Revolution, 1753-1783

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Author: George Washington  | Date: July, 1775

Washington at Cambridge

Washington’s Letter to the President of Congress,
on His Arrival at Cambridge to Take Command of the Army

Following his appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the American army, General Washington arrived in Cambridge, Mass., on July 2, 1775, after journeying eleven days from Philadelphia, and on the next day, under the famous elm which marked the spot for nearly a century and a half, he took formal command, succeeding General Artemas Ward. Eight days later he addressed this communication to Congress.

The event took place in Cambridge because it had been decided to press the siege of Boston, and Washington was resolved to drive the British out, as his first task.

Meanwhile the Massachusetts Provincial Congress appointed a Committee of Safety to confer with Washington about a suitable residence for himself and General Lee, who had accompanied him, and a mansion subsequently known as the "Craigie house," belonging to a refugee loyalist, was immediately prepared for their reception.

SIR, I arrived safe at his place on the 3d inst., after a journey attended with a good deal of fatigue, and retarded by necessary attentions to the successive civilities which accompanied me in my whole route. Upon my arrival, I immediately visited the several posts occupied by our troops, and as soon as the weather permitted, reconnoitred those of the enemy. I found the latter strongly entrenched on Bunker’s Hill about a mile from Charlestown, and advanced about half a mile from the place of the last action, with their sentries extended about 150 yards on this side of the narrowest part of the neck leading from this place to Charlestown….

The bulk of their army commanded by General Howe, lays on Bunker’s Hill, and the remainder on Roxbury Neck, except the Light Horse, and a few men in the town of Boston. On our side we have thrown up entrenchments on Winter and Prospect Hills, the enemy’s camp in full view at the distance of little more than a mile. Such intermediate points, as would admit a landing, I have since my arrival taken care to strengthen, down to Sewall’s farm, where a strong entrenchment has been thrown up….

My earnest wishes to comply with the instructions of the Congress in making an early and complete return of the state of the army, has led into an involuntary delay in addressing you, which has given me much concern. Having given orders for this purpose immediately on my arrival, and unapprized of the imperfect obedience which had been paid to those of the like nature from General Ward, I was led from day to day to expect they would come in, and therefore detained the messenger. They are not now so complete as I could wish, but much allowance is to be made for inexperience in forms, and a liberty which has been taken (not given) on this subject. These reasons I flatter myself will no longer exist, and of consequence more regularity and exactness in future prevail….

We labor under great disadvantages for want of tents, for though they have been helped out by a collection of now useless sails from the seaport towns, the number is yet far short of our necessities. The colleges and houses of this town are necessarily occupied by the troops, which affords another reason for keeping our present situation. But I most sincerely wish the whole army was properly provided to take the field, as I am well assured, that besides greater expedition and activity in case of alarm, it would highly conduce to health and discipline. As materials are not to be had here, I would beg leave to recommend the procuring a further supply from Philadelphia as soon as possible….

I find myself already much embarrassed for want of a military chest; these embarrassments will increase every day: I must therefore request that money may be forwarded as soon as possible. The want of this most necessary article, will I fear produce great inconveniences if not prevented by an early attention. I find the army in general, and the troops raised in Massachusetts in particular, very deficient in necessary clothing. Upon inquiry there appears no probability of obtaining any supplies in this quarter. And the best consideration of this matter I am able to form, I am of opinion that a number of hunting shirts not less than 10,000, would in a great degree remove this difficulty in the cheapest and quickest manner. I know nothing in a speculative view more trivial, yet if put in practice would have a happier tendency to unite the men, and abolish those provincial distinctions which lead to jealousy and dissatisfaction. In a former part of this letter I mentioned the want of engineers; I can hardly express the disappointment I have experienced on this subject. The skill of those we have, being very imperfect and confined to the mere manual exercise of cannon: Whereas—the war in which we are engaged requires a knowledge comprehending the duties of the field and fortifications. If any persons thus qualified are to be found in the southern colonies, it would be of great public service to forward them with all expedition. Upon the article of ammunition I must reecho the former complaints on this subject: We are so exceedingly destitute, that our artillery will be of little use without a supply both large and seasonable: What we have must be reserved for the small arms, and that managed with the utmost frugality.

I am sorry to observe that the appointments of the general officers in the province of Massachusetts Bay have by no means corresponded with the judgment and wishes of either the civil or military. The great dissatisfaction expressed on this subject and the apparent danger of throwing the army into the utmost disorder, together with the strong representations of the provincial Congress, have induced me to retain the commissions in my hands until the pleasure of the Congress should be farther known, (except General Putnam’s which was given the day I came into camp and before I was apprized of these uneasinesses). In such a step I must beg the Congress will do me the justice I believe, that I have been, actuated solely by a regard to the public good. I have not, nor could have any private attachments; every gentleman in appointment, was an entire stranger to me but from character. I must therefore rely upon the candor of the Congress for their favorable construction of my conduct in this particular. General Spencer was so much, disgusted at the preference given to General Putnam that he left the army without visiting me, or making known his intentions in any respect. General Pomroy had also retired before my arrival, occasioned (as is said) by some disappointment from the Provincial Congress. General Thomas is much esteemed and earnestly desired to continue in the service; and as far as my opportunities have enabled me to judge I must join in the general opinion that he is an able good officer and his resignation would be a public loss. The postponing him to Pomroy and Heath whom he has commanded would make his continuance very difficult and probably operate on his mind, as the like circumstance has done on that of Spencer….

The deficiency of numbers, discipline and stores can only lead to this conclusion, that their spirit has exceeded their strength. But at the same time I would humbly submit to the consideration of the Congress, the propriety of making some further provision of men from the other colonies. If these regiments should be completed to their establishment, the dismission of those unfit for duty on account of their age and character would occasion a considerable reduction, and at all events they have been enlisted upon such terms, that they may be disbanded when other troops arrive. But should my apprehensions be realized, and the regiments here not filled up, the public cause would suffer by an absolute dependence upon so doubtful an event, unless some provision is made against such a disappointment.

It requires no military skill to judge of the difficulty of introducing proper discipline and subordination into an army while we have the enemy in view, and are in daily expectation of an attack, but it is of so much importance that every effort will be made which time and circumstance will admit. In the meantime I have a sincere pleasure in observing that there are materials for a good army, a great number of able-bodied men, active zealous in the cause and of unquestionable courage….

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Chicago: George Washington, "Washington at Cambridge," Revolution, 1753-1783 in America, Vol.3, Pp.130-135 Original Sources, accessed July 6, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=FIE26G3XN3NLIY1.

MLA: Washington, George. "Washington at Cambridge." Revolution, 1753-1783, in America, Vol.3, Pp.130-135, Original Sources. 6 Jul. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=FIE26G3XN3NLIY1.

Harvard: Washington, G, 'Washington at Cambridge' in Revolution, 1753-1783. cited in , America, Vol.3, Pp.130-135. Original Sources, retrieved 6 July 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=FIE26G3XN3NLIY1.