Head-Quarters Middle-Brook Tuesday June 1st 1779.
Parole Kildare—C. Signs Kenys. Kent.
The troops to hold themselves in the most perfect readiness to march at the shortest notice.1
The General Court Martial whereof General Howe is President is desired to assemble at eleven ôclock this day at the President’s quarters, he being indisposed and unable to attend at the Court-Martial room.2
At the General Court Martial of the line whereof Colonel Greene is President May 25th, Captain Thomas Ewell of the 1st Virginia State regiment was tried for “Behaving in a scandalous infamous manner unbecoming an officer & Gentleman in two instances.
1st—“By maliciously basely and falsely traducing officers of the regiment and afterwards acknowledging before several Officers that what he had said were palpable Lies, without foundation”
2ndly—“In endeavouring to bribe an officer to conceal & suppress the calumny by offering to procure a loan of money for the said officer.”
The Court after maturely considering the testimony & defence are of opinion Captain Ewell is not guilty of the 1st charge but that he was exceedingly indiscreet in passing a joke in the manner he did and do sentence him to be reprimanded in General Orders—They are further of opinion that the second charge is unsupported & do acquit him of it.
The Commander in Chief confirms the sentence, observing that it is at all times very indiscreet of an officer to hazard things even in jest which may raise ill-founded prejudices against another, particularly his commanding officer;3 and if he be in earnest, for sufficient reasons he should adhere to his declarations.
Captain Ewell is to be released from Arrest.
At the same Court May 28th—William Scully soldier in the 1st Virginia regiment was tried for, “Entering forcibly into the house of Robert Dennis4 and robbing him of sundry goods, also stabbing William Cox5 with a Bayonet,” found guilty and sentenced one hundred lashes.
The Commander in Chief approves the sentence & orders it put in execution tomorrow at the head of the regiment to which the offender6 belongs.
Varick transcript, DLC:GW.
GW’s army had been in winter camp around Middlebrook, N.J., since December 1778, and he had been with his troops since 5 Feb. 1779, when he returned from Philadelphia after consultations with Congress’s committee of conference. Assisting GW with his correspondence during June and July were his secretary Robert Hanson Harrison, his assistant secretary James McHenry, and his aides-de-camp Alexander Hamilton and Richard Kidder Meade. Maj. Caleb Gibbs, who commanded a company of GW’s guards, also helped with correspondence and was responsible for the money to pay GW’s expenses (see the source note for General Orders, 3 June). GW’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman had left Middle-brook in late April to visit relatives in Pennsylvania and Maryland. He did not rejoin GW until August (see Tilghman Memoir, description begins Memoir of Lieut. Col. Tench Tilghman, Secretary and Aid to Washington, together with an Appendix, containing Revolutionary Journals and Letters, Hitherto Unpublished. 1876. Reprint. New York, 1971. description ends 42–43).
1. Reports of British operations up the Hudson River toward the strategic New York Highlands provoked GW’s vigilance and spurred preparations to break winter camp. An account of the British movements appeared in the New-Jersey Gazette (Burlington) for 9 June under the dateline of Fishkill, N.Y., 3 June. It reads: “The latter end of last week, a number of British vessels made their appearance in the north river; they consist of thirteen ships, three brigs, four top-sail schooners, three gallies, six top-sail sloops, about twenty smaller vessels, and a great number of flat-bottom boats.
“Last Lord’s day, (30th ult.) 1500 men landed 8 miles below Peck’s Kill, on Taller’s Point, consisting of British and Hessian granadiers, light infantry, volunteers of Ireland and Yagers.—Monday the 31st instant the enemy landed a party on the west side of the river, where they burnt some houses, and opened two small batteries, from which they threw some shells, and cannonaded fort de la Fayette across the river, all that day; two gallies kept up a severe fire on the fort at the same time. They continued their firing till eleven o’clock on Tuesday forenoon, meanwhile their army marched from Taller’s to Ver Plank’s Point, on which the fort stands. By a flag they demanded a surrender; the parley continued two hours: Captain [Thomas] Armstrong thought fit to surrender.—[G]eneral M’Dougall has not yet received a justifiable reason why the fort was given up. This little fort was built on purpose to secure King’s ferry from the insults of the enemy’s vessels, which frequently had interrupted our boats from crossing: It was small, and would contain, with conveniency, about a company of men. The redoubt was strong, and covered a barbette battery, mounting 3 pieces of cannon. We had in the barbette a company of artillery: they were all drawn off but a serjeant, a corporal and 12 privates. In the redoubt were a captain, two subalterns, three serjeants, and 44 rank and file. They had provisions and water sufficient to serve them thirty days.
