George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General Robert Howe, 20 August 1779

To Major General Robert Howe

Head Quarters West point 20th Augt 1779.

Dear Sir

I have both your favs. of Yesterday.1 I have not the least objection to your foraging as far as you can consistent with safety, and with your present force. My desire to put this post into as perfect a state of security as possible, renders it inconvenient to spare you any more troops. I approve of your determination to leave your Baggage well in your Rear should you go down for the purpose above mentioned.2

Your mode of treating [ ]3 is judicious, and meets my approbation. If he can be convinced that it is more to his interest to serve us than to trust to the precarious issue of the success of the enemy in the present contest, he will probably execute his business with fidelity.4

It is not my intention to send the Escorte from Colo. Sheldons Horse further than is absolutely necessary. I hope to have it in my power to releive them on this side the River. If circumstances will admit, you may depend upon its being done.5

I have the pleasure to acquaint you that Major Lee of the Light Dragoons with a detachment of Foot surprized the Enemy’s strong post at Paulus Hook opposite N. york the Night before last.6 I have not the particular Returns of the Enemy’s loss or our own—But my Report from Lord Stirling, who had only reced a verbal message from Major Lee, says we made about 150 prisoners and that our loss was but three Men—My next will be more particular.7

I know not whether the last paper I transmitted to you contained the account of the intended descent upon Ireland by 25000 french troops. The present does, and I can venture to assure you that the matter may be depended upon.8 I am &.

Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1These letters have not been found.

2For Howe’s prospective raid on the British outposts above King’s Bridge, N.Y., and GW’s eventual cancellation of the operation, see GW’s second letter to Howe of 9 Aug., and n.2 to that document, and second letter to Howe of this date, and n.3 to that document.

3GW’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman, who penned the draft, wrote what appears to be the letter “H” at this point (most likely for the spy Elijah Hunter) and then marked that letter out with the apparent intention of leaving a blank space in the text.

4For GW’s opinion of Hunter and for his concerns regarding employment of Hunter as a double spy, see the source note to GW to Hunter, 12 Aug., and GW to Howe, 17 August.

5For GW’s orders to Howe to assign a cavalry escort to meet La Luzerne, France’s new minister plenipotentiary, see GW to Howe, 18 Aug., and n.1 to that document. For GW’s orders to the officer commanding Maj. Henry Lee’s corps to assign cavalry escort to relieve the detachment from Col. Elisha Sheldon’s 2d Light Dragoons at New Windsor, N.Y., see the source note to GW to Ezekiel Belden, 5 September. GW notified Howe of these arrangements on 5 September.

6Fro Maj. Henry Lee’s surprise attack on the British fort at Paulus Hook, N.J., see GW to Lee, 10 Aug.; GW to Stirling, 12 Aug., first letter; and Lee to GW, 22 August.

7Stirling’s report to GW, which has not been found, was dated 19 Aug. (see GW to Stirling, 21 Aug., and Lee to GW, 22 Aug.). Lee’s return of prisoners listed a total of 158 prisoners taken (see Lee to GW, 22 Aug., n.15). On 22 Aug., Lee reported to GW that he estimated his casualties at twenty men, but GW later received a verbal report that several of the missing had returned (see Lee to GW, 22 Aug., and GW to John Jay, 23 Aug., second letter).

8GW enclosed a newspaper with his 17 Aug. letter to Howe. “The present” newspaper has not been identified, but GW may have enclosed the 18 Aug. edition of the New-Jersey Gazette (Burlington), which quoted an extract of a letter from St. Pierre, Martinique, dated 22 July: “A packet has just arrived from France in 31 days passage, bringing certain advices of a speedy declaration of Spain, and that the French fleet consisting of 32 ships of the line has sailed towards Corunna to join 20 Spanish ships. An expedition is carrying on against Ireland; 25,000 troops are ready to embark on the coast of France, in order to attack it. 6,000 troops have sailed for America, where the English mean to make their last expiring efforts this year.”

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