George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major Henry Lee, Jr., 21 June 1779

From Major Henry Lee, Jr.

June 21st 1779


Since my last, no Movement has taken place among the Enemy encamped on this Side the River.

Two very intelligent Deserters this Morning from Stony-point, mention that Yesterday a Body of Troops (number unknown) embarked from the East Side of the River between the Hours of twelve & two.

They confirm the Information communicated in my last concerning the 63d & 64th regiments being about to move from Stony-point. They also say, that two Days since, the sick & the aged Soldiers, the women with Children, and all the Baggage belonging to both Officers & Soldiers, were put on Board for N. York.

The following is a very accurate State of their naval Force at King’s Ferry.

one 50 Gun Ship—the rainbow1

Armed Sloops & Schooners

Floating Batteries

Gun boats

Bomb ketches

Row Galleys

Transports & Victuallers—Numbers not ascertained.

Their chief Work on Stony-point is a triangular Fort on the Summit of the Eminence exceedingly strong, & doubly abattied. On every Spot in their Camp which admits of it, they have erected Batteries. They talk also of opening a Canal, & forming draw-Bridges. They have in their several Works, seven twenty fours—2 medium Twelves— 2 long twelves and 2 threes all brass—They also have one Howitzer, two Mortars, and six Iron sixes not mounted.

Genl Clinton is not yet returned from New York2—Genl Vaughn commands in chief—Colo. Johnston of the 17th commands at Stony-point.3

It is reported in their Camp that Lord Cornwallis has arrived at the Hook with a reinforcement under Convoy of Admiral Arbuthnot.4 They do not credit the News from the Southward.5

I begin to apprehend that Genl Clinton has Designs up the East river—He certainly means to draw off all the Troops but a sufficient Garrison to possess the Ferry. This he keeps to distress us in the Conveyance of Support to our Troops should your Excellency follow him to the Eastward as expected.

Your Excellency will pardon me for the Intrusion of my Opinion— it proceeds only from a Desire of exhibiting every probable Object that may engage the Enemy’s Attention.

Many Deserters get in from your Excellcy’s Army. The Manner of sending Scouts by Detail from Divisions afford them good Opportunity. A Detachment seldom comes down without losing several of its Men before they return. There can be no Object in the reach of these parties adequate to their certain Loss. Good Intelligence cannot be obtained by flying parties. The Enemy continue so close within their Lines, that there are no Hopes of meeting with Marauders & protecting the people from their Depredations. Picquets of Armies stationary, & under Cover of Works cannot be easily carried. Officers on Command, anxious to perform some Service, are apt to engage in improbable Attempts. Accidents happen, & Soldiers are lost without Venture of Service. I lay these Observations before your Excellency because they originate from what I see & know. I have the Honor to be, &c.

Henry Lee jr

Copy, ViHi.

1The Rainbow, then a British troopship, carried 44 guns.

2Gen. Henry Clinton had gone to New York City on 15 June, and he returned to Verplanck Point from that place on 21 June (see Lydenberg, Robertson Diaries, description begins Harry Miller Lydenberg, ed. Archibald Robertson, Lieutenant-General Royal Engineers: His Diaries and Sketches in America, 1762–1780. New York, 1930. description ends 196).

3Henry Johnson (1748–1835) entered the British army in 1761 as an ensign in the 28th Regiment of Foot. Commissioned lieutenant in 1762, captain in 1763, and major in 1775, he commanded a provisional battalion of light infantry in America from 1776 to 1778. Johnson was commissioned lieutenant colonel of the 17th Regiment of Foot in October 1778, and he was the highest-ranking British officer at Stony Point, N.Y., when that post surrendered to Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne after a surprise attack on the night of 15–16 July 1779. Following a prisoner exchange, Johnson requested a court-martial, which heard testimony in New York City between 2 Jan. and 20 Feb. 1781 and acquitted him of blame for the defeat despite criticisms of his troop dispositions and military judgment (see Loprieno, Stony Point, 130–317). He then served in the southern campaigns and was present for the surrender at Yorktown on 19 Oct. 1781. Johnson remained in the British army, rose to the rank of general in 1809, and was created a baronet in 1818.

4Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis arrived from England, without reinforcements, on 21 July (see William Heath to GW, 28 July, and n.4 to that document; see also GW to John Taylor, 27 July). For the arrival of Vice Adm. Marriot Arbuthnot later in the summer, see GW to John Jay, 24–27 Aug., and Robert Howe to GW, 27 Aug. (both DNA:PCC, item 152).

Marriot Arbuthnot (1711–1794) joined the British navy about 1727, became a lieutenant in 1739, was promoted to commander in 1746, and subsequently captained several ships. He held high administrative posts at Halifax, Nova Scotia, during the early years of the American Revolution. Promoted to rear admiral in January 1778, Arbuthnot was replaced at Halifax in June and returned to England, where he sat as a member of the court-martial for Adm. Augustus Keppel and was promoted to vice admiral in March 1779. Named commander of the North American squadron, Arbuthnot sailed in May and reached New York City on 25 Aug. 1779. While en route, Arbuthnot wrote Lord George Germain in late May to express “great mortification” that the forces at his disposal were inadequate for his assignment (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 17:134). The Lords of Admiralty disputed Arbuthnot’s view in a letter of 19 June to Germain, which stated that warships designated for operations in American waters should enable that officer “to perform all the services that may be expected from him” (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 17:148–49). It is certain, however, that Arbuthnot clashed immediately with Gen. Henry Clinton, even though they cooperated successfully in the expedition against Charleston, S.C., which surrendered on 12 May 1780. The rest of that year was less satisfying for Arbuthnot, as he quarreled with Adm. George Rodney over control of the North American squadron, botched actions against Lieutenant General Rochambeau’s command in Rhode Island, and was criticized for an overly defensive strategy. Arbuthnot suffered a tactical defeat against a French fleet off the Virginia Capes on 16 March 1781 and resigned the next month. He saw no further sea duty but advanced to the rank of admiral by seniority in February 1793.

5In sending this intelligence, Lee fulfilled orders contained in a letter to him of 15 June from GW’s secretary Robert Hanson Harrison, written at Smith’s tavern, Orange County, N.Y.: “I have been desired by His Excellency to request that you will use your best endeavours to obtain satisfactory accounts from time to time of the situation—movements and designs of the Enemy—and in a particular manner, to ascertain what Corps they have at Stoney point—and their Strength—the number of Cannon & Mortars—& the size—and What Ships & the sort, are laying near it—and transmit him the result. The General supposes you may avail yourself of some of the half Tory Women—and through their means procure information that will be tolerably accurate. If you should apprehend that a little hard money will be of service & promote your enquiries—he will be able to furnish you with a small matter.

“We have not yet received any official account of the Charles Town affair” (DLC:GW).

Index Entries