George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Benjamin Lincoln, 2 April 1782

Philadelphia April 2 1782

Dear General

By the latest accounts from the West Indies there is the highest probability that the French will have a decided naval superiority the Ensuing Campaign To detain their whole fleet on that Station in the hurricane months would be placing a great part of the marine of France in a situation too hazarduous, while the will being of that Nation depends so much on it’s safety—That it will return home, I can hardly suppose unless there should be some very material alterations in the arrangements of Europe—So that on the whole I think it most probable they will be ordered to visit the continent—To this they likewise will be encouraged by the successes of the last year—The probability of this event is in my opinion so strong that I am confident we shall be justified to form our plans on these ideas—these matters cannot be reduced to a certainty; but the present prospect is such as should induce preparation.

Whether Charlestown or Newyork should be the object of the next Campaign is the first inquiry and must be determined previous to any considerable preparations.

That New York should be the object, if we are equal to the task, will not, I think, be denied—for if the capital post falls all dependent ones must soon follow—To take up this matter so as to elucidate the question, will require a consideration of the enemys strength, and that it be compared with our numbers and supplies—I lay it down as necessary in this case that besiegers must exceed the besieged as three to one at least—Suppose that the enemy have seven thousand men now in New York and that they will call in their southern posts, S. Carolina and Georgia—they will then amount to about twelve thousand to oppose which will require thirty six thousand—How this number is to be brought into the field is the next inquiry—I think under the present appearances no reinforcements East of Virginia should be sent to General Green, for, with all the aid we can give him he cannot act offensively against Charlestown without a marine and a proper train of artillery and ordnance stores, neither of which can be expected if we operate against New York.

I can have no doubt but with the present force now in the southern States, and with the continental troops and Militia, which may be called to the aid of General Green, he will prevent the enemy from making any excursions into the country—so that we may depend upon the tecruits of Maryland, Delaware & Pennsylvania to be added to the main army—If the enemy should leave Charlestown none will be needed Except of Virginia.

The several States should be called on in time if their battalions are not full, to draught men to compleat them to the first of December.

Then would our estimates stand thus
2 New Hampshire 1224
11 Massachusetts 6732
6 Connecticut 612
1 Rhode Island 3672
3 New york 1836
2 Jersey 1224
1 Hazens Regiment 400
6 Pennsylvania 3672
5 Maryland & Delaware 3060
French Troops 4500
I think we may expect three thousand troops with the French fleet—the marines themselves, should there be no other, will amount t 3000
New Hampshire 340
Massachusetts 1870
Rhode Island 170
Connecticut 1020
New York 500
Jersey 400
Pennsylvania 1100
Maryland & Delaware 800

I cannot think it would be very difficult to obtain the number of men here estimated—There can be no doubt respecting their supplies, or of our ability fully to equip them.

The next matter to be considered is whether we have a sufficient train of Artillery and a quantity of Ordnance sStores equal to the attempt against New York—I think tho we have not the most ample supply yet we have such an one as will justify the attempt especially when we consider that we shall draw large supplies from the French troops and upon a pressing occasion we may be furnished from the Shipping.

However that your Excelly may have before you the fullest evidence on which to determine I herewith return the ordnance and ordnance Stores—which can be supplied you by the united States and brought to a point before New York.

13 inch Mortars 9
10 inch Ditto 20
8 inch Howitzers & Mortars 16
5 1/2 Royalls 17
5 1/2 Inch Howitzers 11
4 2/5 Mortars 15
24 pounders 12
18 pounders 50
12 pounders 30
13 inch Shells 3203
16 inch Do 19977
8 inch Do 11651
5 1/2 inch Do 8098
4 2/5 inch Do 318
24 pd Ball 17584
18 pd Do 34577
12 pd Do 26499
6500 barrels besides a great quantity might be procured from the several States.

As I think we shall have it in our power to attempt New York in case of the arrival of a superior French fleet I shall not make any remarks on an expedition against So. Carolina—Your Excellency is possessed of my ideas of it’s impracticability without the aid of a marine.

I am not acquainted with New York nor with the neighbouring Islands—Our army in the year 1776 returned from that City before I joined it I therefore dare not venture an opinion respecting the particular mode which should be adopted in approaching the enemy—your Excellency will excuse my silence on this head.

If a naval superiority should not arrive in these Seas the approaching Campaign—can an offensive operation be attempted against Canada with rational hopes of success without the aid of the marine of France? And; should an attempt be crowned with success, can we, without that assistance, secure the acquisition? To answer these questions with any degree of clearness it will be necessary to discuss many points, and in some sort go into detail.

