George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Brigadier General James Clinton, 31 July 1778

To Brigadier General James Clinton

[White Plains, 31 July 1778]


With the Detachment under your command, which is to comprehend the Corps now advanced with Colo. Morgan, you are to move towards Kings Bridge & the Enemys lines thereabouts.1

The principal objects in view are, to cover the Engineers & Surveyors, while they reconnoitre & as far as time will permit, survey the Ground & roads in your rear, & in front of this Camp—to countenance and encourage that spirit of desertion which seems so prevalent at present—to discover, if possible, those unfriendly, and ill disposed Inhabitants who make a practice of apprehending, & conveying within the Enemy’s line such deserters from their Army as happen to fall into their hands2 & with such witnesses as are necessary to ilucidate the facts send them to the Head Quarters of this Army—And lastly to try what effect this detachment’s approach may have upon the Enemy.

I do not mean, or wish, that you should Incamp very near the Enemy of nights; but wherever you do Incamp, that you do it in proper order of Battle, so that your officers & men may rise at once upon the Ground they are to defend. Your flanks & front should be well secured by Patroles of Horse & foot, sufficiently advanced upon every possible approach; always remembering how disgraceful a thing it is for an officer to be surprized, & believing, that if the Enemy are in force at the Bridge, they will certainly attempt it.

When I speak of your flanks, I have an Eye particularly to the North river, as the Enemy can, with facility move with both secrecy & dispatch by water, if they are provided with Boats at, or near the Bridge, or even at the City, so as to be upon your right flank & even rear, without much difficulty, or notice.

Have your Evening’s position well reconnoitred before hand, & unless there are good reasons to the contrary, I would advise against kindling fires at Night, as the weather is warm, & your position woul⟨d⟩ be discovered, & advantages taken from the knowledge of it.

You may continue out with this detachment two, or three days, & nights, according to the state of your provisions & other circumstances, & when you return, leave an officer & sixteen Dragoons of Colo. Sheldons Regiment, with Colo. Morgan who with the Detachment under his immediate command is to remain till further orders.3

As the Grounds on the West side of the Brunx River are much stronger, than those, on the East, it may possibly be more eligible to go down on that side, & return on the other, in case any attempts should be made to harrass your rear.

You will give me the earliest, and fullest intelligence of all occurrences worthy notice. Given at Head Quarters at the White Plains this 31st day of July 1778.

Go: Washington

LS, in Richard Kidder Meade’s writing, NNPM; ADf, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Alexander Hamilton made several minor revisions to the ADf. Identical instructions were given to Brig. Gen. Peter Muhlenberg on 4 Aug. (DLC:GW).

1For more on this detachment, see General Orders, 30 July, n.4.

2At this point on the draft, GW wrote “and are desirous of leaving their Service,” but those words were crossed out.

3On 1 Aug., GW’s aides Tench Tilghman and Alexander Hamilton each wrote to Clinton regarding the detachment. Tilghman wrote: “In addition to what I wrote to you last Night His Excellency desires that you would not advance your main Body farther down than prudence will dictate, or in other words, he would not have you put it to the least risque. small parties of Horse and foot well advanced as Colo. Morgan advises will answer the purpose. As the day is like to be hazy, His Excellency desires you to keep a very good look out towards the North River lest the Enemy should endeavour, under the cover of the Fog, to throw a party up the River and into your Rear.” Apparently later, Hamilton wrote: “The General has received a Letter written by Mr Erskine by your desire at half past Nine oClock this morning; by which he perceives there are parties of the Enemy hovering about you. He desires you will take the most effectual measures to ascertain what force they are in; and be particularly watchful, that while they may be amusing you in front, they may not throw a force superior to yours on your right flank & rear, and perhaps cut off your detachment. You will remember that it is not the object of it, to effect any thing material against the Enemy; and therefore you will be pleased carefully to avoid any untoward accident happening to it. If the Enemy should be near you, in any considerable force, you will fall back upon the Army” (both drafts, DLC:GW).

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