George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General William Heath, 31 October 1780

From Major General William Heath

West point October 31st 1780.

Dear General

Conformable to the signification of your pleasure in your’s of the 29th June last, I take the liberty to enclose an account of such of my extra expences at Rhode Island, as were paid by me, and request your order thereon for the ballance. The General Assembly of the State of Rhode Island politely passed a resolve directing their purchasing Commissary to furnish the Commissary of Issues with such provisions &c. as were necessary for my table while I remained in that State, and all the other Supplies were furnished by the Commissary Accordingly.1

The Season is now nearly arrived when it will be necessary to take up and Secure the Chain. Many of the buoys are become so Water Soaken as to be on the point of Sinking and will grow more so every day as the cold encreases. I think it ought to be taken up at farthest by the middle of next month. it may be easier done Sooner. As this is an important as well as a difficult piece of business, and was the last year conducted with great Skill and dexterity by Colonel Tupper, I would request, if it is agreable to your Excellency, and not disagreable to him, that he may be Sent to Superintend the business. it will not take up any considerable length of time.2

The enclosed Letter from Colonel Hay just now came to hand. apprehending that it was on the Subject of Supplies, on which General Greene as well as myself, had written to Colonel Hay,3 I openned the Letter. this letter contains all the particular intelligence I have yet received from the Northward.4 I have the honor to be, with the greatest respect Your Excellency’s Most obedient Servant

W. Heath

LS, DLC:GW; ADfS, MHi: Heath Papers. GW replied on 5 November.

1The enclosed account has not been identified, but GW authorized $196 to cover the balance of Heath’s expenses (see GW to Heath, 29 June, and n.1). The Rhode Island legislature had “voted and resolved” in July that Charles Holden, commissary of purchases, furnish Solomon Southwick, deputy commissary general of issues, “with the necessary provisions and liquors” to provide for Heath “and his [military] family, while in this state” (Bartlett, R.I. Records description begins John Russell Bartlett, ed. Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England. 10 vols. Providence, 1856–65. description ends , 9:162).

2The chain obstructing the Hudson River near West Point was taken up on 14 Nov. (see Heath’s second letter to GW on 15 Nov., and n.3 to that document).

3Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene had written Col. Udny Hay twice on 14 Oct. regarding provisions for West Point (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 , 6:381–82).

Heath had written Hay from West Point on 21 Oct.: “His Excellency the Commander in Chief has been pleased again to honor me with the Command of this Post and its dependencies, I am happy to find you engaged in a department on which this post must greatly depend for its Supplies, You are fully Sensible of how much importance it is that the Supplies Should be thrown in before the Cold and blowing Season Sets in, and I most earnestly request that you would endeavour to push on all kind of Supplies which fall within your department as fast as possible Our Magazines at present afford but little more than a daily Support, and I dare Say the Sufferings of the Troops and the perplexity of the Officers the last year are yet fresh in your mind” (MHi: Heath Papers).

4Heath enclosed Hay’s letter to Greene written at Albany on 26 Oct.: “If my aversion to the principles upon which our Enemies began this war or their practices in carrying it on made an addition thereto necessary for sufficiently embittering me against them, their late traces which I have just returnd from treading, markt with the most wanton barbarity that History allmost furnishes an account of, has had that effect in as full a degree as human nature is capable of receiving it—May the time be fast approaching when the friends of liberty join as one in the most solemn manner and invoke the Allmighty never to forgive them if they forgive Great Brittain, should the sentiment be thought both ungenerous and unchristian, I will honestly confess I never addressed my maker with more ardent fervour on any occasion than I should on that.

From the best computation I have yett heard made the whole loss we have sustaind is about two hundred dwelling houses a proportionable number of barns and out houses, with about two hundred thousand bushells of grain of various sorts, and a hundred horses and oxen & about forty men killd and as many perhaps taken Prisoners (exclusive of what we lost to the northward) their number of killd is very uncertain I do not believe it exceeds twenty, and we have taken about forty Prisoners; One hours day light when General [Van] Renslaer engaged them would in all human probability have secured the whole, for they were close on the verge of the river, where our little Army had formd a semicircle round them, but having no regular Troops, we unluckily fired upon each other and fell into confusion, which made the General at the very moment of success think it necessary to retire three or four Miles, a spirit of Detraction upon such occasions is allways ready to prevail, and the praise it is allowed he has justly merited by his Zeal and activity is totally sunk in the censures thrown out against him for his supposed misconduct on this occasion—I pity the man who is oblidged to risque his reputation upon the Ardour and bravery of mere militia, especially such as turnd out upon this occasion, for I am sorry to say since the war began I never discovered amongst them so little inclination to meet the Enemy.

In short, Sir, the Enemy took the advantage of the retreat the General had ordered and in the night forded the river, nor were our Troops ever able to come up with them afterwards, The only loss we have sustaind in Officers is Colonel Brown who by being deceived in the numbers he expected to engage gott fairly ambuscaded, and had his little party very severely handled.

The Enemys whole force to the westward was about seven hundred, it must therefore be allowed that from traverssing such an extent of Country as Sir John has done with such a handfull of men he merits no small degree of praise as the General, though his whole conduct as the man is a disgrace to human nature.

Brant recd a slight wound on the foot, but it did not even prevent his walking.

The Governeur arrived at the Army a few hours after General [Van] Renslaer had retreated, perhaps his arrival a little sooner might have given a new complexion to our affairs in this Quarter, he pursued them about twenty five miles through the woods from Fort Herkimar, I believe they have gone for the Oneida Lake.

The bearer of this just setting off prevents my being more particular it is said the Enemy are fortifying at Ticonderoga but think it wants confirmation” (DLC:GW). For recent depredations and fighting along the New York frontier, see George Clinton to GW, 30 October.

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