Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. VI (1777-1778)
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TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. VI (1777-1778) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. VI (1777-1778).
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TO THE PRESIDENT OF CONGRESS.
Neshaminy Camp, 21 August, 1777.
From the time which has elapsed since General Howe departed from the Capes of Delaware, there is the strongest reason to conclude, that He is gone either far to the Eastward or Southward, and with a design to execute some determin’d plan. The danger of the sea, the injury his Troops & horses must sustain from being so long confin’d, the loss of time so late in the campaign, will scarcely admit a supposition that he is merely making a feint, and still intends to return either to the Delaware or the North River without performing some enterprise first in another quarter. The probability is in favor of a Southern expedition, because he has been seen, since his departure from the Capes, off Sinepuxent, steering a Southern course; and because, had his destination been to the eastward, his arrival there, from the general state of the Winds, must have announced it before this, or his fleet wo’ld have been discovered by some of the cruisers on that coast.
If he is gone to the Southward, he must be gone far that way; for, had the Chesapeake Bay been his object, he would have been there long since, and the fact well established. Beyond that, there is no place short of Charlestown of sufficient importance to engage his attention. The extensive commerce, the vast accumulation of military and other stores in that Town and its dependencies, with the eclat it would give his arms if he should unfortunately take it, afford him stronger inducements to direct his operations there, than he could possibly have elsewhere. Matters being thus circumstanced, an important question arises; how this army is to be employed. If his intentions are such as I have supposed them, it appears to me that an attempt to follow him would not only be fruitless, but would be attended with the most ruinous consequences. The distance is so immense, that Genl Howe might accomplish every purpose he had in view, before we could possibly arrive to oppose him; and so long a march through an unhealthy climate at this season would debilitate and waste a principal part of our force. Added to this, after we had made a considerable progress, he might easily reëmbark his Troops and turn his arms against Philadelphia or elsewhere, as he should think proper, without our being in a condition to give the least aid.
As these, and many other reasons, which will readily occur to Congress, will show the impracticability of our counteracting Genl Howe with any good effect in that Quarter, we have no other alternative left than to remain here Idle & inactive, on the remote probability of his returning this way, or to proceed towards Hudson’s River, with a view of opposing Genl Burgoyne, or making an attempt on York Island, as the situation of affairs shall point out. A successful stroke with respect to either wo’d be attended with the most signal advantages, and would be the best compensation we could make for any losses we may sustain to the southward. Besides these considerations, if, after all our conjectures and reasoning upon the subject, Genl Howe should be gone to the eastward to coöperate with Mr. Burgoyne, the army will be, by the movement proposed, so far on its way, to prevent, I hope, the success of his enterprise.
The above reasons led me to call a Council of Genl officers this morning, to take the Subject of removing the Troops from hence into consideration; and I am happy to inform Congress, they were in sentiments with me upon the occasion, as they will perceive by a copy of the proceedings then had, which I do myself the honor of laying before them. Nevertheless, as it is a movement which may involve the most important consequences, I have thought proper to submit it to Congress for their deliberation & decision. If it is deemed expedient, we have perhaps not a moment to lose in carrying it into execution; and, under this persuasion, I have sent Colol Hamilton, one of my aids, who will have the honor of delivering this, to bring me the result of their opinion.1 As the northern department has been all along considered separate, & in some measure distinct, and there are special Resolves vesting the command in particular persons,—in case it should hereafter appear eligible to unite the Two Armies, it may perhaps be necessary that Congress should place the matter upon such a footing as to remove all Scruples or difficulties about the command, that could possibly arise on my arrival there. This I request, from a disposition to Harmony, & from my knowing the ill & fatal consequences that have often arisen from such controversies, and not from the most distant apprehension, that one would take place upon such an event. The thing however is possible; and to guard against it can do no injury. I have the honor to be, &c.
P. S. That I may not appear inconsistent, to advise and to act before I obtain an opinion, I beg leave to mention, that I shall move the army to the Delaware to-morrow morning, to change their Ground at any rate, as their present encampment begins to be disagreeable, and would injure their Health in a short time. Our forage also begins to grow scarce here.1
[1 ]In the council of war it was decided, as the unanimous opinion of the board of officers: first, that the enemy’s fleet had most probably sailed for Charleston; secondly, that it was not expedient for the army to march southward, as it could not possibly arrive at Charleston in time to afford any succor; thirdly, that the army should move immediately towards the North River. The Marquis de Lafayette took part for the first time in the council of war convened on this occasion, and attended with the rank of major-general. Congress approved this decision, on the same day that the above letter was written; but intelligence arrived the next morning, that the British fleet had been seen far up the Chesapeake Bay, and was communicated to General Washington by President Hancock, in a letter dated August 22d, at half-past one o’clock in the afternoon, as follows: “This moment an express arrived from Maryland with an account of near two hundred sail of General Howe’s fleet being at anchor in the Chesapeake Bay. In consequence of this advice, Congress have ordered the immediate removal of the stores and prisoners from Lancaster and York in this State to places of greater safety.” This intelligence of course immediately changed the plan of operations.
[1 ]“By the enclosed, which has this moment come to hand, you will perceive that the Enemy’s Fleet have at length fairly entered the Chesapeake Bay, Swan Point being at least two hundred miles up. I desire you will immediately forward this account to Govr Trumbull, to be by him sent on the eastward. As there is not now the least danger of General Howe’s going to New England, I hope the whole Force of that Country will turn out, and, by following the great stroke struck by Genl Stark near Bennington, entirely crush Genl Burgoyne, who by his letter to Colonel Baum seems to be in want of almost every thing. I hope you will draw in such a Force of Militia as will effectually secure your post against any attempt from New York. I shall be obliged to draw Genl Sullivan with his division down to me; for, by Genl Howe’s coming so far up Chesapeake, he must mean to reach Philadelphia by that rout, tho’ to be sure it is a very strange one.”—Washington to Major-General Putnam, 22 August, 1777.