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To George Washington from Samuel Huntington, 10 November 1779

From Samuel Huntington

Philadelphia Novembr 10th 1779


I have the honour to transmit your Excellency copies of two letters from Genl Lincoln of the 22d Ulto which will give you the disagreeable intelligence of the failure of the expedition against Savannah with the Causes and Circumstances attending the Expedition and failure.1

As Major Clarkson who Came Express with this intelligence had an Opportunity, from his situation of remarking many particulars not mentioned in the letters; it was thought expedient to send him forward with these dispatches, that he might give your Excellency personally, all the information in his power upon the subject.2

Congress have given Orders for three of the Frigates now at Boston, to sail for Charlestown South Carolina with all possible dispatch;3 and also appointed a Committee to Consider and report what farther measures may be expedient for the security and defence of the southern department, as soon as may be.4 I have the honor to be with the greatest respect Your Excellency’s Humble servt

Saml Huntington President

LS, DLC:GW; LB, DNA:PCC, item 14. GW replied to Huntington on 20 November.

1One enclosure was a copy of Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln’s letter to Huntington written at Charleston, S.C., on 22 Oct.: “In my last of the 5 Ult. I had the honor of informing Congress that Count d’Estaing was arrived off Savannah. Orders were immediately given for assembling the troops. They reached Zublys ferry and its vicinity on the 11th & some were thrown over. The 12 & 13th were spent in crossing the troops & baggage, which was effected, though not without great fatigue from the want of boats & badness of the roads through a deep swamp of near three miles in which are many large creecks. The bridges over them the enemy had broken down. We encamped on the heights of Ebenezer 23 Miles from Savannah And were there joined by the troops from Augusta Under genl McIntosh. The 14 not being able to ascertain Whether the count had yet landed his troops though several expresses had been sent for that purpose we remained encamped. On the 15. being advised that the Count had disembarked part of his troops And that he would that night take post nine miles from Savannah, we moved and encamped at Cherokee hill nine miles from the town. The 16 we formed a junction before Savannah. After reconnoitering the enemies works finding the town well covered & knowing their determination to defend it. It was deemed necessary to make some approaches & try the effects of artillery From the 18 to the 23 we were employed in landing and getting up the heavy Ordnance and stores. A work of difficulty from the want of proper wheels to transport them the cannon being on ship carriages. On the evening of the 23 ground was broke and on the 5 instant the batteries of 33 cannon & nine mortars were opened on the enemy & continued with intervals until the 8th without the wished effect. The period having long since elapsed, which the Count had assigned for this expedition and the engineers informing him that much more time must be spent, if he expected to reduce the garrison by regular approaches And his longer stay being impossible, matters were reduced to the alternative of raising the seige immediately & giving up all thoughts of conquest or attempting the garrison by assault. The latter was agreed on and in the morning of the 9th the Attack was made—It proved unsuccessful—we were repulsed with some loss. Soon after the Count communicated to me his intentions of raising the seige. I endeavoured to divert him from his purpose, representing to him in the strongest terms in my power the evils which would attend the measure. I received for answer ‘that he had in the first place informed us that he could remain on shore 8 days only and that he had spent four times that number—that such was the situation of his fleet and its supplies and the unguarded state of the west Indies that his departure from this place was become indispensible—And that to reimbark his Ordnance & stores ‘claimed his next attention’ This was completed on the 18. The same evening having previously sent off our sick wounded & heavy baggage, the American troops left the ground reached Zubly’s ferry the next morning, recrossed And encamped that night in Carolina. The french troops encamped on the night of the 18 about two miles from Savannah. They were after twenty four hours to reimbark at Kincaid’s landing.

“Our disappointment is great and what adds much to the poignancy of our grief is the loss of a number of brave officers and men—among them the late intrepid count Pulaski.

“Count d’Estaing has undoubtedly the interest of America much at heart. This he has evidenced by coming to our assistance, by his constant attention during the seige, his undertaking to reduce the enemy by Assault, when he dispaired of effecting it otherwise—And by bravely putting himself at the head of his troops, and leading them to the attack—in our service he has freely bled—I feel much for him—for while he is suffering the distresses of painful wounds he has to Combat the torment of Chagrin—I hope he will be consoled, by an Assurance that, although he has not succeeded according to his wishes and those of America, we regard with high approbation his intentions to serve us, and that his want of success will not lessen our Ideas of his merit.

“I should have enclosed a list of the Killed and wounded, in the last Action—but the Adjutant General, in whose hands they are, tho’ on his way, is not arrived in town—But so far as I can remember the whole amount is 170.

