George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Du Coudray, 30 August 1777

From Major General Du Coudray

Philada 30 aug. 1777.


According to the desire of the board of war I have the honour to send to your excellency a memorial which I have written yesterday, upon the request of the navy board, on the two passages of the river, after the verification that this board caused to be made of the soundings performed by me in the last week before fort Milflin, and the result where of I had the honour to give an account of verbally to your Excellency, conformable to the letter which I had directed before to Colonel hamilton, one of your aid de camps, who ought to have received that Letter since his departure from hence.1

I am waiting for an answer to the letter which I had honour to direct to your Excellency three days ago by Colonel Pinkney with regard to the nine militia men whom General Armstrong took away from the Engineer employed about the map from Walmington to Philadelphia which remains interrupted since the taking away of these militia men who are not replaced.2 I am with a great respect Sir of your Excellency The most obedient and respectful Servant

Du Coudray


1The enclosed “Memoir upon the defense of the two passages of the river viz. Billing’sport and fort Island, sent to war office and made on the request of the navy board,” dated 30 Aug. at Philadelphia, begins: “The soundings made yesterday by the navy board having confirmed those which I made last week with Mr [Arthur] Donaldson who has sunk the chevaux de frize, it is demonstrated in the most incontestable manner, that fort Milflin instead of having to act against three frigates only, as his Excellency General Washington has been assured, and as this General has informed the Congress in the letter in which he discusses the preference that ought to be given to one of these forts; it is incontestable, I say, that fort Milflin, being exposed to the fire of about fifteen frigates at a time, is thereby in a situation of being demolished in a few hours, if it be attacked in the condition in which it is at present; viz. surrounded by a single palissade, or with a wall without a terrass, which can only defend it against un coup de main, and cannot by any means resist the cannon.”

After discussing the enormous effort and expense that would be required to make the passage of the Delaware River at Fort Mifflin and Red Bank defensible, Du Coudray concludes: “it will appear evident, as I have declared in the first memorial which I laid before Congress, in the beginning of June, when they consulted me on this head, that there can be no thoughts of defending this passage of the river, unless, as I have forementionned, some reasons regarding particularly the state of Pensylvania, or the future operations of the army, should absolutely require to enable this fort to resist for some time the attacks of the ennemy.

“If these reasons do not exist, it is evident that we must confine ourselves to the defense of that passage alone of Billingsport, where the river is more than two thirds narrower, than at fort Milflin; where the ennemy can present no more than three frigates at a time; where the frigates can do very little harm to the battery which protects the chevaux de frise, because this battery being very high is safe from the reboundings of the balls and commands of the frigates; wher⟨e⟩ the Galleys and fire ships are capable of acting whith more profit and facility than at fort Milflin, as the Commodore assures, where in short the work is far advanced and proportionned to the small quantity of artillery which is at present in a state of serving.

“If the Government intends to unite all their efforts in finishing this fort, I would propose to hire, instead of militia men, work men by the day, which after an exact calculation, of all expences, will cost incomparably less, I believe, will work a great deal more and not consume such an immense quantity of tools of all kinds” (ADS, DLC:GW).

Du Coudray’s letter to Alexander Hamilton of 23 Aug., which is written in French, is in DLC:GW. For Du Coudray’s undated “Observations on the Forts intended for the Defense of the Two Passages of the River Delaware,” which he presented to Congress in early June, see Hancock to GW, 13 June 1777, and note 4.

2Du Coudray says in his letter to GW of 27 Aug., which is written in French, that the map extended from Chester to Philadelphia. Besides complaining about Gen. John Armstrong’s removal of the men from the unidentified engineer, Du Coudray informs GW that the militia had left Billingsport and Fort Island, and until more militia came, he would work on projects at Red Bank and in the Delaware River.

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