George Washington Papers

From George Washington to George Clinton, 29 October 1779

To George Clinton

Head Quarters West point 29th October 1779.

Dear Sir

I am just honored with yours of last evening, and am sorry to find inclosures of so disagreeable a nature. I have, by the inclosed, directed the Commanding Officer of the Massachusetts Militia to repair to Albany, and have desired him to leave word for the remainder to repair thither as they come in.1 Should any part of your Militia, that were intended for the expected cooperation, be still above, I leave it with your Excellency to order them to Albany for the present, should you be of opinion that it will answer a good purpose.2

I, this morning, recd a Return from Colo. Swartwout of the Arms and accoutrements wanting by the Militia.3 Our stock of these Articles is so very scanty, that I am loth to deliver them out, in that way, but upon the greatest emergency. Should we commence operations against New York, we shall have occasion for a very considerable quantity of Wood, from above; I would therefore suggest to your Excellency the propriety of employing those Men who want Arms in cutting Wood between this and Verplanks point. I would wish you to give me your opinion upon this matter, because I would not impose a duty upon the Militia that should be disagreeable or disgusting to them. Should there be a necessity of arming them, I would wish it might be put off till we have a certainty of operating.4

I have heard that the party, which made an incursion into Jersey, have returned. Their numbers were greatly exaggerated. They consisted of about one hundred Horse who penetrated as far as sommerset Court House. What particular damage they did, I do not exactly know, but they were met by a small party of Militia at Middle Brook, who fired upon them, and took Lt Colo. Simcoe their Commandant and three privates prisoners. They returned with precipitation by south Amboy, where a Body of Infantry were prepared to cover them in their embarkation.5 I have the honor to be with very sincere Esteem Yr Excellency’s most obt Servt

Go: Washington

P.S. I have this moment recd a letter from Mr Laurens who favors me with news from the Southward to the 2d Inst. the following the Substance.6

Colo. Maitland with such of his Men as were able to march had made their escape to Savannah and joined General prevost, leaving his Hospitals—Artillery—Baggage and Stores.

The enemy strongly fortified at Savannah—Their numbers about 3000 exclusive of Negroes &ca.

Count D’Estaing had landed 5000 Men, and formed a junction with Genl Lincoln who had about 4000 under his command. The Allies were determined to make regular approaches. The Chief Engineer Col. Laumoy announced that his Batteries of 38 heavy Cannon and 8 Mortars would open the 2d Inst. Two sorties had been made by the beseiged who were beat back and suffered greatly in killed and wounded.

The Sagittaire had taken the Experiment Sir James Wallace, on board of whom was General Vaughan and 20 other Officers and Cash to pay the troops in Georgia. it appears that 4000 Men had been intended for south Carolina. The Ariel 26 Guns—Fowey 24 and a sloop of 18 Guns—a large ship with 2200 Barrels of Flour and a quantity of Beef and pork—4000 suits of Cloaths &c. &c. All the Enemies Store ships and transports had fallen into the French Admirals hands.

A part of the Cherokee Nation had been induced to break faith with us by Cameron the superintendant, They had in consequence been severely chastised by Genl Williamson who had returned and would join General Lincoln with 1000 Men the 29th or 30th Septemr.

perfect unanimity between the Allies. it was expected the whole of the Enemy would be in our hands in a Week.

The above being from a private letter from Mr Laurens I would not wish to have it published in the papers.

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

1The draft of the enclosed letter from GW to the officer commanding the Massachusetts militia at Claverack, N.Y., this date, reads: “You will be pleased on receipt of this letter, to move with the militia which may be collected at Claverack—to Albany, where they can be much better accommodated. You will leave such orders when you march that such as have not yet joined you may follow to Albany. And hold yourself in readiness to move on the shortest notice” (Df, in James McHenry’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW). For GW’s explanation of this order, see his letter to Samuel Huntington, 30 October. For the arrival of the Massachusetts militia at Albany, see Goose Van Schaick to GW, 9 Nov., and John Fellows to GW, 10 November.

2Clinton, then at Fishkill, N.Y., used the latitude that GW gave him to direct Col. Robert Van Rensselaer on this date to “repair to Claverack, & Albany, immediately” and, if necessary, forward regiments to reinforce Brig. Gen. Abraham Ten Broeck, leaving behind only “such parts of those Regiments as have been detach’d for Southern Service” (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 5:332–33; see also Clinton to GW, this date, and n.1 to that document). “Southern Service” in Clinton’s letter and “expected cooperation” in GW’s letter to Clinton both refer to the American intention to attack the British in and around New York City after rendezvousing with French forces (see Planning for an Allied Attack on New York, c.3–7 Oct., editorial note).

3GW wrote Col. Jacobus Swartwout from West Point on this date: “your letter of the 28th inclosing the return. came duly to hand.

“I have written to Governor Clinton on the subject of deficiencies in the arms and accoutrements” (Df, in James McHenry’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW). Swartwout’s letter to GW of 28 Oct. has not been found, and the enclosed return has not been identified.

