George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Board of War, 19 November 1779

To the Board of War

Hd Qrs West-point 19 Novr 1779


I have duly received your several favors of the 25th of Octbr and the 2d 8th 10th and 13th of this month.1

The boards idea of stopping the bringing forward the several loans mentioned in their letter of the 10th falls in perfectly with mine; And it might also be prudent to diminish at least to their old quantity those accumulated at Philadelphia. With regard to prosecuting the casting of shells beyond the period to which the furnaces have been limited, I should think it very advisable. We should not be without a quantity on hand sufficient for such an enterprize as has been in contemplation2 and which we may not be able to procure hereafter on better conditions. Besides a principal expence is already incurred by putting the furnaces in blast.

I wish it was in my power to give the stores at Trenton—Philadelphia, and the Head of Elk the protection suggested by the board. In the present collected state of the enemy’s force at New-York we are obliged to take our measures with an eye to this circumstance Here We must leave a large garrison, in order that we may move to such a distance as affords the prospect of our being subsisted during the winter.3 This and the cover we must unavoidably give to the Country will greatly reduce our main body. But When we add to this the number of our troops whose times of service expire with the year between this and the Month of March & in that Month4 the board will see the impossibil[it]y of making even a small detatchment for the above purpose.5

The board will be pleased to issue commissions for the gentlemen mentioned in the inclosed nomination, for the State of Virginia.6 I am &c.


Df, in James McHenry’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

2GW wrote the previous ten words on the draft. He is alluding to combined offensive operations against the British near New York City (see Planning for an Allied Attack on New York, c.3–7 Oct., editorial note; see also Samuel Huntington to GW, 10 Nov.).

3For efforts to place the Continental army in winter quarters, see Nathanael Greene to GW, 14 Nov., and n.1 to that document, and GW to Greene, 30 Nov., and n.2 to that document.

4GW wrote the previous seven words on the draft. For GW’s concerns over the army’s reduced size as enlistments expired, see his letter to Samuel Huntington, 18 Nov., and notes 2 and 12 to that document.

5GW wrote undated notes for this paragraph that read: “I wish it was in my power to comply with your request to have a Corps or two fixed at &ca &ca for the purposes you mention but I am perswaded the impracticability of it will be obvious to you when it is considered that the enemy are in full force at New York—that to give us a probable chance of support we are obliged to remove to a considerable distance from this garrison to meet our Supplies—that the Garrison must be proportionably strength[e]ned as our distance is increased—this with the cover wch must be given to the Country will reduce our main body (even in the present state of the Army) very considerably and when to this is added that by the first of Jany [ ] Men will be discharged—between that & the first day of March [ ] more—and between that again & the first of May following a further diminution of [ ] no arguments more conclusive need be used to comply with all the demands which are made upon me for men without putting every thing to the Hazard” (AD, CSmH). John McHenry (1797–1822), son of GW’s assistant secretary who penned the draft of this letter to the Board of War, later wrote an undated recollection on GW’s notes: “My father told me it was the General’s frequent practice to give Such sketches as the within to his Secretaries which they were to embody.” James McHenry apparently wrote a related remark on another GW manuscript described as “one of Washington’s plans of campaign.” The elder McHenry’s undated comment reads: “‘The General’s usual mode of giving notes to his secretaries or aids for letters of business. Having made out a letter from such notes, it was submitted to the General for his approbation and correction—afterwards copied fair, when it was again copied and signed by him’” (Steiner, Life and Correspondence of McHenry, description begins Bernard C. Steiner. The Life and Correspondence of James McHenry: Secretary of War under Washington and Adams. Cleveland, 1907. description ends 27). These unusual items provide remarkable insight into GW’s method of handling his military correspondence (see also GW to Benjamin Harrison, 25 Oct., and n.1 to that document).

6The enclosure has not been identified. Delays in receiving commissions for Virginia officers prompted another inquiry from GW to the Board of War on 6 Dec. (see also n.9 to that document, and GW to the Board of War, 1 Oct.).

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