“Major Clarkson will have the honor of delivering this—from his attention & Assiduity in service, he has had an Opportunity of remarking each particular—this his merit has improved; and enables him to give Congress every satisfactory information—to him I beg leave to refer them for a minute detail” (DLC:GW; see also DNA:PCC, item 158). Lincoln’s letter to Huntington of 5 Sept., also written at Charleston, reads: “I have the pleasure to congratulate Congress on the arrival of Count D’Estaing’s Fleet off Savannah—but am sorry to inform them that his stay on this coast will be but short, and the aid we can afford him very inconsiderable—The Count has sent one of his Officers on shore to establish a plan of operations—he returns immediately with Dispatches on that head.

“All the Troops are ordered to take the field—I expect there will be assembled at Ebenezer or in it’s vicinity by the 11th Instant one thousand men—it has been proposed to the Count to land three thousand troops—I hope he will do it—and have the highest reasons to believe, if in his power, he will—every exertion will be made to cooperate with him—and I hope the necessity of his speedy return, or any other cause, will not render abortive that plan from the execution of which so much good will result to the common Cause” (DNA:PCC, item 158). Congress read Lincoln’s letter on 1 Oct. (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 15:1133).

Another enclosure was a copy of Lincoln’s letter to South Carolina delegate Henry Laurens and “the Gentlemen of the Committee of Correspondence,” also written at Charleston on 22 Oct.: “I have had the honor of your favor of the 13th of August, and that of the 24th of September—the former I should have answered before, but have been diverted therefrom by our late expedition to the southward, which has failed from the necessity Count D’Estaing was under to leave this coast—If we had, had time to have continued our approaches regularly, we could have carried them to the enemies works—but unfortunately for us, he could not remain longer before the town.

“These States are in a very unguarded situation—We have not one thousand troops fit for duty, including the South & North Carolinians, and the Virginians the latter with Colo. Bland’s horse, I have sent to Augusta, in order to give confidence to the people, to check the Unfriendly, and to curb the Indians—The 2d, 3d & 5th regimts of South Carolina, Pulaski’s, and Colonel Horry’s horse will at present remain at Sheldon—the 1st and 6th at Fort Moultrie, and the North Carolina troops in town.

“I have not had one line from Genl Scott—by late accounts I am informed he is at Petersburgh, and that his men are sickly—few Continental troops may be expected from No. Carolina—I dont know what number of Militia they will send—By this short account of matters, you will, Gentlemen, see that without the farther exertions of Congress (their late order notwithstanding) these States must fall a sacrifice if the enemy mean seriously to attempt them, and that they will we are certain, if they regard their own interest, the loss we shall sustain hereby, and the great acquisition to the enemy, are too conspicuous to need pointing out—and are events too serious not to demand every attention of Congress—I hope therefore that they will insist that the number of Men, which they require from the neighbouring States be supplied with punctuality and dispatch—I am sorry to inform you that little may be expected from this State, unless they rescind their late resolutions—for, after solemn debate in the Assembly, it was resolved that the Militia should not be draughted to fill up the Continental battalions; that the black regiments, recommended by Congress, should not be raised; and that the Militia while in the field, should not be subject to Continental articles of War—I mention these things with great reluctance because it may seem like a reflection on the State; and I should certainly have spared the observation could I have omitted it consistent with my duty—but you ought to know what are our resources, and expectations, or you cannot provide against the worst.

“We have been very unfortunate respecting the Vessels sent from hence for stores to the West Indies, both by the Continent and the State—most of them have been taken, and those which arrived came to a bad market—further attempts must be made, or I apprehend we shall suffer from the want of many necessary articles, as I find by your letter that the Northern supplies are not very ample.

“To fortify and secure this Town (the Magazine of the State) obtain supplies for the Army, and to establish Magazines inland, in case of accident, are among the first objects of our attention.

“I do myself the pleasure to enclose you extracts from my journal from the 3d of September to the 20th of October” (DLC:GW). The enclosed journal extracts have not been identified. Laurens, Rhode Island delegate Henry Marchant, and Massachusetts delegate Samuel Holten had written Lincoln from Philadelphia on 13 Aug.: “Your Letter of the 4th June to Congress is committed to us who are appointed a Committee to correspond with the Commanding Officer of the forces in South Carolina and Georgia. …

“We are sorry to inform you that Congress have not received any addition to their Magazines of Military stores. Gunpowder, Muskets & Lead cannot be conveniently or safely spared until we receive further supplies, an event altogether uncertain, thus circumstanced. …

“You will be pleased Sir, to inform us as speedily as possible, & from time to time, the state of your Army, and of such particulars respecting your department as may be necessary to lay before Congress” (Smith, Letters of Delegates, description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends 13:364–65). The committee’s letter to Lincoln of 24 Sept. has not been identified.

