To Major General John Sullivan
Head Quarters White Plains Aug. 10th 1778
I have been duly favoured with yours of the 6th.
I regret much the tardiness of the militia, as every moment is infinitely precious, and the delay, it produces, may not only frustrate the expedition, which is a matter of the greatest importance in itself; but may expose the French fleet to some fatal disaster. I have no doubt of your utmost exertions to forward the business with all dispatch.
I have received advice from Long Island, that a party of the enemy, from twelve to fifteen hundred men were marching under General Tryon, towards the East End of the Island, collecting all the waggons, they can find, in their way. They were at Setacket the 6th, and were to continue their march early the next morning. I have had information of another party more considerable being at Jamaica plains; but this fact is not so well ascertained as the former. I conclude the design of these parties is to sweep the Island of all the stock and grain upon it, particularly the cattle collected upon the neck, at the East-end; which will be an immense acquisition to them, in their present circumstances.1
While the navigation of the Sound is open to the enemy, it would be too perilous an attempt, to throw a body of troops from this army upon the Island; not withstanding it is a very desireable object to intercept the enemy and disappoint their intended forage. Could the Count with propriety have sent a ship or two down the Sound, agreeable to a proposal made him, through Colonel Laurens,2 the enterprise might have been effected without difficulty; and I had resolved upon sending troops to collect the cattle on the neck;3 at the same time, I am fully sensible of the weight of the reasons which prevented his doing it. It has occurred to me, that there is a possibility it may be in your power4 to throw a part of the troops, under your command, upon the Island, for the purpose here mentioned; though from your last accounts, it is to be apprehended the expedition against Rhode Island will not be completed in time to admit of a measure of this kind. If it should be, this will be an object well-worth your attention. A sufficient body of troops, under the protection of some ships of war, thrown across, so as to take post just within the neck, might cut off the enemy’s detachment without great risk, and collect all the cattle there for our own use. A stroke of this kind would be attended with several obvious advantages. Besides the loss of their troops to the enemy, the disappointment in supplies, of which they stand in great need, would be severely felt; and we should gain a quantity of good cattle, which would afford extensive refreshment to the French fleet.
How far it may be convenient to the Count to assist in an operation of this kind, I cannot perfectly judge. I know he will want to repose and refresh his men, and repair the injuries, which a fleet necessarily suffers, from being a long time at sea. If circumstances make the project suggested in other respects practicable, which I very much question, you will consult the Count; but it is not my wish, he should be, in any instance, pressed to engage in a thing, to which he discovers the least reluctance. I am with great regard, Dr Sir, Your most Obedt Serv.
LS, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, NhHi: Sullivan Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.
1. British officer Francis Downman noted in his journal for 7 Aug., “General Tryon with some provincial corps has gone to the east end of Long Island” (Whinyates, Services of Francis Downman description begins F. A. Whinyates, ed. The Services of Lieut.-Colonel Francis Downman, R.A., in France, North America, and the West Indies, between the Years 1758 and 1784. Woolwich, England, 1898. description ends , 72). William Tryon remained out “with a detachment of near one thousand provincials” until 4 Sept. “to secure the peaceable behaviour of the disaffected inhabitants in that quarter and assist the commissary in obtaining about one thousand fat cattle for the army” (Tryon to George Germain, 5 Sept., in Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 15:198).
3. On the draft, which is mainly in Hamilton’s writing, GW added the words “& I had resolved upon the attempt,” which Hamilton revised to reach the preceding text.
4. At this point on the draft GW added the clause “if your operations are not much delayed,” but the words were struck out.