George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Nathanael Greene, 13 October 1780

From Major General Nathanael Greene

West Point O[c]tober 13th 1780


I arrived at this place on the Evening of the 8th. The troops got into garrison on the morning of the 9th.1

The works of the garrison are very incomplete; indeed very little has been done to them this campaign. On my arrival I made the following disposition of the troops. New Jersey brigade to mann the redoubts No. 1, 2, 3 and 4. New York brigade to mann Fort Putnam, Webb’s and Wyllis’s redoubts. Stark’s brigade Fort Clinton.2 Two regiments of the New-Hampshire brigade are on Constitution Island, and two regiments on the east side of the River, on the table of ground at the foot of the Mountains on which the north and south redoubts are constructed. Upon all alarms the troops are to mann the respective works assigned them.

I have detached 100 men to join the horse under Colonel Jameson to cover the lower Country; and intend to detach a party of fifty men more, on purpose to follow what are called the Cow Boys. This party I mean to be at liberty to pursue the thieves thro’ all their turnings and windings; as I am persuaded 5000 men upon stationary guards would not prevent their inroads.3 Upon examining the Posts at King’s Ferry, I find too much ordnance, and too many stores there to be held upon the footing which your Excellency has directed; and yet I fear it will be attended with great jealousies to remove them at this time. I am persuaded the greater part will fall into the Enemy’s hands; it being impossible to get them off in the time that will be given between the Enemy’s appearance and their being up with the works.4

It appears to me highly probable if the Enemy ever move up the River in force, with a veiw of attacking this place, that the transports will be preceded by three or four armed vessels, which will immediately pass the batteries and prevent the stores from going off by water: nor can they get them away by land, unless teams are kept in constant waiting for the purpose. If a surprize is meant upon West Point, no regard will be paid to the works below; and then considerable ordnance will be necessary to annoy the shipping as they pass. If a surprize is not meant, measures will be taken to prevent the stores from being got off. A disposition therefore that will be necessary for one purpose, will be a little dangerous for the other. To dismantle the works at this tim⟨e⟩ will give great alarms to the Country, already full of jealousies and apprehensions. If the ordnance and stores are continued the redoubts had best be sold as dear as possible; and held to the last extremity.5 Suppose 40 men and two or three officers at most were to be left in each of the works, and all the other officers and men sent away on the appearance of the Enemy in force; and those that are left behind to have directions to defend the redoubts as long as possible. Perhaps the alarm by their fall will not be materially different from an alarm by evacuation; and it will give more time to call in the Country for the defence of this place. However I dont apprehend the least danger of an attack from the Enemy this winter; nor could they carry their point by storm if attempted.

I have been round and veiwed the works with Colonel Govion; and am of opinion that a block house is absolutely necessary to keep possession


Map 6. Having taken the command of West Point after Arnold’s defection to the British, Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene found the fortifications in a “very incomplete” state. (Illustrated by Rick Britton. Copyright Rick Britton 2019)

of the ground between the redoubts No. 3 and 4, and have given orders for the construction accordingly. If the Enemy should possess that ground I am persuaded they could soon dispossess us of the redoubts No. 3 and 4. No. 1 and 2 would become useless, and artillery could be immediately opened upon Fort Putnam, and all the lower works, which could not fail of reducing them.

The numerous guards and detachments which are necessary for the service of this department, will leave but a small number of men to be employed upon the works.6 Nor is the Q. Master’s Department in a condition to second the business; being altogether in a state of confusion and unprovided with the article of lime. However this difficulty I hope will be soon removed.7

I have sent off all the horses as well private as public property except one for the commanding officers of brigades and the Engineers horses and shall take every step in my power to provide wood and forage for the Winter. But such is the poverty of the public and the difficulty attending the business, I am afraid the utmost exertions will fall far short of the demands of the service.

We have been out of flour most part of the time since I have been here; and the troops have suffered exceedingly. The want of water prevents the Mills from supplying us. I went to Poughkeepsie yesterday to see the Governor upon the business; but he was gone to Esopus. On my return last Evening was happy to find eighty barrels had arrived from the southard.8 We have been obliged to take some from the forts, after letting the troops be without two days.

