George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General David Forman, 26 October 1777

From Brigadier General David Forman

Red Bank Fort [N.J.] 26th October 1777


Your Excelys favr of the 22d Directed to me at The Salt works Unfortunately Went to The Salt Works by the lower road at The Same Time I came to Freehold by the upper, by Which means your Excelys orders ware not handed me untill Friday afternoon1—previous to Which I had recd an Express giveing an Acct of The Defeat of the Troops your Excly mentioned to have Crossed to Attack the Fort and Their retreat2 —Nevertheless being fully Impressed with The Importance This post is of to us and Equally so to The British Army, I made no Doubt but a second Attempt would shortly be made—I Therefore gave Directions for The Troops that Could be possably spared from that station Vizt one hundred to Hold Themselves in readiness to march Next Day, Vizt Saturday—& Early in The Morning Come forward my self to if possable give a Spurr to the Burlington Militia to put Them in motion—But am sorry to Inform your Excely that Neither our Late sucksesses or The Danger of haveing Their Country ravaged gives that spring to Thir spirits that is Necessary to bring Them out—I have however in The Most Express manner ordered The Colols to Exert Themselves and am in hopes that a few Days will produce Two or Three hundred men.

The Lower Militia under Genl Newcomb have not as yet produced a Single Man—As being Elder in Command Then Newcomb I have taken The Liberty This Day to Issue orders for Their Immediate Assembling, and Will from Time to Time do every thing in my power to Assemble Them.

I got to This post before Noon This day and recd Information from The Commidore That his Boats on Guard Last Night near The mouth of Schoolkill Heard a Constant rumbling of Wagons Comeing from Philada Ward, and Crossing over to Province Island from Ten oClock untill Near Day Break—Colol Green informs me that he saw a Large Body of men passing The Ferry;3 at one Time They Could Discover that Those who had Crossed wore Difrent Uniformes, Some red, some Blue—& that a Very Considerable body ware Waiting on the Crossway and in The Woods on Philada side to Cross—The Day was too Dark to make any Nice Discoveries—When I Got Down There ware plainly to be discovered a Large Number of Wagons on The Cross way—but it soon became to Hazy to Discover whether They Crossed to The Island or returned4—at four oClock I was informed that a Body of British Troops had landed at Billingsport last Evening in Thirty five Boats5—I Think from the Accts its tolerably well Ascertaind that There are some troops There, but the Time of Their Landing and Number Of boats appear reather a loose Acct not to be depended on, The Garrison at red Bank has been lately so Exceedingly Fatigued and in its size Small that They have not been able to keep any party on the Shorr—The Movements of Last Night & to Day amongst The Enemy has Occasioned The officer Commanding at Fort Miflin to Imagine They Mean to Attack that fort and has This day Drawn a reinforcement of Seventy men from Colol Green and Wished to have Drawn 100 more.6

I make no Doubt but The Gents. request to Colol Green was Judicous as it respects fort Mifflin, But at The same Time am fully Convinced that Colol Green Would in Case of An Attack Absolutely stand in need not only of These men but a grateer Number to Defend it. As Soon as any of my Troops Arrive I will send as many of Them into The Fort as Will Compleatly mann it.

By Thise means the fort will be in as good a State of Defence as before The Late Attack should They make a Second Attempt to Carry it by Assault, but should They Attempt to take The Fort by regular Approaches They will be so many men Lost.

The Gent. who have been on This Station for some Time may be better able to Judge of The Enemies Movements of last Night and This day Then I can—it may be that The Immediately mean to Attack Fort Mifflin or Red Bank or Booth, But I should reather be of opinion (from The Acct of Their Wagons moveing all Night) That they ware Moveing There stores and Baggage from Philada, aCross Province Island & to Chester—Tomorow Morning will perhaps Determine. I have The Honr to be yr Excelys Most obdt Humble Servt

David Forman


1The previous Friday was 24 October. Forman was a partner in the saltworks being constructed at Barnegat, New Jersey. Other saltworks along the Monmouth County coast were at Toms River, the Shark River, and Little Egg Harbor.

2For accounts of the unsuccessful Hessian attack on Fort Mercer at Red Bank, N.J., on 22 Oct., see Samuel Ward, Jr., to GW, 23 Oct., and note 2.

3Forman is referring to Webb’s Ferry, near the mouth of the Schuylkill River.

4For other reports of British troops and wagons crossing the Schuylkill River at Webb’s Ferry, see John Hazelwood’s and Samuel Smith’s letters to GW of this date, and Adam Comstock to GW, 27 October.

