George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major Robert Ballard, 23 October 1777

From Major Robert Ballard

2 OClock Red Bank [N.J.] Octr 23. 1777


I am just Arrivd at this place on command from Fort Mifflin, and finding that Colo. Green & the Commodore was sending by express to your Excellency the Glorious Event of last Evening and this Morning,1 think proper to give you the particulars from our Garrison. This Morning at half after Six OClock the enemy from Province Island began a very heavy fire from their Bomb Batteries and about an hour after, was Joind by their fleet which kept up on us incessantly ’till after 12 OClock, Our Battery in Consort with the Commodores Fleet playing on them the whole time, in short we Ply’d them with 18 & 32 lb. Shots so closely that they I believe began to give Ground, however they ran a Sixty four Gun Ship and a Twenty Gun Frigate a ground & after fruitless attempts in vain to get them off, they set fire to them both, to our no small Satisfaction as it was out of the Power of our Fleet to take them.2 We sustain’d no Damage except a Capt. & 1 private slightly wounded.

Our Garrison shew’d a firmness & Resolution becoming brave Men, & I dont doubt will acquit themselves with honor. The Fleet are making down again fast, as low as Billingsport. I am doubtfull we shall want Ammunition for our Cannon & 32 lb. Ball as the quantity on hand will not I am certain last us more than one Days hot fire. Small Cartridges from No. 17 to 20 are absolutely wanting. It wou’d be too much to loose a place of so much Importance for the want of War like Implements, which I haven’t a doubt may easily be ⟨had—⟩3 the Sizes for our Cannon of Cartridges 18 & 8 lbs. Cartridge paper will not be Amiss. The foregoing are Circumstances which I know at least Strike Colo. Smith & I do not doubt the Baron also. I hope to hear welcome news from your Quarters before long, in mean time every exertion of the Garrison of Fort Mifflin in Opposition to the Enemies fleet will be strictly attended to. We had the upper part of one of our block houses blown up to day. I expect this night or tomorrow night the Enemy will for the last make an Effort to Storm our fort. I have the honor to be Your Excellencys most Obedt Servant

Robert Ballard

ALS, DLC:GW; copy, enclosed in GW to Hancock, 24 Oct. 1777, DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169.

Congress ordered the publication of a partial version of this letter, which consists of the first paragraph (except the phrase “to our no small Satisfaction as it was out of the Power of our Fleet to take them”) and the first two sentences of the second paragraph (see the Maryland Journal, and Baltimore Advertiser, 18 Nov. 1777).

1See the letters that John Hazelwood and Samuel Ward, Jr., wrote to GW on this date.

2Several ships of the British fleet moved up the Delaware River on 22 Oct. to support the Hessian attack on Fort Mercer by engaging the American fleet and Fort Mifflin. Late that afternoon as the British ships maneuvered in the channel to approach the upper chevaux-de-frise near Fort Mifflin, the 18–gun Merlin and the 64–gun Augusta ran aground. On the morning of 23 Oct. the British attempted to refloat both ships, but they were hampered severely in their efforts by American galleys, floating batteries, and fire ships. About eleven o’clock the Augusta caught fire by some undetermined means, and about a half hour later the British deliberately set fire to the Merlin to prevent its capture. The Augusta’s powder magazine blew up about two o’clock in the afternoon, and the Merlin exploded about half an hour later (see the journals of the Roebuck, Camilla, and Pearl, 23 Oct. 1777, 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 , 10:246, 248, 250–51, and the courts-martial of Capt. Francis Reynolds and Comdr. Samuel Reeve, 26 Nov. 1777, ibid., 603–10). Capt. John Montresor says in his journal entry for 23 Oct. that before the explosion of the Augusta “many of the seamen jumped overboard apprehending it, some were taken up by our ships [and] boats, but the Chaplain, one Lieutenant and 60 men perished in the water” (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 , 470; 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 , 41).

3This word, which is mutilated on the manuscript of the ALS, is taken from the copy enclosed in GW’s letter to Hancock of 24 October.

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