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Council of War, 21 August 1777

Council of War

[Neshaminy Camp, Pa., 21 August 1777]

At a Council of General Officers, held at Neshamini Camp, in Bucks County the 21st day of August 1777.

Present His Excellency, the Commander in Cheif, Major Generals Greene[,] Lord Stirling[,] Stephen[,] Marquis Fayette[,] Brigadiers Genl Maxwell[,] Knox[,] Wayne[,] Muhlenburgh[,] Weedon[,] Woodford[,] Scot[,] Conway.

The Commander in Cheif informed the Council that the British Fleet left the Capes of Delaware on the 31st of July and have not been seen, from any information he has obtained, since the 7th Instant, when they were off Sinapuxon and steering to the Southward,1 and propounded the following Questions for the Opinion of the Council.

1st What is the most probable place of their destination, whether Eastward or Southward & to what part?

Answer The Southward, & that Charles Town, from a view of All circumstances, is the most probable Object of their attention.

2 If it should be thought, from a consideration of all circumstances, that the Fleet is gone far to the Southward, will it be adviseable for this Army, taking into view, the length of distance & unhealthiness of that Climate at this season, to march that way? or will there be a probability of their arriving there in Time, should it be attempted, to give any effectual opposition to the Enemy, or to prevent them accomplishing their purposes?

Answer It will not be adviseable for the Army to march to the Southward, as they could not possibly arrive at Charles Town in time to afford any Succour.

3d If It should not be thought adviseable in such case for the Army to march to the Southward, How shall it be employed? Shall it remain where it now is, or move towards Hudsons River to act as the situation of Affairs shall seem to require?

Answer The Army should move immediately towards the North River.

Go: Washington
Peter Muhlenberg B.G. Nath. Greene M.G.
G. Weedon B. Genl Genl Stirling, M.G.
Wm Woodford Brigdr Genl Adam Stephen M.G.
Chs Scott B.G. The Mquis de Lafayette M.G.
T. Conway B.G. Wm Maxwell B.G.
H. Knox B.G. Artilly
Anthy Wayne B.G.

DS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DLC:GW; copy, enclosed in GW’s fourth letter to Hancock, this date, DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

GW apparently submitted these questions in advance to the council members, because Henry Knox prepared a draft of his answers that he docketed: “An Opinion rend⟨ere⟩d ⟨to⟩ His Excellency ⟨General⟩ Washington Augt 20th 1777.” Knox’s opinion, which concurs with the general opinion of the council, reads: “From The time which has elaps’d Since Genl Howe disapear’d from the Capes, it may be fairly and certainly deduc’d that he has gone, very far either to the southward or eastward, The danger of the seas which is augmented, in proportion to the number of the fleet, forbid his making a feint, far either way—and it may be concluded with probability, that the place where he lands with his cannon and stores will be the scene of his operations for some time—and it may be concluded with the same probability that neither Philadelphia, or the North river is the immediate Object of their destination.

“Taking it for granted then, that Genl Howes immediate operations will be far distant from the two, last mentiond places—The Consideration arises, what shall be the employment of this army—to Guard places where its proba[b]le there will be no attack would be wasting or losing a precious moment—Would it not be much more for the honor and interest of America to turn such a part of our force, against our enemy to the northward as no longer to leave it in doubt who shall have the Ascendency in that quarter? to endevor to bring Genl Burgoyne to action with such Superior numbers as to ris[q]ue but very little on our part and to oblige him to risque ev[er]y thing—which if he refuses to do he must be chas’d out of the Country with disgrace?

“The way is easy Vessells may be provided at Peekskill or New Windsor to take A great number of men up to Albany at once—a Sufficient Force may be left at the highlands & in the defences on the river to secure them against any assaults—if success crown’d our arms against Mr Burgoyne—New York might be then thought an object to reduce which the united force of both armies mig⟨ht⟩ be employ’d, This would effectually call Mr Howe from any easy Conquest he might have made, if not he must consent to lose the object which has given him the most pleasure and we should bring the Campaign to a happy issue.

“It is probable that the temerity of General Burgoyne will induce him to push far into the Country. if so as his force is not great—a large body of good troops will render his destruction very probable. from different accounts it appears that the savages are taking up the hatchet in several places—their cruelty and confidence will increase with the Succeses of the power that supports them, This power ought to be crush’d at all hazards immediately—or the whole frontiers will be delug’d in blood.

“as the British Forces have got posesion on the Contin⟨ent⟩ we can always command the attention of their principal army by carrying on our operations against their posesions—& they will certainly return to defend them if there is the reason to dout their security.

“These are some of the principal reasons among many others which urge the immediate employment of this army either to the northward or against New York as shall be thought most proper upon a nearer examination of the circumstances attending each” (NNGL: Knox Papers).

1For the reported sighting of the British fleet off Sinepuxent Inlet, Md., see GW to William Heath, 10–11 August. See also the diary entry for 7 Aug. in Muenchhausen, At General Howe’s Side description begins Friedrich von Muenchhausen. At General Howe’s Side, 1776–1778: The Diary of General William Howe’s Aide de Camp, Captain Friedrich von Muenchhausen. Translated by Ernst Kipping. Annotated by Samuel Smith. Monmouth Beach, N.J., 1974. description ends , 23.

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