George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General James Mitchell Varnum, 19 November 1777

From Brigadier General James Mitchell Varnum

Haddonfield [N.J.] Novr 19th 5 P.M. 1777.

This Morning my flying Camp was removed from Woodberry, to this Place, as a more fit Situation for benefiting Red Bank. One principal Inducement was a Concurrance of Reports that the Enemy from Philadelphia were to form a Junction with those from Billings port.1 In w’ch Case we have a proper position for attacking the Party first mentioned, & thereby facilitate the Retreat of the Garrison over Timber Creek, w’ch, otherwise would be impracticable. My Pickets have just informed me from Manto Creek Bridge, Santon, that the Enemy moved, three Hours since, with about one Thousand towards that Bridge, but as it was taken up, which they could not fail knowing, I imagine their principal Manœuvre was filing off from their Rear to their Right, in Order to cross five Miles above, where the Creek is easily fordible. Should this be the Case, I fear the Garrison must Retreat in the Morning. However, I am this Moment going to Red Bank, & its Vicinity to satisfy myself more fully, & consult with Colo. Greene: I am so fully of Opinion that they will bend their whole Force to get full Possession of the Jersey shore, rather than I shall recommend holding the Post longer than otherwise, thinking that you will contend with them here, in great force, rather than suffer their Points to be carried. Nevertheless, not knowing what your Result may be, I shall not suffer the Garrison to be sacrificed upon Conjecture, but continue them as Long as I can cover them.

That most of the Troops have left Philadelphia, appears, in Corroberation of your Excellencys Intelligence, by daily Deserters who come to me I have no Doubt of it, and am fully of your Opinion respecting their Intentions. I have Accounts from Billingsport, by Deserters, two of whome came to me last Night, of the sixty third Regiment, that their Force consists of three British Regiments from New York, fifty five Rank & File in a Company. I am induced to believe the Calculation true in part, as all the recruits from England have joined in New York. Some Companies of Guards, three and an half Hessian Battalions, Two Green Coats, & Preston’s Regiment of Horse.2 These in Addition to those before there. I have nothing more to add, but that I am sincerely, your Excellency’s most obd. Servt

J. M. Varnum

By Major Ward, I now have your favor of this Day: am much obliged for the Reinforcment proposed; but can not think much of the Militia of this part of Jersey.3 A Regt from the Eastern part has left us to Day, but another, larger, came to us.

ALS, DLC:GW. Varnum signed a pass on the cover: “The Express will pass.”

1Although the specific reports that Varnum is referring to have not been identified, rumors of a British crossing opposite Philadelphia to support Cornwallis’s advance on Red Bank, N.J., from Billingsport also were reaching GW’s ears; see John Clark, Jr., to GW and Charles Craig to GW (second letter), both this date.

2For an earlier report confirming this intelligence about the size and makeup of the British reinforcements from New York, see Philemon Dickinson to GW, 6 Nov., and note 1. British officer John André gives the makeup of the reinforcements in his journal entry for 17 Nov.: “Sir Thomas Wilson with the Troops from New York, viz: the 7th, 26th, 63d, two Battalions of Anspach, and Corps of Jägers landed on the Jersey shore at Billingsport. They were joined there by Lord Cornwallis” (André, Journal description begins John André. Major André’s Journal: Operations of the British Army under Lieutenant Generals Sir William Howe and Sir Henry Clinton, June 1777 to November 1778. 1930. Reprint. New York, 1968. description ends , 64). George Preston (d. 1785), who had served in the British army at least since 1757, obtained a colonel’s commission in February 1762 and was promoted to major general in May 1772 and to lieutenant general in August 1777. Preston became colonel of the 17th Regiment of Light Dragoons in November 1770 and retained that position until April 1782, when he transferred to the 2d Regiment of Light Dragoons and apparently left America.

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