George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Benedict Arnold, 14 September 1780

From Major General Benedict Arnold

Sepr 14th 1780


In answer to your Excellencys questions proposed to the Council of General Officers on the 6th Inst:1 I beg leave to observe, that from the uncertainty of the Arival of the Second Division of the French Fleet, as well as of their Force, and from the fluctuating Situation of our affairs, which may be totally Changed in a Short time by a Variety of Curcumstances which may happen, It appears extremely diffucult for me to determine with any degree of precission the line of Conduct proper to be observed.

If the Second Division of the French Fleet may be soon expected, and their Force, of which I am Ignorant, will give us a decided superiority over the Enemy as well by land as Sea, I am of Opinion that every necessary preparation and disposition should be made to Attack New York—provided we have a sufficiency of Ammunition and Millitary Stores, and there is a prospect when the Army is Collected of their being Supplied with provision; the former I doubt: But if there is not good reason to suppose the Second Division of the French Fleet with a force Superior to that of the Enemy will arive in the Course of a Month, I am of Opinion no offensive opperations can with prudence be undertaken this fall against New York. in which Case it is probible the Enemy will Detach a part of their Force in New York to Join those in So. Carolina or to Co-operate with them in Virginia or Maryland, I am therefore of Opinion that the Pennsylvania line which I suppose to amount to 2,500, or 3,000 Men should hold themselves in readiness to March, and if the Second Division of the French Fleet does not arive by the first of October, that then the Pennsylvania Line should March to the Releif of the Southern States, Who with the Aid of so formidable a Regular Force (If they do their Duty) will be able to repel the Enemy in that quarter, And if the French Fleet should arive too late to opperate against New York, South Carolina may be an object worthy their Attention.

Without a decided superiority by Sea I am of Opinion no offensive Opperations against the Enemy can with prudence be undertaken this fall, and it is to be hoped that the States are by this time Convinced of the Necessity of immediately raising an Army, to be engaged during the War, and that they will without loss of time take effectual measures for that purpose. I should suppose the Pennsylvania Line might be replaced by some of the Troops at Rhode Island, before the time is expired for which the Militia are Called out.2 I have the honor to be with the highest respect, Your Excellencys Most Obedient and very Humble Servt

B. Arnold

ALS, CSmH; ADfS, DLC:GW. Arnold apparently handed the ALS to GW (see Arnold to GW, 16 Sept.). Arnold wrote “Copy—to Genl Washington Sept. 22d 1780 (private)” on the draft, which GW obtained after Arnold had fled to the British (see The Discovery of Major General Benedict Arnold’s Treachery, 25 Sept–24 Nov., editorial note).

1GW had written Arnold from headquarters in Bergen County on 11 Sept.: “(Private) … You will be pleased to favor me with your opinion, on the several points stated in the inclosed, between this and sunday next” (LS, in David Humphreys’s writing, DLC:GW; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW). The next Sunday was 17 September. For the enclosure, see Council of War, 6 Sept., source note.

2For these militia, see GW to William Heath, 28 August.

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