George Washington Papers

From George Washington to an Anonymous Officer, 21 October 1776

To an Anonymous Officer

[21 October 1776]

My Lord Sterling Complains, & so justly, of the want of Tents, & the Baggage belonging to his Brigade that I would have you enquire particularly into the matter and endeavour to have it sent on to the sevl Regiments now suffering at the White Plains for want of it.1

Tell Genl Mifflin & Colo: Reed (in short let the Genl Officers below know) that some expedient must be fallen upon to bring off all the Flour that is not wanted for Mt Washington, as the Troops now in this Neighbourhood are sufferg for want, & only 700 Barrls at the White Plains & the like qty at the Saw Pitts (which more than probably is not to be Counted).2

The Troops that March from the Bridge under Genls Heath & Sullivan had better proceed immediately on to the White Plains as their Halt will only occasion delay.3

Many Articles I should think might with great ease and safety be transported from Spiten Devil to Dobs Ferry, as mentioned last Night to Colo. Putnam. this would save many Teams & facilitate the remove of stores &ca.4

Inform Colo. Magaw that I shall depend upon his holding the Post at Mt Washington as long as a good Officer ought to do—Let Colo. Hutchinson whose Regiment (being water men) it was necessary to keep there know the Reasons of Magaws appointment to the Comd at that Post[.] Magaw must take care to have a Sufficient Stock of Provisions & Water laid in for the Men he has for the Garrison, and a vigilant watch must be kept.5

If Colo. Magaw & Genl Green can devise any Plan to get the Boards remov’d to the Jerseys it woud be doing a good thing—perhaps they might be got right across from Spiten devil to the Hollow opposite where I had thoughts of making a Road if they could not be carried to Burdets Ferry.6

The new Bridge to be taken up—& the intrenching tools to be sent on either by land or Water without fail.7

Go: Washington

ALS (incomplete), PHi: James Hamilton Collection.

The first part of this letter apparently is missing, and the existing manuscript is undated and unaddressed. That this letter was written on 21 Oct. is indicated by three references in the text. The arrival of Lord Stirling’s brigade at White Plains without tents and baggage, which is mentioned in the first paragraph, occurred on the morning of 21 Oct. (see note 1), and the anticipated march of General Heath’s division from King’s Bridge to White Plains, mentioned in the third paragraph, began late that afternoon (see note 3). GW’s meeting of the previous night with Col. Rufus Putnam, to which he refers in the fourth paragraph, occurred on the evening of 20 Oct. (see note 4). Although the addressee cannot be identified positively, the context of this letter suggests that it was written to Maj. Gen. Israel Putnam, who commanded the American troops at Fort Washington and King’s Bridge until 25 Oct. (see Extract of a Letter from East-Chester, New-York, 23 Oct., in Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 2:1203; Nathanael Greene to GW, 24 Oct.; and Wilson, Heath’s Memoirs description begins Rufus Rockwell Wilson, ed. Heath’s Memoirs of the American War. 1798. Reprint. New York, 1904. description ends , 86).

The last paragraph of this letter is in Tench Tilghman’s writing as are also the words “& Water” in the fifth paragraph (see notes 5 and 7). An incomplete note in Tilghman’s writing at the end of the manuscript reads: “whether the Generals things are gone on to the Jerseys.”

1Stirling’s brigade, which was part of Spencer’s division, marched on 18 Oct. from the American lines on Manhattan Island to a camp “at Some distance to the North West” of Philipsburg in Westchester County, and on orders from GW, the brigade set off for White Plains before dawn on this date and arrived there about nine o’clock in the morning (“Trumbull Journal,” 201). Ordered to prevent the British from occupying the village and to protect the stores being gathered there, Stirling’s brigade was the first major Continental contingent to reach White Plains, which had been held previously by a force of about three hundred militiamen (see GW to Robert R. Livingston, 20 Oct., and “Memoirs of the Putnam Family,” 92, OMC).

2Although GW on 12 Oct. had ordered all of the Continental provisions and other stores at Saw Pit near the mouth of the Byram River to be moved inland to White Plains, a shortage of horses and wagons greatly hampered that effort (see GW to Robert R. Livingston and to Joseph Trumbull, both 20 October).

