George Washington Papers

Council of War, 31 October 1780

Council of War

[Preakness, 31 Oct. 1780]1

At a Council of War held at Head Quarters Prackness in New Jersey the 31st October 1780

The Commander in Chief
Major Generals Brigadiers
Lord Stirling Knox
St Clair Glover
Fayette Patterson
Howe Wayne

The Commander in Chief states to the Council that since he had the honor to meet them on the 6th September last3—Sir Henry Clinton has made a detachment from New York estimated at three thousand Men and supposed to be destined to cooperate with Lord Cornwallis in the South4—and that on our part, Major Lees Corps of about two hundred Horse and Foot have been detached to that quarter.5

In consideration of this detachment from New York, and under the circumstances of the Army as represented to the Council in the meeting above mentioned, The General requests to know their opinion individually in writing whether any thing further can be done to reinforce the southern Army from this.

The General also requests the opinion of the Council what disposition ought to be made for Winter Quarters, and when the Army ought to enter into them.6

The General omitted informing the Council that the Enemy have received a reinforcement from Europe at New York of from fifteen hundred to two thousand Men mostly Recruits.7

Df, in Tench Tilghman’s writing, DLC:GW; Varick transcript, DLC:GW.

Brig. Gen. William Irvine replied to GW from the army camp at Totowa on 1 Nov.: “When I take in one view the Enemys force yet remaining at new York, the Troops for the War under your Excellencys Command—that West point must be held at all events, And that some Troops ought to be kept to hold & cover the middle States, so far (in my opinion) will it be out of your Excellencys power to detach from this Army—that every possible exertion should be made to augment it immediately.

“Sir Henry Clinton will be very civil indeed, if he will suffer us to remain undisturbed in Quarters after the first of January.

“When West point is sufficiently Garrisoned, the remainder of the Army should go all together into Winter Quarters.

“Which on account of the facillity of getting supplies must be near Delaware (I presume)—unless the Enemy should really take the Field, I am of Opinion that the sooner we enter winter Quarters the better (ALS, DLC:GW; ADfS, PHi: William Irvine Papers; Varick transcript, DLC:GW).

For replies from other generals, see Jedediah Huntington and Lafayette to GW, both 1 Nov.; Edward Hand, Robert Howe, Arthur St. Clair, Stirling, and Anthony Wayne to GW, all 2 Nov.; Henry Knox to GW, 3 Nov.; and John Glover to GW, 7 November. Evidently, Brig. Gen. John Paterson submitted no reply; no letter from Paterson on the subject has been found, and GW did not digest Paterson’s opinion in an undated document that he titled “Summary of the Opinions of the Generl Officers on the three following points laid before them in a Council of War held at 31st of October 1780,” which continued:

“First, On the propriety of sending further reinforcements to our Southern Army.

“Secondly—On the proper places for Winter Cantoning the Army. &

“Thirdly—at what time it would be most advisable to retire to them.

“Majr Genl Lord Stirling. Is clear in opinion that no further succour can be afforded to the Southern Army from this. Thinks a position Near our last Winters Cantonments—(a little back or to the right of it) the most eligable. & advices our retiring to it by the middle of Novr.

“Majr Generl St Clair—Is clearly against reinforcing the Southern army. Advises a middle Station in Jersey, such an one as to be within a few hours march of the New Ark Mountain—and that we should go into Winter Quarters about the middle of November.

“Majr Genl The Marqs De la Fayette. Is for combining a detachment of 400 light Infantry with Duke de Lauzens legion & sending them (except the Horse) by water—The French Troops to commence their march by the middle of Novemr—He advices the Pensa. Troops to be Cantoned at the Barracks near Morristown. & the rest of the Army on the No. River contiguous to West point. And that we do not quit the Field till the first of December.

“Majr Genl Howe. Thinks this Army can afford no further detachment to the Southward—That our winter position should neither be too far off, nor too near the enemy. That it should be contiguous to our important Posts & capital objects—That it should be contiguous to our Supplies of Flour &ca—but has not Said where this desirable place shall be. Nor has he said when we ought to retire to Winter quarters but upon the whole seems to be of opinion it should be soon.

“Brigr Genl Knox. Is against any further Detachment to the Southern Army. recommends a Position for the Main Army betwn N. Windsor & Chester—nearest the former—abt 200 men at Ringwood—300 at Morristown—A Corps East of Hudson River left of Peekskill hollow near Crompond to support 4 or 5 Block Houses on Croton River. He submits the propriety of adopting another measure—to wit calling in Militia or Levies to enable us to take a Position near Morristown with 5000 men & for garrisoning West point fully. In that case he thinks we might go to Qrs immediately—other wise to prevent Incursions of the enemy we ought to keep the field as long as we can.

“Brigr Genl Glover. Is of opinion that no more men can be spared from this Army for the Southern Service. Thinks if Massachusetts N. Hampshire & N. York lines are sufficient for Wst point & its dependencies that Connectt Pensylva N. Jerseys should be Cantoned in the Jerseys. Is for going into Winter Qrs soon.

“Brigr Genl Wayne—is against Detaching unless part of the French Troops at Rhode Island can be brought to this army. Is for securg West-point effectually— & covering the Country & Communication between that & Philadelphia—Is for going into Winter Quarters immediately.

“Brigadr Genl Hand—Is against detaching from this army unless the Auxilary Troops coul⟨d⟩ be drawn to our aid. thinks West point ought to be well secured, and the remainder of the Troops posted somewhere about black river with redoubts for their security—Is for quitting the field by the 10th of Novr.

“Brigadr Genl Huntington—Is rather in favr of detaching to the Southern army. Thinks winter Qrs ought to be at, or within a days march of west point—except a Post in the Jerseys—and is for going into them soon.

“Brigadr Genl Irvine—Does not think it expedient to detach more men from this Army. Conceives it necessary that West pt should be sufficiently secured and the residue of the Troops take a position some where near the Delaware” (AD, DLC:GW; filed under 31 Oct. 1780).

GW concluded in another undated document: “The Sum of the whole is[:]

“That no detachmts should be made from this army.

“That West point and its Dependencies should be particularly attended to.

“That we ought to be in Winter Qrs by the middle of November at furthest” (AD [facsimile], American Art Association, 22 Jan. 1926).

1The dateline is supplied from the draft’s docket, which is in Tilghman’s writing.

2Maj. Caleb Gibbs, commandant of GW’s guard, notified Irvine from headquarters on this date that “His Excellency requests you will be pleased to attend at Head Quarters at 12 oClock this day” (PHi: William Irvine Papers).

5See GW to Henry Lee, Jr., and to the Board of War, both 22 Oct. and found at Lee to GW, 21 Oct., source note; see also GW to Greene, 22 October.

6GW evidently posed another question to some officers on the feasibility of carrying out an offensive operation before going into winter quarters (see the replies from Huntington, St. Clair, Wayne, and Knox listed in the source note above).

7Some intelligence reports indicated that the reinforcement included two British regiments (see GW to Rochambeau, 18 Oct., and to Huntington, 21 Oct.).

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