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TO COUNT D’ESTAING. - George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, vol. VIII (1779-1780) 
The Writings of George Washington, collected and edited by Worthington Chauncey Ford (New York and London: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1890). Vol. VIII (1779-1780).
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TO COUNT D’ESTAING.
West Point, 4 October, 1779.
* * * * * *
I beg leave to enclose a copy of the abovementioned letter,2 and the substance of the intelligence since received. Your Excellency will observe, that only two detachments of troops have sailed from New York; one consisting of three German and one British regiment for Halifax or Quebec, and the other composed of the grenadiers, light infantry, and one British regiment, supposed to be destined to the southern States. I have not received any account of the debarkation of the Halifax detachment, and I believe it has prosecuted its voyage. One of the transports has been taken and carried into Philadelphia, with one hundred and sixty men on board. She reports Halifax to have been her destination. I have reason to believe, from some information recently obtained, that the latter detachment has returned.1 These, however, are not altogether authentic; but I am the more inclined to give them credit, as I think it probable they were bound to South Carolina, and in their way may have heard of your Excellency’s arrival in that quarter, which would naturally occasion their return to New York.
The enemy’s force in New York and its dependencies, supposing the return of the above detachment, I now estimate at fourteen thousand. Their fleet consists of the Russell of seventy-four, the Europa of sixty-four, the Renown of fifty, the Roebuck of forty-four, and a few smaller frigates. Your Excellency will perceive, that their affairs are in a fluctuating state; and therefore many changes may have taken place since my last advices.
From the advanced season of the year, every instant of time is infinitely precious, and must be even more so to your Excellency than to us. This makes it to be lamented, that it had not been possible to preconcert a plan before your arrival. The force under your command, and the time you can devote to this business, are essential points in determining what can with propriety be undertaken; and the first steps will be of great consequence to all the succeeding ones. To enable you the better to regulate your own movements, I shall expose to you our prospects, and the different plans which present themselves to me, with the obstacles attending each.
New York is the first and capital object, upon which every other is dependent. The loss of the army and fleet there would be one of the severest blows the English nation could experience. Rhode Island would fall of course; but your Excellency will be sensible, that the reduction of fourteen thousand men, concentred upon a small Island with the assistance of fortifications, is an enterprise of no inconsiderable difficulty; and requires a vigorous exertion of our resources, in conjunction with your force, to give it a sufficient probability of success. Not less than thirty thousand men will in my opinion be adequate to the operation, and we cannot collect the numbers necessary on our part, in addition to what we already have in the field, in less than three weeks from this time. The interval between your arrival and that period must for the most part be spent in a state of inactivity on your side, unless you judge it proper to direct your attention to an attempt upon Rhode Island.
The knowledge you have of this place will enable you, better than me, to decide on the eligibility of this project. The garrison there is respectable, and, as I am informed, secured by a chain of redoubts and retrenchments from one flank of the Island to the other, which would be exceedingly formidable to an assault. The town however may be burnt, and with it the enemy’s magazines, which it is probable would speedily reduce them to a surrender. Your Excellency is a better judge than I am of the time, which would be exhausted in this enterprise; but I should imagine it might require at least four weeks for its accomplishment. If you should think proper to pursue this plan, we have a body of two thousand troops now ready at Rhode Island, and can march thither any additional number you may deem necessary for a coöperation. But in order to this, I must request you will give me previous notice of your intention.
Success in this attempt would be favorable to our ulterior operations against New York, but a failure would be attended with the reverse, as it would damp the spirits of the country and diminish its exertions. Another inconvenience would attend it, which is, that, without a division of your force to continue the blockade of New York, the fleet now there would make its escape. Indeed, in any plan, a division of your force will be indispensable. Rhode Island and the Sound must be blockaded, otherwise the garrison there will form a junction with the main body at New York, which would be so great an accession of force, as would render the success of our operations improbable; and the frigates and smaller vessels may find a passage through the Sound, and elude your Excellency in that way. But the difference is this. In the latter case, two or three fifty-gun ships, and as many frigates, will answer the purpose. In the former, some of your ships of the line must be left at New York, to have a superiority to the two that are there, aided by the frigates. In case of the attempt upon Rhode Island, the only expedient, to avoid a division of your ships of the line, will be, to remain with the whole at New York, and send your troops round under the protection of your frigates. Your Excellency is the best judge with what propriety a movement of this kind can be hazarded.
