George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General Robert Howe, 9 August 1779

To Major General Robert Howe

West-point Augt 9th 1779

Dear Sir,

I have received your (private) letter of the 7th.1 The present Æra is big of events—the next ten or twelve days will, most assuredly bring forth something of importance—till which (I mean till the designs of the enemy are a little more unfolded) I shall not think it consistent with military prudence to make further detachments from this army however desirous I may be to beat up the enemys quarters on this side Kings bridge.2 From Europe, from the West Indies, from the East, & from the west, we may I think look for interesting News—the Military movements in the three last (two of them at least) must have brought matters nearly, to a decision; and from the other that is Europe a few days must discover her views and what is to be apprehended from the long talked of re-inforcement.3

My ideas of Militia co-incide exactly with your description of their conduct in a recent instance—their numbers magnify the sound, more than it increases the strength of an Army; and in escorts, guards, &c. they are useful because they save other Troops from this duty but they ever did & ever will deceive one in action. After having warned General Wolcot of the danger which might be apprehended from an enterprizing enemy I commit him to his fate, and the orders of his Governor.4

I had wrote thus far and was about to finish, when your letter of the 8th with its inclosure came to hand.5 For sometime past, I have been clear in one of two things, but not decided in either. First that the enemy are really in expectation of a pritty considerable reinforcement with which they mean to take the field and act vigorously, and are in the meantime putting the Island & defences of New Yk in such a situation as to be, with their shipping, held by a few men—or expecting no re-inforcement & apprehensive of a foreign foe, are preparing for self defence. The Spies employed by [ ] may in a great measure determine this point (if they can gain admittance to the City) by looking into the number & condition of their waggon Horses, preparation of Waggons—& such apendages as are necessary for the land transportation of an Army. I shall mention the case of Glovers field pieces to General Knox6—I sincerely thank you for your professions of personal attachment & regard & am with sentiments of esteem and affection Dr Sir Yr Most Obedt Servt

Go: W——n

ADfS, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1This letter has not been found.

2GW is referring to Howe’s proposed raid on the British outposts above King’s Bridge, which Howe seems to have first proposed in his 7 Aug. letter to GW. On that date, reconnaissance had revealed that only Lt. Col. Andreas Emmerich’s provincial chassuer regiment, Lt. Col. John Simcoe’s provincial Queen’s Rangers, and Col. Ludwig von Wurmb’s Hessian Jäger Corps remained in the outposts above King’s Bridge, N.Y. (see William Heath’s first letter to GW of 8 Aug., and n.1 to that document). Although in this letter GW refused to authorize the raid, he seems to have relented and left the decision up to Howe, even offering Howe advice on the conduct of the operation (see GW’s second letter to Howe of 20 Aug., and GW to Howe, 24 Aug.).

3GW is referring to the expected arrival of the British reinforcements being convoyed by a fleet under the command of Vice Adm. Marriot Arbuthnot (see GW to Jay, 11 Aug., and n.5 to that document).

4For GW’s dissatisfaction with the position of Maj. Gen. Oliver Wolcott’s party of Connecticut militia at Horseneck (Greenwich), Conn., see GW to Howe, 28 July and 4 Aug.; see also GW to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., 10 Aug., in which GW warned Governor Trumbull of the unsuitability of Horseneck for artillery.

5This letter has not been found, but it and the enclosure, presumably from one of Howe’s spies in New York, contained intelligence on British expectations for reinforcements (see GW to John Jay, 11 Aug., n.3).

6Howe had complained to Maj. Gen. William Heath of the poor condition of the cannon with his troops and had requested two “well fitted” six-pounder field cannon for Glover’s brigade (see Howe to Heath, 8 Aug.; Heath to Howe, 9 Aug.; and Knox to Heath, 12 Aug., all in MHi: Heath Papers).

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