General George Washington was intimately involved in virtually everything that concerned the Continental Army. According to the following excerpts from Washington's General Orders to his troops, what are some of the day-to-day issues with which he had to deal? Did any of these issues come as a surprise to you? Why does Washington want the inoculation against smallpox to be kept secret?
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The General understanding, there is a bad Custom prevailing, of the Non-Commissioned Officers and Soldiers absenting themselves from Guard, under pretense of going for Provisions; it is therefore order'd that all Officers and Soldiers, bring their provision to the Guard they mount, and on no pretence quit their Guard, untill it is regularly dismissed.
Notwithstanding the orders of the provincial Congress, some persons are so daring as to supply the Soldiers with immoderate Quantities of Rum, and other spiritous Liquors; any Sutler, Tavern-keeper, or licenced Innholder, who shall presume after the date of this order, to sell to any non-commissioned Officer, or Soldier, any spiritous liquor whatsoever, without an Order in writing, from the Captain of the company to which such non-Commissioned Officer and Soldier belongs; he or they so offending, may expect to be severely punished.
As the Health of any Army principally depends upon Cleanliness; it is recommended in the strongest manner, to the Commanding Officer of Corps, Posts and Detachments, to be strictly diligent, in ordering the Necessarys to be filled up once a Week, and new ones dug; the Streets of the encampments and Lines to be swept daily, and all Offal and Carrion, near the camp, to be immediately burned: The Officers commanding in Barracks, or Quarters, to be answerable that they are swept every morning, and all Filth and Dirt removed from about the houses. Next to Cleanliness, nothing is more conducive to a Soldiers health, than dressing his provisions in a decent and proper manner. The Officers commanding Companies should therefore daily inspect the Camp Kitchen, and see the Men dress their Food in a wholesome way.
Notwithstanding the Orders already given, the General hears with astonishment, that not only Soldiers, but Officers unauthorized are continually conversing with the Officers and Sentrys of the Enemy; any Officer, Non Commissioned Officer or Soldier, or any Person whatsoever, who is detected holding any Conversation, or carrying on any Correspondence with any of the Officers or Sentrys of the advanc'd posts of the enemy, will be immediately brought before a General Court Martial, and punished with the utmost severity. The General is alone to judge of the propriety of any intercourse with the enemy and no one else is to presume to interfere.
The constant firing in the Camp, notwithstanding repeated Orders to the contrary, is very scandalous, and seldom a day passes but some persons are shot by their friends--Once more therefore the General entreats the officers to prevent it, and calls upon the Soldiers to forbear this practice--Peices that cannot be drawn are to be discharged in a Volley, at Retreat Beating, and not otherwise, and then by command of the officer.
The General is resolved to put a stop to plundering, and converting either public, or private property, to their own use when taken off, or found by any soldiers--He therefore calls upon all the officers, to exert themselves against it, and if the Colonels, or other officers of Regiments see, or know, of any Horses, Furniture, Merchandize, or such other Property, in the hands of any officer or soldier; and do not immediately take hold of it, giving immediate notice of it to the Brigadier General; such Officer will be deemed a party, brought to a Court Martial, and broke with Infamy: For let it ever be remembered, that no plundering Army was ever a successful one.
Dear Sir: Finding the small pox to be spreading much and fearing that no precaution can prevent it from running thro' the whole of our Army, I have determined that the Troops shall be inoculated. This Expedient may be attended with some inconveniences and some disadvantages, but yet I trust, in its consequences will have the most happy effects. Necessity not only authorizes but seems to require the measure, for should the disorder infect the Army, in the natural way, and rage with its usual Virulence, we should have more to dread from it, than from the Sword of the Enemy. Under these Circumstances, I have directed Doctr. Bond, to prepare immediately for inoculating in this Quarter, keeping the matter as secret as possible, and request, that you will without delay inoculate all the Continental Troops that are in Philadelphia and those that shall come in, as fast as they arrive. You will spare no pains to carry them thro' the disorder with the utmost expedition, and to have them cleansed from the infection when recovered, that they may proceed to Camp, with as little injury as possible, to the Country thro' which they pass. If the business is immediately begun and favoured with the common success, I would fain hope they will be soon fit for duty, and that in a short space of time we shall have an Army not subject to this, the greatest of all calamities that can befall it, when taken in the natural way. I am &c.
View the original documents by clicking on the links above. All of these documents are in the George Washington Papers. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.