George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Arthur St. Clair, 3 June 1779

From Major General Arthur St. Clair

Pompton [N.J.] June 3d 1779 7 o Clock A.M.


Colonel Burr arrived here about 3 oClock,1 from General McDougal,2 and brings Intelligence of the Surrender of the Fort on Ver Planks Point yesterday, about eleven oclock by Capitulation. The Garrison are Prisoners of War, and the Officers have Liberty to wear their side Arms.3

I have no Letter from General McDougal, but he is clearly of Opinion the Ennemy mean to attack the Posts (at least Fort Arnold, the carrying of which would open to them the Navagation of the River) in the high Lands.

Col. Burr informs me that by landing near where Fort Montgomery Stood4 & marching to the Forest of Dean, they would fall into a Clove which runs entirely round that Ridge on which the Forts are situated, & thro’ which a Road might be made, almost as fast as an army could march; by this Clove General McDougal supposes the Forts will be invested—betwixt this Clove and Smiths is a Chain of hideous Mountains,5 but through them there are, no doubt, many Passes, with which they will be made acquainted by the Inhabitants whom they have debauched, and would thereby be able to give much Annoyance to any Convoys that might pass by Smiths supposing it Necessary to make use of that Road.

It seems to be General McDougal’s wish that I should move to New Windsor, and thinks that the occupying Butter Hill6 might prevent the attack upon Fort Arnold from the upper side, at the same time the State of the Provision is very alarming—Not much above three weeks in the respective Forts and the Militia called in; and their principal Dependance for further supplies, upon their being transported across the Country from Sussex or Deleware.

I think I could easily reach New Windsor, or at least be so far advanced thro’ the Clove as to be out of all Danger of being intercepted, but it is necessary first to have Intilligence from the River least the Parts of your Army on this side of it should be too much seperated and exposed to be beaten by Piece Meal. This I will endeavour to procure, and act according to Circumstances, of which I will take care to give your Excellency Notice.

Notwithstanding the General Current of opinion that the Forts are the Ennemys Object, Coll Burr mentions Circumstances that leave it Still doubtfull7—Their Troops are landed at various Places on the East side of the River, and at Haverstraw on the West, and after the Surrender of the Fort their largest armed Vessell, supposed to be of Eighteen Guns, & a Galley which had passed before, even seen towing down again.

As the passage thro’ the Clove is somewhat Dangerous for single Persons I shall send two Horsemen back with Coll Burr, and shall thro’ him communicate to General McDougal Verbally.8 It may perhaps be necessary to force a March thro’ the Clove, in which Case I shall have my Baggage at this Place to be forwarded afterwards as your Excellency may think proper.

Our Provision Waggons will not be able to supply Us when at a greater Distance, four only being allowed to each Brigade, and three of these broke down upon the Road. I Am Sir Your Excellencys most obedient Servant9

Ar. St Clair


1At this place on the draft manuscript, St. Clair first wrote “half an hour ago.” He then struck out those words and wrote “3 o Clock” above the line.

2For Aaron Burr’s conveyance of verbal communications at the request of Maj. Gen. Alexander McDougall, see Davis, Memoirs of Aaron Burr, description begins Matthew L. Davis. Memoirs of Aaron Burr. With Miscellaneous Selections from His Correspondence. 2 vols. 1836–37. Reprint. New York, 1971. description ends 1:171–73. Burr, formerly a lieutenant colonel, had resigned from the army earlier in the year.

3The Continentals had surrendered Fort Lafayette at Verplanck Point on 1 June. After hearing a report from an officer in the Queen’s Rangers, William Smith, royal chief justice of New York, wrote in his memoirs under 5 June: “The Rebels ran away from Stoney Point Battery on the Landing towards the Mountain. Thence the British bombarded the Fort opposite to it on Verplank’s Point. Vaughan just ready to storm it when Sir Henry Ordered it to be summoned. 3 Men killed in [it] by a Shell from Stoney Point” (Sabine, Smith’s Historical Memoirs description begins William H. W. Sabine, ed. Historical Memoirs . . . of William Smith, Historian of the Province of New York. 2 vols. New York, 1956–58. description ends [1971], 113). In his later account of this operation, Gen. Henry Clinton described Fort Lafayette as “a small but complete work of four guns on the east side the river garrisoned by seventy men” (Willcox, American Rebellion, description begins William B. Willcox, ed. The American Rebellion: Sir Henry Clinton’s Narrative of His Campaigns, 1775–1782, with an Appendix of Original Documents. New Haven, 1954. description ends 124–25; see also James Pattison to George Townshend, 9 June, in Pattison, “Letters,” description begins “Official Letters of Major General James Pattison.” Collections of the New-York Historical Society for the Year 1875, 8 (1876): 1–430. description ends 73–80, and Ritchie, “New York Diary,” description begins Carson I. A. Ritchie, ed. “A New York Diary [British army officer’s journal] of the Revolutionary War.” New-York Historical Society Quarterly 50 (1966): 221–80, 401–46. description ends 420–22). For the surrender terms, see Alexander McDougall to GW, 4 June, n.16.

4British forces captured Fort Montgomery on 6 Oct. 1777 and demolished the work later that month. The site was about five miles south of West Point.

5At this place on the draft manuscript, St. Clair wrote and then struck out “almost impregnable.”

6Butter Hill, now known as Storm King Mountain, is an elevation situated about four miles northwest of West Point that rises more than 1,300 feet above sea level along its crest.

7For the British operations then under way up the Hudson River, see William De Hart to GW, 30 May, n.1, and General Orders, 1 June, n.1.

8For Burr’s return to McDougall, see McDougall to GW, 4 June.

9The final sentence of this letter and the closing do not appear on St. Clair’s draft manuscript.

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