Days in December: General George Washington’s and the Continental Army’s Encampment on Rebel Hill and Gulph Mills, December 13 – 19, 1777.  #RevolutionaryWarRealness

On to Day 4…

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