"You will immediately take into your Charge the following Prisoners of War who have petitioned for to be sent in to New York, being all maimed, but otherwise recovered of their wounds..."
As the British and American forces geared up for the Philadelphia Campaign, the daily administrative routine of both armies continued to grind on. Among the more poignant issues addressed was the treatment of prisoners of war. By August 1777, when Elias Boudinot penned the letter below to his colleague in Bucks County, both sides had ample numbers of enemy combatants "behind the wire." In some cases, however, these prisoners posed no further threat to their captors, having been so maimed in battle that they were no longer fit for service. This letter covers just such a group of men-- British soldiers who had recovered from their injuries (as much as they could) and who requested to be sent back to their Army in New York. From there, these men would have been discharged and sent back across the Atlantic to England, on the government dime, unless they opted to stay in America. A lucky few might be recommended for military pensions from the Chelsea Hospital. While the war was over for these men, Boudinot's letter speaks to another side of the issue: the treatment of American prisoners held by the British. One of the standard military conventions of the days was to send money and clothing through enemy lines to the prisoners to aid in their car, since armies of the period did not feel themselves obliged to provide for captured enemy troops (though the British often did the best they could for American prisoners). This practice reflects how the Continental Army attempted to act in every way like a conventional professional European army of the period. Our thanks once again to David Swain for this transcript.
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