5Hessian major Carl Leopold Baurmeister says that “On the 25th of October Major General [Charles] Grey marched to Billingsport with eight hundred English troops, that is, four brigades of two hundred men each. Heavy artillery will follow him, so that he may take Red Bank in good form and also make an attack on Mud Island from that side” (Baurmeister, Revolution in America description begins Carl Leopold Baurmeister. Revolution in America: Confidential Letters and Journals, 1776–1784, of Adjutant General Major Baurmeister of the Hessian Forces. Translated and annotated by Bernhard A. Uhlendorf. New Brunswick, N.J., 1957. description ends , 128). This force included British marines (see Scull, Montresor Journals description begins G. D. Scull, ed. The Montresor Journals. New York, 1882. In Collections of the New-York Historical Society, vol. 14. description ends , 471; see also Lord Howe to William Cornwallis, 25 Oct., and Cornwallis to Lord Howe, 26 Oct., in Naval Documents description begins William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. 12 vols. to date. Washington, D.C., 1964–. description ends , 10:293, 306).

6Colonel Arendt, the current commander of Fort Mifflin, wrote Alexander Hamilton on this date: “The Ammunition which Col. Smith wrote for, is arrived—I have only kept in this place a Sufficiency in case of Attack, and given the rest to the Custody of the Fleet.

“I continue to employ our men in strengthening the weak parts of our Fort, and should make a greater progress but for the reasons alledged in my last.

“I am still Clearly of opinion that our Garrison is vastly too weak—it would take 800 men to line the Works with a single Rank—Mr Fleury is of the same opinion. We could not make a vigorous Resistance with the present Garrison—To remedy this defect in some measure and to guard against a nocturnal Surprise which we dread most, I have desired Col. [Christopher] Green to spare us every night an hundred men from Red bank to be return’d to him each morning at day break— The best defence this place can make is by distant fight, the Enemy must be kept at bay and not Suffer’d to land—but as we can see nothing at night and cannot bring the Canon to bear, all this part of the defence depends upon the Fleet. It would therefore be proper to have the whole Fleet stationed here at night in order to be at hand—for they would not arrive in time upon our giving the Signal for them. The Commodore [Hazelwood] sometimes only sends us Galleys, sometimes nothing more than armed boats, which may serve to keep a lookout but would be of no avail for defence, besides they are not sent to us ’till night—I have made frequent Remonstrances to the Commodore on these points.

“Last night we had a false alarm—we heard the Sound of Oars and my Garrison was immediately under Arms. but it proved to be only some of the Enemys Guardboats.

“I have been inform’d to day that 16 Boats laden with Troops the number of which is not known, had cross’d the Schuylkil to land at Province Island—if this be true, we shall have reason to be apprehensive to night, as it will be very dark on account of the rainy weather, I shall be on my guard to avoid Surprise, and have sent to give the Commodore notice. I am in most excruciating pain, can scarcely move, and nothing but honour would have detained me here so long. The Surgeon here thinks badly of my Case. I had determined to go and spend some days at a house in the neighborhood of Red bank, hoping that Repose and a better Air might relieve me, and finding it impossible to hold out here any longer—but the news abovementioned makes me resolve to stay this night and defer my Removal ’till to morrow morning—I am persuaded that His Excellency will not take it amiss.

“Col. Smith who is well acquainted with this place, its defence, and my Intentions respecting them, will make every necessary arrangement in my absence to maintain harmony between himself and Colo. [John] Green—I must do him the justice to say that he is a good Officer and I wish America a great many of the same cast. I must render the same justice likewise to Maj. Fleury who is very brave and active.

“I have just learnt that the Fleet retains the Amunition for its own use, the officers pretending it was destined for them and not for us.

“The Strength of this Fort consists at present in 300 men who might do Duty in case of attack—tho among these there are some sick—I have appointed near thirty men to assist Capt. Treat of the Artillery, but he says he should have 70 more, The Reinforcement that I think necessary is as follows—500 Infantry 70 Artillerymen. Total 570. Amongst the Cannons of the Battery and others, there are some which we cannot well use.”

In a continuation of his letter, dated 27 Oct. “8 OClock in the morning,” Arendt says: “The night has pass’d without any Event. Colonel [Christopher] Green Did not send the 100 men, prevented I suppose by the Weather—No Movement of the Enemy—as you receive many informations respecting them, you may be able to judge better whether they meditate a Second Attack upon us.

“If they are bent upon spending this winter at Philadelphia, I think they must do it—I have pass’d a cruel night—My Disorder drives me to despair—it grows worse and worse every hour—If the Wind falls I think to cross the Delaware and take my Quarters in a house near Red bank, from whence you shall hear farther from me” (DLC:GW).

For Hazelwood’s response to Arendt’s request for increased support from the American fleet, see his letter to Arendt and Smith of 26 Oct. in Samuel Smith to GW, 26 Oct., n.5. See also Hazelwood to GW, 26 October.

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