George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Nathanael Greene, 28–31 August 1778

From Major General Nathanael Greene

Camp near Newport [R.I.] August 28[–31] 1778


Your Excellencys favor of the 21st came to hand the evening of the 25th.

In my last I communicated to your Excellency the departure of the Count de Estainge with his fleet for Boston.1 This disagreeable event, has as I apprehended ruined all our operations. It struck such a panic among the Militia and Volunteers that they began to desert by Shoals. The fleet no sooner set sail than they began to be alarm’d for their safety. This misfortune damp’d the hopes of our Army and gave new Spirits to that of the Enemy.

We had a very respectable force as to numbers between Eight and Nine thousand rank & file upon the ground. Out of these we attempted to select a particular Corps to possess our selves of the Enemies Lines partly by force and partly by stratagem; but we could not make up the necessary number that was thought sufficent to warrant the attempt which was 5000 including the Continental & State Troops. This body was to consist of men that had been in actual service before not less than Nine months. However the men were not to be had; and if they could have been found there was more against it than for it. Col. Laurens was to have opend the passage by landing within the Enemies Lines and geting possession of a Redoubt at the head of Eastons beach. If we had faild in the attempt the whole party must have fallen a sacrafice for their situation would have been such that there was no possibility of geting off.

I shall inclose your Excellency a plan of the Enemies Works & of their strength from the best accounts we are able to get.2 They have never been out of their Lines since the seige began till Night before last. Col. Bruce came out with 150 men to take off a small Piquet of ours Posted at the neck of Eastons beach, he partly succeeded in the attempt by the carelessness of the old guard, he came over after dark and lay in Ambush that when the new guard went down to take their post the Enemy came upon their backs before they discoverd them it being very dark. We lost 24 privates & two Subs.—Ten of the Piquet got off.3

Our strength is now reduced from 9000 to between 4 and 5000. All our heavy Cannon on garrison carriages heavy & superfluous Stores of every kind are removd to the Main & to the North end of the Island where we intend to entrench and attempt to hold it and wait the chance of events. General Hancock is gone to Boston to forward the repairs of the fleet and to prepare the mind of the Count for a speedy return. How far he will succeed I cannot pretend to say. I think it a matter of some doubt yet whether the enemy will reenforce or take off this Garrison. If they expect a superior fleet from Europe they will reenforce, but if not they will remove the Garrison.

Your Excellency may rest assurd that I have done every thing in my power to cultivate and promote a good understanding both with the Count and the Marquis and flatter myself that I am upon very good terms with them both The Marquises great thirst for glory and National attachmt often runs him into errors. However he did everything to prevail on the Admiral to cooperate with us that man could do. People censure the Admiral with great freedom and many are imprudent enough to reproach the Nation through the Admiral. General Sullivan very imprudently issueed something like a censure in General Orders, indeed it was an absolute censure. It opend the Mouths of the Army in very clamorous strains. The Genl was obligeed to explain it away in a few days4—The fermentation seems to be now subsiding and all things appear as if they would go smoothly on. The Marquis is going to Boston also to hasten the Counts return and if possible to get the French Troops to join the Land forces here which will more effectually interest the Count in the success of the expedition.

Five sail of British Ships has got into Newport within two Days past we have heard nor seen nothing of the Fleet of Transports your Excellency mentioned in your Letter to General Sullivan of the 23d.5 If they arrive with a large reinforcement our Expedition is at an end. Unless it is by way of blocade and that will depend upon the French fleets being superior to that of the British.

General Sullivan has done every thing that could be expected and had the fleet cooperated with us as was at first intended and agreeable to the original plan of the expedition we must have been successful. I wish it was in my power to confirm General Sullivans prediction of the 17th but I can not flatter my self with such an agreeable issue I am sensible he is in common very sanguine but his expectations were not ill founded in the present case. We had every reason to hope for success from our numbers and from the enemies fears. Indeed General Pigot was heard to say the Garrison must fall unless they were speedily relievd by a British fleet. If we could have made a landing upon the South part of the Town two Days would have put us in compleat possession of it. Nothing was wanting to effect this but the cooperation of the fleet & french forces. The disappointment is vexatious and truly mortifying. The Garrison was so important and the reduction so certain, that I cannot with patience think of the event. The French Ship that was missing has got into Boston, the rest of the Fleet have not got there yet or at least we have no accounts of their Arrival.

We are very anxious to learn the condition of Lord Hows Fleet the French 74 that has got into Boston had an Engagement with a British 64. The Capt. & Lieut. of the former were both wounded one lost a Leg & the other an Arm.6

Our Troops are in pretty good health and well furnished with Provisions and every thing necessary for carrying on the Expedition.

Our approaches were pushed on with great spirit while we had any hopes of the fleets cooperateing with us; but the People lost all relish for diging after that.

People are very anxious to hear the issue of General Lees tryal various are the conjectures; but every body agrees he is not acquited.

Augt 31—Camp Tivertown [R.I.]

I wrote the foregoing and intended to have sent it by the express that went off in the morning but while I was writing I was inform’d the Express was gone and the change of situation and round of events that have since taken place, has prevented my forwarding what I had wrote as matters seemd to be coming to a crisis.

On the evening of the 29th the Army fell back to the North end of the Island. The next morning the enemy advanced upon us in two Columns upon the East & west road. Our Light Troops commanded by Col. Livingston & Col. Laurens attacked the heads of the Columns about 7 oClock in the morning, but were beat back, they were reenforced with a Regiment upon each road. The Enemy still provd too strong. General Sullivan formd the Army in order of battle and resolvd to wait their approach upon the ground we were encamped on, and sent orders to the Light troops to fall back. The Enemy came up & formd upon Quaker Hill a very strong piece of ground within about one mile & a ¼ of our Line. We were well Posted with strong works in our rear and a strong redoubt in front partly upon the right of the Line.

