George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General Horatio Gates, 24 August 1779

To Major General Horatio Gates

Head Quarters West-point 24th Augt 1779.


I have been duly favored with your letter of the 13th inst.1

The situation of the prisoners at Rutland seems to make it necessary, to give one of them the permission which is asked.2 But to render this of as little advantage as possible to the enemy, you will be pleased to order him to Rhode Island, to proceed from thence, by water to New-York, and return by the same passage to Rutland.

It will be agreeable to you to hear, that on the morning of the 19th instant, Major Lee of the dragoons, completely surprised and carried the enemy’s strong post at Powles Hook. He brought off 7 officers and 151 privates. He imagines that about 40 were killed and wounded by the bayonet. Not a musquet was discharged on our side. Our loss the most trifling.

The vicinity of this post to New-York—the danger of his having his retreat cut off, by a body thrown over the North-river—with some other disagreeable circumstances determined him to bring off his prisoners instantly, leaving the artillery and stores of the garrison.

Yesterday I was informed by General Sullivan, of his arrival at Tioga on the 11th inst. without loss or opposition.3 On the 13th he destroyed Chemung with all its plantations of corn &c. &c. The enemy had evacuated the place the evening before, and gave but little interruption to his operations. This is the second Town, with their dependensies which he has destroyed, which opens to him the whole Indian country.

In the course of the day, and his pursuit after the Indians, we had seven men killed and fourteen wounded. The enemy’s loss could not be ascertained, nor is it supposed to be considerable as their flight was sudden and precipitate.

This is our most material intelligence—that from Europe you will have received through the public papers. I have only to add that Arbuthnots fleet is not yet arrived. By our calculation it must be out 90 days—provided the accounts of its sailing are true.4

By some recent advice from the enemy, it appears that some troops have been thrown over from York Island—to Long Island and put in motion Eastward—but with what intention is altogether conjectural.5 I am sir your most obt and hble servt

Go: Washington

LS, in James McHenry’s writing, NHi: Gates Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1This letter has not been found.

2Convention Army prisoners too sick or wounded to march with the other troops to their new barracks in Albemarle County, Va., in November 1778, were quartered in Rutland, Mass., with other British and German prisoners. Gates seems to have related information given him by Lt. Thomas Edwards, whom he had stationed at Rutland. Edwards’s letter to Gates, dated 3 Aug. at Rutland, reads in part: “At the Request of the German Officers … I have to inform you—that those Officers & their Soldiers are almost entirely destitute of Money & would be glad to obtain Liberty for an Officer to go either to New York or Newport, for the purpose of getting some—they inform me that Mr Mersereau promised a pass to an Officer for this purpose, but he has been absent some time, & they know not when to expect his Return … The Officers are exceedingly anxious to obtain this Liberty” (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 ); see also Edwards to Gates, 30 Aug. (second letter; 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 ).

4For GW’s preparations for the long-expected arrival of the British army reinforcements being convoyed by the squadron under the command of Vice Adm. Marriot Arbuthnot, which arrived at New York on 25 Aug., see GW to John Jay, 11 Aug., n.5. GW learned of the arrival of Arbuthnot’s squadron on 27 Aug. (see GW to John Jay, 24–27 Aug., and n.8 to that document; and Robert Howe to GW, 27 Aug.).

5British officer Archibald Robertson says in his diary entries for 13–15 Aug. that the 17th Light Dragoons and Queen’s Rangers crossed to Long Island on those days, and he notes that the latter unit was “on their march to Oyster Bay [Long Island, N.Y.]” (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 202). In addition, Hessian major Carl Leopold Baurmeister wrote in his dispatch of 27 Aug. that “The light infantry, the Queen’s Rangers, and the 17th Regiment of Dragoons have been transferred to Long Island, where the rebels undertake the most devastating landings from Connecticut” (Baurmeister, Revolution in America, description begins Carl Leopold Baurmeister. Revolution in America: Confidential Letters and Journals, 1776–1784, of Adjutant General Major Baurmeister of the Hessian Forces. Translated and annotated by Bernhard A. Uhlendorf. New Brunswick, N.J., 1957. description ends 296). On 23 Aug. Maj. Gen. Robert Howe at Lower Salem, N.Y., wrote to Maj. Gen. William Heath, “intelligence confirms … that the Queens Rangers were gone to Oyster Bay on Long Island” (MHi: Heath Papers).

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