George Washington Papers
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From George Washington to Major General William Heath, 21 August 1779

To Major General William Heath

West Point Augst 21st 1779.

Dr Sir,

I have the pleasure to inform you that in the night of the 18th Major Lee with a detachment of 400 men surprised the enemy’s garrison at Powles-hook (which you know is within cannon shot of the batteries at New York)—& brought off the garrison consisting of about 150 Men.1

Such repeated instances of disgrace to the British arms will undoubtedly, make them feel sore, & seek opportunities to retaliate upon such parts of our army as are most accessible; than which none is more exposed than Nixons and Glovers Brigades. To this effect I have already written to General Howe,2 and wish you to give & indeed see, that the necessary precautions are used to guard Nixon from a surprise.3

The spirit of enterprize which is already gone forth, & hitherto crowned with success should not be checked, but confined to proper objects; & such as appear to be fully within our reach. should it be found therefore, that the enemy advance Picquets beyond their works at Verplanks point, cannot they be taken off? and a snare laid for the persuers, if any attempt is made to rescue the Prisoners? To me the thing seems easy: & only requires the necessary information, which an enterprising & judicious Officer who might be entrusted with the execution would soon obtain without betraying the design of his inquiries.

Pray is Genl Parsons from camp still? if he is, and no very good reason assigned for it, I think he should be required to join his Brigade.4 I am Dr Sr Your Most Obet, servant

Go: Washington

LS, in Richard Kidder Meade’s writing, MHi: Heath Papers; ADfS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1On the draft, GW left a blank space between the words “about” and “men.” For Maj. Henry Lee’s surprise attack on the British fort at Paulus Hook, N.J., see GW to Lee, 10 Aug.; GW to Stirling, 12 Aug. (first letter); and Lee to GW, 22 August.

2See GW to Robert Howe, this date. GW issued a similar warning on this date to Major General Stirling.

3In a letter of this date from Heath to Brig. Gen. John Nixon, which Heath addressed from Mandeville’s (Dutchess County, N.Y.), Heath relayed GW’s news of the success of Lee’s attack on Paulus Hook, quoted this paragraph, and then wrote: “Being fully in Sentiment with His Excellency as well as in obedience to his directions I would request that every precaution may be taken to prevent a Surprise in every post where it is probable the Enemy will attempt it, I think your Picket Guard had better be considerably reinforced, your Guard at the Crotch of the way leading to Robinsons Increased to a Subalterns Guard, and a Serjeants Guard advanced from it on the road to Fort Independence, and that the Sentinels are frequently removed in the night a Small distance which will tend to deceive the Enemy in his advance to surprise you—I would also have you immediately assign to each Regt an alarm Post, to which they will repair on the first Instant that an alarm is given, whether ⟨mutilated⟩ the Day time or in the night, Let one Regiment be assigned to the redoubt, the Other two Regiments to the most advantageous Grounds near the redoubt, I think the Hill South west of your Encampment very Commanding a Regt should always be assigned to Cover and Support your artillery, let Small Guards be Posted on every avenue leading to your Post, and Patroles kept up with the greatest vigilance in the night Time all these precautions and more my Dear Sir are necessary, for Confident I am the Enemy will attempt a Blow Some where if Possible” (MHi: Heath Papers). Heath’s reference to “the redoubt” is probably not to the north and south redoubts of the outer defenses of West Point northeast of Robinson’s house (see Map 3). Rather, he is likely referring to one of the smaller redoubts built by the Massachusetts and Connecticut troops in the vicinity of Continental Village, N.Y., to guard the roads along the approaches to the north and south redoubts and West Point itself. The ruins of Fort Independence, which the British had destroyed in October 1777, still remained on Roa Hook, south of Anthony’s Nose near Peekskill, New York.

4Brig. Gen. Samuel Holden Parsons had returned from his reconnaissance to Long Island Sound, but apparently he continued to have officers scouting for his proposed raid on Lloyd Neck, Long Island (see Heath to GW, 11 Aug.). On 19 Aug., Parsons wrote a letter to Heath from Lower Salem, N.Y., reading in part: “I sent last Saturday [14 Aug.] to Long Island but hear Nothing of the gentlemen who pas[se]d over Major Humphry is one of them, I am much concerned for them & shall go this afternoon to the Coast in search of them, and shall return to Camp in about three Days, if Nothing extraordinary intervenes” (MHi: Heath Papers). (In his docket, Heath seems to have misdated this letter 16 Aug.). After receiving GW’s letter, Heath apparently wrote to Parsons presumably to recall him to his brigade. On this date, Heath wrote a letter from Mandeville’s to Maj. Gen. Robert Howe reading in part: “If General Parsons is with you please to give him the Letter addressed to him, If he should be towards the Sound I would request the favor that you would forward it by express” (MHi: Heath Papers).

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