George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Alexander McDougall, 21 May 1778

From Major General Alexander McDougall

Fish Kill [N.Y.] May 21st 1778


I am honored with your favor of the 17th by Express; and shall wait your future Commands at this Place. I am entirely agreed with your Excellency in Opinion, that New-York will be the last place of the United States the Enemy will quit. The Inclosed from Colonel Graham is the last Advice I have had from that City to be relyed on.1 He commands a Corps of New Levies of near 200 men; now at Tarry-Town; and intends to draw nearer the Enemy.

Governor Clinton who knows his Character says of him, that he is very artful in gaining Intelligence.

On the 16th a young woman of good reputation had Leave to come out of New York by Powles-Hook; to her Brother in this Neighbourhood. I examined her Yesterday; but she could not inform me of any thing of moment; except the Enemy’s refusing her to come out by Kings-Bridge, altho’ she importuned much for it, which corresponds with Colonel Graham’s Account. I think it probable I shall have some Advice to Day from the Enemy; and shall communicate it.

General Gates arrived here the 18th and takes the Command to Day.

The Arms from Albany are in a Train for East-Town.

Wooding and watering Transports and putting the heavy Baggage on Board are no Evidence to me of the Enemy’s Intentions to leave you. These must be done before he can move finally; but will be no Derangment of his Affairs; if he should incline to risque an attack upon you. May not all this be done to lull us into Security; or to tempt us to make Detachments?

The Proceedings of the Court of Enquiry have been delayed, occasioned by the Difficulties I mentioned to you in a former Letter which I have not been able to remove. But I shall now be in a Condition to attend to it, without Delay.2

I have taken the Liberty to inclose a Copy of our Strength and that of the Enemy.3 I am with great Truth and Regard your Excellency’s very humble Servant

Alexr McDougall

LS, DLC:GW; ADf, NHi: McDougall Papers.

1The enclosed copy of a letter from Col. Morris Graham to McDougall, dated 17 May at “Philipes Burgh,” reads: “As our numbers are increasing I expect it will be necessary that I should advance nearer the Enemies’ lines; therefore I would beg a farther supply of ammunition. We have frequently annoyed the enemy with small parties. I expect every moment to hear of their leaving Fort Independence, as every account I have had for several days agree that they are embarking the public stores in New York, and no one has been suffered to pass the Bridge either way for a week past. They have been several nights working at Fort Washington, and aboard the shipping nigh the fort. It is expected they were taking the heavy Canon on board” (DLC:GW).

2An unsigned copy of a report from McDougall to GW, dated 21 May at Fishkill, reads: “The State of these Posts were such, that while the Court of enquiry into the loss of Forts Clinton and Montgomery was sitting, I was under the Necessity of giving answers and directions to persons who applied to me on Public Business. This put the Burden of the enquiry on the other members, when it was finished, they made up a report; but as I had not perused the evidence, I declined signing it then, but they gave it the finishing Hand—It was my opinion the answers to some of the Points of enquiry, were not so clear or pertinent as the evidence, and the Commission authorized us to give them; for altho it is true, the evidence gave those answers, yet I conceived it our duty to report the facts at least, as plain as we could, and refer to the evidence for our proofs.

