George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Nathanael Greene, 27 October 1776

From Major General Nathanael Greene

Fort Lee [N.J.] Octo. 27, 1776

Dear Sir

By Major Howel you will receive 119000 Musket Cartridges.1 Part arrived today and part last Night. as soon as the remainder comes up from Amboy & Philadelphia they shall be sent forward. I have been to view the roads again; and fixt upon Aquacanack, Springfield Bownsbrook [Bound Brook], Prince Town & Trenttown to establish the Magezines at. Trent Town and Equacanack, to be the principal ones, the others only to serve to support the Troops in passing from one to the other. They are all inland Posts and I hope the stores will be secure, I have ordered all the Cannon from Amboy except two Eighteen pounders and two field pi[e]ces, I have directed them to be sent to Springfield Bowns Brook & Equacanack to secure the Stores.

The People have been employd on the other side in geting the boards together at Fort Washington & the Ferry. Some have been brought from Kings Bridge. Today I sent up to Col. Lasher to know what Assistance he could give towards takeing down the Barracks, and bringing off the Boards; and had for Answer that he had Orders to burn the barracks, quit the Post and join the Army by the way of the North River at the White Plains.2 We have had a considerable Skirmish on York Island today, the cannonade began in the morning and held until Evening, with very short intermisions. A Ship movd up opposite Fort No. 1 Col. Magaw got down an Eighteen pounder and fird 60 Shot at her 26 of which went into her. She slipt her Cable and left her Anchor and was towed off by four Boats. I think we must have kild a considerable number of their men for the confusion and distress exceeded all description. Our Artillery behavd incomparably well Col. Magaw is charmd with their conduct in firing at the Ship and in the Field. I left the Island at three OClock this Afternoon we had lost but one Man, he was killed by a shell that fell upon his Head. We have brought off some of the Enemy off the field of Battle and more are still lying on the ground dead.3

I am Anxious to know the State of the Troops in the grand Army, whether they are high or low Spirited. whether well or ill Posted. whether a Battle is expected or not. we must govern our Opperations by yours. The Troops here and on the other side are in good Spirits; but I fear quiting fort Independance will Oblige Magaw to draw in his forces into the Garrison as the Enemy will have a passage open upon his back. I fear it will damp the Spirits of his Troops—He did not expect it so soon. If the Barracks are not burnt in the morning and the Enemy dont press too hard upon us, we will try to get away some of the boards. I am dear General Your Obedient Servant

Nath. Greene


Although the manuscript of this letter is neither addressed nor docketed, its location in Washington’s papers and the fact that it fits well in the context of Greene’s letters to GW of 24 and 29 Oct. indicate that Greene wrote it to GW. The letter is so identified in GW Calendar description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed. Calendar of the Correspondence of George Washington, Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, with the Officers. 4 vols. Washington, D.C., 1915. description ends , 1:199, and the Washington Papers Index description begins Library of Congress. Index to the George Washington Papers. Washington, D.C., 1964. description ends , 91, but it is printed as a letter from Greene to Thomas Mifflin in Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 2:1263; Greene, Life of Greene description begins George Washington Greene. The Life of Nathanael Greene, Major-General in the Army of the Revolution. 3 vols. New York, 1871. description ends , 1:244–46; and 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 , 1:322–23.

Force, who first printed the letter, may have assumed that it was written to Mifflin because an ammunition invoice of this date, which is also in DLC:GW and which Force prints immediately following Greene’s letter, indicates that the cartridges were sent to Mifflin in his capacity as quartermaster general. Dated at Fort Lee and signed by Jonathan Gostelowe, assistant commissary of military stores, that unaddressed document reads: “Invoice of Amunition sent by Coll Chevers [Ezekiel Cheever] C[ommissary of] M[ilitary] S[tores] to General Mifling by Eight Wagons for the Continiltan Armey—3 Barrels of Cannon Powder[,] 9 Half Barrels—Do Do[,] 22 Quarter Casks Do Do[,] 23 Boxes & Kegs of Caterages Containing 29608[,] Sundry Boxes & Kegs Containg 90525[, a total of] 120133 Cartridges” (DLC:GW). It is docketed in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing: “Major Gostelowe’s return of M. Stores Oct. 27. 1776.” There is no evidence that the invoice was sent to Mifflin or that it was enclosed with Greene’s letter of this date. The variance in the number of cartridges mentioned in the two documents suggests that they were written and forwarded to GW’s headquarters separately.

1Ebenezer Howell (c.1748–1791), a physician from Salem County, N.J., was appointed major of Col. Silas Newcomb’s regiment of New Jersey militia levies on 22 June 1776. Howell became major of the 4th New Jersey regiment on 28 Nov. 1776, and he resigned his commission on 17 Feb. 1777.

