George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Charles Lee, 26 November 1776

From Major General Charles Lee

Camp Philipsburg [N.Y.] Novr the 26th 1776

Dr General

It never was my idea to leave the Highlands unguarded but only for expedition sake that Heath shou’d detach two thoushand of his Corps immediately over the River and to replace these two thoushand by the same number the most lightly accoutred from this Body here ’till the main Body with their baggage Cannon &cc. coud move—I conceiv’d this movement cou’d be attended with no risk as He has now nothing to guard but the Western Passages—for there is no possibility of their approaching by the Eastern having, as I can learn, no vessels on the Eastern River to transport their Cannon—and the roads from Kings Bridge by land is now almost impracticable—the want of Carriages and this disappointment with respect to Heath,1 but above all the alarms We have been thrown into by the activity of the Tories and the important consideration of leaving this Country in a tolerable state of security on my departure, have still detain’d me here—the Enemy kept a very considerable part of their force on this side of Kings Bridge till yesterday—so considerable indeed that from what We saw We conceivd the numbers transported to the Jerseys not near so great as You were taught to think—this and the apprehension of their gleaning all the forage of this district contributed to the other considerations I have mention’d have detain’d me so much longer than I cou’d have wish’d—Yesterday They drew themselves in,2 and at the same time We made a sweep of the Country from Philip’s house—part of the Army have mov’d on—I set out tomorrow—no militia are come in to cover the Country—I have wrote most pressing letters on this subject to Trumbull and hope they will have effect3—I have been equally urgent with Mr Bodoin for blankets shoes &cc.4—indeed our Soldiers are not in a moving condition but seem well dispos’d and engage themselves beyond expectation—but We are in great want of money for bounty—I have been under the necessity, without authority, to draw for this purpose—several deserters come out today inform us that a considerable embarkation is made for S. Amboy[.] I shall take care to obey your Excellency’s order in regard to my march as exactly as possible—and am Dr General, Yours

Charles Lee

ALS, DLC:GW. The cover is addressed: “To His Excellency General Washington Newark per Express.”

1Lee wrote Heath on this date: “I perceive that You have form’d an opinion to Yourself that shou’d General Washington remove to the streights of Magellan the instructions He left with you upon a particular occasion have to all intents and purposes invested you with a command separate from and independant of any other Superior—that General Heath and General Lee are merely two Major Genera⟨ls,⟩ who perhaps ought to hold a friendly intercourse with each other—and when their humour or fancied interest prompts may afford mutual assistance but that General Heath is by no means to consider himself oblig’d to obey any orders of the Second in Command—this idea of yours, Sir, may not only be prejudicial to yourself but to the Public—I cou’d wish, Sir, before things go any further You wou’d correct the notion—I enjoin’d you to send two thousand Men over the River and inform’d you that I wou’d replace ’em with an equal number—this was the only mode in my power of complying with the intentions of the General [GW]—but it seems your danger was so imminent and your instructions so positive that instead of taking a step which both duty and common sense dictated—you are so kind as to advise me to send the Troops from hence—the two Days march from hence to Peekskill and the want of waggons with the badness of the Roads making no sort of difference but I must inform You, Sir, that We cou’d not have been (such are our circumstances) in less than five days at Peekskill—and that five days may turn the fate of an Empire—if any misfortune shou’d happen from this refusal you must answer for it; if any misfortune had happen’d to your present Post by the detachment of these two thoushand Men from your Corps—the blame wou’d have fallen upon me—but enough on this Subject—I shall therefore conclude that the Commander in chief is now seperated from us—that I of course command on this side the Water that for the future I will and must be obey’d” (MHi: Heath Papers).

2British officer Archibald Robertson says in his diary entry for 25 Nov.: “at 7 o’clock the 4th, 2d, and 6th Brigades, the Bridgade of Rall and Waldeckers marched; the 2d and 4th went to the Jerseys at Fort Lee; the 6th encamped to Destroy the Rebel lines near Morris’s house on New York Island; the Brigade of Rall and Waldeckers march’d towards New York” (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 , 113).

3Although Lee’s letters to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., of 21 and 22 Nov. have not been identified, see Trumbull’s reply to Lee of 30 Nov. informing him that four regiments of militia would “march as soon as possible, properly equipd & furnished, to continue till the 15th of March next” and that “a Considerable supply of Cloathing Blanketts &c.” would be forwarded immediately (DLC:GW; see also Trumbull to GW, 30 November).

4See Lee to James Bowdoin, president of the Massachusetts council, 21, 22, 25 Nov. (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 , 2:291–92, 303–4, 312).

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