George Washington Papers

Council of War, 25 July 1778

Council of War

[White Plains, 25 July 1778]

At a Board of General Officers, assembled at Head-Quarters at Reuben Wright’s, in the Neighbourhood of White Plains, on saturday the 25 day of July 1778.

His Excellency, the Commander in Chief.
Major Genls Putnam Brigadrs Nixon
Gates Parsons
Greene James Clinton
Lord Stirling Smallwood
Kalb Knox
McDougal Poor
Steuben Glover
Lewis Morris

The Commander in Chief stated to the Board, that the Two Armies, which had heretofore acted in different Quarters, had formed a junction. That the whole was composed of Troops from the several States from New Hampshire to North Carolina inclusive. That the Army was about to take a Camp, which might possibly be of some permancy. That for it’s regularity and more effectual operation; as well as to prevent every possible ground of jealousy, and to preserve harmony through all it’s parts, it was necessary to adopt some mode of arrangement and a certain disposition.

Having stated these several matters to the Board, the Commander in chief requested them to take them into consideration, and propounded the following Questions for their advice.

1st Will it be best for the Troops of each State to encam⟨p⟩ together?
Ansr It will be best that they should encamp together.
2d— What will be the best mode of arranging and disposing of the Troops throughout the line, upon the present or a future occasion?
Answr It will be best, that they should be arranged Geographically as far as circumstances will permit for the present Campaign, agreable to the position of their respective States and their relative front to the Ocean and that they do parade accordingly; and that this disposition and arrangement shall not fix or give any post of Honor between them.

The Board having given their advice upon the foregoing points, the Commander in Chief proceeded to state,

That the proposed Camp at White plains was about 15 miles from York Island. That the Enemy from the information he had received, were in possession of Fort Independance &c. on the Heights this side King’s bridge1—and also of Fort Washington and the strong grounds at the North entrance of York Island.2 That from the advices he had been able to obtain, they had Two Camps on Long and Staten Islands; but as to the precise number of men in each or either he was uninformed. That he could not ascertain the Enemy’s present force on York Island and the Heights this side King’s bridge—nor what their whole strength would be, if the Troops were drawn from Long and Staten Islands; However, that he should suppose it would amount to about 14,000—rank and file, fit for duty; and that from his latest and best accounts, they had Several ships of War between New York and Sandy Hook.

That by the last return we had 16782 rank and file fit for duty. That out of this number, a detachment of about 2000 had marched to the Eastward. That another detachment of about 400 had moved towards the Western frontiers of this State. That Maxwells Brigade consisting of 1100 were at Elizabeth Town in Jersey. That Vanschaicks Regiment of about 400 was in the Neighourhood of Hackensack. That about 900 fit for duty were at the posts in the Highlands and at Kings ferry, besides the New levies which are ordered down. That the remainder of the Army amounting to between 11 & 12,000 were at the White plains and in their vicinity.3 That the French Squadron, under Admiral, Count D’Estaing had left Sandy Hook and put to Sea.

The Several matters above, being before the Board, the Commander in Chief requested, that after their consideration of the same, they would deliver their Opinions, upon the following Questions.

1st Whether we can make an attack upon the Enemy’s posts, either on the Heights on this side King’s bridge, or on those on York Island, with a probability of success?

Answer We cannot make an Attack with any probability of success.

2d If an Attack cannot be made, in the opinion of the Board, with a probability of success, should the Army advance and take post nearer the Enemy, or continue on the Grounds it now occupies, at or about the White plains?

Answer The Army should not advance.

Israel Putnam Jno. Nixon J. Huntington B. Genl
Horatio Gates Saml H. Parsons duportail
Nathanael Greene James Clinton
Stirling W. Smallwood
The B[ar]on de Kalb H. Knox
Alexr McDougall Enoch Poor
Steuben Jno. Paterson
Anty Wayne
Wm Woodford
P. Muhlenberg
Chs Scott

DS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1Fort Independence was located on the heights between the Boston and Albany post roads at what is now Fort Independence Park, south of the Jerome Park Reservoir in Bronx County.

2An undated report of a Loyalist deserter, recorded in GW’s writing and apparently gathered about this time, gives information about enemy positions in this area: “Philip Miller. Belonging to D’Lanceys Regt Incamped on spiten devil hill on the Island of New York. where are the 2d Battn of D’Lanceys Regt upon the Hill. near the Mouth of the creek. the strength of this Battalion does not exceed (fit for duty) one hundred men. No other Troops upon that Hill but this Battalion. The 71st Regiment la⟨y⟩ below in the Fork of the Road leading to the top of it, and the other to the Bridge & about 300 yds from the No. River. a guard (Sergeant Corporal & 12 Men) kept at the point of the spiten devil hill (next fort Washington hill)—On spiten devil hill near the point at the Mouth a redout with two Ambraza opened towards the Bridge & No. River at the No. F⟨ork⟩—the Gate next the No. River—to get to which y⟨ou⟩ must pass through the Incampment of the abov⟨e⟩ Battalion—the Qr Guard of wch consists of a Serg. Corporal & 9 Men & is on the No. of the Redoubt & between that & the Mouth of the Creek.

“Two Armed Vessels to wit a 12 & a 6 Gun lay opposite the Redoubt. near the East or Enemys shore keep no Guard boats out. there were also two Row Galleys but believes there is but one there now.

“The 45th & 52 Regiments (he thinks, but is sure that they are two British Regiments lays) lays on th⟨e⟩ hill just above the Bridge on the Island side of New York. & keep out only Qr Guards. A Regiment (the 49th) lays at a block House on the Hill above Hærlam River near to where we threw up a breast work in the year 1776.

“At Fort Washington are only Hessians. they are Incamped from (within a Stones thro⟨w⟩ of the Fort) towards New York back of the orchar⟨d⟩ which adjoins the Tavern—does not think to⟨o⟩ strong—& believes they only keep a Guard (except what may be in the Fort) at the Battery which we erected in 1776 on the point opposite Fort Lee.

“Near Morriss House on the Right hand side ⟨o⟩f the road as you go to New York lays the 4th Regiment. he thinks there is no other Troops there Nor any between that & New York.

“There are two redoubts on the Hill on the No. of spiten devil where the Yaugers are. does not know what Troops are on the heights No. of Hærlam but thinks they are strong—In Fort Independance he Judges, from appearances, that there are a Captn 2 Saps & abt 40 Men Mount Guard—the next Fort to this towards Moriss ⟨now⟩ is called No. 4. No lines of Communication between the Redoubts nor no abbettees but ⟨aro⟩und the Forts & these old & rotten.

“General Vaughan Commands at Kings Bridge & its dependances—does not know ⟨w⟩here Genl Kniphausen is” (DLC:GW).

3The previous return has not been identified. Adj. Gen. Alexander Scammell’s “Weekly Return of the Continental Army under the immediate Command of His Excellency George Washington …” for this date shows 12,360 rank and file fit for duty, not including artillery, which was not reported (DNA: RG 93, Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775–1783).

Index Entries