Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO PATRICK HENRY, GOVERNOR OF VIRGINIA. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. IV (1776)
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TO PATRICK HENRY, GOVERNOR OF VIRGINIA. - 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 PATRICK HENRY, GOVERNOR OF VIRGINIA.
Heights of Haerlem, 5 October, 1776.
Your obliging favor of the 20th ultimo came duly to hand, and demands my best acknowledgments. I congratulate you, Sir, most cordially, upon your appointment to the government, and, with no less sincerity, on your late recovery. Your correspondence will confer honor and satisfaction; and, whenever it is in my power, I shall write to you with pleasure. Our retreat from Long Island, under our peculiar circumstances, became an act of prudence and necessity, and the evacuation of New York was a consequence resulting from the other. Indeed, after we discovered that the enemy, instead of making an attack upon the city, were endeavouring, by means of their ships and superior land force, either to intercept our retreat, by getting in our rear, or else by landing their forces between our divisions at Kingsbridge and those in the town, to separate the one from the other, it became a matter of the last importance to alter the disposition of the army.
These measures, however, although of the most evident utility, have been productive of some inconveniences, the troops having become in some measure dispirited by these successive retreats, which, I presume, has also been the case among several of our friends in the country. In order to recover that military ardor, which is of the utmost moment to an army, almost immediately on my arrival at this place I formed a design of cutting off some of the enemy’s light troops, who, encouraged by their successes, had advanced to the extremity of the high ground opposite to our present encampment. To effect this salutary purpose, Colonel Knowlton and Major Leitch were detached with parties of riflemen and rangers to get in their rear, while a disposition was made as if to attack them in front. By some unhappy mistake, the fire was commenced from that quarter, rather on their flank than in their rear; by which means, though the enemy were defeated and pushed off the ground, yet they had an opportunity of retreating to their main body. This piece of success, though it tended greatly to inspire our troops with confidence, has been in some measure embittered by the loss of those two brave officers, who are dead of the wounds they received in the action. Since this skirmish, excepting the affair at Montresor’s Island, where Major Henly, another of our best officers, was slain, there has been nothing of any material consequence.1 Indeed, the advantage obtained over the enemy’s light troops might have been improved perhaps to a considerable extent, had we been in a proper situation to make use of this favorable crisis; but a want of confidence in the generality of the troops has prevented me from availing myself of that, and almost every other opportunity, which has presented itself.
I own my fears, that this must ever be the case, when our dependence is placed on men, enlisted for a few months, commanded by such officers as party or accident may have furnished; and on militia, who, as soon as they are fairly fixed in the camp, are impatient to return to their own homes; and who, from an utter disregard of all discipline and restraint among themselves, are but too apt to infuse the like spirit into others. The evils of short enlistments and of employing militia to oppose regular and well appointed troops, I strongly urged to Congress before the last army was engaged. Indeed, my own situation at Cambridge, about the close of the last campaign, furnished the most striking example of the fatal tendency of such measures. I then clearly foresaw, that such an armament, as we had good reason to expect would be sent against us, could be opposed only by troops enlisted during the war, and where every action would add to their experience and improvement, and of whom, if they were unsuccessful in the beginning, a reasonable hope might be entertained, that in time they would become as well acquainted with their business as their enemies. This method, I am convinced, would have been attended with every good consequence; for, besides the militia being altogether unfit for the service, when called into the field, they are much more expensive than any other kind of troops; and the war could have been conducted on more moderate terms, by establishing a permanent body of forces, who were equal to every contingency, than by calling in the militia on imminent and pressing occasions.
I would not wish to influence your judgment with respect to militia, in the management of Indian affairs, as I am fully persuaded that the inhabitants of the frontier counties in your colony are, from inclination as well as ability, peculiarly adapted to that kind of warfare. At the same time, I should think it would be highly advisable, in case you should conceive yourselves to be in danger from any detachment of the British army, or from their marines, not to depend on any troops, but such as are well officered and enlisted during the war.
I make no doubt, but your State have turned their views towards forming some obstacles against the enemy’s ships and tenders, who may go up your rivers in quest of provisions, or for the purpose of destroying your towns. If they have depended on batteries to prevent them, without any other obstructions, a trial of the matter has taught us to believe, that it will be altogether ineffectual; as, when under sail, with wind and tide in their favor, any damage they may receive from a battery will be of very little consequence. At the same time, I must observe, that this kind of opposition is exceedingly proper for the defence of a town, or in any case, where it is necessary that the ships should come to anchor before the batteries, for the purpose of silencing them. In the first instance, I would strongly recommend row-galleys, which, if officered with brave and determined men, and conducted with prudence, would, in my opinion, be productive of the greatest advantage, and be the most likely means, in your situation, of securing your towns and houses, on the navigable waters, from any impression from the shipping.
I imagine, before this, Congress have made you acquainted with their resolutions for raising the new army, and that your colony is to furnish fifteen battalions to be enlisted during the war. As this will occasion the choosing a number of new officers, I would, in the most urgent manner, recommend the utmost care and circumspection in your appointments. I do not suppose that there are many experienced gentlemen now left with you, as, from what I have understood, those who have served in the last war are chiefly promoted. However, I am satisfied that the military spirit runs so high in your colony, and the number of applicants will be so considerable, that a very proper choice may be made. Indeed, the army’s being put upon such a permanent footing will be a strong inducement for them to step forth on the present interesting occasion. One circumstance, in this important business, ought to be cautiously guarded against, and that is, the soldiers and officers being too nearly on a level. Discipline and subordination add life and vigor to military movements. The person commanded yields but a reluctant obedience to those, who he conceives are undeservedly made his superiors. The degrees of rank are frequently transferred from civil life into the departments of the army. The true criterion to judge by, when past services do not enter into the competition, is, to consider whether the candidate for office has a just pretension to the character of a gentleman, a proper sense of honor, and some reputation to lose.
Perhaps, Sir, you may be surprised at my pressing this advice so strongly as I have done in this letter; but I have felt the inconveniences resulting from a contrary principle in so sensible a manner, and this army has been so greatly enfeebled by a different line of conduct, that I hope you will readily excuse me. I am, Sir, with sincere regard, your affectionate humble servant.
[1 ]Major Thomas Henly was aid-de-camp to General Heath. He volunteered to join a party under Lieutenant-Colonel Jackson, who, on the 22d of September, with two hundred and forty men in flat-boats, made a descent upon Montresor’s Island, of which the British had taken possession. The troops in one boat only effected a landing, and these were driven back with the loss of fourteen men killed, wounded, and missing. Henly behaved with great courage, but was shot just as he was entering the boat, and instantly expired. The following honorable tribute is contained in the Orderly Book, September 24th:—“Major Henly, whose activity and attention to duty, courage, and every other quality, which can distinguish a brave and gallant soldier, must endear him to every lover of his country, having fallen in a late skirmish on Montresor’s Island, while bravely leading a party, his remains will be interred this afternoon at five o’clock, below the hill where the redoubt is thrown up on the road.” This was the burial-place of Colonel Knowlton, and Henly was laid by his side.—Sparks.