George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Robert Howe, 26 September 1780

From Major General Robert Howe

Orange Town 26th Sepr 1780

How poignant is my Anxiety my Dear General that a Man of a Character so exalted, to whom by all Accounts his Country owes so much, & from whom so much more might have been expected (as of Arnold) should to the Ruin of his own Glory, the Disgrace of the Army, & the Disbasement of Human Nature, sink into a Degree of Treachery so black that Expression has not Colouring to paint it properly. I sorrow for my Country when I find that among those of her Servants so high up one could be found so lost to every Sense of Virtue & Honor, as to enter into Compact with her bitterest Enemies to betray & undo her. A Man too whose ruling Passion appear’d to be Ambition, & which therefore one would have thought even in the Absence of Virtue, would have induced him to disdain an Act that must inevitably intail both upon him, & his Memory, eternal Infamy, & render him the Scorn of the very People he was endeavouring to serve. How painful & embarrassing must this Affair be to your Excellency—for who shall be confided in if Arnold could not be trusted—Some Time since if your Excellency recollects I hinted to you that one of my Emissaries had assured me that a General Officer high up was in Compact with the Enemy—I also mentioned it to Genl Greene, & tho’ I could not credit it, yet the Information was so reiterated upon me, that it induced me to hesitate, & gave me Concern1—Little did I think then that Arnold was the Man, but since He was, how providential is his Detection. His Escape is an alarming Circumstance—He is Master of Secrets the Enemy ought not to know—& rendered desperate by his Dissapointment, will exert himself to the utmost to injure America, in Order to advance himself with the Enemy, His all is at Stake & every Thing he can do to spur them on to Enterprise may be expected, & should be guarded against, & I doubt not will.2 Rocky Hill at West Point is a very commanding Situation; possess’d by the Enemy Fort Putnam is in Danger, & that Commands Fort Arnold & the Plain—The Work upon Rocky Hill is weak—& on that Side where it is most easily approachable the weakest Part of it—Examine it you will find that Grounds within Point Blank Distance are elevated enough to batter it in Breach—& that the Work is not Cannon Proof—nor is it assisted with any Battery from which Cannon can be opposed to Cannon—or is it pierced for Cannon on that Side—These are capital Defects which I fully intended to remedy had there been Time for it—& which I strongly recommended to General Arnold to attend to—& which is the more necessary as the Enemy may approach it by the Forrest of Dean unassayed by any Work we have—Genl Arnold surveyed those Works in my Company, & dwelt much upon the Defects of each—He spoke so particularly of the Rocky Hill Work, & with what Ease it could be taken as struck me oddly even then—tho’ I had not the least Suspicion of him—But now that Event has sin’d his Character, it will not I persuade myself be thought improbable that he had then the Plan of betraying it in Agitation, & may now endeavour to have it struck at3—this Communication therefore I think it my Duty to make to your Excellency—That Success may crown your Efforts in Behalf of that Cause of which you are so capital a Support, is the warmest Wish of My Dear Sir your Excellency’s Affectionate & most obedient Servant

Robert Howe


1Howe presumably conveyed this information verbally.

3For the West Point fortifications, see GW to Alexander McDougall, 19 June 1779, n.2. For Howe’s interactions with Maj. Gen. Benedict Arnold during summer 1780, see Bennett and Lennon, Robert Howe description begins Charles E. Bennett and Donald R. Lennon. A Quest for Glory: Major General Robert Howe and the American Revolution. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1991. description ends , 126–29.

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