George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Nathanael Greene, 7 November 1776

From Major General Nathanael Greene

Fort Lee [N.J.] Nov. 7. 1776

Dear Sir

By an Express from Major Clarke stationed at Dobbs ferry I find the Enemy are encampt right opposite, to the number of between three and five thousand—and the Major adds from their disposition and search after Boats they design to cross the River—A frigate and two Transports or Provision Ships past the Cheveau de frize Night before last—they were prodigiously shatterd from the fire of our Cannon1—the same Evening Col. Tupper attempted passing the Ships with the Pettie Augres loaded with flour—the Enemy man’d several Barges two Tendors and a Row Gallon—and Attackt them—our People run the Petty Augres ashore and landed and defended them, the Enemy attempted to land several times, but were repulsed—the fire lasted about an hour and a half—and the Enemy movd off—Col. Tupper still thinks he can transport the Provision in flat Boats—A second Attempt shall be speedily made—We lost One man mortally wounded.

General Mercer writes me the Virgin[i]a Troops are coming on—they are now at Trent Town—he proposes an Attack on Statten Island—but the motions of the Enemy are such I think it necessary for them to come forward as fast as possible2—On York Island the Enemy have taken Possession of the far Hill next to Spiteen Devil—I think they will not be able to penetrate any farther—there appears to be about fifteen hundred of them3—from the Enemys motions I should be apt to suspect they were retreating from your Army—or at least altering their Opperations—Mr Lovel who at last is enlarged from his confinement—Reports that Col. Allen his fellow Prisoner was inform’d that Transports were geting in readiness to Sail at a moments warning sufficient to transport 15,000 Men.

The Officers of Col. Hands Regiment are here with Enlisting orders—the Officers of the Pensylvenia Regiments thinks it a grieveance—(such of them as are Commisiond for the new Establishment,) that the Officers of other Regiments should have the Priviledge of enlisting their men before they get orders—I have stopt it until I learn your Excellencies pleasure—General Ewing is very much opposd to it—Youl please to favor me with a line on the subject. I am with the greatest Respect your Excellency Obedient Servant

Nath. Greene


1This letter apparently crossed with one that Robert Hanson Harrison wrote Greene for GW on this date. “His Excellency,” Harrison says in that letter, “just now received Intelligence that three of the Enemy’s Ships passed the Chivaux de frise Yesterday or the day before. When he considers this event with the present disposition of the Enemy who have advanced towards the North River, he apprehends that they have some thing in view that we are not apprized of. he wishes you to post parties of observation at every place on the Jersey side of the North River where they can land to watch their motions, and upon the least appearance of their collecting Boats or making any dispositions to embark that they will give him the earliest notice” (NjMoHP).

The frigate Pearl and the army victualler ships Joseph and British Queen, which were carrying provisions for the warships in the Tappan Zee, sailed up the Hudson River past forts Washington and Lee on the afternoon of 5 November. The Americans, the Pearl’s journal says, “fired Cannister, Grape, and Musquet shot at us[.] we return’d Round and Grape Shot with Musquetry. . . . We recd a number of shot in our Hull & several between Wind & Water. . . . had the Major part of our Rigging & a great part of our lower Cut to pieces[.] found Wm Brown, Seaman Kill’d & several wounded. The Sails much torn our Mizen & Mizen topmast shatter’d & the Boats much damaged” (Pearl’s journal, 5 Nov., 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 , 7:48). The Pearl and the two victuallers anchored near the mouth of Spuyten Duyvil Creek on the evening of 5 Nov., and the next day they proceeded to Dobbs Ferry, where they began landing provisions (see ibid., 48, 89, 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 , 1:98).

2“Some Troops from Virginia are on the way from Philadelphia,” Hugh Mercer wrote Greene on 4 Nov. from Elizabeth, New Jersey. “Are they to be pushed forward to Fort Lee or would you not rather attempt the driving the Hessians &c off Staten Island before those Troops pass on from hence? I shall detain the Virginians about Brunswick till I have the pleasure to hear from you” (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 , 1:332). Mercer is referring to Gen. Adam Stephen’s Virginia brigade, which Congress recently had ordered to march to Trenton and GW had directed to proceed toward Fort Lee (see Richard Peters’s second letter to GW of 24 Oct., and notes 1 and 3).

3On this day, Baurmeister says, “General Howe detached the following troops from the army [at Dobbs Ferry] to Kings Bridge under cover of a battalion of light infantry and fifty jägers commanded by Captain [Friedrich Heinrich] Lorey: a train of heavy artillery together with Brigadier General [Samuel] Cleaveland, and all the engineers. There, at Kings Bridge, we had started work on some batteries. One of them had been staked out beyond Kings Bridge on the left of the York road under cover of the von Wissenbach Battalion, while two more had been begun on this side of Kings Bridge far below the left wing of the camp of von Knyphausen’s corps” (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 , 67–68; see also Howe to George Germain, 30 Nov., in Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 12:258–64). Those works were the beginning of Howe’s serious efforts to reduce Fort Washington (see 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 , 1:98–99).

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