George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Alexander McDougall, 4 June 1779

From Major General Alexander McDougall

Buds in the Highlands opposite to West Point1
4th June 79.


The Enemy having as I have informed your Excellency landed at Tallar’s Point on the 31st Ultimo;2 the Troops under my Command took a Position in the Highlands with their Van at the Village.3 The principal Stores being removed from thence and the Enemy having my Flanks open on the North River, on which he could move undiscovered at Night, I judged it expedient to retire to this Place to keep open my Communication with West point; as well as to secure the Pass in my Rear to FishKill—General Parsons joined me the 2nd Instant—I have now here the three Continental Brigades & a good Body of Militia.4

The state has made a very great Exertion to remove the Stores5 and collect Provision—We have double the Quantity of Provision secured which you mentioned necessary in your’s of the 2nd for a certain purpose6—Yesterday I Informed you of the Enemy’s advancing near the continental village7—He retired in the afternoon towards Pecks Kill8—His Conduct is exceedingly inexplicable; and it’s extremely difficult to determine what is his Object—He has now been seven Days on the River, and has not made that Dispatch which he might towards West point, if that is his Object.9 One thing however is very clear, that he can pillage the Country by drawing our attention to the Fort without any Risque; and can always embark—Perhaps these Movements may be designed to divert us from our Western Expeditions.10

General Patterson not having returned from Furlough,11 I appointed General Parsons to command at West point as he is well acquainted with the Post.

Yestarday Lieut: Colonel Sherman with 3 Companies of Light Infantry march’d downwards to reconnoitre and skirmish with the Enemy—He proceeded to Fort Independant at the mouth of Peeks Kill Creek,12 but saw nothing of the Enemy, altho his small Parties went near Peeks Kill—only hear’d the Noise of Cattle driving towards Kings Ferry.13

This Morning he discovered all their Shipping (except 2 Gallies) in Peeks Kill Bay standing downwards and a few Boats off Fort Independant.

Sir Henry Clinton in Person commanded the Body which I informed you were advancing yestarday.14 He was exceeding cautious in his advance and very particular in his Enquiries—He asked where I was—whether I had destroyed the Bridge this Bridge was carried away by a Freshet—over Peeks Kill Creek—what Force I had—whether the Militia were alarmed—the Situation of the Country towards Fish Kill—if strong—whether there was a great Body of men at Westpoint, and whether your Excellency’s Army was in Motion this way.

Colonel Burr whom I sent to General St Clair, returned this Morning—The General told him he would be at New Windsor this Night.15 Provisions were sent from New Burgh to Chester for his Troops, which has removed the Difficulty he apprehended.

By comparing these Accounts it appears the Enemy has given over his Design against Westpoint. Fort Dela Fayette on Verplank’s Point surrendered the 1st Instant—The inclos’d is a Copy of a Letter from Captain Armstrong who commanded it; and the Terms of Capitulation.16

It is now past 2 O’Clock P.M. and I have no Account of the Enemys moving up.17 I have the Honor to be Your Excellency’s most Obedient servant.

Alexr McDougall

LS, DLC:GW; ADf, NHi: McDougall Papers.

1“Buds” probably was the home or property of Elijah Budd, a landholder in what is now Philipstown, New York. Other Budds apparently lived in the vicinity.

2See McDougall’s first letter to GW of 1 June.

3McDougall is referring to Continental Village, New York.

4The three Continental brigades then opposite West Point were those of Brig. Gen. Samuel Holden Parsons, Brig. Gen. John Paterson, and Brig. Gen. John Nixon. For correspondence concerning the New York militia and its being called into service, see McDougall to George Clinton, 30 and 31 May and 1 June, and Clinton to McDougall, 31 May (two letters) and 1 June, in Hastings and Holden, Clinton Papers, description begins Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds. Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777–1795, 1801–1804. 10 vols. 1899–1914. Reprint. New York, 1973. description ends 4:860–61, 866, 871–72, 5:4–6.

Pvt. Benjamin Gilbert of the 5th Massachusetts Regiment wrote in his diary entry for 3 June: “At 1 oClock AM Genl. Parsons Brigade came & Joined us. Then we was Alarmd and Posted our selves in the Bush. At Night six Hundred York Militia Joined us” (Symmes, Gilbert Diary, description begins Rebecca D. Symmes, ed. A Citizen-Soldier in the American Revolution: The Diary of Benjamin Gilbert in Massachusetts and New York. Cooperstown, N.Y., 1980. description ends 52).

5See McDougall to GW, 1 June (second letter), and n.5 to that document.

6McDougall probably is referring to GW’s first letter to him of 2 June and its direction to call out as much militia from New York and Connecticut “as the means of supporting them will permit.”

7No letter from McDougall to GW on 3 June has been found, but McDougall may have communicated this information verbally via a messenger.

8British officer Archibald Robertson wrote in his diary for 3 June: “Sir Henry [Clinton] with a strong Corps reconnoitred Peak’s Kill and made a Show with Transports and Boats as if his intention was to go up to West Point. Return’d to Camp in the Evening” (Lydenberg, Robertson Diaries, description begins Harry Miller Lydenberg, ed. Archibald Robertson, Lieutenant-General Royal Engineers: His Diaries and Sketches in America, 1762–1780. New York, 1930. description ends 194).

