George Washington Papers

From George Washington to John Jay, 21 July 1779

To John Jay

Head Quarters New Windsor July 21st 1779


On the 16th instant, I had the honor to inform Congress of a successful attack upon the enemy’s post at Stoney Point, on the preceding night, by Brigadier General Wayne and the corps of light infantry under his command1—The ulterior operations in which we have been engaged, have hitherto put it out of my power to transmit the particulars of this interesting event. They will now be found in the inclosed report, which I have received from General Wayne2—To the encomiums he has deservedly bestowed on the officers and men under his command, it gives me pleasure to add that his own conduct, throughout the whole of this arduous enterprise, merits the warmest approbation of Congress. He improved upon the plan recommended by me and executed it in a manner, that does signal honor to his judgment and to his bravery.3 In a critical moment of the assault he received a flesh wound in the head with a musket ball; but continued leading on his men with unshaken firmness.4

I now beg leave for the private satisfaction of Congress, to explain the motives which induced me to direct the attempt. In my former letters I pointed out the advantages which the enemy derived from the possession of this post and the one on the opposite side,5 and the inconveniences resulting from it to us6—To deprive them of the former and remove the latter were sufficient inducements to endeavour to dispossess them—The necessity of doing something to satisfy the expectations of the people and reconcile them to the defensive plan we are obliged to persue, and to the apparent inactivity, which our situation imposes upon us—The value of the acquisition in itself, with respect to the men artillery and stores which composed the garrison—the effect it would have upon the successive operations of the campaign and the check it would give to the depredations of the enemy at the present season:7 All these motives concurred to determine me to the undertaking. The certain advantages of success, even if not so extensive as might be wished, would at all events be very important; the probable disadvantages of a failure were comparitively inconsiderable, and on the plan that was adopted could amount to little more, than the loss of a small number of men.

After reconnoitring the post myself8 and collecting all the information I could get of its strength and situation, I found, that without hazarding a greater loss than we were able to afford and with less likelihood of success, the attempt to carry it could only be by way of surprise.9 I therefore resolved upon this mode and gave my instructions accordingly—as contained in No. 210—In hopes that Verplanks point, might fall in consequence of the reduction of the other, dispositions were made for the purpose, which unluckily did not succeed.11 The evening appointed for the attack, I directed Major General McDougall to put two Brigades under marching orders to be moved down towards Ver Planks as soon as he should receive intelligence of the success of the attempt on this side,12 and requested General Wayne to let his dispatches to me pass through General McDougall, that he might have the earliest advice of the event. But, through some misconception, they came directly on to Head Quarters which occasioned a loss of several hours. The next morning Major General Howe was sent to take the command of those troops, with orders to advance to the vicinity of the enemys works and open batteries against them.13 It was hoped, that this might either awe them into a surrender under the impressions of what had happened on the other side or prepare the way for an assault. But some accidental delays in bringing on the heavy cannon and intrenching tools necessary for an operation of this kind, unavoidably retarded its execution, ’till the approach of the enemy’s main body had made it too late—General Howe to avoid being intercepted found himself under a necessity of relinquishing his project and retiring to a place of security14—I did not unite the two attacks at the same time and in the same manner, because this would have rendered the enterprise more complex, more liable to suspicion and less likely of success, for want of an exact cooperation, which could hardly have been expected.

When I came to examine the post at Stoney point, I found it would require more men to maintain it than we could afford, without incapacitating the army for other operations. In the opinion of The Engineer, corresponding with my own and that of all the general officers present, not less than 1500 men would be requisite for its complete defence. And from the nature of the works, which were open towards the River, a great deal of labour and expence must have been incurred and much time employed to make them defensible by us. The enemy, depending on their shipping to protect the rear had constructed the works solely against an attack by land. We should have had to apprehend equally15 an attack by water and must have inclosed the post. While we were doing this, the whole army must have been in the vicinity exposed to the risk of a general action, on terms which it would not be our interest to court, and out of reach to assist in carrying on the fortifications at West Point, or to support them in case of necessity—These considerations made it an unanimous sentiment to evacuate the post, remove the cannon and stores and destroy the works; which was accomplished on the night of the 18th, one piece of heavy cannon only excepted. For want of proper tackling within reach to transport the cannon by land, we were obliged to send them to the fort by water. The movements of the enemys vessels created some uneasiness on their account and induced me to keep one of the pieces, for their protection, which finally could not be brought off, without risking more for its preservation, than it was worth. We also lost a Galley which was ordered down to cover the boats. She got under way, on her return, the afternoon of the 18th. The enemy began a severe and continued cannonade upon her, from which having received some injury, which disabled her for proceeding, she was run a shore. Not being able to get her afloat, ’till late in the flood tide and one or two of the enemy’s vessels, under favour of the night having passed above her, she was set on fire and blown up.

