George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General Alexander McDougall, 7 March 1777

From Brigadier General Alexander McDougall

Peekskill [N.Y.] March 7th 1777


I was honored with your favor of the 18th Ultimo.1 I am happy to be informed by it, that my detaining General James Clinton has your approbation. I have agreeable to your Order, directed him to exercise some of the Troops to the Cannon. He hath prevailed on a Hundred of the old Garrison, Serjeants included, to remain at Fort Montgomery ’till the 15th Instant. Near that Period, the time of service of all the Militia of the different States doing duty in this; will expire; when I shall be left with only Colonel Cortlandts, Livingstons, Dubois’s, and part of Gansevoorts Regiments which do not exceed 600 Men,2 to Garrison the three Forts, Secure the passes through the Mountains, defend this Post, Guard the Forage below, and to give Protection to the Inhabitants of West Chester County. Perhaps two Companies of Rangers will be raised in this County to assist in this Service. Mr Duer gives me Reason to expect it. Colonel Dubois’s Regiment is at Fort Montgomery. The Committee of Convention collecting Forage in West Chester, press so hard for a Reinforcement, owing to General Woosters retiring to Rye, that the Service obliges me to send them down Colonel Livingstons Regiment to Guard it, and protect the Inhabitants. The Regiment has been under Marching Orders for some Days for those purposes; and moves tomorrow from Fishkill. The 19th Instant Colonel Cortlandt’s and part of Gansevorts Regiment (under 400) will be all my strength to Garrison Forts Constitution and Independant, and to maintain this post. This Force will expose it to a sudden push of the Enemy, should he be disposed to detach Two Thousand men by Water, Whenever the River opens, which may now be soon expected. The first Southeast Storm will do it. If he intends to attempt a Junction with the Army in Canada next Campaign, he will run less risque in the gaining the pass of the mountains, than by waiting for the movement of his whole Army. This will require time and give us some Notice to make respectable Movements to oppose him. But by that Manoeuvre we would be found unprepared. Two of their small Ships of War, the Gallies they took from us, and those they have built in New York with their flat bottomed boats, and other small Craft they can collect, would in a few Hours Waft 2000 Men to Peekskill, with any Wind from East South East, to West South West. If he succeeded, it would be an important acquisition in the beginning of the Campaign, If he failed his Retreat will be secure. The Ships and gallies will cover his embarkation. I therefor submit it to the Generals Consideration Whether some of the Connecticut Regiments should not be ordered to move on to this Post? They can be Well Quartered in Barracks and kept better to the drill than nearer Home. It is next to impossible to keep intelligence from the Enemy from this Quarter, and the Weaker we are the greater the difficulty. He will therefore be well advised of our Strength. Altho’ I do not think it probable from the present condition and position of his Army, that he will make that movement; Yet it will not be prudent to tempt him to it, by our Weakness. When I reflect on the Panick which seized the State of Jersey, so generally attached to the Cause, I fear the Consequences which would result from the Enemys making any sudden attempt to gain the interior part of this State; of which I fear the Enemy is not ignorant. It is this that alarms me at this advanced Season, for the safety of these Posts, which I hope will be a sufficient apology for me, altho’ the Enemy is so far from them.3 I have the Honor to be Your Excellencys very humble servant

Alexr McDougall

LS, DLC:GW; ADf, CSmH. A docket on the letter reads in part “Answered by A. Hamilton the 10th” (see note 3).

1This letter has not been found.

2Peter Gansevoort (1749–1812) of Albany, N.Y., was appointed major of the 2d New York Regiment in June 1775. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in March 1776 and placed in command at Fort George, and from November 1776 to January 1781 he served as colonel of the 3d New York Regiment. After retiring from the Continental army, Gansevoort served as a brigadier general and major general of the New York militia, and in 1802 he became military agent for the northern department of the U.S. Army. Gansevoort was promoted to brigadier general of the U.S. Army in 1809.

3Alexander Hamilton drafted a reply to McDougall for GW on 10 Mar.: “Your letter of the 7th instant to his Excellency fell into my hands—He has been very much indisposed for three or four days past, insomuch that his attention to business is pronounced by the Doctors to be very improper; and we have made a point of keeping all from him which was not indispensibly necessary. I detained your express a day in hopes of a convenient opportunity to communicate your letter to him; but though he has grown considerably better than he was, I find he is so much pestered with matters which cannot be avoided, that I am obliged to refrain from troubling him on the occasion; especially as I conceive the only answer he would give, may be given by myself.

“It is greatly to be lamented that the present state of things does not admit of having the requisite number of Troops at every post: on the contrary the most important, are deficient; and we are under the necessity, of calling all that can be gotten together to those places where the danger is the most pressing and imminent. ’Till matters get into a better train, it is impossible but those posts must suffer which, from their situation ought only to be the objects of a secondary attention. We have, I think, the most decisive evidence that the enemy’s operations will be directed on this Quarter; to this end they are drawing all their forces into the Jerseys, and as soon as the weather will permit ’tis expected they will move towards Philadelphia. Not being very numerous ’tis unlikely they should attempt such an object, without collecting their whole force; and for that reason ’tis not much to be apprehended they should make any stroke of the kind you mention, which would require a number of men they could not spare, and would probably delay the execution of what clearly appears to be their principal intention.

“The General in a letter to you of the [6th] instant, desires all the York Regiments not gone to Ticonderoga to be assembled at Peeks Kill. The reason of this must be obvious to you; and for the same reason he has requested a reinforcement of 2000 Connecticut Militia to rendezvous at the same place: Though the design is chiefly that they may be ready to join the army here; they will in the mean time, in some measure, answer the purposes you have in view” (DLC:GW).

Index Entries