George Washington Papers

From George Washington to the Committee at Headquarters, 17 August 1780

To the Committee at Headquarters

Head Quarters Orange Town Aug. 17. 1780


We are now arrived at the middle of August; if we are able to undertake any thing in this quarter this campaign, our operations must commence in less than a month from this, or it will be absolutely too late. It will then be much later than were to be wished; and with all the exertions that can be made, we shall probably be greatly straitened in time.

But I think it my duty to inform you, that our prospects of operating diminish in proportion as the effects of our applications to the respective states unfold; and I am sorry to add, that we have every reason to apprehend, we shall not be in a condition at all to undertake any thing decisive.

The completion of our Continental batalions to their full establishment of five hundred and four rank and file has been uniformly and justly held up as the basis of offensive operations.1 How far we have fallen short of this, the following state of the levies received and of the present deficiencies will show.

By a return to the 16th instant we had received from

Rank & file
New Hampshire 457
Massachusettes 2898
Rhode Island 502
Connecticut 1356
New York 283
New Jersey 165
Pensylvania 482

The deficiencies of the batalions from a return of the 12th allowing for the levies since arrived to the 16th are

Rank & file
Of New Hampshire [ ] 3 batalions 248
Of Massachusettes including
Jackson’s adopted—.16 batallions 3514
Of Rhode Island— [ ] 2 [battalions] 198
Of Connecticut including Webbs batalion adopted 1866
Of New York [ ] 5 batallions 1234
—New Jersey— [ ] 3 [battalions] 569
Pensylvania [ ] 11 [battalions] 2768

In the whole 10397 rank & file.

If the amount of these deficiencies and the detached corps necessarily on the frontier, and at particular posts be deducted, and a proper allowance made for the ordinary casualties and for the extra calls upon the army for waggoners, artificers &c., it will be easy to conceive how inadequate our operating force must be to any capital enterprise against the enemy. It is indeed barely sufficient for defence.

Hitherto all the Militia for three months that have taken the field under my orders have been about 700 from New Hampshire[;] 1700 from Massachusettes[;] 800 from New York[; and] 500 from New Jersey.

A part of the Eastern Militia has been detained to assist our allies at Rhode Island, and will shortly march to join the army.2 But from all the information, I have, the number of Militia will fall as far short of the demand as the Continental troops; and from the slow manner in which the latter have for some time past come in, I fear we have had nearly the whole we are to expect.

In the article of provisions our prospects are equally unfavourable. We are now fed, by a precarious supply from day to day. The Commissary, from what has been done in the several states, so far from giving assurances of a continuance of this supply, speaks in the most discouraging terms; as you will perceive by the inclosed copy of a letter of the 15th in which he proposes the sending back the Pensylvania Militia, who were to assemble at Trenton the 12th, on the principle of a failure of supplies.3

As to forage and transportation our prospects are still worse: These have lately been principally procured by military impress4—a mode too violent unequal oppressive and consequently odious to the people to be long practiced with success.

In this state of things, Gentlemen, I leave it to your own judgment to determine how little it will be in my power to answer the public expectation, unless more competent means can be, and are without delay, put into my hands. From the communications of the General and Admiral of our allies, the second division without some very unfortunate contrariety, will in all probability, arrive before the time mentioned as the ultimate period for commencing our operations.5 I submit it to you whether it will not be adviseable, immediately to lay before the several states a view of circumstances at this juncture, in consequence of which they may take their measures. I have the honor to be With the greatest respect & esteem Gentlemen Your most Obedt servant

Go: Washington

N.B. The return of The Rhode Island recruits is of the last of July. More may have since joined.

There is a body of Connecticut state troops and militia employed in preparing fascines &c. on the sound.6

LS, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, DNA:PCC, item 152; Df, DLC:GW; two copies, DNA:PCC, item 39; copy, DNA:PCC, item 11; copy, Ct: Trumbull Papers; copy, M-Ar; copy (fragment), N: George Clinton Papers; copy, Nh-Ar: Weare Papers; copy, Nj; copy, R-Ar; copy, offered for sale by Remember When Auctions, 18 July 1998, catalog no. 44, item no. 12; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

The committee enclosed copies of this letter with its circular to the states of 19 Aug., urging the states to comply with the requisitions of Congress for men, provisions, transportation, and supplies (see Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 15:600–603). Congress had dismissed the committee on 11 Aug. and this was its final circular (see JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 17:719–20; see also Samuel Huntington to the Committee at Headquarters, 12 Aug., in Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 15:569–70).

GW enclosed a copy of this letter with his letter to Samuel Huntington of 20 August.

1See GW to the Committee at Headquarters, 25 May, and n.5 to that document; see also GW to the Committee at Headquarters, 19 June, and n.3 to that document.

4See, for instance, Clement Biddle to GW, 22 July, and n.2 to that document; see also GW to Nathanael Greene, 30 July, and Greene to GW, 3 August.

5GW is referring to the expected second division of the French expeditionary force.

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