George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Henry Laurens, 22 July 1778

To Henry Laurens

Camp near White plains July 22d 1778


Since I had the honor of addressing you on the 14th, I have been favoured with your Letters of the 11th and 17th, with their respective inclosures.

The next morning after the receipt of the former, which came to hand on the 17th, I dispatched Lt Colo. Hamilton another of my Aides, with the best pilots and the most skilful masters of ships, I could procure, to Admiral Count D’Estaing, to converse with him more fully on the subject of his operations, than I was able to direct Lt Colo. Laurens to do, for want of the information which I afterwards obtained from Major Chouin, and a knowledge in several other points besides. On sunday night1 Mr Laurens returned and I found by him, that it was the Count’s first wish to enter at Sandy hook in order to possess himself of, or to destroy, if possible, the whole of the British fleet, lying in the Bay of New York; and that for this purpose he had been much engaged in his inquiries about the depth of water, and in sounding the channel to ascertain it. The result of which was, that the water from the experiments made, was too shallow at the entrance to admit his large Ships—or if they could be got in, it appeared that it would not be without a great deal of difficulty and risk. After this disappointment, the next important object which seemed to present itself was an attempt against Rhode Island, which the Count inclined to make, unless I should advise the contrary, as soon as the Chimere frigate, which had carried his Excellency, Monsieur Girard, into the Delaware, should rejoin him. Lt Colo. Hamilton, who was well informed of our situation and of my sentiments on every point, was instructed to give the Admiral a full and accurate state of facts, and to acquaint him, what aid and how far we could co-operate with him, in case of an attempt, either against New York or Rhode Island; and also to obtain his ideas of the plan and system, which, he might think, ought to be pursued, and to agree with him on certain Signals.

Previous to my dispatching Mr Hamilton, from the information I received on my inquiries respecting the navigation at the Hook, I was led to suspect, however interesting and desireable the destruction or capture of the British fleet might be, that it was not sufficient to introduce the Count’s Ships. Under this apprehension, I wrote General Sullivan on the 17th by Express, that an Expedition might take place in a short time against Rhode Island, and urged him, at the same time, to apply to the States of Massachussets—Rhode Island & Connecticut for as many men, as would augment his force to Five thousand, and also to make every possible preparation of boats—provision—pilots &c., as if the event was fixed and certain.

From this time till about Twelve OClock on Sunday the Troops continued passing the River, when I crossed with the last division. On Monday afternoon I arrived at this place, in the neighbourhood of which the right and left wing encamped that night, with the second line a few miles in their rear. And here I am happy to add, that their passage across the river was effected without any accident, or without any more delay than necessarily attended the work.

Being persuaded now from the conversation which I had had, with several pilots and Masters of Vessels of character, as well as from the accounts of other Gentlemen and Colonel Laurens’s report on his return, that the passing of the Count’s Ships by the Hook would be extremely precarious—if not impracticable, I determined yesterday, which was as soon as it could be done, without waiting for further intelligence upon the subject, to put Two Brigades under marching orders.2 They accordingly marched this morning at Two OClock for Rhode Island, under the particular command of Generals Varnum and Glover respectively—and both under the direction, for the present, of the Marquiss de la Fayette. A Water conveyance was thought of, and wished for the ease of the Troops, but on consideration of all circumstances, such as the difficulty of providing vessels—the change and precariousness of the winds—The risk from the Enemy’s Ships &c., their route by land was deemed by far the more eligible. The force with General Sullivan from the best and latest advice, I have been able to obtain is about Three thousand. A Detachment under Colo. Jackson will follow Varnums & Glovers brigades.

The inclosed papers No. 1, respecting Eight persons sent from Bennington and ordered into the Enemy’s lines came to hand yesterday.3 About the same time, I received a Letter from Governor Clinton, containing a petition by the prisoners and a Letter from the Committee of Albany; all remonstrating against the proceeding.4 As this is a matter, in which I have no authority to act, nor in which I would wish to intermeddle, I take the liberty of referring it to Congress, that they may decide upon it. The prisoners are at West point and ordered to be detained there for the present.

