George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major Henry Lee, Jr., 21 October 1780

From Major Henry Lee, Jr.

21st Octr 80

I have just returned from Newark, where I completed the business your Excelly committed to me. The virtuous sergeant deserted last night,1 I saw the two in newark this day. This night they go to york.

Desertion among us is pe[r]fect a stranger; my officers are very attentive, & some of them men of nice discernment, this leads me to apprehend thay will discover that the Sergeant is on some secret command. Least the example may operate on the soldiers, the Captains will probably inform their troops of their conclusion—From the soldiers, the same sentiments may reach the people.

To prevent this I wish your Excellency will order me to move to a forage country—this is very Scarce of hay—I can send two troops, including the one to which the deserter belongs to an abundant neighborhood back of the Mountain meeting-house where they will be safe, & ready for any operation2 One troop can remain with me here, which number is adequate to the common dutys.

Sir Henry Clinton is still in New-York. Report says Arnold sailed with the fleet, tho’ this is not credible.3 I have the honor to be Sir with the most perfect respect your Excelys ob. h. sert

Henry Lee Junr

the sooner the cavalry move the better.

ALS, DLC:GW. Lee wrote “private” and “dragoon” on the cover.

GW wrote Lee from headquarters at Preakness on 22 Oct.: “I think it more than probable that your Corps will be ordered to the southward, I would therefore have you, agreeable to your late request, send an Officer to Philada to provide accoutrements and Cloathing If the Officer will call upon me, I will give him a letter to the Board of War upon the subject. … P.S. say nothing about the cause of sending down the Officer—I mean as to the probable destination” (Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW; see also Lee to GW, 16 Oct.). GW also wrote the Board of War on 22 Oct.: “I have concluded to send Major Lees Corps to the southward as soon as the accoutrements and Cloathing necessary for their equipment can be procured. To assist in expediting this business Capt. Rudulph goes forward to Philada with a return of the Articles wanting. I am very apprehensive of the difficulties which will intervene for want of money, but when the consequence which this Corps will be of in our southern operations is taken into consideration, I am convinced every exertion will be made to forward them as expeditiously as possible” (Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW).

Lee subsequently wrote GW from “Light camp” near Preakness on 25 Oct.: “My friend got safe into Newyork—He was before Sir Henry Clinton & has passed all the forms of the garrison. He accidentally met Col. Arnold in the street which has paved a natural way for further acquaintance. the party entertain high hopes of success; I fear their patience will be exhausted; therefore am of opinion it ought to be impressed on their minds at every meeting. I informed Mr Baldwin, that I was under orders to march south: that I would see him tomorrow & sen[d] on some officer from you who should transact the business on your Excellencys part in case of my departure. I also promised him ten or twelve guineas. I was induced to do this, because I Apprehended he would fail in his assiduity unless he received some part of his promised reward. On hearing from your Excelly, I shall be able tomorrow to ascertain with Mr Baldwin the next interview, the time, t⟨he⟩ place & the person—The time & place I will communicate to my successor.

“Should I leave this army, I entreat your Excellencys attention to my sergeant, & should be happy he could be sent on to me.

“I beg leave to thank your Excely for the confidence and friendship you have been pleased to give me since I became a soldier. I flatter myself I shall enjoy a continuation of it, tho’ absent, & that I shall be called on to perform any services private or public you may wish to execute, convenient to my local situation, & not superior to my ability or station. I sincerely pray for your health, happiness, & success. May you never again experience a second base desertion, & may you live to put an end to a war, which you have hitherto conducted happily admidst ⟨so⟩ many & so great difficultys” (ALS, DLC:GW; Lee wrote “private” on the cover). Lee soon departed for the southern department (see Lee, War Memoirs description begins Henry Lee. Memoirs of the War in the Southern Department of the United States. New ed. New York, 1869. description ends , 28, 212). For the failure of the scheme to capture Benedict Arnold, see The Discovery of Major General Benedict Arnold’s Treachery, 25 Sept.–24 Nov., editorial note, and n.28.

1For Sgt. Maj. John Champe, see GW to Lee, 20 Oct., and n.2 to that document.

2Mountain Meeting-House was a Presbyterian church along the road a few miles west of Newark, N.J. (see Shaw, Essex and Hudson Counties description begins William H. Shaw, comp. History of Essex and Hudson Counties, New Jersey. 2 vols. Philadelphia, 1884. description ends , 2:754–59).

3Arnold did not sail with the British expedition that had left for Virginia (see GW to Samuel Huntington, 17 Oct., and n.2 to that document).

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