George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General John Sullivan, 21 August 1778

From Major General John Sullivan

Head Quarters before Newport [R.I.]
Augt 21st P.M. [1778]

Dear General.

I have within this hour had the honor of receiving your favor and am happy in having it in my power to relieve your Excellency from the state of anxiety you are in for the Counts safety.1 He last evening appeared of this harbour & I was soon after surprised with the inclosed letter from Count d’Cambis who was dispatched in a frigate by the Admiral for the purpose of more speedily conveying the intelligence it contains.2 From it your excellency will learn, the situation of the languedoc & another ship of the line—the former having lost all her masts, the latter her fore-mast in the late storm—as also the seperation of a 74 gun ship during the gale, which has not joined the squdron as yet. Thier success was by no means adequate to our expectations—The Senegal of eighteen Guns and a bomb-Ketch are the only prizes they have taken3—In consideration (I suppose) of his loss Count d’Estain had almost determined to sail for Boston and refit without touching upon this Island & it is manifest from the letter I have the honor to transmit your excellency that to co-operate with us was not his motive for, or intention in calling—As soon as I discovered this, I detached General Greene & the Marquiss and Colonel Langden one of the Continental ship agents to confirm him in the validity of the following assurance—viz. That it was as practicable and more convenient to repair his ships in this harbor than in that of Boston—That the danger of being blocked up in either was the same, as a superior fleet could as easily effect it in the latter as they could in the former. That there was a certainty in our being able to reduce the Island in a few days with his assistance—In short I made use of every argument that could incline him to desist from his purpose and partake of our glory and our danger—concluding with a request that should he notwithstanding what was offered persist in his resolution of sailing he would at least leave the land forces he had on board. I would feign hope my arguments have had the desired weight with him as he has since stood in and anchored near the Town. General Greene and the Marquiss have not yet returned—nor have I heard from them, but shall communicate the Counts answer as soon as it comes to hand—He could not have wanted water in his cruize as I had taken every possible method of supplying him with it. And I shall continue to furnish him with every necessary that he may want or I can procure. In order to do this I beg your Excellency would give orders that provisions should be forwarded as expeditiously as possible for their use, as it may not be in my power to supply them with such quantities as he may require.

The enemy soon after we had opened a four gun battery (18 pounders) evacuated a redoubt that was most exposed to its fire4—I have since raised batteries far advanced of this, and shall to-morrow morning have twenty eight pieces of heavy cannon playing at an inconsiderable distance, upon their works—These well served will (I doubt not) with what mortars I have at hand oblige them to retire from all their advanced redoubts and leave their lines open to o⟨ ur⟩ future operations which will be greatly accelerated should Count d’Estain conclude to divert them in another quarter. I am &c. &c. (a copy)

Jno. Sullivan

Copy, DNA:PCC, item 160. The copy was enclosed in GW to Henry Laurens, 24 August.

1Sullivan was probably referring to GW’s first letter of 19 August.

2According to GW’s letter to Laurens of 24 Aug., Sullivan failed to send the enclosure. Cambis’s letter to Sullivan, dated 20 Aug., reported the damage to the Languedoc and the Marseillais and stated that, in consequence of the need for repairs, “the French fleet will approach no nearer to Rhode Island but will go to Boston.” Comte d’Estaing asked Sullivan to order the French ships “in the East Channel” to rejoin the fleet “promptly” (Hammond, Sullivan Papers description begins Otis G. Hammond, ed. Letters and Papers of Major-General John Sullivan, Continental Army. 3 vols. Concord, 1930-39. In Collections of the New Hampshire Historical Society, vols. 13–15. description ends , 2:237–38). Charles-François, comte de Cambis-Lézan (1747–1825), was a lieutenant de vaisseau aboard the Languedoc and at this time in command of the captured sloop Senegal.

3The separated French ship was the César. The captured British ketch was the Thunderer.

4Lt. Johann Ernst Prechtel of the 1st Anspach Regiment wrote in his diary for 19 Aug.: “the enemy, for the first time today, fired on our defenses and camp from the new fort. Only 18-pound cannonballs were fired. A private in the English camp had his foot shot off, and a horse was killed. A cannonball fell in a tent hitting eight musketeers. Our camp therefore was changed and we moved closer to Newport, behind the great defensive position of Tominy Hill” (Prechtel, Diary description begins Johann Ernst Prechtel. A Hessian Officer’s Diary of the American Revolution. Translated and edited by Bruce E. Burgoyne. Bowie, Md., 1994. description ends , 25; see also ibid., 146–47; Döhla, Hessian Diary description begins Johann Conrad Döhla. A Hessian Diary of the American Revolution. Translated and edited by Bruce E. Burgoyne. Norman, Okla., and London, 1990. description ends , 85; and 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 , 70).

Index Entries