George Washington Papers

Council of War, 12 June 1777

Council of War

[Middle Brook, 12 June 1777]

At a Council of General Officers held at Head Qrs at Middle Brook, the 12th day of June 1777. Present His Excellency, the Commander in Cheif[.] Majors General Greene[,] Lord Stirling[,] Stephen[,] Lincoln[.] Brigadrs Maxwell[,] Knox[,] Varnum[,] Wayne[,] Muhlenberg[,] Weedon[,] Woodford[,] Scott[,] Conway.

His Excellency, the Commander in Cheif, informed the Council, that from various intelligence and many concurring circumstances, it was evident, General Howe had collected nearly the Whole of his Force at Brunswic in Jersey—that it appeared to him beyond doubt, that General Howe, had One of two Objects in view—either the defeat of the Army under his immediate command—or to possess himself of philadelphia1 —he stated the importance of the Highland passes & of the Fortifications on the North River, in & contiguous to the Highlands, And then proposed the following Questions.

Question, Will it be expedient in the present conjuncture of things & from the information received, to draw any & what part of the Troops stationed at Peeks Kills near the Highlands, to reinforce this Army?

Answer—All The Troops should be drawn from Peeks Kills to reinforce the Army in Jersey, except One thousand effectives of the Continental Regiments—This Number with the Convalescents & such Militia as are there & can be occasionally drawn in, is esteemed sufficient to defend the posts there under the present Appeareances of Affairs.

Question Will it not be necessary to post Troops at Morristown to preserve it, as a post of Communication? If it will, what number of Men whould be stationed there?

Answer It will be necessary to maintain that post—The Detachment of Connecticut Troops under Lieutt Colo. Butler & the Two Wyoming Independent Companies should be employed in that service.

Question, What will be the best mode of promotion of Feild & Other inferior Officers in the Army?

Answer All Officers below the rank of a Major, should rise regimentally. Officers of that rank & superior, should be promoted on a larger Scale, Viz. on the line of their State. These Rules however, though they should be observed in general cases, where there lies no objection, should not be established as conclusive, or prevent promotion for particular merit.

Original Minutes
Rob. H: Harrison Secretary

ADS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

Following this council of war, which was held on the evening of this date, GW’s aide-de-camp Robert Hanson Harrison wrote the following letter to Maj. Gen. John Sullivan:

“His Excellency was favoured with Yours of to day. The Intelligence contained in it agrees with that nearly, which I transmitted last night.

“I have it in command to inform you, that in a Council of General Officers held this Evening, among Other points, your situation was taken into consideration. After the matter was viewed & examined by the Maps of the Country &c., It was concluded by the Board, that you do not appear to be so secure at your present post as could be wished. Many reasons were urged or rather suggested, tending to shew, that the Enemy might attempt to get on your left and effect it. As such an Event would probably be attended with injurious not to say fatal consequences, the Council advise ‘that you take post on the High grounds of Rocky Hill near the Bridge at the Two Mills over Millstone, called Rocky Hill Bridge’ unless you are certain, that you can allways make a safe & secure retreat towards the Mountains from where you are.’ It appeared to them on consideration of the matter, that the post advised will have every advantage, which your present has, without being Subject to the same inconveniences. From that you will be as well able to cover the road leading immediately from the Bridge to Penny Town, & also will be secure in your retreat to join the Main body of the Army.

“His Excellency desires you will not forget the charge in your Instructions. You are by no means to risk a General Action—All he expects and all he wishes, is, that you will harrass the Enemy by incessant parties when they attempt to march through the Country. He would have your Baggage—and Artillery sent off on the first notice of their Approach, as he would not have either hazarded—he says, the Artillery will be in imminent danger of being lost, should it be used & that he considers it entirely unnecessary, as the advantages expected from your force are from their acting altogether as light Troops.

“As there is the strongest reason to beleive (from the Accounts received at all hands) that the Enemy are on the point of moving, His Excellency thinks it will be right for you to assemble & embody the Militia immediately—they cannot in his Opinion be collected too soon nor in too great Numbers. Those under Colo. Reed at Borden Town or in that Neighbourhood, he requests you to call upon directly & to add ’em to your force. He also desires that Colo. Moylan will forthwith order All his Corps from Philadelphia or elsewhere to join him—Armed or not—he conceives they will be in great demand.

“There is One thing more which he requests, Which is, That you will prevail upon the well affected part of the Inhabitants to ride constantly to him with intelligence after you hear the Enemy are in Motion, as It may have a most happy effect on his own & may enable him to take proper advantages of their situation.

“I will be done wishing you much happiness & Success” (DLC:GW).

1The British forces under the command of Gen. William Howe, amounting to approximately 18,000 troops, moved to New Brunswick, N.J., in the first week of June 1777. Howe himself arrived in New Jersey on 9 June 1777, and a few days after, according to a contemporary journal account written by a British officer apparently on command with Howe’s staff, “the troops marched from Brunswick, with twelve pontoons, leaving the flat boats behind. The front of the army halted a little beyond Sommerset court house, in Hillsborough township, about ten miles advanced; and the head quarters were taken up at Middlebush. Nothing material happened here—some of our flanking parties now and then skermished with detached bodies of the rebels, but their main force kept at a distance, very strongly situated amongst the blue mountains, where they had taken post some time before. Orders were given for throwing up some redouts—three at middle bush, and one farther on the road, near sommerset court house. These works we looked upon as intended posts of communication, when the army should move forward—but before they were compleated the work was suddenly stoped; and the fifth day we returned to Brunswick. Mr Washington did not seem inclined to quit his strong situation, and meet us in the field—and perhaps it was thought advisable to attack him there. The day after our return the pontoons were sent under a strong escort to Amboy, and immediately imbarked on board a ship waiting there for them. The next day the stores and baggage were sent, and the day following the troops quited Brunswick. Some parties of the rebels hung upon our rear at first, but did us no damage. On the arrival of the troops at Amboy, the baggage waggons &c were conveyed across the ferry to Staten Island as fast as possible—Whilst this was doing, intelligence was brought that very large bodies of the rebels were coming down and were near at hand—Upon which the troops (leaving a sufficient number to guard Amboy) were ordered to advance in three columns, by different ways; in hopes of geting round them. Lord Cornwallis fel in with a body of them, between two and three thousand under the command of Lord Sterling (as he is called here)—they were very soon dispersed with considerable loss of killed and wounded, and three pieces of their cannon taken with seventy prisoniers. It seemes Mr. Washington had not moved his main body, which consisted of about eight thousand men, as was at first imagined, and much wished for—therefore the troops again returned to Amboy. The stores and baggage being by this time all got over to Staten Island, the troops immediately followed—marched across the Island, and encamped near the watering place, when the ships were ordered to rendevous to receive them” (“Howe’s Military Operations in 1777,” description begins Robert Francis Seybolt, ed. “A Contemporary British Account of General Sir William Howe’s Military Operations in 1777.” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, n.s., 40 (1930): 69–92. description ends 73–74). When GW learned that the British had not brought with them the bateaux and bridge sections that they had built for crossing the Delaware River, he conjectured that Howe intended to attack his forces, not invade Philadelphia. With an effective force of fewer than 7,400 troops, GW was content to wait behind his fortifications at Middlebrook. For five days the Americans harassed the British troops until Howe returned to New Brunswick, burning houses and barns along the way. For one British officer’s reaction to the retreat of the British army and speculation about Howe’s apparent motive for retreating, see Ambrose Serle’s journal entry for 19 June 1777 in GW to d’Annemours, that date, note 2.

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