Colo. Barber has forwarded the returns called for in your Excellencys letter of the 10th.9

Captain Philips has just returned from New York and says that a body of troops sailed from that place on sunday last.10

I have been so busy since I have been here, that I have not had time to complete the calculations of the expence of an army of 32000 men; but am in hopes to get through them this evening: and if I should, will forward them in the morning.11

I am taking measures to obtain intelligence) but the channel is not yet open.

I wish to be informed whether Major Lee’s party succeeded in the attack on Bergen; and whether there is any news from the Southard, where the troops that sailed from N. York are said to be going.12 I am with the greatest respect your Excellency’s most obdt hume Servt

Nath. Greene M.G.

LS, DLC:GW; copy, NjP: De Coppet Collection. GW acknowledged this letter when he wrote Greene on 16 October.

GW had written Greene from headquarters at Preakness on 12 Oct.: “This will be delivered you by Mr Ludwick Baker Genl—who is instructed by Colo. Stewart Commissary Genl of Issues to repair to West Point & erect as many ovens at that Post as are equal to a dayly supply of Six or eight thousand pounds of Bread, exclusive of one to be appropriated solely to the purpose of baking Biscuit—he is also ordered to erect one oven at Stoney Point for the supply of the Troops there & at Verplanks. I fully approved Colo. Stewarts instructions on this head, and earnestly intreat your attention to immediate completion of them” (LS, in Richard Kidder Meade’s writing, MHi: Heath Papers; Df, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW). Christopher Ludwick, director of baking for the Continental army, based his operations at West Point for the rest of the war (see Risch, Supplying Washington’s Army description begins Erna Risch. Supplying Washington’s Army. Washington, D.C., 1981. description ends , 197, and Cubbison, Historic Structures at West Point description begins Douglas R. Cubbison. Historic Structures Report: Logistical and Quartermaster Operations at Fortress West Point, 1778–1783. West Point, 2006. description ends , 21; see also Udny Hay to GW, 9 July, and n.1 to that document).

1GW had appointed Greene to command at West Point (see Greene to GW, 5 Oct., and GW’s two letters to Greene, 6 Oct. [letter 1; letter 2]).

2Greene renamed Fort Arnold to Fort Clinton to honor Brig. Gen. James Clinton (see Palmer, The River and the Rock description begins Dave Richard Palmer. The River and the Rock: The History of Fortress West Point, 1775-1783. New York, 1969. description ends , 291).

3Greene supported Lt. Col. John Jameson’s efforts to impress cattle and check Loyalist marauders (see Greene to Jameson, 9 Oct., and Jameson to Greene, 10 Oct., in Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 6:361, 363–64).

4See GW to Arthur St. Clair, 1 Oct., found at GW to Alexander McDougall, 27 Sept., n.1; see also GW to Robert Howe, 20 June.

5For Greene’s initial drafting of thoughts in this paragraph, see his letter to GW, 8 Oct., n.2.

6Greene had written Col. James Livingston from West Point on 11 Oct.: “Never did I see such a gulph to swallow up men as this Post” (Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 6:369).

7Major General Chastellux wrote in his journal entry for 21 Nov. that the wooden ramparts at Fort Putnam “are being rebuilt of stone,” which required lime for the mortar (Chastellux, Travels in North America description begins Marquis de Chastellux. Travels in North America in the Years 1780, 1781 and 1782. Translated and edited by Howard C. Rice, Jr. 2 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1963. description ends , 1:93; see also Greene to Hugh Hughes, 10 Oct., in Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 6:363).

Lieutenant Colonel Gouvion wrote “A Report of the State of the Works at West point” from that place on 2 November. It begins with a subheading: “West Side of the River” and continues: “the Redoubt Number 1 and its two Batteries have been finished this Campaign.

“the redoubt Number 2 is complete and its battery Will be finished in three Weeks time.

