Front Page Titles (by Subject) 1 September: TO MAJOR-GENERAL HEATH. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. IV (1776)
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1 September: TO MAJOR-GENERAL HEATH. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. IV (1776) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1889). Vol. IV (1776).
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TO MAJOR-GENERAL HEATH.
New York, 1 September, 1776.
I received your favor of this date, and intend this evening to go to Haerlem and see whether the situation of things will admit of the several detachments and dispositions you mention, so that every place necessary to be maintained should have measures taken for their defence. I should suppose that Hutchinson’s regiment, and the three hundred men you say are at Mount Washington, will do to garrison it for the present, and will be equal to any force that will be brought against it, if they keep a good look-out and do not suffer a surprise. This you must strongly press upon them to guard against.—
As it is of great consequence to gain intelligence of the enemy’s designs, and of their intended operations, I cannot but recommend your attention to this subject, and that you will Concert some measures with General Clinton for establishing a Channel of information. I apprehend that his general acquaintance with most of the people in the colony will give him an opportunity of fixing upon suitable persons, and in whom a confidence may be reposed, to embark in this business, and who, from their connections on the island and the assistance of their friends there, might obtain frequent accounts that would be useful and of great advantage. Perhaps some might be got who are really Tories, for a reasonable reward, to undertake it. Those who are friends would be preferable, if they could manage it as well. I will not add more upon the subject, but heartily wish you and General Clinton could fall upon some mode to carry into execution a Scheme of this Sort.
We are in extreme want here of a number of horses and teams to transport baggage &c., from place to place, and therefore have enclosed a warrant authorizing you, or any substituted by you to impress them. If they can be procured immediately by hiring, it would be better; but if not, I beg you will take the most early means to send them down by impressing them. They must be had at all events.
If there is a possibility of procuring boats for the Haerlem River, it shall be done. I am, Sir.
TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.
New York, 2 September, 1776.
As my intelligence of late has been rather unfavorable, and would be received with anxiety and concern, peculiarly happy should I esteem myself, were it in my power at this time to transmit such information to Congress, as would be more pleasing and agreeable to their wishes; but, unfortunately for me, unfortunately for them, it is not. Our situation is truly distressing. The check our detachment sustained on the 27th ultimo has dispirited too great a proportion of our troops, and filled their minds with apprehension and despair. The militia, instead of calling forth their utmost efforts to a brave and manly opposition in order to repair our losses, are dismayed, intractable, and impatient to return. Great numbers of them have gone off; in some instances, almost by whole regiments, by half ones, and by companies at a time. This circumstance, of itself, independent of others, when fronted by a well-appointed enemy superior in number to our whole collected force, would be sufficiently disagreeable; but, when their example has infected another part of the army, when their want of discipline, and refusal of almost every kind of restraint and government, have produced a like conduct but too common to the whole, and an entire disregard of that order and subordination necessary to the well-doing of an army, and which had been inculcated before, as well as the nature of our military establishment would admit of,—our condition is still more alarming; and, with the deepest concern, I am obliged to confess my want of confidence in the generality of the troops.
All these circumstances fully confirm the opinion I ever entertained, and which I more than once in my letters took the liberty of mentioning to Congress, that no dependence could be put in a militia, or other troops than those enlisted and embodied for a longer period than our regulations heretofore have prescribed. I am persuaded, and as fully convinced as I am of any one fact that has happened, that our liberties must of necessity be greatly hazarded, if not entirely lost, if their defence is left to any but a permanent standing army; I mean, one to exist during the war. Nor would the expense, incident to the support of such a body of troops, as would be competent to almost every exigency, far exceed that, which is daily incurred by calling in succor, and new enlistments, which, when effected, are not attended with any good consequences. Men, who have been free and subject to no control, cannot be reduced to order in an instant; and the privileges and exemptions, they claim and will have, influence the conduct of others; and the aid derived from them is nearly counterbalanced by the disorder, irregularity, and confusion they occasion.
I cannot find that the bounty of ten dollars is likely to produce the desired effect. When men can get double that sum to engage for a month or two in the militia, and that militia frequently called out, it is hardly to be expected. The addition of land might have a considerable influence on a permanent enlistment.1 Our number of men at present fit for duty is under twenty thousand; they were so by the last returns and best accounts I could get after the engagement on Long Island; since which, numbers have deserted. I have ordered General Mercer to send the men intended for the Flying Camp to this place, about a thousand in number, and to try with the militia, if practicable, to make a diversion upon Staten Island. Till of late, I had no doubt in my own mind of defending this place; nor should I have yet, if the men would do their duty; but this I despair of. It is painful, and extremely grating to me, to give such unfavorable accounts; but it would be criminal to conceal the truth at so critical a juncture. Every power I possess shall be exerted to serve the cause; and my first wish is, that, whatever may be the event, the Congress will do me the justice to think so.
If we should be obliged to abandon the town, ought it to stand as winter-quarters for the enemy? They would derive great conveniences from it on the one hand; and much property would be destroyed on the other. It is an important question, but will admit of but little time for deliberation. At present, I dare say the enemy mean to preserve it, if they can. If Congress, therefore, should resolve upon the destruction of it, the resolution should be a profound secret, as the knowledge of it will make a change in their plans.1 I have &c.
TO BRIGADIER-GENERAL MERCER.
New York, 3 September, 1776.
From the present complexion of our affairs, it appears to me, of the utmost importance and that the most salutary consequences may result from our having a strong encampment at the post on the Jersey side of the North River, opposite to Mount Washington, on this island. I therefore think it advisable, and highly necessary, that you detach such a force from Amboy and its dependencies under the command of an officer of note, authority, and influence, with a skilful engineer to lay out such additional works, as may be judged essential and proper, and the situation of the ground will admit of. They should be begun and carried on with all possible diligence and despatch.
It will be necessary, that a considerable quantity of provision should be collected for the maintenance and support of the camp; and for this purpose I wish you to have proper measures adopted to procure it, and have it deposited there and at places of security not far distant. As the Continental officers now at this post will take rank and the command, probably, of any one you may send, unless he should be a general officer, I think and wish, if you have one that possibly can be spared, and in whose judgment, activity, and fortitude you can rely, that he may be appointed to the command, rather than an officer of inferior rank. I am, &c.1
TO COLONEL FISHER GAY.
New York, 4 September, 1776.
Whether you do not get the General Orders with that regularity which is to be wished, or whether (which is hard to suppose) you do not attend to them, I will not undertake to determine; but it is a melancholy truth that returns essentially necessary for the commanding officer to govern himself by, and which might be made in an hour after they are called for, where care and order are observed, are obtained with so much difficulty. Nor can I help regretting, that not only regular returns, but that orders, in instances equally important, should be so little attended to. I therefore address myself to you in this manner, requesting in express and peremptory terms, that you do without delay make out and return to the Adjutant General’s office immediately an exact state of the regiment or corps under your command, and that the like return be given in every Saturday, at orderly time, without fail.
I also desire, in terms equally express, that you do not suffer the men of your corps to straggle from their quarters, or be absent from camp without leave, and even then but a few at a time. Your own reputation, the safety of the army, and the good of the cause, depend, under God, upon our vigilance and readiness to oppose a crafty and enterprising enemy, who are always upon the watch to take advantages. To prevent straggling, let your rolls be called over three times a day, and the delinquents punished.1 I have one thing more to urge, and that is, that every attempt of the men to plunder houses, orchards, gardens, &c., be discouraged, not only for the preservation of property and sake of good order, but for the prevention of those fatal consequences which usually follow such diabolical practices. In short, Sir, at a time when every thing is at stake, it behoves every man to exert himself. It will not do for the commanding officer of a regiment to content himself with barely giving orders; he should see (at least know) they are executed. He should call his men out frequently, and endeavor to impress them with a just sense of their duty, and how much depends upon subordination and discipline.
Let me, therefore, not only command, but exhort you and your officers, as you regard your reputation, your country, and the sacred cause of freedom in which you are engaged, to manly and vigorous exertions at this time, each striving to excel the other in the respective duties of his department. I trust it is unnecessary for me to add further, and that these and all other articles of your duty you will execute with a spirit and punctuality becoming your station. I am, &c.
TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.
New York, 6 September, 1776.
I was last night honored with your favor of the 3d, with sundry resolutions of Congress; and perceiving it to be their opinion and determination, that no damage shall be done to the city in case we are obliged to abandon it, I shall take every measure in my power to prevent it. Since my letter of the 4th, nothing very material has occurred, unless it is that the fleet seem to be drawing more together, and all getting close in with Governor’s Island. Their designs we cannot learn; nor have we been able to procure the least information of late, of any of their plans or intended operations.
As the enemy’s movements are very different from what we expected, and, from their large encampments a considerable distance up the Sound, there is reason to believe they intend to make a landing above or below Kingsbridge, and thereby to hem in our army, and cut off the communication with the country, I mean to call a council of general officers to-day or to-morrow, and endeavor to digest and fix upon some regular and certain system of conduct to be pursued in order to baffle their efforts and counteract their schemes; and also to determine on the expediency of evacuating or attempting to maintain the city and the several posts on this island. The result of their opinion and deliberations I shall advise Congress by the earliest opportunity, which will be by express, having it not in my power to communicate any intelligence by post, as the office is removed to so great a distance, and entirely out of the way.1
I have enclosed a list of the officers, who are prisoners, and from whom letters have been received by a flag. We know there are others not included in the list. General Sullivan having informed me, that General Howe was willing that an exchange of him for General Prescott should take place, it will be proper to send General Prescott immediately, that it may be effected.