5In earlier October, Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe secured permission from Gen. Henry Clinton to conduct a raid into central New Jersey to destroy flatboats meant for a rumored American attack on New York City. From recent intelligence, Simcoe believed that he would meet only scattered New Jersey militia. Furthermore, a successful foray might rally Loyalists to join the raiders in a crushing blow against any militia response. Simcoe launched his thrust from Staten Island on 25 Oct. at 8:00 P.M. His primary force consisted of a few hundred cavalry and infantry with supporting artillery from the Queen’s Rangers. It landed at South Amboy, N.J., and moved inland at daybreak on 26 October. Cavalry purposely spread alarm and misinformation and reached the vicinity of the Continental army’s former Middlebrook winter encampment by the afternoon. They found and wrecked eighteen flatboats at Van Veghten’s Bridge. The party also burned a Dutch Reformed Church and treated a house deemed “a magazine of forage” similarly. Hearing alarm guns and seeing signs of opposition, Simcoe turned his raiders toward New Brunswick. Shots fired near that place killed Simcoe’s horse and caused him to fall. Badly injured, he was taken prisoner. The bulk of Simcoe’s command, however, pushed through disjointed resistance and returned to Staten Island from South Amboy later that evening (Simcoe, Operations of the Queen’s Rangers, description begins John Graves Simcoe. Simcoe’s Military Journal: A History of the Operations of a Partisan Corps, Called the Queen’s Rangers, Commanded by Lieut. Col. J. G. Simcoe, during the War of the American Revolution . . .. 1844. Reprint. New York, 1968. description ends 109–19). For other accounts, see The New-York Gazette: and the Weekly Mercury, 1 Nov. 1779; Supplement to the Royal Gazette (New York), 3 Nov. 1779; and The Pennsylvania Packet or General Advertiser (Philadelphia), 6 Nov. 1779; see also GW to Silvanus Seely, 29 Oct., n.1, and Ritchie, “New York Diary,” description begins Carson I. A. Ritchie, ed. “A New York Diary [British army officer’s journal] of the Revolutionary War.” New-York Historical Society Quarterly 50 (1966): 221–80, 401–46. description ends 443.

New Jersey governor William Livingston’s letter to Lt. Col. James Abeel, deputy quartermaster general, written at Raritan on 29 Oct., communicated information about Simcoe’s raid and capture. It reads: “It is of the last importance that General Washington should have the inclosed Letter as soon as possible on account of the loss of the Boats at Raritan Bridge destroyed by the Enemy yesterday. For this purpose I have hired the Express, my horseman just setting out with me for Trenton. You will please to pay the Express, & send on the Letter.

“The commanding officer of the party Lieutenant Colonel Simpco fell into the hands of our militia near the heights of Brunswick on the South of Raritan by his horse being shot, his Surgeon was sent to take care of him; & a private was mortally wounded.

“They burnt the Dutch Church at Raritan Bridge, 3 of the hutts with hay, & the Court house at Sommerset” (Prince, Livingston Papers, description begins Carl E. Prince et al., eds. The Papers of William Livingston. 5 vols. Trenton and New Brunswick, N.J., 1979–88. description ends 3:189). The enclosed letter has not been identified.

Hessian captain Johann Ewald wrote in his diary entry for 29 Oct.: “I received the unpleasant news that my very good friend Lieutenant Colonel Simcoe had been badly wounded in the Province of Jersey and was in enemy captivity. He had taken a party of twenty-six horsemen and two hundred infantrymen from Staten Island to the Province of Jersey in order to destroy several enemy magazines. He left his infantry at Amboy to protect his rear and went with the horsemen to Brunswick and Bound Brook, where he succeeded in destroying a provisions magazine. But as soon as the state militia learned of it, they assembled immediately at the passes. They shot down the majority of his men, and finally wounded and captured him” (Ewald, Diary, description begins Johann Ewald. Diary of the American War: A Hessian Journal. Translated and edited by Joseph P. Tustin. New Haven and London, 1979. description ends 179, 182). Hessian major Carl Leopold Baurmeister wrote a dispatch from New York City on 8 Nov. that sketched Simcoe’s raid (with inaccurate dates) and closed: “Colonel Simcoe, suffering from a dangerously fractured leg, lies a prisoner in Brunswick and is unable to obtain his release on parole. It is a real loss” (Baurmeister, Revolution in America, description begins Carl Leopold Baurmeister. Revolution in America: Confidential Letters and Journals, 1776–1784, of Adjutant General Major Baurmeister of the Hessian Forces. Translated and annotated by Bernhard A. Uhlendorf. New Brunswick, N.J., 1957. description ends 316–17). For Simcoe’s imprisonment and eventual exchange, see Livingston to GW, 9 Nov., and Simcoe to GW [November–December].

General Clinton had reported Simcoe’s raid and capture in a letter to Lord George Germain written at New York on 29 Oct. (see Davies, Documents of the American Revolution, description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends 16:202; see also Willcox, American Rebellion, description begins William B. Willcox, ed. The American Rebellion: Sir Henry Clinton’s Narrative of His Campaigns, 1775–1782, with an Appendix of Original Documents. New Haven, 1954. description ends 147–48). In his reply to Clinton written at London on 4 Dec., Germain observed: “The loss of so able and gallant an officer as Colonel Simcoe is much to be lamented but I hope his misfortune will not damp the spirit of the brave loyalists he so often led out with success. His last enterprise was certainly a very bold one and I should be glad he had been in a situation to be informed that his spirited conduct was approved by the King” (Davies, Documents of the American Revolution, description begins K. G. Davies, ed. Documents of the American Revolution, 1770–1783; (Colonial Office Series). 21 vols. Shannon and Dublin, 1972–81. description ends 17:257–58).

6This unconfirmed intelligence, which later proved erroneous, came in a letter from Henry Laurens to GW of 24 October.

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