George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General John Sullivan, 26 July 1778

From Major General John Sullivan

Providence July 26 1778 8 oC. A:M.

My Dear General

By a former Letter Sent by Express1 I acknowledged the Rect of your Excellenceys favor of the 17th Instant which arrived only the Evening of the 22d & Colo. Laurens arrived with your Excys favor of the 22d on the 24th Inst. two of Clock afternoon—This gave me but Little time to prepare I however Endeavoured to improve it in the Best Manner & have the pleasure to Inform your Excy that Every Effort of mine to prepare for Executing your Excys orders has Succeeded beyond my most Sanguine Expectations & Every thing now promises Success. The French Fleet has not yet arrived Colo. Laurens with the Best of Pilots & a Sufficient number of them are waiting at Point Judith—I have the honor to Inclose your Excy a Letter from Colo. Laurens in which I Suppose he gives your Excy an Account of appearences in this Quarter2—I find I Shall have a Sufficiency of Stores of Every kind & I hope Boats & troops Enough to make the attempt with a moral Certainty of Success the moment the Marquis & Admiral Arrive. I Inclose your Excellency Copy of my Letter to the Count now in the hand of Colo. Laurens to be Delivered him on his arrival3 wish it may meet your Excellenceys approbation & have the Honor to be with the most profound Respect your Excellys most obedt Servant

Jno. Sullivan


3In Sullivan’s letter to Vice Admiral d’Estaing, dated 25 July, he pointed out that when he received GW’s instruction on 24 July, “I had sixteen Hundred standing Forces, & scarcely a Sufficiency of Provisions for them & was under no Apprehension of such an Attempt in this Quarter. Added to all this the Enemy in their Descent on the 25th of May last had burned almost all the Boats prepared for a Descent—But as this short Notice arose from natural & necessary Causes which could not have been foreseen I have used every Endeavor to prevent Your Excellys being delayed in Your Design—I have forwarded the Pilots who will wait Your Signal at Point Judith: I have also collected a considerable Number of Boats sufficient I hope to make good our Landing under the Fire of Your Ships; I have established a Chain of Expresses on both Sides Rhode Island upon the Main for the Purpose of receiving from & carrying to Your Excelly every Kind of Intelligence that may be thought necessary I will also have Boats plying in the Bay round Your Fleet for the same Purpose when it arrives—I have called upon the Country for Troops & have taken every Step to procure Provisions & other Necessaries that the Time would permit & I flatter myself we shall not be disappointed. I am exceeding sorry that our Situation renders it uncertain whether we can co-operate the Moment of Your Arrival—The Marquis La Fayette is on his March with a Division of the main Army; I trust he will be here in four Days—As his Troops may be depended on & mine are principally Militia I think the Attempt even if we were ready in other Respects would be hazardous before his Arrival: But as Your Fleet is superior to every Thing on the Sea I think no great Difficulty can arise from a Delay of one or two Days after Your Arrival should that from the above Circumstances happen. There are three Entrances to the Harbor viz. one on the East of Rhode Island at Seconnet Point, one on the West called the middle Channel which runs between Rhode Island & Conannicut which Island of Conanicut lies to the westward of Rhode Island, to the westward of which there is still another Channel called the West Channel—This will at once appear to Your Excelly on View of the Map which I sent You by Lieut. Colo. Laurens & will be sufficiently explained to You by the Pilots sent onboard.”

Sullivan continued with “Hints” for d’Estaing’s naval operations: “I think the Mouth of the East Channel should be blocked up immediately on Your Arrival by three Frigates or by two Frigates and a small Ship of the Line: The Enemy have in that Channel a small Sloop of War with two large Gallies they cannot remove as our Batteries above will prevent their going up & Your Ships below will prevent their going out—These Frigates will be ready to move up when notified that we are ready to go on, can soon silence the Enemy’s Vessels & cover our Landing from Tiverton—I would also place four of the next smaller Vessells that can be spared at the Mouth of the west Channel three of which should be sent up to capture two small Frigates which lay in that Channel—These Ships may turn Conannicut Island on the North, fall into the Bay above Rhode Island & lay out of Shot from any Part of the Shore with their Prizes & remain there till they are notified to fall down to cover the Landing of the Troops or assist in such other Operations as Your Excellency shall order—The Rest of Your Fleet should in my Opinion take Possession of the Middle Channel leading between Conannicut & Rhode Island and commonly called Newport Harbour & lay there out of Reach of their Forts till we are ready to co-operate with You—This Disposition will in my Opinion cut off all Possibility of Retreat from the Enemy prevent their receiving Reinforcements & enable Your Excelly to co-operate with us whenever we are ready to act of which Your Excellency shall be timely advised—There are not in this Department more than seven or eight small Frigates unless lately arrived & cannot at any Event be sufficient to injure You in this Disposition.

“I shall notify Your Excelly when we are ready and of the Place of Landing that You may order such Ships as You think proper to cover our Landing—The Enemy have a Number of Redoubts scattered through the Island upon commanding Eminences all of which I mean to pass after my Landing & proceed to the Town of Newport which is defended on the Land Side by a Chain of Redoubts on an Eminence which runs nearly across the Island & commands the Town: These must be stormed & I doubt not will be carried without much Difficulty if attacked in the Manner hereafter mentioned—I wish at the Time of our Landing Your Excelly would make a Show of landing Your Troops at or near Newport to deceive and amuse the Enemy & to give us an Opportunity of getting possessed of the Island—When we are ready to storm the Redoubts we will fix upon a Signal to notify Your Excelly & then if it appears adviseable You will move up Your Ships to cannonade the Town of Newport which must soon be abandoned and then land all the Troops You can possibly spare under Fire of Your Cannon to co-operate with us in our Attempt upon the Redoubts above the Town—The Reason of my passing the Redoubts on the north Part of the Island is because we can pass clear of their Fire & as no Possibility of Retreat or Escape will remain we can reduce them at our Leisure after having made ourselves Masters of the Town—I shall leave a sufficient Number of Troops to watch their Motions & keep them within Bounds—The Reason of my wishing the larger Part of Your Force being destined to block up the Middle Channel is to prevent a Reinforcements being thrown upon the Island from New York, to render Your Fleet so strong as to prevent any Attempt of the Enemys Fleet from New York & to co-operate with those Ships which pass up the west Channel & turn Conannicut in preventing three British Regts now encamped on that Island from passing over in their Boats to reinforce the Troops on Rhode Island who after that is carried must all become Prisoners of Course.” He went on to ask d’Estaing “to pardon my Freedom in giving these Hints” and promised to “chearfully co-operate” with d’Estaing in executing whatever measures he thought “most adviseable” (DLC:GW).

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