As the militia regiments in all probability will be impatient to return, and become pressing for their pay, I shall be glad of the direction of Congress, whether they are to receive it here or from the Conventions or Assemblies of the respective States to which they belong. On the one hand, the settlement of their abstracts will be attended with trouble and difficulty; on the other, they will go away much better satisfied, and be more ready to give their aid in future, if they are paid before their departure. Before I conclude, I must take the liberty of mentioning to Congress the great distress we are in for want of money. Two months’ pay (and more to some battalions) is now due to the troops here, without any thing in the military chest to satisfy it. This occasions much dissatisfaction, and almost a general uneasiness. Not a day passes without complaints, and the most importunate and urgent demands, on this head. As it may injure the service greatly, and the want of a regular supply of cash produce consequences of the most fatal tendency, I entreat the attention of Congress to this subject, and that we may be provided as soon as can be with a sum equal to every present claim.
I have wrote to General Howe, proposing an exchange of General McDonald for Lord Stirling,1 and shall be extremely happy to obtain it, as well as that of General Prescott, being greatly in want of them, and under the necessity of appointing, pro tempore, some of the colonels to command brigades.
I have the honor to be, &c.
P. S. As two regiments from N. Carolina and 3 regiments more from Virginia are ordered here, if they could embark at Norfolk, &c., and come up the Bay with security, it would expedite their arrival, and prevent the men from a long fatiguing march. This, however, should not be attempted if the enemy have Vessels in the Bay, and which might probably intercept ’em.1
TO GOVERNOR TRUMBULL.
New York, 6 September, 1776.
I have been honored with your favor of the 31st ultimo, and am extremely obliged by the measures you are taking, in consequence of my recommendatory letter. The exertions of Connecticut upon this, as well as upon every other occasion, do great honor, and I hope will be attended with successful and happy consequences. In respect to the mode of conduct to be pursued by the troops, that go over to the island, I cannot lay down any certain rule; it must be formed and governed by circumstances, and the direction of those who command them.
I should have done myself the honor of transmitting to you an account of the engagement between a detachment of our troops and the enemy on Long Island on the 27th, and of our retreat from thence, before now, had it not been for the multiplicity of business I have been involved in ever since; and, being still engaged, I cannot enter upon a minute and particular detail of the affair. I shall only add, therefore, that we lost, in killed, wounded, and prisoners, from seven hundred to one thousand men. Among the prisoners are General Sullivan and Lord Stirling. The enclosed list will show you the names of many of the officers that are prisoners.1 The action was chiefly with the troops from Jersey, Pennsylvania, the Lower Counties, and Maryland, and Colonel Huntington’s regiment. They suffered greatly, being attacked and overpowered by numbers of the enemy greatly superior to them. The enemy’s loss we have not been able to ascertain; but we have reason to believe it was considerable, as the engagement was warm, and conducted with great resolution and bravery on the part of our troops. During the engagement, a deep column of the enemy descended from the woods, and attempted an impression upon our lines, but retreated immediately on the discharge of a cannon and part of the musketry from the line nearest to them. As the main body of the enemy had encamped not far from our lines, and I had reason to believe, that they intended to force us from them by regular approaches, which the nature of the ground favored extremely, and at the same time meant, by the ships of war, to cut off the communication between the city and island, and by that means keep our men divided and unable to oppose them anywhere; by the advice of the general officers, on the night of the 29th, I withdrew our troops from thence, without any loss of men and but little baggage.1 I am, &c.
TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.
Head-Quarters,New York, 8 September, 1776.
Since I had the honor of addressing you on the 6th Inst. I have called a council of the general officers, in order to take a full and comprehensive view of our situation, and thereupon form such a plan of future defence as may be immediately pursued, and subject to no other alteration, than a change of operations on the enemy’s side may occasion. Before the landing of the enemy in Long Island, the point of attack could not be known, nor any satisfactory judgment formed of their intentions. It might be on Long Island, on Bergen, or directly on the city. This made it necessary to be prepared for each, and has occasioned an expense of labor, which now seems useless, and is regretted by those, who form a judgment from after-knowledge. But I trust, that men of discernment will think differently, and see that by such works and preparations we have not only delayed the operations of the campaign, till it is too late to effect any capital incursion into the country, but have drawn the enemy’s forces to one point, and obliged them to decline their plan, so as to enable us to form our defence on some certainty.
It is now extremely obvious from all intelligence from their movements, and every other circumstance, that, having landed their whole army on Long Island, except about four thousand on Staten Island, they mean to enclose us on the island of New York, by taking post in our rear while the shipping effectually protects the front; and thus, either by cutting off our communication with the country, oblige us to fight them on their own terms, or surrender at discretion, or by a brilliant stroke endeavor to cut this army in pieces, and secure the collection of arms and stores, which they well know we shall not be able soon to replace. Having therefore their system unfolded to us, it became an important consideration how it could be most successfully opposed. On every side there is a choice of difficulties; and every measure on our part, however painful the reflection is from experience, is to be formed with some apprehension, that all our troops will not do their duty. In deliberating on this great question, it was impossible to forget, that history, our own experience, the advice of our ablest friends in Europe, the fears of the enemy, and even the declarations of Congress, demonstrate, that on our side the war should be defensive (it has even been called a war of posts), that we should on all occasions avoid a general action, nor put any thing to risk, unless compelled by a necessity into which we ought never to be drawn.
The arguments on which such a system was founded were deemed unanswerable; and experience has given her sanction. With these views, and being fully persuaded, that it would be presumption to draw out our young troops into open ground against their superiors both in number and discipline, I have never spared the spade and pickaxe. I confess I have not found that readiness to defend even strong posts at all hazards, which is necessary to derive the greatest benefits from them. The honor of making a brave defence does not seem to be a sufficient stimulus, when success is very doubtful, and the falling into the enemy’s hands probable; but, I doubt not, this will be gradually attained. We are now in a strong post, but not an impregnable one, nay, acknowledged by every man of judgment to be untenable, unless the enemy will make the attack upon lines, when they can avoid it, and their movements indicate that they mean to do so.
To draw the whole army together in order to arrange the defence proportionate to the extent of lines and works, would leave the country open for an approach, and put the fate of this army and its stores on the hazard of making a successful defence in the city, or the issue of an engagement out of it. On the other hand, to abandon a city, which has been by some deemed defensible, and on whose works much labor has been bestowed, has a tendency to dispirit the troops, and enfeeble our cause. It has also been considered as the key to the northern country. But as to that, I am fully of opinion, that by the establishing of strong posts at Mount Washington on the upper part of this island, and on the Jersey side opposite to it, with the assistance of the obstructions already made, and which may be improved, in the water, that not only the navigation of Hudson’s River, but an easier and better communication may be more effectually secured between the northern and southern states. This, I believe, every one acquainted with the situation of the country will readily agree to; and it will appear evident to those who have an opportunity of recurring to good maps. These and many other consequences, which will be involved in the determination of our next measure, have given our minds full employ, and led every one to form a judgment as the various objects presented themselves to his view.
The post at Kingsbridge is naturally strong, and is pretty well fortified; the heights about it are commanding, and might soon be made more so. These are important objects, and I have attended to them accordingly. I have also removed from the city all the stores and ammunition, except what was absolutely necessary for its defence, and made every other disposition that did not essentially interfere with that object, carefully keeping in view, until it should be absolutely determined on full consideration, how far the city was to be defended at all events. In resolving points of such importance, many circumstances peculiar to our own army also occur. Being only provided for a summer’s campaign, their clothes, shoes, and blankets will soon be unfit for the change of weather, which we every day feel. At present we have not tents for more than two-thirds, many of them old and worn out; but, if we had a plentiful supply, the season will not admit of continuing in them long. The case of our sick is also worthy of much consideration, Their number, by the returns, forms at least one-fourth of the army. Policy and humanity require that they should be made as comfortable as possible.
With these and many other circumstances before them, the whole council of general officers met yesterday in order to adopt some general line of conduct to be pursued at this important crisis. I intended to have procured their separate opinions on each point, but time would not admit. I was therefore obliged to collect their sense more generally, than I could have wished. All agreed that the town would not be tenable, if the enemy resolved to bombard and cannonade it; but the difficulty attending a removal operated so strongly, that a course was taken between abandoning it totally and concentring our whole strength for its defence; nor were some a little influenced in their opinion, to whom the determination of Congress was known, against an evacuation totally, as they were led to suspect Congress wished it to be maintained at every hazard.1 It was concluded to arrange the army under three divisions; five thousand to remain for the defence of the city; nine thousand at Kingsbridge and its dependencies, as well to possess and secure those posts, as to be ready to attack the enemy, who are moving eastward on Long Island, if they should attempt to land on this side; the remainder to occupy the intermediate space, and support either; that the sick should be immediately removed to Orangetown, and barracks be prepared at Kingsbridge with all expedition to cover the troops.