“Wednesday [2 June] evening—the wind now prevents the shipping from advancing to fort Clinton on West-Point; which we suppose is the enemy’s main object. The fort is now in tolerable order, well provided, and the men in fine spirits—The militia are coming in fast, and every appearance is promising.— The enemy have come out in force, and, it is said, are from seven to ten thousand men.—Their troops from their late excursion to Virginia, returned last Thursday, and, without landing at New-York, pushed up the river.
“Thursday morning, 4 o’clock, we learn that the enemy are in motion, as if they meant to come up the east side of the river.
“Athol’s Highlanders, called the 74th, who arrived at New-York some weeks ago, are all the reinforcement the enemy have yet received that we can learn.
“Since the British landed, we have taken seven prisoners; and three deserters have come in.
“Yesterday it was reported, that the enemy had burnt Lieut. Gov. Cortlandt’s house, near Croton river, where they first landed.”
Gen. Henry Clinton described British intentions and military operations in a letter to Lord George Germain, written at Philipsburg, N.Y., on 18 June: “Having ever been sensible of the importance of the posts of Stony Point and Verplanks, the most direct and convenient communication between the provinces on either side of Hudson’s River, I have conceived no hour could be better chosen to possess myself of them than when the enemy’s works should be nearly completed. In these opinions it has been made the first operation of the campaign. . . .
“I shall not trouble your lordship with a detail of the movements for this purpose but content myself with informing you that the troops destined for this service under Major-General Vaughan were joined after their embarkation by the corps from Virginia which arrived in just time to proceed with him up the North River on the 30th of May. In the morning of the 31st Major-General Vaughan landed with the gros[s] of his command on the east side of the river eight miles below Verplanks whilst the 17th, 63rd and 64th regiments with 100 yagers, which I accompanied, proceeded to within three miles of Stony Point where they landed under Lieut.-Colonel Johnston. On the ships coming in view the rebels evacuated their works which were in some forwardness and set fire to a large blockhouse. As the troops approached to take possession, they made some show of resistance by drawing up upon the hills but did not wait a conflict.
“Sir George Collier favoured the expedition with the assistance of the galleys and gunboats of the fleet under his own direction. These exchanged some shot with Fort la Fayette, a small but complete work on the east side of the river, whilst the troops were possessing themselves of the heights of Stony Point which commanded it.
“In the night the artillery which I found necessary was landed and Major-General Pattison assumed the command. His exertions and good arrangements, seconded by the cheerful labour of the troops, gave me the satisfaction of seeing a battery of cannon and mortars opened at 5 the next morning on the summit of this difficult rock. Their effect was soon perceived as well as that of the galleys. General Vaughan appearing at this time in the rear of the fort prevented the retreat which the enemy were concerting. Under these circumstances they delivered themselves into our hands upon the terms of humane treatment which I promised them.
“The fort mounted four pieces of artillery and the garrison consisted of one captain, three lieutenants, a surgeon’s mate and seventy privates.
“I have much satisfaction in acquainting your lordship that this little success was effected without the loss of a single man and that only one yager was wounded on the occasion” (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 17:144–46).
2. The general orders for 29 May had organized this court-martial, with Maj. Gen. Robert Howe as president, for the trial of Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold. Howe’s indisposition arose from an accident that put him on crutches (see Bennett and Lennon, Robert Howe, 103). For the deferral of Arnold’s trial, which extended several months, see Council of War, this date, and General Orders, 2 June; see also GW to Arnold, and to Timothy Matlack, both 2 June.
3. GW likely is alluding to Col. George Gibson, who commanded the 1st Virginia State Regiment.
4. This victim may have been the Robert Dennis who served as a private in the Somerset County, N.J., militia (Stryker, Officers and Men of New Jersey, 572).
5. William Cox apparently was a civilian who lived in Millstone, N.J., and whose house and kitchen were burned during the British raid led by Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe in October 1779 (see Snell, Hunterdon and Somerset, description begins James P. Snell, comp. History of Hunterdon and Somerset Counties, New Jersey, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men and Pioneers. Philadelphia, 1881. description ends 75–77).
6. William Scally (Scalley, Scully) had enlisted for the war and served as a private in Capt. Charles Pelham’s company of the 1st Virginia State Regiment. In a muster roll dated 1 July 1779, Smiths Clove, N.Y., Pelham reported Scally as “Sick” at Middlebrook since 2 June, essentially corroborating that the soldier had received his punishment in accord with GW’s orders (DNA: RG 93, Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775–1783, Virginia, 1st and 10th Regiment [Consolidated]).