3Heath’s division began its march from the vicinity of King’s Bridge about four o’clock in the afternoon on 21 Oct. and arrived at Chatterton’s Hill on the west side of White Plains about four o’clock the next morning. The remainder of Spencer’s division, consisting of Gen. James Wadsworth’s and Gen. John Fellow’s brigades, also moved to White Plains during the night of 21–22 October. Sullivan’s division marched from King’s Bridge to White Plains during the following night (see Wilson, Heath’s Memoirs description begins Rufus Rockwell Wilson, ed. Heath’s Memoirs of the American War. 1798. Reprint. New York, 1904. description ends , 84–85; “Trumbull Journal,” 202; and William Douglas to his wife, 19, 25 Oct., in Douglas, “Letters,” 13:160–61). These night marches were grueling ordeals for the soldiers who made them. Private Joseph Plumb Martin, who marched from Valentine’s Hill to White Plains apparently on the night of 21–22 Oct., says: “I was so beat out before morning with hunger and fatigue that I could hardly move one foot before the other” (Martin, Private Yankee Doodle description begins Joseph Plumb Martin. Private Yankee Doodle: Being a Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier. Edited by George F. Scheer. 1962. Reprint. New York, 1968. description ends , 51).

4Dobbs Ferry is located on the west bank of the Hudson River about nine miles upstream from the mouth of Spuyten Duyvil Creek and about five miles west of White Plains. King’s Bridge is about a mile up Spuyten Duyvil Creek. Col. Rufus Putnam, who had reconnoitered the British positions in Westchester County on 20 Oct., arrived at GW’s headquarters at Harlem Heights about nine o’clock that night. “I found the General [GW] alone,” Putnam says in his memoirs. “I reported to him the discoveries I had made, withe a Sketch of the country, he complained very fealingly of the Gentlemen from New York from whome he had never ben able to obtain a plan of the country—that from there information he had ordered the stores to White plains as a place of Security—the General Sent for General Greene, & Genl George Clinton. . . . As Soon as General Clinton came in my [s]ketch and Statement was Shewn to him & he was asked if the Situation of those places were as I had reported, Genl Clinton Said they were.” Although those documents have not been identified, Putnam summarizes his “discoveries” in his memoirs, saying that he “found that the main body of the Brittish Lay neer New Rochelle, from thence to white plains about nine mile, good roads & in general level open country[,] that at white plains was a large quantity of Stores, with only about three hundred melitia to guard them, that the British had a detachment at Maniarneck [Mamaroneck] only Six miles from white plains, & from white plains only five mile to the North [Hudson] River, where lay five or Six of the enimies Ships & Slo[o]ps, tenders &c.” (“Memoirs of the Putnam Family,” 91–92, OMC).

5Tench Tilghman inserted the words “& Water” above the line. Although Israel Hutchinson’s commission as colonel of the 27th Continental Regiment was dated two days earlier than Robert Magaw’s commission as colonel of the 5th Pennsylvania Regiment, Magaw commanded the garrison at Fort Washington until it surrendered on 16 Nov., perhaps because Magaw’s regiment had helped to build the fort during the previous summer, making him more familiar with the works, or perhaps because more than a third of the men in Hutchinson’s regiment, which was composed largely of seamen from Salem, Mass., were on command apparently serving aboard row galleys (see general returns of the Continental army, 21 Sept., 5 Oct., in Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 2:449–52, 907–10; Hutchinson’s return of officers, 5 Oct., ibid., 901–2; and Nathanael Greene’s return, 13 Nov., ibid., 3:663–64). On 3 Nov. GW directed Nathanael Greene to move Hutchinson’s regiment across the Hudson to Fort Lee (see Greene to Magaw, that date, 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 , 1:331–32).

6Burdett’s Ferry, which ran across the Hudson between forts Washington and Lee, was about two miles downstream from the mouth of Spuyten Duyvil Creek.

7Tench Tilghman apparently inserted this paragraph above GW’s signature after the rest of the letter was finished. The bridge that was to be taken up was the Free Bridge which crossed the Harlem River about a quarter of a mile southeast of King’s Bridge. Built in 1758 as a toll-free alternative to the older King’s Bridge, the Free Bridge later was repaired by the British army and renamed the Queen’s Bridge. It also was called the Prince of Wales Bridge, Dyckman’s Bridge, and Hadley’s Bridge. Robert Magaw subsequently requested Col. John Lasher “to take up ⟨on⟩e or both of the Bridges,” but Lasher “did not think [it] prudent in case we should have to retreat” (Lasher to William Heath, 26 Oct., MHi: Heath Papers).

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