Disappointed in our attempt on the other side, we may lose some of the principal advantages hoped for, from the undertaking. The enemy may16 reestablish the post at Stoney point17 and still continue to interrupt that communication. Had both places been carried, though we should not have been able to occupy them ourselves, there is great reason to believe, the enemy would hardly have mutilated their main body a second time and gone through the same trouble to regain possession of posts where they had been so unfortunate. But though we may not reap all the benefits which might have followed, those we do reap are very important.

The diminution of their force by the loss of so many men will be felt in their present circumstances18—The artillery and stores will be a valuable acquisition to us, especially in our scarcity of heavy cannon for the forts—The event will have a good effect upon the minds of the people—give our troops greater confidence in themselves and depress the spirits of the enemy proportionably—If they resolve to reestablish the post, they must keep their force collected for the purpose. This will serve to confine their ravages within a narrower compass and to a part of the country already exhausted. They must lose part of the remainder of the campaign in rebuilding the works, and when they have left a garrison for its defence, their main body by being lessened must act with so much the less energy and so much the greater caution.

They have now brought their whole force up the River and yesterday landed a body at Stoney point—It is supposed not impossible that General Clinton may endeavour to retaliate by a stroke upon West Point and his having stript New York as bare as possible19 and brought up a number of small boats are circumstances that give a color to the surmise. Though all this may very well be resolved into different motives, prudence requires that our dispositions should have immediate reference to the security of this post; and I have therefore drawn our force together, so as that the whole could act in its defence, on an emergency. Tomorrow,20 I remove my own Quarters to the Fort.21

It is probable Congress will be pleased to bestow some marks of consideration upon those officers who distinguished themselves upon this occasion. Every officer and man of the corps deserves great credit, but there were particular ones whose situation placed them foremost in danger and made their conduct most conspicuous—Lt Col. Fleury and Major Steward commanded the two attacks—Lieutenants Gibbons and Knox commanded the advanced parties or forlorn hopes; and all acquitted themselves as well as it was possible. These officers have a claim to be more particularly noticed. In any other service, promotion would be the proper reward; but in ours it would be injurious22—I take the liberty to recommend in preference some honorary present, especially to the field officers—A brevet captaincy to the other two (as it will have no operation in regimental rank) may not be amiss.23

Congress will perceive that some pecuniary rewards were promised by General Wayne to his corps24—This was done with my concurrence; and in addition to them, as a greater incitement to their exertions, they were also promised the benefit of whatever was taken in the fort—The artillery and stores are converted to the use of the public; but in compliance with my engagements, it will be necessary to have them appraised and the amount paid to the captors, in money. I hope my conduct in this instance will not be disapproved.25

Mr Archer who will have the honor of delivering these dispatches is a volunteer Aide to General Wayne and a Gentleman of merit. His zeal, activity and spirit are conspicuous upon every occasion.26 I have the honor to be With the greatest respect and esteem Your Excellency’s Most Obedient humble servant

Go: Washington

P.S. Congress may possibly be at a loss what to do with Mr Archer. A captain’s brevet or commission in the army at large, will be equal to his wishes; and he deserves encouragement on every account.27

Lest there should be any misapprehension as to what is mentioned about the manner of sending dispatches through General McDougall—I beg leave to be more explicit—I directed General Wayne when he marched of[f] his ground28 to send his dispatches in the first instance to the officer of his baggage guard left at the incampment from which he marched who was to inform his messenger where I was to be found—I left word with this officer to forward the Messenger to General McDougall and I desired General McDougall to open the dispatches—The Messenger who was Capt. Fishburn came directly on, either through misconception in General Wayne, in the officer of the guard or in himself.

I forgot to mention that two flags and two stand⟨ards⟩ were taken the former belonging to the Garrison and the latter to the 17th Regiment— These shall be sent to Congress by the first convenient opportunity.

LS, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Both the draft manuscript, which is in the writing of GW’s aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton, and the Varick transcript are dated 20 July.

2The enclosure probably was a copy of Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne’s letter to GW of 17 July.

3For an overview of preparations, and the attack’s aftermath, see GW to Wayne, 1 July, n.2; see also Wayne to GW, 15 July, and his “Plan of Attack” printed as an enclosure with that document.

4For the head wound that Wayne sustained during the attack on Stony Point, N.Y., see his second letter to GW, 16 July, and n.3 to that document.

5At this place on the draft manuscript, Hamilton wrote and then struck out: “by interrupting our safest communication between the Eastern and Southern states.”

The post opposite Stony Point was Verplanck Point, New York.

6See GW to Jay, 6 and 11 June.

7At this place on the draft manuscript, Hamilton first wrote “critical season— the credit of our arms.” He then struck out those words and wrote “season” above the line.

By “the depredations of the enemy,” GW is referring to British raids along the Connecticut coast that began earlier in July. For an overview, see GW to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., 7 July, source note; for depositions that describe plundering and atrocities, see Samuel Holden Parsons to GW, 31 July, notes 1 and 2.

8GW reconnoitered Stony Point on 6 July (see Wayne to GW, 3 July, and n.9 to that document, and GW to Wayne, 5 July, and n.5 to that document).

