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Change of Marching Orders and Command

The 8th Regiment assembled in Kittanning, Pennsylvania during the fall of 1776. Orders were issued November 22, 1776 and received by the 8th Regiment December 4, 1776. These orders officially made the 8th Pennsylvania Regiment part of the Continental Army. Shockingly, they were not directed to proceed against the Indian enemy that was an immediate threat to the settlers. Instead, they were ordered to find and join Washington’s army. The orders were not well received by an outfit that was undisciplined and committed to frontier causes. Nonetheless, they were forced to march six weeks in winter weather to link up with Washington. Lt. Col. George Wilson wrote the following to a member of the Continental Congress, Col. James Wilson, on December 5th expressing his willingness to comply with the order:

“Last Evening We Rec Marching orders, Which I must say is not Disagreeable to me under ye Sircumstances of ye times, for when I enter’d into ye service I Judged that if a necesety appeared to call us Below, it would be Don, therefore it Dont come on me By Surprise; But as Both ye Officers and Men understood they Ware Raised for ye Defence of ye Westeran Frontiers, and their fameleys and substance to be Left in so Defenceless a situation in their abstence, seems to Give Sensable trouble, altho I Hope We Will Get overit, By Leaving sum of ower trifeling Officers behind to Pirtend to Have More Witt than seven men that can Rendar a Reason. We are ill Provided for a March at this Season, But there is nothing Hard under sum Sircumstances. We Hope provisions Will be made for us Below, Blankets, Campe Kittles, tents, arms, Regementals, &c. that we may not Cut a Dispisable Figure, But may be Enabled to answer ye expectation of ower Countre.

“I have Warmly Recomended to y officers to Lay aside all Personall Resentments at this time, for that it would be construed By ye Worald that they made use of that Sircumstance to Hide themselves under from ye cause of their countrie, and I hope it Will have a Good Efect at this time. We have ishued ye Necessary orders, and appointed ye owt Parties to Randevous at Hanows Town, ye 15th instant, and to March Emeditly from there. We have Recomended it to ye Militia to Station One Hndred Men at this post until further orders.

“I hope to have y Pleasure of Seeing you Soon, as we mean to take Philodelphia in ower Rout. In ye mean time, I am, With Esteem, your Harty Wellwisher and Hble Ser.”

Winter March January 1777

Winter March January 1777

The 8th Regiment joined Washington at Quibbletown, now known as New Market, New Jersey. The march began January 6, 1777. During this arduous six-week march that started with 684 men, 36 were captured, 14 were missing, 15 were dead, 15 were discharged, and 126 deserted. Although these were the recorded figures, Washington’s letters state a different view. At the time, Washington was convinced the Pennsylvania Colonels pocketed bounty money and listed men that had never enlisted as deserters. Washington did not believe bounties were a way to raise an army. He preferred a draft for which the Tory, timid, or wealthy could hire substitutes. To improve the quality of commissioned officers, he insisted they be “gentlemen” in an aristocratic sense. Washington would later hold the 8th Regiment in the highest regard for its bravery and fighting ability.


Whether corrupt or not, the conditions were severe and contributed to the death of the Commanding Officer, Colonel Mackey, February 14, 1777. Lieutenant Colonel George Wilson, who prophetically predicted the outcome, also died in February. A new command structure was not fully in place until June 9, 1777. The 8th Regiment, with the exception of three rifle companies detached to Daniel Morgan, was placed under the new command of Brigadier General Anthony Wayne.

Anthony Wayne was promoted to Brigadier General on February 21, 1777. He had been in command of the garrison at Fort Ticonderoga and became weary of the relative inactivity of the command. He desired to be under the direct command of Washington and after asking for a transfer, was ordered by Washington to join him in Morristown. Wayne was at once placed in command of the Pennsylvania Line effective April 12, 1777. Based on the size of the division, which was re-reorganized into a force of approximately 1700 men, Wayne should have been commissioned a Major General. There were two Major Generals the allotted number from Pennsylvania. Apparently, neither Mifflin nor St. Clair were considered for the position. St. Clair succeeded Wayne at the garrison at Fort Ticonderoga, and Mifflin became Quarter Master General. Wayne was a Brigadier General when he joined Washington’s army and remained such for the duration of the war. During this time he had independent command with all the burdens associated with administration of the division, but never complained, although friends suggested he write to request a proper commission. He does not appear to have done so.

General Wayne was said to have had a very enthusiastic personality and a pleasant demeanor. He was aggressive, and a great tactician in military planning. He was able to read battle engagements instantly and deploy his troops often in counter attack against the enemy. He succeeded in planning the capture of enemy positions thought by other officers to be near impossible. Washington usually included Wayne in his war councils and sought him out for advice even though he was not officially part of Washington’s immediate staff and of sufficient rank. Washington respected Wayne’s instinct, wit, aggressiveness, and tactical ability. He could always count on Wayne to provide an ambitious military option. Although Washington was not always willing to take Wayne’s advice, he recognized Wayne as an exceptional leader and ordered him to spearhead or lead imperative deployments during the war. The Pennsylvania Line attained an elite reputation as Wayne led them into successful enemy engagements throughout the war. Joseph Hancock served under Wayne until detached to the frontier May 1778.

Joseph had no choice but to accept the decisions of superiors that marched him off to a different war than that for which he enlisted, although he would in the end serve on the frontier fighting Indians. At the start of his enlistment he was a member of a highly undisciplined army, marched unmercifully through the harsh winter in January and February of 1777. Unlike many others he did not allow the tribulations and disaffections to motivate him to desert or become insubordinate. Given what he encountered, he would have had to be an exceptionally hardy, strong, clever, disciplined, and committed person to have survived. The character of the man that emerged during this period persisted as he married, pressed west, again fought the Indians, acquired land, farmed, and raised a large family. Joseph Hancock was a man who did great service for his country, enabled his own prosperity and secured the well-being of future generations so they could also live a remarkable and prosperous life. In a country with a population of less than three million people at the end War, he can be included as one of the bricklayers for the foundation of this great country.