Documenting the American South Logo
Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from Cornelius Harnett to Thomas Burke
Harnett, Cornelius, 1723-1781
November 20, 1777
Volume 11, Pages 681-683

[From Executive Letter Book.]

York, Pennsylvania Nov. 20th 1777.

Our affairs, at Head quarters, seem to remain much the same as they were when you left us. The River has been as well defended as could possibly be expected, but our brave Col. Smith was a few days ago obliged to leave Fort Mifflin in ruins to the enemy. Bob Morris still thinks the enemy's ships will not be able to get to Philadelphia this Winter.—others are very doubtful. For my part I anxiously look for the time of the river being frozen over—this seldom happens before Christmas. We can not find whether the reinforcement from New York is yet arrived, but Gen. Howe hourly expects it, some say three some five thousand.

Gen. Washington's strong reinforcement from Gen. Gates' army will be at Head Quarters tomorrow- If you was here, you would

-------------------- page 682 --------------------
think a general attack should be made on the City immediately. Others imagine that Gen. Howe may in the course of the Winter, be starved out, but I think we have no right to expect two British Armies, in one year, to surrender. In my next, however, I will, if I can, send good news.

The expectation of the people is great, they believe as soon as Gates' victorious troops arrive at Head Quarters, Gen. Howe's Army will be ruined. I am also of this opinion.

Col. Martin has been tried by a Court Martial or Court of enquiry, I don't know which, on his behavior at German Town, and acquitted. Our Brigade, the high officers of it, are exceedingly anxious to have a general Officer appointed. I wish it were done. You know the Delegates determined to take the Opinion of the General Assembly.

I wish this could be speedily done. You know better than I do, how our Colonels stand as to rank, Martin, Sumner, Polk, I believe. As far as I can find from the Officers, I have conversed with, they wish for Sumner and Clarke. This might cause several resignations. We have too many Officers for the number of men. You know Congress catch at resignations with great eagerness.

A new Board of War is appointed, Gen. Mifflin, Mr. Hamilton and another gentleman,—I think the Adjutant General of the Army. Gen. Mifflin, resigns his office of Quarter Master General, but holds his rank of Major General without pay.

Your favorite Confederation is at last finished. It only waits to be printed and sent on by the President to the Legislatures of the several States for their approbation, with a pressing letter from Congress on that subject, which you will soon see. Our finances are in such a situation, that unless the States agree immediately, to tax as high as the people can possibly bear, the credit of our money must be ruined. Another very large emission must take place, there is no preventing it. The Treasury Boards see the fatal consequence of this measure, but they also perceive that when we have no money, we shall have no Army. The Loan Offices are already drained to their utmost farthing. The prospect before us is truly distressing, we must however continue further emissions. I tremble at the consequences.

A defeat of Gen. Howe's Army, I think must be attempted: should we succeed, we shall be on our legs again. I wish the

-------------------- page 683 --------------------
whole force of America could be collected and effect this grand purpose.

Our worthy and agreeable friend, Mrs. Trist, is well. I shall soon send my carriages for her and Mrs. Ross. They intend to visit Mrs. Ross' relation in this Town. For God's sake get the General Assembly to recommend General Officers for our Brigade, as soon as Col. Shephard joins them, they will consist of at least two thousand rank and file. They are exceedingly uneasy. They are at present commanded by the brave Mac Dougal, yet they imagine that they appear contemptible in the eyes of the Army, not having one General Officer from our State. They insist that they have, according to the proportions of men, a right to a Major General and two Brigadiers.

I am Dear Sir,
Your most affec. and obed't Serv't

P. S. For God's sake endeavour to get some Gentlemen appointed in my stead. I can not stay here any longer with any pleasure.