George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General Henry Knox, 9 September 1780

From Brigadier General Henry Knox

Camp Bergen County 9th September 1780


I have endevor’d attentively to consider the several propositions, resulting from the State of the Army and Country, which your Excellency on the 6th instant was pleas’d to lay before your General Officers assembled in Council:1

The respective States, complying only partially, with the requisitions made of them, of men, and provisions;2 The inadequate quantities of Military Stores; the disapointment of a considerable part of the Armament expected from France, and a number of other causes, have at last produced a conviction, that the siege of New-York, the primary object of the intended operations of the Campaign, cannot be undertaken with the force, and means, in our possession.

If it shall be established, that New-York cannot be attaind with our present force, an enquiry arises; is there any object, that we can employ the troops against, which will promise success, and compensation for the expence attending the acquisition?

Hallifax has been mention’d by the Court of France, and others as a proper object for our exertions3—But it is certain that Hallifax, even supposing the acquisition easy, cannot be maintain’d without a naval force, and therefore must be lost to America, whenever the Enemy shall please to attack it. If this is true, an attempt on it, would be a misapplication of our force under the present circumstances.

Canada ought to claim a great proportion of the attention of America. without the possession of that Province, the frontiers of the respective States, will always be subject to blood and desolation. But the season is too far advanc’d, and circumstances too unfavorable, to attempt it at present.

To disposess the Enemy at Penobscot requires a favorable season and a superior Navy; but the force there is so triffling, as to follow the fate of Hallifax, or be subjected by a small detachment, at a period when we shall be Masters of these Seas.

These objects being either improper, or impracticable, the southern States loudly claim protection, and assistance from the rest of America by their union, and perseverance with us, they have invited the severe misfortunes that have beffallen them. We are bound by interest, and good faith to render them every possible succour in our power.

The Enemy by their former, and recent successes appear to have the ascendency not only so far as to silence opposition, but to draw out the resources of men, and provisions from Georgia, and south Carolina, and to threaten North Carolina with total subjugation. The full possession of those three States, will confer innumerable advantages on the Enemy in the course of the War, and probably enable them, to conquer at least some of the others: The principal inhabitants of spirit, will be made prisoners, and the common people, enjoying the sweets of ease and commerce, will be willing to remain under the british government; and will perhaps at the conclusion of peace, by an act of their own, refuse to return to the Union.

dispossess’d of Georgia, North and South Carolina, America will be deprived of their proportion of the expences of the War, and of articles immensely valuable in commerce, and which cannot, be obtained but with the permission of a jealous Enemy. besides which, to suffer three states to fall a prey to, and remain in possession of so small a part of the enemies force, will be to confess the extremety of Weakness.

Therefore, the moment the second division of the French fleet shall arrive, or we can gain a naval superiority, we ought to send by Water, the whole of the french troops, and as many of the American, as will make ten thousand men, including the regular force of Virginia & Maryland, which may be rais’d in the present exigence. The Army that shall be sent must be so completely superior, as to accomplish its point speedily. our exertions and preparations ought to be for this purpose.

The Middle and eastern states, with the force that will remain, will be equal to the protection of themselves, their battalions must be completed, and every preparation carried on in the course of the Winter, with the utmost vigor, for the siege of New York in the spring.

The French have an apparatus of Artillery equal to the siege of Charlestown, or any other fortified places to the Southward; but if there should be any deficiency, we must give all the assistance in our power.

I suppose the siege of Charlestown ought not to be the first object, for probably there will be considerable bodies of troops in Georgia and North Carolina, which a sudden and judicious landing in south Caroina would seperate, and render the Conquest of them much less difficult than if they were united. This however is a matter of detail, that can be much better settled after the General Manoevre shall be decided upon.

I presume Transports, and a very large quantity of Salt provisions, for the troops who should be sent in addition to the french, might be procurd, under variou⟨s⟩ pretences, at the Eastward of the prizes lately brought in there.4

Should an expedition to the southward be undertaken, it ought to be entrusted to as few persons as possible, and the design mask’d with the utmost art, to prevent the Enemy sending any additional force there, which might render the enterprize totally abortive.

If we cannot acquire a naval superiority in these Seas, I cannot see what enterprize can be undertaken with any great prospect of success. To march troops to Canada exclusive of the lateness of the season, would be an arduous task, and probably would produce consequences that might frustrate any designs on New York in the spring.

If we should attempt to march the french troops to the southward, the Enemy would have an opportunity to reinforce their Army long before our force could arrive there. But this expedient, tedious expensive, arduous, and even ineffectual, compared with a water transportation, as it would be, must be Adopted in preference to permitting the Enemy to extend their conquests or to retain these they have made.

These sentiments are with proper deference submitted, by your Excellencys Most Obedient Humble Servant

H. Knox

ALS, DLC:GW; ADfS, NNGL: Knox Papers; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

2For these congressional requisitions, see Circular to the States, 2 June, n.1.

4See GW to Huntington, this date, and notes 1 and 3 to that document.

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