George Washington Papers

Council of War, 1 September 1778

Council of War

[White Plains, 1 September 1778]

At a Council of War held at Head Quarters in Camp at White plains Septr 1st 1778

The Commander in Chief

Major Genls Brigadr Generls
Putnam Nixon
Gates Parsons
Stirling Jas Clinton
Lincoln Smallwood
D’Kalb Knox
McDougal Poor

The Commander in Chief states to the Council, that by a Letter of the 23d Ulto from General Sullivan, it appears that the French fleet under the command of His Excellency Vice Admiral Count D’Estaing, in consequence of damage sustained in a violent storm off the coast and from other weighty considerations, had left Rhode Island on the 21st in their way to Boston, there to refit. That by another Letter of the 29th he is informed, General Sullivan and the Troops under his command had the preceding evening retreated from the position they before occupied, to the North East end of the Island, where an Action had ensued, in which the American Troops were finally successful, though not without considerable loss.

He further informs them, that by various accounts from New York and other places, the Enemy some time since, had detached a body of about 1200 hundred men under General Tryon, on a foraging party on Long Island, which was last heard of at Setocket. That besides this, other Troops had from time to time passed over to Long Island; amounting in the whole, according to intelligence, to a considerable number. That some days since, a Fleet of about Sixty sail of Transports, great & small, had proceeded Eastward through the sound; in which it ⟨is⟩ supposed, the Troops or part of them on Long Island had embarked, and some repor⟨ts⟩ say under the command of General Clint⟨on⟩ for the relief of Rhode Island. That if the Detachments said to have been sent to Rhode Island are really gone, the number of t⟨he⟩ Enemy’s troops there, will amount to [ ] the number of those remaining at New Yor⟨k⟩ and its dependencies about 9,000.1 That our force at this post is 12,772 rank a⟨nd⟩ file fit for duty, exclusive of men retu⟨rned⟩ on command.

His Excellency finally inform⟨s⟩ the Council, that a Gentleman who cam⟨e⟩ express from Rhode Island assures him, that he met an Officer, belonging to the Languedoc, One of the French fleet, the 27th of August in the Evening at providence, going with dispatches to General Sullivan, who informed him of the arrival of the french fleet at Boston; which had been joined by the Cæsar a 74 Gun ship, separated in the storm, and who, he also understood, mentioned that the fleet, consisting of ten sail of the line & three frigates, was on the point of leaving Boston or had sailed for Rhode Island—and would be there by the time of his (the Gentleman’s) return.2

The Commander in chief having stated these facts for the consideration of the Council, requests their opinion,

  • 1st Whether any operations can be undertaken at the present juncture by this Army—and of what kind—Whether a movement of the whole or a princip⟨a⟩l part of it to the Eastward, will be adv⟨isa⟩ble, and afford a prospect of advantage?
  • 2. In case a movement to the Eastward should be thought proper, what measures and precautions should be taken for the security of the Highland passes?
  • 3. Or whether an attempt with such a probability of success as will justify it, can be made upon New York in it’s present circumstances?3 In determining the foregoing points—the General requests the Council will take into view the practicability of supplying the Army with provisions, if it should be judged expedient to move to the Eastward.

D, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Notes that Henry Knox kept of his replies to these questions state that the council was held “the eveng of Sep. 1” (NNGL: Knox Papers). There was apparently discussion that evening, and then GW requested that the generals submit written opinions. No responses have been found from James Clinton and Jedediah Huntington; the replies of the other generals are dated 2 September.

1A British return of 15 Aug. reported almost 22,000 “Rank & file fit for duty” and more than 27,000 “Total Effectives” at New York, Staten Island, Long Island, and Paulus Hook. The force that embarked for the relief of Rhode Island numbered about 4,000 (“Recapitulation of the State of 15th August 1778” and Henry Clinton to George Germain, 15 Sept., both P.R.O., Colonial Office, 5/96, Military Correspondence of the British Generals).

2The express rider was Charles-Albert, comte de Moré de Pontgibaud; for more on his information, see GW to Henry Laurens, 31 August.

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