<br /> Lee Letter: n395

Washington and Lee University

Sender: Committee on Emergency Provisions
Recipient: Thomas Wharton

Sir

Congress have received such unexpected & distressing Accounts from the
General relative to the Situation of the Army that they have appointed
a Comittee to fall upon immediate Methods for Supplying them with
Provisions.1 They are so much in Want of an
instant Supply owing to Delays & Embarassments in the Commissary’s
Department & other unexpected Causes that however plenty we shall
have them in future, at present at least a Removal out of this State
must be the immediate Consequence of even a short Continuance of their
present Circumstances. An instant Supply must be procured from this
State for the Support of the Army until the Supplies expected from the
neighbouring States arrive.2 As it may give
Umbrage to the Inhabitants the Comittee deplore the Necessity they are
under of sending Officers with Parties to collect such Cattle, Flour
& Grain as the Army wants without the least Delay as the Crisis is
too alarming to admit of the Business being postponed on any
Consideration. It will be improper to communicate the real Situation of
the Army but with the Utmost Prudence & Caution. Your Excellency
will therefore judge in what Manner the Concurrence of this State is to
be procured as their vigorous Exertions are necessary in Cooperation
with those of the Comittee who will, at least ’till they see the
Business properly conducted as doubtless it will be by the Government
of this State, be obliged to give Orders for the taking, conveying
& driving all Cattle, Hogs, Pork, Flour & Grain fit for their
Consumption to the Army the Persons employed for this Purpose giving
Certificates to the Owners expressing as nearly as possible the Weight
& Quality of them & agreeing to pay for them at such Prices as
shall be settled by the Convention of Comittees from the several States
who are to meet at New Haven the 15th of Jany next agreeable to a
Resolution of Congress of the 22d Novr last.

I have the Honour to be, with great Respect, Your very obed Servt,

Francis Lightfoot Lee, for the Committee

[P.S.] The Comittee request you will be pleased to inform them whether the
Proclamation ordering the Inhabitants of York & Cumberland Counties
to thresh out their Grain has been issued.

Notes:

Receiver’s copy, Pierpont Morgan Library. In the hand of Richard Peters and
signed by Francis Lightfoot Lee.

1 On 29 December Congress authorized a committee composed of the Board of War
plus three delegates to take immediate measures to supply the urgent
needs of the army, which had been graphically described in
Washington’s letters of 22 and 23 December. However, the emergency
measures ordered by the committee fell short of alleviating the
army’s distress, which had reached crisis proportions because of the
virtual collapse of the entire system for collecting and distributing
supplies to the army. JCC, 9:1065.

Although the source of many complaints since its creation in 1775, the
commissary system had functioned reasonably well until Commissary
General Joseph Trumbull had resigned and returned home in August
1777. His successor, William Buchanan, deprived of many of Trumbull’s
most capable and experienced assistants, who had resigned over
Congress’ refusal to base their compensation on a commission basis,
struggled on with the system he had inherited, but it was clear by
early autumn that sweeping changes were needed. The inherent
difficulties in provisioning large numbers of troops were compounded
by General Howe’s capture of Philadelphia, Congress’ flight to York,
and the British army’s competition for provisions from the region.
Commissary reform and the general reorganization of army
administration were delayed by Congress’ slowness in installing new
members of the reorganized Board of War. Expectations that the new
board would play a large role in the solution of supply problems – visible in Congress’ appointment of both former Quartermaster General
Thomas Mifflin and Commissary General Trumbull to the new board in
November – were ultimately disappointed because Trumbull’s health
prevented him from filling his post and Mifflin refused to respond to
a call to join the congressional committee sent to Valley Forge in
January to study the most pressing issues threatening army morale.
Therefore, it was the old Board of War, which had been authorized on
22 November to continue the work of the War Office until the new
commissioners arrived, that continued the struggle against the army’s
problems, acting either in its traditional capacity or as the nucleus
of ad hoc committees like the Committee on Emergency Provisions.
Although Gates and the new commissioners finally assumed leadership
of the new board in late January 1778, clashes between Continental
officials and Pennsylvania authorities further delayed new measures
for effective provisioning of the army. See JCC, 9:953, 963, 10:47;
Daniel Roberdeau to Thomas Wharton, 17 February, note 2; and William
Duer to Francis Lightfoot Lee, 19 February 1778. For the general
breakdown of the commissary and quartermaster systems and background
material on Congress’ struggles to bring relief to Washington’s
beleaguered troops during their difficult winter at Valley Forge, see
Victor L. Johnson, The Administration of the American Commissariat
during the Revolutionary War (Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania, 1941), pp. 85 – 109; and Erna Risch, Quartermaster
Support of the Army: A History of the Corps, 1775 – 1939
(Washington:
Government Printing Office, 1962), pp. 29 – 37.

2 In a letter to New York Governor George Clinton written at about this time,
Lee, on behalf of the committee, requested that “all the cattle which
can possibly be collected within your State forthwith [be] …
sent forward under proper conductors to General Washington’s Army
without Delay, paying to the persons from whom the cattle are so
taken as yourself and the Council of Safety shall deem reasonable,
and drawing upon Congress for the necessary sums or giving them
certificates expressing the quality, age and weight so taken as
nearly as possible, which certificates will be hereafter paid at such
prices as shall be fixed on by the Convention of the Committees of
the States to be held agreeably to the Recommendation of Congress of
the 22d Nov’ last.

“The Committee have likewise to request that you will give your utmost
assistance to Mr. J. Cuyler, Commissary of Northern Department in
laying up plentiful magazines of Flour and Pork in such parts of the
State as shall be thought best adapted for that purpose, and that you
will likewise be pleased to co-operate for the same purposes with the
Govenor and Council of Connecticut who are desired to superintend the
Commissary Department on the East side of Hudson’s River.

“The Middle Department is exhausted of Cattle fit for the use of the Army,
& the obstruction which have been met with in removing a timely
and sufficient supply of Salt from the Eastern States have baffled
all Prospects of laying in any large Quantities of Pork in the States
of Pennsylvania & Maryland. Without therefore the most Speedy
Exertions are made use of immediately to throw in a supply of cattle
to General Washington’s Army and to lay up Magazines immediately the
most fatal consequences cannot but ensue.

“The vigorous Exertions made by the State of New York at a period when the
affairs of America wore the most alarming aspect, afford us the most
pleasing assurances that at this Crisis their Exertions in the Great
Cause will not be exceeded by any State in the Union which has been
wrote to on this occasion by the Committee.” Calendar of Historical
Manuscripts relating to the War of the Revolution, in the Office of
the Secretary of State, Albany, N.Y., 2 vols. (Albany: Weed, Parsons,
and Co., 1868), 2:308 – 9. See also the committee’s December 31 letter
to Thomas Johnson.