George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General John Sullivan, 17 August 1778

From Major General John Sullivan

Head Quarters Rhode Island
August 17th 1778.

Dear General.

Notwithstanding the train of misfortunes (mentioned in my letter of the 14th Inst.)1 sufficient in number and aggravation to drepress even the spirits of fortitude and damp the ardor of enterprise, I have by the interposition of heaven and unabated industry nearly recovered from the deplorable situation of which my last contained but an imperfect description—I have by sending for supplies to different quarters replenished my magazine with Amunition, and my stores with provision, and by timely addresses to my men have exhilerated their spirits & reconciled them in a great measure to the vicissitudes of war. Having not heard any thing from Count d’Estain and apprehensive of the bad consequences of delay, I on the 15th Ulto marched down in columns (so disposed) as to render forming the lines as familiar and as easy as possible; and I am happy in informing your Excellency that the regularity and good order observed by the different corps on their march excited admiration in every beholder, & infinitely exceeded my most sanguine expectations2—I halted the army in full sight of and within long shot of the enemy (in hopes) that they would be thereby tempted to meet us in the plain and become an easy conquest. But the event convinces me, that how contrary soever they may act to the dictates of nature in other instances, they implicitly obey her commands so far as they respect self-preservation—After disposing my army in such a manner as to effectually invest their works I began my approaches (under cover of night) within two hundred and fifty yards of their lines. This days fog favors my operations, and I promise your Excellency that by to-morrow noon, I shall be able to keep up so warm a fire upon them as to render the properties of a salamander essentially necessary to their existence. And I think I may venture to assure your Excellency, that I shall have it shortly in my power either to force them to an action, upon disadvantagious destructive principles, or reduce them to honourable terms of capitulation.3 I have the honor to remain (in expectation of this agreeable event) your Excellency’s obliged

(a copy)

John Sullivan

Copy, enclosed with GW to Henry Laurens, 19 Aug., DNA:PCC, item 160. A purported ALS of this letter was offered for sale by Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., catalog 596, The James McHenry Papers, 30–31 Oct. 1944, item 300.

1Sullivan was referring to his letter to GW of 13 Aug., which was evidently not sent until 14 Aug., as it enclosed a letter to Henry Laurens of that date.

2For other glowing reports of the march, see Thomas Crafts to William Heath, 15 Aug., and Daniel Lyman to Heath, 16 Aug., MHi, Heath Papers; see also Cutler, Rev. Manasseh Cutler description begins William Parker Cutler and Julia Perkins Cutler, eds. Life, Journals and Correspondence of Rev. Manasseh Cutler, LL.D. 2 vols. Cincinnati, 1888. description ends , 1:67–68.

3Capt. Frederick Mackenzie of the Royal Welch Fusiliers described the American operations in his diary entry for this date: “The fog did not clear up until 11 this day, when we perceived the Rebels had broke ground during the night, and had thrown up part of a small Redoubt on Honeyman’s-hill, about 150 yards to their right of the Orchard. It appears a very trifling work, ill constructed and injudicially placed. … They also began a trench from their left of No I, to the high road from Honeyman’s hill to Green-end, and continued to work at it all day. Some other works appear in front of thier Camp, but they are only works of defence.” By 18 Aug., Sullivan’s troops had begun work on a second battery “on their left of the road, in a line with Honeyman’s Orchard” and a third “about 100 yards N.E. of No I” ( Mackenzie Diary description begins Diary of Frederick Mackenzie Giving a Daily Narrative of His Military Service as an Officer of the Regiment of Royal Welch Fusiliers during the Years 1775–1781 in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1930. description ends , 2:357–58; see also Lyman to Heath, 17 and 18 Aug., “Heath Papers,” description begins “The Heath Papers.” Parts 1–3. Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 5th ser., 4:1–285; 7th ser., vols. 4–5. Boston, 1878–1905. description ends 4:255–56).

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