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Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Letter from Thomas Burke to Richard Caswell
Burke, Thomas, ca. 1747-1783
January 04, 1777
Volume 22, Pages 973-975


Tyaguin, November 4th, 1777.

Dear Sir:—

I left York town, in Pennsylvania, on the 13th ulto., and arrived at home on the 26th, after our retreat from Philadelphia. I remained at Burlington a week, in daily expectation of an action at the British army’s crossing the Schuylkill. In this expectation I was disappointed. The enemy crossed and marched to Philadelphia without opposition. I have not yet heard or been able to suggest a reason which gives me sufficient satisfaction for that event. Our army was on their flank, and why they crossed without an attack remains yet to be sufficiently explained to me. After the enemy had got possession of the city, I set out, and found myself obliged to direct my route by Easton, Bethlehem, Reading and Lancaster to York, which constituted a very different journey. While I was at Reading happened the battle of Chestnut Hill and Germantown, wherein we unfortunately lost General Nash, one of the best, the most respected and regretted officers in the Continental army. The particulars of this battle Mr. Harnett informed me he wrote you before my arrival at York, and I will not trouble you with a repetition. Upon the whole, it appears our miscarriage sprung from the usual source—want of abilities in our superior officers and want of order and discipline in our army. This, sir, is an evil of most dangerous tendency, and to remedy it has been long the object of my thoughts and endeavors. Indeed, I saw very little propect of success

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until very lately. But just before I left Congress I had. the pleasure to find that every gentleman was equally sensible of the necessity of applying a proper remedy. The great difficulty will be to get over particular connections and personal regards, but it must be effectually remedied or all our efforts are in vain.

The miscarriages in Pennsylvania have made it necessary, it seems, to order the troops which defended the passes of the highlands on Hudson river to be withdrawn to reinforce General Washington. General Clinton, taking advantage of this, has attacked and carried Fort Montgomery, burned our frigates in that river and opened the communication between New York and Albany, except only some little, ineffectual lots that remain. The army under General Gates, as well as that under General Washington, were situated so near the enemy that little seemed to be done but to attack them; a battle of considerable importance was every day expected to be fought by each army, and our force was so much superior to that of the enemy that we have every reason to hope for signal success. Nothing indeed can prevent it but some of those unfortunate blunders which have lately been so frequent in our army. Upon the whole, sir, I am in daily expectation of an account of signal victories gained over both armies of our enemies, but I dare not promise it, having been of late so cruelly disappointed of my most sanguine and well-founded expectations.

Very little of consequence has been lately determined in Congress. The Confederation was the subject of daily consideration when I came away. But as I consider the plan now in embryo as what can never be suited to the States, I think nothing decided on it is of consequence. I fear I differ very widely on this subject with a majority in Congress. I deem a time of peace and tranquilty the proper time for agitating so important a concern; but some, and not a few, are of opinion that advantage should be taken of the present circumstances of the States, which are supposed favorable for pressing them to a very close connection. But more, sir, of this when we meet.

My long absence from home has very much deranged my rustic affairs, and they require much of my own particular attention to restore them. This makes it exceedingly inconvenient to me to go to New Bern immediately. I will, therefore, beg to be excused for a week or two, but if my presence be required there, I will set off immediately on your signifying your commands, an opportunity

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for which will immediately offer by the messenger who will bring up a writ for an election of a Commoner for this county to fill an occasional vacancy which has happened.

I saw Captain Caswell at Brandywine, on the field of battle. I saw him next day at Chester, and since I have inquired for him and heard he was well. I have the honor to be, dear sir,

Your most obedient and humble servant,