Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. IV (1776)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS. - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
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
[1 ]Colonel Morris’s house, at which General Washington’s head-quarters were now established, and at which they continued till the army retreated from New York Island, was on high and commanding ground, called the Heights of Haerlem, about three miles north of the village of that name, and a mile and a half south of Fort Washington. At this place the island is a little more than a mile wide between Hudson’s River on the west, and Haerlem River on the east. The lines of the army, in a double row, extended quite across from one river to the other over a rocky and broken surface, and were strongly fortified with breastworks, intrenchments, and abatis.
[1 ]“I had gone the night before to the Main Body of the Army, which was posted on the Heights and Plains of Harlem, apprending from many uncommon and great movements among the Enemy, that they meant to make an attack there that night, or to land on the East side of Harlem River.”—Washington to Governor Cooke, 17 September, 1776.
[2 ]The conduct of General Washington on this occasion has been described, as not being marked by his usual self-command. In writing from Haerlem Heights to a friend, General Greene said:—“We made a miserable, disorderly retreat from New York, owing to the disorderly conduct of the militia, who ran at the appearance of the enemy’s advanced guard. Fellows’s and Parsons’s brigades ran away from about fifty men, and left his Excellency on the ground within eighty yards of the enemy, so vexed at the infamous conduct of the troops, that he sought death rather than life.”—Letter, September 17th. Dr. Gordon relates the incident nearly in the same way, though a little enlarged, and, as he was in camp soon afterwards, he probably derived his information from a correct source. “The General’s attempts to stop the troops were fruitless, though he drew his sword and threatened to run them through, cocked and snapped his pistols. On the appearance of a small party of the enemy, not more than sixty or seventy, their disorder was increased, and they ran off without firing a single shot, and left the General in a hazardous situation, so that his attendants to extricate him out of it, caught the bridle of his horse, and gave him a different direction.”—Gordon’s History, vol. ii., p. 327.
[1 ]I forgot to mention that Mr. Washington shortly after the landing on New York island, narrowly escaped being made prisoner. He left Mr. Apthorpe’s house, at Bloomingdale, a few minutes only before the British light infantry entered it.”—Letter from New York, 27 September, 1776. London Chronicle, 19 November, 1776.
[1 ]Read in Congress, September 17th.