Front Page Titles (by Subject) JOHN MORIN SCOTT 1 TO JAY. - The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, vol. 1 (1763-1781)
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JOHN MORIN SCOTT 1 TO JAY. - John Jay, The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, vol. 1 (1763-1781) 
The Correspondence and Public Papers of John Jay, ed. Henry P. Johnston, A.M. (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890-93). Vol. 1 (1763-1781).
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JOHN MORIN SCOTT1 TO JAY.
New York, Sepr. 6th, 1776.
I received your Letter about half an hour ago by the Messenger of the honorable Convention, in which you inform me that they are anxious to be informed of any Transactions at this Place that may be of use to the State, or otherwise of Importance. My duty would have directed me to execute this task before the Receipt of your letter, had I been possessed of the means of Conveyance. I shall do it now as far as the want of good pen & Ink, as scarce as almost every other necessary article, will permit.
I shall begin with our Retreat from Long Island. For previous to that Event the Convention was so near the scene of action, that they must have been acquainted with every occurrence. I was summoned to a council of War at Mr. Philip Livingston’s House on Thursday, 29th Ult., never having had reason to expect a proposition for a Retreat till it was mentioned. Upon my arrival at the Lines on the Tuesday morning before, and just after the Enemy, by beating General Sullivan and Lord Stirling had gained the Heights which in their Nature appear to have been more defensible than the lines were, it was obvious to me we could not maintain them for any long time, should the Enemy approach us regularly. They were unfinished in several Places when I arrived there, and we were obliged hastily to finish them, and you may imagine with very little Perfection, particularly across the main Road, the most likely for the approach of the Enemys heavy artillery. In this place three of my Battalions were placed, the centre of the line in Ground so low, that the rising Ground immediately without it, would have put it in the Power of a man at 40 yards Distance to fire under my Horse’s Belly whenever he pleased. You may judge of our Situation, subject to almost incessant Rains without Baggage or Tents & almost without Victuals or Drink; and in some Part of the Lines the men standing up to their middles in water. The Enemy were evidently incircling us from water to water with intent to hem us in upon a small neck of Land. In this Situation they had as perfect a command of the Island except the small neck on which we were posted as they now have. Thus things stood when the Retreat was suddenly proposed. I as suddenly objected to it from an aversion to giving the Enemy a single inch of ground. But was soon convinced by the unanswerable Reasons for it. They were these:—Invested by an Enemy of about double our number from water to water, scant in almost every necessary of life & without covering & liable every moment to have the Communication between us and the City cut off by the Entrance of the Frigates into the East River between (late) Governor’s Island and Long Island; which General McDougall assured us from his own nautic Experience was very feasible. In such a situation we should have been reduced to the alternative of desperately attempting to cut our way [through] a vastly superior Enemy with the certain loss of a valuable Stock of Artillery & Artillery Stores which the Government had been collecting with great Pains; or by Famine & Fatigue been made an easy prey to the Enemy. In either Case the Campaign would have ended in the total Ruin of our army. The Resolution therefore to retreat was unanimous and tho formed late in the Day was executed the following night with unexpected success. We however lost some of our heavy Cannon on the forts at a Distance from the water, the softness of the ground occasioned by the Rains having rendered it impossible to remove them in so short a time. Almost every thing else valuable was saved; and not a Dozen Men lost in the Retreat. The Consequence of our Retreat was the loss of (late) Govrs. Island which is perfectly commanded by the Fort on Red Hook.—The Enemy however from Fear or other Reasons, indulged [us] with the opportunity of two nights to carry off all except some heavy cannon. The Garrison was drawn off in the afternoon after our Retreat under the fire of the Shipping who are now drawn up just behind (late) Govrs.