There were some general officers, in whose judgment and opinion much confidence is to be reposed, that were for a total and immediate removal from the city, urging the great danger of one part of the army being cut off, before the other can support it, the extremities being at least sixteen miles apart; that our army, when collected, is inferior to the enemy; that they can move with their whole force to any point of attack, and consequently must succeed by weight of numbers, if they have only a part to oppose them; that, by removing from hence, we deprive the enemy of the advantage of their ships, which will make at least one half of the force to attack the town; that we should keep the enemy at bay, put nothing to hazard, but at all events keep the army together, which may be recruited another year; that the unspent stores will also be preserved; and, in this case, the heavy artillery can also be secured. But they were overruled by a majority, who thought for the present a part of our force might be kept here, and attempt to maintain the city a little longer.1
I am sensible a retreating army is encircled with difficulties; that declining an engagement subjects a general to reproach; and that the common cause may be affected by the discouragement it may throw over the minds of many. Nor am I insensible of the contrary effects, if a brilliant stroke could be made with any probability of success, especially after our loss upon Long Island. But, when the fate of America may be at stake on the issue, when the wisdom of cooler moments and experienced men have decided, that we should protract the war if possible, I cannot think it safe or wise to adopt a different system, when the season for action draws so near to a close. That the enemy mean to winter in New York, there can be no doubt; that, with such an armament, they can drive us out, is equally clear. The Congress having resolved, that it should not be destroyed, nothing seems to remain, but to determine the time of their taking possession. It is our interest and wish to prolong it as much as possible, provided the delay does not affect our future measures.
The militia of Connecticut is reduced from six thousand to less than two thousand, and in a few days will be merely nominal. The arrival of some Maryland troops from the Flying Camp has in a great degree supplied the loss of men; but the ammunition they have carried away will be a loss sensibly felt. The impulse for going home was so irresistible, that it answered no purpose to oppose it. Though I would not discharge them, I have been obliged to acquiesce; and it affords one more melancholy proof, how delusive such dependences are.
Inclosed I have the honor to transmit a general return, the first that I have been able to procure for some time. Also, a report of Captain Newell from our Works at Horn’s Hook or Hell Gate. Their situation is extremely low, and the Sound so very narrow, that the Enemy have ’em much within their command. I have, &c.
P. S. The inclosed information this minute came to hand. I am in hopes we shall henceforth get regular intelligence of the Enemies movements.1
TO GOVERNOR TRUMBULL.
Head-Quarters,New York, 9 September, 1776.
I have the honor of your favor of the 5th inst., and am sorry to say, that, from the best information we have been able to obtain, the people on Long Island have, since our evacuation, gone generally over to the enemy, and made such concessions as have been required; some through compulsion, I suppose, but more from inclination. As a diversion upon the Island has been impracticable under these circumstances, I think you have done well in assisting the removal of the persons and effects of our friends from thence. I observe with great pleasure, that you have ordered the remaining regiments of the militia, that can be spared from the immediate defence of the sea-coast, to march toward New York with all expedition. I cannot sufficiently express my thanks, not only for your constant and ready compliance with every request of mine, but for your own strenuous exertions and prudent forecast, in ordering matters so, that your force has generally been collected and put in motion as soon as it has been demanded.
With respect to the militia, both horse and foot, I am of opinion that they will render us more service by rendezvousing at different places along the Sound, in West Chester county and thereabouts, than by coming directly to this city. It will not only give the enemy, who are extending their encampments up the island, an idea of our force along the coast, but if they should attempt a landing above Kingsbridge, they will be in readiness to join our force about that place; the horse particularly, whose rapid motion enables them to be in a short time at any point of attack. Besides, the difficulty of procuring forage upon this island, for any number of horses, is an objection to their being stationed here. I fear, that the militia, by leaving their homes so suddenly, and in a manner unprepared for a long absence, have sustained some injury. To this cause I must impute, in a great measure, their impatience to return, and the diminution of their numbers at this time, to about two thousand. Their want of discipline, the indulgences they claim and have been allowed, their unwillingness, I may add, refusal to submit to that regularity and order essential to every army infecting the rest of our troops more or less, have been of pernicious tendency, and occasioned a good deal of confusion and disorder. But, Sir, these things are not peculiar to those from any one State; they are common to all militia, and what must be generally expected; for men, who have been free and never subject to restraint, or any kind of control, cannot be taught the necessity, nor be brought to see the expediency, of strict discipline in a day.
I highly approve of your plan and proposition for raising such a naval force, as will be sufficient to clear the Sound of the enemy’s ships of war. If Commodore Hopkins will join you, I should suppose it not only practicable, but a matter of certainty; and if it can be effected, many valuable and salutary consequences must result from it. As to drafting seamen from the Continental regiments, it cannot be done; as their numbers have been reduced so low already, by taking men from them for the galleys, boats, and other purposes, that some of them have hardly any thing left but the name; besides, I must depend chiefly upon them for a successful opposition to the enemy. If it can be done out of the militia, I shall not have the least objection, and heartily wish the enterprise, whenever attempted, may be attended with all possible success. Secrecy and despatch will be most likely to give it a happy issue. The enemy’s ships can receive no reinforcements, but such as go round Long Island. Our works at Hell Gate preventing their sending ships that way, they are sensible of their importance, and yesterday opened two three-gun batteries to effect their destruction, but as yet have not materially damaged them, and they must be maintained if possible. I have the honor to be, &c.
P. S. The more the militia and horse keep on the Sound, towards Kingsbridge, the better, as they will be ready to oppose any landing of the enemy, and also to receive orders for reinforcing any posts on this side in case of necessity.1
TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.
New York, 14 September, 1776.
I have been duly honored with your favor of the 10th, with the resolution of Congress, which accompanied it, and thank them for the confidence they repose in my judgment respecting the evacuation of the city. I could wish to maintain it, because I know it to be of importance; but I am fully convinced that it cannot be done, and that an attempt for that purpose, if persevered in, might and most certainly would be attended with consequences the most fatal and alarming in their nature. Sensible of this, several of the general officers, since the determination of the council mentioned in my last, petitioned that a second council might be called to reconsider the propositions, which had been before them upon the subject. Accordingly I called one on the 12th, when a large majority not only determined a removal of the army prudent, but absolutely necessary, declaring they were entirely convinced from a full and minute inquiry into our situation, that it was extremely perilous; and, from every movement of the enemy, and the intelligence received, their plan of operations was to get in our rear, and, by cutting off the communication with the main, oblige us to force a passage through them on the terms they wish, or to become prisoner in some short time for want of necessary supplies of provision.1
We are now taking every method in our power to remove the stores, in which we find almost insuperable difficulties.1 They are so great and so numerous, that I fear we shall not effect the whole before we meet with some interruption. I fully expected that an attack somewhere would have been made last night. In that I was disappointed; and happy shall I be, if my apprehensions of one to-night, or in a day or two, are not confirmed by the event. If it is deferred a little while longer, I flatter myself all will be got away, and our force be more concentred, and of course more likely to resist them with success. Yesterday afternoon four ships of war, two of forty and two of twenty-eight guns, went up the East River, passing between Governor’s and Long Island, and anchored about a mile above the city, opposite Mr. Stuyvesant’s, where the Rose man-of-war was lying before. The design of their going, not being certainly known, gives rise to various conjectures, some supposing they are to cover the landing of a party of the enemy above the city, others that they are to assist in destroying our battery at Horn’s Hook, that they may have a free and uninterrupted navigation in the Sound. It is an object of great importance to them, and what they are industriously trying to effect by a pretty constant cannonade and bombardment.
Before I conclude I would beg leave to mention to Congress, that the pay now allowed to nurses for their attendance on the sick is by no means adequate to their services; the consequence of which is, that they are extremely difficult to procure, indeed they are not to be got, and we are under the necessity of substituting in their place a number of men from the respective regiments whose service by that means is entirely lost in the proper line of their duty and but little benefit rendered to the sick.
The officers I have talked with upon the subject, all agree that they should be allowed a dollar per week, and that for less they cannot be had.
Our sick are extremely numerous, and we find their removal attended with the greatest difficulty. It is a matter that employs much of our time and care; and what makes it more distressing is the want of proper and convenient places for their reception. I fear their sufferings will be great and many. However, nothing on my part, that humanity or policy can require, shall be wanting to make them comfortable, so far as the state of things will admit. I have the honor to be, &c.1
TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.