Suppose the enemy’s force in Canada to be three thousand regular troops—and that they may probably call together two or three thousand Canadians and Indians—If this estimate is just ten or twelve thousand men should be thrown into the country to oppose them—and as we shall have to combat troops covered by regular, advantageously situated and well built fortresses (the expence of reducing one of which was fully known the last war, between France & Britain) there will exist an absolute necessity of carrying forward the following pieces of ordnance and ordnance stores—The weight of which I have ascertained as transportation will be a very important object.

Ordnance lb
3 13 Inch Brass mortars weigg 2100 6,300
15 10 Inch Do 800 12,000
10 8 inch Howitzers 1100 11,000
20 5 1/2 Royals 170 3,400
10 24 pound non cannon 4200 42,000
30 18 pounders Do 3800 114000
10 12 pounders 2000 20,000
Ordnance Stores
450 13 inch Shells 184 82,800
7500 10 inch Do 80 600,000
6200 8 inch Do 45 279000
10,000 5 1/2 Do 15 150,000
10,000 Shot 24 240,000
30,000 Do 18 540,000
12,000 Do 12 144,000
3 Beds for 13 inch morters 1000 3,000
15 do for 10 inch Do 600 9,000
20 do for 5 1/2 inch Royalls 84 1,680
10 carriages for 8 inch Howitz 1100 11,000
10 Ditto for 24 pound cannon 2000 20,000
30 Ditto for 18 pd Do 1500 45,000
10 Ditto for 12 pd 900 9,000
Gun Powder
To Charge
13 inch morters 450 times 8 lb each 3,600
10 inch Do 7500 3 1/2 26,250
8 inch Howitz 6200 2 12,400
5 1/2 inch Royalls 10,000 10 ounces 6,250
24 pound battering cannon 10,000 12 120,000
18 pound Do 30,000 9 270,000
12 pound Do 12,000 6 72,000
To charge
13 inch Shells 450 9 4,000
10 Iinch Do 7500 3 1/2 26,250
8 inch Do 6200 2 1/2 15,500
5 1/2 Do 10,000 14 ounces 8,750
Equal to 1454 Tons
Baggage field artillery Quarter masters stores
Commissary & Hospital 270
Tons 1724

Estimating three quarters of a ton as a load the Numbers of Waggons required would be 2,299.

As the enemy have possession of Lake Champlain and the river St Lawrence, and will by means of their Shipping have it in their power to retain the command of them—Our movements into Canada must be up Connecticut river to the lower Co-os, thence through Hazen rout so called to St Johns, and down the river from Montreal either on the east or west side.

If my estimates are right, (I suppose them short,) the artillery, artillery stores, and the baggage of the army will require 2299 teams supposing each team to carry fifteen hundred and their own forage which must be for Eight or ten days when you leave Co-os—besides we must estimate twenty days of Flour at least, supposing it shall be found that there is a plenty in the country when we reach it—For part of this supply must be expended on the march—This will require one hundred teams more besides the men can carry, those teams will consume 2399 Bushell of Grain and thirty tons of hay or grass equivalent each day—I think it would be difficult, if not impossible, to collect the teams—and equally so, in the Coos country, to procure the forage for them, and the riding Horses necessary for the expedition—(It may be said that the whole need not be sent on at once if it can be omitted with safety the difficulties in this point will be lessened)—besides, were not those difficulties opposed to us, there is one obstacle which in my opinion is insurmountable, that of removing the heavy cannon and stores through a new road, which, unless it should be cause-wayed, would be impassable, and to render it so would occupy more time than could be spared from the expedition—I may add here one difficulty more, namely, that an expedition of this nature will create an expence far beyond the ability of our finances, in their present low state, to support.

If the difficulties mentioned cannot be obviated—and an attempt on Canada should be deemed impracticable in the mode I have pointed out—can the object be effected with facility in any other way, which would be less expensive, and promise equal certainty of success, thoug longer in its operation? I know but one other expedient, and that would only effect a partial conquest of the country—which is to throw a body of troops into Canada unencumbred with heavy artillery to take possession of it, secure the magazines, and cut off future supplies from the Garrisons of St Johns and Fort Wm Augustus near the mouth of Lake ontario—these and Quebec are the posts to which I suppose the enemy would retire on your entering the country with a superior force—their supplies could not be cutt off but by a close investiture of their several works—this might be effected with respect to the two latter as the rivers on which they stand are narrow and may with ease be commanded.

But Quebec cannot be invested without the co-operation of a fleet, and an attempt to reduce it without a marine force would be precarious and hazardous—for while the St Lawrence remained navigable succours might arrive which passing the town would fall into the rear of your army and endanger it’s safety.

