George Washington Papers

III. From George Washington to George Clinton, 4 October 1779

To George Clinton

Head Quarters West Point 4th Octobr 1779


I have the honor to inclose your Excellency the Copy of a Resolution of Congress of the 26th September, by which you will perceive they expect the arrival of his Excellency Count D’Estaing; and that I am directed to pursue measures for cooperating with him, and to call upon the several States for such aid as shall appear to me necessary for this important purpose1—In compliance with these directions, I have made an estimate of the force of Militia which will be indispensible, in conjuction with the Continental Troops; and have apportioned this force to the neighbouring States according to the best judgment I am able to form of their respective circumstances and abilities. The number I have to request of the State of New York is two thousand five hundred2 In forming this estimate, I assure your Excellency I have fixed upon the smallest number which appeared to me adequate to the exigency, on account of the scantiness of our supplies, and I think it my duty explicitly to declare that the cooperation will altogether depend on a full compliance with these requisitions. If I am so happy as to obtain the whole number demanded a decisive stroke may be attempted against New York with a reasonable prospect of success.3 If the supply falls short the disappointment will inevitably produce a failure in the undertaking. In this case, Congress and my Country must excuse a want of enterprize and success of which the want of means will have been the unfortunate cause. If the honor and interest of the States suffer from thence, the blame must not be imputed to me.

I have taken the liberty to dwell on these points to induce a persuasion that I have not in any degree exaggerated the number of Men really necessary, lest a supposition of this kind and a regard to the ease of the people should relax the exertions of the State and occasion a deficiency which would certainly be fatal to the views of Congress and to the expected co-operation.

I am now to add to this request another equally essential which is that the most effectual and expeditious means be immediately adopted to have the Men drawn out properly equipped to serve for the term of three Months from the time they join the Army unless the particular service for which they are drawn out should be sooner performed. I beg leave to recommend Fishkill as a proper place of rendezvous.4 If the laws of the State now in existence or the powers vested in your Excellency are not competent to these objects, permit me to intreat that the legislature may be called together without loss of time, and that you will be pleased to employ your influence to procure laws for the purpose, framed on such principles as will secure an instant and certain execution.

There are other objects which I beg leave at the same time to recommend to the most zealous and serious attention of the State. These are, making every exertion to promote the supplies of the Army in provisions, particularly in the Article of Flour, and to facilitate the transportation in general of necessaries for the use of the Army—Our prospects with respect to Flour are to the last degree embarrassing—we are already distressed5—but when we come to increase the demand by so large an addition of numbers, we may expect to be obliged to disband the troops for want of subsistence unless the utmost care and energy of the different legislatures are exerted. The difficulties we daily experience on the score of transportation justify equal apprehensions on that account without a similar attention to this part of the public service.6

These difficulties were sufficient to deter me from the plan I mean to pursue, were I not convinced that the magnitude of the object will call forth all the Vigor of the States and inspire the people with a disposition to second the plans of their Governors, and give efficacy to the measures they adopt. I doubt not our resources will be found fully adequate to the undertaking if they are properly exerted—and when I consider the delicacy of the Crisis—and the importance of the object to be attained—I cannot doubt that this will be the case. On one side—the reputation of our Councils & our Arms and an immediate removal of the War present themselves. on the other, disgrace and disappointment—an accumulation of expence, loss of Credit with our Allies and the World—loss of confidence in ourselves—the exhausting our Magazines and Resources, the precipitated decay of our Currency and the continuance of the War. Nor will these evils be confined to ourselves: Our Allies must share in them, and suffer the mortification of having accomplished nothing to compensate for withdrawing their operations from a quarter where they had a right to expect success, and for exposing their own possessions to hazard in a fruitless attempt to rescue ours.

