George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Colonel William McIntosh, 21 October 1776

To Colonel William McIntosh

White Plains 21st October 1776


I wrote to you a few days ago, desiring, if you did not find Matters ready for the Expedition to Long Island, that you would move forward with the two Massachusets Regiments under your Command.1

I have no further Reason2 to repeat my Orders to you on that Head. The Enemy are advancing by Parties from their Main Body which now lays at New Rochelle and taking Possession of the Ports upon the Sound with design to cut off our Supplies from the Eastward by Water[.] They advanced early this Morning to Maroneck, which our people shamefully deserted on their Approach,3 not for want of Numbers but want of a good Officer to lead on the Men.4 I therefore again desire, that if Matters are not ready for your intended Expedition, you would lay it aside for the present, and march immediately with the two Regiments under your Command towards Byram River,5 and also desire Lt Colo. Livingston to come forward with the Companies which he has under his Command. When you arrive at Byram River, you will send an Express forward to this place to Brigr General Lord Stirling who commands here, and he will give you Orders how to dispose of the Men under your Command. I am Sir Yr most obt Servt

Go: Washington

LS (photocopy), in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW, ser. 9; copy, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Tilghman addressed the cover of the LS: “To Colonel Mackintosh at Fairfeild.” The copy is addressed to “Colo. Mackintosh,” and the Varick transcript is addressed erroneously: “To Colo. L[achlan] McIntosh. Georgia.”

Starting with the letters written on this date, GW’s secretaries and aides-de-camp quit recording his official outgoing correspondence in letter books as had been the practice since he took command of the Continental army in July 1775. Instead, they began docketing and filing loose drafts or copies of the commander in chief’s letters much as they were doing with the letters, petitions, and reports that he received. Although no reasons were given for this change in procedure, the new system had two evident advantages for the headquarters staff. The correspondence file, unlike the imperfectly arranged and unindexed letter books, facilitated the frequent references to particular letters which were necessary in dealing with various administrative matters (see, for example, GW to Hancock, 24 Dec. 1776), and the use of drafts as file copies eliminated some of the copying work required in keeping letter books.

Under the new system as under the old one, GW sometimes wrote official letters himself, but his usual procedure was to give oral or rough written instructions for a letter to a secretary or an aide who then wrote it (see GW to Hancock, 10–11 July 1775 and 16 Sept. 1776, source note). If the letter as written met GW’s approval, he signed it, and a copy was made for the files by a secretary or an aide before the signed letter was sent to the addressee. The retained file copy is identified in the source lines simply as a copy. If, however, GW decided that changes were required, the necessary insertions and deletions were made on the original letter, and a clean corrected letter was prepared for GW’s signature and then sent to the addressee. The amended original letter, which usually was not signed, was docketed and filed as a retained copy (see Fitzpatrick, Writings description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed. The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745–1799. 39 vols. Washington, D.C., 1931–44. description ends , 1:xliii-xliv). It is identified in the source lines as a draft.

Little is known about the arrangement of the original headquarters filing system other than that by 1781 it was in considerable disorder because of misfiling during routine use and improper packing for GW’s many moves (see ibid., xlvi-xlvii; Richard Varick to GW, 19 July; and GW to Varick, 21 July 1781, DLC:GW). Conscious that the system no longer functioned very well as an administrative reference tool and that it was totally inadequate as a permanent historical record, GW in the spring of 1781 engaged Richard Varick to reorganize and refile all of the headquarters papers in such a manner “that references may be more easily had to them” and to supervise the copying of the outgoing correspondence, general orders, and proceedings of councils of war into uniform folio volumes which were to “be indexed in so Clear and intelligent a manner, that there may be no difficulty in the references” (GW’s instructions to Varick, 25 May 1781, DLC:GW; see also GW to Samuel Huntington, 4 April 1781, DNA:PCC, item 152). The forty-four volumes of copied documents that a team of clerks finished by the end of 1783 are known as the Varick transcripts, and they are cited as such in the source lines.

1Although GW’s earlier letter to McIntosh has not been found, it probably was written on 16 Oct., the date on which GW sent Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., the same instructions regarding these two Massachusetts militia regiments (see GW to Trumbull, that date).

2The copy in DLC:GW reads: “I have further Reason.”

3The copy in DLC:GW reads: “shamefully abandonned at their Approach.”

4On this date, General Howe says, the right wing and center of his army “moved to a position about two miles to the northward of [New] Rochelle on the road to the White Plains, leaving Lieutenant-General [Leopold von] Heister with two brigades of Hessians and one of British to occupy the former ground” (Howe to George Germain, 30 Nov., in Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 12:258–64; see also Lydenberg, Robertson Diaries description begins Harry Miller Lydenberg, ed. Archibald Robertson, Lieutenant-General Royal Engineers: His Diaries and Sketches in America, 1762–1780. New York, 1930. description ends , 104, and Kemble Papers description begins [Stephen Kemble]. The Kemble Papers. 2 vols. New York, 1884-85. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vols. 16–17. description ends , 1:94). About the same time Howe sent Lt. Col. Robert Rogers’s corps of Queen’s Rangers and the 1st Jäger Company to Mamaroneck about four miles northeast of New Rochelle. The Americans at Mamaroneck, Hessian adjutant Carl Leopold Baurmeister says, “did not await their [the detachment’s] arrival, and abandoned their magazine. However, lack of wagons, complete ignorance of the enemy’s strength, and the fear that they might have doubled back made the detached troops destroy these badly needed provisions. After Rogers’ Corps had occupied a good position, the rest of the detachment returned to camp” (Baurmeister, Revolution in America description begins Carl Leopold Baurmeister. Revolution in America: Confidential Letters and Journals, 1776–1784, of Adjutant General Major Baurmeister of the Hessian Forces. Translated and annotated by Bernhard A. Uhlendorf. New Brunswick, N.J., 1957. description ends , 61). For accounts of the American attack on Rogers’s corps this evening, see Robert Hanson Harrison to Hancock, 25 Oct., and note 4.

5For McIntosh’s execution of this order, see Henry Beekman Livingston to GW, 28 October.

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