George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General Robert Howe, 28 August 1779

To Major General Robert Howe

Hd Qrs West-point 28 Augt 1779.

Dr Sir

I have been favored with your letters of the 26th and 27th inst. public—and that of the 26th marked private.1

As the arrival of a 74, one of Arbuthnots fleet is mentioned in a New-York print of the 24, I have no doubt but that the whole are in the Hook by this time. It is now our business to learn the particular Regiments which compose the reinforcement, or their general force.2 this I should suppose —— will be able to do as also whether there are any appearances of a speedy movement by Land or Water or both from A collection of Teams, Boats &ca—& as far as may be their destination or object.3

We have so little said, or so few principles established, decisive of the propriety or impropriety of flags, or under what circumstances they are detainable that it is no easy matter to give advice on this part of your letter—Should we apply to the practice of war, we shall find this very inconsistent with itself—regulated by a supposed necessity, opinion or caprice. Sometimes it may be expedient to detain a flag sent on the most justifiable occasion. At others the most trifling business must be heard in order to preserve a like indulgence from the enemy and prevent retaliation or recrimination on their part. In general we can only defeat the enemys intentions in such flags as you have described by our instructions to our officers on out posts, and the prudence and caution of their reception—Should such instances occur, as that to Col. Meads Militia, I think you will be perfectly justifiable in a detention of the flag. There is no objection to your using flags occasionally. The resolution of Congress to which you allude, was forbidding officers commanding out posts &c. from suffering Inhabitants or others going within the enemies lines unless on a written pass of the State to which they might belong.4

If the enterprise in contemplation is to be undertaken at all, it must be executed immediately, but if it is judged ineligible at this time it must be relinquished.5 The arrival of the enemy’s reinforcement renders it necessary to compact our force more than it is at present. You will take your measures accordingly. Your movement is to the right so far as to put you in a situation to form a junction with this army with dispatch and without being subject to interruption, under almost any circumstances: this may be effected under the appearances of a forage.6

The only actual survey which I have of the Country you now are in, is on a pocket map Had I a duplicate it should be at your service. I am &


Df, in James McHenry’s and GW’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The sections of the draft penned by GW are noted.

1Howe’s letters to GW of 26 Aug. have not been found.

2Beginning at this point, GW wrote the remainder of this paragraph (with the exception of the word “their”) in the margin of the draft manuscript and marked it for inclusion.

3GW is presumably referring to one of Howe’s spies in New York City.

4For the resolution of Congress, see 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 11:825; 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 13:447.

5GW is referring to Howe’s prospective raid on the British outposts above King’s Bridge, New York. GW had first opposed the operation, but he then relented and left the decision up to Howe (see GW’s second letter to Howe of both 9 and 20 Aug. and his letter to Howe of 24 Aug.). Howe had still not executed the raid by 5 Sept., and on that date GW ordered it canceled (see GW to Howe, that date).

6GW wrote the last fourteen words with the exception of the word “effected.” GW is referring to the British army reinforcements, convoyed by the naval squadron of Vice Adm. Marriot Arbuthnot, which had arrived at New York on 25 Aug. (see GW to John Jay, 24–27 Aug., and n.8 to that document). GW’s defensive preparations for the arrival of this long-expected British reinforcement included this redeployment of Howe’s division; for the full scope of GW’s defensive preparations, see GW to Jay, 11 Aug., n.5. GW repeated these orders to Howe on 5 September. GW issued similar orders to Major General Stirling, who commanded the army’s forward division west of the Hudson (see GW to Stirling, 28–29 Aug.). GW also warned Maj. Gen. William Heath, commanding the left wing of the army east of the Hudson River, to take defensive precautions (see GW to Heath, 29 Aug.).

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