From the accounts received we are hourly to look for the appearance of the French Squadron on this Coast—the emergency is pressing—and all our measures ought to be attended with suitable expedition. Every moment is of infinite value.7 With the most perfect reliance on your Excellency’s exertions and on those of the State, and with the greatest Respect and Esteem I have the honor to be Your Excellency’s Most obt Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, NNPM; LS, addressed to New Jersey governor William Livingston, in James McHenry’s writing, Nj; LS, addressed to the president of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Executive Council Joseph Reed, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, NjP: deCoppet Collection; Df, DLC:GW; copy, addressed to Massachusetts governor Jeremiah Powell, PPAmP: Feinstone Collection; copy, addressed to Joseph Reed, NHi: Reed Papers; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. There are minor textual variations in the letters.

Versions of this letter were also sent to the executives of Massacusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. No copy of the letter sent to Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., has been found. A note filed with the draft, in the writing of GW’s secretary Robert Hanson Harrison, reads: “Amount of requisitions and the places of Rendezvous for the Levies in the first instance.

Men Rendezvous
From Massachusetts  2,000 Claverack
Connecticut  4,000 Stratford & Seabrook
New York  2,500 Fishkill
Jersey  2,000 Pumpton
Pensylvania  1,500 Trentown
12,000” (DLC:GW).

1The enclosed copy of the resolution is filed in NNPM with this letter. For the text of the resolution, see John Jay to GW, 26 Sept., n.3.

2The name of the state and the number of militia varied in the letters addressed to the other state executives; see the source note. GW inserted the following additional text at this point in the letter addressed to Reed: “I have rated its proportion thus low from a consideration of the extensive calls upon it for transportation and other aids, on which our operations must essentially depend, and in which, all the energy of the State will be requisite.”

The draft includes the following text, in Robert Hanson Harrison’s writing, which was to be inserted in the letter addressed to Powell: “which I should hope may be easily furnished from it’s Western Counties. I have rated it’s proportion thus low from a consideration that it may possibly be necessary for it to send a farther number to Rhode Island, when the Troops are drawn from thence, to prevent the Enemy in that Quarter from attempting anything on the Continent, which however I think is not to be expected.”

3GW estimated that 30,000 troops would be required for the attack on New York, with 25,000 being supplied by the Americans (see Documents IV and X); as his Continentals only numbered some 14,000, these militia were a critical component of his plans. For some of the roles GW intended for the militia, see Documents I and II. GW also likely intended the militia to garrison West Point while the Continentals attacked New York.

4This location varied in the letters addressed to the other state executives; see the source note.

5GW had also written to the states in August on the issue of flour supplies (see his circular to the states of 28 Aug.; see also Jeremiah Wadsworth to GW, 27 Aug.). For Commissary General Wadsworth’s doubts that sufficient flour would be available to support the operation against New York, which would include supplying the French, see Wadsworth to GW, 26 Sept.; see also Wadsworth to GW, 11 Oct., and the notes to that document.

6The foregoing paragraph and the first sentence of the next paragraph were not included in the letter sent to Powell.

7On 8 Oct. a meeting of the Connecticut council of safety was called “on occasion of a letter from Gen’l Washington of the 4th” and “The important matter taken into consideration and largely discoursed.” The following day Trumbull, as captain-general of the state, issued a proclamation for 4,000 militia to be raised by volunteer enlistments or drafts—inclusive of the regiments under lieutenant colonels Matthew Mead and Levi Wells already in the field—to serve for three months from the time they joined the army and organizing them into two brigades of four regiments each. The Connecticut general assembly ratified the governor’s action in their 14 Oct.–3 Nov. 1779 session. See Conn. Public Records, description begins The Public Records of the State of Connecticut . . . with the Journal of the Council of Safety . . . and an Appendix. 18 vols. to date. Hartford, 1894–. description ends 2:399, 405–8. In response to GW’s call for supplies of flour, the Connecticut general assembly in their 14 Oct. session passed “An Act to enable the Commissary General on a sudden and very pressing Emergency, to procure a certain Quantity of Flour or Grain from this State for the Subsistence of the Troops of this and the United States,” which authorized the commissary general to draw 14,000 bushels of wheat and either 6,000 bushels of rye or the equivalent in flour to support the state’s militia if d’Estaing arrived (Conn. Public Records, description begins The Public Records of the State of Connecticut . . . with the Journal of the Council of Safety . . . and an Appendix. 18 vols. to date. Hartford, 1894–. description ends 2:408–11). In early November, Connecticut ordered their militia to move to their designated rendezvous points “as soon as possible” (Trumbull to GW, 5 Nov., DLC:GW). GW, beginning to doubt the arrival of d’Estaing and fearing an inability to supply the militia for any length of time at their rendezvous points, asked Trumbull to hold them in readiness to march but not send them forward (see GW to Trumbull, 12 Nov., Ct).

