Thursday, January 19, 2012

Letters from the Front: British Landings at Head of Elk

"It is likely we shall have hot work in this Neighbourhood ‘ere long—I wish it most cordially..."

August of 1777 found the Continental and British Armies facing off in Maryland, at the beginning of the campaign for Philadelphia, the then-capital of the United States. Having failed to bring Washington to battle during several campaigns in North Jersey during the opening months of 1777, British General Sir William Howe embarked his men in mid-summer and sailed south to the Chesapeake. His design was to quickly overrun Philadelphia through bypassing the formidable American defenses set across Delaware Bay by moving overland from his landing spot at Head of Elk in Maryland's eastern shore. In today's Letter from the Front, we catch a window into Washington's maneuvers as he concentrated his portion of the Continental Army to face this new threat. Mounted troops were essential to his operation, providing a flexible reaction force as well as a desperately-need body of scouts who could keep tabs on the British advance. Short of horsemen, Washington called on Baylor to bring his regiment of dragoons, which had not finished recruiting, into action. Attached to the bottom of the letter is a post-script by Washington's aide, R. H. Harrison, who replaced Joseph Reed. Harrison's note references the opening salvos of the other campaign of 1777-- British General John Burgoyne's invasion of Upstate New York, which focused on capturing Albany, forging a link with British forces in New York, and successfully cutting the United States in half. As Harrison's note shows, the American forces were full of fight and ready to engage with the redcoats on multiple fronts. For the full transcript of the letter, please read below. Our thanks go out to David Swain for this transcript.


Sol Feinstone Collection No. 1529
George Washington to George Baylor, Wilmington, [DE], 25 Aug. 1777
Transcribed by David Swain October 2011

Wilmington Augt 25th. 1777
Dear Baylor.
            I received your Letter of the 18th by this days post. I have never doubted of your assiduity and industry to raise your Regiment and am but too well satisfied of the difficulties you have met with. I wish you to come on, with such men as you have ready, and that you will have proper officers to recruit the Troop you mention to be deficient, and also the Remainder of the Regiment, if you think there is a probability of doing it.
            The Fleet are laying in Elk River, and by an Express received this Evening the Troops were landing on the West side this morning. As matters are thus circumstanced, I think, the upper Road should be your route.
I am Dr Baylor
Yr most Obedt Servt
G Washington

My good friend—I give you joy from the Bottom of my Heart on Account of the late fortunate & signal stroke given by Old Hank—and also on the threshing the Enemy got at Fort Schuyler. There was a cloud in the north, but I really think matters in that Quarter look well fresh now—I trust Burgoyne will [pg 1] be seriously mauled.—It is likely we shall have hot work in this Neighbourhood ‘ere long—I wish it most cordially—for I flatter myself, Mr Howe will be hard run.  Farewell
Yrs  R H Harrison

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