George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General Duportail, 7 April 1778

From Brigadier General Duportail

[Valley Forge, 7 April 1778]

It is by no means doubtful that the addition of a few Redouts will increase the strength of our position—but in my opinion they may be regarded as a superfluous exertion of Strength—if in order to make a proper estimation of the advantages of our position, we take notice that the Enemy begins to be subject to our fire at the extreme range of Musket and Case-Shot—that in order to join us; they must pass over that space of ground thick set with obstacles, without being able to fire a single shot—and that the time required to perform it will be at least five minutes, during which our men may fire fifteen rounds with good Aim—we shall agree I think; that our position needs no new reinforcement—and if we cannot maintain such advantageous ground—where shall we find better during the Campaign, even seconded by all the assistance of Art?

As for Redouts I must confess that I am altogether discouraged from proposing and undertaking them—altho’ I love them as much as any body—but every body knows that I have never been able to accomplish half a redout—Officers and Soldiers finding the work too long, and taking disgust as it—Was I not forced in this very Camp to abandon my first plan of fortifying with Redouts1—and afterwards were not the only two which I retained of my first plan, (because they were indispensible,) left rudely sketched, altho’ we had the whole winter to work.

Besides, even if we were to make redouts, it appears to me more advisable at present, to finish what is necessary to put us in a state of defense—than to undertake redouts to the prejudice of what little remains to be done & when that is complete, we might reinforce certain points.2


Translation, in John Laurens’s writing, NN: Emmet Collection. The date is taken from the docket. That the addressee is GW is suggested by the subject matter, particularly when taken in conjunction with Duportail’s report of 13 April, and by the fact that the translation and docket are in the writing of GW’s aide John Laurens.

1John Laurens mentioned this problem in a letter to his father, Henry Laurens, of 9 Mar.: “the repeated Cavils of some General Officers have driven the Engineer in his own defence, to substitute Lines to Redouts in fortifying the Camp” (Laurens Papers description begins Philip M. Hamer et al., eds. The Papers of Henry Laurens. 16 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1968–2003. description ends , 12:531). On 5 Mar., Steuben observed that the two redoubts on the left wing were “not half finished” and that additional redoubts should be constructed (Boyle, Writings from the Valley Forge Encampment description begins Joseph Lee Boyle, ed. Writings from the Valley Forge Encampment of the Continental Army, December 19, 1777–June 19, 1778. 3 vols. Bowie, Md., 2000–2002. description ends , 1:74–75).

2Despite the doubts expressed here and in Duportail’s report of 13 April, the planning of redoubts continued. “The Engineers,” John Laurens wrote to Charles Pettit on 14 April, “are prevented from tracing a few Redouts, which the General is very anxious to have finished, for want of a proper quantity of Cord or small Line . . . His Excellency desires that an Express may be ordered to procure by purchase at the nearest place, or from any neighboring magazine two hundred fathom of such Cord—if it can possibly be had by to morrow that the Tracing may be begun it will be the more acceptable” (PHi: Dreer Collection).

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