George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General Alexander McDougall, 19 December 1776

From Brigadier General Alexander McDougall

Chatham in East Jersey 19th December 1776


The Rheumatism and other disorders detained me at Haverstraw and seperated me from my Brigade. Eight days since I found myself much better; and followed General Lee’s divission to Morris Town; where I arrived the day after he was unfortunately taken.1 This Catastrophy determined me by the advice of Friends not to proceed unless I had a Guard. The three Regiments from the Northward under Colonel Vose were hourly expected to Morris Town, they did not arrive until the day before Yesterday late in the Evening. Provissions and other necessaries were prepared for their march, next morning to join you; but an express arrived at night with information that Colonel Fords Militia had an Engagement with the Enemy at Springfield, and that he expected it would be renewed the next morning to gain the pass of the mountains.2 The Country in General being greatly discouraged, and on the Eve of making a Surrender of this State, I Judged it my Duty to order those Regiments to march at four A.M. to support Colonel Ford. The Enemy early the next morning retired towards Spank Town. When Colonel Vose this morning was preparing to march to Morris Town, the militia and principal Gentlemen were much dejected, and assured me If those Troops were not left here, to countenance them, the militia could not be collected, to make any opposition to the Enemy, and those who were embodied would disband, which would eventually end in a Submission of this State. Indeed some of the most important, sensible and zealous of the People declared they would provide for their own Safety as they had no hopes of being able to assemble the militia if those Continental Troops were removed. They asserted that General Lee gave them assurance that those Troops should be left here for their protection, which was countenanced in some measure in a Letter of General Heaths to Colonel Ford,3 and to remove them, after so many of the Troops passed through the State, would be to abandon them to the Enemy, which is the Idea Generally held by too many of the Friends of the Country; but if the Troops stay they were in no doubt of Collecting a respectable number of the militia. In this State of things I feared if I advised Colonel Vose to proceed to the Delaware; I should be chargeable with all the bad Consequences. These facts will be authenticated to you by the Committee of Morris Town.4 The Submission of this State would draw after it consequences easier to conceive than Express, and are too obvious to render an Enumeration Necessary. To prevent an event so fatal to our common Cause I have ventured to advise Colonel Vose to remain in this State, and shall post his Troops with the militia in the best Manner to cover the Country, not in the Hands of the Enemy. It is the only chance we have for retaining it. Orders for him will readily find him by applying to Colonel Remsen at Morris Town, or Colonel Ford. I find by Colonel Vose that those Troops are determined to go home at the expiration of their Time, which would nearly be accomplished before they could reach you, which was a consideration that induced me to advise his Stay; and as their assistance to you would not bear any proportion to the prospect of their service here. I hope these Considerations will justify me to your Excellency; as the Service and the Safety of the Common cause, were the only motives which determined my advice. I am greatly mortified, that I have no reason to expect I shall be able to do duty in the course of the winter in the manner I could wish from the Complication of disorders that afflict me. If the time was not so critical, to the Country I would resign, as I do not wish to be a burthen to it. But as this might at this Crissis be a prejudice to the Cause; Subject to the abuse of our Enemies, I decline it; but wish to be favoured with the Generals advice for my future conduct. If I stay here, unless I am with some detachment of the Army I shall be exposed to the like misfortune that befel General Lee. If I am with the Army the Houses are so necessary to them, that I cannot be accomodated; I shall however endeavour to remain in this Neighbourhood ’till General Heath arrives at Morris Town which I have reason to expect will be in a few days. I am with earnest Wishes for your success and Happyness Your Excellencys very humble servant

Alexr McDougall

P.S. the Enemy are changing their Troops So often from Hancinsak to Elizabeth Town, that its imposible to give a true State of their Numbers in Frontier Towns of this State. Col. Ford has had, from 800 to 1000 of the Milit[i]a Collected. Now about 700.

Grantons Regt about 250
Bonds do 100
Porters 170

I have taken the Liberty to transmit to you a Letter of General Heaths approving of my advice in detaining that Corps.5

LS, DLC:GW. The postscript is in McDougall’s writing.

1McDougall arrived at Morristown on 14 December.

2Col. Jacob Ford, Jr., wrote Gen. William Heath at ten o’clock on the evening of 17 Dec. from Chatham: “we have, Since Sun Set had a Brush with the Enemy 4 Miles below this, in Which we have Suffered, and our Militia much Disheartned. They are all Retreated to this place And will in all probability be Attacked by Day Break. The Enemy we have Reasons to believe are Double our Numbers. Genl M’Dugal is with the Northern Battallions that were Comeing on with Coll vose and intends marching Directly to Genl Washington. he is this Night in Morris Town 8 Miles W⟨e⟩st of this and we have no Expectations of his assis⟨tance.⟩ If in your wisdom you Can Assist us we may possably Beat them yet, but without your aid we Can’t Stand. they are Encamped (Say 1000 Brittish Troops) at Springfield and will be joined by 450 Waldeckers from Elizth Town by the Next Mornings Light” (MHi: Heath Papers; see also Ford to Heath, 18 Dec., MHi: Heath Papers, 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 , 112).

