George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton, September 1780

From Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Hamilton

[September 1780]

The Marquis De la Fayette by your order proposed New York as the object of the intended cooperation and assured the Count De Rochambeau that by a certain period we should have fourteen thousand Continental troops and six thousand militia, and shortly after four or six thousand more.1

It is of great importance to us that it should appear we are ready and in condition to act; our allies not—It will therefor be good policy to keep out of sight the disappointments we met with in the number of men &c. and to hold up the idea that we should have been prepared to cooperate2—The contrary will have several ill effects—it will discredit us with the Court of France, it will argue either that we wished to deceive, or that we did not understand our true resources, the former w⟨ould⟩ be a reflection upon our honesty the latte⟨r⟩ upon our judgment—and either would prod⟨uce⟩ an injurious distrust of our future engage⟨ments⟩—if we are pushed about our present forc⟨e⟩ we may say that we have exclusive of mi⟨litia⟩ between twelve and thirteen thousand men—the deficiency arises from our having ordere⟨d⟩ back the Maryland troops to reinforce the Southern army, despairing of an operation ⟨there⟩3—it may be added by the way without laying much stress upon it, that the States relaxed their exertions to complete their batalions on finding the probability of an expedition against New York decrease.

Including the infantry of Sheldon and Lee Major Gibbes corps and Livingstons regiment Our Continental force in this quarter may well be estimated at—10800[;] The Regiment at Rhode Island is—500[;] The two Connecticut state Regts—800[;] The Jersey state Regts that may be had for the occasion—400[; total] 1250⟨0⟩.

Besides the 12500—Van Schaicks Regiment and the German batalion may be counted upon which will make our Continental and state troops near thirteen thousand; so that saying we are between twelve and thirteen thousand exclusive of Militia is as near the truth as the most rigid good faith requires.

It will be necessary however that we should confess our wants and weaknesses very f[r]eely—we must paint the distresses of our finances—of the army—the impossibility of bringing out the resources of the Country much longer, unless by the help of a foreign loan—the necessity of activity if practicable on any reasonable ground; but we must carefully inculcate this distinction that though we cannot count upon continued exertions for future and remote operations—yet the states from a desire of getting rid of their present embarrassments by one decisive stroke there is every reason to believe would have given us effectual aid in the expedition which was in contemplation—In painting the distresses of the army we must be silent on the want of the provisions at this time; because the Count will infer too much from it.

As to operations in my opinion we should propose three plans.

If a decided superiority is acquired before the end of this Month and the Admiral will engage immediately to take possession of the harbour of New York and cooperate to the end of the expedition, till the siege is carried or is raised—New York should still be attempted—While He goes round to the Hook the army should proceed down the Sound under a proper convoy either to join us or to throw itself upon Long Island to act against Brookline as circumstances may point out—If the operations of the fleet and the dispositions of the enemy put it in our power to throw the army upon York Island in the first instance it ought to be done—a part intrenched before the enemy’s lines and the rest thrown upon Long Island to establish itself before Brookline—I would content myself to leave in the intrenchments 6000 Continental troops and 6000 Militia; the remainder of the army if thought necessary for security might cross to Long-Island—there take a camp as near Brook-line as might be thought expedient and intrench ten thousand men; of which eight to be regular troops two militia; the remainder to recross to York Island—By this plan the operations against York Island and Long Island may go on at the same time—The french troops must join us to make good our ground upon York Island—otherwise the operation might be critical.

If the fleet should be retarded in gaining full possession of the harbour and the enemy’s dispositions should make it dangerous to force our way in the first instance upon the Island—then we may intrench a corps of ten thousand men (of which four or five thousand to be Continental troops) at Frogs neck4 or some other advantageous spot in West Chester and proceed with the main body of the army to Brooklyne to reduce that post—This movement and the operations of the fleet will oblige the enemy to collect their force at their works near the city; by the time Brookline was carried, the fleet in all probability will have gained the harbour, and in either case the enemy cannot remain at their advanced posts, for we might then throw ourselves into their rear and cut them off from their supplies—We shall by this time find no difficulty in establishing ourselves on the Island in front of the enemys lines and beginning our approaches—Brookline5 being carried some momentary repairs must be given to it, and a garrison sufficient6 to be secure against a coup de main left to defend it and the posts near it and to bombard the city—while the rest of the army with the part intrenched at West Chester unite on York Island—the precise mode of effecting this will be determined by the circumstances of the moment.

In the first plan after Brookline is carried it must be garrisoned in like manner, and the remaining troops must rejoin those on York Island to push the approaches with the greater vigor and efficacy.

The fleet so soon as it gets possession of the harbour must clear the North River by such methods as the Admiral thinks best—To force the passage on York Island on the first plan—the army will extend from the North River to the Sound, with all7 the boats of the fleet and all that can be collected in the North River and in the Sound on each flank—the position of the enemy will decide the rest.

