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36: TO COMTE D’ESTAING - George Washington, George Washington: A Collection 
George Washington: A Collection, compiled and edited by W.B. Allen (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1988).
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TO COMTE D’ESTAING
Head Quarters, September 11, 1778
Regrets to Comte d’EstaingI have had the honor of receiving your Letter of the 5th. inst: accompanied by a Copy of two Letters to Congress and Genl. Sullivan. The confidence which you have been pleased to shew in communicating these papers engage my sincere thanks. If the deepest regret that the best concerted enterprise and bravest exertions should have been rendered fruitless by a disaster which human prudence is incapable of foreseeing or preventing can alleviate disappointment, you may be assured that the whole Continent sympathizes with you;* it will be a consolation to you to reflect that the thinking part of Mankind do not form their judgment from events; and that their equity will ever attach equal glory to those actions which deserve success, as to those which have been crowned with it. It is in the trying circumstances to which your Excellency has been exposed, that the virtues of a great Mind are displayed in their brightest lustre; and that the General’s Character is better known than in the moment of Victory; it was yours, by every title which can give it, and the adverse element which robbed you of your prize, can never deprive you of the Glory due to you. Tho your success has not been equal to your expectations yet you have the satisfaction of reflecting that you have rendered essential Services to the common cause.
I exceedingly lament that in addition to our misfortunes, there has been the least suspension of harmony and good understanding between the Generals of allied Nations, whose views, must like their interests be the same. On the first intimation of it I employed my influence in restoring what I regard as essential to the permanence of an Union founded on mutual inclination and the strongest ties of reciprocal advantage. Your Excellencys offer to the Council of Boston had a powerful tendency to promote the same end, and was distinguished proof of your zeal and magnanimity.
The present superiority of the enemy in Naval force, must, for a time, suspend all plans of offensive cooperation between us; it is not easy to foresee what change may take place by the arrival of Succours to you from Europe or what opening the enemy may give you to resume your activity; in this moment therefore, every consultation on this subject would be premature. But it is of infinite importance that we should take all the means that our circumstances will allow for the defence of a Squadron, which is so precious to the common cause of france and America, and which may have become a capital object with the enemy. Whether this really is the case can be only matter of Conjecture; the original intention of the reinforcement sent to Rhode island, was obviously the Relief of the Garrison at that post. I have to lament that, tho seasonably advised of the movement, it was utterly out of my power to counteract it. A naval force alone could have defeated the attempt; how far their views may since have been enlarged by the arrival of Byron’s fleet, Your Excellency will be best able to judge. Previous to this event, I believe Genl. Clinton was waiting orders from his court, for the conduct he was to pursue; in the mean time embarking his Stores and heavy baggage in order to be the better prepared for a promt evacuation, if his instructions should require it.
But as the present posture of affairs may induce a change of operations, and tempt them to carry the war eastward for the ruin of your Squadron, it will be necessary for us to be prepared to oppose such an enterprise. I am unhappy that our situation will not admit of our contributing more effectually to this important end; but assure you at the same time, that what ever can be attempted without losing sight of objects equally essential to the interests of the two Nations, shall be put in execution.
A Candid view of our affairs which I am going to exhibit, will make you a judge of the difficulties, under which we labour. Almost all our supplies of flour and no inconsiderable part of our meat, are drawn from the States westward of Hudson’s River;Navigation of th eHudson; defense of New York and New England this renders a secure communication across that River indispensably necessary both to the support of your Squadron and the Army. The enemy being masters of that navigation, would interrupt this essential intercourse between the States. They have been sensible of these advantages, and by the attempts which they have made, to bring about a separation of the Eastern from the Southern States, and the facility which their superiority by Sea had hitherto given him, have always obliged us besides garrisoning the Forts that immediately defend the passage, to keep a force at least, equal to that which they have had posted in New York and its dependencies.
It is incumbent upon us at this time to have a greater force in this quarter than usual, from the concentred State of the enemy’s strength and the uncertainty of their designs; in addition to this it is to be observed that they derive an inestimable advantage from the facility of transporting their troops from one point to another; these rapid movements enable them to give us uneasiness for remote unguarded parts, in attempting to succour which we should be exposed to ruinous marches, and after all perhaps be the dupes of a feint. If they could by any demonstration in another part draw our attention and strength from this important point, and by anticipating our return, possess themselves of it, the consequences would be fatal. Our dispositions must therefore have equal regard to cooperating with you in a defensive plan, and securing the North River; which, the remoteness of the two objects from each other, renders peculiarly difficult. Immediately upon the change which happened in your naval affairs, my attention was directed to conciliating these two great ends.
