George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Brigadier General Henry Knox, 26 June 1780

To Brigadier General Henry Knox

Pequanic [N.J.] 26th June 1780

Dear Sir

It is highly necessary that an estimate should be formed of the quantity of Ordnance Stores necessary for the expected cooperation in its fullest extent,1 that by comparing it with the General Return of those on hand, we may be able to ascertain the deficiency, which I very much fear (notwithstanding the pressing call upon the Board of War & Ordnance last fall when Ct D’Estaing was expected for an ample supply of every thing in this way)2 will be considerable.3 I know not whether you may have such of your papers with you as will enable you to form such an Estimate with accuracy, but I would wish you to make out the best that circumstances will admit, and furnish the Committee at Morris Town with one Copy and me with another—Some of the States may perhaps have considerable quantities of private stores, and therefore the sooner we can come to a knowledge of our wants the better, as we shall have the more time to make application to the States for what they can spare, and to draw them towards the probable place of operation.4 I am, &.

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

1GW planned operations against New York City with the expected French expeditionary army.

2GW wrote the words within parentheses.

3For the operations GW had intended to conduct the previous fall with French forces under Vice Admiral d’Estaing, see Planning for an Allied Attack on New York, c.3–7 Oct. 1779.

4Knox subsequently sent GW a copy of an estimate that he had prepared on 5 Oct. 1779 for the intended operations with d’Estaing. In his “Estimate of shells, shot and powder, for thirty days firing,” Knox calculated that ten 10-inch and six 8-inch mortars, each firing fifty shells per day, would expend 24,000 shells, and that twenty 18-pounder and twenty 12-pounder cannon, each firing sixty shots per day, would require 72,000 shot. Knox then projected that since each 10-inch shell and each 18-pound shot required 6 pounds of powder, and each 8-inch shell and each 12-pound shot required 4 pounds of powder, that 486,000 pounds of powder would be required for every thirty days of siege operations.

Knox accompanied the estimate with a note to GW, dated at Morristown on 27 June: “Delivered a copy of the above, and a Letter (with the addition of 100 tons old junk want⟨ed⟩ for wads) to the Committee of Congress with the army” (DS, DLC:GW).

Knox also enclosed a copy of his letter of 27 June to the Committee at Headquarters: “I am ordered by His Excellency the Commander in Chief to make out an estimate of ordnance stores necessary for the expected co-operation, and furnish one to your honorable board and one to him, in order that every possible exertion may be made to procure the deficient articles, from the respective states which may have stores, or private persons resident within them.

“I now present to you, gentlemen, an estimate which I transmitted to the board of war and ordnance the 5 last October, when Count D’Estaing was expected and it was intended to besiege New York. Many shot and shells were then procured by that board, but I cannot ascertain how many, as I have never seen any return of them. They can furnish you with the quantities of every species on hand, and those expected, by which you will be enabled at once to form a judgement of the deficiencies. I beg leave to make the following observations on the estimate then presented, supposing New York to be the object of operation.

“First, that it is not extensive enough in the number of mortars, as we have more ten inch mortars than are specified; but it was improbable that we could even then procure the number of shells requested, and that at present, as there are no furnaces in blast, I suppose it impossible to get any addition.

“2d That I have placed in the estimate Twenty 12 pounders, because we had not cannon enough of a larger calibre. If 24 or 18 pounders could be procured with the necessary balls, they would better answer the intention of batteries; but if they cannot we must make the best use of the materiel in our possession.

“3d That the estimate is made for thirty days firing only, which I presume is too small a time, by one half, to calculate on the surrender of New York, and therefore that the estimate ought to be formed for sixty days open batteries.

“4th That no requisition is made of powder for contingencies, whereas there will be great demand for miners, and wastage that will unavoidably happen in case of a siege; and that the least quantity than can be asked, for services of which at present no particular estimate can be made, ought to be two hundred thousand pounds.

“I do not know exactly what battering cannon and stores the French troops will bring with them, but in case of a siege of New York, with a prospect of a reduction of the place—considering the great fire the enemy will be able to make—the numerous detached batteries we shall be obliged from the nature of the place to open—that we jointly ought to have one hundred battering cannon, and forty or fifty mortars.

“Although from circumstances I wish to form an estimate in some respects different from the one I presented to the board of war last year, yet as I know that great numbers of shot and shells were provided in conseqence of it, and the difference not being very material, except in the instance of the heavy cannon, I think it as proper an estimate, provided it be enlarged for sixty days, as I could form at present.

“There are many smaller articles which can be procured, and which I have not placed in the estimate; but I must beg that one hundred tons of old junk be provided for the wads” (DLC:GW).

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