On December 14, 1777, the condition of the 11,000 members of the Continental Army at Gulph Mills and Rebel Hill was one of extreme hardship. The soldier’s tents were not to arrive for two more days. There was little, if any food.
Dr. Albigence Waldo, Surgeon General to the Continental Army and a member of a Connecticut Brigade wrote, “Prisoners and Deserters are continually coming in. The Army which has been surprisingly healthy hitherto, now begins to grow sickly from the continued fatigues they have suffered this Campaign. Yet they still show a spirit of Alacrity and Contentment not to be expected from so young Troops. I am sick and discontented–out of home–poor food–hard lodging–weather cold, fatigue–nasty clothes. What sweet felicities I have left at home — a charming wife — pretty children — good cooking all agreeable — all harmonious. Nasty Cloaths – nasty Cookery – Vomit half my time – smoak’d out my senses – the Devil’s in’t – I can’t Endure it – Why are we sent here to starve and Freeze -Here all Confusion – smoke and Cold – hunger and filthyness – A pox on my bad luck. There comes a bowl of beef soup – full of burnt leaves and dirt, sickish enough to make a Hector spue – away with it Boys – I’ll live like the Chameleon upon Air. Poh! Poh! crys Patience within me – you talk like a fool. Your being sick Covers you mind with a Melancholic Gloom, which makes every thing about you appear gloomy. See the poor Soldier, when in health – with what cheerfulness he meets his foes and encounters every hardship – if barefoot, he labours thro’ the Mud and Cold with a Song in his mouth extolling War and Washington – if his food be bad, he eats it notwithstanding with seeming content – blesses God for a good Stomach and Whistles it into digestion. But harkee! Patience, a moment: there comes a soldier — his worn out shoes, his legs nearly naked from the remains of an only pair of stockings. His breeches not enough to cover his nakedness, his shirt hanging in strings, his hair dishelveled, his face meagre, his whole appearance pictures a person forsaken and discouraged. He comes and cries with an air of wretchedness and despair: — ‘I am sick, my feet lame, my legs are sore, my body covered with a tormenting itch, my clothes are worn out, my constitution broken. I fail fast and all the reward I shall get is — ‘Poor Will is dead!’ People who live at home in Luxury and Ease, quietly possessing their habitation, Enjoying their Wives and families in Peace; have but a very faint idea of the unpleasing sensations, and continual Anxiety the Man endures who is in Camp, and is the husband and parent of an agreeable family. These same People are willing we should suffer every thing for their Benefit and advantage, and yet are the first to Condemn us for not doing more!!”
General Washington continues to issue orders to help get his troops settled. And, he writes to the President of Congress about the army’s movement in to “the Gulph” and the army’s December 11 skirmishes with the British in Whitemarsh and the Gulph.
From General George Washington:
GENERAL ORDERS Head Quarters, at the Gulph, December 14, 1777.
Parole Raritan. Countersigns Schuylkill, Delaware.
The regiments of horse are to draw provisions of any issuing Commissary, lying most convenient to them, upon proper returns therefor.
Such of the baggage as is not absolutely necessary for the troops, and all the Commissarys and others stores, are to remain on this side of the gulph.
To THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS
Head Quarters near the Gulph, December 14, 1777.
On Thursday morning we marched from our Old Encampment and intended to pass the Schuylkill at Madisons Ford [Matson’s Ford],where a Bridge had been laid across the River. When the first Division and a part of the Second had passed, they found a body of the Enemy, consisting, from the best accounts we have been able to obtain, of Four Thousand Men, under Lord Cornwallis possessing themselves of the Heights on both sides of the Road leading from the River and the defile called the Gulph, which I presume, are well known to some part of your Honble. Body. This unexpected Event obliged such of our Troops, as had crossed to repass and prevented our getting over till the succeeding night. This Manoeuvre on the part of the Enemy, was not in consequence of any information they had of our movement, but was designed to secure the pass whilst they were foraging in the Neighbouring Country; they were met in their advance, by General Potter with part of the Pennsylvania Militia, who behaved with bravery and gave them every possible opposition, till they were obliged to retreat from their superior numbers. Had we been an Hour sooner, or had had the least information of the measure, I am persuaded we should have given his Lordship a fortunate stroke or obliged him to have returned, without effecting his purpose, or drawn out all Genl Howe’s force to have supported him. Our first intelligence was that it was all out. He collected a good deal of Forage and returned to the City, the Night we passed the River. No discrimination marked his proceedings. All property, whether Friends or Foes that came in their way was seized and carried off.
On to Day 3…
Read more about these momentous six days in my 11/19 article in the Journal of the American Revolution, Valley Forge’s Threshold: The Gulph Mills Encampment , or 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