Head-Quarters, at Colonel Morris’s House,
On Saturday about sunset, six more of the enemy’s ships, one or two of which were men-of-war, passed between Governor’s Island and Red Hook, and went up the East River to the station taken by those mentioned in my last. In half an hour I received two expresses, one from Colonel Sargent at Horn’s Hook (Hell Gate), giving an account that the enemy, to the amount of three or four thousand, had marched to the river, and were embarked for Barn or Montresor’s Island, where numbers of them were then encamped; the other from General Mifflin, that uncommon and formidable movements were discovered among the enemy; which being confirmed by the scouts I had sent out, I proceeded to Haerlem, where it was supposed, or at Morrisania opposite to it, the principal attempt to land would be made. However, nothing remarkable happened that night; but in the morning they began their operations. Three ships of war came up the North River as high as Bloomingdale, which put a total stop to the removal, by water, of any more of our provision; and about eleven o’clock those in the East River began a most severe and heavy cannonade, to scour the grounds, and cover the landing of their troops between Turtle Bay and the city, where breastworks had been thrown up to oppose them.1
As soon as I heard the firing, I rode with all possible despatch towards the place of landing, when, to my great surprise and mortification, I found the troops that had been posted in the lines retreating with the utmost precipitation, and those ordered to support them (Parsons’s and Fellows’s brigades) flying in ever direction, and in the greatest confusion, notwithstanding the exertions of their generals to form them. I used every means in my power to rally and get them into some order; but my attempts were fruitless and ineffectual; and on an appearance of a small party of the enemy, not more than sixty or seventy, their disorder increased, and they ran away in the greatest confusion, without firing a single shot.2
Finding that no confidence was to be placed in these brigades, and apprehending that another party of the enemy might pass over to Haerlem Plains and cut off the retreat to this place, I sent orders to secure the heights in the best manner with the troops that were stationed on and near them; which being done, the retreat was effected with but little or no loss of men, though of a considerable part of our baggage, occasioned by this disgraceful and dastardly conduct.1 Most of our heavy cannon, and a part of our stores and provisions, which we were about removing, were unavoidably left in the city, though every means, after it had been determined in council to evacuate the post, had been used to prevent it. We are now encamped with the main body of the army on the Heights of Haerlem, where I should hope the enemy would meet with a defeat in case of an attack, if the generality of our troops would behave with tolerable bravery. But experience, to my extreme affliction, has convinced me that this is rather to be wished for than expected. However, I trust that there are many who will act like men, and show themselves worthy of the blessings of freedom. I have sent out some reconnoitring parties to gain intelligence, if possible, of the disposition of the enemy, and shall inform Congress of every material event by the earliest opportunity. I have the honor to be, &c.
The above Letter is merely a copy of a rough one sketched out by his Excellency this morning, and who intended to sign it; but having rode out and his return or where to find him uncertain, I have sent it away without and have the honor, &c.,
Robert H. Harrison.1
TO GOVERNOR COOKE.
Head-Quarters, Colonel Morris’s House,
I received the honor of your favor of the 6th inst. by Messrs. Collins, Babcock, and Stanton, and should have acknowledged it before now, had I not been prevented by the peculiar situation of our affairs. I communicated my sentiments to those gentlemen upon the subject of your letter, and the several propositions that were before us, who, I doubt not, will make a full and due report of the same to you and your honorable Assembly. However, I shall take the liberty of adding, that the divided state of our army, which, when collected in one body, is inferior to that of the enemy, and that their having landed almost the whole of their force on Long Island, and formed a plan of cutting off all communication between that and the city of New York, which we had but too good reason to believe practicable and easy to effect with their ships of war, made it necessary, and prudent to withdraw our troops from the former, that our chance of resistance and opposition might be more probable and likely to be attended with a happy issue.
I feel myself much concerned on account of your apprehensions for the town of Newport and the Island of Rhode Island, and should esteem myself peculiarly happy, were it in my power to afford means for their security and that of the State in general, or to point out such measures, as would be effectual for that purpose. But circumstanced as I am, it is not possible for me to grant any assistance; nor can I with propriety undertake to prescribe the mode, which will best promote their defence. This must depend on such a variety of circumstances, that I should suppose you and the Assembly, who are in the State, will be much more competent to the task, than I or any person out of it can be; and therefore I can only recommend, that you will pursue such steps as you, in your judgment, shall think most conducive to that end; observing that it appears to me a matter of extreme difficulty, if practicable, to prevent the enemy’s ships from doing damage to every island accessible to them, unless the passes between them and the main are so narrow, as to oblige them to come very near such batteries, as may be erected for their annoyance, on commanding ground.
I cannot sufficiently express my thanks for the readiness you and your Assembly manifested in ordering troops, &c., to Long Island, on hearing of my request to Governor Trumbull upon that subject. At the time that I made it, I conceived the plan of much importance, and that many valuable and salutary consequences might have resulted from it; but as things have undergone a material change since, it may not be improper to consider and be satisfied of some facts, which ought to be clearly known previous to any attempt to carry it into execution and on which success of it will greatly depend; such, as an intire conviction of the friendly disposition of the Island; the number that would join the troops that might be sent over; the length’s they would go; the support they would and can give, and whether a retreat from thence could be safely effected in case it should be necessary. These matters and others which a more minute consideration of the Plan will present to your view, should be well weighed and digested, and which I thought it my duty to mention; especially as the scheme had originated with me. My anxiety and concern for the inhabitants of the East end of Long Island, who have been represented always as friendly and well attached to the cause of the States, prompt me to wish them every assistance; but if the efforts you could make in conjunction with Governor Trumbull would not promise almost a certainty of success, perhaps they might tend to aggravate their misfortunes. The Committee stated sundry propositions respecting this Expedition, such as, if any thing was attempted, where a stand should be made? This must be left to the discretion of those who command, nor can I spare an officer for that purpose nor recommend one. What number of Men should be sent and what proportion from the Massachusetts?
The number necessary will depend upon the force they will have to oppose and the assistance they would derive from the islanders; The proportion from the Massachusetts on the Will of the Legislature, or voluntary engagement of the people, in the service. What artillery they should have? I am of opinion the artillery would be subject to loss without any great advantage resulting from it. They also asked whether any frigates should be sent, &c.? As the Enemy have now the free and intire command of the Sound, and many Ships-of-War in it, they will be much more liable to be taken, than they would have been some time ago, and when it was proposed by Governor Trumbull to make an attempt upon the Ships above Hell-Gate. In this instance, however, I do not conceive myself at liberty to say any thing peremptory one way or the other, having no power over the frigates.
I am sensible of the force of your observation that the Common Cause might be benefitted by the several States receiving early and authentic intelligence of every material occurrence. Permit me at the same time to assure you, that I often regret my incapacity in this instance, and that the neglect does not arise from want of inclination, or thro’ inattention; but from the variety of important matters that are always pressing upon and which daily surround me. Before I conclude, I shall take this opportunity to inform you, that having received certain information that the Enemy’s plan was to pass from Long Island, and land in the country and for which they are making every possible disposition; a Council of General Officers determined last week, on a removal of the Army from the city, in order to prevent the fatal consequences which must inevitably ensue, if they could have executed their scheme, resolving at the same time, that every appearance of defence should be kept up, till our Sick, Ordnance and Stores could be removed. This was set about with the greatest industry and, as to the Sick, was compleatly effected. But on Sunday Morning (13th) before we had accomplished the removal of all our Cannon, provision and Baggage, they sent three Ships of War up the North River, whereby the Water carriage was totally stopped. * * *
I am now Encamped on the Heights above mentioned which are so well calculated for defence, that I should hope, if the Enemy make an attack and our men will behave with tolerable Resolution, they must meet with a repulse, if not a total defeat. They advanced in sight yesterday in several large bodies, but attempted nothing of a general nature; tho’ in the fore noon there were some smart skirmishes between some of their parties and detachments sent out by me; in which I have the pleasure to inform you our men behaved with bravery and intrepidity, putting them to flight when in open ground and forcing them from posts they had seized, two or three times. From some of wounded men which fell into our hands, the appearance of blood in every place where they made their stand and on the fences as they passed, we have reason to believe they had a good many killed and wounded; tho’ they did not leave many on the ground: In number, our loss was very inconsiderable, but in the fall of Lieut. Colo. Knowlton, I consider it as great, being a brave and good officer and it may be increased by the Death of Major Leitch, of the Virginia Regiment, who unfortunately received three balls thro’ his side.—Having given you a summary account of the Situation of our affairs, and in such manner as circumstances will admit of, I have only to add that I have the honor &c.
P. S. The Committee have expressed their apprehensions of being obliged to abandon the Island of Rhode Island and Newport, and requested my opinion. At present I can see no cause for it, and the propriety of the measure must depend upon circumstances; but I should suppose they ought to be very pressing and the necessity great, before they ought to be given up,—most certainly no imaginary ills or necessity should lead to such a measure. At this time the danger can only be Ideal, and if the Enemy persevere in their plans, and our men behave as they should do, I am persuaded they will not have an opportunity to employ their attention elsewhere this Campaign.1
TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.
Head-Quarters, at Col. Morris’s House,
As my letter of the 16th contained intelligence of an important nature, and such as might lead Congress to expect that the evacuation of New York and retreat to the Heights of Haerlem, in the manner they were made, would be succeeded by some other interesting event, I beg leave to inform them, that as yet nothing has been attempted upon a large and general plan of attack. About the time of the post’s departure with my letter, the enemy appeared in several large bodies upon the plains, about two and a half miles from hence. I rode down to our advanced posts, to put matters in a proper situation, if they should attempt to come on. When I arrived there I heard a firing, which, I was informed, was between a party of our rangers under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Knowlton, and an advanced party of the enemy. Our men came in and told me, that the body of the enemy, who kept themselves concealed, consisted of about three hundred, as near as they could guess. I immediately ordered three companies of Colonel Weedon’s regiment from Virginia, under the command of Major Leitch, and Colonel Knowlton with his rangers composed of volunteers from different New-England regiments, to try to get in their rear, while a disposition was making as if to attack them in front, and thereby draw their whole attention that way.
