George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General William Irvine, 9 September 1780

From Brigadier General William Irvine

Camp near New Bridge [N.J.] Sepr 9th 1780


The inferiority of the French fleet, and great deficiency of the number of Troops demanded from the States; aded to the want of supplys for the few we have—Will I fear render any efforts against New york impracticable—nor can I see the least prospect of any offensive operations in any quarter being successfull—unless such reinforcements should shortly arrive, to the fleet of our Allies; as will give them a decided superiority—or unless the Enemy soon change their position.1

Making small Detachments from the main Army, have, and always will be attended with pernicious consequences—It weakens to so great a degree as to render it incapable of acting offensively—whilst at the same time—the Detachments are either cut to pieces or dwindle to nothing—and what makes this peculiarly Mortifying is, that these Detachments must be composed (in our present circumstances) of the best Troops; as well as such as are for the War—And this must continue to be the case till the whole Army are engaged for the War—I am concious any measures tending to prolong the War can not be for the benefit of the United States.

But as their exertions have not, thitherto been sufficient to put it in the power of the Army To do what is unreasonably, & but too generally expected from them (Nor is there room even to hope for it as long as the present measures are pursued) I am therefore of Opinion that the States should be once more called on, in the most solemn manner And explicit terms to adopt ways & means of raising Men for the War instantly—and at the same time provide for their support.

Should the exertions of the States succeed, even to come up to our most sanguine wishes—it will be impossible to get an Army together before the terms of service of the levies are expired even sufficient to act on the defensive2—this I think will appear very evident when is considered the Enemys force at New York—and what ours will then be.

I am against Detaching to the South from this Army—except on this presumption—Viz. that it can be made so large as to be able to act on the offensive and with a strong probability of success—which there is I think no Just ground to expect untill the French fleet becomes superior to the Enemy—But should this be the case a Detachment might be made from the French & our Army conjunctively and embarked in Transports to be convoyed by the Fleet—I think about 8000 effective Troops with the fleet would be sufficient to reduce Charles Town—if it falls, Savanna & Agustine will become an easy conquest—these Troops to be composed of 2000 from this Army; 3000 French: 3000 from Maryland and Virginia: these last I count on in this manner—As Virginia has proposed to raise three thousand I set down for two3—and hope as many Marylanders yet remain, or can be collected as will make one thousand.

The fleet and Army to sail at a given time—wich must be governed by the time it may be practicable for the Southern Troops to meet them at Charlestown; as I propose they should march by land from Virginia—But should the second Division of the French fleet arrive in time—One Division of the Troops—(whih I suppose to be five thousand) with the whole Fleet, may be sent—the other Division Join your Excellency.

In this case no Detatchment to be sent from this Army provided the southern Troops amount to three thousand or upwards.

In the mean time the Army must be Recruited here—and every possible preparation made for active operations early in the spring—when—The Fleet & Army can rejoin us—if successfull.

I much doubt however whether this plan—or indeed any other, can be carried on to purpose unless the States can procure an immediate loan of Specie from some foreign State—or fall on some mode to raise hard cash at home—As I am not acquainted with Finance shall not pretend to give any opinion how this can or ought to be done—But I am too sure that the paper Currency will not procure supplies for the Army—and that the longer it is attempted, the greater our difficulties will be—and must be given up at last—at least to the end of the War. I have the honor to be—Sir Your Excellencys Most Obedient Humble Servant

Wm Irvine

ALS, DLC:GW; ADfS, PHi: William Irvine Papers; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

1Irvine’s draft begins with this paragraph: “In the present perplexed and distressed situation of our affairs I am really at a loss what Opinion to give your Excellency respecting the several points you were pleased to lay before the Council the 6th instant—more especially as (by Wofull experience) we are taught not to put dependence in either Men or supplies from the States in such proportion as to put in you[r] Excellencys power to do what the Country at large expect from you” (see Council of War, 6 Sept.).

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