From Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Smith
Fort Mifflin [Pa.] 2nd October 1777
Colo. Nichola with the advice of the Officers in Garrison withdrew his Invalids before the Arrival of your Excellency’s Letter so that the Command remains with me. The Enemy yesterday landed a number of men (below Billingsport and encampt last night within nine miles) some say 400. others 600. my Opinion is the first as we had intelligence of that number having march’d from Willmington for that purpose.1 There is now about 250 militia in that Garrison, It was the Opinion of the Officers Yesterday not to give up that post till the last extremity, to remove the heavy Ammunition and if oblig’d to leave the fort (which from the disposition I believe will be [the] case) to spike up the Cannon and retreat by Water which is safe & easy. Our Reason for not dismantling Billingsport was the great discontent in the State fleet who already are much scar’d & from whom the greatest desertions of Captains, Lieuts. & men has been. So general a discontent and panic runs through that part of the fleet that neither Officer nor men can be confided in, they conceive the River is lost if the enemy gets possession of Billingsport nothing can convince them of the contrary & I am persuaded as soon as that fort is taken that almost all the fleet will desert, indeed from their disposition I am induc’d to believe they will openly avow themselves and desert Officers with their Crew (which has been the case with two) perhaps with their Gallies. The Officers and Mens Wives have been permited to remain in the City who have sent down to the fleet, to whom they have given prodigious Accounts of the enemies force & sweet pretty promisses aded to them, have I am of Opinion caus’d this very general desertion disaffection and panic,2 We permit none to land on this Island, from this description your Excellency will find there is little dependence to be put in the fleet, and with 400 Men the enemy will take the River without endangering One of their Ships, for after they have weighed the obstructions at Billingsport which will be soon done, they will then fortify Red Bank and drive all the Shiping from between us and it. their Guns will rake & of course brake our pickets & lay us Open to being attack’d on every side, unless the fleet (which I scarce expect) will assist us. We have now in Garrison 3 Weeks provision and this day expect to get more, I believe the fleet is not so well supplied. I have secur’d the Battery from the Rake of their Shot from Red Bank, and am in hopes to save this Garrison (if our Ammunition arrives and I only can get so much assistance from the fleet as will hinder the frigate from comeing down on our backs) for two weeks. Your Excellency may depend on every thing being done that is in my power or the power of the Garrison. Perhaps it will be in your Excellencys power to spare 3 or 400 Continental Troops who with the Assistance of the Militia might hinder the enemy from takeing Red Bank, from which they will be able to damage the fleet & Annoy us much. This Garrison is in high Spirits. I have the Honor to be Your Excellencys Most Obed. Servt
On the addressed cover of the LS, GW’s secretary Robert Hanson Harrison wrote: “Commissary to have provisions in such readiness as either to follow or fall back occasionally.”
1. Col. Thomas Sterling marched with the 10th and 42d regiments from Germantown on the afternoon of 29 Sept. and arrived the following day at Chester, Pa., where his troops embarked on five frigates that had come up the Delaware River from Wilmington with the 71st Regiment aboard. On 1 Oct. the three regiments, totaling about fifteen hundred men, landed in New Jersey near the mouth of Raccoon Creek about seven miles down the Delaware from Billingsport (see 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 , 1:507; journal of the H.M.S. Camilla, 30 Sept., 2 Oct., in Naval Documents description begins William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. 11 vols. to date. Washington, D.C., 1964—. description ends , 9:983, 10:17, 19; journals of the H.M.S. Solebay and H.M.S. Roebuck, 1 Oct., ibid., 12–13; William Bradford to Thomas Wharton, Jr., 3 Oct., in Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 1st ser., 5:644–45; and 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 , 38).
2. Howe’s aide Captain Muenchhausen says in his diary entry for 29 Sept.: “Some 30 men of the enemy sea forces have deserted since last night. They tell us that the rebels, if it comes to the bitter end, intend to set fire to their naval vessels after dismounting the guns, etc., and taking them to Jersey. This action is planned because they see themselves surrounded, in front by our frigates, in the rear by our batteries and the captured frigate at Philadelphia” (ibid., 36, 38).