Although I consider the entire reduction of Canada unless aided by a superior marine force, as a task the accomplishment of which is too arduous for us to attempt under our present circumstances—yet I think our possessing our selves of Montreal, and the country above it would be fully within our power, provided the expedition could be conducted with secrecy and dispatch; otherwise while the enemy remain masters at Sea they may reinforce so early as to give security to the country and disappoint our views.

Whether the attempt of a partial conquest of Canada would avail us at this time I much doubt—on the whole I think it would not—for, if we could not support our selves at Ticonderoga, how shall we do it in the heart of the enemy’s country, with all the advantages they will enjoy from having the metropolis in their possession & being masters of the rivers. If the reduction of Canada should be deemed a task too arduous for us to attempt in the present State of our force and finance compared with the enemys situation—may not the possessing our selves of Detroit and Niagara be undertaken? If any essential and permanent good is expected from the reduction of Detroit, it must arise from a maintenance of the post, securing the friendship of the Indians and entering into a trade with them, without this, and frequent presents no dependence should be placed, or can be had on their professions.

Should the idea of besieging New York be relinquished—I suppose a force might be sent equal to the reduction of Detroit though this could not be effected without infinite labor and expence, as the army must travel through a very new country upwards of three hundred miles abounding in hill Swamps and rivers (as your Excellency well knows) to render which passable with artillery, would consume a considerable time—But the maintaining of the post should we reduce it will be the greatest difficulty, it must be supplied from fort Pitt, and Block houses erected to preserve the communication with that place—and give security to our escorts—But whether this would effectually secure them from insult I much doubt as the enemy would be enabled by the Guns & force from their shipping to besiege any of them, and should a few of them, as most probably they would, be reduced the loss of detroit itself, if possessed by us, would be consequent from the interruption of our convoys—To these evils should we be exposed while the enemy possessed the Lakes and enjoyed a free communication with Quebec were the Indians on the best terms, which we can hardly expect while the British are masters of the Lakes, and can with so much more facility supply goods and provisions—and so far exceed us in presents—Advantages to our trade and the security of our frontiers are the principal objects which would induce an attempt against the fort and Garrison of detriot, and these cannot be obtained without the friendship of the Indians, and full possession of Lake Eri.

Niagara being much more contiguous to our settlements and having water communications for a considerable distance beyond the settlements—would better admit of an attempt to reduce it—By commanding Lake Ontario we should incur very little land carriage, and we could, with safety, transport our troops to the west end of it—But while the enemy preserve the command of it and a communication with the river St Lawrence they will prevent our gaining it, as they can increase their number of Shipping as fast as we can ours.

To attempt Niagara by land by passing from the Mohawk along the south side of the lake would be difficult—I am informed that the mountains and Vallies are impassable without great Labour—Inded if we could surmount these difficulties and possess our selves of the fort—are we in a situation to keep it and to open such a trade with the Indians as would secure them in our interest? I much suspect we are not—Why did we retire from Fort Schuyler if it did not arise from our inability to maintain a post there? Your Excellency is however possessed of more facts than I have been able to obtain with respect to these posts, and can better determine whether either or both of them may be attacked with a probability of success and that the advantages may be afterwards secured.

On the whole, if neither New York or Charlestown should occupy our attention, I do not see any other offensive operation which will avail us without a marine, saving that of sending a number of light troops into the heart of the enemy country to fight the Indians on their own ground, and in their own way—this has heretofore broken up their settlements and they have not again occupied the same country—Their mode is to establish themselves at a greater distance as being more secure.

It is said that the shipping on the lakes Ontario and Erie might be taken by small detachments of resolute troops who could move with secrecy and dispatch—for the Vessels in those Lakes are poorly manned, and, from an idea of perfect security, but negligintly guarded—under these circumstances, should a few flat bottomed boats, which may be readily procured there, push off from the shore and possess themselves of one of the large vessels, the others must fall of course—The loss of the forts must be consequent on the loss of the command of the Lakes—for all the stores and provisions are brought from Canada through these Lakes—And although the enemy have but a small garrison at Detroit, yet in the year 1779 there were issued at that post six thousand rations a day—most of it to the Indians. The expediency of this can be better ascertained by those who are acquainted with the Lakes and knowledge of the force on them is more perfect than mine—the suggestion appeared to me necessary.

I am sensible, my dear sir, that I have represented every movement into Canada as attended with peculiar difficulties—I have given my reasons for those representations—this I have done that your Excellency might clearly see on what Grounds I founded my Judgment—If the objections which I have made, do not exist or the reasons offered are not conclusive, they will have no weight in your mind—If other wise, and a single hint in this letter, thus protracted, should be of use, I shall be amply rewarded. I have the honor to be with perfect esteem your Excellencys Most obedient servant

B. Lincoln

DLC: Papers of George Washington.

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