For the response of New York, see Clinton to GW, 7 October. Governor Clinton took command of the New York militia assembling at Fishkill, N.Y., and he appears to have estimated he could assemble 2,625 militiamen, though only about 1,700 were in the field by 15 Nov. (see Clinton to GW, 29 Oct., and “Estimate of Militia Forces to Cooperate With General Washington for the Defence of the Frontiers,” 13 Oct., and “Return of the Militia of the State of New York now in Continental Service,” 15 Nov., 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 5:322, 333–34, 359). For the response of Massachusetts, which agreed to raise the requested 2,000 militia organized into a brigade under command of Brig. Gen. John Fellows, see Massachusetts Council to GW, 12 October.

The Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania read this letter on 8 Oct. and, noting the “Magnitude and importance of the object” sent it to the state’s assembly. On 13 Oct., the Council called into service two classes each from the militia of the city of Philadelphia and the counties of Philadelphia and Bucks and three classes from the counties of Chester and York (Pa. Col. Records, description begins Colonial Records of Pennsylvania. 16 vols. Harrisburg, 1840–53. description ends 12:123–24, 129). The Pennsylvania militia, which President Reed intended to command in person, was ordered to be ready to march on call (see GW to Reed, 22 Oct., RPJCB; Reed to GW, 15 Nov., DLC:GW; and Reed to GW, [22] Dec., PHarH).

The New Jersey legislature passed an act to embody “for a limited time” 4,000 militiamen “by voluntary enlistment” (N.J. Archives, description begins Documents Relating to the Colonial, Revolutionary and Post-Revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey. 42 vols. Newark and Trenton, 1880–1949. description ends 2d ser., 3:681–2) and selected the field officers to command the force.

The Massachusetts and New York militia began arriving at their designated assembly points by late October, and some New Jersey militia began assembling at Pompton, N.J., though that state never drew its full quota together (see Clinton to GW, 28 Oct., DNA:PCC, item 152; GW to Anthony Wayne, 27 Oct., PHi: Wayne Papers; Wayne to GW, 28 Oct., PHi: Wayne Papers; GW to Clinton, 29 Oct., DLC: GW; GW to the Officer Commanding at Claverack, N.Y., 29 Oct., DLC:GW; and GW to Livingston, 22 Nov., DLC:GW; see also GW to Samuel Huntington, 30 Oct., DNA:PCC, item 152. Thanking the governors and militia commanders for their “great activity and zeal” (GW to John Fellows, 16 Nov., DLC:GW) and “cheerful concurrence” (GW to the Massachusetts Legislature, 22 Nov., M-Ar), GW dismissed all the assembled militia in late November after he determined that the prospects for a joint offensive were at an end (see GW to Trumbull, 16 Nov., Ct; GW to Livingston, 22 Nov., DLC:GW; and GW to Reed, 22 Nov., in Goodspeed’s Flying Quill, item 58, May 1948; see also GW to Samuel Huntington, 14 and 24 Nov., both DNA:PCC, item 152, and Livingston to GW, 1 Dec., in private hands).

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