This took effect as I wished on the part of the enemy. On the appearance of our party in front, they immediately ran down the hill, took possession of some fences and bushes, and a smart firing began, but at too great a distance to do much execution on either side. The parties under Colonel Knowlton and Major Leitch unluckily began their attack too soon, as it was rather in flank than in rear. In a little time Major Leitch was brought off wounded, having received three balls through his side; and, in a short time after, Colonel Knowlton got a wound, which proved mortal. The men however persevered, and continued the engagement with the greatest resolution. Finding that they wanted a support, I advanced part of Colonel Griffith’s and Colonel Richardson’s Maryland regiments, with some detachments from the eastern regiments, who were nearest the place of action. These troops charged the enemy with great intrepidity, and drove them from the wood into the plain, and were pushing them from thence, having silenced their fire in a great measure, when I judged it prudent to order a retreat, fearing the enemy, as I have since found was really the case, were sending a large body to support their party.
Major Leitch I am in hopes will recover; but Colonel Knowlton’s fall is much to be regretted, as that of a brave and good officer. We had about forty wounded; the number of slain is not yet ascertained; but it is very inconsiderable. By a sergeant, who deserted from the enemy and came in this morning, I find that their party was greater than I imagined. It consisted of the second battalion of light infantry, a battalion of the Royal Highlanders, and three companies of Hessian riflemen, under the command of Brigadier-General Leslie. The deserter reports, that their loss in wounded and missing was eighty-nine, and eight killed. In the latter, his account is too small, as our people discovered and buried double that number. This affair I am in hopes will be attended with many salutary consequences, as it seems to have greatly inspirited the whole of our troops.1 The sergeant further adds, that a considerable body of men are now encamped from the East to the North Rivers, between the seventh and eighth mile stones, under the command of General Clinton. General Howe, he believes, has his quarters at Mr. Apthorp’s house. I have, &c.2
P. S. I should have wrote Congress by Express before now had I not expected the post every minute which I flatter myself will be a sufficient apology, for my delaying it.
The late losses we have sustained in our Baggage and Camp necessaries have added much to our distress, which was very great before. I must therefore take the liberty of requesting Congress to have forwarded as soon as possible such a supply of Tents, Blankets, Kettles, and other articles as can be collected. We cannot be overstocked.1
TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.
Head-Quarters, Heights of Harlem, 20 September, 1776.
I have been honored with your favor of the 16th with its inclosures to prevent the injury and abuses which would arise from the Militia and other troops carrying away Ammunition and Continental property. I have published the substance of the Resolves upon the subject in General Orders.
Since my letter of yesterday nothing of importance has cast up. The Enemy are forming a large and extensive Encampment in the plains mentioned in my last and are busily employed in transporting their cannon and Stores from Long Island. As they advance them this way, we may reasonably expect their operations will not long be deferred. * * * Genls. Howe1 and Erskine’s proclamations shew the measures that have been pursued to force & seduce the Inhabitants of Long Island from their allegiance to the States and to assist in their destruction.
As the period will soon arrive, when the troops composing the present army (a few excepted) will be disbanded according to the tenor of their enlistments, and the most fatal consequences may ensue, if a suitable and timely provision is not made in this instance, I take the liberty of suggesting to Congress not only the expediency, but the absolute necessity there is, that their earliest attention should be had to this subject. In respect to the time that troops should be engaged for, I have frequently given my sentiments; nor have I omitted to express my opinion of the difficulties that will attend raising them, nor of the impracticability of effecting it, without the allowance of a large and extraordinary bounty. It is a melancholy and painful consideration to those, who are concerned in the work, and have the command, to be forming armies constantly, and to be left by troops just when they begin to deserve the name, or perhaps at a moment when an important blow is expected. This, I am well informed, will be the case at Ticonderoga with part of the troops there, unless some system is immediately come into by which they can be induced to stay.
Genl. Schuyler tells me in a Letter received yesterday that De.Haas, Maxwell’s and Wines’ Regimts. stand engaged only till the beginning of next month, and that the men, he is fearfull, will not remain longer than the time of their inlistments.
I would also beg leave to mention to Congress, that the season is fast approaching when Cloaths of every kind will be wanted for the Army. Their distress is already great and will be encreased as the weather becomes more severe.
Our situation is now bad, but is much better than the militia that are coming to join us from the States of Massachusetts Bay and Connecticut in consequence of the requisition of Congress. They, I am informed, have not a single Tent nor a necessary of any kind, nor can I conceive how it will be possible to support them. These circumstances are extremely alarming, and oblige me to wish Congress to have all the Tents, Cloathing of every kind, and Camp necessaries provided and forwarded, that are to be procured. These Eastern reinforcements have not a single necessary, not a pan or a kettle, in which we are now greatly deficient. It is with reluctance that I trouble Congress with these matters but to whom can I resort for relief unless to them? The necessity therefore, which urges the application, will excuse it, I am persuaded.
I have not been able to transmit Congress a General Return of the Army this week, owing to the peculiar situation of our affairs, and the great shifting and changing among the troops. As soon as I can procure one a copy shall be forwarded to Congress. I have &c.
P. S. Sept. 21st, 1776. Things with us remain in the situation they were yesterday.1
TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.
Camp nearKingsbridge, 22 September, 1776.
I had flattered myself that the Congress would before this Time have forwarded the Amended Articles for the Government of the Army. But as they have not I think it my indispensable Duty to lay before them the Necessity, the absolute Necessity of forming an Article against plundering, marauding and burning of Houses. Such a Spirit has gone forth in our Army that neither publick or private Property is secure—Every Hour brings the most distressing complaints of the Ravages of our own Troops who are become infinitely more formidable to the poor Farmers and Inhabitants than the common Enemy. Horses are taken out off the Continental Teams; the Baggage of Officers and the Hospital Stores, even the Quarters of General Officers are not exempt from Rapine.
Some severe and exemplary Punishment to be inflicted in a summary Way must be immediately administered, or the Army will be totally ruined. I must beg the immediate Attention of Congress to this Matter as of the utmost Importance to our Existence as an Army. I am, &c.
TO JOHN AUGUSTINE WASHINGTON.
Heights of Haerlem, 22 September, 1776.
My extream hurry for some time past has rendered it utterly impossible for me to pay that attention to the letters of my friends, which inclination and natural affection always inclines me to. I have no doubt, therefore, of meeting with their excuse, tho’ with respect to yourself I have had no Letter from you since the date of my last saving the one of Septr. the 1st. With respect to the attack and Retreat from Long Island, the public Papers would furnish you with accounts nearly true. I shall only add, that in the former we lost about eight hundred men, more than three fourths of which were taken prisoners. This misfortune happened in a great measure by Two detachments of our People, who were Posted in two Roads leading thro’ a wood, in order to intercept the Enemy in their march, suffering a Surprise, and making a precipitate Retreat, which enabled the Enemy to lead a great part of their force against the Troops commanded by Lord Stirling, who formed a third detachment, who behaved with great bravery and resolution.
As to the Retreat from the Island, under the circumstances we then were, it became absolutely necessary, and was effected without loss of men, and with but very little baggage. A few heavy cannon were left, not being movable on account of the Ground being soft and miry, Thro’ the heavy and incessant rains which had fallen. The Enemy’s loss in killed we could never ascertain, but have many reasons to believe, that it was pretty considerable, and exceeded ours a good deal. Our Retreat from thence, as I said before, was absolutely necessary, the Enemy having landed the main body of their army to attack us in Front, while their ships of war were to cut off all communication with the city, from whence resources of men and provisions were to be drawn.
Having made this Retreat, not long after we discovered, by the movements of the Enemy and the information we received from Deserters and others, that they declined attacking our Lines in the city, and were forming a plan to get in our Rear with their Land army, by crossing the Sound above us, and thereby to cut off all Intercourse with the country and every necessary supply. The ships of war were to coöperate, possess the North River, and prevent succours from the Jerseys, &c. This Plan appearing probable, and but too practicable in its execution, it became necessary to guard agt. the fatal consequences, that must follow, if the scheme were effected; for which purpose I caused a removal of a part of our troops and stores from the city; and a council of general officers determined, that it must be entirely abandoned, as we had, with an army weaker than theirs, a line of sixteen or eighteen miles to defend, to keep open our communication with the country, besides the defence of the city. We held up, however, every show of defence, till our Sick and all our stores could be brought away. The evacuation being resolved upon, every exertion in our power was made to baffle their designs and effect our own. The sick were numerous, amounting to more than the fourth part of our whole army, and an object of great Importance. Happily we got them away; but, before we could bring off all our stores, on Sunday morning six or seven ships of war, which had gone up the East River some few days before, began a most severe and heavy cannonade, to scour the grounds and effect a landing of their Troops. Three Ships of War also ran up the North River that morning above the city, to prevent our Boats and small craft from carrying away our Baggage, &c.
I had gone the Evening before to the main body of our army, which was Posted about these Heights and the Plains of Haerlem, where it seemed probable, from the movements and disposition of the Enemy, they meant to Land and make an attack the next morning. However the Event did not happen. Immediately on hearing the cannonade, I rode with all possible expedition towards the place of Landing, and where Breastworks had been thrown up to secure our men; and found the Troops, that had been posted there, to my great surprise and mortification, and those ordered to their support, (consisting of Eight Regiments) notwithstanding the exertions of their Generals to form them, running away in the most shameful and disgraceful manner. I used every possible effort to rally them, but to no purpose; and, on the appearance of a small part of the Enemy, (not more than sixty or seventy,) they ran off without firing a Single Gun. Many of our heavy cannon would inevitably have fallen into the Enemy’s hands, as they landed so soon; but this scandalous conduct occasioned a loss of many Tents, Baggage, and Camp-equipage, which would have been easily secured, had they made the least opposition.