Archibald Robertson, who was with the British force at New Brunswick, says in his diary entry for 17 Dec.: “Three Patroles were ordered out by General Howe’s orders. 2 Battalions under General [Alexander] Leslie to Springfield. He had a small Skirmish with about 250 of the Rebels, had 4 men Wounded. 500 Grenadiers under General Matthews [Edward Mathew] went to Pluckemin. Had 3 men taken not being able to march. A Battalion under Lieutenant Colonel Mahood [Charles Mawhood] towards Flemmington met with no Rebels” (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 , 117).

3William Heath says in the letter that he wrote Jacob Ford, Jr., on 18 Dec. from Paramus, N.J., in reply to Ford’s letters to him of 17 and 18 Dec.: “I have great expectations of Col. Vose’s remaining with you, at least a few days, until he can receive express Orders from Genrl Washington, to whom I have desired him to apply for further directions” (MHi: Heath Papers).

4McDougall enclosed a copy of the petition that several prominent citizens wrote him on this date. It reads: “The distressed situation of this state & the eminent danger of this County filled at present with most of the persons & property of the well affected people of this part of the Province induces us most earnestly to request you to detain the Troops now in this neighbourhood on their march from Tricondaroga[.] We had Genl Lees express promise that this detatchment should be detained here for the protection of this state. And altho’ his Letter to the Commanding officer does not contain so explicite an order for that purpose as we could wish, Yet there is sufficient evidence that this was his intention from a full view of the necessity & importance of such a measure. You are also sensible that this is the desire of Genl Heath. And from what you, Sir see & hear, we cannot doubt but it appears in the same light to yourself.

“We are truely sensible of the necessity of a large Force with Genl Washington. But while the Enemy are so disperced it cannot be expected the whole Body of our Troops can be all at one place. Part of our Militia have been called out of the Province. And if we had the whole what coud they do against the Enemy the main Body of which is in this state. Yet with the support of these Troops we hope to collect a larger Body of the militia than we have at present & by defending important passes secure a great part of this state & it may be in Time regain the whole. But, Sir, we must speak the painful truth, if these Troops are not detained, the militia collected now will grow dispirited, soon dwindle away & this state be lost. We beseech you consider these things & grant us such relief as is in your power. We honestly declare, that so far as we know our hearts we speak not from a partial regard to one part of the Continent but as if the whole was our own.” The petition was signed by “Jacob Ford—one of the Judges[;] Silas Condi[c]t—one of the Council[;] Caleb Camp—of the Assembly[;] Alexr Carmic[h]ael—Charmain of the Committee[;] Timo. Johnes[,] Benn Hait[,] A. Mainhorte[,] Jacob Van artsdalen[,] Ministers[;] Jacob Ford Junr Colo. Commandant of the Militia[;] James Caldwell” (DLC:GW).

5McDougall apparently enclosed a copy of Heath’s letter to him of 18 Dec., which was written at Paramus, N.J., in reply to McDougall’s letter to Heath of 17 December. “I think it most prudent,” Heath says, “& woud advise you to detain the Troops under the Command of Colo. Boise [Vose] untill you shall know his Excellency Genl Washington’s Pleasure respecting them after having given him a full Account as well of your Situation & Strenghth as that of the Enemy in your Quarter—At the same Time I woud not be understood as giving any positive Order concerng them as they do not belong to my Divission—I cannot at present move farther Westward without Risking a Quantity of valuable Stores which I took at Hackinsack & are now here & leaving this Part of the Country entirely exposed to the Ravages of the Enemy & if I may Credit Accounts received this Day which come very Straight, I may soon expect a Vissit from the Enemy with much Superior Numbers from two Quarters—towit by Tappan & Second River & this Evening I am informed & have no Reason to Doubt that a Considerable Party of them have crossed the Ferry about 3 Miles below Hackinsack Town. I am but about 600 strong of my own Division[.] Genl George Clinton who has marched the whole of the Ulster and Orange Counties Militia to Haverstraw & Kakiate has this Evening joined me with 600 of them—This he has done contrary to a most express & possitive Order of the Convention of your State making a Justification of his Conduct in this Instance entirely upon the Propriety & Necessity of reinforcing me in this Quarter & covering the Stores we have removed from Hackinsack; but the Moment I move Westward of this unless he is well assured the Enemy mean not to move up Hudson’s River he will retire to the Passes in the Highlands agreable to his Orders—indeed were he not to do so he woud be cencurable in my own Opinion—It is evident to me that my Entring Hackinsack in the Manner I did & the stand made by the Militia under Colo. Ford has occassioned the calling back Genl Lesslie’s Brigade who were on their March to Join the Enemy’s Main Army—This being the Case it cant remain a Doubt but it is our Interest to keep up a Diversion which detains Numbers of them from joining their Main Army—far superior to what we employ for the Purpose—I coud wish to hear from you & Colo. Ford every Day that I may know the Situation & Strenghth of the Enemy in your Quarter as it may so happen that we may be able to attack them in different Quarters at the same Time to great Advantage without exposing this Part of the Country—I woud only add that my Sentiments respecting the Detaining of Boises [Vose’s] Troops is Strenghthened by that of Genl Parson’s & Clintons Opinion on that Subject” (MHi: Heath Papers; see also McDougall to Heath, 17 Dec., MHi: Heath Papers).

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