George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General Alexander McDougall, 27 September 1780

To Major General Alexander McDougall

Robinsons Farms Sep. 27. 1780


You will be pleased to take command of West Point and its dependencies till the arrival of Major General St Clair. You will find instructions for the Commanding Officer of the post with the Officer who precedes you, which you will tranfer to Gen. St Clair.1 I am with great regard Sir Yr most Obedt st

Go: Washington

LS, in Alexander Hamilton’s writing, CSmH; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

GW also wrote the officer commanding at West Point from Beverly Robinson’s house on this date: “You will immediately make a distribution of the Troops under your Command to the several Posts that the whole may be in a state of defence at the shortest notice—You will also have each work supplied with Ten days provision, wood, water and stores and keep up constantly that supply—and you will take every other precaution for the security of the Post. The Enemy will have acquired from General Arnold a perfect knowledge of the defences, and will be able to take their measures with the utmost precision. This makes it essential our vigilance and care should be redoubled for its preservation. You will do every thing in your power to gain information of the Enemy’s designs, and give me intelligence as early as possible of any movement against you.

“A party of militia who have been employed cutting wood and another as guards to the Stores at Fish kill, that have been called in are to return to their destination.

“Colonel Gouvion will remain a few days at this Post to assist in the necessary arrangements” (LS, in Richard Kidder Meade’s writing, NWM; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW).

1GW subsequently wrote McDougall from headquarters at Orangetown on 29 Sept.: “I find upon my arrival at this place that the expected supply of Flour has not come on from the Southward, and that we have only Bread for this day and tomorrow, including: one hundred Barrels of Flour already drawn down from the point. I am therefore under the necessity, but very reluctantly, of ordering down two hundred Barrels more.

“You will be pleased to write immediately to Colo. Hay or his deputy and desire him to send down to you whatever quantity of Flour he may have on the upper part of the River. … P.S. The Affair of André and Smith will probably detain Genl St Clair somewhat longer than was expected. You will be pleased to remain till he releives you—in the mean time making the necessary arrangements” (LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, PPRF; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW). Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair served on the board of general officers that tried Maj. John André (see Documents VI and VII with Major John André’s Capture and Execution, 23 Sept.–7 Oct., editorial note).

McDougall replied to GW from West Point on 30 Sept.: “Last night I was honored with your Excellency’s favor of yesterday. The flour is embarking. The Militia ordered to Kings Ferry, with a number of Boats, to bring off the Stores are very careless of them, the enemy have in few weeks picked up thirty of ours adrift: Besides if the enemy come up in force, or secretly, those Boats will fall into his hands, so that the end of sending them down will not be accomplished.

“For these reasons, I purpose ordering the Militia, and all the extra row boats to this Post, unless I have your orders to the contrary. You may rest assured every arrangement in my power will be made. But it’s of the utmost Consequence to this Post; that the Officer who is to command here for the winter, should be here without delay, in order, that he may make his own arrangements, and be urged by every Consideration to provide the Garrison for the approaching Season” (LS, DLC:GW). For the boats at King’s Ferry, N.Y., see GW’s first letter to Benedict Arnold, 2 Sept., and Arnold to GW, 5 September.

GW wrote St. Clair from headquarters at Tappan on 1 Oct.: “You will repair forthwith to West Point and take the command of that Post and its dependencies, till further orders. The Troops under your command will consist of the Pennsylvania Division Colo. Meig’s and Livingstons regiments of Continental Troops and a body of Massachusetts and New Hampshire Militia—The inclosed is a copy of the instructions left for the commanding Officer which you will please to observe. Unless you should think it necessary for the immediate security of the Post to draw the first Pennsylvania Brigade nearer West Point, I should wish it to remain somewhere in its present position, as it may then at the same time serve the purpose of reinforcing the main Army in case of a movement against it—but on the first appearance of the Enemy coming in force up the River, that Brigade should have previous orders to march to your succour.

“Orders have been given in the case last mentioned for the Posts at Verplanks and Stoney Points to be evacuated with all the Cannon and stores, and the Garrison added to that at West Point; but I would not wish this step to be precipitated, as in case of an attempt to surprise you these Posts will not only be useful to give the alarm but they will probably in all cases gain you time, as the Enemy would hardly venture to pass them with transports full of Troops—The baggage and extra stores may be sent off at the first aspect of a serious movement but the Troops should not evacuate till the Enemy are in a situation to invest the Posts.

“Dobb’s ferry may also serve you as an out Post; but care must be taken to distinguish the firing against a single Vessel passing from that against a number, which will of course be more continued.

“Great vigilance should be used in patroling on the East side of the River, as it will otherwise be easy for the Enemy to land a body of men below and surprise Verplanks.

“I must intreat your particular care of the Boats on the River—to keep them in repair and as much as possible collected—All those at Kings ferry more than are wanted for the necessary service of the communication should be removed up the River—A part of the Militia at Verplanks and Stoney Points may also be drawn to the main Garrison” (LS, in Richard Kidder Meade’s writing, MHi: Heath Papers; Df, DLC:GW; copy, MHi: Heath Papers; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; the dateline comes from the draft; see also the source note above).

St. Clair subsequently wrote his wife, Phoebe: “I had intended to write you a long letter, but am so much hurried that I can only tell you that I am now pretty well recovered—perfectly of my fever, but have not quite got my strength again; the fine season coming on will bring that with it. General Arnold’s desertion has been the cause of my going to take the command of the posts where he was, from whence you shall hear from me very soon. … My love to all the children. I long much to see you all” (Smith, St. Clair Papers description begins William Henry Smith, ed. The St. Clair Papers. The Life and Public Services of Arthur St. Clair: Soldier of the Revolutionary War; President of the Continental Congress; and Governor of the North-Western Territory with his Correspondence and other Papers. 2 vols. Cincinnati, 1882. description ends , 1:529). Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene soon replaced St. Clair as commander at West Point (see Greene to GW, 5 Oct., and GW’s two letters to Greene on 6 Oct. [letter 1; letter 2]).

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