George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton, 12 November 1777

From Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton

New Windsor [N.Y.] November 12th 1777

Dear Sir,

I have been detained here these two days, by a fever and violent rheumatic pains throughout my body.1 This has prevented my being active in person for promoting the purposes of my errand, but I have taken every other method in my power, in which Governor Clinton has obligingly given me all the aid he could. In answer to my pressing application to General Poor for the immediate marching of his brigade, I was told they were under an operation for the itch, which made it impossible for them to proceed till the effects of it were over. By a letter however of yesterday, General Poor informs me he would certainly march this morning.2 I must do him the justice to say, he appears solicitous to join you; and that I beleive the past delay is not owing to any fault of his, but is wholly chargeable on General Putnam. Indeed Sir, I owe it to the service to say, that every part of this Gentleman’s conduct is marked with blunder and negligence, and gives general disgust.

Parson’s brigade will join you I hope, in five or six days from this. Larned’s may do the same. Poors will, I am persuaded, make all the haste they can for the future, and Glovers may be expected at Fish Kill tonight, whence they will be pushed forward, as fast as I can have any influence to make them go; but I am sorry to say, the disposition for marching in the officers and men in general of these troops, does not keep pace with my wishes or the exigency of the occasion. They have unfortunately imbibed an idea that they have done their part of the business of the campaign and are now intitled to repose. This and the want of pay make them averse to a long march at this advanced season.

A letter from you to General Putnam of the 9th fell just now into my hands. As it might possibly contain something useful to me, I took the liberty of opening it and after reading it, immediately dispatched it to him. If he has paid any attention to my last letters to him,3 things will be in a right train for executing the order in yours; but whether he has or not is a matter of doubt. In a letter from him just now received by Governor Clinton, he appears to have been the 10th Instant at Kings street, at the White-plains4—I have had no answer to my last applications.

The enemy appear to have stripped New York very bare. The people there (that is the tories) are in a very great fright. This adds to my anxiety, that the reinforcements from this quarter to you, are not in greater forwardness and more considerable.

I have written to General Gates, informing him of the accounts of the situation of New York, with respect to troops, and the probability of the force gone to Howe being greater than was at first expected—to try if this will not extort from him a further reinforcement.5 I don’t however expect much from him; as he pretends to have in view an expedition against Ticonderoga, to be undertaken in the Winter, and he knows, that under the sanction of this idea, calculated to catch the Eastern people, he may without ⟨cen⟩sure retain the troops. And as I shall be ⟨under⟩ a necessity of speaking plainly to Yr ⟨Exce⟩lly when I have the pleasure of seeing ⟨you,⟩ I shall not hesitate to say, I doubt whethe⟨r⟩ you would have had a man from the Northern army if the whole could have been kept at Albany, with any decency. Perhaps you will think me blameable in not having exercised the powers you gave me, and given a positive order—Perhaps I have been so; but deliberately weighing all circumstances—I did not and do not think it advisable to do it. I have the honor to be With Unfeigned esteem & regard Yr Excellys Most Obedt servt

A. Hamilton

ALS, DLC: Hamilton Papers. The text in angle brackets is torn off the manuscript.

1For Hamilton’s illness, see also Hamilton to GW, 10 Nov., n.10.

2This letter has not been identified.

3Hamilton is referring to his letters to Israel Putnam of 5 and 9 Nov. (see Hamilton to GW, 6 Nov., and note 4, and Putnam to GW, 14 Nov., n.5).

4Hamilton is referring to Israel Putnam’s letter to George Clinton of 10 Nov., written at “Head Quarters, King’s Street,” which reads: “The night before last I arrived at this place, and shall this day proceed down towards the Plains; yesterday General [Samuel Holden] Parsons and myself was down at East Chester, and within three miles of King’s Bridge; from every appearance the enemy seems much frightened. They have called in all their outguards, and collected their main force at the Bridge. Deserters come in very fast, and from every acct. I am able to procure, their strength at the Bridge are about 2500. The inclosed you have a late paper (which in my opinion) paints their distress in many particulars” (Ford, Webb Correspondence and Journals description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed. Correspondence and Journals of Samuel Blachley Webb. 3 vols. New York, 1893–94. description ends , 1:385–86).

5On this date Hamilton drafted a letter to Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates from Fishkill, N.Y., which was recopied and sent out under a 13 Nov. dateline: “Since my arrival in this quarter, I have been endeavouring to collect the best idea I could, of the state of things in New York, in order the better to form a judgment of the probable reinforcement gone to General Howe. On the whole, these are facts well ascertained, that New York has been stripped extremely bare—That in consequence of this the few troops left there and the inhabitants are under so strong apprehensions of an attack as almost to amount to a panic dread—That to supply the deficiency of men, every effort is making to excite the citizens to arms in defence of the city—And for this purpose, the public papers are full of addresses to them that speak plainly the alarm prevailing on the occasion.

“I infer from hence, that a very formidable reinforcement is gone to General Howe. The calculations made by those who have had the best opportunities of judging make the number from 6 to 7000. If so—the number gone and going to General Washington is far inferior—5000 at the utmost. The militia were all detained by General Putnam ’till it became too late to send them.

“The state of things I gave you when I had the pleasure of seeing you was, to the best of my knowlege, sacredly true. I give you the present information, that you may decide whether any further succour can with propriety come from you.

“The fleet with the troops on board sailed out of the Hook the 5th Instant. This circumstance demonstrates beyond a possibility of doubt, that it is General Howe’s fixed intention to endeavour to hold Philadelphia, at all hazards, and removes all danger of any further operations up the North River this winter: otherwise this movement at so advanced a season is altogether inexplicable.

“If you can with propriety afford more aid, the most expeditious mode of conveying it will be to acquaint General Putnam of it that he may send on the troops with him to be replaced by them. You Sir best know the uses to which the troops with you are destined and will determine accordingly; I am certain, it is not His Excellency’s wish to interrupt any plan you may have formed for the benefit of the service so far as it can possibly be avoided, consistent with a due attention to more important objects” (NHi: Gates Papers; see also Syrett, Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 1:362–63).

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