George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Israel Putnam, 14 November 1777

From Major General Israel Putnam

Head Quarters North street [N.Y.] Novemr 14th 1777

Dear Genl

I am favd with your’s of the 4th 5th1 & 9th Instt & you will see by mine of 7th that I have detain’d Genl Warners Brigade.

The New York Regiments being annex’d to General Poors Brigade, they are exceeding unwilling to be seperated, and I knowing the disadvantages that would arrise from their being here have presumed in some measure to deviate from your excellencys Orders2—Those Regiments are principally composed of men whose former Residence was within the Enemys Lines and the little time they were down in this Quarter last summer, there was upwards of one hundred Deserters from them; mostly to the Enemy—that we should soon loose the principal part of them here—Add to this they have lately got some Cloaths and money which puts them in a much better situation to March, than most of the other Continental Troops here, besides all this they began their March before I Recd your Letter3—This sir, has Induced me to let them Continue their Rout, and in their Stead I have detain’d Wyllys’s and Meigs’s Regiments, whose Situation will by no Means admit of their Marching with that expedition which is Necessary—Near one half of them without a shoe, or Stocking, but a supply is soon expected.

Col: Charles Webbs Regt Marchd yesterday; I have directed him to advise you of his Rout by express before he arrives—I shall be happy to find this step Meets your Excellencys approbation.4

The Inclosed is a Copy of a Letter from Col. Hamilton to me—by which you will see that I am positively Orderd to send all the Continental Troops from here—this Letter Contains some most unjust and ungenerous Reflections, for I am Conscious of having done every thing in my power to succour you as speedily as possible.5

I shall go to New Windsor this day to see Col: Hamilton and untill I have your orders, I cannot think of Continuing at this Post Myself and send all the Troops away; if they should go now I am Confident Genl Howe will be further Reinforcd from this Quarter—for by Deserters, spies, and every other Corroborating Intelligence there is now on york Island the 35th 45th 52nd and 57th British four Regts of Hessians and one of Waldec.—Browns, Fannings, Byards, Robinsons, Hirlehy’s,6 and Delancys 1st & 2nd Battallion of New Levies—some say Fannings is at Powles Hook tho’ that is Immaterial—on Long Island there are none but Militia, by Information from Genl Dickinson there is about 1000 on staten Island.

I had previous to the Rect of your Letter wrote Govenor Trumbull for a Number of Militia,7 but I have my Doubts whither they will come or not, as they have been much Fatigued this summer already—the Rhode Island expedition has been of no service to us, you have doubtless heard that is drop’d and ’tis said abt 3,000 Troops Remain there.

Mr Colt has accepted of his Appointment as D: Commissary General of Purchases, I have seen him this day. he Informs me there are a Number of Cattle purchased which I shall see Immediately forwarded to you.

Sinse I came here we have had Near 50 Deserters, some from all Cores. I am Dear Genl with much Respect Your Mos. Obedt Servt

Israel Putnam


1This letter has not been found.

2The New York regiments were the state’s 2d and 4th Continental regiments, respectively commanded by colonels Philip Van Cortlandt and Henry Beekman Livingston.

3Putnam may be referring to the instructions concerning Enoch Poor’s brigade contained in GW’s letter to Putnam of 5 Nov., which has not been found.

4No letter from Col. Charles Webb to GW from this period has been identified.

5The enclosed copy of Alexander Hamilton’s letter to Putnam, written at New Windsor, N.Y., on 9 Nov., reads: “I cannot forbear Confessing that I am Astonishd and Alarm’d beyond measure, to find that all his Excellency’s Views have been hitherto flustrated, and that no single step of those I mention’d to you has been taken to afford him the Aid he absolutely stands in need of, and by Delaying which, the Cause of America is put to the Utmost conceivable Hazard.

“I so fully explaind to you the Generals situation, that I could not entertain a Doubt you would make it the first object of your Attention to Reinforce him with that speed the exegency of affairs demanded; but I am sorry to say, he will have too much Reason to think other Objects, in Comparison with that Insignificant, have been Uppermost—I speak freely, and emphatically—because I tremble at the Consequences of the Delay has hapned—General Clintons Reinforcement is probly by this time with Mr Howe—this will give him a Decicive superiority over our Army—What may be the Issue of such a state of things, I Leave to the feelings of every friend to his Country, capable of foreseeing Consequences—My Expressions may prehaps have more Warmth than is altogether proper: But they proceed from the overflowing of my heart in a matter where I conceive this Continent essentially Interested—I wrote to you from Albany, desired you would send a thousand Continental Troops of those first proposed to be left with you—This I Understand has not been done—how the Non Complyance can be answerd to Genl Washington you can best Determine.

“I now sir, in the most explicit terms, by his Excellency’s Authority, give it as a positive order from him, that all the Continental Troops under your Command may be Immediately marched to Kings Ferry, there to Cross the River and hasten to Reinforce the Army under him.

“The Massachusetts militia are to be detaind instead of them, untill the Troops coming from the Northward arrive. When they do, they will replace them, as far as I am Instructed the Troops you shall send away, in Consequence of this Requisition.

“The Generals Idea of keeping troops this way does not extend farther than Covering the Country from any little uruptions of Small parties and carrying on the Works necessary for the Security of the River—As to Attacking New York, that he thinks ought to be out of the Question at Present—If men could be spared from the other Really necessary objects he would have no objection to attempting a divertion by way of New York, but nothing further.

“As the times of the Massachusetts and New Hampshire Militia will soon expire, it will be proper to Call in time for a Reinforcement from Connecticut—Govenor Clinton will do all in his power to promote objects, in which the state he Commands in is so Immediately Concernd.

“General Glovers and Pattersons Brigades are on their way down—The Number of Continental Troops Necessary for this Post, will be furnished out of them.

“I cannot but have the fullest Confidence, you will use your Utmost exertions to execute the Business of this Letter” (DLC:GW; 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 , 1:356–57).

6Timothy Hierlihy, an Irish immigrant who served with the provincial forces during the French and Indian War and who owned land in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Florida, had joined the British forces at New York in September 1776. Commissioned lieutenant colonel of the Prince of Wales Regiment of Loyalists, he served to 1778. Hierlihy later served in another Loyalist regiment, the Nova Scotia Volunteers, and he settled in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, after the war.

7Putnam is referring to GW’s letter of 4 November.

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