George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General William Heath, 29 August 1779

To Major General William Heath

West-point Augt 29th 79.

Dear Sir,

That the long expected Fleet is arrived admits of no doubt, though the strength of the re-inforcement is matter of uncertainty.1 If it is so powerful as to enable the Kings Troops to take the field with a view of meeting this army, Generl clinton will not, it is to be presumed, delay the commencement of his operations a moment; because a knowledge of the event must have produced preparatory arrangements for the consequent movements.

Under this view & expectation, we also, should neglect nothing by which we can derive any advantage, and as nothing is more essential than a thorough knowledge of ground on which operations offensive or defensive are to be performed, I earnestly desire that you will recommend it to all the Officers under your command (now in the high lands) to make themselves masters not only of the great & leading roads from the enemy’s lines, but all bye paths, & even the woods; that defiles may be known & defended to good effect—ambuscades formed—and the Enemys flanks gained with more ease—& if possible unsuspected.2

I would have the Baggage of Nixon’s & the Connecticut Brigades held in such readiness as to disincumber yourself of it at the shortest warning—& every thing fit for action; as the enemys movements when they become serious, will, more than probably, be vigorous, & rapid.3

I have directed General Howe (if circumstances did not permit the immediate execution of the enterprize he had in contemplation) to incline a little this way—Lord Stirling has the same orders—that our force under the uncertainty of the enemy’s strength, and designs, may be a little more compacted.4 I am with great esteem & regard Dr Sir Yr most Obedt Ser.

Go: Washington

ALS, MHi: Heath Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1GW is referring to the British army reinforcements, convoyed by the naval squadron of Vice Adm. Marriot Arbuthnot, which had arrived at New York on 25 Aug. (see GW to John Jay, 24–27 Aug., and n.8 to that document).

2GW had issued similar orders in late July to Maj. Gen. Israel Putnam, who was commanding the army’s right wing, located west of the Hudson (see GW to Putnam, 20 July; see also Board of General Officers to GW, 22 July).

3A draft of a letter from Heath to Brig. Gen. John Nixon, dated this date at Mandeville’s (Dutchess County, N.Y.), reads in part: “As it is now beyond a Doubt that the Enemy have received a reinforcment altho the number is uncertain or what their movements will be, or whether they will move at all yet prudence and Policy dictate that we should take every necessary precaution and in every respect be Complaetly ready to act on the most Sudden emergency we may be Called to Action on the Ground we now Occupy—we may be called to move over the river, to advance or move to the Left, In the first case a thorough knowledged of the Ground is necessary I would therefore request that all your Officers would make themselves acquainted with every Road cross road & bye path in the Highlands especially Such as are near the Camp and that they would carefully, observe the Situation of the Ground, that they may be well acquainted with the defiles and Such places as may be disputed to advantage, or Ambuscades placed to deceive the enemy, Your Baggag⟨e⟩ Should be in such order that you may be disencumbered of it on the shortest notice the latter will be necessary whether you fight on your own Ground—or Suddenly move to the right or left” (MHi: Heath Papers).

4See GW to Robert Howe, 28 Aug., and GW to Stirling, 28–29 August. For the full scope of GW’s defensive preparations for the arrival of this long-expected British reinforcement, see GW to Jay, 11 Aug., n.5.

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