2Col. John Lasher, whom Heath had left in command of a detachment of troops at Fort Independence about a mile northeast of King’s Bridge, wrote Heath on 26 Oct. that the fort was in bad condition and his force was too small and too inadequately supplied with ammunition and artillery to defend it properly. “The Enemy,” Lasher says in his letter, “has drove off our Guard at Mile-Square and taken possession of the Stores. A large Body of light-Horse & light Infantry appeared on the Heights west of said place to day and we expect to have a Visit from them tomorrow” (MHi: Heath Papers). Heath consulted GW about Lasher’s situation, and at GW’s direction he replied to Lasher on this date, ordering him immediately to evacuate his post and burn the barracks there. “You may either do it your Selves,” Heath writes, “or Confer with Colonel Magaw, and Desire him to Send a Small Party to be present when you march off, and to Fire the Barracks when you get a few Miles distance.” Heath instructed Lasher to march to White Plains by way of Dobbs Ferry unless British forces blocked that route, in which case he was to retreat to Fort Washington (MHi: Heath Papers; see also Wilson, Heath’s Memoirs description begins Rufus Rockwell Wilson, ed. Heath’s Memoirs of the American War. 1798. Reprint. New York, 1904. description ends , 90). Lasher’s troops rejoined the army at White Plains a short time later.

Charles DeWitt, a member of the New York convention’s committee for enlisting new regiments, asked George Clinton in a letter of 25 Oct. to speak to GW “about sending some Troops back to the [King’s] Bridge, in order to save if possible the Barracks from being destroyd by the Enemy. I do not know where we shall get a Quantity of Boards sufficient for the army if we should loose those at the Bridge” (Hastings, Clinton Papers description begins Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds. Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777–1795, 1801–1804. 10 vols. 1899–1914. Reprint. New York, 1973. description ends , 1:392–93). Whether or not Clinton complied with that request is not known, but the presence of British and Hessian raiders so near King’s Bridge apparently convinced GW to forgo any attempt to save the barracks (see Ewald, Diary description begins Johann Ewald. Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal. Translated and edited by Joseph P. Tustin. New Haven and London, 1979. description ends , 11; Lydenberg, Robertson Diaries description begins Harry Miller Lydenberg, ed. Archibald Robertson, Lieutenant-General Royal Engineers: His Diaries and Sketches in America, 1762–1780. New York, 1930. description ends , 105; and Baurmeister, Revolution in America description begins Carl Leopold Baurmeister. Revolution in America: Confidential Letters and Journals, 1776–1784, of Adjutant General Major Baurmeister of the Hessian Forces. Translated and annotated by Bernhard A. Uhlendorf. New Brunswick, N.J., 1957. description ends , 62).

3The British frigates Pearl and Repulse sailed up the Hudson River early this morning and anchored near Burdett’s Ferry about half past seven to support an attack against the southern defenses of Fort Washington by troops under the command of Lord Hugh Percy (see Percy to Lord George Germain, 30 Oct., in Bolton, Percy Letters description begins Charles Knowles Bolton, ed. Letters of Hugh Earl Percy from Boston and New York, 1774–1776. Boston, 1902. description ends , 72–75, and Mackenzie, Diary 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 , 1:89–90). “The rebels,” a British observer writes, “brought down one 18–pounder on the York, and three other guns on the Jersey shore. The ships could not fire with any execution at these guns; and as they had answered the intent of their moving up, that of flanking the enemy’s lines and scouring the woods, while Lord Percy advanced towards the lines, and it now being high water, Captain [Henry] Davis [of the Repulse] thought it proper to drop the ships down to their former station. Many shots were thrown into the Repulse, and some into the Pearl; no men killed in either, and only one man’s leg broke on board the Repulse” (27 Oct. entry, Laughton, “Journals of Henry Duncan,” description begins John Knox Laughton, ed. “Journals of Henry Duncan, Captain, Royal Navy, 1776–1782.” The Naval Miscellany 1 (London, 1902): 105–219. In Publications of the Navy Records Society, vol. 20. description ends 133). The frigates returned down the river about eleven o’clock in the morning, and Percy’s force, finding the American lines too well defended to be attacked, withdrew out of cannon shot that afternoon (see the Pearl’s journal, 27 Oct., in Naval Documents description begins William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. 11 vols. to date. Washington, D.C., 1964–. description ends , 6:1429; Extract of a Letter from Fort-Lee, 27 Oct., ibid., 1428–29; Percy to Germain, 30 Oct., in Bolton, Percy Letters description begins Charles Knowles Bolton, ed. Letters of Hugh Earl Percy from Boston and New York, 1774–1776. Boston, 1902. description ends , 72–75; Greene to Hancock, 28 Oct., 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 , 1:323–24; Tench Tilghman to William Duer, 29 Oct., in Force, American Archives description begins Peter Force, ed. American Archives. 9 vols. Washington, D.C., 1837–53. description ends , 5th ser., 2:1284–85; and Tatum, Serle’s Journal description begins Edward H. Tatum, Jr., ed. The American Journal of Ambrose Serle: Secretary to Lord Howe, 1776–1778. San Marino, Calif., 1940. description ends , 131–32).

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