George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Alexander McDougall, 15 April 1779

From Major General Alexander McDougall

Head Quarters pecks Kill [N.Y.] 15th April 1779.


I had the Honor to address you, this Morning by Lieut. Colo. Govion. The duties of the Line, take up but the smallest part of my time; such are the various matters to be attended to, at these posts, that they are sufficient to perplex the prececion of a Locke, and the Industry of a De Witt.1 I have now stole a moment, to report to your Excellency, the reasons on which the inclosed Instructions, were given, to Colo. Gavion respecting the Work at Kings Ferry.2 I had it in command, to erect a Redoubt there, capable of containing a Barrack for 40 Men, and their Officers. Upon considering the Object of the Work, it was necessary to have large Cannon in it, or under its Command. That wou’d make it too large, to be defended by a Garrison of that Strength, and Subject to fall into the Hands of the Enemy, unless it had a regular Bomb proof and Ramparts. For otherwise, the Barracks, wou’d take up a great part of the Esplanade. Besides, the Work and Barracks, must not be of such a nature as to oblige us, on the approach of the Enemy, in Force, to abandon it. To avoid those inconveniencies, I determined to annoy the Enemy, with Cannon on Barbet, if he attempts to pass; And if he anchors opposite to the Work, to form Ambraseurs with sand Bags. At all events, the Battery is under the command of the Redoubt, capable of holding provisions, Water and Stores, of all kinds, for the Garrison—including Artillery for One Month, in a Bomb proof Block-House. That on the West-Side, is to be on the same Construction, which I hope will meet the approbation of the Commander in Chief.3 I have the Honor to be Your Excellency’s Humble Servant

Alexr McDougall


1McDougall is referring to the English philosopher John Locke (1632–1704) and to the Dutch politician and mathematician Johan De Witt (1625–1672).

2The enclosed copy of McDougall’s instructions to Lt. Col. Jean-Baptiste (“Obry”) Gouvion, dated 31 Dec. 1778, reads: “The Commander in Chief, having directed me, to erect two enclosed Works, at Kings-Ferry, to contain Quarters for Forty men each, including Officers; you will please proceed there, and lay out one of those Works, on the East-Side; on the Spot we viewed the 28th Instant. This Work is to Secure the Ferry, & Annoy the Enemy on the River, in his approach or to distress him if he shou’d pass the Ferry; These Objects point out, considering our Circumstances, two Reasons, which must determine the Nature of the Work. First, as we are but Illy Supplied with large Cannon, the Battery must be ar Barbette, the Flanks secured with good Epaulemants. Secondly no Redouts which can be formed, to contain that number of men, will admit of A sufficient number of Ambrasuers to answer those objects. For those reasons you will construct a Redout capable of containing a Block-House to Quarter Forty men and their Officers, with fifteen Days provision & Water. The Faces of the Redout looking to the Water, must be proof against 24 pound Shott, That to the Rear, so raised as to cover the Garrison in the Works from the fire of the small Eminence to the North-East: The Works will be well Chevau De Frized, And well Abbeted, the Block House capable of resisting, Shells from Howits, You will apply to Colo. poor for all the men of his Regt, to carry on the Works, If they have not brought Entrenching Tools with them, employ all the men with their Axes; Those Tools will be sent for, Captn Sloo who keeps the Ferry, will give you all the Assistance of the public Teams there” (DLC:GW).

3For a description of this blockhouse and the other works undertaken at West Point in the spring of 1779, see Charles E. Miller et al., Highland Fortress: The Fortification of West Point During the American Revolution, 1775–1783 (West Point, N.Y., 1988), 137–59.

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