In either event, it appears to me advisable, that you should first enter the bay of New York, with a part at least, of your fleet, and, as suddenly as possible, intercept the troops on Staten Island, and the garrisons up the river, as the capture of these will materially facilitate the reduction of the remaining force; and I take the liberty strongly to recommend, that a proper detachment may without loss of time block up the Sound and the port of Rhode Island. I have taken measures for furnishing you with pilots; one of them accompanies this letter; but I have directed three or four to be stationed with Major Lee at Monmouth, to put off to your Excellency on your first appearance. Among these is one, who is acquainted with the navigation of the North River, in its present state, and will be able to take up the frigates, which I had the honor to request might proceed into Haverstraw Bay.
I have written to Congress, to recommend the assembling all our frigates and armed vessels, to act in conjunction with the fleet under your command.
With candor and freedom have I exposed to your Excellency my sentiments and expectations; and I entreat that you will honor me with a similar communication of your views and intentions. Nothing will give me greater pleasure, than to concur with these to the utmost of our ability.
I have not concealed the difficulties in the way of a co-operation, because I thought it my duty fully to apprize you of them. I am persuaded, that you will ascribe what I have said to the proper motive, and to that caution, which ought always to influence enterprises pregnant with such interesting consequences. You will not impute it to an unwillingness to exert the resources of the country, or to a distrust of the event; for, I assure your Excellency, I feel the importance of this generous and seasonable succor, and have the highest hopes of its utility to the common cause, and a termination glorious to the allied arms. I rejoice in the opportunity it affords; nor is the prospect of acting in immediate conjunction with your Excellency one of the least flattering circumstances. I shall with the greatest alacrity concur in the execution of any plan, which shall be thought advancive of the interest and glory of the two nations, and may add to the laurels you have already reaped in so distinguished a manner. I hope soon to have the pleasure of assuring you personally of those sentiments of respectful attachment, with which I have the honor to be, your Excellency’s, &c.
P. S.—Mr. Holker, soon after your Excellency left Boston, communicated to me your desire to have the navigation of Hell Gate ascertained. I have taken the greatest pains to answer your views, and the result of my inquiries is, that never more than a fifty gun ship has gone thro’ that passage, and this with difficulty and hazard. A larger ship it is believed could not pass. The reasons are not a want of depth of water, but the extreme narrowness of the channel, the rapidity of the current, whirlpools, and rocks. The least missteerage will precipitate the vessel on the Banks and shoals on either side, and the power which the current and whirlpools have upon larger vessels, would make it almost impossible to keep them in their proper course. The only time when this passage is practicable for ships of any burthen, is at the height of flood tide.
I have since writing the foregoing learned that the Renown of 50 guns, and not the Raisonable of 64, conveyed the detachment to Halifax. We may therefore suppose that the Raisonable is in the harbor of New York.
[2 ]Of September 13th.
[1 ]“Since my last intelligence which I communicated to Congress, I have been advised from New York of the sudden return of the division of troops under Lord Cornwallis. A number of transports, on his Lordship’s return to the Hook, were immediately ordered for Rhode Island; part of which sailed on the 27th, and the rest on the 29th ulto.; as my correspondent supposes, to withdraw the garrison. The advice says further, that the troops under Lord Cornwallis were still on shipboard; and that the reinforcement in the fleet under the convoy of Sir Andrew Hammond, which arrived the 22d of last month, does not exceed six hundred men, and these chiefly Hessian recruits; other accounts speak of the number as much higher.”—Washington to the President of Congress, 9 October, 1779.