George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Stirling, 26 October 1778

From Major General Stirling

Elizabeth Town [N.J.] October 26th 1778

Dear Sir

I should before this time have attempted to Answer your Excellency’s letters of the 14th and 15th Inst.1 but was waiting in hopes of reduceing the Motions of the Enemy to some degree of Certainty; I belive it may be depended on that the present Embarkation will amount to at least 10000 Men, so large a detachment from their Army will render it impossible for them to keep above 5000 Men at New York, if they purpose to keep Rhode Island Also, and keep it they must, if their heavy Ships are to Winter in America. these troops must at least one half them be foreigners whom they dare not Venture out of their own lines as they know they are Univer[s]ally determined to desert, in this Scituation there is but little danger of their makeing any Considerable excursions out of their own Lines, and therefore no danger in divideing our Army.2 On an e[n]quiry into the State of Cartage & forrage I find it is absolutely Impracticable to Maintain the Army in flower & Grain in any Scituation on the East Side of Hudsons River; It will be as Absolutely Necessary to bring a great part of the Army nearer to the Scources of our bread & forrage. I would therefore advise that three or four Brigades be left in New England somewhere between Danbury and Hartford that a Suffecient Garrison be left at West point with one Brigade Hutted in the Neighbourhood to Cover it. the remainder of the Army I would bring into New Jersey, And would Cantoon them in the principal towns, Burlington, Trentown—Princetown, Brunswick, Raway, Elizabethtown—New Ark and Hackensaack, might each with some Hutting receive a Brigade and the remainder might [be] Hutted at the foot of the mountain at Scotch plains or Middlebrook. the Stores of the Army might then be very Safe either at Morris Town or Pluckhimen Or if your Excellency should think that by this plan the Troops would be extended too wide and be too much exposed, they might be Cantooned from New Ark to Brunswick and the Rest Hutted at the Scotch plains, or at Crane town a place in the Rear of Watsesson in a Gap of the Hills which is a Better Scituation than any other nearer the falls,3 that Gap and another to the Northward of it being Secured would Cover the left flank & Rear of the Army. But on Account of Scituation and the Saving of Cartage I would prefer the foot of the hills near the Scotch plains for the Grand Camp. I do not Conceive it will be Necessary to detach any troops to Boston for I do not4 see the least probability of the Enemy’s makeing any Attempt on it, General Sullivans force in that quarter I think quite Suffecient.

There is Nothing New from New york since my last;5 Nor has any thing worth mentioning passed the hook by the Report of yesterday Evening[.] I am your Excellencys most Humble Servant


ALS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. On 1 Nov. GW replied to this letter and Stirling’s letters to him of 29 and 30 Oct. (PWacD: Sol Feinstone Collection, on deposit at PPAmP).

2The dispatch of several expeditions from New York in October and November did not deplete the British garrison there as much as Stirling indicates, but still it was sufficiently weakened to cause Gen. Henry Clinton serious concern and to induce him to offer his resignation on 8 Oct., an offer that his superiors in England refused to accept. Clinton’s orders from England required him to detach about five thousand troops for the West Indies expedition under Maj. Gen. James Grant, about one thousand men for West Florida under Brig. Gen. John Campbell, about two thousand for East Florida under Lt. Col. Archibald Campbell, about two hundred and fifty invalids for garrison duty at Bermuda and the Bahamas, and about seven hundred men for the garrison at Halifax. “When these expeditions, my lord, are sailed,” Clinton wrote George Germain on 15 Sept., “there will remain 17,000 men for the defence of Rhode Island and this post [New York], of which number 4000 at least must be left at the former of those places, so that 13,000 only will remain in this district, which recollecting its extent is certainly not sufficient but with which I shall endeavour to maintain it” (Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 15:201).

In his letter to Germain of 8 Oct., Clinton says: “For those garrisons [in East and West Florida and also Halifax] I have employed foreign [German] troops and provincials [Loyalists] whose loss to this army will not be so much felt, but as the treaties with the former and the understood stipulation with the latter have precluded my sending them to the West Indies I have been forced to send 5000 British effective rank and file upon that service, a dismemberment which is severe indeed.

“After a wound, in my humble opinion so fatal to the hopes of any future vigour in this army, I trust, my lord, you cannot wish to keep me in the mortifying command of it. I fear ’tis not in the power of Great Britain to restore to me the force I lose by the detachment of these ten British regiments. They are the very nerves of this army” (Davies, Documents of the American Revolution description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends , 15:209–10).

3Cranetown (now Montclair), N.J., is about three miles northwest of Watsessing, which is now part of Bloomfield, New Jersey.

4On the ALS manuscript the word “not” is inserted above the line in another handwriting that has not been identified.

5Stirling is referring to his letter to GW of 24 Oct., which has not been found.

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