George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General Anthony Wayne, 10 September 1780

From Brigadier General Anthony Wayne

Camp at Steenropia 10th Sepr 1780


When your Excellency was pleased to lay a state of matters before the Council of War the 6th of June—the prospects were extremely favorable—& we had flattering expectations from the succours p[r]om-ised by his most Christian Majesty—as well as the exertions of these States.

upon this ground I did myself the honor of giving my Opinion to your Excellency in writing of what I then thought the most feasible & proper point of co-operation1—but the Intervention of a superior fleet to that of our Allies in these sea’s2—the Blockade of Brest in which port the Second Division intended for America was shut up—and the tedious Operation in the West Indies,3 together with the Difficency of promised aid & Supplies in the United States, have meterially changed the Complexion of Affairs.4

From a comparative view of the strength of the Armies under the Immediate Command of your Excellency—& that of Sr Henry Clinton, I find the Numbers in favor of the Enemy.

the recent Military check we recd in South Carolina has given Lord Cornwallis a decided superiority in that Country5—at Penobscut—the Enemy appear well established—& in Canada a combined Operation can not take place until an Other season.

could any given time be fixed for the Arrival of a Fleet either from Europe, or the West Indies—so as to place our Allies in the Sovereignty of these Seas—I should not be at a loss in giving an Opinion on this Occation, but as this is only eventual—I must acknowledge that I see nothing but a choice of Difficulties left to determine upon—among’ others that of experiencing every extreme of distress—at this stage of the Campaign for want of Provision is not the least, as it would of itself be sufficient to defeat any the best plan in the power of a General to design.

In full confidence that supplies of every kind will be more regular in future, and on the presumption that the French forces now at Rhode Island, are subject to your Excellency’s Command, I would advise you (during the Absence of the British fleet) to order the Land forces to form a Junction with you the soonest possible—sending the Shipping round to Boston harbour where if I am rightly Informed they may ride secure, & without being in Danger of an Attack, as the Enemy dare not detatch their fleet & Operating Army to so great a Distance—whilst your Excellency remains in the Vicinity of New York at the head of so puissant & Combined a force—ready to seize the first opening, to enter where the Enemy might be the most Vulnerable—I also am lead to this opinion on the eventual arrival of a Naval & perhaps land force in time to Operate with effect against that place, which will be much forwarded by these troops being near the point of Action.

a move of this Nature will at all events leave it in Your Excellency’s power to ma[k]e a Detatchment to the Southward in some degree adequate to the Magnitude of the Object. & yet be in a Condition to Afford cover to the Country until the Arrival of a re-inforcement from Europe or the West Indies would put it in your power to Operate either in this Quarter—or at Charlestown as Circumstances might then Offer, & if we should be disappointed in this—until the States have an Oppertunity to recruit their army by troops enlisted for the War—properly Appointed & duly rationed—which is the only measure that can save this Country from Impending ruen.

The Junction of these troops will also afford a favorable Opening for entering Canada by the Lake Champlain during the Winter, should the Situation of Affairs render that an Advisable Object, nor will the troops of France experience those Difficulties that we have been subject to—as their hard cash will always Command a redundancy of every Necessary in a Country not so much exhausted with respect to supplies—as in want of faith in our paper Currency.

I am further stimulated to this advice by the Apparent preparation for an Embarkation of both horse & foot at New York which may give the wished for opening to carry that City, whilst the attention of Sr Henry Clinton is drawn to some other Quarter, on the presumption that your force will not be adequate to enterprize anything against that post at this late season, and that the French will remain in their present position—nor shall I be disappointed if Admiral Arbothnot with the bulk of his Fleet should favor the Operations of Sr Henry Clinton, on the same presumption, in expectation of returning in time to prevent any serious Consequences taking place during a temporary absence.

I am fully of Opinion that without a Change of Circumstances our present force is not Adequate to act in an open Offensive manner—yet by One of those eventual nice Manoeuvres—sometimes practiced we might cause the Enemy to Commit themselves in some point of which advantage may be taken & pus[h]ed with effe[c]t.

but this is an Idea yet in Embryo which when mature I shall do myself the Honor of Communicating Viva Voce.6

Upon the whole I do not think you can make any Considerable Detatchment before the Junction I have already mentioned—or until the Enemy Detatch on their part, which may soon be the case, & probably by that time we may have it in our power to proceed to Charles town by Water—an event Devoutly to be wished—as a march by land must Naturally reduce the troops at least one third by Desertion sickness & other Casualties incident to all Armies during a long & tedious route. I have the honor to be Your Excellency’s Most Obt & very Hum. Sert

Anty Wayne

ALS, DLC:GW; ADfS, PWcS-G: Anthony Wayne Letters Collection; copy, PHi: Wayne Papers; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

2For this fleet, see William Heath to GW, 19 Sept., n.2.

5For the Battle of Camden, see Horatio Gates to GW, 30 Aug., n.1.

6Wayne wrote GW from Steenrapie on 13 Sept.: “On the 10th Instant I did myself the honor to Suggest an Idea of manoeuvring the Enemy into a change of position of which advantage might be taken.

“I am not so well acquainted with the present strength of the Enemy, or the Condition of their Works on Staten Island, as to fix with prescission upon the most proper mode of attack (should this be deemed an advisable Object)—but this knowledge is to be obtained by address & attention.

“If—circumstances admits of your Excellency passing the North River—may it not be in our power to carry that Island by surprise—will not Sr H. Clinton by such a move be Induced to collect his troops into a focus with a view of giving you battle in the Vicinity of white plains.

“Upon this presumption I would propose the selecting 1600 chosen troops—at Different times & in sundry Detatchments, properly Officered (for on this every success depends)—these may be sent off in such a manner as not to give the least possible alarm to the Enemy, viz.

“400 men Duly officered towards princetown say to a Convoy of provision to move Immediately—an equal body in a day or two towards Morristown, and when the army is in motion, an other Detatchment to move towards paramus or Totowa.

“The remaining 400 to Continue at Tappan or Dobb’s—a plausible pretext may be assigned the respective Commanding Officers without any knowledge of each Others Destination.

“When the boats or travelling Carriages are put in motion it may be given out that they are Designed to facilitate the passing of troops &ca over the N. River.

“should the lure take & Sr Henry Clinton Determine to risque an Action—he will be necessitated to weaken his posts—to collect Numbers in order to Insure victory, as soon therefore as this is ascertained the Officer who is to take charge of the enterprise—will Immediately repass the river (having continued with the main Army u[n]til that period to prevent suspicion) and put the respective Detatchments into motion so as to arrive at a fixt point, or points, at a Certain hour; giving out that they are order across the River to reinforce your Excellency, as a General action is hourly expected.

“this will serve to lull the troops upon Staten Island into a state of Security—& also deceive the Spies & Disaffected that mix with the troops & Infest this Country—who may be effectually prevented from giving Intelligence by a Judicious disposition of a few horse previous to Assembling near the Intended point of Operation.

“Your Excellency will naturally fall back should Sr H. Clinton advance—which will still draw him further from the scene of Action—& by that means leave it more in the power of the Officer destined for Staten Island to Improve his Advantage if successful, or to effect a good retreat if unfortunate.

“these are the out lines of what I had in Idea—should the Object meet your Approbation—your own knowledge of that Island & other Circumstances will fully enable you to make the proper Disposition, which I doubt not will meet with that Success and good fortune, that the most of your Enterprises have been Crowned with” (ADfS, PHi: Wayne Papers).

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