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To George Washington from Brigadier General Henry Knox, 2 September 1778

From Brigadier General Henry Knox

Park Artillery [White Plains] 2d Septr 1778

I shall give my opinion on the subjects propos’d by your Excellency to your General Officers with as much brevity as they will admit.

The first is.

Whether a movement of the greater part of this Army to the Eastward under the present information and circumstances will be eligible?

I cannot see the propriety of such a measure at present, or that it could be warranted from the State of information which your Excellency gave the Council last evening. Suppose the enemies force at Rhode-Island including the reinforcement they may receive from New York to amount to 10,000 men what enterprize will this force be adequate to or what will be its object? Surely 10,000 men at this season of the Year will not attempt to penetrate the Country to Boston from Rhode Island. if they should, from what place will they probably procure the Carriages and assistance necessary to such a project? I confess I know not. It will take a great number of Carriages and Horses which cannot be procur’d from the Country contiguous to Rhode-Island. Boston will be of little value to them supposing they were possess’d of it. every body acquainted with it and its neighbourhood will know the force I have suppos’d unequal to its possession and the adjacent Country.

probably it may be urg’d that the fleet of Count DEstaing now at Boston is an object of sufficient magnitude to warrant the supposition of a combin’d operation of the British fleet and Army that Way to effect its destruction, and thereby give England the Ascendency on the Ocean during the War with France.

The probability of this supposition is founded on the existence of two circumstances, either of which being taken away or not existing must render the whole supposition groundless. Vizt The superiority of the British to the French fleet and the destruction or capture of the troops under Genl Sullivan.

If the troops get Off from the Island without much injury, they will constitute a sufficient Stamina for to collect the Force of the Country. and the experience we have had of the Militia when combin’d with the continental troops will warrant the supposition That if they are not equal to tottaly stop the March of the British troops to Boston they will be able to retard them as to give time for the greatr part of this army to arrive to their assistance—It is my opinion they will be able to stop them entirely, considering the roughness of the Country, The difficulty of Obtaining intelligence and the want of carriages to transport provisions &c.

But suppose they should overcome all difficulties and arrive at Boston. The British fleet allowing it to be superior to the french in a broad sea where the whole could act, would not be so in the Channel leading to Boston, where from its narrowness it is not possible for two ships to lead abreast, and where very few Hulks sunk which are ready prepar’d would make the approach above the Castle impossible. The reduction of Castle Island would be an ardous and extensive task too unequal to the Strength of 10,000 men who would be oblig’d besides Boston to occupy a number of Islands either of which being carried, the whole enterprize would be frustrated and in all probability the remainder made prisoners.

For these and other reasons which might be urg’d I am of opinion The Enemy have not extended their views so far as the reduction of Boston and the French fleet there.

But should General Sullivans troops be captur’d the Event would be so unfortunate to us and so advantageous to the Enemy as to ind[uce] them to undertake enterprizes of which they did not dream. A Calamity so dreadful even in supposition would demand the immediate march of the greater part of this Army to counteract the consequences which may be suppos’d to arrive from so unexpecd an incident.

There is another expedition which indeed the Enemy may undertake. That is against the Town of Providence. Their reinforcement will probably arrive at the period that General Sullivan has effected his retreat from the Island. He then will be at two days march from Providence encumberd with his heavy Cannon, which came from and are almost the only defence of that Town and all his baggage and Stores. The Enemy in full possession of the Waters, flush’d with our retreat, a formidable force at Command, their Troops ready embark’d and only three or four hours sail from Providence, a rich defenceless obnoxious Town with a considerable quantity of shipping and stores.

Under these circumstances I think the Enemy will push and destroy that Town. it may be effected without any loss or even risque in twenty four hours.

The Army under your Excellency can have no possible Agency in preventing this apprehended Evil.

2d supposing the Army to move to the Eastward what number of troops would be necessary to secure the highlands and the Forts on Hudsons River?

The force to be left for the security of these posts and Forts should I conceive be relatively strong to those the Enemy may leave in New York . I suppose the Question cannot be determined with precision untill this circumstance be tolerably well ascertained.

3 Can any attack be made on the troops in NewYork under the present information and circumstances with a probability of success?

The situation of the Island of New-York is such, surrounded by Waters, as to give the party possessing the Navigation a great Superiority. The Enemy having nine thousand men have force fully adequate to its defence against our Army.

To batter their Redoubts on this side Kings Bridge would require Cannon and an Apparatus which are at a distance and which would take time to bring to this place.

To Attempt the Redoubts by Supprize would require a most perfect knowledge of their number, construction, Strength & situation. Upon the acquisition of this knowledge and the matter of risque being fully weighed against the advantages of success and the ballance preponderating in favor of the latter I should be for such an attempt. But I beleive on such a trial the reasons would be more forcible against the attempt than for it.

4th supposing the Army to move Eastward how shall it be supplied with provision &c?

Forage for the Horses can be procur’d with ease and Meat fresh and Salted. The difficulty would be in providing bread. This can be done no otherways than by the Quarter Master General making a proper arrange[ment] of a great number of Waggons to transport it from the southern States. It may be had altho’ it will require much pains and trouble. I am with the greatest respect Your Excellenys most obedient Humble Servant

H. Knox

ADS, DLC:GW; ADfS, NNGL: Knox Papers; copy, NNGL: Knox Papers; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. This is Knox’s reply to the questions posed by GW at the council of war on the evening of 1 September. The draft (like the copy) has many small variations in wording but the same organization and substance as the ADS. Another document listing the questions and giving brief notes on Knox’s reply to each is in NNGL: Knox Papers.

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