“For we could arrange the evidence with more ease, than your Excellency, (hurried with Business) as we had the matter before us, and fresh in our Minds. The Gentlemen declared their Readiness to sign another draught, if I would frame one; but the duties of the Post, would not then permit me to do it. I was however in hopes to avail myself of a leisure hour to draw one before they returned from New England, and get it compleated on their way to the Army. But in this I was mistaken, for no leisure offered to peruse the papers with attention, till General Huntington and Colonel Wigglesworth passed through this for Head Quarters. As we are now seperated it is expedient I should sign their report; that the evidence may be preserved, and take Notice of such facts as are omitted in the report, which will tend to give a clearer Idea of the object of enquiry. It appears from the evidence, that General Putnam received advice from B. General Parsons, dated the 25th of September last of the Enemy having had a reinforcement, and of his intention of coming up in force to attack the Forts in the Highlands. (See General Putnam’s defence, and B. General Parsons evidence.) That notwithstanding this, it does not appear a Council of war was held, till the loss of Forts Clinton and Montgomery, to deliberate on what disposition should be made of the troops for the defence of the posts, or whether the Forts should be considered as the primary object to be defended in the last extremity. That no Signal by firing of Cannon in the day, or night, at fixed periods from each other, smoaks or flags by day, was determined upon to guard against the uncertainty and delay of Intelligence across the River, should the enemy advance in Force on either Side; altho the last was practised on Long Island in the Campaign of 1776 with advantage. That the detachments, or out posts were not called in, in time to succour the Forts, when that should have been found necessary. Captain Clifts of Wylly’s Regiment from White Plains not arriving till the evening of the 6th October when the Forts were lost; Colonel Ludington’s Regiment at Tarrytown not ordered up. A Picket of 300 Men, under Colonel Sherburn being sent the 5th October, to or near the Church South east of Verplanks Point, (called by the evidence and in the Map Sing Sing Church) eight Miles from the village, where General Putnam’s Corps were posted, and thirteen Miles, the shortest distance from the nearest ferry above Fort Montgomery. (See B. General Parsons, Colonel Meigs and Colonel Ludington’s Evidence.[)] From Verplanks point to Pecks Kill town five Miles, from that to the continental village three, from thence to jeacocks, or William’s Ferry above Fort Montgomery five. That the Public Stores were not removed from the village on the 6th October when the enemy carried the Forts. (See General Putnam’s defence and B. General Parsons evidence at the Close.) That there were no predispositions made to succour the forts, in Case of an attack, which might have been done without risque to the pass at the village, nor were the troops sent to Williams’s Ferry, to be in readiness agreeable to General Putnam’s Letter to B. General James Clinton of the 5 October; altho a Captain and fifty Men were ordered from the small Garrison of the Forts, on Anthony Nose. (See the roads marked on the map from the village and paper Mill towards Fort Montgomery, and B. General James Clinton’s evidence 2d page.) That the enemy did not advance from Verplanks, point to Pecks Kill, or the village, on or before the 6th of October 1777, nor make any demonstration in the afternoon of that day, to land at Pecks Kill or between Fort Independence, and Pemart’s Landing. (See Colonel Drake’s, B. General Parsons evidence and General Putnam’s defence.) That a Landing at the Paper Mill was more eligible for the enemy, than at Verplank’s point if he intended to gain the pass of the Highlands, on the east Side of the River, or to destroy the Continental Village; and a shorter rout to those places by six Miles, than from Verplank’s Point: And if he intended to gain Possession of Anthonys Nose, nine Miles nearer than the Point. (See the Map.) That the aid of Ships to cover a Landing of the enemy at Verplank’s Point or neck on the 6th October was not necessary, as is suggested by General Putnam’s defence, the enemy having landed there, the 5th without any opposition, and remained there unmolested. (See B. General Parson’s and Captain Sloo’s evidence.) That the Ships of war, Gallies and other armed vessels of the enemy, which cooperated with this army on the west Side of Hudsons River, against the forts must have passed Pecks Kill early in the afternoon of the 6th October, and it is impossible considering the narrowness of the River, that they could have so passed unobserved, if a lookout had been kept for them. (See B. General James Clinton’s Captain Hodges evidences and Colonel Dubois’s answer to the 7th Head of enquiry.) That the firing at Doodle town, Fort Clinton and on the Furnace Road with Cannon and Musketry, between twelve and two oClock P.M. on the 6th of October last must have been heard at the Continental Village, and at the right of General Putnam’s Corps towards the Paper Mill as it was by Colonel Drake at Pemarts House, Pecks Kill. (See Colonel Drakes, Captain’s Moody, Rosecrants, Machine, Falkers Hodges, and B. General James Clinton evidences designating the time of the firing and the Map.) That these demonstrations of the enemy determined his object to be the Forts, by 2 P.M. of the 6th of October 1777. That Colonel Meigs marched with the reinforcement for the releif of the Forts, in less than two hours, to the ferry above them Vizt, to Williams’s. (See his evidence.) That by the 9th of October there were 4000 Militia in Fish Kill from Connecticut which with the Continental troops and Militia from the State of Newyork, on the east Side of the River, amounted to at least five thousand five hundred Men. That by information of the Inhabitants, Col. Jams Drake says that on Thursday after the loss of Fort Mont[gomer]y the Village was burnt which was 9th Octor, and the enemy’s official report, the Village and the remaining Stores were burnt on that day without opposition. That after this it was determined that B. General Parsons with Continental troops and Militia should march from Fish Kill to Pecks Kill, to observe the Motions of the enemy at Verplanks Point. (See General Parson’s evidence.) All which is submitted to your Excellency. I think it a duty I owe to the Country, to desire that this may be considered as a part of the report of your very humble Servant” (NHi: McDougall Papers). See also McDougall to GW, 13 April, and note 4 of that document.

3The enclosed undated “State of the Enemy’s Strength in Newyork and its Dependencies” reports a total force of 6,303, composed of 2,060 British, 1,250 Hessians, 2,893 Loyalist “New Levies,” and 100 “Anspackers” (DLC:GW).

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