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To George Washington from Major General Alexander McDougall, 2 September 1778

From Major General Alexander McDougall

Camp white Plains 2d Sepr 1778

His Excellency the Commander in chief of the American Army informed the Council of General officers conven’d at His quarters last night,1 that General Sullivan with the Army under His Command had retired on the 29th Ultimo to the North End of Rhode Island, and that the Enemy from the best information the General could obtain, had embarked about Four Thousand Troops on Board of ⟨a⟩ number of Transports in the Sound near Frogs neck, and had Sailed to the Eastward on Sunday last.2

That the strength of the American Army in this Camp exceeded 12,000 men; and that by advice received from Count De-Estang, then in the Harbour of Boston, He intended to return to Rhode Island, with Ten ships of the Line and three Frigates. Under this information the Commander in chief, desires the opinion of the Council on the Following points vizt 1st whether a movement of the Army to the Eastward under the present circumstance would be Eligible?

2dly If So, what Force will be necessary to leave, for the Security of the Communication on Hudsons River?

3dly If a movement to the Eastward should be determined on, what Probability is there of a supply of Provision for the Army?

4thly Can any attack be made on the Troops in, and about Newyork with a probability of success? Previous to my opinion on these points, I beg leave to Enemerate Some Facts. Dire necessity obliged Lord North to declare in the British Senate, that it was impracticable to Conquor America.3 Under the influence of this Conviction, and our Alliance with France, the Grand British Army evacuates the state of Pensylvania; and apparently changes the seat of War to the East of Hudsons River; where the American Army can be better supplied with meat than in Pensylvania; and in no danger of wanting Bread—Neither that state nor those near it could give that speedy reinforcement, to our Army, by Militia in Cases of emergency, as the New England States Can; Nor is the nature of the country So favorable in Pensylvania, for the Co-opperation of the Militia with the regular Army, as that on the East side of Hudsons River. Add to these, the long and expencive carriage to the Army of many Articles of Stores of Various kinds. The Enemy could not be ignorant of the advantage He derived in Pena, from the embarassments we laboured under. To what then is the change of His Position, to one less favourable for opperation to be ascribed? Certainly the security of His Army, until the result of the negotiation with America should be known. From this the Minister entertained great and Flattering Hopes. The Commissioners dis-appointed in the object of their Commission, and the Idea of Conquest no longer existing, a new system must be formd for the opperation of the Enemy. But no Demonstrations of the Enemy has yet marked the object of the Campaign. This I conceive is owing to there not being Sufficient time since the Commissioners received the answer of Congress, for the Minister to Form and Transmit the Plan of opperation on His unexpected disappointment. In the mean time the Enemy is endeavoring to Secure the Islands, taken into His Posesssion. Hence a reinforcement is sent to New Port, about the time Philadelphia was evacuated, and a Second attempted soon after the French Admiral appeared in those Seas; but it returned to Newyork on the French squadron’s appearing before that place.4 The Co-opperation of this Fleet with American army on Rhode Island, was so necessary to the Success of the enterprize, at the Critical moment of its Second departure, that the Enemy could be at no loss to conclude, it was owing to Some pressing distress of the French Fleet, which occationed its going from that station. on this event it was natural, for the enemy, to send such a reinforcement to Rhode Island, as would secure releif to the Garrison. Perhaps if events favor him, He may design to Sack Providence. But if even this is in Contemplation, it is utterly out of the Power of this army, or any part of it to be in time, to prevent it. However no inference can be drawn from the Sending a reinforcement to Rhode Island, or its strength, that any Capital opperation is intended on the Main in New England. For this strong reinforcement was necessary, to give certain releif to that Garrison, because the whole strength of the Enemy at Rhode Island, including this reinforcement, when arrived would not much exceed the number of General Sullivans Army. In a Country such as New England, where the People are generally So well affected to America; and where Twenty Thousand Zealous Militia may be collected in a few days; and where there is no Capital object for the Enemy, there is little Reason to fear, that He will carry the war into that Country, after relinquishing the Posession of Philadelphia, and other advantages He Had in that Quarter. It is therefore my opinion that a movement of the Army to the Eastward, under present circumstance will not be Eligible. But the Enemy may attempt a Coup de main on our stores at Springfield, or the release of General Burgoynes Army. To be ready for Such an event, it is also my opinion, that the Number of Troops which our Army in this Camp, exceed that of the Enemy in Newyork and its dependencies, should