George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Board of War, 27 August 1779

To the Board of War

Hd Qrs West-point 27th Augt 1779.


The state of our magazines in the article of powder is truly distressing. We have scarcely a sufficiency for the ordinary demands of the service; and should be utterly unable to undertake any enterprise which might require a more than common expenditure however necessary it might be, or however other circumstances might invite to it. An interesting question was lately agitated respecting an operation of an offensive nature, which in certain contingencies might become adviseable—the want of powder was found an insuperable objection.2 In a late estimate of the quantity requisite for this important post to enable it to maintain itself against a seige, or any operation besides a mere assault, our supply was reported to be totally inadequate.3 In addition to these considerations the arrival of reinforcemen⟨ts⟩ to the enemy which from the strongest appearances may be momently expected, may put it in their power to enter upon a series of operations which would4 oblige us to increase our force by calling in an aid of Militia in which case our stock of ammunition already scanty must5 prove altogether incompetent.6 In this situation, I cannot but feel a great degree of anxiety, nor can I forbear to repeat my intreaties that the Board will be pleased to make every possible exertion to relieve our necessities—I am led to hope this will not be found impracticable from the information lately transmitted me, through Mr Tilghman, by Mr Searle member of the Commercial Committee of the expected arrival of 1000 barrels of powder Should this quantity luckily arrive7 A large proportion of it cannot be too soon forwarded to Camp.8

But as this is rather a precarious dependence, it is much to be wished that loans could be obtained from those states, which have magazines of this article, and I have been informed some of them are pretty well provided. I, some little time ago, desired Genl Knox to make a representation of the above kind to the Board,9 but the matter is of ⟨so⟩ much importance that I hope they will excuse me for repeating it.10 I have the honor to be With very great respect Gentlemen Your most Obed. s⟨ervt⟩.

Df, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1GW’s aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton, who penned the draft, inadvertently wrote “Gentlememen.”

2GW is referring to a prospective offensive by the main army against the British forts guarding King’s Ferry, N.Y., at Stony Point and Verplanck Point (see Council of General Officers, 26 July [second council] and the responses of Nathanael Greene, Alexander McDougall, and Arthur St. Clair, all dated 27 July; see also GW to Henry Knox, 20 Aug.). For GW’s attempts to obtain loans of powder from the states to support the operations of the main army, see GW’s first letter to John Jay of 29 July, and also GW to Jeremiah Powell and to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., both 7 October. Connecticut agreed to supply ten to fifteen tons from their “considerable Quantity” of powder, and Massachusetts pledged to send one hundred barrels (see Trumbull to GW, 14 Oct., and Massachusetts Council to GW, 16 Oct.).

3No report to GW on this subject has been found, but see GW to Knox, 20 August.

4Hamilton first wrote “may,” but he then crossed it out and wrote “would” above the line.

5Hamilton first wrote “would,” but he then crossed it out and wrote “must” above the line.

6For GW’s defensive preparations for the long-expected arrival of the British army reinforcements, convoyed by the squadron under the command of Vice Adm. Marriot Arbuthnot, which arrived at New York on 25 Aug., see GW to Jay, 11 Aug., n.5. GW learned of the arrival of Arbuthnot’s squadron on this day (see GW to Jay, 24–27 Aug., and n.8 to that document, and also Robert Howe to GW, this date, and n.3 to that document).

7The previous five words appear to have been inserted at this point on the draft manuscript after the rest of the paragraph had been written.

8For the dispatch of a ship to the West Indies to obtain powder supplies, see the Board’s reply of 3 Sept. (first letter). For the arrival of this ship, see GW to the Board of War, 14 September. For GW’s subsequent disappointment with the quantity of powder, see GW to the Board of War, 18 Sept. (see also the Board of War to GW, 23 Sept.).

10On the draft manuscript, Hamilton added this paragraph after the closing; however, he apparently intended to place it at this point.

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