Should not the fleet arrive in time for New York and should a decided naval superiority be afterwards acquired, we must attempt the relief of the Southern states—The french troops will embark where they are—A corps of four thousand American troops will embark in the Delaware—The french fleet will be convoyed to the mouth of the Delaware—and there form a junction with the American corps—and proceed to Charles Town. The troops will move by water as Sir Henry Clinton did by way of Wappoo Cut &c. till it can arrive before Charles Town.8

A landing in South Carolina will make the enemy draw in all their out posts and General Gates may approach Charles Town in proportion to form a junction there with the army under your command—Perhaps it may be found expedient to detach immediately into Georgia to regain possession of the state; but the circumstances on the spot will best decide this.

The fleet after protecting the landing may return to cruise off New York and protect the successive supplies going to the allied army—Its station when it finds it necessary to go into port should be [ ] road Chesapæk bay—Most of the transports may be sent away with it—Some frigates must be left—superior to the enemys naval force. It would be useful to gain possession of Charles Town harbour if it can be effected—to exclude the enemy from supplies.

Any vessels which may be laden in the Eastern ports with provisions &c. for us Must be convoyed to the Delaware.

We should have a train of seige artillery of 60 pieces of ordnance with a proportion of stores for both armies—⟨It should⟩ if possible set out with three mont⟨hs supplies⟩—If we embark so as to arrive ⟨sometime in⟩ November, it would be the ⟨most⟩ convenient season.

After reducing C⟨harles⟩ Town a sufficient force must be sen⟨t to⟩ Savannah; St Augustine &c.

If for want of a naval superiority we can attempt neither New York nor Charles Town we should endeavour to make a Winter expedition into Canada—The force I would propose for this would be five thousand men, half French troops half American. The Count De Rochambeau to engage him in the enterprise should be chief in the expedition; Major General Greene should command the American corps—The Marquis should go under him; it would be well to let the latter have the chief command, but the people might not be satisfied with it—There are political reasons which would induce me to prefer Greene—I do not think, The Commander in Chief should go; for two reasons—the one already mentioned respecting Rochambeau and the general situation of the Country, which requires his presence and influence within the states—for in the present crisis there is no saying what may happen and Congress stand in need of support.

In order to this—I would endeavour to have Magazines of bread & forage, at Coos—and at Albany—snow shoes &c. provided—I would encourage the late offer from the grants concerning one,9 and write to the state of New York concerning the other—These Magazines will ⟨be⟩ useful on any supposition.

I prefer the route by Coos ⟨for⟩ the expedition.

The army should go light ⟨in⟩ the first instance; but after having established ⟨its⟩elf at Montreal, a trane of siege Artillery ⟨sh⟩ould follow and every preparation should ⟨be⟩ made to break ground before Quebec ⟨as⟩ early as the season will permit & too soon for succours to come up the River St Laurance; for till the capital is carried, I think nothing done. Perhaps we may be able to carry it by assault.

As we may not have specie to maintain our part of the expedition we must endeavour to make this arrangement—The Count De Rochambeau to advance the money to procure such additional supplies as we cannot send—we to deliver flour &c. here for that part of the French troops which remains and the account to be afterwards liquidated. The difficulty of supplying our troops may not be so great as may at first sight seem; for when the St Laurance is once open we may have a water transportation for such flour &c. as we think proper to send. The giving Count Rochambeau the chief direction of the expedition will be a strong motive to engage him in this agreement.

We should endeavour at all events to get the Count to send the fleet to Boston and come with the army this way; at least this should be done as the Winter approaches. It will have many advantages; it will prevent the enemy detaching from New York to push their advantages in the Southern states; it will enable us to take advantage of their faults—It will prevent the evils we have to apprehend from the diminution of our army in the Winter—It will enable us to detach to the Southward if we should find it necessary.

Should the Canadian expedition take place, the remainder of the troops should by all means join us.

ADf, DLC:GW. Hamilton wrote “Aug. or Sept. 1780” for the date, and GW added on the docket: “Colonel Hamilton on the proposd Conference at Hartford with the Count De Rochambeau & the Chevr De Ternay.” Hamilton also devised plans to attack the British at New York City in an undated document that might have been written at GW’s request for the conference (DLC:GW; see also Hamilton Papers description begins Harold C. Syrett et al., eds. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. 27 vols. New York, 1961–87. description ends , 2:389–91).

1See Lafayette to Rochambeau and Ternay, 9 July, in Lafayette Papers description begins Stanley J. Idzerda et al., eds. Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776–1790. 5 vols. Ithaca, N.Y., 1977-83. description ends , 3:69–76; and GW to Lafayette, 15 July.

2For these disappointments, see GW to the Committee at Headquarters, 17 August.

3GW issued this order after learning about the Battle of Camden (see GW to Thomas Sim Lee, 6 Sept.).

4Hamilton refers to Throg’s Neck, New York.

5Hamilton wrote and struck out “in this case a good corps of four or five thousand men” before this word.

6Hamilton wrote and struck out “of four or five thousand” before this word.

7Hamilton wrote and struck out “sufficient number of boats on each flank to transport ten thousand” after this word.

8For the British capture of Charleston, see Duportail to GW, 17 May, n.1.

9For this offer from representatives of the New Hampshire Grants, see Jacob Bayley to GW, 31 Aug., n.6.

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