I would also take the liberty of transmitting to Congress a Letter from Capn Gibbs, and of recommending him to their consideration.5 His Letter was to have been sent by the Baron Steuben, before we marched from Valley forge, but his declining to go to York town, at that time, and our move through the Jersey’s delayed it’s being done. The Captain has been in the Army from the commencement of the War, and in the capacities, which he mentions. When Congress were pleased to honor me with the appointment of Officers for the Sixteen additional Batallions, I offered to make some provision for him, but this he declined; preferring to remain in my family.6 The Guard he originally commanded, consisted of Fifty men, but since the arrival of Baron Steuben, it has been augmented to a hundred and fifty. The Baron advised that there should be a select corps of this number to receive the manœuvres in the first instance and to act as a model to the Army; and proposed that it should be formed of the old guard company and drafts from the line. I presume, if it should be Congress’s pleasure, a Majority would be highly agreable to the Captain, and that it is as much as he expects.

1 OClock. P.M. I this minute received a Letter from Colo. Hamilton, who is on his return to the Army, dated the 20th at Black point. He informs that the Count D’Estaing would sail the next Evening for Rhode Island, being convinced from actual soundings that he could not enter his Ships. He was anxiously waiting the arrival of the Chimere, but at all events, meant to sail at the time he mentions. The Admiral has agreed on Signals with Mr Hamilton. Immediately after this Letter came to hand, My Aid Mr Laurens set out for Providence, having many things to communicate to General Sullivan upon the subject of his co-operation, which neither time nor propriety would suffer me to commit to paper. Genl Sullivan is directed not to confine the number of his Troops to Five thousand, but to augment it, if he shall judge it necessary to ensure his success.7

I was informed by Mr Laurens that the Count D’Estaings magazine of bread is not so large as we could wish, and that in the course of a few weeks he will be in want. This circumstance I thought it right to mention, and I should suppose, that any quantity of Biscuit may be provided in a little time at philadelphia.

The Inclosures No. 2, are Copies of three Letters from myself to the Admiral.8 I flatter myself the present of stock, which I directed for him, on his first arrival, in behalf of the States, will be approved by Congress.9

The accounts from the Western frontiers of Tryon County are distressing. The spirit of the Savages seems to be roused, and they appear determined on mischeif and havoc, in every Quarter. By a letter from Governor Clinton of the 21st, they have destroyed Springfield and Andreas Town, and are marching towards the settlements on the West branch of the Delaware. These incursions are extremely embarrassing to our other affairs,10 and, I think, will justify a conclusion that Sr Henry Clinton’s intention was to operate up the North River. Whether it may have changed with circumstances, cannot be determined. I have detached the 4th pensylvania Regiment and the remains of Morgan’s corps under Lt Colo. Butler, and also Colo. Graham with a York State regiment, to co-operate with the Militia and to check the Indians if possible. Colo. Butler is an enterprizing—good Officer and well acquainted with the savage mode of warfare; and I am persuaded, whatever comes within the compass of his force and abilities, will be done. I have the Honor to be with great esteem & respect Sir Yr Most Obedt sert

Go: Washington

LS, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The LS is docketed in part “Read 27 referred to the board of war, in what respects cpn Gibbes”; 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 , 11:722. GW wrote another letter to Laurens on this date: “Baron d’Arendt Colonel of the German Batallion, who will have the honor of delivering you this, waits on Congress to make application for leave to retire from the service—the reasons he urges to me are—irreconcileable disputes between him and his officers, which make it impossible for him to join his regiment—and the great uncertainty of his being elsewhere employed in a military line—As he requests that this letter may be a certificate to Congress of his past conduct—and assures me that he does not mean to use it as a foundation for solliciting higher command—I very readily assure them that as far as his conduct has come under my cognizance, and his infirm health has permitted him to act—it has ever been that of an intelligent, experienced officer” (LS, ScU).

1The previous Sunday was July 19.

2For GW’s orders to Brig. Gen. James Mitchell Varnum, see GW to Jeremiah Olney, 21 July, n.2. The orders to the commander of John Glover’s brigade have not been found.

3The enclosures have not been identified.

4See George Clinton to GW, 20 July, and note 1 to that document.

5The letter from Caleb Gibbs to Laurens, dated 14 June, has not been identified.

6For Congress’s resolution of 27 Dec. 1776 authorizing GW to raise sixteen additional Continental regiments and appoint their officers, 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 , 6:1045–46. No written offer to Gibbs has been identified.

8The enclosed copies of GW’s letters to Vice Admiral d’Estaing of 14, 15, and 17 July are in DNA:PCC, item 152.

9On the draft, the preceding text is in Harrison’s writing, but the remaining paragraph, on a separate page, is in James McHenry’s writing.

10On the draft the preceding four words are in GW’s writing.

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