George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General James Mitchell Varnum, 11 November 1777

From Brigadier General James Mitchell Varnum

Woodberry [N.J.] 11th Novr 12 oClock P.M. 1777.1


I am this Moment returned from Fort Mifflin—Every Defence is almost destroyed. Poor Colo. Smith is on this Shore, slightly wounded—I have ordered the Cannon, least in Use, to be brought off—Lt Colo. [Giles] Russell of Colo. Durkee’s Battalion, commands. I have ordered the Garrison to defend at all Events, ’till your Pleasure can be known. Nothing shall be wanting to support them, which we can give. They cannot hold out more than two Days. Colo. Smith urges an Evacuation still; At least, to continue a small Garrison only, w’ch might be bro’t off occasionally.2 I cannot acceed to the Measure, as long as we have lost but few Men. The Enemy have pass’d seven Boats this Evening between the Fort and Province Island. The Cannonade is renewed; If as great Injury should take Place tomorrow as to Day, we may be obliged to relinquish the Place. I wish to know your Will—The Fort shall be held, at all Events, ’till then.

Your Commands of this Day, just came to Hand. I am much obliged.

At Red Bank, an Eighteen Pounder burst, One Man killed and several wounded; At the two Gun Battery, a Serjt killed and one wounded.

The Baron ought to know whither he shall go farther than this, as he is extremely unwell. I am your Excellency’s most devotedly

J. M. Varnum

ALS, DLC:GW. Varnum signed a pass on the cover: “This goes by Express, who is to pass unmolested.”

1This letter was written on the evening of this date (see GW’s second letter to Varnum, 12 Nov.).

2Varnum apparently enclosed Lt. Col. Samuel Smith’s letter to him of this date, written at Fort Mifflin, Pennsylvania. The actual enclosed letter has not been identified, but a Sprague transcript of it located in DLC:GW reads: “I am clearly of your opinion to keep the fort to the last extremity. which in my opinion may as well be done with 100 as 500 men. By tomorrow night every thing will be levelled—our block houses next the enemy are almost destroyed—the N. West Block has but one piece of canon fit for service—one side of it is entirely fallen down—they have begun on that next Read’s House & dismounted two pieces—the pallisades next the meadow are levelled; the small battery in front of the gate torn up—the 12 pound battery torn up also—The wall is broke thro’ in different places—In fine should they storm us I think we must fall—however even as it is your opinion I will keep the garrison tho’ I lose mine and my soldiers lives. I hope the night may prove sufficiently favorable to get out some of our canon; and then should we fall, you may still defend the River. I am now without 18[-pound battery] Cartouches—must beg you will send me 300 which will serve me tomorrow—it must be done in the night—I would advise the garrison to be withdrawn except about 50 men, who could just keep up the same fire that is done now, and might escape in case of a storm—This would be my advice—’Tis true I fight for glory, but at the same time must study the general good. . . . Reflect if they make the attack that their canon will be placed against our Blockhouse in which case no man can stay in them. I except to see the whole of the N.W. Blockhouse fall every minute. If you should be of my opinion send boats in the first place to get over the canon, and before day take off the men leaving as I Mentioned.” The original cover, which is in DLC:GW and is addressed to “Brig. Gen. Varnum Redbank,” contains GW’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman’s docket, “11th November 1777 from Colo. Smith.”

Index Entries