George Washington Papers

From George Washington to William Livingston, 3 February 1777

To William Livingston

Morris Town Feby 3d 1777


I am favor’d with yours of 1st Inst., & shall be happy to hear that your House will adopt the Measures you propose recommding to them.

Our Army is in much the same situation as when I had the pleasure of seeing you here, we have lately had two Skirmishes with large Bodies of the Enemy, in which they have little to boast of, & would have had Less, had not a Colonel of ours behav’d Ill in each, for which I hope they will be justly rewarded—In the first, two ⟨of⟩ their Regimts were oppos’d by our advanced Squad of ⟨160⟩ Men, who behav’d well, & if support’d by the main Body, of abot 260, under command of Colo. Buckner, would have done great damage, we lost but two & from the Best accots we have the Enemy must have lost from 30 to 40 Kill’d, & a proportion wound’d, Amongst the Kill’d, we are Inform’d was their Colo. Comadant, & the Lieut. Colo. wounded, mortally it is said1—The last party that came out was headed by Sir William Erskine & consist’d of from two to three Thousand, with 8 field Pieces, they came for some Hay, which some of our Troops intended taking off same day—they met near the Ground Where the Hay was when a Smart Engagement ensued, when our Troops vastly inferior in number were oblig’d to give way, however they again rallied & Attack’d, when it became a sort of drawn battle, & the Enemy after suffering considerably went off with so much precipitation, that the Hay &C. which they had on their Waggons was in great part, strow’d along the Road.2

In this Affair it is said that Colo. Ward has not behav’d well, for which have order’d him under Arrest,3 Genl Heath after approaching Fort Independance, has thought prudent to retire towards the White Plains—It is confidently said that Genl Howe, has order’d in all or the greatest part of the Rhode Island Troops, & I am Inform’d that Lord Piercy has arriv’d near Frogs Neck with ⟨part of⟩ them. I am with respect & Esteem Dr Sir Yr mo: Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in John Fitzgerald’s writing, MHi: Livingston Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The draft and the Varick transcript are dated 4 February. The text in angle brackets is mutilated on the LS and supplied from the draft.

1For other accounts of this skirmish of 23 Jan., see GW to Hancock, 26 Jan., and note 6.

2The account of this skirmish of 1 Feb. contained in a letter written by an unidentified American officer at Chatham, N.J., on 3 Feb. reads: “On the 1st instant, 3000 of the enemy, under command of sir William Erskine, came out of Brunswick to forage. They had eight pieces of cannon. Several of our scouting parties joined, to the amount of 600 men, under command of col. [Charles] Scott of the 5th Virginia regiment. A disposition was made to attack the enemy. Col. Scott, with 90 Virginians on the right, attacked 200 British grenadiers, and drove them to their cannon. The other parties not marching so briskly up to the attack, the colonel was engaged ten minutes by himself; and 300 fresh men being sent against him, was obliged to give way, but formed again within 300 yards of the enemy. By this time two other divisions had got up with the enemy, but superiour numbers at last prevailed. Our troops retreated about a quarter of a mile, formed again, and looked the enemy in the face until they retreated. The enemy had 36 killed, whom the country people saw, and upwards of 100 wounded. We lost 3 officers and 12 privates killed, and have about as many wounded. Lieut. [John] Gregory, from Charles City county, Virginia, a brave officer, and adjutant [William] Kelly of the 5th Virginia regiment, one of the bravest men in the army. He was carried off the field with a flesh wound only, and five more Virginians; but the enemy coming on that ground, murdered them by beating out their brains, with barbarity exceeding that of the savages” (Purdie’s Virginia Gazette [Williamsburg], 28 Feb. 1777, supplement issue). A letter of 10 Feb. repeating some of the same information contained in the above letter, apparently written by the same officer, was printed in Purdie’s Virginia Gazette on 14 Mar. 1777, and shorter accounts of the American version appeared in the Pennsylvania Evening Post (Philadelphia) on 6 Feb. and in both Williamsburg newspapers, Purdie’s Virginia Gazette and Dixon and Hunter’s Virginia Gazette, on 21 Feb. 1777. GW also included a brief account of the skirmish in his letter to Hancock of 5 February.

The British description of the skirmish given by Lt. Col. Stephen Kemble varies significantly from the preceeding account. “Sir William Erskine, with 1st. Light Infantry, 1st. Grenadiers, and 42d. Regiment,” writes Kemble, “met with 1,500 Rebels near Springfield, who drew up and waited till our Troops got with in three hundred Yards of them and then Retreated; we Killed about 40 Rebels, took a few Prisioners, with a loss of about 20 Men and one Officer, Lieut. [George A.] Cunningham in the 22d. Regiment. N.B.—Colonel Harcourt Commanded, not Sir William Erskine” (Kemble Papers description begins [Stephen Kemble]. The Kemble Papers. 2 vols. New York, 1884-85. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vols. 16–17. description ends , 1:109). For another British version of the skirmish, see the New-York Gazette: and the Weekly Mercury, 10 Feb. 1777.

3GW issued a warrant for Col. Andrew Ward’s court-martial to Judge Advocate General William Tudor on 7 Feb., but Ward apparently was acquitted of the charges of “Misbehaviour & Cowardice” and returned to his command until he resigned later this spring (NjMoHP).

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