be held in perfect readiness to march to the Eastward, on the shortest notice, should the Enemy make any demonstrations to opperate on the Main in New England. This force with the Continental Troops now with General Sullivan; and the great aid which can readily be collected from the Militia will stop the progress of the Enemy, till His object for the Campaign shall be more clearly discoverd. The Condition of the Enemy in carrying on the war in this Country, will always expose him to want of regular supplies of Bread & Flour; meat is plentifully sent him from Ireland. All accounts agree, that His Army is but Illy furnished with Bread. The American Embargo and the French Cruizes will contribute to make His subsistance of this Article, still more precarious. This state will furnish Him with more Flour, than all the eastern states. And he has far less to Fear from the Militia of the former, than the Latter. If He intends to opperate in the Country, can it be supposed he will carry the War into the strongest states, where he has no chance of procuring any additional subsistence for His Troops, and Forego the advantage of the Co-opperation of His Navy, in this state. It cannot. For these Reasons I think we ought to have a sufficient Force here, to meet the Enemy in the field, otherwise; if this Army should move to the Eastward, the Enemy might take the advantage of its march, collect His Troops from Rhode Island, in four days, and get compleat Posession of Hudsons river and this state. Such a misfortune would expose our Army to great Sufferings for want of Bread. At the last Council of war held at wrights Mills, the Enemis whole Force at Newyork, Rhode Island and their Dependencies was estimated at 18,000 infantry, vizt, 14,000 at Newyork and 4000 at Rhode Island.5 All the Force Stationed at Newyork and its dependencies may be collected in Twelve Hours, to any part of the Island, that at Rhode Island, making Large allowances may be brought to Newyork in Eight days, from the time they receive orders for that purpose. The Enemy at present Have the Command of the internal Navigation, from Sandy Hook to Rhode-Island, and probably will have it for this Campaign, from the Islands near Frogs neck, to Sandy Hook inclusive; if not from Stanford to Sandy Hook; for I do not conceive it would be prudent for the French Admiral to risque His Sqadron in the narrow part of the Sound between Connecticut, and Long Island, as Admiral Byron is daily expected in these Seas. our Force in this Camp is Stated at 12,700, and that of the Enemy in Newyork and its dependencies, (vizt long, & Staten Islands) at 10,000. From the heights on this side of Kings Bridge, to the South Point of the Island of Newyork, the Enemy have four lines of Redoubts and other works, nearly across the Island, beside Some intermediate ones, which must be forced. It cannot be imagined the Enemy will abandon these works like Poltroons. Upon the most moderate Calculation of loss, these four lines would cost us, Seven Hundd men each, Killed and wounded, which by the time we got to the environs of the City, leave us a force not superior to the Enemy. His retreat being Secure by the ships and boats, if He declined disputing the City with us, He might with ease retire to Long Island, there wait the Junction or Co-opperation of His Army from Rhode Island, and by a landing of these Troops, or the whole Army, at Pells neck,6 Frogs Point, or Morrisenia, put us in the dangerous Position the American Army was in, the Campaign of 1776, from which it escaped by the slow movements of the Enemy. Thus after the loss of three Thousand men, we Should be obliged to relinquish the purchase of their blood; or become Prisoner by our Communication and Subsistence being Cut off. For every Soldier of observation and experience must grant, that 10,000 Troops, well Posted on the Heights of Kings-Bridge and Morrisena, will defeat 15,000 of equal Quality, who shall attempt to pass from york Island to westchester, when the navigation is commanded by the Power of that Army, which shall take Post on those Heights, to prevent an impression from York Island; as the only route, the american Army could take on Such an Event, must be on two Bridges, not Twenty five feet wide, under full command of the Smallest artillery placed on the Eastern heights. If even the Enemy was to abandon York Island, and take Post on Long Island, as He Commands the waters of the neighbourhood, it would be utterly unadviseable for our Army to take Post on the Former, because we should be exposed to the joint opperation of the Enemies army above mentioned. For these reasons I am against any opperations being undertaken against the Enemy now in Newyork, or its dependancies with our present Force.

Alexr McDougall
M. General

ADS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

2The previous Sunday was 30 August.

3McDougall was probably referring to Lord North’s speech of 19 Feb. explaining his proposal for a peace commission (see GW to Henry Laurens, 20 April, n.2).

4Reinforcements of Newport included the Loyalist Prince of Wales Regiment of about four hundred men, which arrived at the city on 10 June, and about two thousand additional troops from British, Hessian, and Loyalist regiments, which arrived on 15 July.

6The Pell’s Neck peninsula is current Pelham Bay Park.

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