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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from John Penn to Richard Caswell
Penn, John, 1740 or 1-1788
October 10, 1777
Volume 11, Pages 649-650

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[From Executive Letter Book.]

Pennsylvania York Town, Oct. 10th, 1777.


On the 4th Instant about six in the morning General Washington attacked Genl Howe's army in different places, the enemy were surprised and drove every where for three hours. Our Troops behaved with great courage, and to their Honor tho' they passed thro' the enemy's Camp where their Tents were full of Cloth and other things, yet none stopt to plunder, Genl Howe was so alarmed that it is said that Chester was pitched upon as the place for his army to retreat to, but unfortunately at that instant two of our Columns mistook each other for enemies, and both returned in such haste that there was no such thing as rallying the men. This was owing to a very great fog, that lasted until after the Battle which continued until nine o'clock besides there was no air to carry off the smoke of the Guns so that a man could not see 50 yards.

The Enemy were astonished at our retreat as they looked upon every thing as lost with them, they give Genl Washington great credit for the manner of his attack as they often tried but never could once flank us, we brought away all our Cannon and nearly all of our wounded. Poor Genl Nash was killed by a Cannon ball with his horse. His Brigade was to act as a Corps-de-Reserve. I believe very few of our Troops were engaged from what I hear, and that our worthy Genl was killed at a great distance by mere accident, he was highly esteemed in the army. It is said Col. Buncombe & Col. Erwin are taken prisoners by being lame, tho' not wounded. Your son I am told is very well indeed. The above are all I can hear of that belonged to North Carolina that suffered. We have no return yet of our killed and wounded, it is supposed to consist of about 700. The accounts given by different persons make the Enemy's loss to be very considerable, they say that near 300 wagon loads of their wounded were sent to the Barracks in Philadelphia, and that Genl Howe refused to let the Citizens walk on the field before the dead were taken care of. Genl Agnew is dead. Sir William Erskine wounded in the head, supposed to be since dead,

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and a very large number of others killed and wounded. As soon as we get returns, I will transmit them to Carolina. General Washington has had a considerable reinforcement from Virginia, and elsewhere, since the Battle, I hope he will give Howe another stroke before we lose psssession of the river Delaware, which would ruin him. Our men are in high spirits on finding they can make the Enemy's best Troops run by attacking them with courage, and are sensible now if they had rallied or not have been surprised in the manner above mentioned, that Genl Howe and his whole army would have been ruined. Our affairs to the Northward are in a good way, I hope soon to have it in my power to write you that Burgoyne and his Troops are in our hands. Enclosed is a letter from Buchanan, Commissary Genl, relative to the Pork you mentioned.

Please inform Mr. Nash that I will endeavour to have proper care taken of the Genl's effects for the benefit of his family. I wrote in a very great hurry to him two days ago yesterday requesting he would shew you the letter, must now request your Excellency would communicate this to Mr. Nash. I am with due respect, Sir.

your Obt Servt.,


Since writing this letter I am told that Genl Washington is marching towards Philadelphia, to give Genl Howe another attack, his men are in high spirits, we are still in possession of the River. Miss Lucy Leonard a young lady lately out of the City, says the British officers have long faces, and declare that they have not had such a drubbing since Bunker Hill, that the city appears to be in mourning, the cry of the Tories was that they must leave the Town with Genl Howe, that all the Hospitals with several empty houses could not contain their wounded, that Genls Agnew, Grant, Kniphausen, and Sir William Erskine had died of their wounds. Your son is well, I am told that Genl Nash was wounded in the beginning a great way off by accident, as he could not be seen. A gentleman informs me he was so ill as to make any assistance unnecessary, and that he left him on Monday at the last gasp.

I am yours &c.