George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General John Sullivan, 31 August 1778

From Major General John Sullivan

Head Qrs Tiverton [R.I.] Augt 31st 1778

Dear Genl

In my last1 I promisd your Excellency to particularize such commanding Officers and Corps as more particularly distinguished themselves in the Action of the 29th Instant. I with pleasure comply with that promise.

The advancd Corps under the Command of Colonels Laurens Fleury & Major Talbot Colo. H: B. Levingstones light Troops consisting of Jackson’s Corps and a detachment from the whole Army—Major General Greene and all the Genl officers & Commandants of Brigades of the first and those of Lovell’s Brigade in the second Line have acquird great Honor by their Activity and spirited exertions during the day—I have likewise to inform your Excellency that in consideration of the Intilligence convey’d in your last Favor2—on account of a distressing diminution of Numbers from daily discharges and desertions, & in consequence of Information recievd, that the Enemy’s Fleet was seen some distance off & the actual arrival of three Ships of force, which we suppose to be the Advance.3 For these weighty Reasons, I thought proper to direct a Retreat while I had it in my Power to secure it. I therefore (after making use of some little Maneuvres, which effectually deciev’d the Enemy) gave orders about Six Clock last evening for the purpose, and before two oClock in the Morning all the Army and every thing appertaining thereto, were dissembark’d on the Main. I am confident the Enemy was not sensible of my design, nor apprizd of its execution, untill the discovery was too late to bring advantage with it; tho our Sentries were not posted one hundred and fifty Yards from those of the Enemy. I flatter myself that both the Retreat and the manner of conducting it will recieve your Excellency’s Approbation—In this Expectation, I remain with great personal Regard Yr Excellency’s most obedient humble Servt

Jno. Sullivan

P:S: Unfortunately for the Marquis he was prevaild upon the evening before the Action, to proceed to Boston to accelerate the Return of Count Destiang—The Expedition with which, He perform’d this piece of Service does him honor—he arriv’d at Boston (upwards of Sixty Miles) in Seven Hours and return’d in less time—He had the Honor of bringing of the Picketts which he did with great Regularity & good order.


I shou’d do the highest Injustice if I neglected to mention that Brigadier General Cornels indefatigable Industry in preparing for the expedition and his Conduct through the whole merit particular notice. Major Talbot who assisted me in preparing the Boats afterwards servd in Colo. Laurens’s Corps deser⟨ves⟩ great praise.

Enclosd you have a Return of kill’d wounded and missing.4


2GW’s letters to Sullivan of 28 and 29 Aug. contained intelligence of a British fleet departing to relieve Newport.

3The Sphynx and two other ships of war arrived at Newport on 27 Aug. with news of British intentions to reinforce the post (see Maj. Gen. Robert Pigot to Gen. Henry Clinton, 31 Aug., P.R.O., Colonial Office, 5/96, Military Correspondence of the British Generals; see also 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 , 15:191).

4The enclosed “Return of the Killed Wounded and missing of the Army under the Command of the Honble Maj. Genl Sullivan in the Action of the 29th Augt 1778” reported 30 killed, 137 wounded, and 44 missing for a total loss of 211 officers and men (DLC:GW).

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