George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General John Sullivan, 26 December 1777

From Major General John Sullivan

Camp [Valley Forge] Decemr 26th 1777

Dear General

Agreable to your Excellenceys Directions I have Consulted Some of The General officers which I Thought most Capable of advising upon the proper Steps to take in our present Circumstances1—They Say that they can by no means advise for or against an Attack they are fully Convinced that General Howe has his whole Force with him That if your Excellencey thinks your force Sufficient to Cope with his they are willing to Risque their Lives & Fortunes with you in the attempt—They Say further that General Howe is possessed of very Strong Grounds at present & Even if he was not he would have Sufficient time to post himself Strongly before you could reach him as your Army must have a march of two Days before they could come to Action, they think if an Attack is made on his Left with Success he can Retreat with Ease: if on his Right he must be Ruined; but Should you fail in the Latter Yr Army must be pushed into the Schulkill They upon the whole think that the attempt will be Exceeding Hazardeous & the Success Doubtful That if you fail the people who are now So fond of Censuring will Change their Clamor & Censure you for not Attacking him when he was within a mile of you & your Army more numerous & in better Condition than at present. they Say they are free for Attacking him if he by his advances this way Shows an intention of Attacking us but cannot advise to marching the Army to Attack him where he now is unless your Excy is fully Convinced of your Superiority in Numbers. These are the Sentiments of the Gentlemen which I have Consulted and Though I think they have much weight yet I am So weary of the Infernal Clamor of the Pensylvanians that I am for Satisfying them at all Events & Risquing Every Consequence in an Action: possibly we may be Successful if not they may be Satisfied & Even Congress itself may gain Experience & Learn to Censure with more Caution2 possibly a Defeat may have this good Effect & a victory will bring with it its own Reward I am therefore Clearly for Risquing Every Consequence in an Action & among others (most Cheerfully) the Life & Fortune of your Excellys most obedt Servt

Jno. Sullivan


1Major General Stirling’s second letter to GW of this date, written in response to a letter from GW that has not been found, included Stirling’s thoughts on a “Querie” from GW on the advisability of mounting an attack against the British. No letter from GW to Sullivan on this subject has been identified.

2Some Pennsylvanians and delegates to the Continental Congress continued to pressure GW to undertake a winter campaign. On 2 Jan. 1778 Pennsylvania supreme executive council president Thomas Wharton, Jr., and Speaker James McLene forwarded to Congress a petition urging an immediate assault on Philadelphia while the Schuylkill and Delaware rivers remained frozen (Laurens Papers description begins Philip M. Hamer et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Laurens. 16 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003. description ends , 12:237–38; the undated petition is in DNA:PCC, item 42). Congress read the petition on 5 Jan., and a committee of three appointed to consider it reported four days later. On 16 Jan. the congressional committee that had been sent to confer with GW at Valley Forge was directed to discuss with him the feasibility of the Pennsylvania proposal (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 , 10:18, 36–37, 58).

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