George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Lafayette, 27 October 1780

From Major General Lafayette

Elizabeth town [N.J.]
october the 27th 1780

My dear General

From what you have heard from dr hagen about the Boats when on your way to head quarters,1 I don’t Believe that You may have kept any hope for our Succes—the Boats have been it Seems Reduc’d to five, and from the Time when they were yet at the little falls you May See that they Could not be here at the appointed hour.2

I will not permit Myself to Reflect on this Moment upon the Many Blunders Committed in that affair By the quarter master general’s departement—I was too Certain of Some Brillant Success, and Military Glory is too Much idolized By me Not to be Rather Severe on the Occasion—I will Content Myself to Say that from the Report and Common agrement of all the Spies and guides Collected together By Major Lee, from the Negligence of the Ennemy, the Circumstances of the tide and a thik foggy weather, Not one of those Whom I led into the Matter had the least doubt upon our Success.3

The only advantage I have got from it has been to Convince Myself that our troops are particularly fit for Such an expedition on account of theyr patience and Silence, and that if the other Business Could be Supported upon a large Scale, I would answer to Carry it I have writen upon Both Roads to the Commanding officer of the Brigade from the line that our expedition was Relinquish’d and that I would advise him Not to give to his men the trouble of Going farther—I have also Requested him to Speack of this Movement as if it had taken place on Account of Some intelligence that the Ennemy Meant to Come out into the jersays to attack us.4

I have taken My position Betwen Elizabeth town and Connecticut farms—General Clinton has Not the time of Making Any disposition against us—to morrow at Nine or ten I will march to our position of Crane’s town, and the day after to morrow to totawa unless I Receive Contrary orders.

Newark Mountain Was Rather too far to March it this Night and two Near for to morrow Because our men Being in want of Blankets will like Better to join theyr Lines again.

if your excellency approves of this Arrangement, I Beg you will order our Baggage to wait for us on our position of Cranes town—if You dislike the disposition your orders May Reach us on the Road.

I Beg, My dear General, you will please to Communicate our ill Success and disgracefull disappointment to the Minister who Said he would not leave Morristown untill he hears from me.5

had I Any thing to Reproach to myself on the occasion I would be inconsolable—I Undertook the Business Because I thought Myself equal to it, I wish the people in the quarter master departement had done the Same for theyr plans. I am my dear gen. Your


ALS, PEL; ADf, Lafayette Papers, LaGrange, France. Lafayette wrote this letter at 1:00 A.M. (see his second letter to GW, this date).

1Lafayette probably refers to Francis Hagan, a Continental army hospital physician and surgeon.

2The boats were at the Little Falls of the Passaic River.

3Lafayette had proposed attacking British forces on Staten Island, N.Y. (see his letter to GW, 12 Oct.).

4This correspondence has not been identified.

5Lafayette wrote French minister La Luzerne on 28 Oct. about the aborted attack (see Lafayette Papers description begins Stanley J. Idzerda et al., eds. Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776–1790. 5 vols. Ithaca, N.Y., 1977-83. description ends , 3:552). Lafayette also wrote Lieutenant Colonel Noailles from “the light division camp” near Cranetown, N.J., on the same date: “To better conceal my intention, I had given a dinner for M. de La Luzerne and General Washington, whose review had served as my pretext for putting us in the best condition possible. Before sitting down to dinner I had confided my secret and given orders to the corps commanders, who knew nothing beforehand. You can imagine the universal joy. … One thing alone did not depend on us, and that thing miscarried.

“A worthless fool of a quartermaster general [Timothy Pickering] and his assistants, who were no less fools than he, had been instructed by General Washington to have the boats at a certain place at a certain time. The curs were so stupid that, although we called for them sooner than we needed them … they came too late.” Lafayette added: “General Washington was no less irritated by it than I, because he had great hopes” (Lafayette Papers description begins Stanley J. Idzerda et al., eds. Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776–1790. 5 vols. Ithaca, N.Y., 1977-83. description ends , 3:209–11; see also General Orders, 26 Oct., source note).

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