George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Stirling, 24 May 1779

From Major General Stirling

at General Morris’s [N.J.] May 24th 1779

Dear Sir

I Was in hopes that my busyness before the Legislature of New Jersey would before this time have been in such a State as would have enabled [me] to return to Camp but I have had Sufficient experience to teach me that Whoever is to be attendant on their motions, need be possessed of a good Stock of patient phylosophy. however I have got my Bill ordered to be engrossed & hope to Morrow to get it passed in the Lower house. and that it will meet with no difficulty in the Council.1 I shall be obliged to return to Trentown this Evening, and Sincerely wish to be in Camp and hope that will be sometime this week. Some operations which have lately occured to me & which I think practicable, I have reduced to writeing and now submit them to your Excellency’s perusal.2

Be pleased to present my best Respects to Mrs Washington, and am with great Affection & Esteem your Excellency’s Most Humble Servant



1For the passage of state legislation concerning Stirling’s property, see Stirling to GW, 10 May, n.1.

2The enclosed memorandum, dated 24 May and signed by Stirling, reads: “While the English fleet is Amused by Count de Estaing in the West Indies, and Considerable detachments of their Army are employed there and in the Southern parts of this Continent, a favourable oppertunity seems to present itself for Attacking Newyork, provided the Continental Frigates could immediately be brought to Act in Conjunction with our Army. The Consequences that would result from such an Event I need not innumerate, for in the present Scituation of affairs I think it is evident it would go far towards putting an End to the American War.

“The plan of operations or rather rough Sketch of the out lines of one that has Occurred to me is as follows.

“All the Continental Frigates, and private Ships of War in the Eastern States, and also all those in Delaware River should be ordered immediately to Assemble and Rendevous in the mouth of Delaware. and as soon as possible should proceed to Newyork and take their Station within the Narrows, and some of the smaller ones in Kill Van Kull so as to Cut off All Communication between Staten Isle Newyork & Long Island; The troops in Jersey should at that Instant be ready to land on Staten Island, and our Eastern Army should at the same time begin their Operations towards Kingsbridge and if possible a body of 2 or 3000 New England Militia, should be landed on Long Island in order to Amuse the Enemy there.

“When Staten Island is Secured, I belive it would be an Easy Matter to Carry the City by landing under the Cover of the Frigates. But it may be thought more prudent to avoid the City untill the Army on Newyork Island be reduced, and therefore that it will be better to land some where between Greenwich and Harlem, and then to Cooperate with the Eastern Army, by Jointly attacking the Brittish Army on Harlem heights. If these Succeed all the rest fall of Course.

“There will be a necessity of haveing a large number of flat Bottomed boats prepared for the operations of the Army which Attacks from Jersey, these may be provided in the Delaware before the fleet can Assemble; provided the work be briskly set about immediately. the transporting them by land from Trentown to Brunswick would be the work of only two or three days.

“I suppose the Naval force we Can Assemble on this occasion Suffecient for the purpose as the whole Naval Strenght of the Enemy at Newyork a very few days ago, was only two Frigates and those disabled & refiting, the one haveing lost a Mast and the other a Bow Sprit, besides two Sloops of War. It is not probable that Admiral Biron will detach any force from his fleet.

“Some of the New England privateers should If possible, be induced to Cruize in the Sound in order to Interrupt the Communication between Newyork and Rhode Island.

“These operations would have a happy Effect on our Affairs to the Southward, as they would greatly distract and distress those of the Enemy, Indeed I think it the most likely means of putting an End to their Southern Expeditions; they would give Security to the Eastern States, as they would lay the foundation of the reduction of Rhode Island, which might be attempted immediately after that of Newyork is Compleated.

“It is true the Scituation of the Affairs of the powers at war may be greatly Altered before these operations can be Carried into Execution, but it is more than an equal Chance, that they will not in the time Necessary, prove less favourable than they are at present—the preparations are few, and not expensive, and Scarce any risque is to be run: Our Army may Always have its retreat Secured, and if a Superior Naval force should Arrive at Sandy Hook the frigates may go off through the Sound. at all adventures I think the preparations should immediately take place, we can then Act according to Circumstances” (DLC:GW). Although GW replied to Stirling on 25 May rejecting his suggestion of an all-out attack on New York City, British naval weakness in New York Harbor encouraged him to believe that a naval attack by Continental frigates might meet with success; see his letter to the Continental Congress Marine Committee of 25 May.

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