George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Colonel Joseph Reed, 30 November 1776

To Colonel Joseph Reed

Brunswick [N.J.] Novr 30th 1776

Dear Sir.

The inclosed was put into my hands by an Express from the White Plains. Having no Idea of its being a Private Letter, much less Suspecting the tendency of the Correspondence, I opened it, as I had done all other Letters to you, from the Same place and Peekskill, upon the business of your office, as I Conceived and found them to be.

This as it is the truth, must be my excuse for Seeing the Contents of a Letter, which neither inclination or intention would have prompted me to.1

I thank you for the trouble and fatigue you have undergone in your Journey to Burlington, and Sincerely wish that your labours may be Crowned with the desired success. My best Respects to Mrs Reed, I am, Dear Sir, your mo. obt servt

G: Washington

P.S. The Petition referred to I keep.2

Copy, NHi: Reed Papers; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1GW opened and read Charles Lee’s letter to Reed of 24 Nov., which reads: “I receiv’d your most obliging flattering letter—lament with you that fatal indecision of mind which in war is a much greater disqualification than stupidity or even want of personal courage—accident may put a decisive Blunderer in the right—but eternal defeat and miscarriage must attend the man of the best parts if curs’d with indecision. The General recommends in so pressing a manner as almost to amount to an order to bring over the Continental Troops under my command—which recommendation or order throws me into the greatest dilemma from sev’ral considerations—Part of the troops are so ill furnish’d with shoes and stockings blankets &cc that They must inevitably perish in this wretched weather—part of ’em are to be dismissed on Saturday next [30 Nov.] and this part is the best accoutred for service—What shelter We are to find on the other side the river is a serious consideration: but these considerations shou’d not sway me; my reason for not having march’d already—is that We have just receiv’d intelligence that Rogers’s Corps, the L. Horse, part of the Highlanders and another Brigade lye in so expos’d a situation as to give the fairest opportunity of being carried off. I shou’d have attempted it last night but the rain was too violent, and when our pieces are wet you know our Troops are hors de combat—This night I hope will be better—if We succeed We shall be well compensated for the delay—We shall likewise be able in our return to clear the Country of all the articles wanted by the Enemy—in evry view therefore the expedition must answer—I have just receiv’d a most flattering letter from Don Louis Venzaga [Luis de Unzaga y Amézaga], Governor of N. Orleans—He gives me the title of General de los estados unidos Americanos, which is a tolerable step towards declaring himself our ally in positive terms—the substance is that He is sensible of the vast advantages which must result from the separation to his Master and Nation—that He cannot positive enter into a regular system of commerce without consulting his Master but in the meantime He will render us all the service in his Power—I only wait myself for this busyness I mention of Rogers & Co being over—shall then fly to you—for to confess a truth I really think our Chief will do better with me than without me. . . . [P.S.] Inclos’d is a petition from [some] of the poor sufferers from [Jonathan William] Austin’s expedition—I beg the General will forward it to Congress” (Lee Papers description begins [Charles Lee]. The Lee Papers. 4 vols. New York, 1872-75. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vols. 4–7. description ends , 2:305–7).

GW apparently never saw the letter to which Lee was replying, Reed’s letter of 21 Nov., which Reed sent to Lee by the same express rider who carried GW’s letter to Lee of that date. “The Letter you will receive with this,” Reed writes Lee, “contains my Sentiments with Respect to your present Station: But besides this I have some additional Reasons for most earnestly wishing to have you where the principal Scene of Action is laid. I do not mean to flatter, nor praise you at the Expence of any other, but I confess I do think that it is entirely owing to you that this Army & the Liberties of America so far as they are dependant on it are not totally cut off. You have Decision, a Quality often wanting in Minds otherwise valuable & I ascribe to this our Escape from York Island—from Kingsbridge & the Plains—& I have no Doubt had you been here the Garrison at Mount Washington would now have composed a Part of this Army. Under all these Circumstances I confess I ardently wish to see you removed from a Place where I think there will be little Call for your Judgment & Experience to the Place where they are like to be so necessary. Nor am I singular in my Opinion—every Gentleman of the Family the Officers & soldiers generally have a Confidence in you—the Enemy constantly inquire where you are, & seem to me to be less confident when you are present.

“Col. Cadwallader, thro a special Indulgence on Acct of some Civilities shewn by his Family to Gen. Prescot [Richard Prescott] has been liberated from New-York without any Parole—he informs, that the Enemy have a Southern Expedition in View—that they hold us very cheap in Consequence of the late Affair at Mount Washington where both the Plan of Defence & Execution were contemptible—if a real Defence of the Lines was intended the Number was too few, if the Fort only, the Garrison was too numerous by half.—General Washington’s own Judgment seconded by Representations from us, would I believe have saved the Men & their Arms but unluckily, General Greene’s Judgt was contrary[.] this kept the Generals Mind in a State of Suspence till the Stroke was struck—Oh! General—an indecisive Mind is one of the greatest Misfortunes that can befall an Army—how often have I lamented it this Campaign.

“All Circumstances considered we are in a very awful & alarming State one that requires the utmost Wisdom & Firmness of Mind—as soon as the Season will admit I think yourself & some others should go to Congress & form the Plan of the new Army—point out their Defects to them & if possible prevail on them to bind [bend] their whole Attention to this great Object—even to the Exclusion of every other—If they will not or cannot do this, I fear all our Exertions will be vain in this Part of the World. Foreign Assistance is solliciting but we cannot expect they will fight the whole Battle—but Artillery & Artillerists must be had, if possible.—

“I intended to have said more but the Express is waiting—& I must conclude with my clear & explicit Opinion that your Presence is of the last Importance” (ibid., 293–94).

GW did not reestablish a fully cordial relationship with Reed until the following June (see Reed to GW, 4 June 1777, DLC:GW, and GW to Reed, 11 June 1777, RPJCB).

2This petition from the inhabitants of White Plains whose houses were burned by Maj. Jonathan Williams Austin on the night of 5 Nov. has not been identified.

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