George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General Alexander McDougall, 16 March 1778

To Major General Alexander McDougall

Head Quarters Valley Forge 16th March 1778

Dear Sir

I was favd with yours of the 17th ulto in due time, and should have proceeded immediately upon the business of the enquiry had not General Putnam’s private Affairs required his Absence for some little time1: I have appointed Brigr Genl Huntingdon and Colonel Wigglesworth to assist you in this matter and inclosed you will find instructions empowering you, in conjunction with them, to carry on the enquiry agreeable to the Resolve of Congress.2

You will observe by the Words of the Resolve “that the enquiry is to be made into the loss of Forts Montgomery & Clinton in the State of New York and into the conduct of the principal Officers commanding those Forts.”3 Hence the Officer commanding in Chief in that department will be consequentially involved in the enquiry: Because if he has been deficient in affording the proper supports to those posts when called upon to do it, the Commandant and principal Officers will of course make it appear by the evidence produced in their own justification.

I am not certain whether Genl Putnam has yet returned to Fishkill, and I have therefore by the inclosed, which you will please to forward to him by Express, given him notice that the enquiry is to be held, and have desired him to repair immediately to that post.4 General Huntingdon and Colo. Wigglesworth will set out as soon as they can make preparation for the Journey.

Upon your arrival at the Highlands you are to take upon you the command of the different posts in that department, of which I have advised General Putnam. Your time will at first be principally taken up with the Business you now have in hand, but I beg that your attention may be turned as much as possible to the completion of the Works or at least to putting them in such a State that they may be able to resist a sudden attack of the Enemy.

Govr Clinton has wrote his opinion very fully to Congress upon the propriety of ordering all the troops, except the Garrison of Fort Schuyler, down to the Highlands, as all prospects of carrying on the Northern Expedition seem to have vanished. I have backed his opinion forcibly with my own, and hope, if Congress see matters in the light that we do, that those troops will be inst⟨a⟩ntly brought down.5 I am Dear Sir Yr most obt Servt

Go: Washington

P.S. There has been a Resolve of Congress vesting Govr Clinton with the direction of the Works erecting for the defence of the River, and requiring the commanding Officer at Peekskill to aid him in the execution of the same. Govr Clinton I understand from his civil avocations does not incline to take the immediate direction of the Business, and the late commanding Officer in that quarter has doubted from that Resolve whether his command or superintendancy extended to the Forts.6 To remove difficulties of this kind by which the public service must suffer, and as I consider it essential to the nature of the command that one Officer should have the general controul and direction of all the posts in the Highlands and their dependencies and be answerable for them, you are to consider yourself as possessed of this general controul and direction and to act accordingly. If the Governor has leisure from his official duties to undertake the more immediate management of the ⟨works, it will afford you⟩ a very desireable assistance—I have written to Congress to give you every power necessary to promote the objects of your command,7 and in the mean time you are to consider yourself authorised as far as can depend upon me to take every measure conducive to that end. I am sensible the command will not be in itself the most agreeable peice of service and that you would prefer a part in the principal Theatre of action. But the vast importance of it has determined me to confide it in you, and I am persuaded your object is to be usefull to the public.

If you get things in a proper train by the opening of the Campaign so as that the prosecution may be assigned to other hands I shall be extremely happy to avail myself of your services in the main Army.

Go: Washington

After reading Genl Putnams letter, please to seal it.

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, PWacD: Sol Feinstone Collection, on deposit PPAmP; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The draft is in Tilghman’s writing, but the draft of the postscript is a separate sheet of paper in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, labeled by Tilghman, “P.S. to Genl Mcdougals letter of the 16th March 1778.” Where the text of the LS is illegible, the words within angle brackets have been supplied from the draft.

1For Maj. Gen. Israel Putnam’s “private Affairs,” see Putnam to GW, 16 Dec. 1777, and note 4 to that document.

2GW’s instructions to McDougall, Jedediah Huntington, and Edward Wigglesworth for an inquiry into the loss of Forts Montgomery and Clinton was signed at Valley Forge on 17 March. GW ordered them “without delay to proceed to Fishkill or to such other place in the State of New York as to you shall appear most expedient and there on the 30th day of March inst: and on such other days as may be necessary, to inquire into the following Facts. 1st Who commanded at the said Forts when attacked. 2dly Of what number of Men the Garrisons consisted at the time of the attacks—and whether the number was sufficient for the defence of the Works. 3dly How supplied with Arms, Artillery and Ammunition when they were attacked. 4thly At what place the Enemy landed. 5thly Whether any opposition was given to them in their approach. 6thly Of what number the Enemy consisted who made the Attack. 7thly What defence the Garrisons made when attacked and how many men were killed and wounded. 8thly The manner in which the posts were carried. 9thly Whether there were any applications made for reinforcements upon the approach of the Enemy—to whom—at what time—for what numbers and whether any and what succours were received and if none, what were the Reasons. 10thly Whether the Enemy landed at any other place previous to the attack upon the Forts—how long before and what were their general movements and dispositions. 11 thly And finally you are to inquire into all matters not before recited which you may judge necessary more fully to explain the causes of the loss of the said Forts and for this purpose you are authorized and required to call before you all Officers and others in the military line to give evidence in any matters relating to the premises, and also to call for all Returns and papers which you may judge necessary to elucidate the subject. You are to make Report of your proceedings to me under your respective Signatures in order that the same may be by me transmitted to Congress as by them directed” (NHi: Alexander McDougall Papers). For Congress’s resolutions of 28 Nov. 1777 directing GW to have the inquiry made, see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 9:975–76.

3At this place on the draft Tilghman wrote but struck out these sentences: “If the Officer commanding in that district has been deficient in giving proper support to those posts when called upon to do it, it will naturally appear from the evidence which the commandant and principal Officers will produce in their own vindication. Hence, it is unnecessary to carry the object of the enquiry further than the express words of the Resolve.”

4See GW to Israel Putnam, 16 March. In his journal for 26 Mar., McDougall noted that, having received information that Putnam “intended to be on without delay,” he did not forward the letter, “least it might miss him on the road” (NHi: Alexander McDougall Papers).

5See GW to Henry Laurens, 16 Mar. (first letter). George Clinton’s opinion apparently was given in his letter to Laurens of 7 Mar., which has not been found.

6For the resolution of 18 Feb., see Clinton to GW, 5 Mar., n.2; see also JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 10:180–81. Brig. Gen. Samuel Holden Parsons had expressed doubts about his authority in his letter to GW of 7 March.

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