Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Featured Manuscript: Nathaniel Greene Letter

“O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you!”
General Greene’s Letter to Moore Furman

A letter written in Morristown over 230 years ago has a permanent home just a mile from where it was originally written.

What makes this document so important is that it was written during the 1779-1780 winter encampment by General Nathaniel Greene, the Quarter Master General of the Continental Army. As Quarter Master General, Greene was responsible for everything that dealt with the daily existence of the army such as food, clothing, shelter, transportation and choosing campsites for the army. He was writing to Moore Furman, the quartermaster responsible for collecting supplies in New Jersey.

side 1

Much of the three page letter is filled with the mundane business of the Quartermaster department dealing with issues of transporting supplies, paying bills, and discussing the reorganization of New Jersey’s supply system. But one paragraph offers us a glimpse into life during the winter encampment of 1779-1780.

“Our Army is without Meat or Bread; and have been for two or three days past. Poor Fellows! They exhibit a picture truly distressing. More than half naked, and above two thirds starved. A Country, once overflowing with plenty, are now suffering an Army employed for the defense of everything that is dear and valuable, to perish for want of food. A people too, whose political existance depends upon this Army, and the future enjoyment of what they now possess. O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you! Legislatures are guarding against little trespasses, while they suffer the great Barriers of political security to be thrown down, and the Country overrun.” (see page 1)

side 2

side 3

This was written during the worst part of the encampment of 1779-1780. When the army arrived at Morristown there was already a foot of snow on the ground. General Greene had taken quarters at Arnold’s Tavern on Morristown Green, while General Washington stayed at the Ford Mansion. But the army was five miles south of Morristown in Jockey Hollow. It took the soldiers at least two weeks to build their log cabins. Until then, they slept out in the open or in tents during what turned out to be the worst winter in the recorded history of the United States. When General Greene wrote this letter, at Arnold’s Tavern, it was the third day of a four day blizzard. The snow that had been one foot deep was now four feet deep.

The deep snow prevented supplies from reaching the camp. One soldier recalled that he did not get anything to eat for four days and in desperation he ate bark off of a stick. He also said that some soldiers ate old shoes and officers killed and ate a pet dog. What really frustrated Greene wasn’t the weather; it was the lack of support from the civilian population. He described them as “a land overflowing with plenty” while the army was starving. What Greene didn’t know when he wrote this, was that four days later General Washington would requisition food from every county in New Jersey, promising payment but threatening confiscation if the food was not forthcoming. By the end of January and through early February soldiers letters and diaries comment on how they had plenty of food. But it wouldn’t last long. Eventually, New Jersey’s contribution ran out and food had to be obtained from other states. By spring two Connecticut regiments would mutiny over a lack of food. It was a problem that would frustrate Generals Greene and Washington for the entire war.

Blog entry by Eric Olsen, Park Ranger/Historian, Morristown National Historical Park.

No comments:

Post a Comment