George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Brigadier General James Mitchell Varnum, 7 November 1777

To Brigadier General James Mitchell Varnum

Head Quarters [Whitemarsh, Pa.] 7th Novemr 1777


From various accounts I am convinced that the Enemy are upon the point of making a grand effort upon Fort Mifflin. A person in confidence of one of their principal artificers thinks it will be to day or tomorrow.1 No time is therefore to be lost in making that Garrison as respectable as your numbers will admit, for should the attack commence before they are reinforced, it may probably be out of your power to throw them in. I think you had better, for the present, draw all the Continental Troops into or near Forts Mercer and Mifflin, and let what Militia are collected, lay without; for I am of opinion that they will rather dismay than assist the continental troops if shut up in the Forts. Acquaint the Commodore that my informant says there are three floating Batteries and some fire Rafts prepared, which are to fall down upon his fleet at the same time that the Island is attacked, and desire him to keep a look out and make the necessary preparations to receive them.2 As Fort Mercer cannot be attacked without considerable previous notice, I would have you spare as many men to Fort Mifflin as you possibly can, for if accounts are to be depended upon, that is undoubtedly the post the Enemy have their designs upon—I am very anxious to hear what was the occasion of the heavy firing of Musketry on the Evening of the 5th it seemed to us to be at Fort Mifflin.3 I am Sir Yr most obt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, PaVfNHP; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1GW’s informant has not been identified, but for other intelligence concerning an impending British assault on Fort Mifflin, see John Clark, Jr., to GW and Henry Lee, Jr., to GW, both 3 November.

2For the floating batteries constructed by the British for use in their attack on Fort Mifflin, see James Potter to GW, 3 Nov., and note 2, and Charles Craig to GW, 8 Nov., and note 1.

3Although a sharp artillery and naval action took place on the Delaware River on the afternoon of 5 Nov., which Varnum described in his letter to GW of 6 Nov., GW seems to be referring to the exchange of small arms about which John Laurens wrote his father Henry Laurens on 7 Nov.: “Our anxiety had been raised in camp, by a report that a heavy firing of Musquetry had been heard for a considerable time on the evening of the same day—it turns out to be nothing more than a few single guns which Potters militia and the Enemys Detachment on province Island make a practice of firing at each other without comg to any action” (Laurens Papers description begins Philip M. Hamer et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Laurens. 16 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003. description ends , 12:33).

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