The Retreat was made with the loss of a few men only. We Encamped, and still are, on the Heights of Haerlem, which are well suited for Defence against their approaches. On Monday morning, they advanced in sight in several large bodies, but attempted nothing of a general nature, tho’ there were smart skirmishes between their advanced parties and some Detachments from our lines, which I sent out. In these our Troops behaved well, putting the enemy to flight in open Ground, and forcing them from Posts they had seized two or three times. A sergeant, who deserted from them, says they had, as he was told, eighty-nine wounded and missing, besides slain; but other accounts make the wounded much greater. Our loss in killed and wounded was about sixty; but the greatest loss we sustained was in the death of Lieutenant-Colonel Knowlton, a brave and gallant officer. Major Leitch of Weedon’s Regiment had three balls though his side, and behaved exceedingly well. He is in a fair way of recovery. Nothing material has happened since this. The Enemy, it is said, are bringing up their heavy cannon, so that we are to expect another attack soon, both by Land and Water, as we are upon the Hudson, (or North River) at the place where we have attempted to stop the navigation by sinking obstructions in the river and erecting Batteries.
The Dependence, which the Congress have placed upon the militia, has already greatly injured, and I fear will totally ruin our cause. Being subject to no controul themselves, they introduce disorder among the troops, whom you have attempted to discipline, while the change in their living brings on sickness; this makes them Impatient to get home, which spreads universally, and introduces abominable desertions. In short, it is not in the power of words to describe the task I have to act. Fifty thousand pounds should not induce me again to undergo what I have done. Our numbers, by sickness, desertion, &c., are greatly reduced.1 I have been trying these four or five days to get a return, but have not yet succeeded. I am sure, however, we have not more than twelve or fourteen thousand men fit for duty, whilst the enemy, who, it is said, are very healthy, cannot have less than near twenty-five thousand. With sincere love to my sister and the family, and compliments to any inquiring friends, I am, &c.2
TO LIEUTENANT-GENERAL HOWE.
Head-Quarters, Heights of Haerlem,
I yesterday evening received the favor of your letter of the 21st, by your aid-de-camp Captain Montresor, in consequence of which, I this morning despatched an express to Elizabethtown, with orders that Major-General Prescott should be permitted to return in the boat, that carried General Sullivan over to that place. I most readily concur in the proposition, which you are pleased to make for the exchange of Brigadier-General Lord Stirling for Governor Montfort Brown, and have sent for him accordingly. I should hope, that Lord Stirling will be immediately set at liberty, on my promise that Governor Brown shall be sent to you as soon as he arrives. I had no doubt but Mr. McDonald’s title would have been acknowledged, having understood, that he received his commission from the hands of Governor Martin; nor can I consent to rank him as major, till I have proper authority from Congress, to whom I shall state the matter upon your representation.1
Agreeably to your request, I shall transmit to Lieutenant-Colonel Campbell a copy of the list of officers of the forty-second and seventy-first regiments, taken by us last spring, that it may be rectified in the instances in which it may be wrong, and will then place opposite to their names the officers I would wish in return for them. The exchange of privates I shall take the earliest opportunity in my power to carry into execution; but their being greatly dispersed through the New England governments, in order to their better accommodation, will prevent it for some time. Having the fullest confidence in your assurance, that Mr. Lovell will be released when he arrives from Halifax, I have written for Governor Skene to come to head-quarters, that he may proceed immediately to you.
As to the exchange of prisoners settled between Captain Foster and General Arnold, I beg leave to inform you, that it was a transaction in which I had not the smallest concern, nor have I authority to give directions in any degree respecting the matter. The information you have received concerning the ill-treatment of your officers, I would fain hope, is not generally well founded.1 The letters from them, which have passed through my hands, hold forth a different language. In particular instances, it is true, there are some, who have been restricted to a closer confinement and severer treatment than they otherwise would have been, for breaking or refusing to give their paroles; such, I am confident, will not be countenanced by your Excellency; and I am persuaded that by a closer investigation of the enquiry you will discover, that there have been no other persons whatever, who have experienced the smallest harshness from us. I shall, however, obtain all the information on the subject in my power, that every ground of complaint, if any exists, may be entirely removed; it being my most earnest wish, that, during this unhappy contest, there be every exercise of humanity which the nature of the case will possibly admit.2
Your aid-de-camp delivered to me the ball you mention, which was the first of the kind I ever saw or heard of. You may depend the contrivance is highly abhorred by me, and every measure shall be taken to prevent so wicked and infamous a practice being adopted in this army. I have the honor to be, &c.1
TO GOVERNOR TRUMBULL.
Head-Quarters, Heights of Haerlem,
* * * * * *
I must beg your excuse, for not having wrote you of late upon the situation of our affairs, and such events as have occurred in the military line. I shall only add, that the important concerns, which have commanded my closest attention, have been the cause, and, I am fully persuaded, will furnish me with a sufficient apology. Of the evacuation of the city of New York on Sunday sen’night, and the retreat to this place, you will have heard before now, and of the manner in which it was conducted. I am certain, a minute relation of them would only increase the uneasiness, which would naturally arise upon hearing the events; and, therefore, as I have not time, I shall not enter upon it.
The Enemy by their movements having unfolded their plan of Operations and discovered that they declined making a direct attack upon the Town, and that their designs were to land in our rear and cut off all intercourse with the Country; at the same time to prevent any Communication with the Jersey and States South of the North River, by means of their Ships of War; it became necessary to adopt such measures, as seemed best calculated to baffle their schemes and promote the common Interests. To these ends, a Council of Officers determined the evacuation of the city absolutely necessary, and I have only to wish, that it had been made in a way more honorable and with less loss of Baggage; which might have been the case, had the Troops that remained there for the defence of the Lines, not betaken themselves to a most precipitate and disgraceful flight, contrary to the exertions of their General Officers and every effort in my Power to prevent and form them. Having gone from hence, as soon as the Ships began their Cannonade, and whither I had come the night before to the main Body of our Army, in expectation of an Attack that night or the next morning; as the parade of the Enemy, and the unusual stir amongst them strongly indicated one. The next morning, several large Columns of them appeared on the Plains, at the distance of about two miles and a half below us, and some smart skirmishes ensued between their advanced parties composed of the 2d Battalion of Infantry, a Regiment of Royal Highlanders, and three Companies of the Hessian Chasseurs or Rifle men, and the detachments which I sent out to oppose them. Upon this occasion, our men behaved with great spirit and Intrepidity, putting the Enemy to flight and forcing them from their Posts two or three times. Our people buried Sixteen or Eighteen of their dead, as they say; and a sergeant who has since deserted reports, they had Eighty nine missing and wounded. Our Loss in number is inconsiderable but must be considered as great, in the fall of Lieut. Colo. Knowlton of your State who commanded a party of Rangers, composed of Volunteers from the several New England Regiments, and who was a brave and good officer. Every honor was paid to his merit in his Interment, that the situation of things would admit of.
The enemy have formed a large encampment in the plains, or rather heights, below us, extending across as it were from the East to the North River; but have attempted nothing as yet of a general nature. We are making every disposition in our power for defence, and I should hope, from the ground we are on, if they make an attack, and our men behave with tolerable resolution and firmness, that they will meet with a repulse, or at least, any advantage they gain will be attended with sorrow and a considerable loss. Major Leitch, who led on a detachment of the Virginia regiment in the affair of Monday, received three balls through one side; he still retains his spirits, and seems as if he would recover.1 On Friday night, about eleven or twelve o’clock, a fire broke out in the city of New York, which, burning rapidly till after sunrise next morning, destroyed a great number of houses. By what means it happened we do not know; but the gentleman, who brought the letter from General Howe last night, and who was one of his aide-de-camps informed Colonel Reed, that several of our countrymen had been punished with various deaths on account of it, some by hanging, others by burning &c; alleging, that they were apprehended when committing the fact. I am, &c.
P. S. I would choose that Governors Brown & Skene should be stopt when they come within Ten or twelve miles and detained until one of the escort can inform me of their coming and receive my directions respecting them.
TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.1
Colo. Morris’s, on the Heights of Haerlem,
From the hours allotted to sleep, I will borrow a few moments to convey my thoughts on sundry important matters to Congress. I shall offer them with the sincerity, which ought to characterize a man of candor, and with the freedom, which may be used in giving useful information without incurring the imputation of presumption.
We are now, as it were, upon the eve of another dissolution of our army.1 The remembrance of the difficulties, which happened upon that occasion last year, and the consequences, which might have followed the change if proper advantages had been taken by the enemy, added to a knowledge of the present temper and situation of the troops, reflect but a very gloomy prospect in the appearances of things now, and satisfy me beyond the possibility of doubt, that, unless some speedy and effectual measures are adopted by Congress, our cause will be lost. It is in vain to expect, that any more than a trifling part of this army will again engage in the service on the encouragement offered by Congress. When men find that their townsmen and companions are receiving twenty, thirty, and more dollars for a few months’ service, which is truly the case, it cannot be expected, without using compulsion; and to force them into the service would answer no valuable purpose. When men are irritated, and their passions inflamed, they fly hastily and cheerfully to arms; but, after the first emotions are over, to expect among such people as compose the bulk of an army, that they are influenced by any other principles than those of interest, is to look for what never did, and I fear never will happen; the Congress will deceive themselves, therefore, if they expect it. A soldier, reasoned with upon the goodness of the cause he is engaged in, and the inestimable rights he is contending for, hears you with patience, and acknowledges the truth of your observations, but adds that it is of no more importance to him than to others. The officer makes you the same reply, with this further remark, that his pay will not support him, and he cannot ruin himself and family to serve his country, when every member of the community is equally interested, and benefitted by his labors. The few, therefore, who act upon principles of disinterestedness, comparatively speaking, are no more than a drop in the ocean.
