George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General Alexander McDougall, 12 April 1777

From Brigadier General Alexander McDougall

Peekskill [N.Y.] April 12th 1777


I was honor’d with your favour of the 2nd Inst. I am happy in your good Opinion of my conduct. Since I came to this Post, I caution’d the Asst Commissary against increasing the Stores at this Place, which I believe he has observ’d; a few Days, as I wrote you, would have greatly reduced them.1 The loss of the Rum, Wine, Sugar and Candles is much to be regreted for the reasons you mention. I take the Liberty to inclose you the Commissarys account of the particulars of our Loss in that Department.2 The Committee of Safety inclosed to me, a short time before the Time of Service of the Bay Militia expir’d, a Copy of your Letter on the Subject of Innoculation, and appointed two Persons to consult with me on the Arangement necessary to carry it into execution; but they did not come near me, but once Transiently; they had too much other Business to give any attention to that.3 I had therefore no other Assistance but Doctor Adams. In a Consultation with him, he was of Opinion it had best be executed at the Barracks at Fish Kill, as the necessary diet could not be easily procur’d here.4

The force I had after the 15th March I Judg’d too small to attempt it, considering the different Posts I had to maintain. Doctor Foster in a Letter to me of the 31st Ultimo informs me, that Doctor Warren had advis’d him, that the Innoculation of the Forces at Fish Kill was countermanded. If he has authority for this, I wish to be advised of it, as I shall begin the Innoculation whenever 500 of the Connecticut Militia arrives.5

I have not heard of the March of the Eight Continental Regiments from the Bay, which the General advised me were Order’d here.6 The usefulness of a Regiment depends on Regimental Spirit or Pride, without this it will never have that emulation, which is the life and Soul of a Corps. For these reasons I submit it to your Consideration whether Gansevoort’s detachments should not be collected and joined? If it should be your Orders that the detachment at Fort Constitution is to join that to the Northward, shall the former carry their Arms and Accoutriments with them? As many of the Continental Troops of this State want Arms, owing to the Arms at Fish-Kill being unfit for Service, and the repairs going very slow for want of Hands. These should have been procured last Atumn to put the Arms in Order, as fast as they were delivered in. By a late return from Commissary Chever, there are 1292 Arms bad, one half of which he says are worth repairing; and 200 which may be made fit with some small repairs. Those are all the Arms in the Stores, and from the condition of the greatest number of them, it will be some time before they can be used. I have had frequent Application from Connecticut for that Article. But have confined myself in issuing it, on the principal mentioned in mine to General Parsons, a copy of which I inclose for the General’s information.7 The loss of Public Arms thro’ the neglect of Officers and the wickedness of the Men, and the plunder of Citizens, call for some expedient to designate them, in Order that they may be discovered and taken. The want of this enabled many of the Men to carry off some of our best Arms, under pretence of being their Own. To prevent these evils, there should be a Brand with some device on it, expressive of the Public property, with which the Arms of the Continent should be branded, and to this may be added, a Stamp capable of making an impression by a Stroke on the Barrel, and a number of these should be at every Post, to Brand and Stamp all the Continental Arms. a number might soon be made at Boston, or Philadelphia. This being done, it wou’d not be easy for Villains to rob the Public. We could then seize the Arms wherever we find them. As I understand we have had an arrival lately of many new Arms, some means should be devis’d to secure them for the Continent against plunderers. The Enemy by some of Rodgers Rangers, inlisted out of this County, who come up privately, carry off a number of Horses and Cattle, thro’ by Roads, inspite of the Vigilance of our small Guards. The former to supply their Wagons, and the latter to refresh their Troops. Parties of light Horse, assisted by a few light Troops, would effectually put a Stop to this intercourse. I therefore wish that such of the Horse raised in Connecticut, as are fit for Service, might be Ordered on to this Post.

In my present condition, if I receive intelligence of a number of those Robers, being 12 or 16 Miles off, before a Party can be Paraded, and get to the place, the Enemy have advice and fly. But if I had Horse they would be upon them, or be able to pursue them with success for many Miles. There are in Store 13 Carbines, 51 Pistols, 15 Swords & 11 Cartouch Boxes for Horse, where shall they be sent? to Philadelphia or Hartford. And 41 Scotch Swords, which might make a shift for Horse till better cou’d be procured.

The weak State of my Artillery Corps, and other Troops, has induced me to order the Brass 24 Pounder, Mortars, Howitzers, and all their Fix’d Ammunition, two thirds of the Grain Powder, and 12 Barrels of Flints to be removed from Fish Kill, to Fredricksburgh, Twenty Miles from thence. The other Stores worth removing to be in readiness to load. I have not yet ordered the Field Train from thence, as they are light, and as I expect a Company of Artillery in a few days from Stanford.