9At this place on the draft manuscript, Hamilton wrote and then struck out: “Nature and art contributed to render the fort in every respect formidable.”

10The enclosure that GW identifies as “No. 2” is a copy of his letter to Wayne, 10 July, found in DNA:PCC, item 152.

11For the positioning of a small command under Col. Rufus Putnam to attempt the capture of Verplanck Point if Stony Point fell, see Alexander McDougall to GW, 14 July, n.1, and GW to Robert Howe, 16 July, and n.3 to that document.

12For evidence that GW gave this order verbally, see his letter to McDougall of 16 July.

14See Howe to GW, 18 and 19 July; see also 17 July (first and second letters), and Howe to GW, same date (first and second letters).

15At this place on the draft manuscript, Hamilton initially wrote “principally.” He then struck out that word and wrote “equally” above the line.

16At this place on the draft manuscript, Hamilton first wrote “will in all probability.” He then struck out those words and wrote “may” above the line.

17For the British reoccupation of Stony Point on 19 July, see Richard Butler to GW, that date, and n.2 to that document; see also GW to McDougall, 20 July.

18For returns showing British casualties at Stony Point, see Wayne to GW, 16 July (second letter), n.1, and GW to William Woodford, 22 July, n.1.

19The draft manuscript reads: “New York and its dependencies pretty bare.”

20At this place on the draft manuscript, Hamilton wrote and then struck out “morning early.”

21For GW’s establishment of his headquarters at West Point on this date, see the general orders for 20 July, source note, and for this date, n.1.

22At this place in the draft manuscript, Hamilton first wrote “ineligible and productive of disagreeable consequences.” He then struck out those words and wrote “injurious” above the line.

23Congress unanimously passed resolutions of thanks on 26 July recognizing GW and Wayne for their roles in the victory at Stony Point and additionally resolved unanimously “that the letter from General Washington, with the papers enclosed, and also the other resolutions moved thereon, be referred to a committee of three, and that the committee retire and prepare their report thereon and bring it in immediately” (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 14:887). Gouverneur Morris, Samuel Huntington, and John Armstrong, who formed this committee, reported later that day, and Congress unanimously passed resolutions praising the conduct of Lieutenant Colonel Fleury, Maj. John Steward, Lt. James Gibbons, and Lt. George Knox. Another unanimously passed resolution awarded a gold medal to Wayne and silver medals to Fleury and Steward. A final unanimously passed resolution gave “brevets of captain” to Gibbons and Knox (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 14:890; 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 15:1102, and Huntington to Gibbons and to Knox, 28 Sept., both DNA:PCC, item 14).

A letter from Jay to Wayne, written at Philadelphia on 27 July, reads: “Your late glorious atchievements have merited and now receive the Approbation & Thanks of your Country. They are contained in the enclosed Act of Congress which I have the honor to transmit.

“This brilliant Action has added fresh lustre to our Arms, and will teach the Enemy to respect our Power, if not to imitate our Humanity. You have nobly reaped laurels in the cause of your Country, & in fields of danger and death. May these prove the earnest of more, and may victory ever bear your Standard, and Providence be your Shield” (Smith, Letters of Delegates, description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends 13:298–99; see also Jay to Fleury, same date, in Smith, Letters of Delegates, description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends 13:297–98, and Jay to Steward, same date, DNA:PCC, item 14).

24See Wayne’s “Plan of Attack” printed as an enclosure with his letter to GW, 15 July.

25Congress unanimously resolved on 26 July to “approve the promises of reward made by Brigadier General Wayne, with the concurrence of the Commander in Chief, to the troops under his command: That the value of the military stores taken at Stoney Point be ascertained and divided among the gallant troops by whom it was reduced, in such manner and proportion as the Commander in Chief shall prescribe” (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 14:890–91). For an appraisal of goods taken at Stony Point, see General Orders, 22 July, and n.25 to that document. Brig. Gen. Henry Knox supplied a return, dated 1 Aug. and titled “Estimate of Ordnance and Stores taken from the Enemy at Stoney Point the 16th July 1779— and received into the Magazines at West Point and the Park of Artillery,” which assigned monetary values to a range of captured arms, ordnance, and equipment (DLC:GW). Knox also provided a supplemental report on 5 Aug. in which he appraised six musical instruments—two french horns, two bassoons, and two clarinets—“at one thousand dollars” (DLC:GW). For the distribution of awards and division of funds, see GW to Wayne, 15 Aug. (PHi: Wayne Papers).

26For the decision to send Wayne’s aide-de-camp Henry Waldegrave Archer as a messenger to Congress, see GW to Wayne, 20 July (first letter), and Wayne to GW, same date.

27Congress unanimously resolved on 26 July to give Archer “the brevet of captain” (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 14:890; 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 15:1102; Jay to Archer, 3 Aug., DNA:PCC, item 14; Archer to Jay, 4 Aug., DNA:PCC, item 78; and Huntington to Archer, 28 Sept., DNA:PCC, item 14).

28GW inserted the previous six words above the line in his own writing.

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