The necessity of transporting magazines, collected relatively to our present position, and making new arrangements for ulterior operations, has hitherto been productive of delay. These points are now nearly accomplished and I hope in a day or two to begin a general movement of the Army eastward, as a commencement of this, one division marched this morning under Major General Gates towards Danbury, and the rest of the army will follow as speedily as possible.
The following is a general Idea of my disposition: The Army will be thrown into several divisions, one of which consisting of a force equal to the Enemy’s in New York, will be posted about thirty miles in the rear of my present camp, and in the vicinity of the North River with a view to its defence; the other will be pushed on at different stages, as far towards Connecticut River, as can be done consistently with preserving a communication, and having them within supporting distance of each other; so as that when occasion may require, they may form a junction, either for their own immediate defence, or to oppose any attempts that may be made on the North River. The facility which the enemy have of collecting their whole force and turning it against any point they choose, will restrain us from extending ourselves so far as will either expose us to be beaten by detachment or endanger the Security of the North River.
This disposition will place the American forces as much in measure for assisting in the defence of your Squadron and the Town of Boston, as is compatible with the other great objects of our care.
It does not appear to me probable that the Enemy would hazard the penetrating to Boston by land, with the force which they at present have to the eastward. I am rather inclined to believe that they will draw together their whole Land and Naval strength, to give the greater probability of Success. in order to this, New York must be evacuated, an event which cannot take place without being announced by circumstances impossible to conceal and I have reason to hope that the time which must necessarily be exhausted in embarking and transporting their troops and Stores, would be sufficient for me to advance a considerable part of my army in measure for opposing them.
The observations which Your Excellency makes relative to the necessity of having intelligent Spies, are perfectly just; every measure that circumstances would admit has been to answer this valuable end, and our intelligence has in general been as good as could be expected from the situation of the Enemy.
The distance at which we are from our posts of observation in the first instance, and the long Journey which is afterwards to be performed before a letter can reach your Excellency hinder my communicating intelligence with such celerity as I could wish.
The letter which I sent giving an account of Lord Howes movement, was dispatched as soon as the fact was ascertained; but it did not arrive ’till you had gone to Sea, in pursuit of the British Squadron.
As your Excellency does not mention the letters which I last had the honor of writing to you, I am apprehensive of some delay, or miscarriage; their dates were the 3rd. and 4th. inst.
The sincere esteem and regard which I feel for Your Excellency, make me set the highest value upon every expression of friendship with which you are pleased to honor me; I entreat you to accept the most cordial returns on my part.
I shall count it a singular felicity if in the course of possible operations above alluded to, personal intercourse shd afford me the means of cultivating a closer intimacy with you, and of proving more particularly the respect and attachment with which I have the honor etc.
PS: My dispatches were going to be closed when your Excellency’s Letter of the 8th. was delivered to me.
The State of Byron’s Fleet from the best intelligence I have been able to obtain, is as follows:
Six Ships, the names of which are mentioned in the paper I had the honor of transmitting the 3rd. have arrived at New York with their Crews in very bad health.
Two vizt. The Cornwall of 74 and Monmouth of 64, had joined Lord Howe; two One of which the Admirals Ship, were missing. One had put back to Portsmouth.
[*]A naval fleet under the command of d’Estaing, the fruit of the alliance with France’s Louis XVI, arrived off Philadelphia in July 1778. It fulfilled great expectations, but the great hopes to which it gave rise were blasted by the events which followed. Unable to attack Clinton’s weakened forces at New York in the aftermath of the Battle of Monmouth, d’Estaing turned on the British at Newport. There, however, he encountered a greater-than-expected British force: reinforcements under Lord Howe just then arriving. The fleets joined but were as quickly separated by a storm. They withdrew to ports for repairs, and the French sailed to Boston. Having expected more from their allies, the disappointed Continental troops and militia angrily withdrew. Americans suspected French intentions, an attitude fanned as much as possible by British agents. In Boston, demonstrations and riots occurred and, eventually, left one French officer dead for his efforts to rescue a compatriot. Washington, as evidenced in this letter, exerted himself to minimize the damage and to save the alliance, while La Fayette returned from America to France to reinforce the idea of a need for efficacious French support.