George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Hancock, 3 September 1777

To John Hancock

Wilmington [Del.] Septr 3d 1777. 8 oClock P.M.


I this minute returned to Head Qrs, where I found1 your favor of this date with the Resolves respecting Genl Sullivan and Colo. Richardson’s Battallion.

I had conversed with Genl Sullivan upon the Subject and observed to him, that it was necessary an inquiry should be had relative to the Affair of Staten Island, as his conduct was censured & much dissatisfaction prevailed. He was sensible of the propriety of the measure, and expressed a desire, that it should take place, provided he could have the benefit of Genl Smallwoods Testimony, who was on the expedition. That Gentleman happens at this time to be in Maryland, which must necessarily delay the inquiry, Unless some mode can be agreed upon, for obtaining his Sentiments upon the matter.2

This Morning the Enemy came out with considerable force and three peices of Artillery, against our Light advanced Corps, and after some pretty smart skirmishing obliged them to retreat, being far inferior3 in number and without Cannon. The loss on either side is not yet ascertained. Our’s, tho not exactly known, is not very considerable; Theirs, we have reason to beleive, was much greater, as some of our parties, composed of expert Marksmen, had Opportunities of giving them several—close—well directed fires; more particularly in One instance, when a body of Riflemen formed a kind of Ambuscade. They advanced about Two miles this side of Iron Hill, and then withdrew to that place, leaving a picket at Coach’s Mill, about a mile in Front.4 Our parties now lie at White Clay Creek, except the advanced pickets which are at Christiana Bridge.

On Monday a large Detachment of the Enemy landed at Cecil Court House, and this morning I had advice of their having advanced on the New Castle Road as far as Carson’s Tavern. Parties of Horse were sent out to reconnoitre them, which went Three Miles beyond the Red Lion,5 but could neither see nor hear of them, Whence I conjecture, they filed off by a road to their left and fell in with their Main body. The design of their movement this morning seems to have been to disperse our Light Troops, who had been troublesome to ’em, and to gain possession of Iron Hill to establish a post most probably for covering their retreat in case of Accidents. I have the Honor to be with great respect Sir Yr Most Obedt servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. GW franked the addressed cover of the LS. Congress read this letter on 4 Sept. and referred it to the committee of intelligence (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 , 8:709).

1The draft and Varick transcript both read “I received.”

2The word “unfortunately” appears at the beginning of this sentence on both the draft and Varick transcript.

3The words “to ’em” are included at this place in the draft manuscript. The Varick transcript reads “to them.”

4Cooch’s Bridge and Cooch’s Mill, Del., stood on Christina River about two miles southeast of Iron Hill. They were owned by Thomas Cooch (c.1700–1788), a large landowner who had been a captain in the New Castle County militia during the French and Indian War and who, in spite of his age, was appointed colonel of one of the county’s militia regiments in May 1775. The mill apparently was burned during the British occupation.

General Howe’s main force, advancing east from Head of Elk, reached Aiken’s Tavern at present-day Glasgow, Del., about nine o’clock on the morning of 3 Sept., and Knyphausen’s corps, which marched north from the Buck Tavern, arrived there about an hour later. About a mile north of Aiken’s Tavern on the road to Cooch’s Bridge, Howe’s vanguard, consisting of Lt. Col. Ludwig Johann Adolph von Wurmb’s jäger corps, encountered Gen. William Maxwell’s light infantry corps. British major John André says in his journal entry for this date that the Americans, who numbered about five hundred, “disposed of themselves amongst some trees by the roadside, and gave a heavy fire as our Troops advanced, but upon being pressed ran away and were pursued above two miles. At first retreating they fired from any advantageous spot they passed, but their flight afterwards became so precipitate that great numbers threw down their arms and blankets. . . . The attempts made by our [light infantry] Troops to get round them were defeated by their being unable to pass a swamp” (André, Journal description begins John André. Major André’s Journal: Operations of the British Army under Lieutenant Generals Sir William Howe and Sir Henry Clinton, June 1777 to November 1778. 1930. Reprint. New York, 1968. description ends , 42–43; see also Muenchhausen, At General Howe’s Side description begins Friedrich von Muenchhausen. At General Howe’s Side, 1776–1778: The Diary of General William Howe’s Aide de Camp, Captain Friedrich von Muenchhausen. Translated by Ernst Kipping. Annotated by Samuel Smith. Monmouth Beach, N.J., 1974. description ends , 28; Ewald, Diary description begins Johann Ewald. Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal. Translated and edited by Joseph P. Tustin. New Haven and London, 1979. description ends , 77–78; Baurmeister, Revolution in America description begins Carl Leopold Baurmeister. Revolution in America: Confidential Letters and Journals, 1776–1784, of Adjutant General Major Baurmeister of the Hessian Forces. Translated and annotated by Bernhard A. Uhlendorf. New Brunswick, N.J., 1957. description ends , 102–3; Scull, Montresor Journals description begins G. D. Scull, ed. The Montresor Journals. New York, 1882. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vol. 14. description ends , 445–46; and 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 , 144–45).

General Howe, in his official report to Lord George Germain of 10 Oct. 1777, says that on 3 Sept. “the Hessian and Anspach chasseurs and the 2nd battalion of light infantry . . . fell in with a chosen corps of one thousand men from the enemy’s army, advantageously posted in the woods, which they defeated with the loss only of two officers wounded, three men killed and nineteen wounded, when that of the enemy was not less than fifty killed and many more wounded” (Davies, Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 14:202–9). For GW’s estimate of American casualties in this engagement, see his letter to Hancock of 5 September.

5GW is referring to the movements of Knyphausen’s corps. The Red Lion Tavern was located at present-day Red Lion, Del., about six miles northeast of William Carson’s Buck Tavern and about four miles east of Aiken’s Tavern. GW fed his horses at the Red Lion on 22 Mar. 1791 (see Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 6:99).

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