George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General Robert Howe, 16 July 1779

To Major General Robert Howe

Head Quarters New Windsor July 16 1779


Two Brigades commanded by Brigadiers General Nixon and Patterson have been ordered to march towards the Continental Village1—You will proceed towards that place and take the command of them. You are to continue your route in the vicinity of Peeks Kill and take some convenient position there ’till further orders, or ’till there should be a necessity to relinquish it to a superior force. You will instantly take measures to reconnoitre the enemy’s post at Ver Plank’s point, its environs and approaches—to ascertain where batteries may be erected against it to advantage and the practicability and best mode of an assault—You will endeavour to alarm the enemy at your approach in hopes that the first impressions which the loss of Stoney point and the appearance of an attack upon themselves will make may induce them to abandon the post. If you find batteries can with facility and safety be begun with your present force you will set about it and give me the speediest ⟨in⟩formation of your operations. You will take measures to gain the earliest intelligence of any movement of the enemy from below upon the water or towards your left flank. Open a communication of mutual intelligence with General Heath.2

Generals Nixon and Patterson will be able to give you good information of the country which is the scene of your movements—Col. Putnam, a very judicious officer, has been lately employed with an eye to the Present event, to reconnoitre Ver Planks point—You may place great dependence on his information.3 I inclose you a report which he lately made me.4 I am with great regard Sir Your most Obedt ser.

P.s. You will take with you the field pieces belonging to the Brigades— & two 12 pounders ordered to Nelsons point.5

Df, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The postscript on the draft manuscript is in the writing of GW’s aide-de-camp Richard Kidder Meade.

1For the orders given Brig. Gen. Thomas Nixon, see GW to Alexander McDougall, this date, postscript. The orders given Brig. Gen. John Paterson have not been identified, but see n.3 below.

2To comply with GW’s directive, Howe wrote a letter to Maj. Gen. William Heath from Peekskill, N.Y., on 17 July, sent via express. It reads: “Having the honor to be appointed to a Command in the Neighbourhood of peckskill, I do myself the pleasure to inform you that a part of my Instructions are to ‘open a Communication of mutual Intelligence ⟨with⟩ General Heath’: This, Sir, you may depend is as agreable to my Inclination as consistent with my Duty. I, therefore, embrace the earliest Opportunity of beginning a Correspondence with you; from which, the Character you bear, makes me certain I shall receive great Satisfaction, & the Service much Benefit—Every Information you can give me I shall be happy to have, and any Intelligence worth your Notice I shall assuredly convey to you. At present being but this Moment arrived I have nothing to add” (MHi: Heath Papers).

Heath’s reply to Howe from Salem, N.Y., on that same date reads: “I have to acknowledge the receipt of your very Polite favor of this date which was handed to me a few minutes since, I pray you be assured Sir that to Cultivate and establish a Correspondence and Friendship with you is my earnest wish.

“enclosed is Copy of a Letter which I had the honor to receive from his Excellency the Commander in Chief this morning, this Letter did not reach me untill half Past nine, The Troops are now as far advanced on their march as this place, and will proceed some time further, If from appearances you think a forced march during the night will be necessary I will attempt it on the return of an Express, I have Sent Parties to Pines Bridge, and to Tarry Town to Observe the motions of the Enemy from below, I submit to your Consideration an attention if Possible to the New Bridge on Croton River. I hope Soon to have the pleasure of takeing you by the hand” (MHi: Heath Papers).

3Col. Rufus Putnam, who commanded a detachment from Nixon’s brigade that threatened Verplanck Point, N.Y., in support of Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne’s successful attack on Stony Point during the night of 15–16 July, provided an account of events on the east side of the Hudson River shortly before Howe assumed command. Putnam’s account, which begins on 15 July, reads: “as soon as I Saw that Wayne had commenced his attack on Stoney point we fiered on there out Block house, & guard at the creek & thus alarmed the Garrison on Vanplanks point, which was the only object contemplated for that night.

“July 16th I remaind this morning in full view of the enimy untill eight or nine oClock—when I marched up to continantal village, where in the course of the day, Nixsons & Pattesons Brigades arrived but without there Feld peaces artillerymen or so much as an ax or Spade, or any ordors what they were to do—about 10 oClock at night General How arrived, to take the command. he called on me for information. I told him the troops had brought no artillery with them, which in my opinion was Necessary on account of a Block which Stood in the way of our approach to the main work on the point. Nor had they brought any axes, or entrenching tools, & that it was impossible to cross the Creek without rebuildinging the bridge which had ben destroyed.

“July 17th Sometime about the midle of the day two twelve pounders arrived, and a few axes were collected I believe from the inhabitents and a Bridge was begun, or proposed to be bugun. I cannot Say how far the preparations had advanced before we were allaramed by the advance of a British party by the way of Croton, on which we retreated” (Buell, Putnam Memoirs, description begins Rowena Buell, ed. The Memoirs of Rufus Putnam and Certain Official Papers and Correspondence. Boston and New York, 1903. description ends 82–83; see also GW to Howe, 17 July [first and second letters], and Howe to GW, 18 and 19 July).

4For a draft of the enclosure, see Putnam to GW, 13 July.

5For the two 12-pounder cannon, see n.3 above.

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