Original Document
Original Document
Dr. Benjamin Rush Reports on Conditions Following the Battle of Brandywine, October 1, 1777.

Dr. Benjamin Rush participated in a delegation of physicians who went to receive wounded American soldiers following the Battle of Brandywine. Worried about the stark contrast between the professionalism of the British soldiers and the mayhem he saw at American camps and hospitals, Rush sent a blunt letter to John Adams of the Continental Congress warning, "we are on the brink of ruin." During this period, Rush came to believe that the Congress should replace George Washington as General-in-Chief.

"…I was struck upon approaching Genl. Howe's line with the vigilance of his Sentries and picket. They spoke, they stood, they looked like the Safe-guard of the whole army. After being examined by 9 or 10 inferior Officers I was not permitted to enter their camp 'till an officer of distinction was sent for, who After asking a few questions ordered a guard to conduct me to Head Quarters.

I was next struck with their Attention to Secrecy in all their operations. I was confined upon parole to the district where our wounded lay, and when the whole army marched by my lodgings I was confined by an Officer to a back room. They lock up the houses of every family that is suspected of being in the least unfriendly to them in their marches thro' the country, and if they are discovered by a countryman whom they suspect, they force him to accompany their Army 'till their rout or disposition are so far changed that no mischief can arise from the intelligence he is able to convey.

They pay a supreme regard to the Cleanliness and health of their men. After the battle on the 11th: of last month the Soldiers were Strictly forbidden ….There is the utmost order and contentment in their hospitals. The wounded whom we brought off from the field were not half so well treated, as those whom we left in Genl. Howe's hands. Our Officers and Soldiers spoke with gratitude and affection of their Surgeons. An Orderly man was Allotted to every ten of our wounded, and British Officers called every morning upon our Officers to know whether their Surgeons did their duty. You must not attribute this to their humanity. They hate us in every Shape we appear to them. Their care of our wounded was entirely the effect of the perfection of their medical establishment which mechanically forced happiness and satisfaction upon our countrymen perhaps without a single wish in the Officers of the hospital to make their Situation comfortable.

It would take a Volume to tell you of the many things I saw and heard which tend to shew the extreme regard that our enemies pay to discipline –Order –Economy and cleanliness among their Soldiers.

In my way to this place I passed thro' Genl Washington's Army. To my great mortification I arrived at the Head quarters of a General on an Out post without being challenged by a single Sentry. I saw Soldiers Stragling from our lines in every Quarter without an officer, exposed every moment to be picked up by the enemy's light horse. I heard of 2,000 Who Sneaked off with the baggage of the Army to Bethlehem. I was told by a Captain in our army that they would not be missed in the returns, for as these were made out only by Seargeants they would be returned on parade, and that from the proper Officers neglecting to make out or examine returns Genl Washington never knew within 3,000 men what his real numbers were. I saw nothing but confidence about Head Quarters, and languor in all the branches and extremeties of the Army. Our hospital opened a continuation of the confused Scenes I had beheld in the army. The Waste – the peculation – the unnecessary Officers & c. (all the effects of our medical establishment) are eno' to sink our country without the weights oppress it from Other Quarters. It is now universally said that the System was formed for the Director general and not for the benefit of the sick and wounded. Such unlimited powers and no checks would have suited an Angel. The Sick Suffer – but no redress can be had for them. Upwards of 100 of them were drunk last night. We have no guards to prevent this evil. In Howe's army a Captain's guards mount over every 200 sick. Besides keeping their men from contracting and prolonging distempers by rambling – drinking – and whoring, guards keep up at all times in the minds of the sick a Sense of military Subordination. A Soldier Should never forget for a single hour that he has a master. One month in our hospitals would undo all the discipline of a year provided our soldiers brought it with them from the army.

…My dear friend –we are on the brink of ruin. I am distressed to see the minions of a tyrant more devoted to his will, than we are to a cause in which the whole world is interested. New measures, and new men alone can save us. The American mind cannot long support the present complexion of Affairs. Let our Army be reformed…."

Credit: Dr. Benjamin Rush, A Memorial, Containing Travels Through Life... (privately published by Louis Alexander Biddle), 1905.
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