George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin, Baron [von] Steuben, 10 June 1782

10 June 1782


Before I can give an Answer to the Questions which your Excellency has proposed to my Considerations, I conceive it will be necessary to take a comparative View of the Troops which the Enemy have actualy on the Continent: and those which we may have a Probability of bringing into the Field the ensuing Campaign. In the first Instance the Force the enemy may have at Halifax is not comprehended; and in the latter I will not pretend to estimate the Number of Militia which we may be able to collect in Case of Necessity. The ballance into these stand thus.

British Troops
Regular at N. York........ 9,000
Militia................... 3,000
Garison at Charles t...... 3,000
Do at Savana................  700
Allied Army
Continental Army to the Northd...... 10,000
French Troops........................ 4,000
Southern Army........................ 2,000

This Ballance alone sufficiently proves that Superiority of Numbers cannot be among the Motives to undertake a vigorous offensive Campaign; much less to attempt the Seige of Places fortified by Nature as well as by Art, such as New York & Charles Town.

The three Propositions simply tend to the Enterprize against New York. The first presupposes the Enemy’s Force in that Garison to be such as I have stated; that they retain Possession of the Harbour, and have a naval Superiority on the Coast. The second, that they have the above Force by Land, keep Possession of the Harbour, but lose the Superiority at Sea, in either of which Cases, any Attempt against the Garison appears to me absolutely impracticable, even ’tho our Numbers should be doubled by the Militia.

The Position of the enemy is on three Islands, when ever we attack one, the others must be kept in Check. If then the enemy should consist of twelve thousand Men, and the allied Army of twenty four thousand, the latter must be divided into three Parts, each consisting of eight Thousand Men. The Points of Attack are the Passage at Kingsbridge, the Higths of Brooklyn, and the Works on Staten Island, between which, the shorter Line of Communication is from twenty to twenty four Miles, with a river between each. How then is one Corps to support the other, in Case of a superior Attack, which the Enemy may easily make as they possess every possible Advantage by Water? and even supposing we should obtain Possession of either Island, which Position should we take to cover our Flanks from the enemy’s Force by Water? and if we should be so unfortunate as to have any one Division defeated, what mode of retreat is left, while the enemy keep Possession of the Water?

These reasons alone sufficiently convince me of the Impropriety of such an Undertaking so long as the enemy retain Possession of the Post, and rivers by which the Islands are surrounded.

As soon as a superior Fleet has blocked up the Harbour, our principle Object, I conceive; will be long-Island, in which the greater Part of our strength will be employed in carrying the Works on Brooklyn, either by storm or regular Approaches, and erecting Batteries to bombard the City and Fleet in the Bay; but even then it will be necessary that our Frigates should be in Possession of the Sound, and that Batteries should be erected on our Flanks, to command the River.

The last proposition supposes that we were in Possession of the Harbour and had the superiority at Sea. In this Case, we should be highly reprehensible if we did not make the Attempt; yet even then, I would wish to have the most pointed Assurances, that the Fleet destined for this Service should remain long enough to effect a Cooperation on the Occasion. It would also be necessary to make an exact Estimate of the Number of Troops and the Means which we possess to make the Attempt.

If the Enemy should abandon the southern States and collect their whole Force at New York, it would amount to sixteen thousand Men; and by recalling our Troops from thence we should amount to nearly the same Number: If they retain the Possession of Charles Town, & Savana, General Greene’s Army must also remain their, and then we shall be in the same Proportion of fourteen Thousand to fourteen Thousand.

It would in my opinion be no less difficult than hazardous to attack the Enemy in their present Position, with less than double their Number, or twenty eight Thousand Men. If the States of Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Connecticut and Jersey, could send four Thousand Men as Rank and File into the regular Army, it would then amount to fourteen Thousand continental Troops, four Thousand French and ten Thousand Militia: with this Force and not less than this, I conceive we may make the Attempt with a probability of Success.

But independant of the Troops, we should make an accurate Estimate of the Artillery, Engineers, Quarter Masters, and Commissary’s Departments, that we may not find ourselves embarrassed with those Difficulties which always attend the Want of the Means necessary for the several Branches of the Army.

Thus, Sir, have I given you my Opinion on the Subject, which you did me the Honor to submit to my Consideration altho’ I cannot forbear expressing to your Excellency my Fears, that the Suppositions on which the Questions are founded will never be realized. The late unfortunate Defeat of the French Fleet in the West Indies, the Improbability of collecting a Force sufficient to carry on the Seige, and the Difficulty, I had allmost said the Impossibility of supporting them afford but too just Grounds for this Suggestion.

However altho’ our peculiar Situation renders it hazardous to undertake an Opperation which demands more Force and greater Resourses than we at present possess: yet I am not of Opinion that we should permit the Campaign to waste away without improving those Advantages which are within our reach; should it therefore be thought advisable to recall the French Troops from Virginia. I should conceive the Army would be formidable enough to move down and take an advantageous Position at or near the White Plains; and if by the Addition of Recruits or Militia, our Situation would admit of our making a Diversion with the two York Regiments and Hazen’s added to those of Hampshire, towards the Garison of St Johns in Canada by the Way of the Cohos, I am persuaded it would be attended with the most salutary Consequences. I have the Honor to be with the greatest Respect Your Excellencys most obedt Servt

Steuben Maj: Genl

DLC: Papers of George Washington.

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