George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Alexander McDougall, 13 April 1778

From Major General Alexander McDougall

Fish Kill [N.Y.] 13th April 1778


I am honored with the Receipt of your Favors of the 31st Ultimo & 6th Instant. The inclosures in the last have been forwarded agreeable to your Orders. No Service would be more agreeable to me than an Attack upon New-York, could I recommend it consistent with any probable Prospect of Success. But the Condition & Strength of these posts, utterly forbid it. Especially when the consequence of a misfortune in the Attempt, is duly considered as it may affect the Supplies to your Army, and the general influence such an Event may have on the Operations of the Campaign. When I have more Leisure I shall enumerate the Reasons on which I give this Opinion. For the present I beg Leave to refer your Excellency to that of Governor Clinton & General Parsons.1 Six Companies of Colo. Vanscaick’s Regt are arrived here, they march to morrow Morning; the other two are expected by the first Wind; and shall march without Delay. About a Hundred men have pass’d this to Day belonging to Corps from the Bay & New-Hampshire, on their way to the grand Army. Colo. Hazen’s & Nixon’s Regiments are here, the latter I ordered from Harrison’s Purchase. I have lately been three Days at West-Point, the Fort is by this Time so enclos’d as to resist a sudden Assault of the Enemy.2 But the Heights near it are such, that the Fort is not tenable, if the enemy possess them. For this Reason we are obliged to make some works on them. It will require 5,000 men effectually to secure the grounds near the Fort, which command it. And these Objections are almost to all the Points on the River, proper to erect works to annoy the Shipping. Mr Kosciousko is esteemed by those who have attended the works at West-point, to have more Practice than Colo. Delaradiere. And his manner of treating the people more acceptable, than that of the latter; which induced Genl Parsons & Governor Clinton to desire the former may be continued at West-point. The first has a Commission as Engineer with the Rank of Colonel in October 1776—Colonel Delaradieres Commission I think is dated in November last, and disputes Rank with the former, which obliges me to keep them apart; and avail the Service of their Assistance in the best manner I can devise. This seems to be the Idea recommended by the Board of war, in consequence of a reference of Congress to them, on the Subject of Disputes relative to the Construction of the works.3 If your Excellency should think proper in this state of those Gentlemen to order Mr Kosciousko to join your Army, whenever I am honored with your Commands on this Head, I shall dispatch him. Several Officers of Merit from mere Necessity, have press’d me for a Dismission from the Service; which I have refus’d, till I have your Directions on the Matter. The Court of Enquiry finishd the 5th Instant; but I have been so hurried; that I have had no Time to peruse the Papers.4 Some Reinforcement is gone from New-York to Philadelphia, but the several Deserters disagree about the Number & Corps. I have the Honor to be Your Excellency’s very humble Servant

Alexr McDougall


1The enclosed undated opinion of Gov. George Clinton and Brig. Gen. Samuel Holden Parsons suggested “That the Regiment proposed, be sent forward: that Preparations be immediately made, with as much Dispatch as possible, to execute the whole or such Part of the propos’d Plan, as Circumstances will admit of; that application be made to Governor Trumbull, to know what Number of the new rais’d Regiments can be had, & at what Time; that the Commissary General be also applied to, for an Account of Provisions &c.

“That the Enterprize, does not promise Success by Coup de main, under present Circumstances; but there may be great Probability of its succeeding in the whole, or in Part, within a Month, or five Weeks, if men & provisions can be had.

“The present State of the Posts for the Defence of the North River, does not admit withdrawing the Troops for the propos’d Expedition immediately, but in a few Weeks the works may be in some State of Defence, so as to be tenable with fewer men, than at present & the Consequences less fatal to the Country in Case of the Expedition’s failing in the Execution” (DLC:GW).

In his journal for 9 April, McDougall recorded that Gov. George Clinton “was clearly of opinion It was impracticable to make the attempt on N. York. That a failure would dishearten the Militia very much, as one attempt had failed already” (NHi: Alexander McDougall Papers).

2McDougall had returned to Fishkill on the evening of 11 April. For brief notes of his inspection of West Point, see his journal entries for 7–11 April (NHi: Alexander McDougall Papers).

3Congress had referred these issues to the Board of War on 4 March (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 , 10:222), and the board resolved on 5 Mar. “That the Plans of the Forts & Batteries to be erected be left to the Discretion of Governor Clinton. . . . That Colo: La Radiere accomodate his Plans & Mode of constructing the Batteries, & Forts, to the Nature of the Country and Materials, Time & Number of Men, in all which he is to be directed by Govr Clinton. . . . That it will be improper for Col: Radiere to Command the Troops, as he ought to Confine himself to the Business of an Engineer only. . . . That Colo. Kosciuszko be directed to repair to the Army under General Putnam, to be employed as shall be thought proper, in his Capacity of an Engineer” (NHi: Alexander McDougall Papers). When Horatio Gates transmitted the resolves in a letter to Israel Putnam of 5 Mar., he directed Putnam to employ La Radière “as far as you shall find him really useful, & no farther,” and when Parsons transmitted these documents to McDougall in a letter of 28 Mar., he noted that Kosciuszko was “particularly agreable” to the soldiers while La Radière was “not so suitable” and asked McDougall “to adopt such Measures as will Answer the Wishes of the People & Garrison” (NHi: Alexander McDougall Papers).

4McDougall is referring to the court of inquiry on the loss of Forts Montgomery and Clinton (see GW to McDougall, 16 Mar., and note 2 to that document). A report of the court proceedings, dated at Fishkill, 5 April, and marked, “To his Excellency Genl Washington,” is in NHi: Alexander McDougall Papers.

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