9One of McDougall’s subordinate officers, Brig. Gen. Jedediah Huntington, expressed similar thoughts in a portion of a letter to his father, Jabez, written at the Highlands, N.Y., on this date: “Yesterday we expected a serious Meeting with the Enemy … but after advancing to the Edge of the Continental Village, they tackd about and returned to Peeks Kill and Kings ferry.

“We now hear they are fortifying at the latter Place. I can hardly think they have any thoughts of holding a Post there. their Movements have been inexplicable. had they in the first Instance pushed for the forts they might possibly have carried them. but now they have given us all the Time we wanted to make the necessary Preperations. the Militia of this state have done themselves great Honour on the Occasion we have now here a large Body of them subsisting themselves (they being desired to bring Six days Provision) they are very spirited and never turned out so generally before. I hope there will be no Occasion for the Connecticut Militia this Time” (Huntington Papers, description begins Huntington Papers: Correspondence of the Brothers Joshua and Jedediah Huntington during the Period of the American Revolution. Hartford, 1923. In Collections of the Connecticut Historical Society, vol. 20. description ends 428).

10McDougall is referring to Maj. Gen. John Sullivan’s expedition against the Six Nations, on which Sullivan coordinated with operations under the direction of Brig. Gen. James Clinton and Col. Daniel Brodhead.

11For Brig. Gen. John Paterson’s arrival at West Point on 11 June, see Samuel Holden Parsons to GW, 12 June.

12McDougall is referring to Fort Independence at Roa Hook, N.Y., which the British had destroyed in fall 1777.

13A description of enemy operations in the same area on 3 June may be found in the diary entry of Hessian captain Johann Ewald for that date: “Early in the morning the entire army marched to Peekskill, where it halted on the heights on this side of the creek. General Vaughan departed here to the right toward Dutch Crompond with the light infantry, Ferguson, the Volunteers of Ireland, and the Regiment Prinz Carl, where the cattle for several miles around were herded together for the army.

“Since the enemy had partly destroyed the Peekskill Bridge, and a body of riflemen stopped on the heights on the other side of the creek insulted us and killed and wounded several men by good shooting, General Clinton ordered me to cross the beams of the bridge with some forty jägers to drive away these people. . . .

“The mountains which lay beyond were so steep that as soon as we had crossed the bridge the enemy was out of sight. I then divided the forty men into four parts and climbed the mountain. The party on the left found a footpath by which the enemy was approached unawares in the rear and an adjutant of General McDougall was killed, whereupon the enemy party withdrew. I then took the way to Continental Village, set fire to the barracks, and, as I did not find a living soul in the place, I withdrew. An enemy party followed me on the way back, with whom I skirmished, during which one jäger was wounded. Toward evening the army withdrew to its former position” (Ewald, Diary, description begins Johann Ewald. Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal. Translated and edited by Joseph P. Tustin. New Haven and London, 1979. description ends 163).

14See notes 8 and 13 above.

15Aaron Burr conveyed verbal communications for McDougall (see Arthur St. Clair to GW, 3 June [first letter], and n.2 to that document).

16The enclosures, both dated 1 June and in DLC:GW, are copies of a letter from Capt. Thomas Armstrong to McDougall and a communication that Gen. Henry Clinton’s aide-de-camp John André wrote “On the Glacis of Fort La Fayette.” Armstrong’s letter to McDougall reads: “The inclos’d are the Terms upon which I was under the Necessity of surrendering Fort Dela Fayette occasioned by the Loss of some of our Artillery men, and their possessing the Fort on the opposite Side of the River which commands us, and entirely inclos’d by Land and Water without the least Hopes of Relief from any quarter.” André’s communication reads: “His Excellency Genl Sir Henry Clinton and Commodore Sir Geo: Collier grant to the Garrison of Fort La Fayette Terms of Safety to the Persons and Property (contained in the Fort) of the Garrison, they surrendering themselves Prisoners of war—The Officers shall be permitted to wear their Side Arms.”

Thomas Armstrong became a lieutenant in the 5th North Carolina Regiment in April 1776 and rose to captain in October 1777. He surrendered Fort Lafayette on Verplanck Point to the British on 1 June 1779 and was taken prisoner. Exchanged under an agreement fully ratified on 16 March 1780, Armstrong again was taken prisoner at Charleston, S.C., on 12 May. Exchanged during 1781, he later served as Brig. Gen. Thomas Sumter’s aide-de-camp from March 1782 to the end of the war.

17McDougall wrote at midnight, 5 June, what amounts to an addendum to this letter: “Since I finished the cover, I have received information, that several of the Enemies ships have sailed down the River—Two deserters who came in immediately after, say, that the Virginia detatchment was to have embarked this morning, for New York to refresh them selves; as they had been on Service and to be releived by fresh Troops. And that the Heavy artillery, was momently expected. From this it would seem that west Point is his object” (ALS, DLC:GW).

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