Front Page Titles (by Subject) TO COUNT DE ROCHAMBEAU. - The Writings of George Washington, vol. VIII (1779-1780)
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
TO COUNT DE ROCHAMBEAU. - 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).
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 COUNT DE ROCHAMBEAU.
Orangetown, 21 August, 1780.
In the letter which I did myself the honor of writing to you the 16th, I had only time to acknowledge the receipt of yours of the 10th, since which I have had the pleasure of successively receiving the two others of the 14th and 17th.
In the idea of an operation against New York, it has always been a fundamental principle with me, that there ought to be a naval superiority to give such a prospect of success as would justify the undertaking. Relying, however, upon a moral certainty of this event shortly happening, if you had found yourself in a condition to desire a commencement of operations, previous to the arrival of the second division, I should have concurred in it. The reflections you make on the difficulty of effecting a debarkation on Long Island, without a naval superiority, are natural and judicious, from the view you must have of it; but, from a knowledge in part of the local situation, and from particular inquiries of others, I think the debarkation would be practicable. From the shape of the ground on both sides, and the narrowness of the Sound in several parts, there are different points of debarkation; and the enemy could not with propriety uncover New York so much (especially if we had once thrown ourselves upon that Island) as to have a sufficient force on Long Island to give effectual opposition at each point. The attempt in question supposes a number of boats collected to throw over at once a force superior to the part of the enemy’s force opposed to you, which might I believe have been done. Their vessels might have been compelled to keep stations too remote to interrupt your descent, by land batteries erected at different places on the main, and on the intermediate Islands.
But notwithstanding the practicability of such an operation, I intirely agree in opinion with you, for several reasons, that it will be best to defer the commencement of the enterprise till we get a superiority at sea. One of the most powerful is, that you could not leave the fleet in security without a considerable part of the land force to coöperate with it, and in this case our collective force would be smaller than would be requisite to act with vigor and confidence.
As to the particular mode of operating against New York, we may at this time combine different possibilities; but we cannot fix a definitive plan. There are three ways in which we may accomplish our purpose; by acting in the first instance with our whole force on York Island; by beginning our operations against Brooklyn with the principal part of our force, leaving a corps of observation for the security of our communication well intrenched on York Island or on the main; by dividing our force into two parts to act against the works on both Islands at once. Which of these plans will be preferable must depend on the time we begin to act, and the force we have to act with. If these circumstances correspond with our wishes, I should prefer the last of the three plans. In this case, we ought, if possible, as a preliminary, to establish ourselves on the Island of New York, and then detach to Long Island a force equal to the whole, which the enemy may be able to bring to act there.
In taking post on Long Island, a force equal to the whole of the enemy may be prudent to guard against possibilities; but, after we have taken post and the usual precautions, two thirds of their whole force will in my opinion be sufficient both for security and for the reduction of the works there. Notwithstanding the facility with which the enemy can pass from one island to the other, they will never hazard to withdraw more than two thirds of their force from York Island to attack the corps on Long Island, while there was an army of more than their whole force in front ready to fall upon the remainder. This would be to expose their essential point, where all their magazines are, to too imminent hazard. Nor even with their whole force would they have great hopes of success against two thirds of the number in intrenchments.1
These, Sir, are my sentiments, which I am happy to find in the main correspond with yours. A naval superiority we both consider as the basis of offensive operations. We both propose the same distribution of force, if circumstances will permit; with only this difference, that I think a small number will suffice for Long Island. I ardently desire, that the interview you mention could take place. I am sensible it would infinitely facilitate our arrangements, and it would gratify the extreme desire I feel of assuring you and the admiral personally of my esteem. But, to my great mortification and regret, there are difficulties in the way not easily surmounted. We are about ten miles from the enemy. Our popular government imposes a necessity of great circumspection. If any misfortune should happen in my absence, it would be attended with every inconvenience. I will however endeavor, if possible and as soon as possible, to meet you at some convenient rendezvous. I entreat you to inform me in your next to what distance the admiral and yourself would think it prudent to absent yourselves from the fleet and army.1
In one of my last I informed you, that Sir Henry was preparing an embarkation, of which it appears you had also received advice. I have received several pieces of similar intelligence, and there has been lately a very hot press for seamen. I cannot, however, suppose he has resumed his intention to attack you, as it would imply too much inconsistency. It is suspected by some, that he is making a detachment to the West Indies. If he means any thing serious, this seems to me as probable as any other supposition. But I doubt his having any thing serious in view. I am much obliged to you for the frankness with which you have given me your opinions, and for the favorable sentiments you entertain of me. Your conduct since your arrival has confirmed the prepossession, your reputation had given me of your abilities; and I promise myself from them, from your counsel, and from your exertions, the most important advantages to the common cause. Let me entreat, you will oblige me with the former upon all occasions, and be assured of the perfect esteem and attachment, with which I have the honor to be, &c.
[1 ]After the Marquis de Lafayette returned from Newport, he wrote a very long letter to Count de Rochambeau, containing a plan for an attack upon New York, and recommending it to the adoption of the French general and admiral. This letter was written with the approbation of General Washington, but it did not accord with the views of the French commanders, who believed that one of the three following conditions ought to be verified, before it would be advisable to act on the offensive. First, the arrival of the second division of French troops, with a maritime force sufficient to give a superiority to the French fleet. Secondly, succors from Count de Guichen, after his enterprise in the West Indies. Thirdly, a decrease of the enemy’s force at New York, by a detachment to the West Indies or the southern States. Unless one of these cases should occur, Count de Rochambeau had laid it down as an axiom, that he was to remain on the defensive. He was not well pleased, therefore, with Lafayette’s letter, and he presented his objections to the plan of an attack, which it contained. The above explanation was in reply to the letter, in which those objections were stated.
[1 ]Count de Rochambeau replied, that he and the admiral could go as far as Hartford to a rendezvous, and if necessary even to Danbury. He requested General Washington to decide upon the time and place, and desired that the meeting might be held without delay.