George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 22 June 1777

To John Hancock

Head Quarters Middle Brook
22d June 1777 11 OClock P.M.


I have the honor and pleasure to inform you that the Enemy evacuated Brunswic this morning and retired to Amboy, burning many Houses as they went along. Some of them from the appearance of the Flames were considerable Buildings.1

From several pieces of information and from a variety of Circumstances it was evident that a move was in agitation, and it was the general Opinion that it was intended this morning. I therefore detatched three Brigades under the command of Majr Genl Green to fall upon their Rear, and kept the main Body of the Army paraded upon the Heights to support them if there should be occasion. A party of Colo. Morgans Regt of light Infantry attacked and drove the Hessian Picket about Sunrise, and upon the appearance of Genl Waynes Brigade and Morgans Regt (who got first to the ground) opposite Brunswic, the Enemy immediately crossed the Bridge to the East side of the River and threw themselves into Redoubts which they had before constructed.2 Our Troops advanced briskly upon them, upon which they quitted the Redoubts without making an opposition and retired by the Amboy Road. As all our Troops, from the difference of their Stations in Camp, had not come up when the Enemy began to move off, it was impossible to check them, as their Numbers were far greater than we had any Reason to expect, being, as we were informed Afterwards, between four and five thousand Men. Our people prusued them as far as Piscataway, but finding it impossible to overtake them, and fearing they might be led on too far from the main Body, they returned to Brunswic. By information of the inhabitants, Genl Howe, Lord Cornwallis and Genl Grant were in the Town when the Alarm was first given, but they quitted it very soon after.

In the pursuit, Colo. Morgans Rifle Men exchanged several sharp Fires with the Enemy, which it is imagined did them considerable execution. I am in hopes that they afterwards fell in with Genl Maxwell who was detatched last Night with a strong Party to lay between Brunswic and Amboy to interrupt any Convoys or Parties that might be passing. But I have yet heard nothing from him.

Genl Green desires me to make mention of the Conduct & Bravery of Genl Wayne and Colo. Morgan and of their Officers and Men upon this occasion, as they constantly advanced upon an Enemy far superior to them in numbers and well secured behind strong Redoubts.

Genl Sullivan advanced from Rocky Hill to Brunswic with his division, but as he did not receive his order of march till very late at Night, he did not arrive till the Enemy had been gone some time.

I have sent down Lord Stirlings Division to reinforce Genl Maxwell, and in the morning I shall move the main Body of the Army to some secure post nearer Amboy, from whence we can with more ease annoy the Enemy than from this distance. I am inclined to think they mean to cross to Staten Island, if they do, we may perhaps find an Opportunity of making a stroke upon their Rear. At any Rate we shall have a chance of obliging them to make a total evacuation of the State of Jersey. I have the Honor to be Sir Yr most obt Servt.

His Excellency having been on Horseback from 3 OClock in the Morning and much fatigued, rather than disturb his Rest, I take the Liberty to close the Letter without his Name. I am Sir with the greatest Respect Yr most obt

Tench Tilghman

L, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Congress read this letter and referred it to the committee of intelligence on 24 June (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 8:492–93).

1British general William Howe’s orders of 20 June 1777 indicate that by that date he had made the decision for the British army to evacuate New Brunswick, N.J., and to move his troops to Staten Island, New York. On 21 June Howe issued the order of march and the orders for the British troops to march for Perth Amboy “at daybreak” on the following morning (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 , 1:442–44), and an advance guard of about 500 wagons loaded with ammunition and baggage was sent to Bonhamtown in preparation of the retreat (Cresswell, Journal description begins Lincoln MacVeagh, ed. The Journal of Nicholas Cresswell, 1774–1777. New York, 1924. description ends , 240). British officer Archibald Robertson gives this description of the British army’s evacuation of New Brunswick on 22 June: “The whole Army Evacuated Brunswick. About 1200 Rebels with 2 Pieces of Cannon Attack’d the Rear but were soon Drove off. We had 4 or 5 Killed and about 20 Wounded. The Rebels suppos’d to lose many more. We all got to Amboy about 3 o’clock. The Brigade of Stirne and 6 English Regts, Vizt. 64th, 27th, 44th, 15th, 4th, and 23d cross’d immediately to Staten Island and were encamp’d at Princes Bay” (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 , 138).

2According to a contemporary account of General Howe’s movements during this period that is said to have been written by an officer attached to Howe’s staff, construction of these redoubts, of which there were “three at middle bush, and one farther on the road, near somerset court house,” was begun “a few days after” 9 June and halted by 19 June. “These works we looked upon as intended posts of communication, when the army should move forward—but before they were compleated the work was suddenly stoped; and the fifth day we returned to Brunswick. Mr Washington did not seem inclined to quit his strong situation, and meet us in the field—and perhaps it was thought advisable to attack him there” (“Howe’s Military Operations in 1777,” description begins Robert Francis Seybolt, ed. “A Contemporary British Account of General Sir William Howe’s Military Operations in 1777.” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, n.s., 40 (1930): 69–92. description ends 73). The ensuing skirmish of this date occurred near Bonhamtown, N.J., and is described by Nicholas Cresswell, who had accompanied the British advance guard to the area on the previous afternoon and encamped “within a quarter of a mile of the enemy’s Picket guard”: “By 5 o’clock this morning all the Tents were struck and the Army ready to march. About 8 [A.M.] the main body of the Army came up. At that instant some of the Rebels’ Scouting parties fired upon our Sentinels, which brought on a smart skirmish. . . . I observed a party of our men going through a rye field, I suppose with an intent to get into the rear of the Rebels and by that means surround them, but they were met as soon as they got out of the field by about the same number of the Rebels. When they were about 100 yards from each other both parties fired, but I did not observe any fall. They still advanced to the distance of 40 yards or less, and fired again, I then saw a good number fall on both sides. Our people then rushed upon them with their bayonets and the others took to their heels, I heard one of them call out murder lustily. This is laughable if the consequence was not serious. A fresh party immediately fired upon our people, but were dispersed and pursued into the Woods by a company of the 15th. Regmt. A brisk fire then began from six field pieces the Rebels had secreted in the Woods, which did some mischief to our men, the engagement lasted about thirty-five minutes. Our people took the Field pieces about 40 prisoners and killed about 150 of the Scoundrels with the loss of 39 killed and 27 wounded” (Cresswell, Journal description begins Lincoln MacVeagh, ed. The Journal of Nicholas Cresswell, 1774–1777. New York, 1924. description ends , 240–41).

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