George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 28 June 1781]

28th. Having determined to attempt to surprize the Enemys Posts at the No. end of Yk. Island, if the prospt. of success continued favourable, & having fixed upon the Night of the 2d. of July for this purpose1 and having moreover combined with it an attempt to cut off Delancy’s2 And other light Corps without Kingsbridge and fixed upon Genl. Lincoln to Commd. the first detachment & the Duke de Lauzen the 2d. every thing was put in train for it and the Count de Rochambeau requested to file of from Ridgebury to Bedford & hasten his March—while the Duke de Lauzen was to do the same & to assemble his command (which was to consist of abt. 3 or 400 Connecticut State Troops under the Command of Genl. Waterbury3—abt. 100 York Troops under Captn. Sacket4—Sheldons Legion5 of 200, & his own proper Corps.). Genl. Lincolns command was to consist of Scammells light Troops and other detachments to the amt. of 800 Rank & file properly officerd—150 watermen and 60 artillerists.

1As the British had detached troops into Monmouth County, N.J., to forage for horses and cattle, GW thought it a propitious moment to launch an attack on the relatively unprotected posts at the northern end of Manhattan Island. Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln was to bring his two regiments and a detachment of artillery from Peekskill to attack Fort Tryon, Fort Knyphausen, and Fort George (GW to Lincoln, 1 July 1781, MH). If this plan proved unsuccessful, he was to move across the river and support the duc de Lauzun’s cavalry in an attack on James De Lancey’s Loyalists at Morrisania. Rochambeau was to “put your first Brigade under march tomorrow Morning, the remaining Troops to follow as quick as possible, and endeavour to reach Bedford by the evening of the 2d. of July, and from thence to proceed immediately towards Kingbridge should circumstances render it necessary” (GW to Rochambeau, 30 June 1781, DLC:GW). Although GW’s report to Congress on the affair puts it in the most favorable light, it is evident that the attack was anything but successful in spite of the cooperation of the French. The forts along the Hudson were unexpectedly reinforced by the return of British foraging parties from New Jersey, one of which encountered Lincoln’s men, costing the Americans the element of surprise. Lauzun’s forces arrived too late and most of the outlying British posts were withdrawn across the Harlem River to safety. The only material result of the raid was the opportunity of “reconnoitring the works upon the north end of the Island and making observations which may be of very great advantage in future” (GW to Samuel Huntington, 6 July 1781, DNA:PCC, Item 152). For a description of the raid from the British side, see MACKENZIE [2] description begins Diary of Frederick Mackenzie Giving a Daily Narrative of His Military Service as an Officer of the Regiment of Royal Welch Fusiliers during the Years 1775–1781 in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1930. description ends , 2:556–59; Rivington’s Royal Gazette, 14 July 1781. See also RICE description begins Howard C. Rice, Jr., and Anne S. K. Brown, eds. The American Campaigns of Rochambeau’s Army, 1780, 1781, 1782, 1783. 2 vols. Princeton, N.J., 1972. description ends , 1:32, 248–49; STEVENS [3] description begins John Austin Stevens. “The Operations of the Allied Armies before New York, 1781.” Magazine of American History with Notes and Queries 4 (1880): 1–45. description ends , 6–10; CLOSEN description begins Evelyn M. Acomb, ed. The Revolutionary Journal of Baron Ludwig von Closen, 1780–1783. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1958. description ends , 88–91. Preliminaries to the attack are discussed in the exchange of letters, 30 June (DLC:GW) between GW and his aide David Cobb, who was with the French forces at this time.

2Lt. Col. James De Lancey (1746–1804) commanded a Loyalist partisan corps operating in the vicinity of New York from 1776 to the end of the war. The corps was generally known as De Lancey’s Refugees or Westchester Refugees.

3David Waterbury (d. 1801) was brigadier general of Connecticut state troops. GW’s instructions to him, 30 June, are in DLC:GW.

4William Sackett, a captain of New York state levies, was in command of three companies of New York state troops at Bedford. GW’s instructions to him, 30 June, are in DLC:GW.

5Elisha Sheldon was colonel of the 2d Continental Light Dragoons.

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