George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General Nathanael Greene, 8 November 1776

To Major General Nathanael Greene

Head Quarters [White Plains] Novr 8. 1776


The late passage of the 3 Vessells up the North River (which we have just received Advice of) is so plain a proof of the inefficacy of all the Obstructions we have thrown into it that I cannot but think it will fully justify a Change in the Disposition which has been made. If we cannot prevent Vessells passing up, and the Enemy are possessed of the surrounding Country, what valuable purpose can it answer to attempt to hold a post from which the expected Benefit cannot be had—I am therefore inclined to think it will not be prudent to hazard the Men & Stores at Mount Washington, but as you are on the Spot, leave it to you to give such Orders as to evacuating Mount Washington as you judge best, and so far revoking the Order given Colo. Magaw to defend it to the last.1 The best Accounts obtained from the Enemy assure us of a considerable movement among their Boats last evening, and so far as can be collected from the various sources2 of Intelligence they must design a Penetration into Jersey, & fall down upon your Post—You will therefore immediately have all the Stores &c. removed, which you do not deem necessary for your defence, and as the Enemy have drawn great relief from the Forage and Provisions they have found in the Country, and which our Tenderness spared, you will do well to prevent their receiving any fresh Supplies there by destroying it, if the Inhabitants will not drive off their Stock and remove the Hay, Grain &c. in time. Experience has shewn that a contrary Conduct is not of the least Advantage to the poor Inhabitants, from whom all their Effects of every kind are taken without distinction, and without the least Satisfaction.

Troops are filing off from hence as fast as our Circumstances and situation will admit, in order to be transported over the River with all Expedition.3 I am Dr sir Your Obedt Humble Servt

Go: Washington

I need not suggest to you the necessity of giving General Mercer early information of all Circumstances in order that he may move up to your Relief with what Troops he has. A Letter inclosed to General Stevens is left open for your Perusal.4

LS, in Thomas Mifflin’s writing, NHi: George and Martha Washington Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The copy of this letter that GW enclosed in his letter to historian William Gordon of 8 Mar. 1785 has not been identified (see that letter; see also Gordon to GW, 10 Jan. 1785).

1For Greene’s subsequent decision to continue defending Fort Washington and GW’s failure to reverse it after arriving at Greene’s headquarters on 13 Nov., see GW to John Augustine Washington, 6–19 Nov., and note 10, and GW to Hancock, 16 November.

2Mifflin inadvertently wrote “scources” on the manuscript.

3Led by intelligence reports to believe that General Howe was about to invade New Jersey with part of his army, GW on this date begin implementing the plan for reinforcing that state which a council of war had approved two days earlier. “A new disposition of the American army was now to take place,” Heath writes under this date in his memoirs. “The southern troops were to cross over into the Jerseys. Gen. Lee, with his own, Spencer’s, and Sullivan’s divisions, were to remain to secure and bring off the stores; and were then to follow into the Jerseys. Our General [Heath] was ordered to march with his division to Peekskill” (Wilson, Heath’s Memoirs description begins Rufus Rockwell Wilson, ed. Heath’s Memoirs of the American War. 1798. Reprint. New York, 1904. description ends , 94–95). Gen. Israel Putnam’s division, which consisted of Stirling’s brigade of Virginia, Delaware, and Pennsylvania troops, Gen. Rezin Beall’s brigade of Maryland flying camp troops, and Gen. Nathaniel Heard’s brigade of New Jersey militia levies, marched to Peekskill on this date, and during the next three days it crossed the Hudson River at King’s Ferry (see GW to Putnam, 9 Nov., Stirling to GW, 10 Nov., and GW to Hancock, 11, 14 November). Heath’s division left White Plains on 9 Nov. and arrived at Peekskill the following afternoon (see Wilson, Heath’s Memoirs description begins Rufus Rockwell Wilson, ed. Heath’s Memoirs of the American War. 1798. Reprint. New York, 1904. description ends , 95). For Charles Lee’s responsibilities under this new arrangement of the army, see GW’s instructions to Lee of 10 November.

4A note in Mifflin’s writing on the addressed cover reads: “Please to seal the Letter for General Stevens after you have read it.” GW’s letter to Gen. Adam Stephen of this date, which has not been found, apparently reiterated GW’s earlier order directing the commanding officer of the Virginia brigade to march his troops toward Fort Lee and put himself under Greene’s command (see the part of Robert Hanson Harrison’s letter to the Board of War of 4 Nov. that is quoted in Richard Peters’s second letter to GW of 24 Oct., n.3, and the letters that GW and Greene wrote to one another on 9 November).

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