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To George Washington from Major General Robert Howe, 6 May 1780

From Major General Robert Howe

Highlands [N.Y.] 6th May 1780

Dear Sir

I have the Pleasure to inform your Excellency that a Party under the Command of Capt. Cushing of the 1st Massachusett’s Regt1 went down the other Night to the Quarters of Col. Delancey, & brought off three Officers & seventeen Privates from within two or three Hundred Yards of their Work Number Eight—Col. Delancey had, luckily for himself, gone out upon some Occasion in the Eveg, & was prevented from returning as he intended to do, by the Rain—or He had probably been in our Hands. The Enemy’s Horse overtook our Party on their Return, and skirmish’d with them for near six Miles, by which it is suppos’d they lost some Men—They were prevented from charging with Effect by the good Disposition made by Capt. Cushing—& the spirited Behaviour of the Officers & Men under his Command, of which the Enemy’s Officers who have been with me speak with Applause—as well as of the good Treatment they received after their Captivity—The whole Conduct of Capt. Cushing upon this Affair was proper, & does him Honor.

This Party was detach’d by Col. Millen to cut off one of theirs which were marauding in the Neighbourhood of Sing-Sing—but arriving too late, they followed in the Enemy’s Wake, & perform’d this Exploit, which deserves Commendation.

I think it but Justice to Col. Millen to say—that his Conduct upon the Lines merits my hearty Approbation. I am Dear Sir With the greatest Respect your Excellency’s most obedient Servant

Robert Howe

LS, DLC:GW.

A report of this action printed in The New-Jersey Journal (Chatham) for 17 May 1780 mirrors Howe’s account but adds some details: “FISH-KILL, May 11. A few days since Col. Millen [Mellen], who commands on the lines, receiving information that a party of the enemy were marching in the neighbourhood of Singsing, ordered a detachment, under the command of Capt. Cushing of the 1st Massachusetts battalion, to intercept them. The enemy having retired before the arrival of our party, Capt. Cushing followed them down, and about two o’clock in the morning took possession of the quarters of Col. Delancey, where he captivated and brought off three commissioned officers and seventeen privates;—Col. Delancey had gone out in the evening, with an intention to return in an hour or two: but a violent rain detained him all night, by which he escaped falling into our hands. This was a spirited, well conducted little affair; executed not above three hundred yards from, and below their works, No. 8, which was garrisoned. The enemy overtook our party on their return, with a body of horse, and skirmished with them for about six miles, frequently attempting to charge the detachment; but the good disposition made by Capt. Cushing, and the spirited behaviour of the officers and men of his party, rendered every effort of theirs ineffectual. It is thought the enemy must have lost some men. The officers and men taken were sent up to Major General Howe, who permitted the former to return immediately upon parole, and sent the latter to a place of security. The enemy’s officers speak with great applause of the conduct of Capt. Cushing and his officers, and of the behaviour of his men; and express in strong terms, the sense they have of the good treatment they received. This affair does Capt. Cushing, and the party under his command, great credit. General Howe, in giving the captive officers their paroles, deserves applause:—this conduct is humane, wise, and political,—sets a laudable example to our enemies, mitigates the horrors of war, while it displays the gentleman and man of sense.”

The American Journal and General Advertiser (Providence) for 17 May provided additional details in an item headed “Extract of a letter from Camp, dated Highlands, May 11.” The extract reads: “Have nothing of consequence to inform you except, that an action happened near the lines a few nights since: Capt. Cushing, with a party of 120 men, had the address and gallantry to surprize and attack the house and guard of Col. Delancey; unfortunately the Colonel was not at home, he however brought off three officers and nineteen privates prisoners, with as much plunder as sold for twenty five thousand six hundred dollars, besides a quantity of solid coin.”

The detachment’s maneuvers and fighting must have occurred between 30 April and the night of 2 May, as inclement weather began on the former date and did not clear until the waking hours of 3 May (see Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 3:352; see also General Orders, 1 May, n.4).

1Nathaniel Cushing (1753–1814) served as a first lieutenant in Col. Jonathan Brewer’s Massachusetts Regiment from May to December 1775 and then at the same rank in the 6th Continental Regiment during 1776. He became captain in the 1st Massachusetts Regiment in January 1777 and was promoted to brigade major in December 1781. Cushing remained in the army until the end of the war and subsequently moved to Ohio.

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