George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Horatio Gates, 21 June 1779

From Major General Horatio Gates

providence [R.I.] 21st June 1779


Fryday Evening1 I had the Honour to receive Your Excellency’s Letters of the 11th, & 13th of this Month. When I took the Liberty to Suggest that a Glorious Opportunity presented itself for Attacking New York,2 I conceived the Detachments The Enemys General had made from thence, during his Winter Quarters, was much Greater than from Your Excellencys better information I was well warranted to believe—my intelligence was the best I could procure; and is, I find, only right in The Numbers sent from New York to Georgia, 3500.3 You will therefore pardon my Zeal for your Honour, which hurryed me into an Opinion, that you might by One Great St[ro]ke Triumphantly Finish the War.

The Money which you were so Obliging to request Congress to Order to This Department, arrived on Thursday.4 I immediately Ordered 10,000 Dollars to be paid to each of the Continental Regiments, for the purpose of Recruiting; but being without the Late Resolves of Congress, or any proper information upon that Head,5 I can only give such instructions as by a Meeting held with the Commanding Officers of Regiments, has been Judged Sufficient—Your Excellency knows, in The Circumstances of Our Army, there was no delaying this business.

I note with particular Attention what your Excellency says with regard to Our Allies—The Board of War, The Ordnance—& The Commissaries of Cloathing, to all which I shall pay due Obedience. The Nature of Our War is such, that Officers in High Command have Often no prescribed Rule to Govern their proceedings, if therefore, upon a General review of Their Conduct, They shall be found to have Acted with Honour, & Integrity, I can’t persuade myself to Doubt, That both Congress, and Your Excellency, will applaud their Actions.

The Good News contain’d in The Extract from Mr Mitchels Letter, Fills me with Joy, and Admiration! I do most Heartily Congratulate Your Excellency upon the Signal Success of General Lincoln, & The Army under His, & General Moultrie’s Command; This Victory, Compleatly relieves the Southern States from the Miseries of The War, may they never again Experience The like Horrid Calamities.6

I have considered deeply The last paragraph of Your Excellency’s Letter, the 11th Inst.; which mentions particularly The post Sr H: Clinton has taken upon both sides of Kings Ferry, and The Advantages you believe he expects to Obtain from that movement of His Army—The Affairs of Britain are desperate; His Affairs, from The Losses to the Southward, are more Desperate; from the Character of The Man, & The predicament he Stands in, I think he will put all to The Hazzard, and resolve to attempt The Reduction of West-point; to do which, it is Absolutely necessary he should first gain some Signal Advantage over your Army: If, by Skirmishing with your Light Troops and Rifle Men, you could draw Him upon a Field of Battle of your Own Choosing, He may Fall into the pit, He wishes to prepare for You. Be Assured, Sir, He will do all he can to bring you to Action; his Zeal to do that, may, bring Him to the very Spot you wish to Engage upon.

The inclosed Letter to The Council of Massachusetts Bay, will convince Your Excellency that it is immediately necessary, some Measures should be taken to prevent the State Commissarys of prisoners, from sending, when, where, and as many prisoners to The Enemy, as they think proper.7 I am much deceived, if every one of those sent last Week from Boston, to New York, are not now working the Enemy’s boats upon the North River, which Strengthens their Files so many Men. I am &c.


ADfS, NHi: Gates Papers; copy, DNA:PCC, item 154; copy, DNA:PCC, item 171.

1The previous Friday was 18 June.

2Gates is referring to his letter to GW of 30 May.

3For this British expedition to Georgia, which had left New York in late November 1778, see Benjamin Lincoln to GW, 5–6 Jan., and the source note and n.2 to that document.

4See GW to John Jay, 3 June (first letter), and Jay to GW, 7 June; see also Gates to GW, 25 May and 8 June.

5For recent congressional regulations on recruiting, see 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 13:107–9, 298–99; see also GW to James Duane, 27 February. GW explicitly addressed this issue in his reply to Gates on 27 June.

6Intelligence reports of American success in the South ultimately proved erroneous (see GW to Gates, 13 June, n.4). The extract from deputy quartermaster John Mitchell’s letter to GW has not been identified.

7The enclosed letter from Gates to the Massachusetts council may have been a copy of a letter from Gates to that council, written at Providence on 23 May, in which he requested that “no more prisoners of War, or Other persons be permitted, by your Authority to come to providence, to be conveyed through the Lines of this Army to the Enemy” (Gregory and Dunnings, “Gates Papers” description begins James Gregory and Thomas Dunnings, eds. “Horatio Gates Papers, 1726–1828.” Sanford, N.C., 1979. Microfilm. description ends ).

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