It becomes evident to me then, that, as this contest is not likely to be the work of a day, as the war must be carried on systematically, and to do it you must have good officers, there are in my judgment no other possible means to obtain them but by establishing your army upon a permanent footing, and giving your officers good pay. This will induce gentlemen and men of character to engage; and, till the bulk of your officers is composed of such persons as are actuated by principles of honor and a spirit of enterprise, you have little to expect from them. They ought to have such allowances, as will enable them to live like and support the character of gentlemen, and not be driven by a scanty pittance to the low and dirty arts, which many of them practise, to filch from the public more than the difference of pay would amount to, upon an ample allowance. Besides, something is due to the man, who puts his life in your hands, hazards his health, and forsakes the sweets of domestic enjoyment. Why a captain in the Continental service should receive no more than five shillings currency per day for performing the same duties, that an officer of the same rank in the British service receives ten shillings for, I never could conceive; especially when the latter is provided with every necessary he requires upon the best terms, and the former can scarce procure them at any rate. There is nothing that gives a man consequence and renders him fit for command, like a support that renders him independent of every body but the state he serves.1
With respect to the men, nothing but a good bounty can obtain them upon a permanent establishment; and for no shorter time, than the continuance of the war, ought they to be engaged; as facts incontestably prove, that the difficulty and cost of enlistments increase with time. When the army was first raised at Cambridge, I am persuaded the men might have been got, without a bounty, for the war. After this, they began to see that the contest was not likely to end so speedily as was imagined, and to feel their consequence by remarking, that, to get in their militia in the course of the last year, many towns were induced to give them a bounty. Foreseeing the evils resulting from this, and the destructive consequences, which unavoidably would follow short enlistments, I took the liberty in a long letter written by myself (date not now recollected as my Letter Book is not here1 ) to recommend the enlistments for and during the war, assigning such reasons for it as experience has since convinced me were well founded. At that time, twenty dollars would, I am persuaded, have engaged the men for this term. But it will not do to look back; and, if the present opportunity is slipped, I am persuaded that twelve months more will increase our difficulties fourfold. I shall therefore take the freedom of giving it as my opinion, that a good bounty should be immediately offered, aided by the proffer of at least a hundred or a hundred and fifty acres of land, and a suit of clothes and blanket to each non-comissioned officer and soldier; as I have good authority for saying, that, however high the men’s pay may appear, it is barely sufficient, in the present scarcity and dearness of all kinds of goods, to keep them in clothes, much less afford support to their families.
If this encouragement then is given to the men, and such pay allowed the officers as will induce gentlemen of character and liberal sentiments to engage, and proper care and precaution are used in the nomination, (having more regard to the characters of persons, than to the number of men they can enlist,) we should in a little time have an army able to cope with any that can be opposed to it, as there are excellent materials to form one out of. But while the only merit an officer possesses is his ability to raise men, while those men consider and treat him as an equal, and, in the character of an officer, regard him no more than a broomstick, being mixed together as one common herd, no order nor discipline can prevail; nor will the officer ever meet with that respect, which is essentially necessary to due subordination.1
To place any dependence upon militia is assuredly resting upon a broken staff. Men just dragged from the tender scenes of domestic life, unaccustomed to the din of arms, totally unacquainted with every kind of military skill, (which being followed by want of confidence in themselves, when opposed to troops regularly trained, disciplined, and appointed, superior in knowledge and superior in arms,) makes them timid and ready to fly from their own shadows. Besides the sudden change in their manner of living, (particularly in the lodging,) brings on sickness in many, impatience in all, and such an unconquerable desire of returning to their respective homes, that it not only produces shameful and scandalous desertions among themselves, but infuses the like spirit in others. Again, men accustomed to unbounded freedom and no control cannot brooke the restraint, which is indispensably necessary to the good order and government of an army; without which, licentiousness and every kind of disorder triumphantly reign. To bring men to a proper degree of subordination is not the work of a day, a month, or even a year; and, unhappily for us and the cause we are engaged in, the little discipline I have been laboring to establish in the army under my immediate command is in a manner done away, by having such a mixture of troops, as have been called together within these few months.
Relaxed and as unfit as our rules and regulations of war are for the government of an army, the militia (those properly so called, for of these we have two sorts, the six-months’ men, and those sent in as a temporary aid) do not think themselves subject to them, and therefore take liberties, which the soldier is punished for. This creates jealousy; jealousy begets dissatisfaction; and these by degrees ripen into mutiny, keeping the whole army in a confused and disordered state, rendering the time of those, who wish to see regularity and good order prevail, more unhappy than words can describe. Besides this, such repeated changes take place, that all arrangement is set at nought, and the constant fluctuation of things deranges every plan as fast as adopted.
These, Sir, Congress may be assured, are but a small part of the inconveniences, which might be enumerated, and attributed to militia; but there is one, that merits particular attention, and that is the expense. Certain I am, that it would be cheaper to keep fifty or a hundred thousand in constant pay, than to depend upon half the number and supply the other half occasionally by militia. The time the latter are in pay before and after they are in camp, assembling and marching, the waste of ammunition, the consumption of stores, which, in spite of every resolution or requisition of Congress, they must be furnished with, or sent home, added to other incidental expenses consequent upon their coming and conduct in camp, surpasses all idea, and destroys every kind of regularity and economy, which you could establish among fixed and settled troops, and will, in my opinion, prove, if the scheme is adhered to, the ruin of our cause.
The jealousy of a standing army, and the evils to be apprehended from one, are remote, and, in my judgment, situated and circumstanced as we are, not at all to be dreaded; but the consequence of wanting one, according to my ideas formed from the present view of things, is certain and inevitable ruin. For, if I was called upon to declare upon oath, whether the militia have been most serviceable or hurtful upon the whole, I should subscribe to the latter. I do not mean by this, however, to arraign the conduct of Congress; in so doing I should equally condemn my own measures, if I did not my judgment; but experience, which is the best criterion to work by, so fully, clearly, and decisively reprobates the practice of trusting to militia, that no man, who regards order, regularity, and economy, or who has any regard for his own honor, character, or peace of mind, will risk them upon this issue.1
No less attention should be paid to the choice of surgeons, than of other officers of the army. They should undergo a regular examination, and, if not appointed by the director-general and surgeons of the hospital, they ought to be subordiate to and governed by his directions. The regimental surgeons I am speaking of, many of whom are very great rascals, countenancing the men in sham complaints to exempt them from duty, and often receiving bribes to certify indispositions, with a view to procure discharges or furloughs; but, independent of these practices, while they are considered as unconnected with the general hospital, there will be nothing but continual complaints of each other; the director of the hospital charging them with enormity in their drafts for the sick, and they him with the same for denying such things as are necessary. In short, there is a constant bickering among them, which tends greatly to the injury of the sick, and will always subsist till the regimental surgeons are made to look up to the director-general of the hospital as a superior. Whether this is the case in regular armies or not, I cannot undertake to say; but certain I am, there is a necessity for it in this, or the sick will suffer. The regimental surgeons are aiming, I am persuaded, to break up the general hospital, and have, in numberless instances, drawn for medicines and stores in the most profuse and extravagant manner for private purposes.1
Another matter highly worthy of attention is, that other rules and regulations may be adopted for the government of the army, than those now in existence; otherwise the army, but for the name, might as well be disbanded. For the most atrocious offences, one or two instances only excepted, a man receives no more than thirty-nine lashes; and these, perhaps, through the collusion of the officer, who is to see it inflicted, are given in such a manner as to become rather a matter of sport than punishment; but, when inflicted as they ought, many hardened fellows, who have been the subjects, have declared that, for a bottle of rum, they would undergo a second operation. It is evident, therefore, that this punishment is inadequate to many crimes it is assigned to. As a proof of it, thirty or forty soldiers will desert at a time, and of late a practice prevails (as you will see by my letter of the 22d) of the most alarming nature and which will, if it cannot be checked, prove fatal both to the country and army; I mean the infamous practice of plundering. For, under the idea of Tory property, or property that may fall into the hands of the enemy, no man is secure in his effects, and scarcely in his person. In order to get at them, we have several instances of people being frightened out of their houses, under pretence of those houses being ordered to be burnt, and this is done with a view of seizing the goods; nay, in order that the villany may be more effectually concealed, some houses have actually been burnt, to cover the theft. I have, with some others, used my utmost endeavors to stop this horrid practice; but under the present lust after plunder, and want of laws to punish offenders, I might almost as well attempt to remove Mount Atlas. I have ordered instant corporal punishment upon every man, who passes our lines, or is seen with plunder, that the offenders might be punished for disobedience of orders; and enclose to you the proceedings of a court-martial held upon an officer [Ensign Matthew McCumber] who, with a party of men, had robbed a house a little beyond our lines of a number of valuable goods, among which (to show that nothing escapes) were four large pier looking-glasses, women’s clothes, and other articles, which, one would think, could be of no earthly use to him. He was met by a major of brigade, [Box] who ordered him to return the goods, as taken contrary to general orders, which he not only peremptorily refused to do, but drew up his party, and swore he would defend them at the hazard of his life; on which I ordered him to be arrested and tried for plundering, disobedience of orders, and mutiny. For the result, I refer to the proceedings of the court, whose judgment appeared so exceedingly extraordinary,1 that I ordered a reconsideration of the matter, upon which, and with the assistance of a fresh evidence, they made a shift to cashier him. I adduce this instance, to give some idea to Congress of the current sentiments and general run of the officers, which compose the present army; and to show how exceedingly necessary it is to be careful in the choice of the new set, even if it should take double the time to complete the levies.1
An army formed of good officers moves like clockwork; but there is no situation upon earth less enviable, nor more distressing, than that person’s, who is at the head of troops which are regardless of order and discipline, and who are unprovided with almost every necessary. In a word, the difficulties, which have for ever surrounded me since I have been in the service, and kept my mind constantly upon the stretch, the wounds, which my feelings as an officer have received by a thousand things, which have happened contrary to my expectation and wishes; the effect of my own conduct, and present appearance of things, so little pleasing to myself, as to render it a matter of no surprise to me if I should stand capitally censured by Congress; added to a consciousness of my inability to govern an army composed of such discordant parts, and under such a variety of intricate and perplexing circumstances;—induces not only a belief, but a thorough conviction in my mind, that it will be impossible, unless there is a thorough change in our military system, for me to conduct matters in such a manner as to give satisfaction to the public, which is all the recompense I aim at, or ever wished for.
