To Major General Charles Lee
New Ark Novr the 24th 1776
By the negligent and infamous conduct of the post rider, the Eastern Mail of Friday was brought to Heckensec and there stopped to fall into the hands of the Enemy. Supposing it may have contained some Letters from you of a public nature, I have thought it proper to give you the earliest notice, that you may guard against any advantages the Enemy may expect to derive from the Accident.1
I perceive by your Letter to Colo. Reed, that you have entirely mistaken my views in ordering Troops from Genl Heath’s Division to this Quarter. The posts and passes in the Highlands, are of such infinite importance, that they should not be subjected to the least possible degree of risk. Colo. Reeds second Letter will have sufficiently explained my intention upon this Subject, and pointed out to you, that it was your division which I wanted & wish to march.2 As the Enemy have possessed3 themselves of the usual route by Dobb’s Ferry and Heckensec, it will be necessary for you to choose some back way in which you & your Troops may come secure. I doubt not they will try to intercept you, if this precaution is not used, and therefore have been induced to mention it. I would also mention the necessity of my hearing frequently from you in the course of your march, in order to a due regulation of matters, and that I may know how to conduct myself.4 I am Dr Sir Yr Most Obedt Servt
P.S. I have received your favor of the 20th and feel with you for the distresses of the Army for want of necessary Cloathing & covering.5 I have pointed this out to Congress several times. How to remedy it, I know not. From the number of prizes taken at the Eastward, I should suppose the Troops from thence could have been much better provided with necessaries than from the more Southern States where they have not the same advantages of an open Navigation.
LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, PVfFF; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The postscript does not appear in the draft or Varick transcript. The text of the draft and of the Varick transcript, which was copied from the draft, differ in wording from the text of the LS in several places. See notes 1 and 4.
1. The previous Friday was 22 November. GW on this date wrote William Heath a one-paragraph letter, the body of which is nearly identical in wording to the first paragraph of this letter (LS, in Harrison’s writing, MHi: Heath Papers). In the draft, the second sentence of this paragraph reads: “Of this event I have thought it proper to give you the earliest notice, supposing the mail may have contained some Letters from you of a public nature, that you may guard against any advantages the Enemy may expect to derive from this Accident.”
2. The first letter that Joseph Reed wrote Charles Lee directing him to move his division to the west side of the Hudson River apparently was an incomplete note written on 20 November. Heath says in his memoirs that Reed, upon learning of Cornwallis’s advance on Fort Lee on that date, began writing Lee on “a rough piece of wrapping-paper” with a pencil, and he had written “Dear General, we are flying before the British. I pray” when the pencil broke. Reed instructed the express rider, who carried the unfinished note to Lee, to tell Lee to add after “I pray” the words “you to push and join us” (Wilson, Heath’s Memoirs description begins Rufus Rockwell Wilson, ed. Heath’s Memoirs of the American War. 1798. Reprint. New York, 1904. description ends , 98–99).
Lee replied to Reed on 21 Nov. from his camp at Philipsburg, N.Y.: “I have just receiv’d your letter dated Hackensac by Cornelius Cooper—his Excellency [GW] recommends it to me to move with the Troops under my command to the other side the River—I apprehend that this advice is founded on the presumption either that We have the means of crossing at or nearer Dobbs Ferry, or that my Corps is mov’d up the Country near to Kings Ferry. There are no means of passing Dobbs Ferry—and as We remain where you left us, the round by Kings Ferry wou’d be so great that We cou’d not be there in time to answer any purpose—I have therefore order’d General Heath who is close to the only Ferry which can be pass’d, to detach two thoushand men—to apprize his Excellency, and wait his further orders a mode which I flatter myself will answer better what I conceive to be the spirit of the orders than shou’d I move the Corps from hence—withdrawing our Troops from hence, would be attended with some very serious consequences which at present wou’d be tedious to enumerate—as to myself, I hope to set out to-morrow” (Lee Papers description begins [Charles Lee]. The Lee Papers. 4 vols. New York, 1872-75. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vols. 4–7. description ends , 2:301; see also Heath to GW, this date, n.2, and Lee to James Bowdoin, 21 Nov., ibid., 291–92).
GW’s reference to Reed’s second letter to Lee on this subject apparently is a reference to GW’s letter to Lee of 21 Nov., which is in Reed’s writing, and not to Reed’s private letter to Lee of that date, in which Reed strongly criticizes GW for indecisiveness (see GW to Reed, 30 November).
3. On the manuscript of the LS, Harrison inadvertently wrote “possessessed.”
4. In the draft this paragraph reads: “From your Letter to Col. Reed, you seem to have mistaken my views entirely in ordering Troops from Genl Heath to cross Hudsons River to this side. The importance of the posts and passes through the Highlands is so infinitely great, that I never thought there should be the least possible risk of lossing ’em. Colo. Reed’s second Letter will have sufficiently explained by intention upon this Subject & pointed out to you, that it was your division I want to have over. As the Enemy have possessed themselves of the usual route by Dobb’s Ferry & Heckensec, it will be necessary that you should be carefull in choosing some back way in which you & your Troops may come secure. I doubt not but they will take measures to intercept you & therefore am induced to request your caution, I also wish you to send me frequent expresses on your march that I may know how to direct it and how to provide for the same.”
5. This letter has not been found.