Major Fish of the 2nd Regt of New York Forces, commands at Wards, with 80 of the Militia of this State. I have sent him a reinforcement of a good Company of the Connecticut Militia. There is another small Corps of our Militia near Saw Mill River road, below Dobbs Ferry, so as to send parties to the North River road and the former. Four days ago I sent out a Scout of a Captains command of Volunteers of the Connecticut Militia to be out a Week, with a good Guide. They were Ordered to go down the Tarry Town Road, as low as Philips’s, from thence to cross over to East Chester or New Rochelle, as they shou’d on information be most useful; and at the expiration of a Week to return by the Plains and North Castle, and to remain but one Night at a Post. When they return another Scout will be sent out. 400 Rank & File of the Connecticut Militia have only come on. I have been informed there are about four Companies of Connecticut Continental Troops, come on to Danbury, where they are geting their Cloaths. If they do not appear to day, I shall send for them.

The detachment of the standing Army at Wrights Mills I have had here for some Days. The return of the Strength of the three Regiments of York Troops I have inclosed, 284 of them have not had the small Pox.8 The late resolve of Convention exempting persons from Militia duty, who shall furnish a Man for the Standing Army, will expidite the filling of the Regiments; as many of the disaffected will embrace it, to get freed from that Duty. They have ordered the third Man to be draughted out of the middle Counties, which I imagine will raise about 1500, to serve to the first of August: for the purpose of Guarding the Shores; and to cover West Chester County.9 I thank your Excellency for the intelligence communicated in your favor of the 10th, nothing in my power shall be omitted. If the Enemy retain the Idea of Conquering the Country (which I am inclined to believe the sensible among them do not) they will not come up the River to attempt a jun[c]tion with General Charlton. I know of but one fact, that points out their design to be for this River, which is their not Stationing some of their Ships of War, at Kings Ferry, to intercept the passing of the Troops to reinforce you. This measure wou’d at least create delays in their favor, if they intended for Philadelphia. But if they do not, it is prudent in them to give no interuption to the passage of the Troops, to have them in a Quarter they do not intend to Attack. On the other Hand, if they design for that City, perhaps they decline posting the Ships there, least they might serve as Beacons to us of their intention for that place. Probably they may be sent up with Troops, to make a diversion, about the time they move to the Southward. It is extreamly difficult, if not impossible to penetrate the particular design of an Enemy who has the Command of the Water. of this we had many instances: General Wolf’s Landing on Montcalm;10 and other movements which fell under our own observation the last Campaign. If we consider the State and Quality of our own Troops and those of the Enemy, he will push to the Southward where his Regulars can act with more advantage, against new rais’d Troops, than in ruff strong Ground. Besides when Hannibal waged War against the Romans he went to Rome. The sensible among them have given over the Idea of conquering the Country; this and the reasons above mentioned, perswade me General Howe intends for Rome, in hopes if he gets possession of it, in the Panic created by it, to bring America to a Negociation, as he cannot conquer. I sincerly wish all the Public Stores were out of that City. The Vesseau de Frize may be some security against Ships, but none against Troops. I am informed they are in a State of Security. In the hurry of an Alarm, I fear the Stores will be neglected. Accept of my grateful acknowledgments for your attention to my Boys. There is so little prospect of success in recruiting, that I do not incline to push Mr McDougall an useless Pensi⟨oner⟩ on the Continent. I keep him attentive to Briga⟨de⟩ duty, and reading. Something may cast up in which he may be serviceable.11 My Brigade Major mentioned to me, the Pay of Adjutants being greater than that of Brigade Major’s, I confess it never struck me before. I think there is an impropriety in this Arrangment, which Congress did not advert to. I have the Honor to be Sir Your Obedient humble Servant

Alexr McDougall

Col. Reneau is appointed agreeable to your wish.12

LS, DLC:GW; ADf, CSmH. The postscript on the LS is in McDougall’s writing. Robert Hanson Harrison mistakenly docketed the LS “Genl McDougal 14th April 1777 Ansd 16th.” GW received the letter on the evening of 16 April and answered it on 17–18 April.

2McDougall neglected to enclose this document (see GW to McDougall, 17–18 April). It has not been identified. The deputy commissary at Peekskill was William Paulding.

3GW’s letter to the New York convention of 10 Feb. 1777 regarding the inoculation of Continental recruits was read by the committee of safety on 13 Feb., and on that date it appointed two of its members, Col. Gilbert Drake and William Paulding, a committee to confer with McDougall about “a proper place for inoculating” the recruits, “the number to be inoculated at one time, and the number of days to be between the inoculation of each party” (N.Y. Prov. Congress Journals description begins Journals of the Provincial Congress, Provincial Convention, Committee of Safety, and Council of Safety of the State of New-York, 1775–1776–1777. 2 vols. Albany, 1842. (Microfilm Collection of Early State Records). description ends , 1:806).

