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To George Washington from Major General Robert Howe, 28 February 1780

From Major General Robert Howe

Robinson’s Farms [N.Y.] 28th of Feby 1780

Dear Sir

Col. Udney Hay having represented to me that it was impossible for him to go thro’ the Duty of his Department without more Expresses than he was authoriz’d to appoint,1 & as at this Juncture the very Existance of the Troops in this Department depended on the Information he was to give, & receive, to & from those who were employ’d to procure, & those who had in Possession, Provision, & Forage, & as casual Expresses were sometimes not to be obtain’d, & if obtain’d, very frequently unacquainted with the People, & Parts of the Country to which they were to be sent, & still oftner not confidential enough to be trusted, I thought it proper to Lay his Application before a Court of Enquiry, of which Brigadier General Patterson was President, & the Colonels Jackson, Wesson, Bradford, & Brooks were Members, of whose Report I transmit your Excellency a Copy.2 My Opinion Sir, founded upon a perfect Knowledge of the melancholy Facts which govern’d them, entirely coincided with theirs—the Certainty that the present Exigency of Affairs admitted not, of a Moment’s Delay—My Confidence in Col. Hay, whose uncommon Exertions have hitherto prevented this Army from starving, & who therefore merits ev’ry Thing from his Country, & the absolute Certainty there is that without his being furnish’d with the Means that cou’d enable him to continue his Efforts, the worst Consequences are to be expected, have induced, or rather have compell’d me, to consent that he may employ untill your Pleasure is known such Expresses as are absolutely necessary to give & receive the Information he Wants. Your Excellency need not be inform’d that special Cases will arise that require; & warrant, the Adoption of special Means, & that Necessity supercedes common Rules—that Specialty, & Necessity, unite in the present Case; & I flatter myself I shall be justified to you, for what I have permitted, as I truly am to my own Breast.

I again repeat, that without the Measures I have been compell’d to adopt, as the Provision & Forage absolutely necessary is remote, & if not got up while the Roads are practicable, would arrive too late, I should have had ev’ry Thing to fear which a Want of those essentially necessary Articles cou’d induce.

I should wish to hear from you Sir upon this Occasion without Delay3—& am Dear Sir With the greatest Respect & Esteem your Excellency’s most obedient Humble Servant

Robert Howe

LS, DLC:GW. A note on the cover reads: “Favourd by Lieut. Heath.”

1GW had ordered the number of express riders assigned to the Highlands and Fishkill, N.Y., reduced to six (see GW to Nathanael Greene, 27 Jan.). For Udny Hay’s explanation of his reasons for needing more express riders, see his second letter to Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene of 29 Jan., in Greene Papers, description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends 5:323–27.

2Howe enclosed the following copy of a report of a court of inquiry, dated at West Point on 26 Feb. and signed by Brig. Gen. John Paterson: “The court of enquiry appointed to sit this day by the orders of the Honble M. Genl Howe to enquire into a complaint exhibited by Colo. Hay D.Q.M. Genl having met and considered the same beg leave to Report as their opinion:

“That from the scattered state of the provisions with which this army is to be supplied, from the total want of Magazines of Forage for the purpose of maintaining public teams for the Transportation of provisions to the army, which occasions the necessity of a continuel communication between Colo. Hay & the Magistrates of this State—from the probability of the Manuvrs of the Enemy, & the absolute necessity of Intelligence being given in the most speedy and effectual Manner—We conceive that five expresses, the number represented by Colo. Hay, as the greatest he is permitted to keep for the use of this Department, are by no means adequate to the Business assigned them, and we beg further—to report as our opinion, that during the present state of things, Colo. Hay be permitted to keep under his direction as many express riders, as he shall find necessary for the exigences of his Department; He at the same time making returns of the Number requisite to the Commander in Chief of the Department, and receiving his approbation for keeping the same” (DLC:GW).

3GW replied on 7 March.

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