George Washington Papers

Council of General Officers, 26 July 1779

Council of General Officers

[West Point, 26 July 1779]

At a Council of General Officers held at Head Quarters at West Point this 26th day of July 1779—


The Commander in Chief

Major General, Putnam Brigadrs Nixon
Heath Parsons
Greene Smallwood
St Clair Knox
Howe Wayne
DeKalb Huntington
McDougal Duportail
Steuben Gist

The General states to the Council that by his last advices the enemy had repossessed stoney point with between thirteen & fourteen hundred men under the Command of Brigr Stirling and were very busily employed in reconstructing the works1—That they had reinforced Verplanks point with four companys of Fannings Corps which now increased the garrison to about 700 men2—That the remainder of their force had been encamped near Dobbs ferry and at Phillipsburgh; but by some advices (not yet well confirmed) a very considerable part is said to have embarked and the Shipping containing them to have fallen down the river on the afternoon of the 22d—their destination unknown3—That on the evening of the 22d forty sail of Vessels passed by Norwalk steering Eastward; no mention made of their having troops on board4—That the enemy’s whole efficient force in this quarter under Genl Clinton, including the late reinforcement from Rhode Island & the garrisons of New York Long & Staten Island amounts by the best estimate he has been able to form—to about twelve thousand exclusive of Cavalry and Artillery.

The Genl further informs the Council, that our whole force in this quarter exclusive of Cavalry and Artillery also and including the Garrison of West point amounts to nearly 10,300 That two divisions of the right wing are at this post & in the vicinity, amounting with the garrison—to about 5,800—one division of 1700 at sufferns—the left wing on the East side of the river, two Brigades opposite West point one Brigade at the gorge of the mountains in the rear of the Continental Village—& one Brigade at Ridgefield the whole amounting to about 2800.

The Commander in Chief submits the above state of facts to the consideration of the Council and requests they will favour him with their opinion tomorrow at Twelve OCloc⟨k,⟩5 respecting a general disposition for the army, on a comprehensive view of our circumstances and prospects—the comparative strength of the two Armies—and those objects, which from their importance demand our principal attention, including the discussion of this question, whether any and what offensive operations can with propriety be undertaken by us against the enemy—at the present juncture?6

Df, in Richard Kidder Meade’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. Illegible material on the draft manuscript is supplied in angle brackets from the Varick transcript.

GW’s aide-de-camp Alexander Hamilton wrote Maj. Gen. William Heath in a letter docketed this date: “The General requests that yourself and the other Gentlemen of the Board together with Major General Howe will attend a Council to be held at Head Quarters this afternoon at half past four OClock. . . . Inclosed is a letter from General Glover relative to the subject of the Board’s present deliberations” (MHi: Heath Papers). The letter from Brig. Gen. John Glover to GW, which reported vessels passing Norwalk, Conn., has not been found (see the references at n.4 below). Hamilton also sent a note to Heath, presumably of the same date: “Be pleased also to summon General Huntington” (MHi: Heath Papers).

Hamilton also sent a letter to Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne on this date: “I am commanded by His Excellency to inform you that he is anxious to have the sentiments of the General officers on certain points of importance and has notified a meeting this afternoon half past four OClock—He would wish you to be present if your wound will permit you to attend with convenience—The barge carries this and can bring you down—If you will have time, he will be glad of your company to dinner … If you can have the letter to the Baron forwarded to him he will probably accompany you. ’Tis on the same subject” (PHi: Wayne Papers).

An undated memorandum in Hamilton’s writing, found in DLC:GW, seems to be related to this council of general officers. The memorandum described the “State of our force” as “three divisions in our camp” with 5,047 rank and file, “troops under General McDougall may be about” 2,800, “troops at West Point may be ab[ou]t” 1,700, for a total of 9,547. Adding about 2,000 militia increased the total to 11,547. The memorandum then described the “State of the enemy’s force By General McDougalls acco[un]t” as about 5,000 on Verplanck Point, N.Y., and 1,000 on Stony Point, N.Y., for a total of 6,000. “If this estimate be true they must have in New York and its dependencies ab[ou]t” 5,000, for a combined total of 11,000. Hamilton concluded the memorandum with two questions: “In this state of things What general disposition will be best to make of the whole army, so as to conciliate as far as possible the security of the Highland posts, the security of the army, the security of our communications[,] the protection of the country and the subsistence of the troops? Can any attempt be made to dislodge the enemy from the posts they have now taken which will entirely interrupt our best communication between the Eastern & Southern states, and tend greatly to distress and disaffect the Country?”

3GW is referring to intelligence from Maj. Henry Lee, Jr., which proved false (see Lee to GW, 22 July; GW to Lee, 25 July; and GW to Stirling, 24 and 28 July).

4See GW to John Jay, 24 July, and n.4 to that document; see also GW to Benjamin Tallmadge, 25 July, and Tallmadge to GW, 28–30 July.

5At this place on the draft manuscript, Meade initially wrote “morning.” He then struck out that word and wrote the more specific time above the line.

6Written replies to GW, all dated 27 July, have been found from all generals who attended this council except Maj. Gen. Israel Putnam.

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