In this position a warm Cannonade commenced and lasted for several hours with continual Skirmishes on front of both Lines. About 2 oClock the Enemy began to advance in force upon our right as if they intended to dislodge us from the advance Redoubt. I had the command of the Right Wing after advanceing four Regts and finding the enemy still gaining ground I advanced with two more Regiments of regular Troops and a Brigade of Militia and at the same time Gen. Sullivan orderd Col. Livingston with the Light Troops under his command to advance. We soon put the Enemy to the rout and I had the pleasure to see them run in worse disorder than they did at the battle of Monmouth. Our Troops behavd with great spirit and the brigade of Militia under the command of General Lovel advanceed with great resolution and in good order and stood the fire of the Enemy with great firmness Lt Col. Livingston, Col. Jackson & Col. Henry B. Livingston did themselves great honor in the transactions of the Day but its not in my power to do justice to Col. Laurens who acted both the General & the Partizan. His command of regular Troops was small but he did every thing possible to be done by their numbers.7 He had two most Excellent Officers with him Lt Col. Fleury & Major Talbot.

The enemy fell back to their strong ground and the Day terminated with a Cannonade & Skirmishes. Both Armies continued in their position all Day yesterday Cannonadeing each every now and then. Last Night we effected a very good retreat without the loss of men or Stores.8

We have not collected an account of the kild and wounded, but we judge our loss amounts to between two & three hundred and that of the Enemies to much more.

We are going to be Posted all round the Shores as a guard upon them & in that state to wait for the return of the Fleet, which by the by I think will not be in a hurry.

It is asserted that Lord How arrivd last Night with his fleet & the reenforcement mentioned in your Excellencys Letter to General Sullivan. If the report is true we got off the Island in very good season.

The Marquis went to Boston the Day before the Action and did not return until last night just as we were leaveing the Island. He went to wait upon the Admiral, to learn his further intentions and to get him to return again and compleat the expedition if possible.

I observe your Excellency thinks the enemy design to evacuate Newyork. If they should I think they will Newport also; but I am perswaded they will not neither for the present.

I would write your Excellency a more particular account of the battle & retreat, but I immagin General Sullivan & Col. Laurens has done it already. and I am myself very much unwell have had no sleep for three Night & Days; being severely afflicted with the Asthma. I am with great respect Your Excellencys Most obedient humble Servt

Nath. Greene


1Greene was apparently referring to his letter to GW of 22 Aug., which has not been found.

2The plan has not been identified.

3Capt. Frederick Mackenzie of the Royal Welch Fusiliers wrote in his diary entry of 26 Aug.: “A party of 100 Men of the 54th Regiment under the Command of Lt Colonel Bruce, went out at 8 o’Clock this Evening, in order to surprize a Picquet lately posted by the Rebels in Easton’s Orchard at the East end of Easton’s beach. They succeeded completely, having surrounded and brought off the whole Picquet, consisting of 2 Officers, and 30 men, 5 men excepted, who were just gone out to be posted Sentries. … Our party returned at 9 o’Clock, without any other loss than one man missing, supposed to have been killed” ( Mackenzie Diary description begins Diary of Frederick Mackenzie Giving a Daily Narrative of His Military Service as an Officer of the Regiment of Royal Welch Fusiliers during the Years 1775–1781 in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1930. description ends , 2:374; see also Field, Angell Diary description begins Edward Field, ed. Diary of Colonel Israel Angell, Commanding the Second Rhode Island Continental Regiment during the American Revolution, 1778–1781. Providence, 1899. description ends , 6; Gibbs diary, 5–30 Aug., Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 1st ser., 6:735–36). Andrew Bruce, who ranked as a captain in the British army by December 1761, became a major of the 38th Infantry Regiment in July 1771, was promoted from that position to lieutenant colonel of the 54th Infantry Regiment on 10 March 1777, and remained lieutenant colonel of that regiment until at least 1786, being promoted to colonel of the army in November 1782.

4For Maj. Gen. John Sullivan’s general orders of 24 and 26 Aug., see Lafayette to GW, 25–26 Aug., n.4.

5Greene was probably referring to GW’s letter to Sullivan of 22 August. The Sphynx, Vigilant, and Nautilus from the British fleet at New York arrived at Newport on 27 Aug. ( Mackenzie Diary description begins Diary of Frederick Mackenzie Giving a Daily Narrative of His Military Service as an Officer of the Regiment of Royal Welch Fusiliers during the Years 1775–1781 in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1930. description ends , 2:376).

6Joseph Louis, chevalier de Raimondis (1723–1792), who had ranked as capitaine de vaisseau since 1772, was captain of the César and lost an arm in her engagement with the Isis on 16 August. Lieutenant de Foucault of the régiment de Hainaut was killed (d’Estaing to French marine minister, 5 Nov., in Doniol, Histoire de la participation de la France description begins Henri Doniol. Histoire de la Participation de la France à l’établissement des États-Unis d’Amérique: Correspondance Diplomatique et Documents. 5 vols. Paris, 1886–92. description ends , 3:457). Greene’s information may have come from the Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 24 Aug., which reported on the César’s casualties.

7GW quoted the text from “Our troops behavd” to this point in his private letter to Henry Laurens of 4 September.

8For more on this battle, see John Sullivan to GW, 29 Aug., and notes to that document.

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