4Samuel Adams, Jr. (1751–1788), son of the Boston Patriot Samuel Adams (1722–1803), graduated from Harvard College in 1770 and studied medicine under another leading Patriot, Dr. Joseph Warren. A practicing physician in Boston by 1773, Samuel Adams, Jr., remained in the British-occupied city until June 1775 when he escaped to the American lines. By August 1775 Adams was one of several surgeons in the Continental hospital at Cambridge, and the following spring he moved with the hospital staff to New York. In October 1776 Adams was posted with surgeon Charles McKnight at a hospital at North Castle, N.Y., and in November he and McKnight were ordered to open a hospital at Peekskill. Unable to find a suitable place in or near the town, they soon established the hospital at Fishkill about twenty miles north of Peekskill. Adams was at the Fishkill hospital as late as November 1777, and in November 1778 he was surgeon of the general hospital at Danbury, Connecticut. Adams left the army before the end of the war and resumed his medical practice in Boston.

5For the origins of this false report, see John Warren to GW, 30 April. For GW’s insistence on proceeding with the inoculations, see GW to McDougall, 17–18 April and GW to Isaac Foster, 18 April.

7McDougall says in the enclosed copy of his letter to Samuel Holden Parsons of 3 April: “I am entirely agreed with you, that the Arms in the public Stores, are for the use of the Army generally, and not for any particular State as such. Nor do I know any part of my Conduct, or even my thoughts to have been expressive of any other Idea. When you first wrote for the 500 Stand for Colo. Douglass’s Regiment, I gave no interruption to their being selected and Boxed; but wrote General Heath on the Subject. In this I mention’d my apprehensions to him, of the want of Arms fit for Service, for the Troops rais’d in this State, who wou’d then probably be called into Service before yours (as the event has prov’d), desiring his Advice, and direction on the Subject of issuing the Arms, well knowing the Idea of Jelousy wou’d be rais’d. His answer was, to let the 500 go, and write you on the inexpediency of sending more; I think I forwarded to you by Colo. Hall, a Copy of his on the Subject. I was so tenacious of holding the Arms, for such Troops, as shou’d first take the Field in this Quarter, that I wou’d not issue any for Colo. Gansevoort’s Regiment, rais’d in this State, but it shou’d be determin’d, whether, he was to be Order’d, to the Northward; and if so, whether there were Arms at Albany for them. But I did not receive an Answer till I was oblig’d, to order that Regiment down, to this Post, for the defence of it. Before this, his Excellency the General order’d 400 Arms for Colo. Webb of Stanford, which were sent off, before the Enemy Landed here; by which Twenty of Colo. Cortlandt’s Regiment were without Arms, when that Event happen’d. Altho’ there were many Arms deliver’d here, yet many of them, were of bad Quality, and others in bad Order, your State has had more choice of them than any other. The Troops of this, have not had one third of the Number they were appointed with last Campaign. I believe you saw their Arms were of as good a Quality, as any on the Ground, for the utmost pains were taken to collect them. But regardless of the Considerations of who delivered in most, or the best Quality, I was determin’d to deliver the Arms, to the first Troops, which were ready to use them; and on this principle I have conducted with those of this State, they receive no Arms for Regiments, as such, but for the number of Men they have fit for Duty. This is a rule of conduct, I flatter myself will meet your Approbation, and that of every Man who wishes well to the Service.

“There are a number of Arms at Fish-Kill, which want some little repair; Colo. Bradley had an Order for 200 of them, which he said wou’d Arm the first Division that wou’d March. This will make 1100 Arms sent to your State; and if my Memory serves me, the Colo. inform’d me, it wou’d be some time before a greater Number than this, will be able to March. To deliver out a number of Arms for Regiments, without regard to the Number of Men fit for Duty, I think will neither meet yours, nor the General’s Approbation. For such management will scatter the Arms, and those who draw them will be unwilling to part with them to other Corps, however pressing the demand, or unable the Corps who possesses them, may be to use them. If these apprehensions are not well founded; let those who have more Arms than Men, spare to those who have not. If this is done, whenever the number of recruits fit for Duty, exceed the Arms sent to your State, if you will write for the difference to be put in Order, and deliver’d to such as you know shall want them, I will supply the Order as far as it shall be in my power” (DLC:GW).

8This return has not been identified.

9For the New York convention’s resolutions of 3 April regarding exemption from militia drafts, see the N.Y. Prov. Congress Journals description begins Journals of the Provincial Congress, Provincial Convention, Committee of Safety, and Council of Safety of the State of New-York, 1775–1776–1777. 2 vols. Albany, 1842. (Microfilm Collection of Early State Records). description ends , 1:863–64. For the drafting of one-third of the militia of Westchester, Dutchess, Ulster, and Orange counties for active service, see the convention’s resolution of 25 Mar., ibid., 848, and Gen. George Clinton’s orders of 31 Mar. in 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 , 1:688–89.

10McDougall is referring to Gen. James Wolfe’s 1759 defeat of the marquis de Montcalm at Quebec.

11For GW’s offer to allow McDougall’s son, Ranald Stephen McDougall, to raise a company, see GW’s second letter to McDougall of 15 Mar. 1777.

12McDougall apparently is referring to Pierre Regnier de Roussi (see GW to McDougall, 21 Mar. 1777, NjP).

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