J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Gen. Washington "did not utter a word for half an hour"

On 5 Aug 1775, Gen. John Sullivan, a former delegate to the Continental Congress from New Hampshire (shown here), sent an urgent letter to that body about a supply crisis its army had suddenly become aware of:

General [George] Washington has, I presume, already written you on the subjects of this letter. We all rely upon your keeping both the contents of his letter and mine a profound secret.

We had a general council the day before yesterday, and, to our great surprise, discovered that we had not powder enough to furnish half a pound a man, exclusive of what the people have in their horns and cartridge-boxes.

This situation we are reduced to by the Massachusetts Committee [of Safety?] making a return to General Washington of four hundred and eighty-five casks on his arrival, which he supposed were then on hand. To his surprise, he found that it was what was provided last winter, and that there is now on hand but thirty-eight barrels; which, with all the powder in the other magazines, will not furnish have a pound per man.

The General was so struck, that he did not utter a word for half an hour. Every one else was also astounded.
Sullivan asked all other colonies to send their gunpowder supplies to the army around Boston, saying, “Should this matter take air before a supply arrives, our army is ruined.” In other words, if the British military were to learn how little gunpowder the American troops had, they might well try to break through the siege lines and scatter the provincial forces.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Washington seems to have responded with one of the old aristocratic methods of management, looking very, very disappointed. Sullivan by 1778 apparently did not find that an effective method. According to E. Wayne Carp's book _To Starve the Army at Pleasure_, Sullivan, receiving no rations for his men from the American army itself, privately employed a "Rhode Island merchant firm to . . . provide the necessary flour and meat; . . . as a result prices rose at least 25 percent and the provisioning of Washington's army was badly disrupted. . . . Only a direct command from Washington put a stop to Sullivan's disregard for conventional supply channels (111)." My dear general, enough with the pouty face! Let's get the men some food! Now!