George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Henry Laurens, 26–27 October 1778

To Henry Laurens

Head Quarters Fredericksburgh 26th[-27] Otbr 1778.


I had the honor of your letter of the 22d Instant with its several inclosures to-day, at noon.

I shall pay a proper regard to the act of Congress respecting Monsr de Vrigny.1

For information on the second resolve, for obtaining a return of the re-inlistments, I must beg leave to refer Congress to my letter of the 24th.2

I have complyed with the intention of the 3d, and transmitted the act to Sir Henry Clinton which relates to Mr Franks.3

The certain intelligence of a large number of troops having embarked at New-York—the sailing of a considerable fleet, concurring at the moment their departure was expected—left me no room to doubt, that the fleet which went out of the hook, on the 19th and early the 20th instant, contained the embarkation of which I had been advised—In the persuasion of this, my letter of the 23d to your Excellency was written.4 But from more recent advices, and through various channels, bearing every mark of authenticity, I am to conclude the supposition has been ill founded. The above mentioned fleet appears to have carried away, no other troops than invalids, the officers of the corps lately reduced—with some refugees. The 23d Inst. the troops which had embarked still remained in the harbour. They are fixed at 10 or 12 british regiments, and six of the new levies.5

This fleet was probably composed of homeward bound victuallers—with some merchantmen—and other vessels which chose to take the protection of a convoy. The accounts still say that they were accompanied by fourteen or fifteen sail of the line and some frigates.

27th. In my letter of the 22d I advised your Excellency of the measures I had taken to ascertain the practicability of an enterprize against Chemung. I have the honor to inclose you the report of Governor Clinton General Schuyler and General Hand on the subject.6 I cannot help concurring with these gentlemen in opinion, and am persuaded, from a number of considerations, that we must lay asside all thoughts of an expedition against that place for the present. Besides other necessary preparations, we have not yet been able to get forward the cloathing for the army. The Congress will also perceive, in Lieut. Colonel Butlers journal, transmitted to your Excellency in my letters of the 22d & 23d instant, the great difficulties he had to encounter, in crossing the rivers, at a much earlier season of the year. I have the honor to be with the greatest respect your Excellencys most obt hble servt

Go: Washington

LS, in James McHenry’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; copy, ScHi: Henry Laurens Papers; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The LS is docketed in part: “Read 31.” Congress read this letter on 31 Oct. and “Resolved, That Congress approve the reasons for not undertaking for the present an expedition against that place [Chemung]” (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 12:1084). On 1 Nov. Laurens replied to this letter and GW’s letter to him of 24 Oct. (DNA:PCC, item 13).

1The certificate that Congress in this act of 22 Oct. directed GW to write for Vrigny has not been identified. For the act and Congress’s acceptance of Vrigny’s resignation and settlement of his pay, see Laurens to GW, 22 Oct., n.2; see also JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 12:1033–34, 1071.

2See GW to Laurens, 24 October. For this act of 22 Oct., see Laurens to GW, 22 Oct., n.3; see also JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 12:1034.

3See GW to Henry Clinton, 26 October. For this act of 22 Oct. regarding Congress’s removal of David Franks from his office as commissary of British prisoners, see Laurens to GW, 22 Oct., n.4; see also JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 12:1032–33.

5Admiral Byron’s fleet, which was seeking to intercept d’Estaing’s fleet off the Massachusetts coast, and the fleet of transports bound for England had sailed together from Sandy Hook on 18 or 19 Oct. (see Richard Howell to GW, 9 Oct., and note 3 to that document). Maj. Gen. James Grant’s West Indies expedition, which consisted of ten British regiments, embarked between 25 and 28 Oct. and sailed from Sandy Hook on 3 November. Also in preparation at this time was an expedition to West Florida commanded by Brig. Gen. John Campbell, which consisted of one German and two Loyalist regiments, and an expedition to East Florida commanded by Lt. Col. Archibald Campbell, which consisted of one British, two German, and five Loyalist regiments.

6GW enclosed a copy of this report, which George Clinton, Philip Schuyler, and Edward Hand had written at Poughkeepsie, N.Y., on 22 October. They began by quoting the first paragraph of GW’s letter to Hand of 21 Oct. and Congress’s resolution of 13 Oct. regarding Chemung, and then citing Col. Thomas Hartley’s letter to Congress of 8 Oct. regarding frontier defense (for the latter two documents, see Laurens to GW, 13 Oct., notes 4 and 5). Based on their consideration of those three documents, Clinton, Schuyler, and Hand observed:

“1st: That at this advanced season of the Year it would require the greatest dispatch merely to march a Body of Troops without any Cannon from this place to Chemung so as to return before the Winter sets in; that therefore to carry Cannon appears impossible and that nevertheless if the Enemy have erected any Fortifications Cannon would be indispensibly necessary.

“2dly That if it were possible to convey Cannon into that Country at this Season yet as no preparations have been made for the expedition; as the Cloathing and Blankets for the Soldiers is not yet arrived; and as Pack-horses and provisions, axes and other necessaries are still to be procured so much time will escape that in all probability the rainy season will have commenced and the passage of the Rivers, Creeks, and Swamps which lay in the route be rendered impassable.

“3dly That the stationing of Troops on the Frontiers and directing the Commanding Officers to procure Intelligence of the Enemy’s force at their different settlements nearest to such Posts as the Troops may occupy and if practicable to destroy such settlements of the Indians as may lay between Chemung and our Frontiers appears to be the most eligible plan to be adopted at this advanced Season of the Year as it promises at once to afford protection to the Inhabitants and distress the Enemy.

“4thly Should the Enemy not have erected any Fortifications at Chemung and should they not be in force sufficient to oppose us yet we conceive no benefits would arise to the States from the present destruction of that settlement in anywise adequate to the expence that would be incurred, and to the probable loss of men from the fatigues and Hardships the Troops must necessarily endure in a march through a Country great part of which will be extremely wet and miery” (DNA:PCC, item 152).

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