-Island, & the Fire of some Cannon from Long Island Shore; but with no other loss than that of one man’s arm. What our loss on Long Island was I am not able to estimate. I think the Hills might have been well maintained with 5,000 men. Ifear their natural strength was our Bane by lulling us into a State of Security & enabling the Enemy to steal a march upon us. I think from the last accounts we must have killed many of the enemy. We are sure that late Colo. & afterwards General Grant who was so bitter against us in Parliament, is among the slain. General Parsons late Colo. and promoted to the Rank of a General officer escaped from the action & Pursuit as by a miracle. I believe him to be a brave man. He is a Connecticut Lawyer. He told me that in the action he commanded a Party of about 250 men, with orders from Lord Stirling to cover his Flank; and that when the Enemy gave way, he threw into a Heap about thirty of the Enemies dead, and that in advancing a little farther he found a Heap made by the Enemy at least as large as that which he had collected. Lord Stirling had ordered him to maintain his ground till Receipt of the order to retreat. However, finding that no such order came; and finding the Enemy by rallying to increase on his hands, he flew to the Place were Lord Stirling was posted, leaving his Party on the ground with strict orders to maintain it till his Return; but he found his Lordship & his whole Body of Troops gone. There can be no doubt but Lord Stirling behaved bravely; but I wish that he had retreated sooner. He would have saved himself, and a great number of Troops from Captivity; but he refused to retreat for want of orders. We miss him much; he was a very active officer. General Sullivan who was also made a Prisoner in the action on the Heights went some days ago on Parole to Congress to endeavour to procure his Exchange for Prescott. I have not heard of his return. Two or three Days ago the Rose Frigate went up between the Islands and took Shelter, after a severe Cannonade from us, behind Blackwell’s Island. She retreated yesterday as far as opposite Corlears Hook, where she was briskly cannonaded till night. I have not heard of her this morning—By the loss on Long Island and the running away of our Militia, especially those of Connecticut, to their respective Homes our Army is much diminished, and I am sure is vastly inferior to that of the Enemy. The Troops are vastly dispirited—publickly say, but I believe without Reason, that they are sold. In short they have great Diffidence of Head Quarters and the officers of all Ranks suspect two certain Persons near the General, whom I believe to be a good man, to have more influence than their abilities entitle them to. I seldom go to Head Quarters; because I think my visits there not over acceptable. I content myself with doing my Duty which is very severe, as for some time past I have been Brigadier of the Day every other Day—the more severe, as the Hardships to which I was reduced on Long Island, without Bedding, almost without Food, and exposed to the rain have much impaired my Health.
The Army is continually praying most ardently for the arrival of General Lee as their Guardian Angel. He is daily expected; his arrival will probably nerve their Spirits. The Number of the Army I do not know, probably not so many by one half as Congress intended. Its present Disposition is this. It is divided into three Divisions, one in the City where I am with my Brigade under the Command of Major General Putnam; the other two under the respective Commands of Majors General Spencer & Heath, one between Haerlem & us, the other at & about Kings Bridge. What the Enemy intend we cannot yet discover. I am inclined to think to choose to avoid a Cannonade & Bombardment of the City & an attempt on West Chester County. Should they make it and succeed the Consequences are obvious, we shall be totally confined to this Island & cut off from all Communication with the Continent. With a View to this danger I wrote a few days ago to the General, giving it as my opinion that we should abandon the City, make a strong post in the Heights of Kings Bridge and dispose of the bulk of the Army in West Chester County and support the Communication between both, by placing the armed Vessels in the mouth of Spuyten Devil on the East River. I have recd. no answer. The Vessels lie in parade before Head Quarters but some of the artillery & Stores are removing. God knows what will be the Event of this Campaign; but I beg leave to assure the Honorable Convention that I will never bring Disgrace on their appointment.
Poor General Woodhull with a Lieutenant & four men were made Prisoners on Long Island. I had a letter from him dated the 1st Inst, but not dated from any Place, nor does he tell me how he was taken. He has lost all his Baggage and requested of me two Shirts and two Pairs of Stockings, which I should have sent him had not the Flag of Truce been gone before I recd the Letter. I shall comply with his Request by the first opportunity. Commend me with all possible Devotion to the Honorable Convention.
I am Sir