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Congress Demands Pennsylvania Soldiers for a Final Assault on the British Army
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As Washington gathered the Continental Army around Yorktown, Virginia, for a final, decisive battle against British forces, tactical planning continued for major cities and strategic points throughout America. The importance of victory and adequate defense weighed heavily on the Revolution’s military leaders. Alexander Hamilton, writing to his wife, Eliza, from his post in Annapolis on September 18, was concise: “I am going to do my duty. Our operations will be so conducted, as to economize the lives of men. Exert your fortitude and rely upon heaven.”[1]

[ARTHUR ST. CLAIR]. CHARLES THOMSON. Printed Document, Manuscript Order of the Continental Congress, to Arthur St. Clair, on levying troops in Pennsylvania to organize at Philadelphia, signed by Thomson as Secretary of Congress, September 19, 1781. 1 p., 5¼ x 7¼ in.

Inventory #24011       Price: $6,500

Complete Transcript

By the United States in Congress Assembled

Septr 19, 1781

Ordered that major genl St Clair cause the levies of the Pennsylvania line now in Pennsylvania to rendezvous at or near Philadelphia with all possible expedition

Extract from the minutes

Charles Thomson secy

In January of 1781, the Pennsylvania militia posted near Morristown, New Jersey, rebelled against the difficult conditions at the camp and the low pay (for most, $20 for three years of service). The rebellion was successfully suppressed but left the Continental Army with a critical shortage of men from a strategically important state.

In early 1781, Congress issued another levy on men from Pennsylvania with improved, but still stingy, enlistment terms. Continental military officers again struggled to fill the quota. On July 20, Arthur St. Clair suggested to General Washington in a private letter that the soldiers who had been enlisted might be more critical in the north “should Lord Cornwallis return to N. York.” One month later, Washington ordered St. Clair to “assemble all the Recruits in the State of Pennsilvania at their respective places of Rendesvous, where they may be properly equiped to march on the shortest notice to the Southward.”[2]

On September 15, Washington wrote from Williamsburg, Virginia, with barely concealed irritation at both St. Clair, whom he ordered to march south immediately, and the Pennsylvania Assembly, whose low bounties and poor supply allowances, had made recruiting difficult: “Let it not be said that those Troops are kept from Service for Want of a few Articles which they could wish to be furnished with, when other Troops doing Duty in the Field are combatting almost every Distress imaginable, in the Want of almost every Necessary.”[3] Washington was likely behind this order of Congress.

Despite the urgency of these requests, the final detachment of St. Clair’s Pennsylvania troops did not arrive at Yorktown until October 19, 1781, the day the British surrender terms were finalized.

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