Before I conclude, I must apologize for the liberties taken in this letter, and for the blots and scratchings therein, not having time to give it more correctly. With truth I can add, that, with every sentiment of respect and esteem, I am yours and the Congress’s most obedient, &c.1
TO BRIGADIER-GENERAL MERCER.
Heights of Haerlem, 26 September, 1776.
If the troops at this post can be prevailed upon to defend it as they should do, it must cost General Howe a great many men to carry it, if he succeeds at all. If this should happen to be his opinion, there is scarce a doubt that he will turn his thoughts another way, as inactivity is not to be expected from him. Whither his operations may be directed is uncertain; perhaps an irruption into the Jerseys. Possibly he may bend his course towards Philadelphia, (for I conceive that two thousand men, with the assistance of their shipping, will effectually preserve New York against our whole strength,) or, what in my judgment is exceedingly probable, knowing that the troops are drawn off from the southern colonies, he may detach a part of the army to the southward for a winter’s campaign, as was recommended to him last fall by Lord Dunmore.
In either of these cases, it behoves us to keep the best look-out, and to obtain the earliest intelligence possible of the enemy’s motions; and, as it is now the current opinion, that the shipping are greatly thinned, I earnestly recommend to you the necessity of having sensible and judicious persons in different places to observe the movements of the shipping, among others at the Neversinks; for if they should send out a fleet without our giving notice of it to Congress, we shall be thought exceedingly remiss. In short, I entreat you to exert your best endeavors to obtain all the useful intelligence you possibly can of the enemy’s motions by sea and land. In doing this, money may be required, and do not spare it. Communicate every thing of importance to me with despatch; and be assured, that I am, &c.1
TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.
Heights of Haerlem, 28 September, 1776.
Being about to cross the North River this morning, in order to view the post opposite, and the grounds between that and Paulus Hook, I shall not add much more than that I have been honored with your favor of the 24th and its several enclosures, and that since my letter of yesterday, no important event has taken place.2
As Colonel Hugh Stephenson, of the rifle regiment lately ordered to be raised, is dead, according to the information I have received, I would beg leave to recommend to the particular notice of Congress Captain Daniel Morgan, just returned among the prisoners from Canada, as a fit and proper person to succeed to the vacancy occasioned by his death. The present field-officers of the regiment cannot claim any right in preference to him, because he ranked above them, and as a captain, when he first entered the service. His conduct as an officer, on the expedition with General Arnold last fall, his intrepid behavior in the assault upon Quebec, when the brave Montgomery fell, the inflexible attachment he professed to our cause during his imprisonment, and which he perseveres in, added to these, his residence in the place Colonel Stephenson came from, and his interest and influence in the same circle, and with such men as are to compose such a regiment,—all, in my opinion, entitle him to the favor of Congress, and lead me to believe, that in his promotion the States will gain a good valuable officer for the sort of troops he is particularly recommended to command. Should Congress be pleased to appoint Captain Morgan in the instance I have mentioned, I would still beg leave to suggest the propriety and necessity of keeping the matter close, and not suffering it to transpire, until he is exonerated from the parole he is under. His acceptance of a commission under his present circumstances might be construed a violation of his engagement; and if not, the difficulty attending his exchange might be increased. The enemy, perhaps, would consider him as a field-officer, of which we have but very few in our hands, and none, that I recollect, of that rank.1 I am, &c.2
TO LUND WASHINGTON.1
Col. Morris’s, on the Heights of Harlem,
Your letter of the 18th, which is the only one received and unanswered, now lies before me. The amazement which you seem to be in at the unaccountable measures which have been adopted by —2 would be a good deal increased if I had time to unfold the whole system of their management since this time twelve months. I do not know how to account for the unfortunate steps which have been taken but from that fatal idea of conciliation which prevailed so long—fatal, I call it, because from my soul I wish it may prove so, though my fears lead me to think there is too much danger of it. This time last year I pointed out the evil consequences of short enlistments, the expenses of militia, and the little dependence that was to be placed in them. I assured [Congress] that the longer they delayed raising a standing army, the more difficult and chargeable would they find it to get one, and that, at the same time that the militia would answer no valuable purpose, the frequent calling them in would be attended with an expense, that they could have no conception of.1 Whether, as I have said before, the unfortunate hope of reconciliation was the cause, or the fear of a standing army prevailed, I will not undertake to say; but the policy was to engage men for twelve months only. The consequence of which, you have had great bodies of militia in pay that never were in camp; you have had immense quantities of provisions drawn by men that never rendered you one hour’s service (at least usefully), and this in the most profuse and wasteful way. Your stores have been expended, and every kind of military [discipline?] destroyed by them; your numbers fluctuating, uncertain, and forever far short of report—at no one time, I believe, equal to twenty thousand men fit for duty. At present our numbers fit for duty (by this day’s report) amount to 14,759, besides 3,427 on command, and the enemy within stone’s throw of us. It is true a body of militia are again ordered out, but they come without any conveniences and soon return. I discharged a regiment the other day that had in it fourteen rank and file fit for duty only, and several that had less than fifty. In short, such is my situation that if I were to wish the bitterest curse to an enemy on this side of the grave, I should put him in my stead with my feelings; and yet I do not know what plan of conduct to pursue. I see the impossibility of serving with reputation, or doing any essential service to the cause by continuing in command, and yet I am told that if I quit the command inevitable ruin will follow from the distraction that will ensue. In confidence I tell you that I never was in such an unhappy, divided state since I was born. To lose all comfort and happiness on the one hand, whilst I am fully persuaded that under such a system of management as has been adopted, I cannot have the least chance for reputation, nor those allowances made which the nature of the case requires; and to be told, on the other, that if I leave the service all will be lost, is, at the same time that I am bereft of every peaceful moment, distressing to a degree. But I will be done with the subject, with the precaution to you that it is not a fit one to be publicly known or discussed. If I fall, it may not be amiss that these circumstances be known, and declaration made in credit to the justice of my character. And if the men will stand by me (which by the by I despair of), I am resolved not to be forced from this ground while I have life; and a few days will determine the point, if the enemy should not change their plan of operations; for they certainly will not—I am sure they ought not—to waste the season that is now fast advancing, and must be precious to them. I thought to have given you a more explicit account of my situation, expectation, and feelings, but I have not time. I am wearied to death all day with a variety of perplexing circumstances—disturbed at the conduct of the militia, whose behavior and want of discipline has done great injury to the other troops, who never had officers, except in a few instances, worth the bread they eat. My time, in short, is so much engrossed that I have not leisure for corresponding, unless it is on mere matters of public business.
I therefore in answer to your last Letter of the 18th shall say
With respect to the chimney, I would not have you for the sake of a little work spoil the look of the fireplaces, tho’ that in the parlor must, I should think, stand as it does; not so much on account of the wainscotting, which I think must be altered (on account of the door leading into the new building,) as on account of the chimney piece and the manner of its fronting into the room. The chimney in the room above ought, if it could be so contrived, to be an angle chimney as the others are: but I would not have this attempted at the expence of pulling down the partition.—The chimney in the new room should be exactly in the middle of it—the doors and every thing else to be exactly answerable and uniform—in short I would have the whole executed in a masterly manner.
You ought surely to have a window in the gable end of the new cellar (either under the Venitian window, or one on each side of it).
Let Mr. Herbert know that I shall be very happy in getting his brother exchanged as soon as possible, but as the enemy have more of our officers than we of theirs, and some of ours have been long confined (and claim ye right of being first exchanged,) I do not know how far it may be in my power at this time, to comply with his desires.
Remember me to all our neighbors and friends, particularly to Colo. Mason, to whom I would write if I had time to do it fully and satisfactorily. Without this, I think the correspondence on my part would be unavailing—
I am with truth and sincerity,