“the Redoubt Number 3 is finished and wants two batteries, one of them is already begun but can’t be complete this fall for want of hands.

“the Redoubt Number 4 is finished and wants a battery.

“each of those four above mentioned works ought to have a bomb proof for its garrison, but the impossibility of Keeping a Sufficient number of teams on the point will hinder from making them.

“fort Wyllys is complete its bomb proof and Battery Shall be complete before the Winter.

“fort Putnam Wants one bomb proof more for an hundred and fifty men of its garrison, with a bomb proof magazine for a part of the provisions, the third part of its walls are to be rebuilt with lime, being made with dry Stones only, which are of Short Duration.

“the Alterations made in fort Webb are finished.

“fort Clinton is complete, it Wants a Stone powder magazine, the bomb proof being not Sufficient for the garrison, is to have an addition for an hundred and eighty men, four of the Water Batteries are complete, there is one Begun for the deffense of the Chain, it is of great importance, but the Strength of the garrison Will not admit of having it finished before the Winter.

“Shelburne redoubt was built in fascines in begining the Works, and now falls down, but it is of so little consequence that it is not to be repaired.

“there is one redoubt more proposed to be erectted between number 3 and number 4 to deffend the road coming from the furnace.

“East Side of the River

“the South Redoubt is perfectly finished, its batteries and bomb proof for the provisions and garrison are in the Best order.

“the North Redoubt is in the Same condition With the South Redoubt.

“Constitution Island.

“the Redoubts Number 5 and 6 are finished they Want each of them one bomb proof.

“the parapet of the Redoubt Number 7 is to be rised of one foot and half, and the fraizes to be placed there is a bomb proof wanting in that work.

“one of the Water Batteries is finished, there is one begun for the deffense of the chain, another is to be erected for the Same object and to hinder the ennemy from getting in the upper part of the River by the Way of the creek with Small armed boats” (DLC:GW; see also GW to McDougall, 19 June 1779, n.2).

8Col. James Livingston wrote Greene from Verplanck Point, N.Y., on 12 Oct. 1780 to expect forwarded flour (see Greene Papers description begins Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene. 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976–2005. description ends , 6:372). For Greene’s failure to meet New York governor George Clinton at Poughkeepsie on 12 Oct. to discuss the flour shortage, see Greene to Clinton, 10 Oct., and Clinton to Greene, 14 Oct., in Hastings and Holden, Clinton Papers description begins Hugh Hastings and J. A. Holden, eds. Public Papers of George Clinton, First Governor of New York, 1777–1795, 1801–1804. 10 vols. 1899–1914. Reprint. New York, 1973. description ends , 6:286, 295; see also Clinton to GW, 14 October.

9Lt. Col. Francis Barber forwarded unidentified returns (see GW to Greene, 10 Oct., found at Greene to GW, 8 Oct., source note).

10The British embarkation did not sail until 16 Oct. (see GW to Samuel Huntington, 17 Oct., n.3).

Greene might have spoken with Jonathan Phillips (1744–1801) of Maidenhead (now Lawrence), New Jersey. Phillips served as lieutenant in the 2d New Jersey Regiment, rose to captain in December 1777, and continued until the end of the war. The New-Jersey Journal (Elizabeth) for 7 July 1801 reported that Phillips had been killed by his brother: “Samuel Phillips was at the house of the deceased, eating supper, in a room with Mrs. Phillips, the wife of the deceased; he got in a violent passion, and threw a spoon which he had in his hand at Mrs. P. upon which a servant present, ran for her master, who soon came, and as he entered, Samuel Phillips took a knife from the table, and thrust the point into his brother’s throat, with such force as to reach the bones of the neck—Capt. Phillips himself drew out the knife, and immediately fell down, and in five minutes expired. … Phillips was a man of unblemished character, a worthy citizen, and served his country as an officer in the revolutionary war with reputation.”

12GW’s next letter to Greene, on 14 Oct., announced the latter’s selection to command the southern department. For the raid on Bergen Neck, N.J., see Lafayette to GW, 7 October.

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