Congress read Lincoln’s two letters of 22 Oct. on 10 Nov. and issued three orders on the same date: “That copies of the same be transmitted to the Commander in Chief, and that Major Clarkson, who brought the dispatches be employed to carry them forward to the General … That the said letters be referred to the Committee of Intelligence … That the said letters and intelligence be referred to the committee appointed to correspond with the commanding officer in the southern department” (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 15:1253). Congress also resolved on this date to place South Carolina delegate John Mathews on the committee to correspond with the commanding officer of the southern department for the absent Laurens (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 15:1253). This committee, with Mathews as chairman, wrote Lincoln on 12 Nov.: “We are extreamly sorry the expedition to Georgia (on which we had formed the most sanguine expectations of success) has ended so unfortunately.

“It therefore now behoves us to be doubly industrious, in indeavouring to prepare against the worst that may happen in consequence thereof. …

“The succours from hence we are sensible will be in no capacity to render you any service for a length of time, & we place no dependence in their being able to reach you, so soon as the reinforcements to the enemy from New York, will them. However as we are induced to believe Virginia & North Carolina will, at the present alarming Crisis, strenuously exert themselves to afford you substantial Aid, we flatter ourselves, we shall not be again disappointed in our expectations from that quarter, in consequence of which, you will be enabled to make a tolerable stand, untill the troops from hence can come up” (Smith, Letters of Delegates, description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends 14:180–81; see also Huntington to GW, 11 Nov.).

2Matthew Clarkson (1758–1825), born in New York City, fought as a volunteer soldier in the early battles of the American Revolution around New York and New Jersey. While staying with New Jersey governor William Livingston, Clarkson received a letter from Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene, who wrote from Ramapo, N.J., on 18 July 1777: “I have the pleasure to acquaint you there is an opportunity now present for you to join the army, I hope to your liking.

“General Arnold is on his way to the Northern Department, he is in want of an aid-de-camp and I have taken the liberty to recommend you to the General. He is pleased to honor the recommendation and offers you the appointment. You will put yourself in readiness as soon as possible and follow the General to Albany, where you will join his family.

“Make my compliments to the Governor’s family” (Clarksons of New York, description begins The Clarksons of New York. A Sketch. 2 vols. New York, 1875–76. description ends 2:11). Given the rank of major, Clarkson served as Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold’s aide-de-camp from August 1777 to March 1779 and as Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln’s aide-de-camp from shortly after the latter date to June 1782, when granted an extended leave (see Clarksons of New York, description begins The Clarksons of New York. A Sketch. 2 vols. New York, 1875–76. description ends 2:42–91, and GW to Clarkson and William Stephens Smith, 24 June 1782, DLC:GW). He was taken prisoner upon the capture of Charleston on 12 May 1780, paroled to Pennsylvania, and exchanged that fall. Clarkson obtained a brevet as lieutenant colonel upon the completion of his military service in late 1783 and subsequently became a prominent banker in New York.

3Huntington is referring to a resolution that Congress passed on this date. A copy of that measure, probably enclosed in this letter from Huntington, reads: “Resolved that three frigates now at Boston be ordered by the Marine Committee to proceed immediately to Charles Town So. Carolina There to be under the direction of the Commanding Officer for the time being for the Southern Department, untill further orders” (DLC:GW; 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 15:1253–54).

GW received independent notice of this action in a letter of this date from the Continental Congress Marine Committee. Signed by Mathews as the committee chairman, the letter reads: “The change of circumstances to the Southward renders indispensibly necessary that the Three frigates formerly ordered to South Carolina, should now, immediately proceed to that place. We have thought it proper that Your Excellency should be acquainted with this matter” (ALS, DLC:GW; LB, DNA:PCC, Miscellaneous Papers, Marine Committee Letterbooks). For earlier orders to ready the frigates for service in northern waters, see the Continental Congress Marine Committee to GW, 28 Sept., n.1; see also Marine Committee to the Eastern Navy Board, 10 Nov., in Smith, Letters of Delegates, description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends 14:173–74. The frigates arrived at Charleston on 23 Dec. (see Lincoln to GW, same date, and n.3 to that document).

4See the final paragraph of n.1 above.

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