George Washington Papers

Council of War, 13 March 1776

Council of War

[Roxbury, 13 March 1776]

At a Council of General Officers held at General Ward’s Quarters, Roxbury March 13 1776.1

Present His Excellency General Washington

  • Major Generals Ward, Putnam
  • Brigadier Generals Thomas, Heath, Spencer, Sullivan,
    Greene, Gates

His Excellency the Commander in Chief inform’d the Council, That from the present appearance of the Ministerial Fleet and Army—The intelligence he had receiv’d from sundry Persons who had escaped from Boston, and from frequent observations, he had reason to believe that the Troops were about to evacuate the Town; that in all probability they were destin’d for New York, & would attempt to possess themselves of that City, by which means they would command the Navigation of Hudsons River; open a Communication with Canada, and cut off all intercourse between the Southern & Northern Colonies.

His Excellency then demanded the opinion of Council, whether under the present Circumstances (i.e., before the Town is wholly evacuated) it would be adviseable to march any part of the Continental Army (now before Boston) to New York.

The Council were of opinion that it will be proper that five Regiments with the Rifle Battalion should be detached immediately to New York—the Rifle Battalion to march to-morrow, and the others to follow as speedily as possible,2 that his Excellency be advised to write to the Governor of Connecticut to desire he would immediately send two thousand of the Militia of his Government to New York, & that One Thousand be requested from the Convention or Committee of Safety of New Jersey, in order to reinforce the Troops already station’d there, until the detachments from this Army shall arrive.3

His Excellency likewise demanded the opinion of Council, whether, If the Ministerial Troops should totally abandon the Town of Boston, it would be necessary to continue any part of the Continental Army for its defence.

Resolved, that if the Ministerial Troops should totally abandon the Town of Boston, it will be unnecessary to employ any part of this Army for the defence and security of the same, as the Militia of the Province will be adequate thereto.4

The opinion of Council was also demanded by his Excellency, whether, if the Ministerial Troops should continue in the Harbour of Boston, it would be adviseable to fortify Newk’s Hill in Dorchester.

Resolved. That if the Ministerial Troops should continue in this Harbour to-morrow it would be advisable to fortify Newks Hill the next Night at all Events.5

D, in William Palfrey’s writing, DLC:GW; copy, in Palfrey’s writing, enclosed in GW to Hancock, 13 Mar. 1776, DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1Earlier this day Stephen Moylan wrote to Artemas Ward: “His Excellency the General, wants to Consult with you, General Thomas, & General Spencer upon many matters & as he does not think it prudent at this time, that you all Should be So far as Cambridge from your posts, I have it in Comand to inform you that he will Call at your house or General Thomas’s this day at ten ôClock, where he will expect to meet you & them” (MHi: Ward Papers).

2For GW’s earlier preparations for marching the army to New York, see particularly General Orders, 9 Mar. 1776, source note. The riflemen left for New York on 15 Mar. (see General Orders, this date, n.2). The other five regiments, which were drawn from five different brigades, were formed into a new marching brigade under Gen. William Heath and were sent to New York on 18 Mar., the day after the British evacuated Boston (see General Orders, 14, 15, 16, 17 Mar. 1776, and GW’s instructions and orders for Heath, 19 Mar. 1776). Because of the delay in the sailing of the British troop transports from Boston Harbor, GW postponed the departure of additional detachments until he was more certain of Howe’s intentions. The British fleet finally sailed on 27 Mar., and two days later a marching brigade of six regiments commanded by Gen. John Sullivan, set off for New York (see General Orders 23, 28 Mar., and GW to Hancock, 27 Mar. 1776). A brigade of five regiments under Gen. Nathanael Greene’s command marched on 1 April, and on 4 April Gen. Joseph Spencer departed with five more regiments (see General Orders, 29 Mar., 3 April, and GW to Hancock, 1, 15 April 1776). A total of twenty-two Continental regiments went to New York, leaving five in Massachusetts (see note 4).

4When GW departed Cambridge for New York on 4 April, he left five Continental regiments in Massachusetts under the command of Gen. Artemas Ward. Col. John Glover’s regiment remained at Beverly where it had been since the previous December, and Asa Whitcomb’s, Paul Dudley Sargent’s, Edmund Phinney’s, and Israel Hutchinson’s regiments continued to defend Boston. See also GW to Hancock, this date, n.7.

5For the fortification of Nook’s Hill on the night of 16 Mar., see GW to Hancock and GW to Joseph Reed, both 19 Mar. 1776.

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