George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Major General Horatio Gates, 8 October 1780

To Major General Horatio Gates

Head Quarters near Passaic Falls 8th October 1780.


I have received your several favors of the 30th August—3d and 15th September. The first reached me only two days before I sat out for Harford, to meet Count Rochambeau and the Chevalier de Ternay—the two last came to hand while I was absent.1 The first account, which I received of the unfortunate affair near Campden, was by a Copy of your letter of the 20th August, from Hillsborough, to the president of Congress. The shock was the greater, as the operations, a few days preceding the Action, were much in our favor.2 The behavior of the Continental Troops3 does them infinite honor. The accounts, which the Enemy give of the action, shew that their Victory was dearly bought. Under present circumstances, the System which you are pursuing seems extremely proper. It would answer no good purpose to take a position near the enemy, while you are so far inferior in force. If they can be kept in check, by the light irregular troops under Colo. Sumpter and other active Officers, they will gain nothing by the time which must be necessarily spent by you, in collecting and arranging the new Army—forming Magazines and replacing the Stores which were lost in the Action.

Further detachments from this Army will very much depend upon the measures which the enemy mean ultimately to pursue. While they maintain a superiority by sea, they have an infinite advantage over us—as they can send off a detachment from their Army, make a stroke and return again, while a part of ours may be marching to meet them at the point of destination. Indeed, our reduction of numbers will be so great, by the expiration of the times of the Levies the last of December,4 that the enemy may then make a very considerable detachment, and yet leave a force sufficient to make us apprehensive for the safety of the Highland posts, and for the security of the communication thro’Jersey, on which we in a great measure depend for supplies. It was owing to the fatal policy of temporary inlistments, that the enemy were enabled to gain the footing which they hold in the southern States, and it is much to be feared that the same Cause will be attended with an increase of disagreeable effects. They are well acquainted with the periods of our dissolution, and have scarcely ever failed of taking advantage of them; and we can hardly suppose they will be more negligent this Winter than the preceding ones.

Preparations have been some time making for an embarkation from New York—The destination is publickly said to be to the southward, and I think probability is in favor of that report. Should a further extension of their conquests in that quarter be their object, I am in hopes that the force collecting by the exertions of North Carolina—Virginia and Maryland, will keep them confined to the limits of south Carolina at least, ’till a better general disposition of our Affairs can be made, or untill we may receive more effectual assistance from our Allies—a measure which they have most seriously in view, and of which an unlucky coincidence of circumstances has hitherto deprived us.

The French Fleet has been blocked up in the harbour of Newport, almost ever since its arrival there, by a superior British Squadron, which superiority has been lately increased by the arrival of Admiral Rodney from the West Indies with ten ships. Count de Guichen touched no where upon this Coast, tho’ by a variety of accounts he was up as high as the Latitude of 26. and by some higher. The report of his having taken 100 sail of British Merchantmen is, I imagine, premature, as we have intelligence of a late date from the Havannah, and no such circumstance is mentioned.5

It will be of very great importance that I should be regularly informed of every movemen⟨t⟩ of the enemy, as I shall thereby be better enabled to form an opinion upon any appearances in this quarter. I am Sir Your most obt and humble Servt

Go: Washington

LS, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, NHi: Gates Papers; Df, DLC:GW; copy, DNA:PCC, item 154; copy, DNA:PCC, item 171; Varick transcript, DLC:GW. The docket of the LS indicates that Gates received this letter on 11 December.

3The words “after they were deserted by the Militia” are struck out at this place on the draft, which GW’s aide-de-camp Tench Tilghman also penned.

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